Oh guys, you know I love you, right? Yesterday I got not one but two e-mail from readers. One was a very sweet note abut the quality of the blog and how much they like reading it, the other was a very simple question, and I really appreciate that the reader (who has opted to remain anonymous) was comfortable enough with me to ask it. The message reads:
Subtitled Eostre, Hreda, and the Cult of Matrons, Philip Shaw's 2011 book is a very interesting investigation that attempts to connect two rather enigmatic Anglo-Saxon deities mentioned by the scholar Bede with the well-attested cult of the matrones, which are largely known by a large number of inscriptions on Romano-Germanic and Romano-Celtic altars, mostly in and around the Rhine area.
Shaw is a lecturer in English Language and Old English, and the book reflects his expertise with language. He deftly argues against many previously preferred etymologies for the two goddesses' names, and makes the case that they are in fact reflective of a cult of triple-goddesses which were either based on locale, tribal/clan name, or a combination of the two.
It's a slim book and I found it an easy read. Shaw makes his case clearly, if perhaps not decisively (a fact that he himself acknowledges), owing to the fragmentary evidence that remains to us. There is a chapter in the beginning of the book that gives a background in language that is perhaps more than the casual reader needs to follow his arguments, but which someone who is interested in the role language plays in late classical and early medieval culture will find useful....
Scouts to renovate Long Man of Wilmington (The Argus)
"An ancient chalk carving thought to be an Iron Age symbol of fertility will be repainted by the Scouts. The Long Man of Wilmington was painted green during the Second World War so German bombers could not use it as a landmark. Now 40 Scouts will freshen up the 235-foot man-shaped image cut into the South Downs. Action man and chief Scout Bear Grylls said: “Volunteering is at the heart of Scouting and this is a great way for Scouts to get out and do something for their community.”"
(or The Fundamentals of Polytheism: Principle #1)
Today i was reading a good article by John Halstead summing up various perspectives in the recent heroes vs. superheroes community wide debate. Now I don't agree with much of Halstead's theories mind you, and completely disagree in every possible way with the very idea of "Jungian Neo-Paganism", but he's a thoughtful and engaged writer and I respect his willingness and ability to delve *critically* into an idea or controversy, which he did in this article. I was particularly taken with his idea that behind much of the polytheistic response here is resistance to the de-sacralizing of our traditions and that is absolutely correct. We are fighting to keep the Gods and the numinous, the Powers, and mystery in contemporary traditions of the sacred and it's an uphill battle.
As I was discussing this on Facebook, noting that as a result of this debate, I intended to write a series of articles on what I think are the fundamentals of polytheism, Teo Bishop asked me if I would be expanding on the 'nature of real-ness' of the Gods in my upcoming articles, if I would be positing a theory, what he (and I believe Halstead also) termed a theory of the ontological nature of the Gods.'....
By the end of May, Spring is definitely in full swing and might even be tipping into Summer. It is always a luscious sensation to be feeling the Earth wake up, feel the welcome and optimism in the growing light, the warmer air, the green haze in the trees and the slight sweet hum of things growing. The Goddess has ascended from the Underworld, the Earth rejoices and blossoms. May encourages us all to play, to feel, to flirt and luxuriate. To pursue pleasure.
It's ironic that, despite loving May's sensory pleasures as much as I do, I really don't much care for Beltane. Yes it's a shocking confession, and I don’t enjoy sounding like such an anti-hedonist. I'm too much of an introvert to truly enjoy the enormous crowds of public Pagan events. I have had, more than once, the experience of being quite pregnant at Beltane. The very sight of the Maypole made me queasy and as for the Love-chase, oh forget that. What felt particularly isolating about being at a Beltane gathering while pregnant was how I felt somehow excluded, as if being already engaged in reproducing, I wasn't someone who would respond to touch, comfort, and attention. As if all the sensory pleasures of the day were off limits to me, either redundant or inappropriate. That struck me as being woefully anti-erotic.
Beltane has always held the energies of union and re-union, the alchemical magick that is present in the core of every star exploding into being as well as in the collision of 2 distinct cells creating new life. May Day reminds us all of the power we have when we envision a brighter future and better world. It is a hinge upon which the World shifts from the time of Darkness to that of Light, a moment when the Veil between the worlds is thin. As we cast into past to remember at Samhain, we cast into the future at Beltane, and throw our wishes, intentions, dreams and goals into the webs of Fate deliberately. This is magick that can be done by jumping over fires in ecstatic fellowship with the community, or alone in your temple....
In the blog post about sayings which can be traced back to ancient Hellas or Hellenic mythology, I make mention of Oedipus. The saying he is connected to--the Freudian Oedipus complex--introduced Oedipus and explains the saying:
Today, I want to go a little deeper into this myth, to a milestone in the life of Oedipus. I quite recently acquired a little vase with a depiction of Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx. It's a replica of a kylix motif. This seems like a perfect opportunity to tackle this story.
My home Reclaiming community has launched a series of meetings to try to define ourselves as a community. What is our history? What are our values? What is our power structure, and how do we make decisions? Who, exactly, are "we" in the first place?
The Great Secret is that the most esoteric teachings of Creation are hidden in plain sight. How else could the Powers That Be ensure that the uninitiated would never believe them?
The founders of esoteric societies were fond of creating abstruse rituals, mainly to give initiates the impression that they were experiencing something unique. Your mystery school may possess hidden knowledge - but every wisdom tradition on earth has discovered the same principles under different names.
Before I finally discovered that Paganism was the path I had been seeking, I was a 10th Degree Rosicrucian and a 3rd Degree Mason. I found the Rosicrucian teachings so comprehensive, and AMORC's correspondence staff so patient and generous with their time, that I was appalled, recently, to see Internet blogs trashing the Order....
Let me tell you a little bit about myself since this is my very first column here at Witches and Pagans. I am a magician. Taking that one step farther, I am a very old-school magician. I also happen to be a devotional polytheist and sometimes these things intersect, but more often than not, I keep them well and nicely separate. I try to at any rate. I was a magician far earlier and far longer than I have been a polytheist after all, and I love working magic. It nourishes my soul. Magic is my craft, my art, and one of the means through which I work my will upon my world. I feel about it --and take note, you won't see me talking about 'feelings' overmuch in this column--much the same way a master sculptor must feel about a completed master work. This is what I do. I would say it is my vocation save I dislike the religious overtones of such a word, when applied to magical practice.
You see, magic is not religion. It is not prayer. It is not a devotional practice. It is the art of working with power.
That's right: magic is about power. It's about utilizing one's will to interact with and affect energy, and by doing so create measurable change upon one's world. I often read articles, books, blogposts debating endlessly over the morality of doing magic for personal gain and I simply shake my head: why not? More to the point, if not for personal gain then what is exactly is it for? What is the point?...
The ancient, sacred city of Abydos hosted an annual ritual drama about the mysteries of Osiris. Along a processional way the festival crowd re-enacted the abduction and murder of Osiris by his brother Set, and inside the temples, priests conducted uber-holy rites away from the public eye. Every good Egyptian hoped to go on pilgrimage to Abydos at least once in her life. Nearly as good was to have a tablet (called a stela, plural is stelae) set up on the processional route stating your name, titles, a statement of offering (and usually an offering picture) and a request for passers-by to stop and recite the offering prayer on behalf of the deceased. Many thousands of stelae have been found in Abydos, which was also the burial site of predynastic and First and Second Dynasty kings.
In Abydos Osiris is most often known by the name of a jackal-headed god who came from that locale and eventually took on Asar’s identity, Khenti-amentu, “first of the Westerners.” Any mention of the west was an oblique reference to having died (like the sun, which sets in the west). Stelae like the ones at Abydos came to be used at lots of pilgrimage sites, as tomb markers (just like our modern tombstones), and even inside burial chambers. The picture usually shows the deceased standing in front of an offering table piled with bread, beer, geese, the leg of a bull, alabaster and lengths of linen. A typical inscription, known as an “offering formula” among Egyptologists, might say something like:
"An offering of thousands of bread, beer, meat, fowl, alabaster and lengths of linen, and all good, pure and beautiful things, which Pashed gives to the great god (neter aa) Khenti-amentu, first among those at Abdju, for the soul of Pashed."
Last week I was worrying a little about how the whole world get to enjoy ancient Egyptian heritage because moderns have basically robbed thousands of graves. Then I thought about how the Egyptians counted on their descendants and/or priests to perform rituals, “say the prayer,” for them in perpetuity. Obviously, that system broke down in the same centuries that brought Christianity then Islam to Kemet. And yet, here we are all these centuries later, reading and admiring the stelae, contemplating the original owner, pondering what his or her life was like. If you are a student of hieroglyphs like me, you find yourself reciting the offering formulas over and over again in lessons.
To me, that is part of the power and mystery of hieroglyphs, that somehow they have emerged from a time almost before memory to continue to remember the ancestors and honor their wishes. I wish I knew more about people like Pashed, but it’s clear that what he wanted most after his death was to be remembered as constant in his devotion to Osiris. May I be at least in part as dutiful in my respect for those who came before me.
I previously argued here that the Neopagan reclamation of the Shadow of Western civilization in (the form of the Great Mother Goddess, Horned God, and a resacralized body) should not be confused with the reclaiming of our own Shadow. In my last post, I suggested two archetypes which might constitute part of the Shadow of contemporary Paganism: the Eternal Victim and the Terrible Mother. To conclude this series, I want to propose one more archetype which may be part of the Pagan Shadow.
Wotan/Dionysus, the Maddener
There is a tendency in Neopagan discourse to valorize the darkness. This is part and parcel of the spiritual feminist program to reclaim all those things associated with the feminine, and I applaud it. However, in the process, two kinds of “darkness” can get conflated. First there is the darkness of the Unconscious. We describe the Unconscious as dark because it is unknown; it is concealed from the “light” of the conscious mind, from conscious awareness and from the power of discernment. There is another kind of darkness, which Jung called the Shadow. The Shadow represents the repressed parts of ourselves. In Jung’s thought, every positive and constructive aspect of our personality has a shadow side which is negative and destructive. (There is also the “bright shadow” those positive aspects of ourselves that we repress, but for present purposes I will use “Shadow” to refer to the negative only.)
To conflate the darkness of the Unconscious with the darkness of the Shadow is to confuse what is unknown with what is evil. It is to confuse an epistemological issue with a moral one. Not everything “dark” is good. It is important that, in the process of reclaiming the dark, we do not lose our powers of discernment. I think we are right to fear the dark. That fear is not a reason to perpetuate repression — whether psychological (i.e., repression of parts of ourselves) or social (i.e., repression of women). But let us not be naive either. Our psyche has good reason for repressing some things. While our task, if we are to become fully human, may be to bring these parts of ourselves to light, we must do so in a way that does not destroy ourselves or those around us in the process. And that is where the conscious power of discernment comes into play....
"The office of King Mabhoko III of the Ndebele tribe has blamed the deaths of 28 initiates in Mpumalanga's highveld area on witchcraft. ... “These deaths are not normal, kune buloyi la (there is witchcraft here),” said Mahlangu, who was also critical of the House of Traditional Leaders (HTL)."
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to start writing about the basics, the real fundamentals of devotion, spiritual engagement, and polytheism as I see it, live it, and teach it. I've often lamented that I see way too many people coming to me lacking the basic foundation, a foundation that were we living in a polytheistic society, were we living in a community where our indigenous traditions were intact never having been sundered by monotheism, would have been taught by osmosis. We'd have learned by doing. We'd have learned by living in a community where our parents, our grandparents, our leaders, our friends, our neighbors all modeled these ideas and approaches. It would have been reinforced by the community in a way that simply doesn't happen today.
I've often complained about this to colleagues, but it wasn't until a few days ago that my partner said "why don't you write a series on the basics of devotional work as a way of providing something of that foundation. Gods know people have enough questions." Well, I know a good idea when I hear it, hence this post.
So send me your questions on devotion, on living polytheism, on honoring the Gods, even on my own practices and I will do my best to answer them based on my own approach, my understanding of polytheism as a theologian, an active polytheist, and a historian, and as a priest and shaman. I'm going to break it down as I see it, to some very base-line concepts that someone in the dubious march of modernity we've lost, forgotten, or decided to ignore....
When I first started out with Baring the Aegis, one of the first posts I did was on miasma and katharmos--pollution and purification, respectively. The post can be found here. Nearly a year later, I stand behind what I wrote in that post, but it's time for a revisit. Today, I'm talking about katharmos and miasma, the importance they had in ancient Hellenic religion, and the importance they have in its modern equivalent. From the previously linked post:
But what do they mean? What does the energy of each feel like? How are the four elements expressed in the real world (apart from literal manifestations in movies like The Last Airbender)?
I thought I’d create a fun post on how the four elements might look through various lenses, including Star Trek races, candy, Retro TV, music and Hogwarts houses. Although these are light-hearted associations, they can still be utilized in magic making with the elements....
In my last post, I described how Neopagans have helped to reclaim part of the Shadow of Western civilization, which takes the form of a kind of "Shadow Trinity" of Great Mother Goddess, Horned God, and Holy Body. But, it is important to recognize that, while Pagans are consciously engaged in reclaiming the Christian Shadow, Paganism has its own Shadows. We should not make the mistake of thinking that, in reclaiming the divine feminine, the holy animal, and the sacred body from the collective unconscious, that we have eliminated our own Shadow. For every light that we cast onto the Shadow of Western civilization casts its own Shadow, both revealing and concealing.
I recall the first time I realized this, when I was attempting to work out the constituency of my own “secretly potent pantheon” (Joseph Campbell) of my psyche. I realized that all the gods I had acknowledged were ones with whom I was more or less comfortable. Absent were the gods who represented parts of myself about which I was still ashamed. Why would anyone want to worship those parts of themselves? No one really wants to acknowledge, much less worship, their shadow -- but that's the point. If we are to truly "make the darkness conscious" rather than "imaging figures of light" (CW 13, P 335), then we must find a time and place to honor those parts of ourselves that we do not readily acknowledge.
What are Paganism’s true Shadow gods then? I cannot pretend to be able to answer this question in full. But I propose three archetypes which might begin to outline the Shadow of contemporary Paganism....
Seeking understanding for Oregon's Pagans (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
"Carl F. Neal is a new spokesman for the 1 percent of Oregonians who identify themselves on census forms as active Wiccans, Pagans, Neo-Pagans, Heathens, Druids or Witches. Based on 20 years’ experience, he’s pretty sure that not everyone is going to be OK with that."
Christian church sponsors interfaith dialogue with Wiccans (Goddiscussion.com)...