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Culture Blogs

Popular subjects in contemporary Pagan culture and practice.

Category contains 2 blog entries contributed to teamblogs

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The Black Thread Charm

In 1841, Georg Waitz discovered two magic charms in a 9-10th century codex in the Cathedral Chapter library of Merseburg, the only surviving literary remnants of Old High German heathenry. In the second Merseburg charm, Woten heals a horse's sprain after other gods have failed.

Variants of this charm, with different gods and saints, survive all over northwestern Europe—the Germanies, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Shetland, and the Hebrides—but a similar spell preserved from Vedic India suggests that it may be ancient of origin indeed.

The charm is of the type known to scholars as a historiola: what linguist Philip A. Shaw defines as “a charm in which a narrative is employed that in some way represents or symbolises the achievement of the desired outcome of the charm” (Shaw 62). Magic-workers have been harnessing the driving power of story to propel their charms for millennia; modern spell-smiths take note!

 The Old Craft version of the charm cited below invokes, as one would expect, the god of witches in his person of Wild Rider.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Pentagram That Wasn't There

When you look at the twigs and branches of bare trees, do you ever see pentagrams?

I thought so. Me too.

It's March in Minnesota: there are certainly plenty of bare branches to be seen, and the random patterns that they form as they move in the wind keep making pentagrams. Looking out the window this morning, I actually saw the pentagram before I saw the branches, as if it were standing in the foreground of my visual field, between me and the tree. Weird.

It's called pareidolia, literally “image instead of” (Greek eidôlon also gives us “idol”): the tendency of the human mind to interpret random stimuli meaningfully. Pareidolia is a type of apophenia, identifying patterns in random data. Our kind is really good at this; it's the basis, for example, of divination.

I used to wonder if it meant that I've been living in the broomstick ghetto too long. In Rosemary Edghill's novel The Book of Moons, one of our heroine's coven-sibs tells her, “Bast, you really need to get out more and read some history that doesn't have witches in it.”

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  • Linette
    Linette says #
    Thanks! So much enjoyed this post

I have just returned from a Women and the Land  conference held in Point Reyes, California.  It was a wonderful series of panels, whose presenters were almost all women authors: poets, essayists, and fiction and non fiction writers. Given my interest in how the feminine and ecology fit together  as a unified theme in needed cultural changes that might yet save our nihilistic Western culture, I expected to enjoy it. And I did, far more than I expected.

             That said, this column and the next will deal with an error I heard there, and with its solution. I think the error runs through the thinking of many women and men whose hearts are in the right place. And its solution is easy once we recognize it and take the time to digest its implications. It is also very relevant to Pagans.

...
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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Thank you Connie. BB
  • Connie Lazenby
    Connie Lazenby says #
    I just loved this. Being very connected to nature and the spirit of a place, i have different rituals that end with the same resul

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Happy, um, Pasch

Hey you. Yeah, you: Christian.

Hey, check this out. Did you know that  Easter is really the name of a pagan goddess? Seriously. Easter is a pagan goddess: goddess of dawn. And spring, of course. Really.

Says so right here in Bede. Yeah, that's the one, the “Venerable Bede.” Always a venerable, never a saint, ha ha. Well, actually, I think he is a saint now, isn't he? Didn't they canonize him a while back? A saint wouldn't lie about that kind of thing now, would he?

Hey, check this out: Pasch. Rhymes with “flask.” Nice, hunh? Beautiful. (Makes sign of aversion behind back.) Gotta love that funky spelling.

Fine old Christian word, Pasch. Actually the original name for the holiday, back before the pagans got their mitts on it. Goes all the way back to Aramaic. Really. The language of Jesus, right. Used the word himself, no doubt about it. Whatsoever. Jesus. Yeah.

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Easter is Risen: Philip A. Shaw's "Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World"

Eosturmonath [April] [is] called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts [festa] were celebrated in that month.

This lone sentence from chapter 15 of Bede of Jarrow's De Temporum Ratione ("On the Reckoning of Time"), along with the fact that, from very early times, a Christian festival came to be called by her name, is literally all that we know about the Anglo-Saxon goddess Easter. Literally all.

Under the circumstances, scholars have tended in two directions. The Maximalists have viewed Easter as a pan-Germanic goddess, herself a reflex of a pan-Indo-European Dawn goddess whose sister-selves include Vedic Ushas, Greek Eos, and Latin Aurora.

The Minimalists—many of them clearly driven by pique that so Christian a festival should bear so blatantly pagan a name—deny that such a goddess ever existed at all, and seek alternate (and non-pagan) derivations for the name of the church's great spring festival.

In Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda, and the Cult of Matrons, Philip A. Shaw, lecturer in English and Old English at Leicester University, in a work surprisingly readable for all its dense erudition, attempts to stake out a centrist ground midway between maximalist and minimalist positions. Of greatest interest to the contemporary pagan reader (to this contemporary pagan reader, at any rate) is his marshaling of new information to shed new light on the subject.

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Milk Pails and Prayer Books

The thing about superstitions is, you just never know.

One of my favorites comes from southern Germany. If you want to find out who the witches in your parish are, when you go to church on Good Friday, slip an Easter egg into your pocket. You'll recognize the witches by three things: 

  1. Instead of hats, they'll be wearing milk pails on their heads.

  2. Instead of prayer books, they'll be carrying slabs of pork. (!)

  3. They'll be standing with their backs to the altar.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Sumer Is Icumen In

It's the oldest surviving song in English to which we have both words and tune, an earthy and exuberant hymn to spring. It's also a delight.

Sumer Is Icumen In

Sumer is icumen in;

lhude sing, cuckoo.

Groweth sede and bloweth mede,

and springth the wode nu;

sing cuckoo.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Next year in Summerisle!
  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes says #
    Of course, most modern Witches are familiar with the song from the classic holiday movie for Bealtaine, The Wicker Man.

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