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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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On First Meeting Old Hornie in the Woods

Yes, it's true: I first met Old Hornie in the woods when I was 16.

And no, I'm not going to tell you about it.

I suspect that many (if not most) of us have experienced something like this: the Encounter that changes everything that comes after.

You might think that more of us would talk about these Meetings. In a community like the pagan community, which lacks (for the most part) central accreditation, such narratives would serve to establish credibility.

But in my experience, people mostly don't want to talk about these things. A holy silence surrounds them. For me, that unwillingness to talk is precisely one of the hallmarks of authentic encounter.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Just so.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    In the book "The Wind in the Willows" there is a chapter called piper at the gates of dawn. I believe that the author had his own
"Witches' Rune" Originally Sung to Stephen Foster Tune, Says Historian

AP: London

According to Wiccan historian Philip Heselton, Doreen Valiente's famous chant “Witches' Rune” was originally intended to be sung to the tune of the Stephen Foster tune, “Camptown Races.”

“According to some recently-discovered correspondence, that's the tune that she originally wrote the words to fit,” said Heselton. “Of course, since then it's been sung to many other tunes as well.”

American composer Stephen Foster (1826-1864) wrote “Camptown Races” (also known as “Camptown Ladies”) in 1850, and the tune was a favorite of Valiente's first husband, Joanis Vlachopoulos, who had learned it while in the Merchant Navy.

Although the Foster tune was Valiente's intended setting for her lyrics to what was to become a classic Wiccan liturgical chant, it never caught on with British witches, perhaps because they were unfamiliar with the American tune.

An interesting aspect of this discovery is the fact that the original words to “Witches' Rune” were slightly different from those now found in most recensions of the Book of Shadows.

According to Heselton, the first verse, along with a now-disused chorus, originally went:

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
What Do You Say When a Pagan Sneezes?

When someone sneezes, it's considered polite to respond with a blessing or a wish of good health.

So what do you say when a pagan sneezes?

(No aspect of culture is too obscure to merit careful consideration.)

Well, you could say Bless you or Gesundheit like everyone else, but there's nothing distinctively pagan about either. (How Americans came to use the German word for “health" as a sneeze-blessing is a question well worth the asking, but it's one to which I don't know the answer.)

Wiccans might say Blessed be, although I don't think that I've ever heard this phrase—generally reserved for greetings and farewells—used in this way.

But for my pentacles, the Irish have the right of it.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    As I think about it, gesundheit has to be German. German -heit = Yiddish -keit (as in Yiddishkeit, "Jewishness"). Interesting tha
  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis says #
    Yeah it is interesting. Unlike most other immigrant groups, German ethnicity kind of tended to get pretty heavily subsumed. Certai
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    An interesting theory, Aryos. My Yiddish-English dictionary doesn't list gesundheit; "health" is gezunt. (Tzu gezunt is the sneeze
  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis says #
    This is just a shot in the dark but perhaps Gesundheit is by way of Yiddish instead of German (even though it's literally German).
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I started using Gesundheit at a young age because I heard Bullwinkle use it. It surprised my dad and occasionally surprises other

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Since most of you don’t live near me, and there’s a lot of interest in my upcoming“Dance in the Graveyard” class, I thought I’d offer those of you who aren’t local a brief ritual you can use to open lines of communication with your ancestors during this Samhain season. 

Samhain,
as many of you know, is the traditional Gaelic festival that spawned, first, the Catholic observances of All Saints Day (a.k.a. All Hallows Day), and then the very secular festival of Halloween. It is celebrated as a holy day by Wiccans, many Druids, and some Pagans of other traditions.

Traditionally celebrated on October 31/November 1 (Gaelic festivals run from sunset to sunset), the traditional date falls within a few days of the astronomical midpoint between the Sun stations of Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, which happens on November 6 or 7 (changing slightly each year). This year, it falls a little after midnight on November 7th, here in the Eastern time zone. 

All four of the traditional cross-quarter festivals fall near solstice/equinox or equinox/solstice midpoints, which are always at 15 degrees of the Fixed signs of the Zodiac These are the powerful degrees that astrologer Dane Rudhyar called “the gates of the avatar” — another word for the Divine incarnate. The veils between the worlds are thin at these liminal times. At Samhain, the Sun is at 15 degrees of Scorpio. (The Zodiac of Western astrology is an astronomically-accurate celestial coordinate system. More about tha
t here.).

Like most planetary movements in astrology, the influence of these patterns is fluid and wavelike, peaking at the date of the exact midpoint. So it’s certainly appropriate to do this ritual anytime between the end of October to a couple of days after November 7th. Afterwards, you’ll want to consider how you will incorporate this ancestral work into your regular spiritual practices. 

Essentially all spiritual traditions offer some form of ritually honoring one’s ancestors. But if you don’t have an ancestor-honoring spiritual tradition you adhere to, or you don't feel your tradition goes deep enough, use this ritual as a beginning, then let ancestors themselves guide you into the best way for you to work with them on a regular basis. 

The Ancestor Altar 

What you’ll be doing in the ritual is setting up an ancestor altar, and calling on your ancestors to form an energetic vortex that connects them with you through the medium of this altar. Personally, I’m not big on ancestor “worship”. This work is about connecting and honoring, which is the purpose of the altar. 

For some of you, the altar may be items you keep in a box that you bring out only when you are actively working with them. Others might want to have a few framed photos and perhaps some heirloom items on a table in the living room that doesn’t look like an altar when you aren’t working with it. If you have space/privacy, you can set up an altar where offerings can be regularly maintained, even if that’s just a small space on a bookshelf. 

What goes on the altar (or in the box) is very individual. You'll definitely want some connection with your ancestors of blood — both parental lines. You can use old photos, heirloom items, or you can get some modeling clay and make a bowl (for your mother’s line) and an obelisk (for your father’s line). They can be quite small. You might want to put a drop of your blood on each one, because blood calls to blood through time, space, and dimensions. 

If you have ancestors of spirit, lineage, or friendship to whom you feel strongly connected, by all means, you can include items that represent them as well. Ancestors of the land you live on, of the arts you practice, of your spiritual background — all these folks can eventually be included on your altar.

But to begin, if you’ve never set up an ancestral altar before, call on the ancestors of your blood. Because healing in physical reality resonates back through the ancestral bloodline, these ancestors are invested in you and your healing, and will be protective of you.Yes, even the ones who were total jackasses in life gain some perspective once they reach the realm of the Ancestors. But note this — you do not have to, nor should you, include any ancestors you are not at peace with. You need not honor those who did not honor you. 

The only thing that must be true of all of them is that they are dead. Do NOT include photos or other representations of living people on the ancestor altar. This altar is the home of the dead.

If you are adopted, and uncertain of your birth parents and grandparents’ status, you must work only with those of your bloodline who are certainly already dead. You can be quite specific in naming them — for instance, “my great-great-grandmother on my father’s side”. You may not know her name, but she’ll know who you are when you call to her. 

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Who Are the Ancestors?

We all have many kinds of ancestors.

Ancestors of the loins. These are our physical forebears.

Ancestors of the heart. These are those forebears whom (for whatever reason) we love, though they are no blood kin.

Ancestors of the head. These are our intellectual forebears.

These are only some kinds of ancestors, of course. (The ancestors of the tongue are our linguistic ancestors. Those of us of the Tribe of Witches have forebears in the Craft: the ancestors of the blood.) We are all the children of many lineages.

As pagans, we are intimate with our ancients. Living by their lore, we engage with them in our every waking moment.

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  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    It's ADF, there's no consensus. But we were satisfied to see the trend picked up by other Groves so we're happy. (wand drop)
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Ah, pagans. Did a consensus ever emerge, or is it still an issue?
  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    We say "blood" vs "loins" but .. ya. Oddly, this was a somewhat controversial idea in ADF not many years ago when we did the main

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

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Drowning in a Sea of White

I am working on a blog about race in Paganism, so I am posting this guest column by Elena Gutierrez. Elena is a mixed-race Latina, Tarascan (native Mexican), white young woman in the Midwest.

I am drowning in a sea of white. I am not at an actual sea with light colored sands and receding waves, but rather, the extravagant dining hall my grandparents eat at every night. I am ‘blessed’ with the opportunity to eat in the same dining hall when I go to visit them. The table cloths are of thick material and they are so white you would think they are brand new, straight from the package, rather than washed after each use from meal times. Maybe they are brand new. It would only make sense based on where they live. My grandparents, on my mother’s side, live in a retirement villa. They have to ask us in advance when we schedule a visit, if we would like to stay for dinner, if we respond yes, they have to hurry to make reservations. They are my white grandparents. I am drowning in a white sea that is made up of all the retired masters of their career fields. It is a white population who sit at their white tables with their white pearls hanging from their necks smiling with their expensive fake white teeth.

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