Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth
In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.
Which Way the Winds Blow
My father told me once, “Just about the first thing I do every morning is to look out to see which way the wind's blowing.”
Makes sense. You can't see the Winds, but they get around; they're the speediest of gods. And they're messengers: they bear information, to those minded to pay attention. When you know which direction the wind's blowing from, you can look into the future and see what kind of weather the day is likely to bring. Winds certainly bear sound. And scents, well: we mammals have been living by our noses for an awfully long time now.
To the ancestors, the Winds were gods. Chances are, you can (maybe with a little effort) rattle off Boreas, Eurus, Notus, Zephyrus. In India, Persia, Russia, the Baltics, and Italy, as well as in Greece, they sacrificed to the winged Winds.
Traditionally, there are four of them. Now, it's dangerous to generalize about human cultural universals, so let's just say that many peoples have divided the world into four quarters: four-sided beings ourselves, it's the ultimate extrapolation of the human body onto space.
I think that as modern pagans we've lost the Winds because, as Rosemary Edghill puts it, “nature religion aside, most pagans are indoor people.” The grounding of so much of modern pagan praxis in Ceremonial Magic has been a disincentive as well. We turn to the quarters and see “elements”, but we don't feel the breath of a god on our faces. Air isn't a god; it's an “element.” Whatever an element may be in this context, it's not a being, and it doesn't have a personality. Gods, on the other hand, are and do.
Here in Minnesota, where I live, the Four Winds have quite pronounced and distinctive personalities. If you want to know what the weather will be like, the saying is: Look to the West. West Wind is our rain-bringer, Thunder's constant companion. East Wind is the shyest of the siblings, one we don't hear from much. When we do, it's something of a surprise and often heralds the unexpected. South Wind we likewise don't see much of, but South is the warmest of Winds, whose snow-melting breath we welcome in late winter and early spring. And then there's North Wind, bringer of winter. Earth's four children, born of her primal dance.
In his book A World Full of Gods, John Michael Greer tells a fine tale about North Wind. “In the year 397 BCE, the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse launched an armada of three hundred warships against the town of Thurii, a Greek colonial city in what is now southern Italy. A strong north wind sprang up and wrecked the Syracusan fleet, saving Thurii from invasion....[T]he people of Thurii...voted to make Boreas, the god of the North Wind, a citizen of their town, and granted him...a [temple] and an allotment of land” (113). The land was intended to provide an income to support the temple and its priest, and I might add that, since Greek city-states were protected by citizen militias, as a citizen of Thurii, it was now impingent upon the god to act in the future defense of the city as well. Wily folk, those pagans.
These days, just about the first thing I do every morning is to look out the window to see which direction the Wind's coming from. I wonder how long people in my family have been doing that. My guess would be, for a good, long while.
John Michael Greer, A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism (2005) Tucson, ADF Publishing
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