Paths Blogs - PaganSquare - Join the conversation! Tue, 23 May 2017 02:33:15 -0700 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Four Moral Lessons from the Ancient Irish Pagan Epic "The Tain" (also known as "The Cattle Raid of Cooley") b2ap3_thumbnail_cu-chulainn-in-battle.jpg

1. Not listening to women is dumb, and sets you up for a world of pain. (Don't ignore the young female druid / seidhkona... you get the picture).

2. Stupidity (and hubris) are equal opportunity. It's Queen Maeve who ignores the warning from the wisewoman Fedelm. It's the men following her who compound it. It's Maeve's husband who insults her enough to make her start the war Fedelm knows will be a blood bath. And it's Cu Chulainn who keeps on going despite the goddess Morrigan placing herself directly in his path and warning him of his violent death.

3. Don't steal from your neighbors, or exploit them. The misery just gets passed around.

and 4. Don't be cocky when you're up against a badass, regardless of how young (or old) they look. Nicely paired with #1.

Also, did I mention not listening to women is dumb? That should be plastered across every cliff notes version of this story, before the antagonist is even discussed. Along with Lugh's teenage avatar learned all his warrior mojo from a lady.

Esoteric symbolism is all about in this epic... like all myths, the stories weren't only on a literal level as entertainment or moralism.. Yes, we know. And all of the above still applies.

For background, see,

For my experiences with Irish deities and myth (including Lugh, who is wonderful), and how to properly honor one of the Irish Goddesses, according to her, see:

Image credit: Cú Chulainn in battle, from T. W. Rolleston, Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911; illustration by J. C. Leyendecker. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

]]> (Shirl Sazynski) Paths Blogs Wed, 17 May 2017 06:08:39 -0700
Columbine/Aquilegia magic


(Aquilegia Canadensis, Aquilegia vulgaris)

These little beauties are flowering all over my garden at the moment and they love to self seed.

They are perennial plants found in fields and meadows...and my garden.

The Latin word for eagle is ‘aquila’ which reflects the shape of the flower petals as they resemble an eagle’s claw. 

Columbine comes from the Latin word for ‘dove’ as the flower looks like five doves all sitting together (honestly it does…go have a look).  

Although the plant corresponds to the element of water I would also work with it as an air plant with the bird connection.

Use in all love magic as it has the power of Venus attached to it.  This flower is also a favourite with the world of Faerie.

Carry the flower with you to bring courage.

Add the flowers or seeds to your bathwater to help you gain clarity in a situation.

Use the leaves and flowers in any workings to dispel jealousy.


Columbine/Aquilegia Magical Properties:

Love, courage, faeries, clarity, jealousy

Ruling planet – Venus

Element – Water, Air

Gender – Feminine

]]> (Rachel Patterson) Paths Blogs Thu, 11 May 2017 08:47:54 -0700
Dividing the Minoan World

We divide our world into all sorts of segments based on time and space: day and night; the four seasons; the ground, the air, and space. Organizing the world into understandable parts is a natural human inclination, and the Minoans did it, just like everyone else. So how did they divide their world?

I have a few ideas. The most obvious is the seasons. Crete lies in the sea just south of Greece and has a Mediterranean climate. That means that, instead of the spring-summer-autumn-winter cadence we're used to in most of North America and Europe, the year flows from the rainy season to the dry season and back again: only two major seasonal divisions. In Mediterranean climates, the dry season lasts from what we might call late spring, through summer, and into early autumn. On Crete, plant life turns crispy-brown and dry. All but the largest creeks dry up, and even the rivers diminish to a flow much smaller than their wet season. This is the dead time of year, the counterpart to winter in the northern temperate zone.

Then the rains come.

The world springs to life again in the autumn, the soil softens under the falling rain, and farmers plant their crops. On Crete, field crops such as grains and vegetables grow through the mild winter and are harvested in the spring. So the wet season, what we might call autumn through spring, is the living-and-growing season in the Mediterranean. If you live in southern California or certain parts of Australia, you might have firsthand knowledge of this rhythm of wet and dry seasons, the dance between green growth and brown death.

This wet-and-dry-season cycle is the original seasonal component of the myth of Demeter and Persephone, the powerful tale from the Eleusinian Mysteries that probably goes back to late Minoan-era Crete. We've edited the story so those of us who live in the four-season world can relate to it, but originally, it wasn't the wintertime when the young goddess descended to the Underworld; it was the dead, dry summer.

There are other ways to divide the world as well: divisions of space as well as time. Since Crete is an island, the most obvious division to start with is the triplicity of land, sea, and sky. This is a common one around the world and across time. It's easy to see how people who live on an island might feel like the island itself is their anchor in the world, while they're surrounded and embraced by Grandmother Ocean and the wide, wide sky.

Crete has some pretty dramatic geography, smooth beaches that roll up into foothills that climb to tall, craggy mountain peaks. There's a strong sense of the vertical thanks to those mountains, many of which the Minoans held to be sacred. They built sanctuaries near the tops of their holy mountains and shrines in the caves lower down (though some of the caves are actually pretty high up, requiring some serious effort to reach them - quite the pilgrimage). The peak sanctuaries touch the sky where certain deities abide and the cave shrines are portals to the Underworld. So this is another division: the Upperworld, the place from which the goddess descends; the Underworld, the abode of the ancestors, the Melissae, and the deities with shamanic and psychopomp powers (Ariadne, Dionysus, Minos); and the Middle World, where the humans live, that narrow space that separates the two great sacred regions.

There's one final division I want to talk about, but it doesn't really fall under the rubric of either space or time. Instead, it's a division of type, of sense, of being: the pairing of domestic and wild. We can see this way of organizing the world in the Bull Leapers fresco above, with the "wild" animal (probably a well-trained domesticated one, actually, but it's the symbol that counts) and the "civilized" athlete. But there's not always such a clear division between domesticated and wild; instead, there's something of a continuum. Take the Horned Ones, for instance.

The most famous of the Minoan horned gods are the Minotaur and Europa/Pasiphae. Setting aside for a moment the Hellenic Greek tale of Theseus and the Minotaur, which isn't Minoan at all but is centuries later, we can see that cattle were a fully domesticated animal in Minoan times. From the huge herds that the temple complexes owned to the handful of head belonging to the small farmer out in the countryside, domesticated cattle were a familiar component of Minoan life.

Then there are the goats. The goat-y horned gods are the Moon-Goat, also called Minocapros (yes, I know, that's a clumsy set of word roots but I didn't make it up - go blame the Victorians) and the goat goddess Amalthea. Goats are the mid-point between domestic and wild on Crete. As my farmer-grandmother used to say, goats have ambition... they'll get loose and go wandering any time they can figure out how. So all over Crete, in Minoan times and now, there are feral goats wandering the hills. But in ancient times, just like now, there were also domesticated goats that provided milk and meat for the people. So in a sense, the goat is a liminal Horned One, straddling the border between domestic and wild.

Then we have the deer-gods, the Minelathos (see note above about awkward word roots) and Britomartis. Deer are wild, part of the natural backdrop on Crete. The Minoans hunted them with spears and appear to have occasionally captured them live for sacrificial purposes. In an era before rifles and antibiotics, hunting a large wild animal in the mountains could easily be a life-threatening activity. So the buck and the doe and their offspring fall fully onto the wild side of the spectrum, reminding us that nature by and large isn't tame at all.

The wet and dry seasons; land, sea, and sky; the Three Worlds; domestic and wild. How do you divide your world?

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

]]> (Laura Perry) Paths Blogs Wed, 10 May 2017 03:51:41 -0700
Is Paganism Dying? (Atheopaganism and the Future)

For thousands of years, since the very advent of human existence, there has been an evolving trajectory of religious history in Western societies.

The story passes from the earliest animism and ancestor worship to the rise of belief in gods, the consolidation of authoritarian power under monotheisms, and the complete domination of Western societies by Christianity. It continues through the Enlightenment, the steady gains of science shattering the cosmological monopoly of the Abrahamic monotheisms, the increasing tension between orthodoxy and individuality splintering these monotheisms into thousands of sects, and finally, most recently, to the rise of the Nones: those who describe themselves as having no religious affiliation at all, which is well established in most of the rest of the developed world and advancing quickly in the United States.

There is an arc there: a vector. It tells a story of steadily increasing individual choice about religious belief and expression, and as a result, steadily decreasing subscription to old religious systems that clash with both modern values and humanity's growing body of accumulated knowledge.

Recently in the Pagan blogosphere, there has been discussion of whether or not Paganism is dying, or whether it deserves to do so. Personally, I think much of this is a tempest in a crockpot. Pagan institutions don't seem to be doing very well, but that seems to me to be more a reflection of the fact that most of us don't do well with institutions, not of some more dire "death" in progress.

However, I will say this: that arc is still ongoing. The general trend towards individuation and modernization of spiritual practice continues.

Despite the overall pattern, there are backlashes, of course: eddies in the current of history. The extremes of the evangelical right wing in the US, for example, seem to me clearly to be the death throes of a belief system that is on the wane. And I suspect that the rise of the devotional polytheists in Paganism is something similar: a hardening of insistence in the face of available evidence that wished-for supernatural beings are, in fact, real persons, as well as a strategy for insisting that the  recently constituted phenomenon of modern Paganism is "serious religion" like (Abrahamic) others...and not some lightweight, risible trifle.

Some, I'm sure, will howl with anger at these suggestions. But I truly believe they describe what is happening. Maybe I'm wrong.

But looking backward to imagined golden eras or long-extinct societies and hoping to reconstruct their values and practices in a modern context doesn't strike me as making much sense when compared with starting from where we are now, with the knowledge and tools and modern values we now possess, and charting a course forward that embraces and is informed by them. And it seems to me that more and more people are drawing the same conclusion.

I should be clear here: I do not see nontheist Paganism as in competition with theism. I think theism is on its way out all on its own. I don't in any way want to rush that process, and if people find meaning and happiness in theism, good for them. But a generation from now, if I had to put money on it, I would bet there will be proportionately fewer of them than there are now.

And there will be more nontheists of every stripe, including Pagans.

As far as I can see, the trajectory of human history bends towards disbelief in that for which there is only disputable and ephemeral evidence. This is why the evangelical right in the U.S. is making war on science education: because the only way their worldview can survive is in an ignorant population.

Since the advent of science, tension has only grown between knowledge and belief. Science has steadily claimed more and more territory from the supernatural, leaving an ever-smaller realm claimed for the domain of gods and spirits.

And not once in all that time has the discovered explanation for the cause of a phenomenon proved to be supernatural. Not once has gods or spirits or magic turned out to be the actual reason why something happens in our Universe.

Science brings us knowledge, cures our diseases, explores the Universe, builds our technology, catalogues the wonders of our planet and others. It is even revealing to us the ways in which religious experiences are created in the brain.

Religion, as it has been couched by those who insist on Belief?

Well, not so much.

What religion excels at is creating community, inculcating values, and creating a sense of meaning in life, a feeling of being connected to that which is greater and Sacred. At inspiring works of beauty. At fostering the deep sense of joy and presence and holiness that effective rituals can bring.

And this is why I believe nontheist Paganism, including Atheopaganism, to be so very important. Because it settles the long-standing conflict between science and religion, acknowledging the very real human importance of the latter while in no way denying the power of the former to identify, measure and model all the phenomena of the Universe.

Atheopaganism is post-Belief religion. It is evidence-based spirituality rooted in real-world, positive, life-affirming values. It gives us what religion is good at giving us, and avoids trying to do what science can clearly do better.

I believe it is in broad strokes what succeeding generations will practice in growing numbers. It is what will give meaning and build community for people who have left behind the ideas of gods and magic.

I don't know if I believe we will ever move out in significant numbers to other planets, or to the stars. But if we do, I'd bet we will celebrate the life-giving wonders of the worlds where we live with joy. I'd bet we do it in circles, as we have since at least the domestication of fire.

And I'd bet that while we may celebrate ancestors and heroes as a part of this, we will have left gods far behind. For we will know that this Universe is wonder enough without them.

We're building something, folks. Something with staying power and potential. Credulity in gods is dying out, but the need for what religion provides—meaning, community, awe, reverence, a sense of connectedness to Something Larger—is inherent in the human organism.

We're onto something here. And I am committed to continuing to work to foster this tiny flame as it catches, spreads, and burns ever brighter.

]]> (Mark Green) Paths Blogs Sat, 06 May 2017 11:37:57 -0700
The Heathen Worldview

What is "the heathen worldview?" That's a topic that comes up on heathen forums regularly. This is my attempt to answer it. 

With so many cultures and time periods to choose from on which to base heathen practice, there are bound to be many differences between various heathen paths. On the old Asatru MSN Group, which I used to manage, I put a welcome message on the landing page that advised newcomers that "there is no Asa-Pope." Today, Asatruars are still quoting it, so it must have resonated with the Asatru community. In other heathen traditions, though, there are central authorities. For example, the various forms of Theod each have a king. Both Asatru and Theod based their leadership structures on historical examples, but from different countries.

I do think there are some things that all heathen paths have in common. Here's my list. Of course, I'm not the Asa-Pope either, so others will have different opinions.

1. Respect for the land and the land wights (nature spirits.) Respect for the sea, etc. Reverence for nature.

2. Respect for lore and tradition. A desire to examine and debate same, particularly what counts as lore and what, and from what time periods, counts as tradition, and how to interpret same. (Asatru has a canon built by consensus process, in a decentralized manner, which we call "the lore.") 

3. The inclusion of several gods within the tradition, even if individual adherents are not interested in any or all of them. (It is possible to be heathen and to not be interested in having a relationship with any gods.) All the heathen paths have a few major gods in common, who are known by several variations of their names, such as Thor / Thunor, Odin / Odhinn / Wotan, Freya / Frowe, etc. Different sects and different individuals include additional gods. 

4. The inclusion of several other categories of beings, including dead ancestors, and possibly elves, norns, etc., even if individual adherents are not interested in any or all of them.

5. There is no supernature. That is, nothing is above nature. The physical world is not inferior to the spiritual world. Being spiritual does not require abandoning material goods, nor mortification of the flesh. The gods and other beings of the tradition are not separate from nature.

6. The afterlife has just as many different possibilities as there are gods and other beings. Rather than a duality of one Heaven and one Hel, there are many halls of gods, ancestors, elves, etc., Hel is one realm of one goddess and is not bad or a punishment, and there is also the possibility of rebirth.

7. The story of the gods and the universe is complicated and gray, and the way we tell it firmly centers humanity. It's not a story of good versus evil so much as life versus death. What is good is defined through the lens of humanity as that which benefits humanity, with particular weight given to that which benefits one's own, that is, one's own family, town, tribe, etc.The primary difference between a god and a being that's not a god is whether it has a beneficent attitude toward human beings. (Most of our gods live in Asgard, hence the name Asatru, but we also acknowledge Hel / Hela as a goddess, who lives in the realm of the same name. Also, there are dead people and servants of the gods in Asgard who are not themselves gods. So, it's a little more complicated than just "lives in Asgard," although that's a good shorthand for beginners.)

Each point in the heathen worldview is more complicated than the thing before it, and continuing this list would result in an academic paper. So I shall end here, with this last one:

8. Everyone who comments below is going to have their own idea about what goes here. With footnotes.


Note: I originally posted this on the American Asatru Association's Facebook group, which has recently changed its name to American Heathenry. I did indeed receive suggestions on what belongs in point 8. As they are other peoples' writing, not mine, I'm not posting the comments here. 

Image: a photo of a rune scarf I made as a commission, that is hand dyed North Sea blue and hand painted with a trading style longship and runes spelling out Hail Njord, God of the Sea, in gold. 

]]> (Erin Lale) Paths Blogs Thu, 04 May 2017 10:14:00 -0700
Give Me Three Fires


Give me three Fires
Point the corners
To the edges
Of the world

Pour oblations
To the flames:
Blazing as the Priest
With the flames;
In purity defend,
The face of the Astral Flame.

You are the Fire
Priest and Power
You are the First Fire
You are the Consumer
You are the Nexus

A Fire deep in the Earth
Heart of the Mother;
A Fire high on the Heavens
Heart of the Sky;
A Fire in the Dark Forest;
Heart of the Priest

Give gifts to all creatures,
Transmute them and make them into
Pour waters into streams
And rivers;
Add wood to the First Fires,
The Fires of Creation.

I have seen the flames
Deep in the heart of the forest;
Rise from the vessel
Of the Shining One.
Tended by the Fire Priest
And a living homage
To the God who is Fire

I have seen the flames
Deep in the heart of the Earth;
Rise as lava,
Molten and Holy,
In the heart of the Earth Mother,
The furnace of creation,
Where all is created
And all is consumed.

I have seen the flames
Rise in the morning,
Red in the morning sky,
The face of Creation,
Nurtured by the Dawn,
Lifted in reverence to
The bluest sky;
Burn now,
Burn in darkness,
Burn in light,
The furnace in the Sky
Coming into being
Being ever-lasting
Being the Light in the Dark
And the Darkness that is light

Give me three Fires,
The Vedas begin with This Fire
Scriptures repeated
Today and always
From corner to corner
All points of the compass
Shine in the shadow of Three Fires.

Blessed Beltaine/Samhain to one and all

]]> (Jean Pagano) Paths Blogs Wed, 03 May 2017 20:30:29 -0700
Sacred Saffron: A bit of autumn magic

The lovely young lady in the image above is picking the stigmas of the saffron crocus, also called the autumn crocus, to give as an offering to the goddess. We see this whole scene play out in a series of frescoes from Akrotiri, the ancient Minoan-era town on the Mediterranean island of Santorini. Saffron crocus blooms float in mid-air across the backgrounds of these frescoes, reminding us where our focus should lie. Below, we see a girl pouring her gathered saffron into a large basket while a monkey presents some to the enthroned goddess.


The Saffron Gatherers fresco


Saffron was an important herbal remedy, cooking herb, and sacred substance to the ancient Minoans. But you might not know how saffron really interlocks with the seasons in Minoan home territory (the eastern Mediterranean) and, hence, how it might play a role in one of the oldest seasonal stories known to mankind.

First, saffron is a flower, and most of us think of flowers as blooming in the spring. But saffron is unusual in this regard: It blooms in the autumn (that's why it's called the autumn crocus, to differentiate it from the types of crocus that bloom in early spring). This characteristic sets it apart from other flowers and may have been the beginning of its consideration as a sacred plant. But there's more to the seasonality than just this.

The Minoans lived on the island of Crete, off the southern coast of Greece in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean has its own unique climate and set of seasons that are very different from those of the northern temperate zone where many of us live. In the northern temperate zone (most of North America, most of Europe, northern-central Asia, and parts of Australia) we have the four seasons most of us learned in school: spring, summer, autumn, winter. But the Mediterranean is different.

In Mediterranean climates (all around the Mediterranean Sea as well as southern California in the U.S., parts of Australia, and parts of southern Africa) there are really only two seasons: wet and dry. The Mediterranean climate is often called a dry-summer climate, and that name tells you how it works. The summer is a dry time, usually with no rain at all. In fact, on Crete, all the smaller creeks dry up entirely and many of the rivers are reduced to little more than a trickle. Plants dry up and turn crispy-brown. In Mediterranean climates, the summer is the "dead time," comparable to winter in the northern temperate zone.

Then, all around the Mediterranean, as summer ends, something magical happens: The rains come. Creeks and rivers fill, plants sprout green again, and the saffron crocus blooms.

The autumn is the beginning of the agricultural cycle in the Mediterranean, the oldest New Year on Crete. It's the time when farmers plow their fields (the soil is now soft after being hard and dry all summer) and plant their crops. Those crops grow throughout the mild, wet winter and are harvested in the spring - yes, this is backwards from the kind of seasonality most of us know. And it's backwards from the way a particular myth is usually told. I'm talking about the story of Demeter and Persephone, the mythical cycle that underpins the famed Eleusinian Mysteries, a series of sacred rites that appear to trace back to Minoan Crete.

The tale of Demeter and Persephone is usually told in terms of a northern temperate zone climate: Hades drags Persephone down to the Underworld during the winter, when the world goes dead as Demeter mourns the loss of her daughter. Then, when Persphone returns to the Upperworld in the spring, life blooms again.

The thing is, this story comes from the Mediterranean, where the seasons are reversed from the northern temperate zone. So if we're going to tell the tale accurately, we need to have Persephone in the Underworld during the summer (the Mediterranean "dead season"). Then she returns to the Upperworld in the autumn, when the rains come and life springs forth again. That version feels very different, doesn't it?

Then, of course, we need to name the characters differently, with Ariadne as the Underworld Queen and Rhea as her mother. In the pre-partriarchal culture of Minoan-era Crete, we can envision Ariadne descending voluntarily to the Underworld to guide and care for the ancestors. It's her job, after all: She's the Queen Bee, the head of the Melissae who are the ancestral bee-spirit goddesses. Of course, Rhea misses her during the summer, when everything is all dried up and dead, and rejoices when her daughter returns. There's a beautiful, poetic version of this tale in Charlene Spretnak's book Lost Goddesses of Early Greece.


Seal from Thisbe showing goddess rising from the Underworld


So our beloved Ariadne returns to the Upperworld, the dead season ends, and the rains begin. And the saffron crocus blooms. What more fitting way to thank and honor the goddess for her gift of returning life than to collect those beautiful red stigmas, the sacred herb that seasons food (maybe special saffron bread to offer to her?) and eases menstrual cramps. She has given us this gift, and many others. Let us cherish them.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

]]> (Laura Perry) Paths Blogs Wed, 03 May 2017 04:11:16 -0700