PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
Specific paths such as Heathenism, blended traditions, polytheist reconstructionism, etc.
The first six months of its existence my ritual group mostly floundered. We had a good circle of people around us and did some nice rituals, but we didn't really have any sort of structure. To find a solidity for ourselves we had to do a ritual for someone else.
When my wife and I put our ritual group together we did so with low expectations. We were basically just looking for a group to ritualize with, we weren't necessarily seeking anything formal. During those early months our rituals were continually different. We never used the same quarter calls twice or called to the same gods and goddesses for that matter! The circle was scripted but eclectic, details constantly in flux....
While the Vanir are always present in the world around us, I personally tend to feel Them the most strongly in that liminal space when the seasons change: Nerthus when fall becomes winter, Freya when winter becomes spring, Frey when spring becomes summer... and Njord when summer becomes fall.
This is the time of year when depending on where you live, it's still warm enough to be comfortable, but the oppressive heat of summer starts to fade, and the rains come or will be coming soon. As the land mellows, I feel Njord's gift of serenity, water after fire, which will later wash color into the world....
I love rituals. I mean, I really love rituals. I'm enchanted by the very act of drawing a temenos line between this moment and that moment. Time itself seems to stand still or speed up or shift in some way that doesn't seem quite congruent with the way I understand the universe to usually work on an otherwise ordinary Monday afternoon. I find there's a fluidity of speech and movement. The words and actions take on a life of their own as if they themselves are animated for the sole purpose of co-creating this exact moment of devotion.
I've found that effective ritual practices don't have to be elaborate or on a grand scale. Although, let me just say that I'm partial to a thrumming mass of Pagan-type folk all gathered together for the expressed purpose of being in consensual ritual practice together. I've had the pleasure to attend and help create the magic for the annual Reclaiming Spiral Dance in San Francisco, which is now in its 35th year. There's a variety of rituals from every imaginable Pagan tradition at events like Pantheacon. I thoroughly enjoy being a little thrown off by rituals that use a different lexicon than my own tradition; rituals that have their own distinct meter and rhythm.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Dionysos, one of the major gods within the Minoan pantheon. Today I’m going to explore the character of Zagreus. He is sometimes considered an aspect of Dionysos and sometimes viewed as a separate deity. The tapestry of Minoan spirituality is a complicated thing, and it’s often difficult to tease out the individual threads, but I’ll give it a go and see what we can discover about this interesting, and ancient, deity.
In his seminal work Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, Karl Kerenyi identified Zagreus with the ecstatic Dionysiac festivals in which wild animals were torn limb from limb by crazed worshipers. Kerenyi connected Zagreus’ name with the Greek term for a trapper – a hunter who catches live animals rather than killing them. But the etymology of the name can also be traced back to a root meaning torn or dismembered, another thread connecting this intriguing god with those Dionysiac rites. Just to be clear: Zagreus is not the same as the Hellenic god Zeus, even though their names look somewhat alike. In their effort to create an ancient ancestry for their deities, the Greeks made Zeus the son of the Minoan goddess Rhea and said he was born on Crete, but he is a later deity and not the same as Zagreus....
Continuing my story of my personal journey on my heathen path, after I received the rune book for my 17th birthday in 1986, I started applying rune magic to other types of magic I was learning.
A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:
“Cynthia and another Wiccan lady went with Jay and the regular crowd to Cavedale Road one night. She taught us to cast circles of protection to keep out evil entities. “I will demonstrate,” she said, and to our attuned senses the circle she drew in the air glowed with white light.
“That felt like moonlight,” someone said, and I had felt it too, exactly like moonlight: soft white light with indistinct edges.
“Now you try,” Cynthia directed, and we each cast our own circle in turn. Jim the Goat’s was of granite, Juleh’s a thorny briar like barbed wire, and each in turn I felt them, saw them, all of us seeing the same thing. When I cast mine, it was an electric blue glow with the twenty four runes written over it in red, repeating forever. “That looks intricate,” Cynthia said. For once even she could not identify the substance of a student’s circle.
“It’s runes,” I said. She smiled, a knowing and satisfied smile, I thought, as if remembering the book she had given me.”
The practice of rune magic led me to the gods. Here is another quote from my memoir. I've put in some additional remarks in [brackets] that were not in the quote but which the reader would have understood in the context of the book.
“I performed many rune readings for friends with my homemade set of painted river rocks. Once Jim the Goat asked me for a magical stick that would turn him into a werewolf, so I researched an appropriate set of symbols and walked along the bike path with my bundle of tools, looking for a likely oak branch. I spotted one, jumped and grabbed it and it snapped off in my hand cleanly, as if cut. When I finished the “tine”—jargon for a stick with runes on it—I remarked on this to Jim and pointed out the moss which was still wet and green, and he believed it to hold great power. Later he told me it had worked exactly as he had envisioned. Personally I had my doubts Jim could actually turn into a wolfman, but I kept it to myself.
“Doubt is my enemy,” I told myself often that summer. [That summer = the summer between high school and college when I was 17.] The runes excited my curiosity about the culture and religion that had produced them, and I made numerous trips to Berkeley with Jay to buy obscure books.
[It was 1986 and the era of buying books off the internet had not yet arrived. Living in Sonoma, the closest place to access affordable used books of the type I wanted to read was Berkeley, which was a 45 mile trip each way via California's I-580, and I did not have a car. I tagged along with my older brother Jay when he visited Berkeley.]
I decided that this was the path for me, that I had finally found a system of belief that made sense, but though I tried I could not make myself actually believe in deities. I could easily see the truth behind the myths, that the gods represented the forces that govern the universe, such as sun, earth, grain, communication, and so forth, but I could not see them as existing, only as symbolizing.
I knew if I could harness the kind of faith that Jim the Goat had in my tine, I could do incredible things, as the masters of chi did when kung fu was of the Shaolin temple, as faith healers still did the world over. I discarded Asimov’s definition of magic as any technology more advanced than one’s own, and accepted the definition that Wiccans and other pagans used, that magic was an act of will intended to affect reality. Belief was a power that could unlock the potential of my mind. I could go far beyond the simple pain suppression techniques I’d learned from the TV, and the enhanced athletic performance I’d sometimes managed in martial arts. [When I wrote about pain suppression learned from TV, I was talking about Mr. Spock from Star Trek, my childhood hero. He used his mind to ignore pain.] The question was, how to get it?
I struggled with doubts, as I’d once struggled to learn the Meditation on Nothing. Just as suddenly as with new meditations, everything clicked into place. I told myself, “I believe in myself. I know I can use magic, I’ve seen it many times. I therefore enspell myself with belief. I believe because I will myself to believe!” Then I laughed out loud with the inrush of possibility.”
Mummies, shabtis, stelae, amulets and more greeted us as we entered the beautiful Carlos Museum on the campus of Emory University last week (in the Atlanta area). Several Pagan friends have urged me to visit the museum over the years and I finally had the opportunity. Their enthusiasm was not unfounded. The collection of ancient Near Eastern artifacts is a fine one, the presentation every bit as impressive as, for example, the Metropolitan Museum Sackler Wing in New York City.
Now that I can read a bit of hieroglyphs, I was like a child with a new box of Lego-blocks, eagerly trying out my new learning of this very old language. As an art history major in college, a museum is a feast that I drink in like a glutton. As an neo-Egyptian Pagan, I find myself sighing with deep contentment, that feeling of coming home to somewhere I’ve never been yet know intimately in my inner self....