Pagan Studies


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Studies Blogs

Advanced and/or academic Pagan subjects such as history, ethics, sociology, etc.

Lammas, the First Harvest, the Beginning of the End of Summer

Many people have been readying for Lammas this past week. My Instagram feed has been full of beautiful loaves of bread in all shapes and sizes, filled with herbs or sprinkled with oats and other grains. I’ve made my own loaves of bread in preparation and am planning for other elements of the holiday: an outdoor fire in our fire bowl, homemade kvas, some soup or stew to sop up with the homemade bread, a fresh salad, some outdoor games with the kids, maybe a walk in the woods.

I love this holiday that is essentially a celebration of bread. Bread is a sacred and ancient food, one so common and humble that we often take it for granted. But no one can deny the wholesome, enriching influence of homemade bread: the feeling of connecting with old ways as we get messy with flour and meditatively knead the dough; the rich, savory perfume emanating from the oven as it bakes; the softness of the inside and the hard crust of the loaves eaten plain, with cheese, or slathered with butter or jam. It is a gift to make bread -- to ourselves, our loved ones, and our homes. It’s no wonder that the Matres and Matronae, ancestral mother-goddesses worshipped by Celtic and Germanic tribes across northwestern Europe and whom I worship and honor, were depicted in iconography with grains or loaves of bread, along with fruits, babies, and dogs. Bread is a staple in many meals, a magical food born from grains carefully grown from the earth, at first green and then gold, milled and baked, wholesome and hearty.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I made corn pudding yesterday. I have enough left over rice to make rice pudding later in the week.
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    Yum! Enjoy!

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Virgin Scrying?

Did you know that it was once thought advantageous to use virgins for scrying? While crystal balls are probably the most common form of scrying known now, and maybe second to that mirrors (you probably know John Dee's famous mirror). But other reflective surfaces have been used, including onychomancy (divination by a polished fingernail).

Claire Fanger makes a good argument for the late medieval link between scrying and summoning spirits. While summoning angels and binding demons might appear on the surface to be completely different skill sets or activities, clearly the two are easily linked because of the cosmological outlook both share:

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Precious Nature

While I usually spend my time in more distant history, I have found myself lately digging into early twentieth century pagan writings like Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willows (which I wrote about here: Nettles & Mugwort) and just recently Mary Webb's classic Precious Bane. While often connected to Thomas Hardy due to both the time period and geography they share, Webb has a much more inspiring view of nature and a generous view toward her fellow humans.

Telling the story of Prue Sarn, Webb explores many of the traditions the writer knew well from her childhood, practices that included everything from sin eating to mummers at Christmas. And she offers one of the most beautiful pieces of transcendent writing about the power of nature in Prue's moment of enlightenment. She has hid herself in the attic of their old farm house, not long after the death of her father, because her brother made her realise that her 'bane' was a terrible thing. She was born with a cleft palate, known then as a 'harelip' because it was believed, a hare spooked by the devil had crossed her pregnant mother's path, cursing her.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs

The dark moon is coming up in a few days, and shortly after that we will see the first sliver of the new moon in the sky. I have for a long time made a practice of acknowledging the presence of the new moon in some way, as it marks the beginning of a new cycle of the moon. In folklore it has also long had great significance and I think its important to acknowledge that. 

There was a belief that you could tie your luck and wealth to the growing light of the moon by turning any money in your pocket or a ring on your finger when you first saw the new moon and reciting a small chant. This sort of sympathetic magic is simple and easy for anyone to do and represents a common form of folk magic. 

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Powerful Hues: Protective Colors in Household Lore

Color symbolism is a major and timeless element of magical practice. Colors have been used in spells and rituals, in the construction of talismans and spiritual art, and in the protection of the household for centuries. Humans are highly visual creatures; as animals, we rely primarily on our sight for nourishment and protection, and color perception has helped our species identify safe things from dangers. It's natural that colors would take on powers of their own over time.

 

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Psychologically, we are made of very tough stuff – the mental equivalent of Titanium! As a consequence, it is extremely difficult to knock off our rough edges. It takes a painfully long time, and many abrasive experiences.

However, when those rough edges finally have been smoothed off, we will find it easy to slip into the next life with no catching, complaint or resistance.  It will come as naturally as the progression from caterpillar to butterfly, as consciousness graduates from one level of experience into a higher one.  

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Chicken Magic in Folktales and Lore

Chickens are humble animals. They’re heavy, mostly earthbound birds, spending their days pecking at the ground, clucking or crowing, bobbing their heads as they strut around the farmyard. They don’t exactly radiate mysterious elegance in the way that cats and rabbits do. However, when we look closely at European folk tales and medieval lore, we see that chickens very much had a significant place in European folk magic, especially as creatures of protection and sacrifice.

In lore about the river-dwelling Nickelman, or Nixie, Benjamin Thorpe notes that “in Thale they were formerly obliged annually to throw a black cock into the Bode [River]; for if they omitted to do so, someone would certainly die within the year” (87). Claude Lecouteux makes note of this kind of sacrifice several times in The Tradition of Household Spirits, one example being:

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