Pagan Studies


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Studies Blogs

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

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Three Approaches to Fairy Work

As I've studied both older folk practices relating to fairies and modern methods I've observed three basic approaches. Today I'd like to take a quick look at these, with an understanding that there is no one that is better or worse than the others; they are simply different ways to relate to the Fair Folk that have developed organically over time. All of these exist in the historic record as well as modern practice. 

1. Appeasement/Warding - Probably the most common approach to dealing with the Good People is simply to prophylactically give them what you are willing to and which they want - usually milk, butter, or bread - to avoid them taking what you don't want to give and which they also want - cows, human children or adults, or your luck or prosperity. The other side of that is to ward against them with iron, specific herbs and charms, or Christian items. These two things, appeasement and warding, are usually paired together as joined practices. The majority of people who acknowledge the existence of fairies, in my own experience and study, take this approach if any. 

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Not Only Lammas: Other August Harvest Holidays and Traditions in Europe

Grains are goldening, apples and other fruits are ripening, and beehives are thick with honey. The harvest season has come and is rapidly maturing. While Lammas and Lughnasadh have passed in the UK and Ireland, other harvest holidays are still just beginning. Each festival celebrates the culmination of hard work and good luck, and marks the turning of the year, the slow fade of summer into fall, and the gratitude that people still feel for the benevolence of their lands.

Grains, Apples, and Honey

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Made in God's Image

My friend and I were having a conversation the other day. I was relating the story of my journey to South Africa and my trip to Robben Island, but more specifically the powerful effect the artwork on the prison walls had on me. This artwork was significant because the prisoners on Robben Island were overwhelmingly African, yet there was a picture of a white Jesus on the walls. My friend couldn't understand why African prisoners would choose to draw a picture of a white Jesus on the wall until I explained to him the historical significance of the missionary movement in Africa and specifically how white privilege played a part in the conversion of slaves to Christianity. 

"That is so sad." He commented, half in shock. And I must agree with him. As a Pagan, I draw strength and comfort from the concept that my deities come in many shapes and sizes. They are not limited by gender or sexual expression, size or natural status. In essence I can find in my deities the diversity of expression that reflects my own humanity and allows me to connect with them on a deeper level. For Christians, this is limited by their monotheistic view of God Himself. Who gets to determine what God looks like? In many cases that question is answered by whoever is in power.

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Pagan Pilgrimage, Basic Guidelines

The idea of making pilgrimages - effectively of travelling to a place perceived as sacred - has gained popularity among pagans. I often see people in various social media groups talking about making such journeys to places they believe have sacred qualities or associations or talking about trips they have made. The main questions I see people asking centre on how to do this in ways that are most respectful to the sacredness of the location, but often are rooted in a paradigm of interaction with these places that is humancentric and ultimately doesn't really respect the location. It can be hard to shift out of that mindset. 

I am speaking here as someone who has dealt with tourists and been a tourist, and who has seen firsthand the harm that humans do even when they are trying to engage in a sacred way with a place. Often this harm comes from short sightedness and failure to understand the full impact of their actions but sometimes its also from a very self-centred place. I've seen 5,000 year old historic sites treated like someone's own backyard, seen graffiti on standing stones, rubbish tied to rag trees and tossed into cairns, and painted 'So-and-So was Here' stones left at archaeological sites. None of this reflects best practices, and I believe that we, as a wider community, can do better. 

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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 Wīfe
    The Cunning Wīfe 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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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
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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