Pagan Studies


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Studies Blogs

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

The Defender at the Door: Wormwood Folklore and Household Uses

Several years ago, I bought a small wormwood plant at a local nursery. I loved its soft, silvery leaves, clean scent, and knew of its use in absinthe, so I had to have it. I potted it for a year or so, and it didn’t do very well (to be fair, I’m not great with potted plants). But I knew that we would be moving eventually, and I didn’t want to leave it behind when we did. Two and a half years ago, we made our move to the Blue Ridge mountains and I brought my sad little wormwood with me. Not long after I planted it in the ground -- a claiming act -- beside our front porch, it sprang back to life. It’s full and vital now, and its clean scent, feathery texture, silvery green color, and powerful magic have preserved its status as one of my favorites (my mints share that status).

 

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Irish Pagan Resources

One of the questions I am asked fairly regularly is what books I recommend for people interested in studying Irish Paganism, as there is so much confusion out there about what's good and what's not. Obviously different people will have their own suggestions here but I wanted to write a bit about how I judge sources and also offer a selection of good books (and a few websites) that I have found to be useful for people studying Irish Paganism. 

Basic Suggestions for Judging Sources

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Fierce Threads: Fiber Arts and Battle Magic

 

 

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Respect, Fear, and Fairies

The Fair Folk are once again seeing a surge in popularity across paganism and with this higher profile has come an array of conversations about them and particularly the risk they may represent. For myself I am thrilled to see many of the younger witches out there advocating caution or even fear around the Gentry, but I have seen some people pushing back against that, particularly in the witchcraft community. Its an interesting thing to watch, as someone who grew up with a healthy caution around these beings and who has worked for years to speak about that caution and respect in every possible forum. 

I suspect that the disconnect here is both generational and cultural. If you are part of a culture that still believes in and understands these beings through the lens of older belief then you likely grew up with an understanding that they were or could be dangerous. If you are in the newest generation of witches and pagans then you may have started to run across more accurate folklore as well, as more urban fantasy1 takes inspiration from older folklore and as more advocates for traditional fairy views are speaking up. However there was a period in the 1990's and 2000's especially where most witchcraft books in the US discussed the Good Neighbours in very different terms, usually through the post-Victorian lens of guides and minor spirits. That era has produced a view among some which still persists that these beings shouldn't be feared but seen as natural friends of a witch. It isn't entirely wrong but it does lend itself to gross oversimplification and confusion, and sadly to a continued emphasis on anthropocentrism and diminishment of the fairies. 

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The History of Magic

I was delighted to take part in a discussion on the BBC  of the history of magic from a variety of perspectives. While our remit was broad (all of time!) we did try to bring up some specific examples from our respective areas of expertise. Of course that meant that I had a chance to talk about both medieval magic and Leonora Carrington.

Give it a listen here.

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No young bride or groom ever imagines that in twenty years one of them may be chronically ill, and the other partner may become a full-time caregiver. They may blithely repeat, “in sickness and in health.” But starry-eyed Youth cannot conceive of the crushing reality hidden within such a serious promise.

This morning my wife asked me for the fourth time, “What day is it?” A few years ago I would have said, “Oh for God's sake, I just told you three times!” But now I simply speak as clearly as I can (because of her hearing loss), pretending that I'm an actor on stage, and the director has asked me to repeat a line from the script. (There's nothing unreasonable about that! In fact, it's an expected part of my professional job.) “Thursday,” I say smilingly. If she thanks me, my next line is a cordial, “You're welcome.”

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The most pernicious thing about racism and white supremacy may be the way that they get into absolutely everything in US culture, even things we might assume – or want to assume – are impervious to such influences. This is true of the fairy faith, that set of beliefs and practices connected to the fey folk which were brought to the US with Europeans and can be found in parallels of native American beliefs. Sadly I have seen this expressed over the years in various ways, usually intended to uphold the idea of white as normative and to push out people of colour who may be interested in fairylore or fairy based spirituality. I’ve always been a vocal opponent of such attitudes and today I’d like to tackle this directly.

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