Celebrating Legends, Folklore & Spirituality 365 Days a Year for Feb. 26th – Shrove-Tide

Autumn witch
26 February

Shrove-Tide

Shrove-Tide, first observed in the Middle Ages, was a time of festivity and carnival before Lent started. It was also a festival of the expulsion of Winter, demonstrated by the burning or drowning of an effigy of Winter. Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent commences on Ash Wednesday, takes its name from being a day of confession of sins-“shrive” or confess. It was the last chance for good food and unrestricted fun before the long period of austerity began. Shrove-Tide became second only to Christmas for it frivolity and “Great Gluttony.”

The three days were generally known as Shrove Sunday, Collop Monday, and Shrove Tuesday. Collop Monday takes its name from the habit of eating collops (cuts of fried meat). It only made sense to get rid of all the meat in the house, because it would be banned after Ash Wednesday. Similarly, on Shrove Tuesday, all other perishable foodstuffs were used up.

In Catholic countries, especially France, Shrove-Tide became Fat Tuesday (commonly known as Mardi Gras). This was a time of carnival, with masquerades, singing, and dancing. The festival still continues and has been carried over into America, in particular, New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Lammas, Lughnasadh, Summer Feast, First Harvest Celebration

Lammas/Lugnasadh Comments

Lammas, Lughnasadh, Summer Feast, First Harvest Celebration

 

1. Collect corn husks, dry and store in shade. “Corn” was a generic term for cereal crops (i.e., wheat, barley, oats), and New World corn was added after 1520. Our non-irrigated winter wheat is harvested in June and July where I live. We can collect wild wheat stalks and seeds, tie, and hang in shade. Make a corn dolly and keep until the Yule Celebration. We can pick fruit (apricots, berries, figs and plums) and dry them. Many kinds for fruit are ripe in late July, so place some of these on your home altar. Many garden herbs are at their peak and ready for harvesting to make herbal remedies, air fresheners, use in herbal magic, and for decoration. There are hundreds of good books and websites on the magical, sacramental, and health uses of herbs.

2. Read about and make a loaf of bread. Loaves of bread are a traditional part of the First Harvest Feast. Break bread into four pieces and place at each of the Four Corners altars. Lammas means “Loaf Mass” in the Welsh language. Sharing bread is a common feature of a Lammas celebration. What is the role of baking bread in human culture? Find a really good bakery in your area.

3. This is a good month for celebrating. We, in America, celebrate the Fourth of July, and many counties have their annual Fairs. Be try to be very thankful for our peaceful and bountiful life in America. We are thankful for our religious freedom and the 1st Amendment. Americanism and patriotism are forms of a popular religion – we should reflect on our symbols and heritage. Take a look at Ceisiwr Serith’s website and links on Americanism. Hang up the flags, sing, play, smile, celebrate. Remember our fallen heroes, brave soldiers, and hardworking Ancestors.

4. Prepare for the “Games” of the First Harvest Feast. The Greek Olympics and Roman Heracleia games were held at this time. What games might you play? Horseshoes, boche ball, races, swimmng races, croquet, volleyball, badminton, frisbee, baseball, wrestling, spear throwing, arrow shooting, weight tossing …. Get your equipment and playing court ready, and practice.

5. Renew supplies of your favorite ritual-recreational drug: coffee, tobacco, alcohol (whiskey, beer, wine), fuzzy herbs, etc.. Beer and whiskey, made from barley, are often part of joyful summer harvest feast celebrations. Read about the song John Barleycorn.

6. Think about the power of the sun. How can we use solar power? Dry your clothes in the sun. Build a simple box with screen so you can use the power of the summer sun to dry your fresh fruit.

7. Do some thinking, reflection, or discursive meditation on various themes. Here are some themes to reflect upon: What are the relations between Chaos, Gaia, and Eros? What role does more sunlight play in bringing forth the bountiful harvest? What does summertime mean to you?

8. Implement new ways to stay cool that use less electrical energy. Switch to an evaporative cooler in areas with low humidity. Keep all windows covered. Carefully place fans to circulate air indoors. Work early in the morning and rest in the hot afternoon. Drink plenty of water. If your nights are cooler, under 80, draw the cool air indoors at night. A gable fan can really help reduce heat indoors.

9. Check out astronomical details about the rising of the Dog Star, Sirius, in late July, and the beginning of the “Dog Days of Summer.”

10. The Celtic God, Luga (Lugh, Long Hand), is noted for his high level skills in many arts and crafts: smith, carpenter, bard, healer, herbalist, magician, gamesman, spear throwing, military leadership, etc. Get out your paintbrush. Fix something in the yard or garden or home. Tidy up the garden. Create something, make something. Start learning a new practical skill or craft. Clean your weapons and practice with the weapons.

11. Working and meditating in the garden is an important facet of my spiritual path. I need to regularly reconnect with the earth and the autumn season outdoors. I live in Red Bluff, California, USDA Zone 9, Northern Hemisphere. My late September gardening chores might be quite different from yours, depending upon where you live. Tend your garden daily. Water your garden each day. Weed your vegetable garden. Harvest squash, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables from your garden each day. Review your own lists of chores for July and August, and act accordingly.

12. Read about Lammas, Lughnasadh, and summer festivals around the world. Add notes and links to books, magazines, and webpages on the subject. See my bibliography and links above. Visit your local public library or college library to obtain access to books, media and magazines on the subject. Study about ancient Indo-European religions. I update my Months webpages on July and September.

13. Add some appropriate Lammas, Lughnasadh, or Mid-Summer songs, chants, prayers, reflections, invocations, or poems to your Neo-Pagan Craft Journal, Book of Shadows, blog, website, or Ritual Handbook. Write in your personal journal. Most spiritual seekers keep a notebook, journal or log as part of their experimental, creative, magical and experiential work.

14. Stay at home. Improve your home, backyard, or garden. Eliminate long driving trips. Do you really need to “Go” anywhere? Do you really need to fly by airplane to another country? Explore your backyard, neighborhood, local community, nearby city, county wide area, regional area within 100 miles. Visit a local “sacred site.” For us, for example, this could be Mt. Shasta, the headwaters spring of the Sacramento River in Mt. Shasta City, the Sacramento River at Woodson Bridge Park, a long walk in the forest below nearby Mt. Lassen, sitting on the shore of Whiskeytown Lake, sitting in my backyard in the moonlight, or visiting a beautiful church or college or park that is nearby. Watch a DVD on a spiritual subject, sacred place, or inspirational topic. Learn more about your local environment.

15. Read solitary or group rites for Lughnasadh available in books and webpages (see above). Create your own ritual for Lughnasadh. Practice the ritual. Conduct the ritual at a convenient time for you, or your family and/or friends, as close to the day of the autumnal equinox as possible. Attend a public Mabon ritual of a local NeoPagan group.

16. A large fire is often lit in your safe outdoor fireplace as part of celebrating Lughnasadh. Take special care because many areas are quite dry in early August. Maybe use a few fireworks left over from the Fourth of July in America.

17. Thoroughly clean, dust, tidy up, refreshen, improve, and add appropriate seasonal decorations to your home altar. This should normally be clean and tidy, however an extra cleaning before the Lughnasadh celebration is a way to express your reverence, create a visible reminder of your thoughts and devotional practices, and to offer hospitality to the nature spirits, ancestors, and Shining Ones. If you don’t have a home altar, read some books and webpages about setting one up in your home or garden, and then establish one this holiday season.

Lughnasadh Celebrations

 

Witchcraft – Chapter Five – Early America

Witchcraft

Chapter five – Early America

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

The Colonial experience was entirely different from the European one. The settlers, many of whom came from crowded cities, suddenly encountered open land, deep woods and magnificent countryside. Experiencing nature for the first time had its threatening side despite the beauty. Hostile native population, years of failed crops and starvation, diseases and pirates were always there.

In addition, many of the settlers brought their old superstitions. The fear of the supernatural did not disappear just because the people moved to a new country. They saw “signs” in any natural event such as meteorites, comets, or thunderbolts. These poor people used fasting and prayer to relieve the fear and the sense of helplessness.

Unfortunately, they believed that evil witches followed them to their new home.  They had books about sorcery, written by people who knew nothing about the Old Religion. Some they brought from Europe, some they wrote in America. But unlike the Europeans, the settlers were not interested in complicated religious discussions. They just wanted to stop the witches from harming pigs, cattle, crops, and children.

Penalties for Witchcraft were the same as in Europe. However, the hysteria and mass executions did not occur, except later in Salem. Perhaps because of the sparse population,  the settlers were more careful about destroying human lives.

The settlers saw the witches in two ways. One view assumed that the witches were isolated individuals or members of a small coven. They meant to help themselves and harm others, mostly for material gain. The second view was truly bizarre. The witches, supposedly, were heretical members of a Satanic cult, intending to destroy the Puritan outposts in America.

This demonic view was accepted in New England, where the Puritan clergy considered themselves God’s chosen people. They managed to create a serious climate of fear in the population.

The most famous clergyman to hold that view was Cotton Mather. Apparently, he was neither a monster nor a lunatic, but an intelligent, educated man, with some medical as well as  religious knowledge. And yet, he talked about an “army of devils” ready to strike New England at any moment, and encouraged the settlers to fight a holy war against the powers of Evil.

Why did such an man give in to a ridiculous superstition?  First, as an orthodox Puritan, he believed that the Puritans’ worship was closer to God’s wishes than all other sect’s. Therefore, they represented a great threat to Satan himself. Satan, supposedly, could deal with any other Christians, but the Puritans were too holy for him. He just had to get rid of them. Second, Mather believed that America, without Christianity until the arrival of the settlers, was the Devil’s homeland!  Satan wanted to defend his kingdom against the newcomers.

Here is a direct quotation from Mather: “It was a rousing alarm to the Devil, when a great company of English Protestants and Puritans came to erect evangelical churches in a corner of the world where he had reigned without any control for many ages.”  Mather continues to say that the Native Americans were sorcerers and evil magicians.

As a result, about 95 percent of all American Witch executions were in New England. In other parts of the country, the settlers were kinder. They accepted witchcraft as a reality, but did not think about it as demonic conspiracy. They viewed witches as annoying, but not as threatening to life and society.

In Maryland and Virginia, Witchcraft was a felony, but the courts, somehow, did not take accusations of sorcery too seriously. Moreover, the accused were allowed to counter-sue their accusers for defamation of character. If found guilty, the accuser had to pay the “witch” a large sum of money. Naturally, this limited the accusations to very few. The most important reason to persecute witches, throughout history, was the prospect of material gain. If there was little chance of that, why bother?

The setters of New Netherlands, East and West Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware opened their territories as safe havens. It is a great credit to them, because they never really stopped believing that Witchcraft was dangerous. However, they did not let their fears turn them into howling, savage mobs.

To the average man and woman of the seventeenth century the Devil was very much alive. Many claimed they saw him in person. To one he appeared as a short black man with cloven feet; to another he came as a well-dressed gentleman; a third saw him as a white bird which promptly turned itself into a black cat. The most surprising description, given by an accused witch at Salem, was that he came to her as a little deer. One wonders how she knew that the harmless animal was the Devil!

He promised great rewards. To one young girl he offered money, clothes, and the opportunity to travel around the world. To an old woman he promised the position of Queen of Hell. Strangely, one farm girl asked him to do the chores for her – to drive the pigs out of the field and take out the ashes. He agreed. Considering that the Devil was the Prince of Hell, one wonders why the soul of a simple farm girl mattered so much to him. Who could imagine that the Devil would stoop to deal with garbage and pig swill just to get one person!  And yet they believed, and accepted, without the need for proof.

Sometimes he had a verbal agreement with his conspirators, but at other times he acted formally. He made a new witch sign a large black book with blood. Usually the Devil committed himself to help the witch until her death, but sometimes the contract lasted for a few years only.

After signing, the final act required placing the Devil’s mark upon the body of the victim.  The marks could be anything – birthmarks, moles, scars, or skin discolorations, and had to be insensitive to pain.

The older the person was, the easier it was to find marks on her. Age spots and warts made the older women doubly suspect. Also, in a new settlement, strong resentment existed against people who could not work very hard. An old woman, worn out by years of suffering and toil, could not produce. Throwing her in jail, where she would soon die from neglect, was a good way to get rid of her. Killing her directly was even better. If she had any property that could be confiscated, no matter how little, many were ready to point at her as a witch.

Supposedly, you had to agree to the contract of your own free will, as the Devil could not force anyone to make a pact with him. Some claimed that he tortured them before they agreed, but that was no excuse. To the Puritan clergyman, any amount of pain, even death, was better than serving Satan. And why didn’t the victim go right away to her minister for help?

The Sabbats didn’t exist in America. Unlike the Europeans, the Americans believed the witch operated alone, despite the demonic plan to overthrow the Puritan settlements. No gatherings were mentioned until the Salem incidents. But even then, the gatherings were just a few witches getting together. The biggest ceremony ever described involved no more than twenty-five witches. This is because a social gathering of any nature was frowned upon by the Puritans. A result of such a lifestyle was that the people never learned to get along. Endless fights arose among the people of Salem, and the attempt to create a social gathering among the girls started the rumors about the Witchcraft.

The most feared was the “sea witch.”  Supposedly, the witch could control the winds at sea. The settlers believed that when a witch was on board,  she often caused a storm to sink the ship. For some reason, they did not wonder why the witch would not be afraid of drowning herself when the ship sank. So the torture and hanging of old women on those ship was commonplace whenever a storm happened at sea. Often it was against the captain’s wishes, but the only way to prevent a mutiny was to allow the crew to have their fun. In one well-known case, an old woman denied causing the storm. She was stripped naked, tied to the mast, and exposed to the horrible gale and huge waves for the entire night. Somehow she didn’t die. In the morning, to end the torture and humiliation, she confessed to being a witch and was immediately hanged.

Possession roused the greatest fear. The Puritans believed that witches ordered demons to enter the bodies of their victims and torture them; that demons possessed all the mentally handicapped, the physically deformed, and the insane; that suicide was caused by possessing demons, who tortured the victim beyond endurance.  It’s incredible how little investigation was made into the character of the accuser, particularly if she was a young girl. In a society where men outnumbered women, the marriageable young woman became a valuable asset. She had many years of hard work in front of her, while the old witch, as mentioned above, outlived her usefulness.

This explains why the people in Salem were so eager to believe the hysterical girls who accused the witches. These girls could have had an unknown disease – perhaps epilepsy, or Huntington disease, which causes the same contortion of the body and convulsions as cases of “possessions.”  They may have had some mental illness based on their fear of Witchcraft. Or they could have been simply lying in order to get attention – common behavior for frustrated, lonely, young persons. And yet, no one questioned their motives.

Just before the outbreak of terror, Salem had a new minister, Reverend Samuel Paris, who was disliked by many of his congregation. A Harvard dropout, he worked most of his life as a merchant in the West Indies trade. Later he entered the clergy and obtained the Salem position, because other Clergymen didn’t want it. The inhabitants were constantly fighting and squabbling, and two former ministers resigned, unable to control the people. Parris did not endear himself to the population by his immediate request for a raise in salary and a land grant.

It was in this household that a group of young girls started to meet regularly. The notion of a social gathering for girls, so obvious and normal to us, was not so under Puritan regime. The only gathering allowed was in Church. But as the circle included the Reverend Parris’ nine-year-old daughter and eleven-year-old niece, it seemed harmless enough. However, it was not restricted to this age group. Some young women were in their teens, two were twenty years of age, and one was much older. This was Tibula, a West Indian slave. She wanted to amuse the girls by playing with a bit of magic from her Island home. She put the white of one egg in a cup to simulate a crystal ball, said some charms, and supposedly could see the face of your future husband in it.

Innocent enough. But the girls, brought up with an intense fear of the supernatural, saw it as a grave sin. They had to keep it as a secret, and even the youngest told nothing to their families. As the winter progressed, they played with more magic tricks with Tibula. Eventually, the strain of hiding such a horrible sin showed, and two of the girls went into seizures. Everyone who saw them immediately assumed it was demonic possession. The doctor, William Griggs, who was the uncle of one of the afflicted girls, said that the sickness had no physical and natural explanation. He decided it was caused by the evil eye of a witch. Reverend Parris leapt into action. He started rousing the villagers against the powerful witches who, he believed, lived among them.

The first suspects were Tibula and her husband. Tibula, for some reason, admitted that she had bewitched the girls, and named other conspirators. The accused were two women, Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn. As soon as the names were mentioned to the girls, they immediately said that yes, these were the witches that tormented them. Previously they had no idea who to blame, so obviously this should have been a clue to the villagers, but this was ignored. More girls became sick with “demonic” seizures.

Other witches, Tibula insisted, were involved, but she didn’t know who they were.  Parris decided that a body of witches stood ready to destroy all the good Puritans of Salem. They could be lurking anywhere, so many arrests were made. The girls agreed with any name that was mentioned to them, and came up with some names of their own. Rebecca Nurse, a woman who opposed Reverend Parris’ appointment as minister, was charged not only with bewitching the girls, but with the murder of several children who died some time before. Martha Corey, one of the few people to wonder about the girl’s motives, was arrested immediately. Tibula now claimed that Martha and Rebecca were the missing witches.

The jails filled to capacity. Sarah Osburn died without a hearing, still in jail. Tibula was sold to someone in Virginia. Sarah Good had a baby in prison. More people started accusing their neighbors, without the slightest evidence or proof. No one dared to object, because opposition caused immediate arrest. Other villages joined the Witch hunt.

Cotton Mather, watching all of it from Boston, was requested to prepare a document explaining the position of the church on sorcery, and suggesting legal procedures. The paper was called “The Return of Several Ministers.”  It insisted that the possessed persons be treated with all consideration and support, while the guilty treated decisively and harshly. Mather suggested extreme care in the conduct of the trials and the avoidance of noise and distractions.

Most important was his decision to use “spectral evidence” in court. If the vision of a witch appeared to the suffering victim, then that witch was guilty as charged. In other words, hallucinations were admitted as court evidence, and an alibi was, therefore, useless.  You could be in jail for months, but if a girl said you came to her in a vision and bewitched her, this was as good evidence as if you came to her in person.

People argued. After all, the Devil could have taken on the image of the accused witch, particularly if she was innocent!   Possibly, agreed Mather. But very unlikely and only in extraordinary circumstances. In most cases, the “specter of the witch” was the witch.

So the courts eagerly adopted spectral evidence as valid, even allowing ghosts that came back to report who murdered them. Included were the apparitions of six children who returned to earth, supposedly, to accuse Rebecca Nurse as their killer.

Mather’s request that silence and good behavior be maintained in court, was, of course, ignored. The possessed girls shrieked, fainted, pointed out new witches, and probably enjoyed their power tremendously. They were also encouraged in the “doctrine of fascination” which claimed that the witch could harm her victims by various acts done from a distance. For example, if the witch bit her lip, the girls howled that they felt she bit them, directly. The crowd went wild.

There is no point in describing each act and every trial. It was all an exercise in ignorance, stupidity and gullibility of a deluded population, frustrated by harsh living and a religion that offered no comfort or compassion. Fortunately, some “witches” escaped, but the town hanged twenty people, including old Rebecca Nurse and the new mother, Sarah Good. One old man was pressed to death – his tormentors put heavy weights on his body to crush him and make him confess. It took him two full days to die.

Eventually, the madness stopped.  Brave people like Robert Pike, who had also objected to the Puritans’ harsh treatment of Quakers, wrote against it.  John Foster, a member of the Governor’s Councils, joined him. Twenty-four inhabitants of Andover organized a petition. Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall resigned in disgust. They questioned the motives of the girls and particularly the validity of spectral evidence. Public opinion, always volatile in America, began to change.

Other states joined in the opposition. A group of New York clergymen denounced the Salem courts, particularly the spectral evidence, and the assumption that any good, normal person could suddenly start working for the Devil. The same was done in Connecticut.

It ended with a whimper. No one took responsibility for the horrors, and a theory was put forth to pacify the population. It said that all the participants, including accusers, judges, and jurors, acted not out of malice but were controlled by the Devil. He wanted, as suspected before, to destroy Puritan settlements. Therefore, he made it seem as if witches were working in the area, while in reality there were no witches there at all.

The residents of Massachusetts accepted it. To make them even happier, Queen Anne of England, who was consulted, absolved them of all responsibility, and only requested that care and moderation should be the style of the future. And so the good residents of Massachusetts regained their clear conscience. After all, the entire nightmare was not their fault. The Devil made them do it.

Source:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

A Brief History of Paganism in America

A Brief History of Paganism in America

Author:   CoyoteSkyWoman   

Author’s note: This essay was originally a submission to my American History class at Southern New Hampshire University. I felt that I should share it with the Pagan Community at large since it was apparently well received by my professor, who had no previous background or knowledge in Paganism. It is written in APA style, so the notations in the reference section are correct. The reference to Witchvox will probably give you a chuckle. – Deb J.

There is a religion in America today that has been slowly growing since the late 1960’s and has been gaining in popularity and acceptance throughout the years. Neo-Paganism, which includes such diverse branches as Wicca, Druidism, Asatru (a worship of Norse deities) , and many other reconstructionist and revivalist groups often based on the deeply researched practices of the ancients. Far from being the Hollywood vision of witches and witchdoctors, the “worldview of witchcraft is, above all, one that values life” (Starhawk 1979, p 32) , and is tied closer to the natural world than many world religions, save for other nature-oriented sects such as Buddhism and Shinto.

The roots of the modern Pagan movement in America can be traced back to the early 1950’s in England where a man by the name of Gerald B. Gardner first made public his beliefs in an older Goddess based religion called Wica (also known as Wicca, the Craft of the Wise, or simply, the Craft) that had persisted from ancient times. Aidan Kelley, founder of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn states that “it really makes no difference whether or not Gardner was initiated into an older coven. He invented a new religion, a ‘living system’ and modern covens have adopted a lot of it because it fulfills a need” (Adler 1979, p 80) . Gardner himself claimed that a lot of what he taught came directly from an ancient coven, and that he was initiated by an old neighbor woman by the name of Dorothy Clutterbuck. The veracity of this claim has never been firmly established, and although birth and death records for “Old Dorothy” have been uncovered, how much involvement she had in Gardner’s vision still remains a topic of hot debate.

It is the view of many Neo-Pagans including Kelley that Gardner has never properly “been given credit for creative genius. He had a vision of a reformed Craft. He pulled together pieces from magic and folklore; he assimilated the ‘matriarchal theology set forth in (Robert) Graves, (Charles) Leland, and Apuleius. With these elements, he created a system that grew” (Adler 1979, p 83) .

Whatever the true background of the first English branch of Wicca, by the early 1970’s “all of the main English branches of Pagan Witchcraft had arrived in the United States: and “the books of (Margaret) Murray, Graves, and Gardner found a wide readership” (Hutton 1999, p 341) . There is some evidence that there were indigenous branches of American Paganism on record as early as 1938 when “the very first self-conscious modern Pagan religion, the Church of Aphrodite, ” was ”established in Long Island”, (Hutton 1999, p 340) , however, none of these had the staying power of the English branches. By 1975, Paganism was becoming firmly entrenched on our soil.

The next phase of the assimilation of English Pagan beliefs was a large turning point for the blossoming American Pagans. The radical feminist movement, which was developing during the mid seventies, came into contact with these very Goddess-oriented, female affirming worshipers, and there was a great merging of beliefs. By the mid 1970’s the “view of witchcraft expressed being ‘female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal’ “ and this “became embedded firmly in American Radical Feminism” (Hutton 1999, p 341) . The problem was that the feminist view overtook the religious aspects and by the late seventies, witchcraft had decayed into a feminist-rallying cry, centered around the so-called Burning Times when men dehumanized women and supposedly burned them at the stake because they interfered with the newly created practice of the doctor.

Midwives and herbalists were claimed to be some of the targets of this attack, so naturally, feminists flocked to this banner of outrage, seeing it as proof of continued patriarchal persecution.

Not all of the Pagan feminists lost sight of the religious aspects, however. In 1971, a young woman by the name of Zsuzanna Budapest formed the Susan B Anthony coven in Hollywood, CA, and went on to become one of the most respected feminist Pagan writers of the period. While she was staunchly feminist, she also was very much a follower of Wiccan beliefs, and was one of the most influential writers those who were to follow in her footsteps. In 1980, she wrote The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries which went on to become an instant classic, and is one of the standards by which modern Pagans judge all other books in the genre.

Another feminist writer gained fame when she published her first book, The Spiral Dance, on Hallowe’en in 1979. The woman’s penname was Starhawk, and her book gained much praise, not so much for its religious material that was extensive, but also for its poetic prose. Starhawk was a Witch who had been “trained by Gardnerians, and then initiated into one of the homegrown American strains of Pagan Witchcraft which had also absorbed some material from Wicca, the Faery (or Feri) , taught by Victor Anderson” (Hutton 1999, p 345).

Starhawk described her vision of the Craft as “a joyous, life-affirming, tolerant path; a religion of poetry not theology, which yet demanded responsibility” (Hutton 1999, p 346). Starhawk is one of the most often quoted Pagan writers, and The Spiral Dance is considered to be one of the top five selling pagan books of all time. Starhawk’s vision of Wicca floats through the words on every page, and the words are lyric and insightful. The Spiral Dance does not so much instruct readers on how to follow Paganism, but more leads by telling stories and giving examples of what the Pagan life is like through the eyes of a Pagan. Starhawk’s following books, Dreaming the Dark and Truth or Dare delve more deeply into the history of religious movements and examine the dualism present in most religions. Although somewhat darker than The Spiral Dance in tenor, the books never the less contain important ideas that have helped to develop Paganism into the new millennium.

The 1980’s were a time of great change for the Pagan movement in terms of the spread of information and the pursuit of general acceptance. The word was out, either on the newly created Internet or in the increasing number of books available. By the end of the 1980’s there were thousands of established Pagan groups across the country, and festivals were being celebrated on the eight major holidays in the open. While there was still a lot of prejudice, especially in the Midwestern Bible-belt, in the North-East and West coast, there were more and more publicly announced rituals and events that were open to the public. New England’s own Earthspirit community was among the first to hold an annual Beltaine or Mayday event at Sheepfold Meadow in Medford, MA. Complete with Maypole, donated foods by participants, and drumming and dancing, these yearly events were no longer hidden and performed in seclusion, but were held out in the open for all to see.

Other events followed, becoming more widespread and more diverse. By the early nineties, what had once been a small celebration between invited guests in Salem, MA on Hallowe’en or Samhain had become a giant affair involving most of the local merchants and Pagan groups. Huge psychic fairs were held at the Olde Town Hall, and lines went out the door for attendees of such events.

Elsewhere in the country, other similar events were being held, and a website devoted to the progress of the Pagan community as a whole in the U.S. was formed. The Witches Voice or Witchvox as it was commonly known, was a place to meet local pagans, promote events, post informational articles, and advertise skills such as clergy and tarot readers. Most groups interested in promoting their events would post their information online for everyone to see, and from there, hold their events. As of the time of this writing, the Witches Voice community listings are still the most popular way of getting information on upcoming Pagan events.

The amount of Pagan oriented books skyrocketed in the 1990’s. With the publication of books by SilverRavenWolf, Amber K, Edain MacCoy and countless others, the amount of information available at any local bookstore or online bookseller was staggering. Whether it was information on various Pagan holidays like Llewellyn’s Wheel of the Year by the Campanelli’s or on legal issues, like Dana Eiler’s Pagans and the Law, there was a reference out there for anything you could want.

That did not mean that the information was always solid, and there was a lot of repetitiveness, especially since the publishers at Llewellyn knew a good thing when they saw it, but by the mid-nineties, there was no longer a question of whether the Pagan movement would be dying out any time soon. Neo-Paganism was here to stay.
A testament to how deeply entrenched the alternative culture had penetrated the minds of America came from an unlikely source. On November 27, 1995, “an episode of the cult science fiction show, The X-files neatly had its ideological cake and ate it too…” While dealing with a cult-oriented murder case, “the heroine (Agent Scully) burst out that ‘Wiccans love all living things’ – and that settled the matter. Suddenly, the story was in the 1990’s” (Hutton 1999, p 386).

The X-files was not the first television show to portray pro-pagan sentiment. The most stunning “display of motifs taken ultimately from Wicca in the 1980’s and 1990’s” was the hit show broadcast first in the UK and then over here in America. Hosted by Showtime, the show “Robin of Sherwood” produced by HTV was a hit both in America and across the pond. With its stunning scenery and costuming, Robin of Sherwood starred both Michael Praed and, later, Jason Connery, as the title character. The show “portrayed Robin Hood as a pagan guided by the antlered god of the greenwood – here called Herne” (Hutton 1999, p 388) . This show would influence an entire generation of Neo-Pagans, and flavor their view of magic and mystery for years to come.

Now, in the new century, Paganism is alive and well. Annual Pagan Pride events that take place across the country serve as educational tools for both Pagans and non-Pagans alike. Books and movies continue to act as influential means of education, and Paganism continues to grow. As a positive, life-affirming religion, it has its heart in the right place, and as long as it remains so, with its goals intact, it will continue to prosper and spread its message of peace for many years to come.

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References

Adler, M. (1979) . Drawing down the moon. Boston: Beacon Press.
Hutton, R. (1999) . The triumph of the moon: a history of modern pagan witchcraft. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
Simos, M. (Starhawk) , (1979) . The spiral dance; a rebirth of the ancient religion of the great goddess. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.

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