Are You a Pagan Individual?

Are You a Pagan Individual?

Author:   Crick   

When one looks about the Neo Pagan community, one common factor that stands out is the constant jockeying of certain individuals/groups to be the learning curve for all other pagans. To my mind this is an attempt to validate ones personal insecurities. For as pagans we should be individuals who are comfortable in the way that we seek our spiritual path.

One cannot be true to and thus accepting of others if we are not true to ourselves first. This is a tenet that separates the individualism of paganism in general and witchcraft in particular, from the tenets of organized religion.

It is interesting to note though that such behavior is unique to Neo Paganism. Not all of those who contributed to the origins of Christianity believe in the concept of “Jesus” as he is portrayed by the organized religions of today.

For instance, the Mandaeans are followers of John the Baptist. They are a people called “Mughtasilah”, which translates as, “Those Who Wash themselves”. They are considered to be the “Children of the Books”, and as such, are said to be “holders of the Word of God.” And though they are hostile to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, (Mandaeans regard Christianity and rabbinical Judaism as false religions that, along with the negative influence and/or alignment of planets and stars, impede the soul’s release from bondage.

With the arrival of Islam in Iraq, in 636 CE, the Mandeans were seen as the third “people of the book”, and were thought to be the mysterious Sabians of the Koran. But the Mandeans still encountered a difficult relationship with Islam, and Muhammad is in their writings called the demon “Bizbat”.

The Mandaeans themselves subscribe to the belief that Judas Thomas was Jesus’ twin brother and that it was actually Judas Thomas who was crucified on the cross and that Jesus then lived out his life as his brother Thomas to avoid persecution for his attempted role as the alleged messiah. To support this belief, the early church father “Irenaeus” wrote around 150 CE that Jesus remained on earth as a teacher for some twenty years after his crucifixion, and that John the Apostle served as a conduit for these teachings.

The Mandaeans are an ancient form of Christian Gnosticism, which practices initiation, ecstasy and various rituals that have been said to resemble those of the Freemasons. They very frequently practice baptism in running water and a sort of “confirmation”, is given to the dying. They repudiate idolatry and circumcision, while celibacy is absolutely forbidden. They practice a moral code of charity and goodwill.”

They hold to a planetary influence on the hours, much like Solomon and others of his kind did and they have a seven-day induction of priests, which is similar to the Sabians. Their year consists of twelve months of thirty days each, followed by five auspicious days of epact. At the New Year they keep vigil for the spirits of light to return from congratulating the Supreme Being for creation.

They utter “Ask and find, speak and listen” like the Harranians, but then invoke a formal denial of the powers of the sun and moon contrary to the Sabians. Their calendar is solar while the Harranian one is luni-solar. And amongst the Mandaeans, women may own property, though divorce is not recognized, and a man may have as many wives as he desires.”

The Mandaeans take their name from “Manda” which means secret knowledge.” The Mandaean priests are called “Nasoreans”, as were the followers of Jesus. Within the Mandaean sect, a Nazarean is equated to the same status as an archbishop. During the first three centuries CE, there were certain Mandaean or Johannite sects, especially in the region of the Tigris-Euphrates basin, who honored John the Baptist, not Jesus, as their prophet.

One of these sects still exists to this day in areas of Iraq. According to their thinking, John the Baptist was “the true prophet”, while Jesus was a rebel, a heretic, who led men astray and whom betrayed secret doctrines.” According to the Mandeans, John the Baptist was Hibil-Ziwa. “Hibil-Ziwa was a Savior who entered the world of darkness and destroyed the evil spirits so that the faithful could obtain liberation before the end of the world.”

The Mandaeans tell of the founding of Jerusalem by a powerful and evil female Goddess named Ru Ha. For Jews, Muslims and Syriac-speaking Christians, Ru Ha, signifies the Holy Spirit who is mentioned in both the Quran and the Bible. She controlled the Seven Planets and worked evil on the Earth through several chosen men. They are Abraham, Moses, David and his son Solomon. Her greatest evil however, was realized through the actions of one man. At her temple in Jerusalem, a young priestess was selected to bear a “special offspring”. The name of this priestess was “Miriam”. The Christians call her Mary. She brought forth the “child of Ru Ha”, the “Imunel” (Immanuel) and he were in turn called, “Jesus”.

He was baptized by John and taught at length by him. In time he turned away from John’s teachings and led the people astray, the Mandaeans claim. The Mandaeans say that Mary is a “Daughter of Moses” and that Moses dwelt on Mt. Sinai.

One of the texts of the Mandeans tells a story about the flight of a group called “Nasoreans”, from areas that are today known as Jordan, to the Mesopotamian region, in the times of the Jewish wars following the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. It is thought that they were driven out by Saul (Paul) himself.

The story goes that Paul arrived as the first Christian missionary in Corinth and in Ephesus, only to discover to his amazement that there were already churches established there. Upon making inquiries he discovered that they were the Church of John the Baptist. Paul believed that the Ephesians and Corinthians would, therefore, be delighted to discover that he represented Jesus Christ, the one prophesied to come after John.

However, contrary to his expectations, they had never heard of such a prophecy.” The following reference is found in the Christian bible: “While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when [or after] you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ “John’s baptism, ” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 19:1-5

And so though there is an ongoing and determined effort by the three main Abrahamic religions to be seen as the learning curve for all other beliefs in the world, just as there are certain Neo Pagan individuals/groups who follow suit in regards to Paganism. As individuals it is our responsibility to dig beneath the surface of such popular and often misguided rhetoric, for the truth is that which serves the individual and not that of the masses.

As pagans, our spiritual journey is unique to each of us and cannot nor should not be defined by any one group of folks, regardless of such rhetoric…

A Midsummer’s Celebration

 by Mike Nichols

The young maid stole through the cottage door, And blushed as she sought the Plant of pow’r; — “Thou silver glow-worm, O lend me thy light, I must gather the mystic St. John’s wort tonight, The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide If the coming year shall make me a bride.”

In addition to the four great festivals of the Pagan Celtic year, there are four lesser holidays as well: the two solstices, and the two equinoxes. In folklore, these are referred to as the four “quarter days” of the year, and modern Witches call them the four “Lesser Sabbats”, or the four “Low Holidays”. The summer solstice is one of them.

Technically, a solstice is an astronomical point and, due to the calendar creep of the leap-year cycle, the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. The summer solstice occurs when the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer, and we experience the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Astrologers know this as the date on which the sun enters the sign of Cancer.

However, since most European peasants were not accomplished at reading an ephemeris or did not live close enough to Salisbury Plain to trot over to Stonehenge and sight down its main avenue, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, June 24. The slight forward displacement of the traditional date is the result of multitudinous calendrical changes down through the ages. It is analogous to the winter solstice celebration, which is astronomically on or about December 21, but is celebrated on the traditional date of December 25, Yule, later adopted by the Christians.

Again, it must be remembered that the Celts reckoned their days from sundown to sundown, so the June 24 festivities actually begin on the previous sundown (our June 23). This was the date of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Which brings up another point: our modern calendars are quite misguided in suggesting that ‘summer begins’ on the solstice.  According to the old folk calendar, summer begins on May Day and ends on Lammas (August 1), with the summer solstice, midway between the two, marking midsummer. This makes more logical sense than suggesting that summer begins on the day when the sun’s power begins to wane and the days grow shorter.

Although our Pagan ancestors probably preferred June 24 (and indeed most European folk festivals today use this date), the sensibility of modern Witches seems to prefer the actual solstice point, beginning the celebration on its eve, or the sunset immediately preceding the solstice point. Again, it gives modern Pagans a range of dates to choose from with, hopefully, a weekend embedded in it.

Just as the Pagan Midwinter celebration of Yule was adopted by Christians as “Christmas” (December 25), so too the Pagan Midsummer celebration was adopted by them as the Feast of John the Baptist (June 24). Occurring 180 degrees apart on the wheel of the year, the Midwinter celebration commemorates the birth of Jesus, while the Midsummer celebration commemorates the birth of John, the prophet who was born six months before Jesus in order to announce his arrival.

Although modern Witches often refer to the holiday by the rather generic name of “Midsummer’s Eve”, it is more probable that our Pagan ancestors of a few hundred years ago actually used the Christian name for the holiday, “St. John’s Eve”. This is evident from the wealth of folklore that surrounds the summer solstice (i.e., that it is a night especially sacred to the faerie folk), but which is inevitably ascribed to “St. John’s Eve”, with no mention of the sun’s position. It could also be argued that a coven’s claim to antiquity might be judged by what name it gives the holidays. (Incidentally, the name ‘Litha’ for the holiday is a modern usage, possibly based on a Saxon word that means the opposite of Yule. Still, there is little historical justification for its use in this context.) But weren’t our Pagan ancestors offended by the use of the name of a Christian saint for a pre-Christian holiday?

Well, to begin with, their theological sensibilities may not have been as finely honed as our own. But secondly and more  mportantly, St. John himself was often seen as a rather Pagan figure.  He was, after all, called “the Oak King”. His connection to the wilderness (from whence “the voice cried out”) was often emphasized by the rustic nature of his shrines. Many statues show him as a horned figure (as is also the case with Moses).  Christian iconographers mumble embarrassed explanations about “horns of light”, while modern Pagans giggle and happily refer to such statues as “Pan the Baptist”. And to clench matters, many depictions of John actually show him with the lower torso of a satyr, cloven hooves and all! Obviously, this kind of John the Baptist is more properly a Jack in the Green! Also obvious is that behind the medieval conception of St. John lies a distant, shadowy Pagan Deity, perhaps the archetypal Wild Man of the wood, whose face stares down at us through the foliate masks that adorn so much church architecture. Thus, medieval Pagans may have had fewer problems adapting than we might suppose.

In England, it was the ancient custom on St. John’s Eve to light large bonfires after sundown, which served the double purpose of providing light to the revelers and warding off evil spirits.  This was known as “setting the watch”. People often jumped through the fires for good luck. In addition to these fires, the streets were lined with lanterns, and people carried cressets (pivoted lanterns atop poles) as they wandered from one bonfire to another. These wandering, garland-bedecked bands were called a “marching watch”. Often they were attended by morris dancers, and traditional players dressed as a unicorn, a dragon, and six hobbyhorse riders. Just as May Day was a time to renew the boundary of one’s own property, so Midsummer’s Eve was a time to ward the boundary of the city.

Customs surrounding St. John’s Eve are many and varied.  At the very least, most young folk plan to stay up throughout the whole of this shortest night. Certain courageous souls might spend the night keeping watch in the center of a circle of standing stones. To do so would certainly result in either death, madness, or (hopefully) the power of inspiration to become a great poet or bard. (This is, by the way, identical to certain incidents in the first branch of The Mabinogion.) This was also the night when the serpents of the island would roll themselves into a hissing, writhing ball in order to engender the “glain”, also called the “serpent’s egg”, “snake stone”, or “Druid’s egg”. Anyone in possession of this hard glass bubble would wield incredible magical powers. Even Merlyn himself (accompanied by his black dog) went in search of it, according to one ancient Welsh story.

Snakes were not the only creatures active on Midsummer’s Eve. According to British faery lore, this night was second only to Halloween for its importance to the Wee Folk, who especially enjoyed a ridling on such a fine summer’s night. In order to see them, you had only to gather fern seed at the stroke of midnight and rub it onto your eyelids. But be sure to carry a little bit of rue in your pocket, or you might well be “pixie-led”. Or, failing the rue, you might simply turn your jacket inside out, which should keep you from harm’s way. But if even this fails, you must seek out one of the “ley lines”, the old straight tracks, and stay upon it to your destination. This will keep you safe from any malevolent power, as will crossing a stream of “living” (running) water.

Other customs included decking the house (especially over the front door) with birch, fennel, St. John’s wort, orpin, and white lilies. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. John’s wort, vervain, and trefoil. Indeed, Midsummer’s Eve in Spain is called the “Night of the Verbena (Vervain)”. St. John’s wort was especially honored by young maidens who picked it in the hopes of divining a future lover.

And the glow-worm came With its silvery flame, And sparkled and shone Through the night of St. John, And soon has the young maid her love-knot tied.

There are also many mythical associations with the summer solstice, not the least of which concerns the seasonal life of the God of the sun. Inasmuch as I believe that I have recently discovered certain associations and correspondences not hitherto realized, I have elected to treat this subject in some depth in my ‘Death of Llew’ essay.  Suffice it to say here, that I disagree with the generally accepted idea that the Sun God meets his death at the summer solstice. I believe there is good reason to see the Sun God at his zenith—his peak of power—on this day, and that his death at the hands of his rival would not occur for another quarter of a year. Material drawn from the Welsh mythos seems to support this thesis. In Irish mythology, midsummer is the occasion of the first battle between the Fir Bolgs and the Tuatha De Danaan.

Altogether, Midsummer is a favorite holiday for many Witches in that it is so hospitable to outdoor celebrations.  The warm summer night seems to invite it. And if the celebrants are not, in fact, skyclad, then you may be fairly certain that the long ritual robes of winter have yielded place to short, tunic-style apparel. As with the longer gowns, tradition dictates that one should wear nothing underneath—the next best thing to skyclad, to be sure. (Incidentally, now you know the real answer to the old Scottish joke, “What is worn beneath the kilt?”)

The two chief icons of the holiday are the spear (symbol of the Sun God in his glory) and the summer cauldron (symbol of the Goddess in her bounty). The precise meaning of these two symbols, which I believe I have recently discovered, will be explored in the essay on the death of Llew. But it is interesting to note here that modern Witches often use these same symbols in their Midsummer rituals. And one occasionally hears the alternative consecration formula, “As the spear is to the male, so the cauldron is to the female.” With these mythic associations, it is no wonder that Midsummer is such a joyous and magical occasion!


Document Copyright © 1983 – 2009 by Mike Nichols. Text editing courtesy of Acorn Guild Press. Website redesign by Bengalhome Internet Services, © 2009

Herb of the Day for March 29th – St. Johnswort

St. Johnswort

Hypericum perforatum
MEDICINAL:St. Johnswort is useful for bronchitis, internal bleeding, healing wounds, and for dirty, septic wounds. It is used to ease depression, headaches, hysteria, neuralgia, shingles, as well as symptoms that occur during menopause. It is useful in swellings, abcesses, and bad insect stings. Studies are showing that it may be effective in combatting AIDS by increasing the immune functions of the body. DO NOT GO INTO THE SUN if using this herb, as it causes blistering sunburns, especially in fair-skinned people.

RELIGIOUS:St. Johnswort is hung around the neck to prevent fevers. Wearing the herb aids you in war and other battles, including those of the will and indecision. Burnt it will banish evil and negativity. Hung in the home or carried, it will prevent spells of others from entering, and it is used in exorcisms. If you pick the plant on the night of St. John and hang it on your bedroom wall, you will dream of your future husband. The red juice of the stems was associated with the blood of John the Baptist, hence the plant’s name.

GROWING: St. Johnswort is a perennial reaching 32 inches tall. It is grown throughout much of North America. It prefers rich to moderately rich soils, and full sun. It is not long-lived, so replant every few years. Harvest the leaves and flower tops as they bloom and store in air-tight containers.

Resource:

THE HERBAL ENCYCLOPEDIA

Saint of the Day for Sept.15th is St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

Patron of communications workers

The name Gabriel means “man of God,” or “God has shown himself mighty.” It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the angel who appeared to Zachariah to announce the birth of St. John the Baptizer. Finally, he announced to Mary that she would bear a Son Who would be conceived of the Holy Spirit, Son of the Most High, and Saviour of the world. The feast day is September 29th. St. Gabriel is the patron of communications workers.

Catholic Online

Saint of the Day for June 30 is St. Gabriel, the Archangel

Saint of the Day

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

Feastday: September 29
Patron of communications workers

The name Gabriel means “man of God,” or “God has shown himself mighty.” It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the angel who appeared to Zachariah to announce the birth of St. John the Baptizer. Finally, he announced to Mary that she would bear a Son Who would be conceived of the Holy Spirit, Son of the Most High, and Saviour of the world. The feast day is September 29th. St. Gabriel is the patron of communications workers.