Deity of the Day for July 21 is Ceres, Goddess of the Grain Fields

Deity of the Day


Ceres

Goddess of the Grain Fields

 

During the classical age of the Roman Empire, the main industry was farming. A reliable and huge food supply was necessary as the population of the ever-expanding Roman Empire grew. Roman society was divided into several groups – there were the patricians, who were typically the landowners, and involved in policy and decision-making. There were also plebeians, who were average people who worked in shops and as craftsmen or laborers.

Finally, there were slaves, and the slaves were the backbone of the Roman farming industry.

Vast numbers of slaves were required to maintain the millions of acres of crops that were grown to feed the Roman people – remember, the Roman Empire at one point boasted almost seventy million people. That was about a fifth of the world’s population at the time. Because grain was a high-yield crop, well-organized agriculture could keep the populace from starving.

Ceres was the goddess of grain, specifically maize, and of the harvest season. According to Roman legend, she was the one who taught mankind how to farm. She is associated with agricultural fertility and a bountiful harvest.

Offerings and sacrifices were made to Ceres by landowners, and she was called upon during the summer months to watch over the crops and protect them from drought, insects, and flooding.

Ceres’ story parallels that of the Greek goddess Demeter. In the Roman telling of the tale, Ceres had a daughter named Proserpine, who was taken away by Pluto to the underground.

Ceres searched everywhere but was unable to find her beautiful daughter, and as she grieved for her missing child, she was so upset that all of the crops stopped growing. As a great famine struck, Ceres discovered that Proserpine was in fact with Pluto. He agreed that Proserpine could spend six months of the year with her mother, and six with him in the underworld. Each year when Proserpine returns to Pluto’s realm, the land grows cold and the crops wither and die. In the spring, she returns, and Ceres brings life to the land once more.

Today, we still use Ceres’ name as part of our regular vocabulary – crunched up gain is called cereal in her honor.

 

Source:
Author: Paganism/Wicca Expert

Website: Article found on & owned by About.com

Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 Days A Year – St. Paul’s Eve

Celtic Comments & Graphics
Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 Days A Year – St. Paul’s Eve

St. Paul’s Eve

It was at this time that St. Paul was converted from a Roman persecutor to a member of the Christian faith. Due to the profound atmospheric conditions at the time, St. Paul’s Eve became a time of great importance, and a weather omen for the coming year:

“If the day of St Paul’s proves clear,
Then shall betide a happy year.
If it chance to snow or rain,
Then shall be dear all kinds of grain.
But if high winds shall be aloft,
Wars shall vex this realm full oft.
And if thick mists make dark this sky,
Born beasts and fowl this year shall die.”

—Erra Pater, 1694

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Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Author:   Cu Mhorrigan  

Introduction:

Paganism has received a lot of attention in recent years with the increased use of the internet, television shows like Charmed, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Angel and movies like The Craft, Harry Potter, as well as cartoons like Sabrina the Teen-Aged Witch.

Nowadays, it has become fashionable to announce oneself to be a Pagan, or Neo-Pagan, Wiccan or Witch – especially for teenagers, wishing to attract attention, adults trying to follow the latest fad in spirituality, or just as an excuse to justify weird or aberrant behavior.

However, calling yourself a Pagan is one thing; actually following the spiritual path is something else. It is my hope with this ‘class’ that I might explain in practical terms what it actually means to be a Pagan in our modern age and to assist those who wish to implement the following of this spiritual path.

Definition of the word “Pagan”:

The Word Pagan is derived from the Latin word ‘paganus’, which is loosely translated to mean “of the country”. It should be noted however that the usage of ‘paganus’ within the Roman Empire (Where they spoke Latin. Duh!) was always meant to be a slur meaning “hillbilly, redneck, hick, trailer trash, or white trash”. Much in the same way we would talk about guests on the Jerry Springer Show.

Later, when the Christian faith took over the Roman Empire under Charlemagne, it was used to describe those outside of the Christian faith and those in need of conversion. Not an improvement, because paganus was still pretty much of an insult.

Turning a negative into a positive:

It wasn’t until recently that the term ‘Pagan’ gained a more positive use with the resurgence of Pagan beliefs within the European and American Cultures. Those who sought spirituality closer to that of their “ancestors” adopted it. Eventually, it came to mean ‘those who follow the Old religions’ or ‘those who follow a spiritual path outside of the big three Abrahamic religions’. (What are the big Three Abrahamic religions?)

What DO Pagans Believe?:

An it harm none Do as thou wilt.

Speaking in general terms, Paganism is an earth-centered spirituality, which believes in the sacredness of all things, equality of all persons regardless of gender, sexual, and spiritual and social practices. The practices within Paganism are extremely diverse and open-ended allowing individuals to incorporate whatever rituals and belief systems they feel comfortable with.

Since there is so much diversity within our spiritual path, we stress personal liberty, and responsibility for one’s own actions. That as long as a person does not cause physical, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual harm to others or himself, he/she is free to pursue one’s physical, mental and spiritual development as he/she sees fit.

Which brings me to my next point: Pagans, in general, do not proselytize! That means you aren’t going to get a call from us at three o’clock in the morning asking us if you are going to ritual or not. There is no High Priestess going around smacking people over the head if they haven’t worked on their Book of Shadows or if they bought the wrong candle for a personal ritual. Aint gonna happen.

Why? We are assuming that if you are here, you want to be here. We’ll give you information, let you know your options, and the rest is up to you. We aren’t going to stand on a street corner and scream at folks for not worshipping Athena nor at women/men who chose not to go around sky clad (That’s ‘nekkid’ for those of us who are really new to this).

The Law of Return (or sowing and reaping):

There are no true “sins” within our spiritual practices. There are only things that cause harm (or, as I like to call them, “Stupid Ideas”) and things that are helpful (Or as I like to call them, “Good Ideas”).

When you do good things, good things tend to happen to you (Eventually). When you do bad things, bad things tend to happen to you (Eventually). Of course, since we do not live in a static environment, and people tend to interact with one another, sometimes things get a little ‘fa-kakhed’. However, the Universe always balances Itself out in the end.

This concept is called, karma and it’s a relatively complicated matter, which I have here boiled down to its lowest common denominator. Of course, there are differing views of Karma, one of which is the Three-Fold Law What you do comes back three-fold, or three times, back at you. (If you are not sure as to whether an act will have some kind of repercussion, ask yourself, how much would I really like this done to me?)

(The self-defense caveat: Like all “Laws”, there are loopholes. If someone else is out to cause you harm in some way it would be a really STUPID (Bad Karma) idea not to protect yourself, or your family, or your friends. However, make sure you have as many facts as possible (like the guy is holding a knife and threatens to cut you up) before beating the oneness of all things back into these individuals.

Pantheons, Divinities, Spirits, Energies:

Okay this is where it gets a little tricky, but stay with me. The most common (and extremely annoying) question we as Pagans get is, “Don’t you folks worship Satan?” (Everyone roll his or her eyes here.)

The answer to that is a resounding, “NO!” For the most part, you need to keep in mind that Paganism is a separate religion from Christianity. Hence Satan (Whom I call, the Christian God of Evil and Nastiness) is not a part of our pantheon. Sorry…

For the most part (depending on the tradition you follow) the Pagan concept of Divinity falls under one of the following expressions:

Duo-Theism: (Duo=Two or Dual, Theos=Divinities):

The Worship of a Co-Equal God and Goddess, each having unlimited power, compassion, wisdom, energy or what-have-you, but maintaining different roles and functions.

The God is aggressive, powerful, sexual adventurous, skillful. He handles the Male side of fertility.

The Goddess is nurturing, passionate, creative, sensual and artistic. She oversees the power of creating life through birth and the Female side of fertility.

This belief is widely held by the Wiccans and Wicca-like factions of Paganism.

Poly Theism: (Poly=Many, Theos=Divinities) The belief in multiple Gods and Goddesses.

Many folks see these Gods as extensions of the God and Goddess (i.e. Monism) with each one taking on different aspects at the time of their encounter with the worshipper. Others (like myself) believe that They are actually separate entities with Their own personalities, quirks and motives.

Not every god or goddess is a real people person nor does every god and goddess have a laid back attitude. If you are going to get involved with a particular deity, you had better make sure you do a LOT of research as to what they like, don’t like, and if a particular god or goddess is right for you. Otherwise your life will get extremely interesting in a bad way.

The third school of though in polytheism is the idea of the gods and goddesses being archetypes within a person’s own psyche. This is sort of like a piece of our own subconscious wrapped up in a costume and a mask in order to teach our conscious minds lessons they need.

Of course, there is more than those three Schools of thought, but I’m just giving the basics here.

Pantheism:

Simply put, this is the idea that the Divine is in everything; hence all things are a part of the energy we call god. Since all things are a part of god, all things are sacred and are expressions of the divine in some way, shape or form. When I worship a tree, I am worshipping the Divine; when I give food to a hungry stray, I am feeding the Divine; when I am hurting someone, I am hurting the Divine.

Then there is the Fourth Category:

I-have-no-Friggin-Clue-ism:

For the beginner, this is the best spiritual idea I can suggest. The idea is essentially, “I have no friggin’ clue if there is a Divinity or not, therefore unless I am shown otherwise, I will not say that the Gods are this way or that. I will respect the Power behind the name, but I will not pledge myself to him/her/it unless I have an absolutely good reason to.”

This is actually one of the safest belief systems to take as a new student of the Pagan path because you are open enough to receive enlightenment, but at the same time, you do not run the risk of making a total, complete ass out of yourself. The Gods will instruct you as They see fit.

Now of course, Pagans will usually incorporate not only one, but perhaps two or three of the ideas listed above. This usually comes from personal experience and cannot be learned any other way.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to shift from one idea to another or even to incorporate two or more of these ideas…it’s all good. Just find out what works best for you.

So How the Hades do I Become a Pagan? (Or stupid questions that are commonly asked)

Well, for the most part, it’s a matter of doing a lot of reading and a lot of self-exploration. It took me at least two years of studying online and reading books and attending classes to even consider myself a Pagan. A lot of the traditions under the banner of Paganism will have different views on training and initiation (think of it as baptism), and how one becomes a member of that tradition.

The best way is to start out attending Pagan gatherings, visiting bookstores and such, and talk to other Pagans. Eventually, you will either find a religious path that works for you or you will throw your arms up in dismay and run screaming back to your religion of birth. And there is nothing wrong with that. NOT AT ALL! We realize that the Pagan spiritual path is not for everyone, and we will not be offended. Just make sure you don’t tell people we sacrificed your cat and you’ll be cool with us.

Do I Need to Buy Special Clothes and Dress in Black?

The answer is: Only if you really want to. Yes, there are special robes some folks wear, but unless your coven says otherwise, you can pretty much wear what you want.

Just some basic suggestions: Wear something comfortable and wear something you won’t mind getting dirty. Most of our rituals take place outdoors and, while you may look really good in an Armani suit and Gucci shoes, there is a good chance your clothes will get messed up and your shoes scuffed.

Loose, light clothes in summer and spring is always a good idea, and warmer clothes in the fall are really smart. Most winter rituals will be held indoors, depending on the weather. If it makes you comfortable to wear black Witch clothes and pointed hats and cloaks… Knock yourself out…You’ll be getting lots of stares and odd looks (mostly from us), but all-in-all, if it makes you comfortable, then that is all that matters.

Do I Need to Buy Special Jewelry?

Again, only if you want to and if you enjoy it. Jewelry is a personal matter to the people who wear it. And it’s usually best to find a piece that says, “HEY! I LIKE YOU. WEAR ME AROUND YOUR NECK!” Otherwise, No special jewelry is required to be a Pagan.

Do I Need to Kill Something (like a kitten) and Drink its Blood?

No, you don’t have to kill an animal to be a Pagan. For the most part, we are animal friendly and don’t believe in killing a critter in order to work our rituals. Yes, there are some Pagan groups that practice animal sacrifice and it is left alone…but fear not, the only thing usually killed has already been slaughtered and put on the feasting table in a sacred bucket marked, KFC.

Do I Need to Become a Vegetarian?

Nope, being a vegetarian is a matter of personal preference and what you feel in your heart. While many of us are vegetarians, a lot of us aren’t. It may be a good idea to eat a little healthier, but no one is going to come down on you for eating meat or using meat-based products. However, you might want to do your own research and come up with your own choices.

So, What DO I Need to Do?

Excellent question. One, as I suggested before, do a lot of research, a lot of reading and, when in doubt, do more research. A lot of Pagans keep what is called a “Book of shadows”, which is just a fancy name for a Journal. Write down everything you learn in that book and when you get a chance, read it. If you see a cool article on the net, feel free to print it (for your personal use only, please).

To create a book of shadows, I would suggest buying a loose-leaf binder and fill it half-way with paper. It’s also a good idea to invest in a three hole punch. That way, you can put articles that you printed from the net and use them for later reference. Do not worry about using blood and special things to “make it official”. It is your study guide — your book — and so, make sure you personalize it to suit your needs.

When you feel you are ready, and you have found a religious tradition you feel comfy with, take that Book of Shadows and attend any class you can afford. A lot of places have very reasonable rates for their classes. The Learning Annex is one source, but so is your local Pagan bookstore. Just make sure you talk to the person running the store to make sure he knows what he/she is talking about. If you are not entirely comfortable in studying there, consider looking for another teacher. Remember, this is about YOUR spiritual growth and enrichment and you need to be in an environment conducive to YOUR learning.

Holidays, and Rituals:

There are eight major Holy Days during the Pagan year that a lot of us agree upon. There are also rituals that are held on the New Moon and the Full moon depending on how often your coven (A group of Pagans you worship with) meets.

The Eight Major Holidays are listed in the order they fall on:
Imbolc (February)
Spring Equinox (March 21)
Beltaine (May 1)
Summer Solstice (Litha) (June 21)
Lughnassadh or Lamas (August)
Autumn Equinox (Mabon) (September 21)
Samhain or Halloween (October 31 to Nov 1)
Winter Solstice (Yule) (December 21)

Each Holy Day represents a certain mythological event in our religion, which will be discussed by the High Priest (ess) in advance.

It’s usually a good idea to find out what you would need to bring so that you can best participate in the ritual.

Now most likely you are going to have a hard time pronouncing the names of the days when you first start out, so don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions; it’s the only way you are going to learn.

Tools For Rituals:

Energy: This is the most important, and since I am assuming people know Jack about Paganism, I’m going to make this explanation brief: When we perform rituals and cast spells, we are attempting to gather energy. This energy comes from the universe and ourselves. Depending on what we are trying to do, we use certain rituals, and tools. Think of it this way: It’s like gathering up a whole bunch of snow together. We eventually gather enough to make a snowball and then we pack it in and send it off to impact your friend. It’s basically the same thing. When we perform these rites, they help our minds to focus on gathering this energy and tell it what we want done. Energy is the most important part of any ritual, and without it, we are just looking stupid.

Cauldron: This is basically a black, three-legged pot to be used for burning incense and for other things. They range from tiny to huge and can be used to burn incense, burn paper, and make potions. Now cauldrons tend to be rather expensive, so if you are a bit “Price Sensitive” like me, find yourself one of those old fashioned iron pots that Mom uses to make rice. Make sure you clean it before and after use. If you have one of these in your own home and have had it for a long time, you are pretty much used to it and it is used to you. So, you really don’t have to “charge” it with energy.

Athemae: Essentially, this is a knife or a really small sword. This is used to direct energy raised up during rituals. THESE ARE NOT USED TO CUT PEOPLE (of any species). It can be used for cutting vegetables. Most traditions prefer a double sided blade, small enough to conceal. (You would be amazed how many cops will stop you for carrying a broad sword.) If you’re unable to get an athamae, it’s totally cool to make yourself a wand or use your index finger to direct energy.

Wands/Rods: Okay, these are wooden or crystal sticks also used to direct energy as well as to draw it to yourself. Wands tend to be no longer than your arm, while rods can be longer. Best way to get a rod is to go out on little walks in the park and look for a stick. Once you find a stick you like and that screams out for you to take it, take it home, and sand it and decorate it until you are totally comfortable with it. Viola! You have a wand or rod. If you have as much mechanical aptitude as a slug, ask around your local occult bookstores. Keep in mind they are going to be slightly expensive and you will have to charge it once you get it home.

Candles: Candles are used in rituals to help get your mind into the practice of Magic (No, I am not spelling magic with a K or a J…I’m keeping this as simple as possible. If you want to use the funky spellings in your own notebooks, knock yourself out. You’re not being graded here). Candles are lit in order to help get the mind into a state where it’s easier to put the patterns in for the energy to flow. I would strongly suggest getting candles of all colors and sizes and as many as you can afford. (Usually one of each color.) You can pick them up anywhere.

Incense: Like candles, incense helps the mind get energy together to cast spells. It’s a good idea to make your own incense or to purchase them from a botanica, or occult bookstore. Incense sticks may be colored, but it’s usually a good idea to purchase them based on their smells. Pungent or spicy incense is normally used to send stuff away. (Mainly because they are offensive.) Sweet incense is used to bring stuff to you. Earthy smells help to facilitate healing and to strengthen you.

Divination tools: Things like Tarot Cards, Runes and what not. These are mainly used to help you to make decisions or to gain some kind of insight as to what is going on around you. Keep in mind, these items themselves are not magical in and of themselves, but are based on your own intuition interpreting what you are seeing.

Books, books and more books: Like I said earlier, it is suggested you read religiously. It’s best to keep a library of things you have read or are about to read. Don’t just pick books only by one author, but of different ones. Some people may know a lot about what they are talking about; others are complete and utter horse feces. However, the only way you are going to find out is if you look for yourself and keep your Book of Shadows nearby while you read. If something sounds like nonsense, or if you aren’t sure about whether or not what is true within a book, do some research. It sounds like a lot of work, but this is your spirituality we are talking about here.

It is a good idea to question everything and find out if there is an agreement between the authors you have read. Another thing to keep in mind is that some folks are completely full of fluff and bluster while others deliberately water stuff down to keep from divulging too much about their path. And some are completely straightforward about the things they are writing about.

One of the best ways to learn about an author is find out when they are going to be doing a book signing near you. Get to meet them (Most book signings are free and most will give a short lecture about their book just to whet your appetite for it.) Some of the most intense learning experiences I gained were in attending some of these lectures; it’s also a great way to actually see the person who is writing.

Use your intuition…and don’t be shy about picking their brains. That is what they are there for. In fact, I would suggest doing the same thing at the store where you get your tools and books. It helps you learn a lot faster; especially when you ask Stupid questions. Yes you will get looks. Yes, you will even get the occasional shake of the head, But if you don’t ask, you wont know. It’s worth it.

Suggested Things to do:

Check out different groups that meet in your area. You can do this by attending open (public) circles or classes. Use them as a way to meet other Pagans and eventually find a group that you feel comfortable studying with. If you are Solitary Pagan, it helps to “meet and greet” other Pagans.

Look around for Pagan shops, botanicas and other places where you can get supplies. Most botanicas are devoted to Santeria or Voudu, but you can get some really good equipment at cheap prices.

Check out the local library, as well as the bookstore for things you can read about your particular pantheon.

Ask a lot of questions. Even stupid ones. It’s one of the chief tenets of Paganism to question everything you come across. If you get an answer that sounds like horsesh*t, then verify, verify, verify.

Things Not To Do:

Don’t panic; this seems like a lot of information, but it really isn’t. This is just the primer for your own research.

Don’t sweat if you cannot find a teacher right away, Nine times out of ten, they usually show up when you are ready to learn more about a particular aspect of your tradition.

Don’t start off calling yourself a High Something of a particular tradition. Most systems within Paganism have their own methods of teaching and credentials for clergy and what not. No faking!

Don’t be afraid of getting criticized; it’s going to happen. Learn to grow a thick skin, and if someone points something out to you, listen and check out your own motives and conscience. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.

Don’t take everything at face value…Learn how to question what you hear and not be a total jerk about it.

Don’t try and convert people, It rarely works just put out information let people know where you stand and end it there.

Recommended Websites:

http://www.witchvox.com “The Witches’ Voice” —  It’s a great place to start since they have information about everything.

http://pantheon.org —  A great place to learn about the Gods of your chosen pantheon. It doesn’t have all the information, but enough for you to get your feet wet and do some research.

Yahoo.com — They have a plethora of Pagan groups and places where you can talk to people of different walks of life. It’s also a great way to meet Pagans in your area.

Google and other search engines — Another great website with links to thousands of Pagan websites.

Recommended Books:

The Truth about Witchcraft Today: Scott Cunningham
Urban Primitive: Tannin Silverstein and Raven Kaldera
The Book of Shamanic Healing: Kristin Madden
The Celestine Prophecy: James Redfield (Yes, it’s a novel but it helps to get an idea about energy-work and how energy can be gathered and stolen.)
The Wiccan Warrior: Kerr Cucuhain
Witchcraft Theory and Practice: Ly de Angeles
When I see the Wild God: Ly de Angeles
Drawing Down the Moon: Margot Adler (of NPR)
The Spiral Dance: Starhawk
Buckland’s Complete Witches Handbook: Raymond Buckland

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Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Author:   Cu Mhorrigan 

Introduction:

Paganism has received a lot of attention in recent years with the increased use of the internet, television shows like Charmed, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Angel and movies like The Craft, Harry Potter, as well as cartoons like Sabrina the Teen-Aged Witch.

Nowadays, it has become fashionable to announce oneself to be a Pagan, or Neo-Pagan, Wiccan or Witch – especially for teenagers, wishing to attract attention, adults trying to follow the latest fad in spirituality, or just as an excuse to justify weird or aberrant behavior.

However, calling yourself a Pagan is one thing; actually following the spiritual path is something else. It is my hope with this ‘class’ that I might explain in practical terms what it actually means to be a Pagan in our modern age and to assist those who wish to implement the following of this spiritual path.

Definition of the word “Pagan”:

The Word Pagan is derived from the Latin word ‘paganus’, which is loosely translated to mean “of the country”. It should be noted however that the usage of ‘paganus’ within the Roman Empire (Where they spoke Latin. Duh!) was always meant to be a slur meaning “hillbilly, redneck, hick, trailer trash, or white trash”. Much in the same way we would talk about guests on the Jerry Springer Show.

Later, when the Christian faith took over the Roman Empire under Charlemagne, it was used to describe those outside of the Christian faith and those in need of conversion. Not an improvement, because paganus was still pretty much of an insult.

Turning a negative into a positive:

It wasn’t until recently that the term ‘Pagan’ gained a more positive use with the resurgence of Pagan beliefs within the European and American Cultures. Those who sought spirituality closer to that of their “ancestors” adopted it. Eventually, it came to mean ‘those who follow the Old religions’ or ‘those who follow a spiritual path outside of the big three Abrahamic religions’. (What are the big Three Abrahamic religions?)

What DO Pagans Believe?:

An it harm none Do as thou wilt.

Speaking in general terms, Paganism is an earth-centered spirituality, which believes in the sacredness of all things, equality of all persons regardless of gender, sexual, and spiritual and social practices. The practices within Paganism are extremely diverse and open-ended allowing individuals to incorporate whatever rituals and belief systems they feel comfortable with.

Since there is so much diversity within our spiritual path, we stress personal liberty, and responsibility for one’s own actions. That as long as a person does not cause physical, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual harm to others or himself, he/she is free to pursue one’s physical, mental and spiritual development as he/she sees fit.

Which brings me to my next point: Pagans, in general, do not proselytize! That means you aren’t going to get a call from us at three o’clock in the morning asking us if you are going to ritual or not. There is no High Priestess going around smacking people over the head if they haven’t worked on their Book of Shadows or if they bought the wrong candle for a personal ritual. Aint gonna happen.

Why? We are assuming that if you are here, you want to be here. We’ll give you information, let you know your options, and the rest is up to you. We aren’t going to stand on a street corner and scream at folks for not worshipping Athena nor at women/men who chose not to go around sky clad (That’s ‘nekkid’ for those of us who are really new to this).

The Law of Return (or sowing and reaping):

There are no true “sins” within our spiritual practices. There are only things that cause harm (or, as I like to call them, “Stupid Ideas”) and things that are helpful (Or as I like to call them, “Good Ideas”).

When you do good things, good things tend to happen to you (Eventually). When you do bad things, bad things tend to happen to you (Eventually). Of course, since we do not live in a static environment, and people tend to interact with one another, sometimes things get a little ‘fa-kakhed’. However, the Universe always balances Itself out in the end.

This concept is called, karma and it’s a relatively complicated matter, which I have here boiled down to its lowest common denominator. Of course, there are differing views of Karma, one of which is the Three-Fold Law What you do comes back three-fold, or three times, back at you. (If you are not sure as to whether an act will have some kind of repercussion, ask yourself, how much would I really like this done to me?)

(The self-defense caveat: Like all “Laws”, there are loopholes. If someone else is out to cause you harm in some way it would be a really STUPID (Bad Karma) idea not to protect yourself, or your family, or your friends. However, make sure you have as many facts as possible (like the guy is holding a knife and threatens to cut you up) before beating the oneness of all things back into these individuals.

Pantheons, Divinities, Spirits, Energies:

Okay this is where it gets a little tricky, but stay with me. The most common (and extremely annoying) question we as Pagans get is, “Don’t you folks worship Satan?” (Everyone roll his or her eyes here.)

The answer to that is a resounding, “NO!” For the most part, you need to keep in mind that Paganism is a separate religion from Christianity. Hence Satan (Whom I call, the Christian God of Evil and Nastiness) is not a part of our pantheon. Sorry…

For the most part (depending on the tradition you follow) the Pagan concept of Divinity falls under one of the following expressions:

Duo-Theism: (Duo=Two or Dual, Theos=Divinities):

The Worship of a Co-Equal God and Goddess, each having unlimited power, compassion, wisdom, energy or what-have-you, but maintaining different roles and functions.

The God is aggressive, powerful, sexual adventurous, skillful. He handles the Male side of fertility.

The Goddess is nurturing, passionate, creative, sensual and artistic. She oversees the power of creating life through birth and the Female side of fertility.

This belief is widely held by the Wiccans and Wicca-like factions of Paganism.

Poly Theism: (Poly=Many, Theos=Divinities) The belief in multiple Gods and Goddesses.

Many folks see these Gods as extensions of the God and Goddess (i.e. Monism) with each one taking on different aspects at the time of their encounter with the worshipper. Others (like myself) believe that They are actually separate entities with Their own personalities, quirks and motives.

Not every god or goddess is a real people person nor does every god and goddess have a laid back attitude. If you are going to get involved with a particular deity, you had better make sure you do a LOT of research as to what they like, don’t like, and if a particular god or goddess is right for you. Otherwise your life will get extremely interesting in a bad way.

The third school of though in polytheism is the idea of the gods and goddesses being archetypes within a person’s own psyche. This is sort of like a piece of our own subconscious wrapped up in a costume and a mask in order to teach our conscious minds lessons they need.

Of course, there is more than those three Schools of thought, but I’m just giving the basics here.

Pantheism:

Simply put, this is the idea that the Divine is in everything; hence all things are a part of the energy we call god. Since all things are a part of god, all things are sacred and are expressions of the divine in some way, shape or form. When I worship a tree, I am worshipping the Divine; when I give food to a hungry stray, I am feeding the Divine; when I am hurting someone, I am hurting the Divine.

Then there is the Fourth Category:

I-have-no-Friggin-Clue-ism:

For the beginner, this is the best spiritual idea I can suggest. The idea is essentially, “I have no friggin’ clue if there is a Divinity or not, therefore unless I am shown otherwise, I will not say that the Gods are this way or that. I will respect the Power behind the name, but I will not pledge myself to him/her/it unless I have an absolutely good reason to.”

This is actually one of the safest belief systems to take as a new student of the Pagan path because you are open enough to receive enlightenment, but at the same time, you do not run the risk of making a total, complete ass out of yourself. The Gods will instruct you as They see fit.

Now of course, Pagans will usually incorporate not only one, but perhaps two or three of the ideas listed above. This usually comes from personal experience and cannot be learned any other way.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to shift from one idea to another or even to incorporate two or more of these ideas…it’s all good. Just find out what works best for you.

So How the Hades do I Become a Pagan? (Or stupid questions that are commonly asked)

Well, for the most part, it’s a matter of doing a lot of reading and a lot of self-exploration. It took me at least two years of studying online and reading books and attending classes to even consider myself a Pagan. A lot of the traditions under the banner of Paganism will have different views on training and initiation (think of it as baptism), and how one becomes a member of that tradition.

The best way is to start out attending Pagan gatherings, visiting bookstores and such, and talk to other Pagans. Eventually, you will either find a religious path that works for you or you will throw your arms up in dismay and run screaming back to your religion of birth. And there is nothing wrong with that. NOT AT ALL! We realize that the Pagan spiritual path is not for everyone, and we will not be offended. Just make sure you don’t tell people we sacrificed your cat and you’ll be cool with us.

Do I Need to Buy Special Clothes and Dress in Black?

The answer is: Only if you really want to. Yes, there are special robes some folks wear, but unless your coven says otherwise, you can pretty much wear what you want.

Just some basic suggestions: Wear something comfortable and wear something you won’t mind getting dirty. Most of our rituals take place outdoors and, while you may look really good in an Armani suit and Gucci shoes, there is a good chance your clothes will get messed up and your shoes scuffed.

Loose, light clothes in summer and spring is always a good idea, and warmer clothes in the fall are really smart. Most winter rituals will be held indoors, depending on the weather. If it makes you comfortable to wear black Witch clothes and pointed hats and cloaks… Knock yourself out…You’ll be getting lots of stares and odd looks (mostly from us), but all-in-all, if it makes you comfortable, then that is all that matters.

Do I Need to Buy Special Jewelry?

Again, only if you want to and if you enjoy it. Jewelry is a personal matter to the people who wear it. And it’s usually best to find a piece that says, “HEY! I LIKE YOU. WEAR ME AROUND YOUR NECK!” Otherwise, No special jewelry is required to be a Pagan.

Do I Need to Kill Something (like a kitten) and Drink its Blood?

No, you don’t have to kill an animal to be a Pagan. For the most part, we are animal friendly and don’t believe in killing a critter in order to work our rituals. Yes, there are some Pagan groups that practice animal sacrifice and it is left alone…but fear not, the only thing usually killed has already been slaughtered and put on the feasting table in a sacred bucket marked, KFC.

Do I Need to Become a Vegetarian?

Nope, being a vegetarian is a matter of personal preference and what you feel in your heart. While many of us are vegetarians, a lot of us aren’t. It may be a good idea to eat a little healthier, but no one is going to come down on you for eating meat or using meat-based products. However, you might want to do your own research and come up with your own choices.

So, What DO I Need to Do?

Excellent question. One, as I suggested before, do a lot of research, a lot of reading and, when in doubt, do more research. A lot of Pagans keep what is called a “Book of shadows”, which is just a fancy name for a Journal. Write down everything you learn in that book and when you get a chance, read it. If you see a cool article on the net, feel free to print it (for your personal use only, please).

To create a book of shadows, I would suggest buying a loose-leaf binder and fill it half-way with paper. It’s also a good idea to invest in a three hole punch. That way, you can put articles that you printed from the net and use them for later reference. Do not worry about using blood and special things to “make it official”. It is your study guide — your book — and so, make sure you personalize it to suit your needs.

When you feel you are ready, and you have found a religious tradition you feel comfy with, take that Book of Shadows and attend any class you can afford. A lot of places have very reasonable rates for their classes. The Learning Annex is one source, but so is your local Pagan bookstore. Just make sure you talk to the person running the store to make sure he knows what he/she is talking about. If you are not entirely comfortable in studying there, consider looking for another teacher. Remember, this is about YOUR spiritual growth and enrichment and you need to be in an environment conducive to YOUR learning.

Holidays, and Rituals:

There are eight major Holy Days during the Pagan year that a lot of us agree upon. There are also rituals that are held on the New Moon and the Full moon depending on how often your coven (A group of Pagans you worship with) meets.

The Eight Major Holidays are listed in the order they fall on:
Imbolc (February)
Spring Equinox (March 21)
Beltaine (May 1)
Summer Solstice (Litha) (June 21)
Lughnassadh or Lamas (August)
Autumn Equinox (Mabon) (September 21)
Samhain or Halloween (October 31 to Nov 1)
Winter Solstice (Yule) (December 21)

Each Holy Day represents a certain mythological event in our religion, which will be discussed by the High Priest (ess) in advance.

It’s usually a good idea to find out what you would need to bring so that you can best participate in the ritual.

Now most likely you are going to have a hard time pronouncing the names of the days when you first start out, so don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions; it’s the only way you are going to learn.

Tools For Rituals:

Energy: This is the most important, and since I am assuming people know Jack about Paganism, I’m going to make this explanation brief: When we perform rituals and cast spells, we are attempting to gather energy. This energy comes from the universe and ourselves. Depending on what we are trying to do, we use certain rituals, and tools. Think of it this way: It’s like gathering up a whole bunch of snow together. We eventually gather enough to make a snowball and then we pack it in and send it off to impact your friend. It’s basically the same thing. When we perform these rites, they help our minds to focus on gathering this energy and tell it what we want done. Energy is the most important part of any ritual, and without it, we are just looking stupid.

Cauldron: This is basically a black, three-legged pot to be used for burning incense and for other things. They range from tiny to huge and can be used to burn incense, burn paper, and make potions. Now cauldrons tend to be rather expensive, so if you are a bit “Price Sensitive” like me, find yourself one of those old fashioned iron pots that Mom uses to make rice. Make sure you clean it before and after use. If you have one of these in your own home and have had it for a long time, you are pretty much used to it and it is used to you. So, you really don’t have to “charge” it with energy.

Athemae: Essentially, this is a knife or a really small sword. This is used to direct energy raised up during rituals. THESE ARE NOT USED TO CUT PEOPLE (of any species). It can be used for cutting vegetables. Most traditions prefer a double sided blade, small enough to conceal. (You would be amazed how many cops will stop you for carrying a broad sword.) If you’re unable to get an athamae, it’s totally cool to make yourself a wand or use your index finger to direct energy.

Wands/Rods: Okay, these are wooden or crystal sticks also used to direct energy as well as to draw it to yourself. Wands tend to be no longer than your arm, while rods can be longer. Best way to get a rod is to go out on little walks in the park and look for a stick. Once you find a stick you like and that screams out for you to take it, take it home, and sand it and decorate it until you are totally comfortable with it. Viola! You have a wand or rod. If you have as much mechanical aptitude as a slug, ask around your local occult bookstores. Keep in mind they are going to be slightly expensive and you will have to charge it once you get it home.

Candles: Candles are used in rituals to help get your mind into the practice of Magic (No, I am not spelling magic with a K or a J…I’m keeping this as simple as possible. If you want to use the funky spellings in your own notebooks, knock yourself out. You’re not being graded here). Candles are lit in order to help get the mind into a state where it’s easier to put the patterns in for the energy to flow. I would strongly suggest getting candles of all colors and sizes and as many as you can afford. (Usually one of each color.) You can pick them up anywhere.

Incense: Like candles, incense helps the mind get energy together to cast spells. It’s a good idea to make your own incense or to purchase them from a botanica, or occult bookstore. Incense sticks may be colored, but it’s usually a good idea to purchase them based on their smells. Pungent or spicy incense is normally used to send stuff away. (Mainly because they are offensive.) Sweet incense is used to bring stuff to you. Earthy smells help to facilitate healing and to strengthen you.

Divination tools: Things like Tarot Cards, Runes and what not. These are mainly used to help you to make decisions or to gain some kind of insight as to what is going on around you. Keep in mind, these items themselves are not magical in and of themselves, but are based on your own intuition interpreting what you are seeing.

Books, books and more books: Like I said earlier, it is suggested you read religiously. It’s best to keep a library of things you have read or are about to read. Don’t just pick books only by one author, but of different ones. Some people may know a lot about what they are talking about; others are complete and utter horse feces. However, the only way you are going to find out is if you look for yourself and keep your Book of Shadows nearby while you read. If something sounds like nonsense, or if you aren’t sure about whether or not what is true within a book, do some research. It sounds like a lot of work, but this is your spirituality we are talking about here.

It is a good idea to question everything and find out if there is an agreement between the authors you have read. Another thing to keep in mind is that some folks are completely full of fluff and bluster while others deliberately water stuff down to keep from divulging too much about their path. And some are completely straightforward about the things they are writing about.

One of the best ways to learn about an author is find out when they are going to be doing a book signing near you. Get to meet them (Most book signings are free and most will give a short lecture about their book just to whet your appetite for it.) Some of the most intense learning experiences I gained were in attending some of these lectures; it’s also a great way to actually see the person who is writing.

Use your intuition…and don’t be shy about picking their brains. That is what they are there for. In fact, I would suggest doing the same thing at the store where you get your tools and books. It helps you learn a lot faster; especially when you ask Stupid questions. Yes you will get looks. Yes, you will even get the occasional shake of the head, But if you don’t ask, you wont know. It’s worth it.

Suggested Things to do:

Check out different groups that meet in your area. You can do this by attending open (public) circles or classes. Use them as a way to meet other Pagans and eventually find a group that you feel comfortable studying with. If you are Solitary Pagan, it helps to “meet and greet” other Pagans.

Look around for Pagan shops, botanicas and other places where you can get supplies. Most botanicas are devoted to Santeria or Voudu, but you can get some really good equipment at cheap prices.

Check out the local library, as well as the bookstore for things you can read about your particular pantheon.

Ask a lot of questions. Even stupid ones. It’s one of the chief tenets of Paganism to question everything you come across. If you get an answer that sounds like horsesh*t, then verify, verify, verify.

Things Not To Do:

Don’t panic; this seems like a lot of information, but it really isn’t. This is just the primer for your own research.

Don’t sweat if you cannot find a teacher right away, Nine times out of ten, they usually show up when you are ready to learn more about a particular aspect of your tradition.

Don’t start off calling yourself a High Something of a particular tradition. Most systems within Paganism have their own methods of teaching and credentials for clergy and what not. No faking!

Don’t be afraid of getting criticized; it’s going to happen. Learn to grow a thick skin, and if someone points something out to you, listen and check out your own motives and conscience. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.

Don’t take everything at face value…Learn how to question what you hear and not be a total jerk about it.

Don’t try and convert people, It rarely works just put out information let people know where you stand and end it there.

Recommended Websites:

http://www.witchvox.com “The Witches’ Voice” —  It’s a great place to start since they have information about everything.

http://pantheon.org —  A great place to learn about the Gods of your chosen pantheon. It doesn’t have all the information, but enough for you to get your feet wet and do some research.

Yahoo.com — They have a plethora of Pagan groups and places where you can talk to people of different walks of life. It’s also a great way to meet Pagans in your area.

Google and other search engines — Another great website with links to thousands of Pagan websites.

Recommended Books:

The Truth about Witchcraft Today: Scott Cunningham
Urban Primitive: Tannin Silverstein and Raven Kaldera
The Book of Shamanic Healing: Kristin Madden
The Celestine Prophecy: James Redfield (Yes, it’s a novel but it helps to get an idea about energy-work and how energy can be gathered and stolen.)
The Wiccan Warrior: Kerr Cucuhain
Witchcraft Theory and Practice: Ly de Angeles
When I see the Wild God: Ly de Angeles
Drawing Down the Moon: Margot Adler (of NPR)
The Spiral Dance: Starhawk
Buckland’s Complete Witches Handbook: Raymond Buckland

Your Charm for December 20 is the Abraxas

Your Charm for Today

Abraxas

Today’s Meaning:

A powerful force will rule you within aspect for the duration of a year. You will be given few choices to make as most will be made for you. This force is benign in nature and the end result will be positive.

General Description:   

Abraxas stones were commonly worn and highly esteemed in the Roman Empire about the time when Christianity was becoming established there. Much importance was attached to the word Abraxas in the Greek notation making up the number 365, signifying 365 heavens, occupied by the 365 gods, who according to the Gnostic religion, formed the earth and ruled its destiny. The Abraxas, the curious divide Jeo, of Jehovah of the Gnostics, has a fowl’s head, signifying watchfulness and foresight; the shield, wisdom; whip, authority; two serpents, mystery, eternity, vitality. These rings were worn as talismans for protection against physical ills.

Your Charm for December 4th is The Abraxas

Your Charm for Today

Abraxas

Today’s Meaning:  

A powerful force will rule you within aspect for the duration of a year. You will be given few choices to make as most will be made for you. This force is benign in nature and the end result will be positive.

General Description:   

Abraxas stones were commonly worn and highly esteemed in the Roman Empire about the time when Christianity was becoming established there. Much importance was attached to the word Abraxas in the Greek notation making up the number 365, signifying 365 heavens, occupied by the 365 gods, who according to the Gnostic religion, formed the earth and ruled its destiny. The Abraxas, the curious divide Jeo, of Jehovah of the Gnostics, has a fowl’s head, signifying watchfulness and foresight; the shield, wisdom; whip, authority; two serpents, mystery, eternity, vitality. These rings were worn as talismans for protection against physical ills.

Alectromancy (or Alectryomancy)

Alectromancy (or Alectryomancy)


An ancient divinatory for that utilized a cock. When practicing this divination a circle which was divided into as many parts as there were in the alphabet was drawn in a closed place. Then a wheat-corn was placed in each section beginning with the first letter, or A. Whoever placed the corn must recite a certain incantation while doing it. The time for this divination is when the sun or moon is in Aries or Leo.


The cock must be young and white. When his claws are cut off he is forced to swallow both of them together with a small roll of parchment made of lambskin upon which have been previously written words. Now the diviner holding the cock must repeat a certain incantation or conjuration. Next, when putting the cock with the circle, he must recite two verses of the Psalms, which are exactly the midmost of the seventy-two verses in the entry on Onimancy, and it should be noted on the authority of an ancient Rabbi that there is not anything within these seventy-two verses which is not of some use within
Kabbalism.


The cock, being in the circle, is observed to see from which of the letters he peck the grains, and upon these others must be quickly placed because frequently some words often contain the same letter two or three times. The letters should be written down and assembled, for they will infallibly reveal the name of the person concerning whom the inquiry was made.


A story of doubt concerns the magician Iamblicus who used this divination to discover the successor of Valens Caesar in the Roman Empire. . However, the bird just pecked four grains that spelled “T h e o.” This left a great uncertainty. The letters could stand for “Theodosius,” “Theodotus,” “Theodorus,” or “Theodectes.” When Valens heard of this divination he had several persons murdered whose names began with these letters. The magician to escape his known fate drank a draught of poison.
This form of divination resembles the use of a planchette or ouija board.
Another form of Alectromacy is sometimes practiced when a cock crows or is heard crowing.


Another version of the above divinatory incident was related by Ammanius Marcellinus in the fourth century AD. In this version the ritual is described somewhat differently. Sorcerers begun by placing a basin made of different metals on the ground and drawing around it at equal distances the letters of the alphabet. Then the sorcerer possessing the deepest occult knowledge would come forth, enveloped in a long veil, holding in his hands branches of vervain, and letting forth dreadful cries which were accompanied by hideous convulsions. Eventually, almost immediately, he would stop before the basin where he became rigid and motionless. He, then, struck with the branch in his hand upon a letter several times, and then proceeded doing likewise on other letters until the sufficient amount was selected to form a heroic verse which was then given out to the assembly.


Wnen the Emperor Valens was informed of this divinatory ritual, he was so appalled that the infernal powers had been consulted concerning his destiny that he ordered that not only the sorcerers but all the philosophers in Rome be severely punished that many lost their lives.


Details of the performance of Alectryomancy are exactly and curiously described in the fourth song of the Caquet Bonbec, written by the 14th century poet Jonquieres.

Your Charm For November 21st is Abraxas

Your Charm For Today

Abraxas

Today’s Meaning:    

A powerful force will rule you within aspect for the duration of a year. You will be given few choices to make as most will be made for you. This force is benign in nature and the end result will be positive.

General Description:  

Abraxas stones were commonly worn and highly esteemed in the Roman Empire about the time when Christianity was becoming established there. Much importance was attached to the word Abraxas in the Greek notation making up the number 365, signifying 365 heavens, occupied by the 365 gods, who according to the Gnostic religion, formed the earth and ruled its destiny. The Abraxas, the curious divide Jeo, of Jehovah of the Gnostics, has a fowl’s head, signifying watchfulness and foresight; the shield, wisdom; whip, authority; two serpents, mystery, eternity, vitality. These rings were worn as talismans for protection against physical ills.

Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Author:   Cu Mhorrigan  

Introduction:

Paganism has received a lot of attention in recent years with the increased use of the internet, television shows like Charmed, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Angel and movies like The Craft, Harry Potter, as well as cartoons like Sabrina the Teen-Aged Witch.

Nowadays, it has become fashionable to announce oneself to be a Pagan, or Neo-Pagan, Wiccan or Witch – especially for teenagers, wishing to attract attention, adults trying to follow the latest fad in spirituality, or just as an excuse to justify weird or aberrant behavior.

However, calling yourself a Pagan is one thing; actually following the spiritual path is something else. It is my hope with this ‘class’ that I might explain in practical terms what it actually means to be a Pagan in our modern age and to assist those who wish to implement the following of this spiritual path.

Definition of the word “Pagan”:

The Word Pagan is derived from the Latin word ‘paganus’, which is loosely translated to mean “of the country”. It should be noted however that the usage of ‘paganus’ within the Roman Empire (Where they spoke Latin. Duh!) was always meant to be a slur meaning “hillbilly, redneck, hick, trailer trash, or white trash”. Much in the same way we would talk about guests on the Jerry Springer Show.

Later, when the Christian faith took over the Roman Empire under Charlemagne, it was used to describe those outside of the Christian faith and those in need of conversion. Not an improvement, because paganus was still pretty much of an insult.

Turning a negative into a positive:

It wasn’t until recently that the term ‘Pagan’ gained a more positive use with the resurgence of Pagan beliefs within the European and American Cultures. Those who sought spirituality closer to that of their “ancestors” adopted it. Eventually, it came to mean ‘those who follow the Old religions’ or ‘those who follow a spiritual path outside of the big three Abrahamic religions’. (What are the big Three Abrahamic religions?)

What DO Pagans Believe?:

An it harm none Do as thou wilt.

Speaking in general terms, Paganism is an earth-centered spirituality, which believes in the sacredness of all things, equality of all persons regardless of gender, sexual, and spiritual and social practices. The practices within Paganism are extremely diverse and open-ended allowing individuals to incorporate whatever rituals and belief systems they feel comfortable with.

Since there is so much diversity within our spiritual path, we stress personal liberty, and responsibility for one’s own actions. That as long as a person does not cause physical, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual harm to others or himself, he/she is free to pursue one’s physical, mental and spiritual development as he/she sees fit.

Which brings me to my next point: Pagans, in general, do not proselytize! That means you aren’t going to get a call from us at three o’clock in the morning asking us if you are going to ritual or not. There is no High Priestess going around smacking people over the head if they haven’t worked on their Book of Shadows or if they bought the wrong candle for a personal ritual. Aint gonna happen.

Why? We are assuming that if you are here, you want to be here. We’ll give you information, let you know your options, and the rest is up to you. We aren’t going to stand on a street corner and scream at folks for not worshipping Athena nor at women/men who chose not to go around sky clad (That’s ‘nekkid’ for those of us who are really new to this).

The Law of Return (or sowing and reaping):

There are no true “sins” within our spiritual practices. There are only things that cause harm (or, as I like to call them, “Stupid Ideas”) and things that are helpful (Or as I like to call them, “Good Ideas”).

When you do good things, good things tend to happen to you (Eventually). When you do bad things, bad things tend to happen to you (Eventually). Of course, since we do not live in a static environment, and people tend to interact with one another, sometimes things get a little ‘fa-kakhed’. However, the Universe always balances Itself out in the end.

This concept is called, karma and it’s a relatively complicated matter, which I have here boiled down to its lowest common denominator. Of course, there are differing views of Karma, one of which is the Three-Fold Law What you do comes back three-fold, or three times, back at you. (If you are not sure as to whether an act will have some kind of repercussion, ask yourself, how much would I really like this done to me?)

(The self-defense caveat: Like all “Laws”, there are loopholes. If someone else is out to cause you harm in some way it would be a really STUPID (Bad Karma) idea not to protect yourself, or your family, or your friends. However, make sure you have as many facts as possible (like the guy is holding a knife and threatens to cut you up) before beating the oneness of all things back into these individuals.

Pantheons, Divinities, Spirits, Energies:

Okay this is where it gets a little tricky, but stay with me. The most common (and extremely annoying) question we as Pagans get is, “Don’t you folks worship Satan?” (Everyone roll his or her eyes here.)

The answer to that is a resounding, “NO!” For the most part, you need to keep in mind that Paganism is a separate religion from Christianity. Hence Satan (Whom I call, the Christian God of Evil and Nastiness) is not a part of our pantheon. Sorry…

For the most part (depending on the tradition you follow) the Pagan concept of Divinity falls under one of the following expressions:

Duo-Theism: (Duo=Two or Dual, Theos=Divinities):

The Worship of a Co-Equal God and Goddess, each having unlimited power, compassion, wisdom, energy or what-have-you, but maintaining different roles and functions.

The God is aggressive, powerful, sexual adventurous, skillful. He handles the Male side of fertility.

The Goddess is nurturing, passionate, creative, sensual and artistic. She oversees the power of creating life through birth and the Female side of fertility.

This belief is widely held by the Wiccans and Wicca-like factions of Paganism.

Poly Theism: (Poly=Many, Theos=Divinities) The belief in multiple Gods and Goddesses.

Many folks see these Gods as extensions of the God and Goddess (i.e. Monism) with each one taking on different aspects at the time of their encounter with the worshipper. Others (like myself) believe that They are actually separate entities with Their own personalities, quirks and motives.

Not every god or goddess is a real people person nor does every god and goddess have a laid back attitude. If you are going to get involved with a particular deity, you had better make sure you do a LOT of research as to what they like, don’t like, and if a particular god or goddess is right for you. Otherwise your life will get extremely interesting in a bad way.

The third school of though in polytheism is the idea of the gods and goddesses being archetypes within a person’s own psyche. This is sort of like a piece of our own subconscious wrapped up in a costume and a mask in order to teach our conscious minds lessons they need.

Of course, there is more than those three Schools of thought, but I’m just giving the basics here.

Pantheism:

Simply put, this is the idea that the Divine is in everything; hence all things are a part of the energy we call god. Since all things are a part of god, all things are sacred and are expressions of the divine in some way, shape or form. When I worship a tree, I am worshipping the Divine; when I give food to a hungry stray, I am feeding the Divine; when I am hurting someone, I am hurting the Divine.

Then there is the Fourth Category:

I-have-no-Friggin-Clue-ism:

For the beginner, this is the best spiritual idea I can suggest. The idea is essentially, “I have no friggin’ clue if there is a Divinity or not, therefore unless I am shown otherwise, I will not say that the Gods are this way or that. I will respect the Power behind the name, but I will not pledge myself to him/her/it unless I have an absolutely good reason to.”

This is actually one of the safest belief systems to take as a new student of the Pagan path because you are open enough to receive enlightenment, but at the same time, you do not run the risk of making a total, complete ass out of yourself. The Gods will instruct you as They see fit.

Now of course, Pagans will usually incorporate not only one, but perhaps two or three of the ideas listed above. This usually comes from personal experience and cannot be learned any other way.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to shift from one idea to another or even to incorporate two or more of these ideas…it’s all good. Just find out what works best for you.

So How the Hades do I Become a Pagan? (Or stupid questions that are commonly asked)

Well, for the most part, it’s a matter of doing a lot of reading and a lot of self-exploration. It took me at least two years of studying online and reading books and attending classes to even consider myself a Pagan. A lot of the traditions under the banner of Paganism will have different views on training and initiation (think of it as baptism), and how one becomes a member of that tradition.

The best way is to start out attending Pagan gatherings, visiting bookstores and such, and talk to other Pagans. Eventually, you will either find a religious path that works for you or you will throw your arms up in dismay and run screaming back to your religion of birth. And there is nothing wrong with that. NOT AT ALL! We realize that the Pagan spiritual path is not for everyone, and we will not be offended. Just make sure you don’t tell people we sacrificed your cat and you’ll be cool with us.

Do I Need to Buy Special Clothes and Dress in Black?

The answer is: Only if you really want to. Yes, there are special robes some folks wear, but unless your coven says otherwise, you can pretty much wear what you want.

Just some basic suggestions: Wear something comfortable and wear something you won’t mind getting dirty. Most of our rituals take place outdoors and, while you may look really good in an Armani suit and Gucci shoes, there is a good chance your clothes will get messed up and your shoes scuffed.

Loose, light clothes in summer and spring is always a good idea, and warmer clothes in the fall are really smart. Most winter rituals will be held indoors, depending on the weather. If it makes you comfortable to wear black Witch clothes and pointed hats and cloaks… Knock yourself out…You’ll be getting lots of stares and odd looks (mostly from us), but all-in-all, if it makes you comfortable, then that is all that matters.

Do I Need to Buy Special Jewelry?

Again, only if you want to and if you enjoy it. Jewelry is a personal matter to the people who wear it. And it’s usually best to find a piece that says, “HEY! I LIKE YOU. WEAR ME AROUND YOUR NECK!” Otherwise, No special jewelry is required to be a Pagan.

Do I Need to Kill Something (like a kitten) and Drink its Blood?

No, you don’t have to kill an animal to be a Pagan. For the most part, we are animal friendly and don’t believe in killing a critter in order to work our rituals. Yes, there are some Pagan groups that practice animal sacrifice and it is left alone…but fear not, the only thing usually killed has already been slaughtered and put on the feasting table in a sacred bucket marked, KFC.

Do I Need to Become a Vegetarian?

Nope, being a vegetarian is a matter of personal preference and what you feel in your heart. While many of us are vegetarians, a lot of us aren’t. It may be a good idea to eat a little healthier, but no one is going to come down on you for eating meat or using meat-based products. However, you might want to do your own research and come up with your own choices.

So, What DO I Need to Do?

Excellent question. One, as I suggested before, do a lot of research, a lot of reading and, when in doubt, do more research. A lot of Pagans keep what is called a “Book of shadows”, which is just a fancy name for a Journal. Write down everything you learn in that book and when you get a chance, read it. If you see a cool article on the net, feel free to print it (for your personal use only, please).

To create a book of shadows, I would suggest buying a loose-leaf binder and fill it half-way with paper. It’s also a good idea to invest in a three hole punch. That way, you can put articles that you printed from the net and use them for later reference. Do not worry about using blood and special things to “make it official”. It is your study guide — your book — and so, make sure you personalize it to suit your needs.

When you feel you are ready, and you have found a religious tradition you feel comfy with, take that Book of Shadows and attend any class you can afford. A lot of places have very reasonable rates for their classes. The Learning Annex is one source, but so is your local Pagan bookstore. Just make sure you talk to the person running the store to make sure he knows what he/she is talking about. If you are not entirely comfortable in studying there, consider looking for another teacher. Remember, this is about YOUR spiritual growth and enrichment and you need to be in an environment conducive to YOUR learning.

Holidays, and Rituals:

There are eight major Holy Days during the Pagan year that a lot of us agree upon. There are also rituals that are held on the New Moon and the Full moon depending on how often your coven (A group of Pagans you worship with) meets.

The Eight Major Holidays are listed in the order they fall on:
Imbolc (February)
Spring Equinox (March 21)
Beltaine (May 1)
Summer Solstice (Litha) (June 21)
Lughnassadh or Lamas (August)
Autumn Equinox (Mabon) (September 21)
Samhain or Halloween (October 31 to Nov 1)
Winter Solstice (Yule) (December 21)

Each Holy Day represents a certain mythological event in our religion, which will be discussed by the High Priest (ess) in advance.

It’s usually a good idea to find out what you would need to bring so that you can best participate in the ritual.

Now most likely you are going to have a hard time pronouncing the names of the days when you first start out, so don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions; it’s the only way you are going to learn.

Tools For Rituals:

Energy: This is the most important, and since I am assuming people know Jack about Paganism, I’m going to make this explanation brief: When we perform rituals and cast spells, we are attempting to gather energy. This energy comes from the universe and ourselves. Depending on what we are trying to do, we use certain rituals, and tools. Think of it this way: It’s like gathering up a whole bunch of snow together. We eventually gather enough to make a snowball and then we pack it in and send it off to impact your friend. It’s basically the same thing. When we perform these rites, they help our minds to focus on gathering this energy and tell it what we want done. Energy is the most important part of any ritual, and without it, we are just looking stupid.

Cauldron: This is basically a black, three-legged pot to be used for burning incense and for other things. They range from tiny to huge and can be used to burn incense, burn paper, and make potions. Now cauldrons tend to be rather expensive, so if you are a bit “Price Sensitive” like me, find yourself one of those old fashioned iron pots that Mom uses to make rice. Make sure you clean it before and after use. If you have one of these in your own home and have had it for a long time, you are pretty much used to it and it is used to you. So, you really don’t have to “charge” it with energy.

Athemae: Essentially, this is a knife or a really small sword. This is used to direct energy raised up during rituals. THESE ARE NOT USED TO CUT PEOPLE (of any species). It can be used for cutting vegetables. Most traditions prefer a double sided blade, small enough to conceal. (You would be amazed how many cops will stop you for carrying a broad sword.) If you’re unable to get an athamae, it’s totally cool to make yourself a wand or use your index finger to direct energy.

Wands/Rods: Okay, these are wooden or crystal sticks also used to direct energy as well as to draw it to yourself. Wands tend to be no longer than your arm, while rods can be longer. Best way to get a rod is to go out on little walks in the park and look for a stick. Once you find a stick you like and that screams out for you to take it, take it home, and sand it and decorate it until you are totally comfortable with it. Viola! You have a wand or rod. If you have as much mechanical aptitude as a slug, ask around your local occult bookstores. Keep in mind they are going to be slightly expensive and you will have to charge it once you get it home.

Candles: Candles are used in rituals to help get your mind into the practice of Magic (No, I am not spelling magic with a K or a J…I’m keeping this as simple as possible. If you want to use the funky spellings in your own notebooks, knock yourself out. You’re not being graded here). Candles are lit in order to help get the mind into a state where it’s easier to put the patterns in for the energy to flow. I would strongly suggest getting candles of all colors and sizes and as many as you can afford. (Usually one of each color.) You can pick them up anywhere.

Incense: Like candles, incense helps the mind get energy together to cast spells. It’s a good idea to make your own incense or to purchase them from a botanica, or occult bookstore. Incense sticks may be colored, but it’s usually a good idea to purchase them based on their smells. Pungent or spicy incense is normally used to send stuff away. (Mainly because they are offensive.) Sweet incense is used to bring stuff to you. Earthy smells help to facilitate healing and to strengthen you.

Divination tools: Things like Tarot Cards, Runes and what not. These are mainly used to help you to make decisions or to gain some kind of insight as to what is going on around you. Keep in mind, these items themselves are not magical in and of themselves, but are based on your own intuition interpreting what you are seeing.

Books, books and more books: Like I said earlier, it is suggested you read religiously. It’s best to keep a library of things you have read or are about to read. Don’t just pick books only by one author, but of different ones. Some people may know a lot about what they are talking about; others are complete and utter horse feces. However, the only way you are going to find out is if you look for yourself and keep your Book of Shadows nearby while you read. If something sounds like nonsense, or if you aren’t sure about whether or not what is true within a book, do some research. It sounds like a lot of work, but this is your spirituality we are talking about here.

It is a good idea to question everything and find out if there is an agreement between the authors you have read. Another thing to keep in mind is that some folks are completely full of fluff and bluster while others deliberately water stuff down to keep from divulging too much about their path. And some are completely straightforward about the things they are writing about.

One of the best ways to learn about an author is find out when they are going to be doing a book signing near you. Get to meet them (Most book signings are free and most will give a short lecture about their book just to whet your appetite for it.) Some of the most intense learning experiences I gained were in attending some of these lectures; it’s also a great way to actually see the person who is writing.

Use your intuition…and don’t be shy about picking their brains. That is what they are there for. In fact, I would suggest doing the same thing at the store where you get your tools and books. It helps you learn a lot faster; especially when you ask Stupid questions. Yes you will get looks. Yes, you will even get the occasional shake of the head, But if you don’t ask, you wont know. It’s worth it.

Suggested Things to do:

Check out different groups that meet in your area. You can do this by attending open (public) circles or classes. Use them as a way to meet other Pagans and eventually find a group that you feel comfortable studying with. If you are Solitary Pagan, it helps to “meet and greet” other Pagans.

Look around for Pagan shops, botanicas and other places where you can get supplies. Most botanicas are devoted to Santeria or Voudu, but you can get some really good equipment at cheap prices.

Check out the local library, as well as the bookstore for things you can read about your particular pantheon.

Ask a lot of questions. Even stupid ones. It’s one of the chief tenets of Paganism to question everything you come across. If you get an answer that sounds like horsesh*t, then verify, verify, verify.

Things Not To Do:

Don’t panic; this seems like a lot of information, but it really isn’t. This is just the primer for your own research.

Don’t sweat if you cannot find a teacher right away, Nine times out of ten, they usually show up when you are ready to learn more about a particular aspect of your tradition.

Don’t start off calling yourself a High Something of a particular tradition. Most systems within Paganism have their own methods of teaching and credentials for clergy and what not. No faking!

Don’t be afraid of getting criticized; it’s going to happen. Learn to grow a thick skin, and if someone points something out to you, listen and check out your own motives and conscience. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.

Don’t take everything at face value…Learn how to question what you hear and not be a total jerk about it.

Don’t try and convert people, It rarely works just put out information let people know where you stand and end it there.

Recommended Books:

The Truth about Witchcraft Today: Scott Cunningham
Urban Primitive: Tannin Silverstein and Raven Kaldera
The Book of Shamanic Healing: Kristin Madden
The Celestine Prophecy: James Redfield (Yes, it’s a novel but it helps to get an idea about energy-work and how energy can be gathered and stolen.)
The Wiccan Warrior: Kerr Cucuhain
Witchcraft Theory and Practice: Ly de Angeles
When I see the Wild God: Ly de Angeles
Drawing Down the Moon: Margot Adler (of NPR)
The Spiral Dance: Starhawk
Buckland’s Complete Witches Handbook: Raymond Buckland

Let’s Talk Witch – Who Are The Celts?

links

 

Who Are The Celts?

Definition:

For many people, the term “Celtic” is a homogenized one, popularly used to apply to cultural groups located in the British Isles and Ireland. However, from an anthropological standpoint, the term “Celtic” is actually fairly complex. Rather than meaning just people of Irish or English background, Celtic is used by scholars to define a specific set of language groups, originating both in the British Isles and in the mainland of Europe.

says, “The Celts are an Indo-European people who spread from central Europe across the European continent to Western Europe, the British Isles, and southeast to Galatia (in Asia Minor) during the time before the Roman Empire. The Celtic family of languages is divided into two branches, the Insular Celtic languages, and the Continental Celtic languages.”

Today, the remains of early Celtic culture can be found in England and Scotland, Wales, Ireland, some areas of France and Germany, and even parts of the Iberian Peninsula. Prior to the advancement of the Roman Empire, much of Europe spoke languages that fell under the umbrella term of Celtic.

Sixteenth-century linguist and scholar Edward Lhuyd determined that the Celtic languages in Britain fell into two general categories. In Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland, the language was classified as “Q-Celtic,” or “Goidelic.” Meanwhile, Lhuyd classified the language of Brittany, Cornwall and Wales as “P-Celtic,” or “Brythonic.” While there were similarities between the two language groups, there were distinct differences in pronunciations and terminology. For specific explanations on this fairly complex system, read Barry Cunliffe’s book, The Celts A Very Short Introduction.

Because of Lhuyd’s definitions, everyone began considering the people who spoke these languages “Celts,” despite the fact that his classifications had somewhat overlooked the Continental dialects. This was partly because, by the time Lhuyd began examining and tracing the existing Celtic languages, the Continental variations had all died out. Continental Celtic languages were also divided into two groups, the Celt-Iberian and Gaulish (or Gallic), according to

As if the language issue wasn’t confusing enough, continental European Celtic culture is divided into two time periods, Hallstatt and La Tene. The Hallstatt culture began at the onset of the Bronze Age, around 1200 b.c.e., and ran up until around 475 b.c.e. This area included much of central Europe, and was focused around Austria but included what are now Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, northern Italy, Eastern France, and even parts of Switzerland.

About a generation before the end of Hallstatt culture, the La Tene cultural era emerged, running from 500 b.c.e. to 15 b.c.e. This culture spread west from the center of Hallstatt, and moved into Spain and northern Italy, and even occupied Rome for a time. The Romans called the La Tene Celts Gauls. It is unclear whether La Tene culture ever crossed into Britain, however, there have been some commonalities between .

In modern Pagan religions, the term “Celtic” is generally used to apply to the mythology and legends found in the British Isles. When we discuss  here at About Pagan/Wiccan, we’re referring to the deities found in the pantheons of what are now Wales, Ireland, England and Scotland. Likewise, modern Celtic Reconstructionist paths, including but not limited to Druid groups, honor the deities of the British Isles.

Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Author: Cu Mhorrigan

Introduction:

Paganism has received a lot of attention in recent years with the increased use of the internet, television shows like Charmed, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Angel and movies like The Craft, Harry Potter, as well as cartoons like Sabrina the Teen-Aged Witch.

Nowadays, it has become fashionable to announce oneself to be a Pagan, or Neo-Pagan, Wiccan or Witch – especially for teenagers, wishing to attract attention, adults trying to follow the latest fad in spirituality, or just as an excuse to justify weird or aberrant behavior.

However, calling yourself a Pagan is one thing; actually following the spiritual path is something else. It is my hope with this ‘class’ that I might explain in practical terms what it actually means to be a Pagan in our modern age and to assist those who wish to implement the following of this spiritual path.

Definition of the word “Pagan”:

The Word Pagan is derived from the Latin word ‘paganus’, which is loosely translated to mean “of the country”. It should be noted however that the usage of ‘paganus’ within the Roman Empire (Where they spoke Latin. Duh!) was always meant to be a slur meaning “hillbilly, redneck, hick, trailer trash, or white trash”. Much in the same way we would talk about guests on the Jerry Springer Show.

Later, when the Christian faith took over the Roman Empire under Charlemagne, it was used to describe those outside of the Christian faith and those in need of conversion. Not an improvement, because paganus was still pretty much of an insult.

Turning a negative into a positive:

It wasn’t until recently that the term ‘Pagan’ gained a more positive use with the resurgence of Pagan beliefs within the European and American Cultures. Those who sought spirituality closer to that of their “ancestors” adopted it. Eventually, it came to mean ‘those who follow the Old religions’ or ‘those who follow a spiritual path outside of the big three Abrahamic religions’. (What are the big Three Abrahamic religions?)

What DO Pagans Believe?:

An it harm none Do as thou wilt.

Speaking in general terms, Paganism is an earth-centered spirituality, which believes in the sacredness of all things, equality of all persons regardless of gender, sexual, and spiritual and social practices. The practices within Paganism are extremely diverse and open-ended allowing individuals to incorporate whatever rituals and belief systems they feel comfortable with.

Since there is so much diversity within our spiritual path, we stress personal liberty, and responsibility for one’s own actions. That as long as a person does not cause physical, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual harm to others or himself, he/she is free to pursue one’s physical, mental and spiritual development as he/she sees fit.

Which brings me to my next point: Pagans, in general, do not proselytize! That means you aren’t going to get a call from us at three o’clock in the morning asking us if you are going to ritual or not. There is no High Priestess going around smacking people over the head if they haven’t worked on their Book of Shadows or if they bought the wrong candle for a personal ritual. Aint gonna happen.

Why? We are assuming that if you are here, you want to be here. We’ll give you information, let you know your options, and the rest is up to you. We aren’t going to stand on a street corner and scream at folks for not worshipping Athena nor at women/men who chose not to go around sky clad (That’s ‘nekkid’ for those of us who are really new to this).

The Law of Return (or sowing and reaping):

There are no true “sins” within our spiritual practices. There are only things that cause harm (or, as I like to call them, “Stupid Ideas”) and things that are helpful (Or as I like to call them, “Good Ideas”).

When you do good things, good things tend to happen to you (Eventually). When you do bad things, bad things tend to happen to you (Eventually). Of course, since we do not live in a static environment, and people tend to interact with one another, sometimes things get a little ‘fa-kakhed’. However, the Universe always balances Itself out in the end.

This concept is called, karma and it’s a relatively complicated matter, which I have here boiled down to its lowest common denominator. Of course, there are differing views of Karma, one of which is the Three-Fold Law What you do comes back three-fold, or three times, back at you. (If you are not sure as to whether an act will have some kind of repercussion, ask yourself, how much would I really like this done to me?)

(The self-defense caveat: Like all “Laws”, there are loopholes. If someone else is out to cause you harm in some way it would be a really STUPID (Bad Karma) idea not to protect yourself, or your family, or your friends. However, make sure you have as many facts as possible (like the guy is holding a knife and threatens to cut you up) before beating the oneness of all things back into these individuals.

Pantheons, Divinities, Spirits, Energies:

Okay this is where it gets a little tricky, but stay with me. The most common (and extremely annoying) question we as Pagans get is, “Don’t you folks worship Satan?” (Everyone roll his or her eyes here.)

The answer to that is a resounding, “NO!” For the most part, you need to keep in mind that Paganism is a separate religion from Christianity. Hence Satan (Whom I call, the Christian God of Evil and Nastiness) is not a part of our pantheon. Sorry…

For the most part (depending on the tradition you follow) the Pagan concept of Divinity falls under one of the following expressions:

Duo-Theism: (Duo=Two or Dual, Theos=Divinities):

The Worship of a Co-Equal God and Goddess, each having unlimited power, compassion, wisdom, energy or what-have-you, but maintaining different roles and functions.

The God is aggressive, powerful, sexual adventurous, skillful. He handles the Male side of fertility.

The Goddess is nurturing, passionate, creative, sensual and artistic. She oversees the power of creating life through birth and the Female side of fertility.

This belief is widely held by the Wiccans and Wicca-like factions of Paganism.

Poly Theism: (Poly=Many, Theos=Divinities) The belief in multiple Gods and Goddesses.

Many folks see these Gods as extensions of the God and Goddess (i.e. Monism) with each one taking on different aspects at the time of their encounter with the worshipper. Others (like myself) believe that They are actually separate entities with Their own personalities, quirks and motives.

Not every god or goddess is a real people person nor does every god and goddess have a laid back attitude. If you are going to get involved with a particular deity, you had better make sure you do a LOT of research as to what they like, don’t like, and if a particular god or goddess is right for you. Otherwise your life will get extremely interesting in a bad way.

The third school of though in polytheism is the idea of the gods and goddesses being archetypes within a person’s own psyche. This is sort of like a piece of our own subconscious wrapped up in a costume and a mask in order to teach our conscious minds lessons they need.

Of course, there is more than those three Schools of thought, but I’m just giving the basics here.

Pantheism:

Simply put, this is the idea that the Divine is in everything; hence all things are a part of the energy we call god. Since all things are a part of god, all things are sacred and are expressions of the divine in some way, shape or form. When I worship a tree, I am worshipping the Divine; when I give food to a hungry stray, I am feeding the Divine; when I am hurting someone, I am hurting the Divine.

Then there is the Fourth Category:

I-have-no-Friggin-Clue-ism:

For the beginner, this is the best spiritual idea I can suggest. The idea is essentially, “I have no friggin’ clue if there is a Divinity or not, therefore unless I am shown otherwise, I will not say that the Gods are this way or that. I will respect the Power behind the name, but I will not pledge myself to him/her/it unless I have an absolutely good reason to.”

This is actually one of the safest belief systems to take as a new student of the Pagan path because you are open enough to receive enlightenment, but at the same time, you do not run the risk of making a total, complete ass out of yourself. The Gods will instruct you as They see fit.

Now of course, Pagans will usually incorporate not only one, but perhaps two or three of the ideas listed above. This usually comes from personal experience and cannot be learned any other way.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to shift from one idea to another or even to incorporate two or more of these ideas…it’s all good. Just find out what works best for you.

So How the Hades do I Become a Pagan? (Or stupid questions that are commonly asked)

Well, for the most part, it’s a matter of doing a lot of reading and a lot of self-exploration. It took me at least two years of studying online and reading books and attending classes to even consider myself a Pagan. A lot of the traditions under the banner of Paganism will have different views on training and initiation (think of it as baptism), and how one becomes a member of that tradition.

The best way is to start out attending Pagan gatherings, visiting bookstores and such, and talk to other Pagans. Eventually, you will either find a religious path that works for you or you will throw your arms up in dismay and run screaming back to your religion of birth. And there is nothing wrong with that. NOT AT ALL! We realize that the Pagan spiritual path is not for everyone, and we will not be offended. Just make sure you don’t tell people we sacrificed your cat and you’ll be cool with us.

Do I Need to Buy Special Clothes and Dress in Black?

The answer is: Only if you really want to. Yes, there are special robes some folks wear, but unless your coven says otherwise, you can pretty much wear what you want.

Just some basic suggestions: Wear something comfortable and wear something you won’t mind getting dirty. Most of our rituals take place outdoors and, while you may look really good in an Armani suit and Gucci shoes, there is a good chance your clothes will get messed up and your shoes scuffed.

Loose, light clothes in summer and spring is always a good idea, and warmer clothes in the fall are really smart. Most winter rituals will be held indoors, depending on the weather. If it makes you comfortable to wear black Witch clothes and pointed hats and cloaks… Knock yourself out…You’ll be getting lots of stares and odd looks (mostly from us), but all-in-all, if it makes you comfortable, then that is all that matters.

Do I Need to Buy Special Jewelry?

Again, only if you want to and if you enjoy it. Jewelry is a personal matter to the people who wear it. And it’s usually best to find a piece that says, “HEY! I LIKE YOU. WEAR ME AROUND YOUR NECK!” Otherwise, No special jewelry is required to be a Pagan.

Do I Need to Kill Something (like a kitten) and Drink its Blood?

No, you don’t have to kill an animal to be a Pagan. For the most part, we are animal friendly and don’t believe in killing a critter in order to work our rituals. Yes, there are some Pagan groups that practice animal sacrifice and it is left alone…but fear not, the only thing usually killed has already been slaughtered and put on the feasting table in a sacred bucket marked, KFC.

Do I Need to Become a Vegetarian?

Nope, being a vegetarian is a matter of personal preference and what you feel in your heart. While many of us are vegetarians, a lot of us aren’t. It may be a good idea to eat a little healthier, but no one is going to come down on you for eating meat or using meat-based products. However, you might want to do your own research and come up with your own choices.

So, What DO I Need to Do?

Excellent question. One, as I suggested before, do a lot of research, a lot of reading and, when in doubt, do more research. A lot of Pagans keep what is called a “Book of shadows”, which is just a fancy name for a Journal. Write down everything you learn in that book and when you get a chance, read it. If you see a cool article on the net, feel free to print it (for your personal use only, please).

To create a book of shadows, I would suggest buying a loose-leaf binder and fill it half-way with paper. It’s also a good idea to invest in a three hole punch. That way, you can put articles that you printed from the net and use them for later reference. Do not worry about using blood and special things to “make it official”. It is your study guide — your book — and so, make sure you personalize it to suit your needs.

When you feel you are ready, and you have found a religious tradition you feel comfy with, take that Book of Shadows and attend any class you can afford. A lot of places have very reasonable rates for their classes. The Learning Annex is one source, but so is your local Pagan bookstore. Just make sure you talk to the person running the store to make sure he knows what he/she is talking about. If you are not entirely comfortable in studying there, consider looking for another teacher. Remember, this is about YOUR spiritual growth and enrichment and you need to be in an environment conducive to YOUR learning.

Holidays, and Rituals:

There are eight major Holy Days during the Pagan year that a lot of us agree upon. There are also rituals that are held on the New Moon and the Full moon depending on how often your coven (A group of Pagans you worship with) meets.

The Eight Major Holidays are listed in the order they fall on:
Imbolc (February)
Spring Equinox (March 21)
Beltaine (May 1)
Summer Solstice (Litha) (June 21)
Lughnassadh or Lamas (August)
Autumn Equinox (Mabon) (September 21)
Samhain or Halloween (October 31 to Nov 1)
Winter Solstice (Yule) (December 21)

Each Holy Day represents a certain mythological event in our religion, which will be discussed by the High Priest (ess) in advance.

It’s usually a good idea to find out what you would need to bring so that you can best participate in the ritual.

Now most likely you are going to have a hard time pronouncing the names of the days when you first start out, so don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions; it’s the only way you are going to learn.

Tools For Rituals:

Energy: This is the most important, and since I am assuming people know Jack about Paganism, I’m going to make this explanation brief: When we perform rituals and cast spells, we are attempting to gather energy. This energy comes from the universe and ourselves. Depending on what we are trying to do, we use certain rituals, and tools. Think of it this way: It’s like gathering up a whole bunch of snow together. We eventually gather enough to make a snowball and then we pack it in and send it off to impact your friend. It’s basically the same thing. When we perform these rites, they help our minds to focus on gathering this energy and tell it what we want done. Energy is the most important part of any ritual, and without it, we are just looking stupid.

Cauldron: This is basically a black, three-legged pot to be used for burning incense and for other things. They range from tiny to huge and can be used to burn incense, burn paper, and make potions. Now cauldrons tend to be rather expensive, so if you are a bit “Price Sensitive” like me, find yourself one of those old fashioned iron pots that Mom uses to make rice. Make sure you clean it before and after use. If you have one of these in your own home and have had it for a long time, you are pretty much used to it and it is used to you. So, you really don’t have to “charge” it with energy.

Athemae: Essentially, this is a knife or a really small sword. This is used to direct energy raised up during rituals. THESE ARE NOT USED TO CUT PEOPLE (of any species). It can be used for cutting vegetables. Most traditions prefer a double sided blade, small enough to conceal. (You would be amazed how many cops will stop you for carrying a broad sword.) If you’re unable to get an athamae, it’s totally cool to make yourself a wand or use your index finger to direct energy.

Wands/Rods: Okay, these are wooden or crystal sticks also used to direct energy as well as to draw it to yourself. Wands tend to be no longer than your arm, while rods can be longer. Best way to get a rod is to go out on little walks in the park and look for a stick. Once you find a stick you like and that screams out for you to take it, take it home, and sand it and decorate it until you are totally comfortable with it. Viola! You have a wand or rod. If you have as much mechanical aptitude as a slug, ask around your local occult bookstores. Keep in mind they are going to be slightly expensive and you will have to charge it once you get it home.

Candles: Candles are used in rituals to help get your mind into the practice of Magic (No, I am not spelling magic with a K or a J…I’m keeping this as simple as possible. If you want to use the funky spellings in your own notebooks, knock yourself out. You’re not being graded here). Candles are lit in order to help get the mind into a state where it’s easier to put the patterns in for the energy to flow. I would strongly suggest getting candles of all colors and sizes and as many as you can afford. (Usually one of each color.) You can pick them up anywhere.

Incense: Like candles, incense helps the mind get energy together to cast spells. It’s a good idea to make your own incense or to purchase them from a botanica, or occult bookstore. Incense sticks may be colored, but it’s usually a good idea to purchase them based on their smells. Pungent or spicy incense is normally used to send stuff away. (Mainly because they are offensive.) Sweet incense is used to bring stuff to you. Earthy smells help to facilitate healing and to strengthen you.

Divination tools: Things like Tarot Cards, Runes and what not. These are mainly used to help you to make decisions or to gain some kind of insight as to what is going on around you. Keep in mind, these items themselves are not magical in and of themselves, but are based on your own intuition interpreting what you are seeing.

Books, books and more books: Like I said earlier, it is suggested you read religiously. It’s best to keep a library of things you have read or are about to read. Don’t just pick books only by one author, but of different ones. Some people may know a lot about what they are talking about; others are complete and utter horse feces. However, the only way you are going to find out is if you look for yourself and keep your Book of Shadows nearby while you read. If something sounds like nonsense, or if you aren’t sure about whether or not what is true within a book, do some research. It sounds like a lot of work, but this is your spirituality we are talking about here.

It is a good idea to question everything and find out if there is an agreement between the authors you have read. Another thing to keep in mind is that some folks are completely full of fluff and bluster while others deliberately water stuff down to keep from divulging too much about their path. And some are completely straightforward about the things they are writing about.

One of the best ways to learn about an author is find out when they are going to be doing a book signing near you. Get to meet them (Most book signings are free and most will give a short lecture about their book just to whet your appetite for it.) Some of the most intense learning experiences I gained were in attending some of these lectures; it’s also a great way to actually see the person who is writing.

Use your intuition…and don’t be shy about picking their brains. That is what they are there for. In fact, I would suggest doing the same thing at the store where you get your tools and books. It helps you learn a lot faster; especially when you ask Stupid questions. Yes you will get looks. Yes, you will even get the occasional shake of the head, But if you don’t ask, you wont know. It’s worth it.

Suggested Things to do:

Check out different groups that meet in your area. You can do this by attending open (public) circles or classes. Use them as a way to meet other Pagans and eventually find a group that you feel comfortable studying with. If you are Solitary Pagan, it helps to “meet and greet” other Pagans.

Look around for Pagan shops, botanicas and other places where you can get supplies. Most botanicas are devoted to Santeria or Voudu, but you can get some really good equipment at cheap prices.

Check out the local library, as well as the bookstore for things you can read about your particular pantheon.

Ask a lot of questions. Even stupid ones. It’s one of the chief tenets of Paganism to question everything you come across. If you get an answer that sounds like horsesh*t, then verify, verify, verify.

Things Not To Do:

Don’t panic; this seems like a lot of information, but it really isn’t. This is just the primer for your own research.

Don’t sweat if you cannot find a teacher right away, Nine times out of ten, they usually show up when you are ready to learn more about a particular aspect of your tradition.

Don’t start off calling yourself a High Something of a particular tradition. Most systems within Paganism have their own methods of teaching and credentials for clergy and what not. No faking!

Don’t be afraid of getting criticized; it’s going to happen. Learn to grow a thick skin, and if someone points something out to you, listen and check out your own motives and conscience. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.

Don’t take everything at face value…Learn how to question what you hear and not be a total jerk about it.

Don’t try and convert people, It rarely works just put out information let people know where you stand and end it there.

Recommended Websites:

“The Witches’ Voice” — It’s a great place to start since they have information about everything.

— A great place to learn about the Gods of your chosen pantheon. It doesn’t have all the information, but enough for you to get your feet wet and do some research.

Yahoo.com — They have a plethora of Pagan groups and places where you can talk to people of different walks of life. It’s also a great way to meet Pagans in your area.

Google and other search engines — Another great website with links to thousands of Pagan websites.

Recommended Books:

The Truth about Witchcraft Today: Scott Cunningham
Urban Primitive: Tannin Silverstein and Raven Kaldera
The Book of Shamanic Healing: Kristin Madden
The Celestine Prophecy: James Redfield (Yes, it’s a novel but it helps to get an idea about energy-work and how energy can be gathered and stolen.)
The Wiccan Warrior: Kerr Cucuhain
Witchcraft Theory and Practice: Ly de Angeles
When I see the Wild God: Ly de Angeles
Drawing Down the Moon: Margot Adler (of NPR)
The Spiral Dance: Starhawk
Buckland’s Complete Witches Handbook: Raymond Buckland

Footnotes:
Listed in the article…
 

Witch Balls

Witch Balls
By
Amber
K

Folklore gives us many ways to protect and bless our homes, from a
sprig of rowan fastened near the entryway to the brightly colored
hex signs of the Pennsylvania Dutch, to the inverted horseshoe
nailed above the door to “catch the luck” and hold it. The “Witch
Ball” is one more protective device.

A Witch Ball is a hollow glass sphere hung at a window, or in a
corner of a room near the ceiling, that averts or traps evil before
it can bring harm to the occupants of the home. It may only a couple
of inches in diameter, or large as a pumpkin.

Some writers have said they were called “Witch Balls” because they
were made to protect a home from Witches. It is just as possible,
however, that the balls were used by Witches to ward their own
homes, and those of their clients.

No one knows exactly when these talismans first were used. The
manufacture of glass and the ability to make blown-glass vessels are
very old skills; the Roman Empire had a lively trade in glass two
thousand years ago. We know that Witch Balls were used in Old
England, but whether this was a legacy of the Roman occupation or a
later custom is uncertain. Certainly Witch Balls were common in
colonial America.

Many witch balls were coated inside with silver nitrate. It was said
that these reflected the “evil eye” or any negative spell back on
the sender. Also, any demon seeing his face reflected in the silver
ball would be frightened and flee, or maybe seeing the world
reflected in a curved, distorted way was enough to confuse him.
Other balls are created with slender threads or pillars of glass
inside to catch any evil spirit that ventured within. Yet others
were simply the glass balls, clear or green or blue, used by
fishermen to float their nets. Perhaps these were reflective enough
to work the same way as the silver balls.

Witch balls have also found their way into the garden as a form of
the large “gazing globes” on pedestals that adorned many Victorian
gardens and are still seen occasionally today. If a flower garden is
a place of beauty and serenity, a refuge from the cares of the
world, certainly it deserves protection as much as the house itself.

Another place where Witch balls turn up is on the family Christmas
tree – or more accurately the Yule tree, as the custom of dragging a
tree indoors is doubtlessly Pagan in origin. The tree may be a
variant on the Yule log, which was originally a huge dead tree (and
phallic symbol), conveyed to the manor house by the men of the
village with much singing and ribald horseplay. Their one end was
placed in the great hearth, and a fire kindled. Over several days of
feasting and festivity the Yule log was gradually pushed into the
fire as the end was consumed.

The Yule tree may also have been a representation of the World Tree
of old Northern Europe. The whole universe was imagined as a great
ash tree, called Yggdrasill. Its roots reached down into the Norse
underworlds, Niflheim and Muspelheim; its crown stretched up to
Asgard and the halls of the gods; and in its branches deer and other
wild creatures browsed. This great tree is akin to the Tree of Life
of the ancient goddess civilizations of the Near East.

On our Yule trees today we place lights and stars and candy canes,
carved animals and elves and Santa’s and – of course – little glass
spheres. Witch Balls. Gold for the reborn Sun god, and silver for
the Moon Goddess, whose blessings and protection we ask for the
coming new year. In Ancient Ways, Pauline Campanili suggests that
the “shiny glass balls catch the light of the new born Sun and send
it back as a magical means of enhancing the Sun’s energy.”
You can have your own Witch ball up year ’round. Buy a large and
beautiful Yule ornament, or seek out a glass fisherman’s float in an
antique shop, or look in a catalog of garden statuary such as
Toscano’s for a “gazing globe.” Give it a special place of honor in
your home or garden, invoke the gods of your choice, and consecrate
it to its protective purpose. Dust it frequently to remove any
negativity from its surface. Perhaps it will make your home that
much more of a safe have.

How To Make A Protection Witch Ball

glass ball or Yule ornament with an opening
bottle of silver paint
a spool of read thread
few drops of frankincense or patchouli oil
scissors

Cover you working space with newspaper to protect against spills.
Take the metal cap off the ornament. Carefully pour a little of the
silver paint inside the ball and swish it around until the inside is
completely covered with the silver. Set it aside to dry.

When the paint is totally dry, cut the red thread into three inch-
lengths. Carefully poke this thread into the open end of the ball.
Continue cutting and putting the thread into the ball until the ball
is nearly full. Put in a few drops of oil. Then put the end back on
the ornament. If it has no end, seal it with candle wax.
When you hang the protection ball, chant:

“Symbol of the Moon, symbol of the Lady divine,
Reject all negativity, defend this home (car), me and mine”.

This protection ball can be hung in the window of your home or in
your car. Any negative thoughts or ill wishes directed against you
are reflected back to the sender. You can also decorate the outside
with appropriate designs. You can put them onto wreaths or make them
part of a dried flower arrangement. Programmed for protection, these
little Witch balls do a very good job.

Who Were The Celts?

Who Were The Celts?

 

The Celtic empire once ranged across Western Europe, and their armies eclipsed even those of Rome. Who were these mighty people, and what became of them?

The Celts (Kel’tz) were a diverse group of people whose empire once spanned the European continent.  Archeological digs from Halsted, Germany to the Orkney Isles of Scotland have uncovered evidence of Celtic settlements as far back as the late Bronze Age.  But where did  these brash, nomadic people come from, and what became of them?

Recent archeological digs in Eastern Europe and Asia Minor indicate the possibility that the Celts were not indigenous to Europe at all.  The fact that the original Celtic stock were primarily a dark haired people with swarthy complexions only verifies this new theory. This theory is the migratory theory;  when applied the Celtics sometime in the millennia of the Bronze Age entered Europe from somewhere in Asia Minor.  It wasn’t long before they settled in the region of the Danube River basin and soon began raiding and conquering their neighbors.  The Celtic conquest continued until their tribal lands covered most of Western Europe, from the Danube to Rome and westward as far as current-day Belgium.

Though their rise to power was quick, the Celtic domination of Europe was short, as empires go.  Over the centuries following the Celtic Golden Age seen at Halsted, the Celtic people were pushed farther west by new conquerors and empires, sprouting up in Athens, Macedonia, and, eventually, Rome.  To the North, the savage Goths pushed the Celts southward as well, condensing the majority of Celtic society into Gaul and Iberia, which today make up France and Spain.

If the origins of the Celts are historically dubious, the name they identified themselves with remains a mystery.  While historical accounts exist, as well as a few Celtic carvings referencing tribal names, Celtic writings don’t make any reference to a racial name.  The only surviving accounts to make reference to the Celtic people were written by Roman and Greek historians.  In fact, it is from Greek texts that the Celts received their ethnic name, Keltoi, a Greek word for “stranger” or “outsider.”  This identifier was altered by late Roman writers and eventually adopted by the Celts as a means of identification in trade and war.

Many historians and archeologists believe that the original people who entered European millennia before the birth of Christ had no name by which to identify themselves as a people.  They were nomadic, in many ways, and little more than a loose conglomeration of independent tribes and family groups.  If this theory is true, it adds a new dimension to the mystery of the Celts with a question that might never be truly answered: Who were the Celts?

Historical records and archeological evidence have much to say about Celtic culture and society.  Predominantly in Roman histories, reference is made to the deep racial pride of the Celts, and their stubborn refusal to be dominated or ruled.  According to Roman chroniclers, a Celt would choose suicide over surrender.  Nor was Celtic society a fluid structure like the Hellenic or Roman empires, but rather a loosely-linked group of autonomous tribes, each headed by a separate chieftain.  Within each tribe, the people were further divided into extended family units known as clans.  Each clan was subdivided into lineages, called “˜fine’, represented by the paternal kinship. Roman writers, examining this pastoral mind frame from their urban vantage point, no doubt found much to disdain as barbaric and primitive in Celtic society.

However, far from the barbarians with which they were often identified, the Celts had a highly developed society.  The basic structure of Celtic society divided the people into three classes:  the royal clans, the warrior aristocracy, and the common people, often referred to as Freemen.  And, though slaves did constitute a small percentage of the population, slavery was generally frowned upon in Celtic society. However, though Celtic social structure appeared loose and primitive to the Romans and Greeks, the Celts were by no means the “savage race” which the Roman scholars often slurred them by. Archeological evidence has shown the Celts to be an advanced race, for their era.  They made use of chain mail in battle and utilized machines for reaping grain.  There is also evidence that the Celts had begun extended roadways across Europe centuries prior to the Roman Empire’s much-lauded road system, and it is widely believed by historians that it was from the Celts that the Romans and Greeks first learned the use of soap.

However, regardless of their apparent advancements, the Celts were not an urbanized people, and their tastes ran to simple rather than extravagant.  Certain themes appear repetitively in reference to Celtic culture, including the predominance of rural settlements, the traditions governing hospitable feasts, and the evidence of fellowship drinking. Pork tended to be a primary item of diet, and clothing often followed a plaid design. However, though rural themes predominated their society and many settlements were merely farming communities, the Celts were far from uneducated. They placed high regard on thorough education and life-long study. The Druids, who are believed to be the Celtic scholars and priests, were required to undergo a period of training which lasted around twenty years. Also contrary to popular belief, historians have concluded that the Celts had a written language as early as the third century BCE, but made little use of it except on coinage and memorials, placing a higher value on the ability to remember vast quantities of information correctly.

Celtic society declined in the face of Rome’s advancing power, however.  As Roman culture stamped more of the face of world politics and trade, the Celts soon found themselves with no choice but to accept Roman rule. And, as Roman culture began dominating the Celtic tribes, the tribal culture was replaced by a racial identity.  By the withdrawal of Roman troops from Britain in approximately 340 CE, Celtic culture had waned nearly into oblivion.  It would enjoy a brief period of renewal with the fall of Rome, only to be quickly conquered by the Germanic culture advancing across Europe. And so, the proud people who had once dominated the European continent would be lost to myth and legend, leaving more unanswered questions than road signs to their once-golden culture.

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Celebrating Midsummer Eve the Latvian Way

by Mark Dalton

It was a sunny early evening on Midsummer’s Eve, years ago when I was a footloose young college student. My friend Dace came bursting through the door of our communal hippie household with a couple quarts of beer clanking in a paper bag and announced, “We’re going to a Latvian party tonight — it’s St. John’s Eve!”

I should explain about Latvians. Latvia is one of the Baltic countries, three small nations along the Baltic Sea, on the cusp between the Germanic lands of western Europe and the Slavic peoples to the east, and between the northern lands of Scandinavia and the plains of central Europe. Latvians saw a lot of traffic and heartache during the twentieth century, as they moved from Russian domination, to a brief flowering of independence following World War I, to German occupation during World War II, to becoming a Cold War republic of the Soviet Union, to an eventual, ecstatic return to independence after the collapse of the USSR. Many Latvians fled to the west as refugees when their country was overrun by the Soviets at the end of World War II. Sometimes after years in western European resettlement camps, they came to the United States — particularly the Midwest, where large, settled communities of German-Americans welcomed them like long-lost cousins.

My city in Nebraska was no exception, and I grew up with so many Latvian friends I sometimes felt as if I had been adopted into the tribe. Latvians as a rule are friendly, outgoing, smart and often creative people. My friend Dace (say it “Dot-suh”) was a sunny art major with blond hair streaming down her back and an air of sophistication and mystery. She seem wise beyond our years, which was then about 20. She was a great dancer and loved James Brown and the Motown Sound, having spent her teens in Detroit. Dace showed me Diana Ross’s senior picture in her high school yearbook. A home economics major, Diane, as she was then known, was voted by her classmates as “most likely to succeed.”

I’d been to a number of Latvian college parties by that time, either with Dace or other friends, and they were invariably a great time, always with plenty of beer, music, dancing and good-natured fun. “Where’s the party?” was my question. “This one is out in the country” was the response. “I’ve got the directions.” We polished off one of the quarts, and then piled into my old station wagon as dusk started to set in, driving quite a ways out of town down those Nebraska gravel roads. Fragrant breezes wafted around and through the open car windows, with the sounds of crickets and cicadas making Midsummer Night’s music as we drove along.

“So what’s the deal with St. John’s Eve?” I asked.  “Well, it’s the night of the Summer Solstice — you know, like in Midsummer Night’s Dream? The fairies and goblins come out, and everybody parties? In Latvia, St. John’s Day is a big deal. Everybody named Janis [Latvian version of the name] gets to lead the celebration.” Anyone familiar with the Latvian community knows that Janis is an extremely popular name, so it didn’t surprise me that they had their own holiday — but more about that later.

At this point, Dace was counting mailboxes as we drove along, and she suddenly yelled “Here! This one! Turn in here!” so we did — pulling perhaps 500 feet down a winding dirt drive, coming into a clearing where there was already a large crowd of kids milling around, rolling beer kegs out the back of a pickup truck — and also working on a large pile of brush, tree branches and logs in the middle of the clearing. “You always gotta have a bonfire on St. John’s Eve,” said my hostess. “The bigger, the better!”

And an incredible bonfire it was that night — the sun went down as it crackled into life, sending flames and showers of sparks high into the sky as the keg foamed, the music rocked, and we danced in a great circle under Dylan’s diamond sky. Later in the night, as the fire simmered down and the crowd mellowed, I was sitting with some of the guys when they jumped up and said “Come on, man! Tonight you’re going to leap over the fire with us and become a real Latvian!” Sure enough, there was an unruly line forming to one side of the somewhat tamer, but still vigorous blaze. “You jump the fire on St. John’s Eve, you’re gonna have good luck with the women all year long!” said my mentors. And so I did. And that delightful night was my introduction to the survival of real pagan ritual in the Western world.

The thing about Latvia and the other Baltic countries is that Christianity never really triumphed there, certainly not to the extent it did in western Europe and the English-speaking world. The Baltic countries were never a part of the ancient Roman Empire, and they were not incorporated in the later Holy Roman Empire until well into the fifteenth century (and then only after great reluctance and resistance). For hundreds of years, Latvia’s neighbor Lithuania, which had converted its local folk-pagan beliefs into a powerful and coherent pagan state religion, served as a buffer between the Baltics and the advance of Christian Europe.

Baltic and Latvian paganism was an earth-centered set of beliefs. Around the year 1400, Father Peter of Dunsberg wrote “[Latvians] worship all of creation… moon, stars, thunder, birds… they have their sacred forests, fields and waters in which they dare not cut wood, nor work, nor fish.” Important deities in the Baltic pantheon include Dievs, the sky god; Mara, goddess of earth and water; Laima, the goddess representing destiny or fate — and Janis (John), son of Dievs, the fertility god of the summer solstice!

In spite of the official “Christianizing” of Latvia and the other Baltic states, pagan beliefs were neither eliminated, nor outside the major cities even driven very far underground. The language of Christianity was Latin, and later with the rise of Luther German, and they were also, as in many nations, the language of the oppressor. Latvians, in response, perpetuated their folk customs and pagan beliefs through songs and celebrations in their native language. Early in the twentieth century, the pagan oral tradition of Latvia was collected and published in six volumes (the “Laviju Dainas”), followed by the collection of sacred Latvian folk songs in the 1920s (the “Dievturi”). These works offer invaluable documentation of the survival of pagan beliefs and folkways down to the present time. Lithuanian paganism was again officially recognized in 1967, and since 1988 a shrine-site at Romuva has again become a place of pilgrimage and celebration for modern Baltic pagans. Similarly, after a long period of repression under the Soviet Union (including a total ban on Midsummer festivities), modern Latvian paganism is experiencing a rebirth under the name “Dievturi,” after the sky god, and has become a national movement, “Dievturiba.” Again, in Latvia, the Midsummer’s Eve festivities, or “Jani,” are back on a large scale!

Indeed, the reality of Latvian paganism and its survival into the twentieth century very closely matches Gerald Gardner’s description of Wica (as he spelled it) in the British Isles:

“Although its adherents might be of any class of society, they were mostly drawn from the peasant population of outlying districts. These people lived close to the earth, and their livelihood depended on the fertility of animals and crops. Hence they continued to do what they had been doing from time immemorial — namely, to follow a religion of nature and the fertility thereof, and to hold regular festivals at which the concept of cosmic fertility was worshipped, and the attempt was made to induce it by ritual to manifest upon the earth.”

Now, we understand that, in Latvia, as across the nominally Christian nations of Europe, St. John’s Eve is commonly and officially associated with John the Baptist. But the association of the Baptist with the “John” (or Janis) of midsummer is one area where the clever syncretism of the Christian church is thinly veiled. St. John himself has often been clearly associated with the pagan Oak King, all across Europe, and in fact, many existent statues show him with little horns! (Pan the Baptist!) This persistent association of the Baptist with nature and the rustic shrines offered up to him through the ages offer substantial clues to the more ancient reasons for his attachment to a powerful pagan holy day.

In the Latvian midsummer festival, for example, the arrival of Janis is heralded by much music-making, and he is pictured as tall and handsome, with a wreath of oak leaves on his head. The use of oak, birch and other leaves, branches and flowers is very important to this celebration, as Latvian men, women and children bedeck themselves and their homes with wreaths and garlands to celebrate the arrival of this beloved deity of fertility and plenty. The villagers gather to sing songs to and about Janis — and there are many of them, all ending with the same word, “ligo,” meaning good cheer or to make merry. As the bonfires are lit, the more amorous couples in the village tend to slip off into the night at times in search of a magickal (and possibly mythical) pure white flower that blooms on this night — and even if the flower isn’t found, the search is reportedly sure to be enjoyable! As the song goes,

“Here comes Janis on Janis’ eve, with his steed all adorned;

“Run little sister and open the gates, so Janis can ride into our yard!”

With bonfires on hilltops throughout the land, the celebration of St. John’s Eve, or Jani (John’s Days), on Midsummer’s Eve goes on throughout the night across Latvia, and wherever the sons and daughters of Latvia congregate. And wherever you are on this holy night of celebration, love and thanksgiving, please give a good thought to the Latvians and their Baltic neighbors, for their bravery and tenacity in keeping the spirit, joy and sense of oneness with the natural world of pagan religion alive and intact, and join them in communion with the glory of our beautiful universe!

References

Books

  • Gerald Gardner: Witch, by J.L. Bracelin
  • A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick

Web sites

The Goddess Isis

The Goddess Isis

Isis or in original more likely Aset (Ancient Greek: Ἶσις) was a goddess in Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, whose worship spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. She was worshipped as the ideal mother and wife as well as the matron of nature and magic. She was the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, and the downtrodden, and she listened to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats, and rulers. Isis is the goddess of motherhood, magic and fertility.

The goddess Isis (the mother of Horus) was the first daughter of Geb, god of the Earth, and Nut, the goddess of the Overarching Sky, and was born on the fourth intercalary day. At some time Isis and Hathor had the same headdress. In later myths about Isis, she had a brother, Osiris, who became her husband, and she then was said to have conceived Horus. Isis was instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris when he was murdered by Seth. Her magical skills restored his body to life after she gathered the body parts that had been strewn about the earth by Set. This myth became very important in later Egyptian religious beliefs.

Isis is also known as protector of the dead and goddess of children from whom all beginnings arose. In later times, the Ancient Egyptians believed that the Nile River flooded every year because of her tears of sorrow for her dead husband, Osiris. This occurrence of his death and rebirth was relived each year through rituals. The worship of Isis eventually spread throughout the Greco-Roman world, continuing until the suppression of paganism in the Christian era.

Origin Of The Name

The name “Isis” is an anglicized version of the Greek version of her name, which itself changed the original Egyptian name spelling by the addition of a last “-s” because of the grammatical requirements of Greek endings.

The Egyptian name was recorded as ỉs.t or ȝs.t and meant “(She of the) Throne.” The true Egyptian pronunciation remains uncertain, however, because hieroglyphs do not have vowels. Based on recent studies which present us with approximations based on contemporary languages (specifically, Greek) and Coptic evidence, the reconstructed pronunciation of her name is *Usat [*ˈʔyːsəʔ]. Osiris’s name—that is, *Usir ‘Osiris’ (ws-ỉr) also starts with the throne glyph ʔs (“-s”). The name survived in Coptic dialects as Ēse or Ēsi, as well as in compound words surviving in names of later people such as “Har-si-Ese”, which means “Horus, son of Isis”.

For convenience, Egyptologists arbitrarily choose to pronounce her name as “ee-set”. Sometimes they may also say “ee-sa” because the final “t” in her name was a feminine suffix, which is known to have been dropped in speech during the last stages of the Egyptian language.

The name Isis means “Throne”. Her headdress is a throne. As the personification of the throne, she was an important representation of the pharaoh’s power, as the pharaoh was depicted as her child, who sat on the throne she provided. Her cult was popular throughout Egypt, but the most important sanctuaries were at Behbeit El-Hagar in the Nile delta, in Lower Egypt and, beginning in the reign with Nectanebo I (380-362 BCE), on the Upper Egyptian island of Philae.

Early History

Her origins are uncertain, but are believed to have come from the Nile Delta. Like other Egyptian deities she did have a centralized Cult of Isis (New cults) in the Hellenistic Civilization. First mentions of Isis date back to the Fifth dynasty of Egypt which is when the first literary inscriptions are found, but her cult became prominent late in Egyptian history, when it began to absorb the cults of many other goddesses with strong cult centers. This is when the cult of Osiris arose and she became such an important figure in those beliefs. Her cult eventually spread outside Egypt.

During the formative centuries of Christianity, the religion of Isis drew converts from every corner of the Roman Empire. In Italy itself, the Egyptian faith was a dominant force. At Pompeii, archaeological evidence reveals that Isis played a major role. In Rome, temples were built and obelisks erected in her honour. In Greece, traditional centres of worship in Delos, Delphi, and Eleusis were taken over by followers of Isis, and this occurred in northern Greece and Athens as well. Harbours of Isis were to be found on the Arabian Sea and the Black Sea. Inscriptions show followers in Gaul, Spain, Pannonia, Germany, Arabia, Asia Minor, Portugal and many shrines even in Britain.

Temples

Most Egyptian deities first appeared as very local cults and throughout their history retained those local centres of worship, with most major cities and towns widely known as the home of these deities. Isis originally was an independent and popular deity established in predynastic times, prior to 3100 BC, at Sebennytos in the northern delta.

Eventually temples to Isis began to spread outside of Egypt. In many locations, devotees of Isis considered a number of the local goddesses to be Isis, but under different names. The worship of Isis was joined to that of other Mediterranean goddesses, such as Demeter, Astarte, Aphrodite, and more. During the Hellenic era, due to her attributes as a protector and mother, as well as a lusty aspect gained when she absorbed some aspects of Hathor, she became the patron goddess of sailors, who spread her worship with the trading ships circulating the Mediterranean Sea.

Likewise, the Arabian goddess Al-Ozza or Al-Uzza العُزّى (al ȝozza), whose name is close to that of Isis, is believed to be a manifestation of her. This, however, is thought to be based on the similarity in the name.

Throughout the Graeco-Roman world, Isis became one of the most significant of the mystery religions, and many classical writers refer to her temples, cults, and rites.

Temples to Isis were built in Iraq, Greece and Rome, with a well preserved example discovered in Pompeii. On the Greek island of Delos a Doric Temple of Isis was built on a high over-looking hill at the beginning of the Roman period to venerate the familiar trinity of Isis, the Alexandrian Serapis and Harpocrates. The creation of this temple is significant as Delos is particularly known as the birthplace of the Greek gods Artemis and Apollo who had temples of their own on the island long before the temple to Isis was built. At Philae her worship persisted until the 6th century, long after the rise of Christianity and the subsequent suppression of paganism. The cult of Isis and Osiris continued up until the 6th century AD on the island of Philae in Upper Nile. The Theodosian decree (in about 380 AD) to destroy all pagan temples was not enforced there until the time of Justinian. This toleration was due to an old treaty made between the Blemyes-Nobadae and Diocletian. Every year they visited Elaphantine and at certain intervals took the image of Isis up river to the land of the Blemyes for oracular purposes before returning it. Justinian sent Narses to destroy the sanctuaries, with the priests being arrested and the divine images taken to Constantinople. Philae was the last of the ancient Egyptian temples to be closed.

Associations

Due to the association between knots and magical power, a symbol of Isis was the tiet or tyet (meaning welfare/life), also called the Knot of Isis, Buckle of Isis, or the Blood of Isis, which is shown to the right. In many respects the tyet resembles an ankh, except that its arms point downward, and when used as such, seems to represent the idea of eternal life or resurrection. The meaning of Blood of Isis is more obscure, but the tyet often was used as a funerary amulet made of red wood, stone, or glass, so this may simply have been a description of the appearance of the materials used.

The star Sopdet (Sirius) is associated with Isis. The appearance of the star signified the advent of a new year and Isis was likewise considered the goddess of rebirth and reincarnation, and as a protector of the dead. The Book of the Dead outlines a particular ritual that would protect the dead, enabling travel anywhere in the underworld, and most of the titles Isis holds signify her as the goddess of protection of the dead.

Probably due to assimilation with the goddesses Aphrodite and Venus, during the Roman period, the rose was used in her worship. The demand for roses throughout the empire turned rose production into an important industry.

Mythology

When seen as the deification of the wife of the pharaoh in later myths, the prominent role of Isis was as the assistant to the deceased pharaoh. Thus she gained a funerary association, her name appearing over eighty times in the Pyramid Texts, and she was said to be the mother of the four deities who protected the canopic jars—more specifically, Isis was viewed as protector of the liver-jar-deity, Imsety. This association with the pharaoh’s wife also brought the idea that Isis was considered the spouse of Horus (once seen as her child), who was protector, and later the deification of the pharaoh. By the Middle Kingdom, the 11th through 14th dynasties between 2040 and 1640 BC, as the funeral texts began to be used by more members of Egyptian society, other than the royal family, her role also grows to protect the nobles and even the commoners

By the New Kingdom, the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties between 1570 and 1070 BC, Isis gained prominence as the mother and protector of the pharaoh. During this period, she is said to breastfeed the pharaoh and often is depicted doing so.

The role of her name and her throne-crown is uncertain. Some early Egyptologists believed that being the throne-mother was Isis’s original function, however, a more modern view states that aspects of that role came later by association. In many African tribes, the throne is known as the mother of the king, and that concept fits well with either theory, possibly giving insight into the thinking of ancient Egyptians.

*Sister-wife to Osiris

In the Old Kingdom, the 3rd Dynasty through to the 6th Dynasty dated between 2686 to 2134 BC, the pantheons of individual Egyptian cities varied by region. During the 5th dynasty, Isis became one of the Ennead of the city of Heliopolis. She was believed to be a daughter of Nut and Geb, and sister to Osiris, Nephthys, and Set. The two sisters, Isis and Nephthys, often were depicted on coffins, with wings outstretched, as protectors against evil. As a funerary deity, she was associated with Osiris, lord of the underworld (Duat), and was considered his wife.

A later mythology (ultimately a result of the replacement of another deity, Anubis, of the underworld when the cult of Osiris gained more authority), tells us of the birth of Anubis. The tale describes how Nephthys was denied a child by Set and disguised herself as the much more attractive Isis to seduce him. The plot failed, but Osiris now found Nephthys very attractive, as he thought she was Isis. They coupled, resulting in the birth of Anubis. Alternatively, Nephthys had intentionally assumed the form of Isis in order to trick Osiris into fathering her son. In fear of Set’s retribution upon them, Nephthys persuaded Isis to adopt Anubis, so that Set would not find out and kill the child. The tale describes both why Anubis is seen as an underworld deity (he becomes a son of Osiris), and why he could not inherit Osiris’s position (he was not a legitimate heir in this new birth scenario), neatly preserving Osiris’s position as lord of the underworld. It should be remembered, however, that this new myth was only a later creation of the Osirian cult who wanted to depict Set in an evil position, as the enemy of Osiris.

In another Osirian myth, Set had a banquet for Osiris in which he brought in a beautiful box and said that whoever could fit in the box perfectly would get to keep it. Set had measured Osiris in his sleep and made sure that he was the only one who could fit the box. Several tried to see whether they fit. Once it was Osiris’s turn to see if he could fit in the box, Set closed the lid on him so that the box was now a coffin for Osiris. Set flung the box in the Nile so that it would drift far away. Isis went looking for the box so that Osiris could have a proper burial. She found the box in a tree in Byblos, a city along the Phoenician coast, and brought it back to Egypt, hiding it in a swamp. But Set went hunting that night and found the box. Enraged, Set chopped Osiris’s body into fourteen pieces and scattered them all over Egypt to ensure that Isis could never find Osiris again for a proper burial. Isis and her sister Nephthys went looking for these pieces, but could only find thirteen of the fourteen. Fish had swallowed the last piece, his phallus, so Isis made him a new one with magic, putting his body back together after which they conceived Horus. The number of pieces is described on temple walls variously as fourteen and sixteen, and occasionally forty-two, one for each nome or district.

A later mythology (ultimately a result of the replacement of another deity, Anubis, of the underworld when the cult of Osiris gained more authority), tells us of the birth of Anubis. The tale describes how Nephthys was denied a child by Set and disguised herself as the much more attractive Isis to seduce him. The plot failed, but Osiris now found Nephthys very attractive, as he thought she was Isis. They coupled, resulting in the birth of Anubis. Alternatively, Nephthys had intentionally assumed the form of Isis in order to trick Osiris into fathering her son. In fear of Set’s retribution upon them, Nephthys persuaded Isis to adopt Anubis, so that Set would not find out and kill the child. The tale describes both why Anubis is seen as an underworld deity (he becomes a son of Osiris), and why he could not inherit Osiris’s position (he was not a legitimate heir in this new birth scenario), neatly preserving Osiris’s position as lord of the underworld. It should be remembered, however, that this new myth was only a later creation of the Osirian cult who wanted to depict Set in an evil position, as the enemy of Osiris.

In another Osirian myth, Set had a banquet for Osiris in which he brought in a beautiful box and said that whoever could fit in the box perfectly would get to keep it. Set had measured Osiris in his sleep and made sure that he was the only one who could fit the box. Several tried to see whether they fit. Once it was Osiris’s turn to see if he could fit in the box, Set closed the lid on him so that the box was now a coffin for Osiris. Set flung the box in the Nile so that it would drift far away. Isis went looking for the box so that Osiris could have a proper burial. She found the box in a tree in Byblos, a city along the Phoenician coast, and brought it back to Egypt, hiding it in a swamp. But Set went hunting that night and found the box. Enraged, Set chopped Osiris’s body into fourteen pieces and scattered them all over Egypt to ensure that Isis could never find Osiris again for a proper burial. Isis and her sister Nephthys went looking for these pieces, but could only find thirteen of the fourteen. Fish had swallowed the last piece, his phallus, so Isis made him a new one with magic, putting his body back together after which they conceived Horus. The number of pieces is described on temple walls variously as fourteen and sixteen, and occasionally forty-two, one for each nome or district.

* Assimilation of Hathor

When the cult of Ra rose to prominence he became associated with the similar deity, Horus. Hathor had been paired with Ra in some regions and when Isis began to be paired with Ra, soon Hathor and Isis began to be merged in some regions also as, Isis-Hathor.

*Mother of Horus

By merging with Hathor, Isis became the mother of Horus, rather than his wife, and thus, when beliefs of Ra absorbed Atum into Atum-Ra, it also had to be taken into account that Isis was one of the Ennead, as the wife of Osiris. It had to be explained how Osiris, however, who (as lord of the dead) being dead, could be considered a father to Horus, who was not considered dead. This conflict in themes led to the evolution of the idea that Osiris needed to be resurrected, and therefore, to the Legend of Osiris and Isis, of which Plutarch’s Greek description written in the 1st century AD, De Iside et Osiride, contains the most extensive account known today.

Yet another set of late myths detail the adventures of Isis after the birth of Osiris’s posthumous son, Horus. Isis was said to have given birth to Horus at Khemmis, thought to be located on the Nile Delta. Many dangers faced Horus after birth, and Isis fled with the newborn to escape the wrath of Set, the murderer of her husband. In one instance, Isis heals Horus from a lethal scorpion sting; she also performs other miracles in relation to the cippi, or the plaques of Horus. Isis protected and raised Horus until he was old enough to face Set, and subsequently, became the pharaoh of Egypt.

* Magic

In order to resurrect Osiris for the purpose of having the child Horus, it was necessary for Isis to “learn” magic (which long had been her domain before the cult of Ra arose), and so it was said that Isis tricked Ra (i.e. Amun-Ra/Atum-Ra) into telling her his “secret name,” by causing a snake to bite him, for which only Isis had the cure. The names of deities were secret and not divulged to any but the religious leaders. Knowing the secret name of a deity enabled one to have power of the deity. That he would use his “secret name” to “survive” implies that the serpent had to be a more powerful deity than Ra. The oldest deity known in Egypt was Wadjet, the Egyptian cobra, whose cult never was eclipsed in Ancient Egyptian religion. As a deity from the same region, she would have been a benevolent resource for Isis. The use of secret names became central in late Egyptian magic spells, and Isis often is implored to “use the true name of Ra” in the performance of rituals. By the late Egyptian historical period, after the occupations by the Greeks and the Romans, Isis became the most important and most powerful deity of the Egyptian pantheon because of her magical skills. Magic is central to the entire mythology of Isis, arguably more so than any other Egyptian deity.

Prior to this late change in the nature of Egyptian religion, the rule of Ma’at had governed the correct actions for most of the thousands of years of Egyptian religion, with little need for magic. Thoth had been the deity who resorted to magic when it was needed. The goddess which held the quadruple roles of healer, protector of the canopic jars, protector of marriage, and goddess of magic previously had been Serket. She then became considered an aspect of Isis. Thus it is not surprising that Isis had a central role in Egyptian magic spells and ritual, especially those of protection and healing. In many spells, she also is completely merged even with Horus, where invocations of Isis are supposed to involve Horus’s powers automatically as well. In Egyptian history the image of a wounded Horus became a standard feature of Isis’s healing spells, which typically invoked the curative powers of the milk of Isis. (Silverman, Ancient Egypt, 135)

In Egypt

Isis was venerated first in Egypt. Isis was the only goddess worshiped by all Egyptians alike, and whose influence was so widespread that she had become completely syncretic with the Greek goddess Demeter. After the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great, and the Hellenization of the Egyptian culture initiated by Ptolemy I Soter, Isis eventually became known as Queen of Heaven.

*Greco-Roman world

Following the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great the worship of Isis spread throughout the Graeco-Roman world. Tacitus writes that after Julius Caesar’s assassination, a temple in honour of Isis had been decreed; Augustus suspended this, and tried to turn Romans back to the Roman deities who were closely associated with the state. Eventually the Roman emperor Caligula abandoned the Augustan wariness toward what was described as oriental cults, and it was in his reign that the Isiac festival of the Navigium Isidis was established in Rome. According to Josephus, Caligula donned female garb and took part in the mysteries he instituted, and in the Hellenistic age Isis acquired a “new rank as a leading goddess of the Mediterranean world.” Vespasian, along with Titus, practised incubation in the Roman Iseum. Domitian built another Iseum along with a Serapeum. Trajan appears before Isis and Horus, presenting them with votive offerings of wine, in a bas-relief on his triumphal arch in Rome. Hadrian decorated his villa at Tibur with Isiac scenes. Galerius regarded Isis as his protectress

Roman perspectives on cults were syncretic, seeing in new deities, merely local aspects of a familiar one. For many Romans, Egyptian Isis was an aspect of Phrygian Cybele, whose orgiastic rites were long-naturalized at Rome, indeed, she was known as Isis of Ten Thousand Names.

Among these names of Roman Isis, Queen of Heaven is outstanding for its long and continuous history. Herodotus identified Isis with the Greek and Roman goddesses of agriculture, Demeter and Ceres.

In later years, Isis also had temples throughout Europe, Africa and Asia. An alabaster statue of Isis from the 3rd century BC, found in Ohrid, in the Republic of Macedonia, is depicted on the obverse of the Macedonian 10 denars banknote, issued in 1996.

The male first name “Isidore” (also “Isador”), means in Greek “Gift of Isis” (similar to “Theodore”, “God’s Gift”). The name, which became common in Roman times, survived the suppression of the Isis worship and remains popular up to the present – being among others the name of several Christian saints.