Archive for the History Category

Whitewashing our Deities

Posted in History, Theory, Uncategorized with tags , , on July 27, 2012 by theredlass

Dear Wiccans/ Pagans (especially those on Deviant Art),

Why you no draw deities within their respective cultural and ethnic background?

I want to be clear. I’m not insulting the talents of artists WAY better at this than I will ever be. I know I am not alone in perusing DA’s lengthy archives with the name of a favored god or goddess typed into the search bar. I am constantly in awe of people who are able ti dedicate such time and effort into their pieces and I have a great deal of respect for their perspective and ability. I’m especially fond of it when they include symbolism and show a reflective process with regard to costume and scenery.

But still, when I search Hecate, why do I see a bunch of white girls? Shouldn’t she, at the very least, have a Mediterranean appearance? Why does Innana have red hair and pale skin (mind you I have a fetish for redheads)? Shouldn’t she be closer to Middle Eastern in appearance? Again, I’m not complaining of the quality, just of the perspective.

I believe that deities are a reflection of our own concepts. They are real, but we see them through a reflective surface that is colored by our own knowledge of our culture and ethnicity. That said, in this day and age we have a wider grasp of word knowledge than was had in ancient times. So do we simply receive these deities as a closer visual to what we are familiar with, or are we glossing over their origins in favor of making them more appealing?

For my own part, I think it’s a combination of the two. Artists like to create beautiful things and our concept of beauty is colored (no pun intended) by our surroundings. But at the same time, we are the ones now worshiping these deities, so do their appearances change because of who gives them recognition?

I have the same problem when Jesus is depicted as a tall, well built white guy with blue eyes and blondish/brown hair. He’s a Jewish dude from Bethlehem. He would looked NOTHING like that. And yet whenever we see the iconicized version of Jesus on say, a piece of toast, we believe it’s a miracle. (Because Jesus has nothing better to do with his day…not like there is starvation in Africa or anything.)

I would honestly love hearing some opinions on this. It’s irking me.

Yuletide Season

Posted in Experience, Fun and interesting, History, Life, Yule with tags , on November 22, 2011 by theredlass

Normally, I don’t feel the ‘Christmas season’ starts until after Thanksgiving is over. We do the whole meal, have our little carbo-overload nap, and then make rice krispies while listening to Christmas music and setting up out gigantic 7ftx4ft tree.

Well this year we decided to do things a little differently. I am not Christan, so to be fair, celebrating the ‘Christmas’ season is a bit out of context for me. Laura is Agnostic so she doesn’t believe in Jesus as the son of God.We had a talk about whether or not we even wanted to celebrate this year at all. So we decided instead to do things our way. This year, instead of Christmas we will be doing more of a Yule tide things.

Where as most of the neopagan holidays take their names from the Celts, Yule is originally a Germanic/Norse festival. It is the midway point of winter (winter solstice) and cause for great celebration as the cold is almost over. It was a time of heavy livestock sacrifice so that the gods might be appeased and protect their houses and men for the rest of the winter. This was a wild time, when many people were open to dangers from sickness to starvation and frostbite and wildlife. Yule is the longest night of the year, and rituals must be observed to keep people safe in their villages. The celebration typically lasted for 12 days, or as long as the Yule log burned in the hearth.

For the Celts, this holiday marked the point when the sun starts to fight against the cold, staying a little longer in the sky every day thereafter. The celebration included worshiping the signs of life that maintained during this frigid time of year. Druids would take a golden sickle and, in a great procession, lead the village out to a tree which contained mistletoe, a plant considered sacred to the Celts for its symbolic and medicinal properties. The Druids would cut down the mistletoe and then bring it inside, reminding the people that life continued even in the depths of winter and that the verdant green of the land would return.

For a people who were largely dependent upon their crops, the return of the sun was of utmost importance. A long winter and late spring meant less time to plough and plant and a weaker harvest, which brought many dangers to the populace. Not to mention that people were trapped in their holdings for longer and food supplies ran low. It was imperative that the seasons progressed and were appreciated in their turn.

That said, the real point of Yule is understanding just how strenuous life was back then. There were no weekends or vacations. You did not get days off save for festivals. Every day there was work to be done, not just for wealth, but for survival. You were constantly harvesting, repairing, cooking, drying, sewing, cleaning…the list goes on and on. Winter however was a time of rest and respite, when people did not have to farm or do many outdoor chores, so there was the opportunity to sit inside and be together as a family or tribe. These dark months could be very bleak and depressing, so it was all the more important to remind people of the coming sun and light returning to the world.

So Laura and I have planned on doing a few different things to celebrate this holiday according to our tastes and faith. We’ll still be doing the secular holiday with the family, exchanging gifts and going to Clifton Mills like we do every year. But we’ll be skipping the obligatory Catholic mass (don’t know why we did it in the first place), skipping the nativity scene and all the usual religious hooplah that clings to this time of year.

1) Mead Brewing- Mead was considered a sacred drink in ancient times. It was said to inspire poetry, art, prophecy, bravery and fertility in it’s drinkers and was shared in liberal amounts during festivals. So we are going to try to make this a project during the month of December. Of course the mead won’t be ready by Yule, but we will let it shelve through the year once it’s brewed and (as well as continuing to make mead) we will be able to give out bottles next year as gifts to friends and family.

2) Yule Tree- while the Yule log is traditionally burned through out the feast, it’s said that Germanic tribes were the first to bring trees inside and decorate them. We bought a new tree this year, which I will be blessing soon, and we are going to invite friends to make decorations with wishes for themselves and their family for the year forthcoming. We will hang these on the tree after the blessing in hopes of them coming true.

3) Decorating Pagan-this is going to be rather difficult with all the religious icons around, but I’m hoping to replace some of that in our house with Norse & Celtic regalia. We bought a lovely mistletoe for our home (traditionally a sacred plant which reminded people of the virility and endurance of nature through out the cold as well as serving as a fertility charm). Making a pagan star for a tree topper, creating a wreath for the house, a lot of this is going to have to be done by hand. One thing I would like to find is a series of statues/one statue which depicts Celts/ Nords feasting. I feel it would be more an appropriate replacement for the Nativity given the context.

Any other ideas out there from fellow Pagans?

Honoring the Dead

Posted in History, Ritual, Samhain, Spellcraft with tags , , on November 1, 2011 by theredlass

This is always a busy time of year for witchery, and in many ways it’s a bit like Christmas for us. We sometimes forget the ‘true meaning’ of Samhain in favor of just how popular we become during the October month. Frankly I’ve been to three parties, a ritual and a school sponsored thing in the last two weeks. I’m pooped!

But even through this I was determined to do something for the dead. The last year or so I’ve admittedly half assed things a bit. *sigh* I’M A BUSY WITCH DAMMIT!

Oíche Shamhna (Irish), All Soul’s Day (Catholic), Festival of the Dead (Japanese Buddhism), Dia de los Muertos (Mexican), Calan Gaeaf (Welsh), Allantide (Cornish), Halloween (American)

October 31st-November 1st

            You stand before the fields as the blood of livestock is poured into the ground as recompense for an excellent harvest. Bonfires blaze high into the darkening sky, the warmth emanating from them fighting off the chill growing in the air. Cow, sheep and pig are being butchered, their meat hangs packed with salt and drying to preserve it for the cold months ahead. Their furs are given to the women to make cloaks and the bones and horns to the druids for their own purposes. The moon hangs low in the sky, for it is early yet, and the dust from the fields has turned it a ripe shade of orange-red. Tangible now more than ever, is a sense that one is being watched over from the close knit trees and shadows. You can feel it in the air, even smell it in a strange way. There is a familiar presence all around the villiage. Everyone works with great speed and diligence, not from fear, but from excitement. Tonight is for celebration. Tonight is Samhain!

Samhain is well defined as the Celtic New Year, the time when the dark tide of the year overtakes and drowns out the light. We move into the time before life, when souls who have died in the past year are remembered and honored, even invited to join in the celebration. Ancestor worship goes back to Paleolithic times, when people believed that their familial dead watched over them and protected them from the Otherworld. Even today, Shinto shrines in Japan mark the names of anyone in their province and marks them so that in death they will become an ujigami (氏神), a family god which will ensure the families good standing and prosperity. Many people from various faiths have claimed to see their recently dead visit them within days after their passing, assuring them that everything is alright or even warning them of impending trouble.

Huge bonfires would be lit outside the village walls and the livestock would be driven between them to cleanse and purify them. All the other fires in the clan were extinguished and everyone came to lit their hearths from the great purifying bonfires. There is a strong family significance here wherein the people are bound together through ritual and purification. Broken pots would be returned to the earth from whence they came and offerings would be left to ward off wicked or malicious spirits. And yes, people believed in wicked spirits, for if someone was wicked in life it only made sense that they would be wicked in death until they moved on through the veil.

Samhain is believed to be the time of year during which the veil between this world and the next, the Otherworld, is at its thinnest. Spirits from the recently deceased to the gods themselves have an easier time getting through to communicate. This is a time when divination is very prolific. The ancient Druids would read the entrails of slaughtered livestock to determine future events such as war, kingship, and harvest. This practice, minus the ritual slaughter, has survived into modern day from scrying to apple divination.

This was also the time of the year when trade and warfare ceased. Troops and (as well as any other travlers) returned to their home villages rather than be caught out in the fierce winter. Many tales, (especially in the Ulster cycle of Celtic mythos), start during these gatherings such as Echtra Nerai, Cath Maige Tuireadh and The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn. It was a good time to tell stories of heroic escapades and brave battles fought in the defense of their lands. Songs, poetry and food flowed freely and great feasts were held.

Today, Samhain remains one of, if not the biggest festivals for witches, wiccans and pagans. So much of the holiday is historically and symbolically significant to our faith that it’s hard not to be attracted to its celebration and traditions. Many groups have their biggest turn outs both on this night and on its’ opposite festival, Beltane.

Personally, for me Samhain is a chance to have a gathering of my friends. Most are not pagan, but in this particular instance it isn’t significant. This gathering is more about what Samhain meant to the common people, a chance to gather, feast and celebrate before it became difficult to get together during the snowy months. I provide the main course and everyone brings something to share from cakes to chips to alcohol. We watch scary movies, talk, tell stories and just in general have a really good time. I usually hold the party a week before Halloween to avoid clashing with Beggar’s Night.

Samhain itself I celebrate on the traditional October 31st. Though my ritual differs from year to year, I typically make a plate of goodies, everything from honey spice cakes to baked apples and a healthy glass of rum or red wine. I decorate the plate with flowers and incense and a candle and place it outside on my porch so that the dead traveling through can have sustenance on their journey.

I also open my home to any kindly or honorable spirits for the night, in case they require rest or are exhausted from their travels. There are requirements of course. My house must not be left in disrepair and my family may not be accosted in any way or the invitation will be revoked just as quickly as I would kick any rude guest from my home! Otherwise, the spirits are allowed to come and go as they please, using my house as a way station for the night. They must be on their way by morning, after all guests should not overstay their welcome, and I do a house cleansing the following day to be sure that any lazy or lounging spirits have dispersed.

It’s also beneficial to do a thorough cleaning both on the mundane and spiritual levels on November 1st,or earlier depending upon your climate. The house needs to feel fresh and well stabilized before you have to close everything up for the winter. Nothing makes a home feel stuffy and uncomfortable like clutter so take this opportunity to clean out your rooms and spiritually clear out the bad air.

Dinner for the Dead

-Dinner for the dead is a tradition taken from the Mexican holiday Dios de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. During this time, families visit their ancestors graves and bring food to the site, celebrating with a small picnic and enjoying a few hours with their dearly departed. We prepare a plate of dried lavender, whisky, and homemade bread or pan de muerto, for the dead to enjoy and add candles and incense so that they can find it in the darkness.

Offering Chant
I call to the wandering dead.
To those who walk the night roads on their way to the Otherworld.
I call thee to come forward on this night,
and be known by those who would see you.
On this night I give you offerings of food and drink,
to give you strength in your passing.
I open my house to the spirits who may bring blessings,
good fortune,
good health,
and kindness into my home,
that they may rest on their journey.
And as the sun rises and dawns light burst forth,
I pray that you find your way home to the land of milk and honey.

Necromancy Bottle

-A necromancy bottle can also be called a spirit bottle or a grounding bottle. It’s intention is to help aid ancestors and spirits in grounding themselves in this world. It makes it easier for them to manifest and make people aware of their presence. The bottle includes items that symbolize death and the spiritual. It has to be cleansed and washed with sacred salt and water and purified using sage. I used clay to create a simple skull topper to apply once it has been filled and waxed shut. Methods vary, but I will be using the following:

(from bottom to top)

            Graveyard Dirt– has to be procured with an offering of coins for the dead.

Snakeskin-is symbolic of knowledge and wisdom, as well as rebirth and healing.

Marshmallow Root-commonly used in voodoo to attract benevolent spirits

Birch bark-traditionally associated with Tir na nOg, the Celtic land of the dead and

Kosher Salt-is used to purify an area and in this case it’s made to prevent any negative energies from making their way through. the Otherworld.

I call upon Persephone
She who dwelled in the underworld and returned to the light.
*eat six pomegranate seeds*
I call upon Hecate

She who dwells at the crossroads.
*drink a shot*
I call upon the ancestors of my family
Who have become the gods of yesteryear.
*raise sword*
Aid me in my workings on this night
That I may build a better connection with you through this ritual.
*light the black candle*
I call my ancestors to the world.
To those who would aid me and show me how to honor their memory.
I bring offerings to you on this night to show my dedication to your presence.
*offer drink and food*

I also want to give credit to the Witch of the Forrest Grove for providing so much inspiration.

The Nine Virtues

Posted in Experience, History, Life, Theory with tags , , on October 17, 2011 by theredlass

In some way or another throughout the ages, there have been sets of attributes which have been deemed by both society and individuals to define the quality of a person’s character. From the Ten Commandments to Sanatana Dharma, from the Noble Eightfold Path to the Wiccan Rede, each comprises cultural appreciation of upright action and thought. Many of these hold the same tenants as one another, with values such as honesty, kindness, generosity and honor at the top of the lists. It is in this line that I have comprised what I feel to be the Nine Virtues, a series of considerations to which I think one should aspire in their life time.

In no way do I mean to say that this is the definitive list of ethical behavior! Nor do I want anyone to believe that I have an infallible moral compass! Far from it in fact. These are simply the traits which I think are lacking in this era and should be given due consideration. While they include several from what is considered both warrior and maidenly virtues, I have done all I can to remove the gender considerations herein and I advise seeing them more as human virtues rather than belonging to one gender or the other.

The goal here is to strive towards these traits and to do your best to keep them in mind as you act throughout the day. I have listed them in order or personal importance (1 being the most significant to me) but these are not really qualifiable as more or less significant.Honor is among the most difficult to define of the virtues, and yet to me it is one of the most important. Many define this concept as a definition of a man’s duty or loyalty to one’s betters or higher ups within a military code of conduct. For women the term was historically used in reference to their virginity or the price a mle would have to pay in order to wed them. Honor can mean loyalty to duty, but it can also mean to act in a way which conveys dignity and rightness. Refusing to be goaded into a fight or not allowing your character to be falsified. Taking the protecting and care of your family upon yourself and working for their good at all times. Not allowing your friends to hurt when you have the means to prevent it. It comes down to looking at the situation and doing everything in your power to work through it with rightness of thought and deed. Honor also ties in strongly with other constructs such as: Integrity of the self, Accountability for your actions, and Respect for yourself and others

Courage is often misinterpreted as a lack of cowardice or fear. In reality, Courage is being afraid, terrified even, but pushing forward anyway. There are two types of courage: physical courage, which could be defending someone from attack or pushing yourself to the limit, and moral courage, which would be keeping to your moral or ethical code dispite potential ridicule and ostrisation. It can be difficult to remain courageous without becoming reckless or displaying an excess of bravado. In my experience the truly courageous are quiet, steadfast people who one would never suspect of being capable of such bravery. The one who rushes into a burning building to save a child and then dissapears before the news crew can get a shot of them. The truest form of courage is in those who’s names will never be known, but who take it upon themselves to act in defense of others.

Mercy is often portrayed as the powerful showing pity to the weak. This is often emphasied by the Christian concept of a merciful God, one who weilds incomparable power and yet exercises with caution or consideration for those under their influence. But to put this on a more relatable level, one could compare mercy with humanitarian efforts such as giving your time so that other’s might live life with greater ease, even if only for a moment. Through acts of kindness and charity, such as donating your clothing to homless shelters, voulenteering at a soup kitchen, or being a counselor for a youth group, one hopes to achieve a human connection as well as a greater understanding of compassion. To quote the Bard: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” Honesty is not always as simply as just telling the truth. In this case, the virtue has mor eto do with being of straightword character. It can be difficult to weight honesty with brutal, unfeeling truth, but it is important to remember that honesty does not give one the right to be callous. You should always consider how your answer will effect the other persons state of mind. At times a gentler hand may be called for, but sometimes we must be direct in our approach. A good thing to keep in mind is to never do anything you know you are going to have to lie about later. With this thought, Honesty is more about acting truthfully and without decit intended than it really is about telling your friend you like her dress when it looks awful. One could find it very ammusing that I chose to put the virtue of Cunning right after that of Honesty, seeing as how the two so often seem to be at odds. But in this case it is to establish a balance between the two that I incldue cunning among the virtues. Cunning is not about lieing, but about displaying keen insight or a knowledge of something which might baffle others. You could also term this as being clever or witty about a particular subject (such as witchcraft). It is, above all else, using your intillect to solve problems and find new solutions to old issues. Brehons might be the best example of such folk, as they had to navigate their way around the law without denying the rights of everyone involved. Endurance is the unique ability to keep going long after other’s have quit. There are two kinds of endurence: physical endurence, such as a woman in labor or a man running a triathalon, and mental endurance, such as that shown during studying final exam or sensory deprevation. One could also consider life to be an endurance trial, as we face hardships and difficulties one has to show the endurance and fortitude to overcome them. Life is hard, but not without it’s joy, and sometimes weathering the hard times creates more joy in the easy times. Being tenacious and sticking to your set goals without fail shows great endurance.Spirit is the belief and understanding of an innermost self, a soul or essence which comprises you as an incorporeal being. It is a connectedness to a larger self and an understanding that there is a pattern and weaving to existence which you are a part of. This could also be termed Piety, though I would not include religious devotion as the explanation. Rather you strive to see the big picture of life, not only in terms of you and yours but in terms of the universe as a whole. Someone who has the virtue of Spirit is confident, but without the danger of hubris and arrogance that so often comes with the idea of a higher spiritual understanding. As Albert Einstein said “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”

Introspection is being aware of your own needs, desires, flaws, virtues and state of mind. It is a concious effort on the part of a person to fully consider their actions and thoughts and to consider the ramifications both to themselves and to others. It is the consideration of one’s own mind, or metacognition (thinking about thinking). One could consider this like having a psychologist inside your own mind. You try to break down your own though process, questions yourself and answer honestly. It is not the same as doubting yourself or seeing your own advise as invalid, it is simply exploring your own motives and knowing where they come from.Tranquility ismaintaining a state of clamness and level headed thinking. It is in allowing yourself to move beyond the hectic frustrations and troubles of the moment and not letting them interfere with your thought process or course of action. One could also add into this the feeling of contentment with your life as it is right now, without giving thought to the future or past. You become at ease with the reality of the world and life in general and accept your current state of being. Inherant in this is the ability to move past what may be happening at the moment and focus on what must come next.

The Burning Times

Posted in Documentary, Feminism, History, Media, Uncategorized, Video with tags , , on July 24, 2011 by theredlass

This is an older documentary, but it remains to me one of the best descriptions of this particular period of interest and does a far better job explaining some perceptions of witchcraft than more modern documentaries.

Vikings and Warrior Women

Posted in Feminism, Fun and interesting, History with tags , , on July 21, 2011 by theredlass

The Celts weren’t the only ones who’s women fought alongside their men on the battlefield.