Tag Archives: paganism

Samhain and Halloween are related… right?

The following post comes from my attempt at an unpublished book which I never completed. I thought I could use my chapters as blog posts instead. This was originally drafted in 2013, and my writing voice was different from what it is now. I’ve edited where I could, but I didn’t fancy re-writing approx 3000 words.

The wheel turns once more bringing with it the darkness stretched shadows and weakened light. Harvest has ended, the fallen leaves turning to mulch now begin to whiten with the first frosts of the oncoming winter. Depends on the year, the October of 2017 is quite a warm one. There are skeletal trees, but there are many that are golden, orange and red.

Both Halloween and Samhain bring to mind skeletal trees standing aloft the icy mists, dusky evenings and streetlights battling against the otherworldly fog…. although today has blue skies, sunlight and children wandering around in costume on this Saturday afternoon. Saying that, as my train goes through the Peak District and there’s the fog!

For many Modern Pagans, Samhain was, and still is, the festival marking the official end of the summer season and the beginning of winter. To the mainstream consciousness, ‘Hallowe’en’ is something celebrated by children at best and a load of “Mumbo-Jumbo” or “Devil Worship” at worst. Samhain and Halloween, two totally different festivals celebrated at the same time and yet one is the evolution, if not the descendant, of the other.

Samhain by the water?

Samhain, pronounced “sow-en” (as in ‘sow’, rhyming with ‘now’), comes from the Old Irish Sam (summer) and fuin (end) and there appears to be a difference between the Samhain of back then and what Samhain means today.
Dr Ann Ross hypothesises that Samhain was a celebratory festival that took place by a local lake by the tribe or even tribes that came together for this occasion.
Great feasts supposedly took place by the local water source (such as a lake, a well, a river or the sea) giving us a possibility that it may have been seen as honouring the local goddesses. It is known the Celtic people saw the local water source as the embodiment of the goddess, the water was considered her realm. This may have been the time for giving offerings to the local deities. Celtic practice did include giving up the spoils of war such as shields, spears, swords, loot, to the river, probably in thanks for the victory they achieved in battle. This practice also included decapitated heads of the losers of battle being offered to the waters. This would have made sense to a people who saw the soul residing in the head, and considering it was one of Bilé’s duties to usher the souls of the dead back to the Mother Goddess figure, Danu, then summer’s end would have been the perfect time to do so.

According to the old stories, such as ‘The Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn’, Samhain is described as follows:

Every year the men of Ulster were accustomed to hold festival together;
And the time when they held it was for three days before Samhain, and for
Three days after that day, and upon Samhain itself.

It was a festival of trade, feasting, drinking, boasting and games of skill and combat. These activities are found in accounts and stories of Beltane and Lughnasadh; Samhain follows suit in that regards. Where it doesn’t is its name.
Unlike Beltane and Lughnasadh, Samhain wasn’t named after any specific deity such as Bel or Lugh. In that respect, it is similar to Imbolc in that the name of the festival is descriptive (“Summer End” and Imbolc’s “Ewe’s Milk”), however there is no association with any specific deity. Instead, the stories tell us of deities, monsters, shape-shifters and ‘fairy women’ who come from the mists to terrorise or enchant the local populace:

In ‘The Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn’ during the Samhain festival, Cuchulainn fails to catch one of the birds that come from the sky and everyone finds beautiful. To prove himself to his wife, Emer, he pursues two other beautiful birds that are held together by a red-gold chain as they fly over a lake. Failing in trying to catch them, Cuchulainn dreams of two women who curse him with a sickness for trying to attack them. Only for one of them to fall in love with him, problem being he already has a wife and the ‘fairy woman’ is married to Manannan Mac Lir, one of the Tuatha De Danaan!

The Dream of Angus’, tells of Angus Og, son of the Dagda, falling in love with a girl he dreams about. On his quest to find her, he discovers she is the daughter of another of the Tuatha De Danaan, Ethal Anbuail. He also finds that she turns into a swan for one year, then a girl the next. So, when he learns she will change into a swan that year at Samhain, he goes to the lake Loch Bél Dracon where he sees lots of swans (150 of them!) with silver and gold chains. He calls out the girl’s name, Caer, and when she comes forward in swan form, Angus turns into a swan also, before singing the song of sleeping as they fly away; beginning their elopement.

The ‘Agallamh na Senórach’ (Colloquy of the Ancients) contains a tale of the hero, Caoilte. Who, with his friends, goes to the Sidhe in order to heal an ailment. They won’t help him unless he kills three ravens that come from the Northern sea that come every Samhain and take three young boys with them.

The Scottish name for Samhain is ‘Samhuinn’, and is used as the setting for the story of ‘The Kelpie’. In this tale, a young shield-bearer called Donall, recounts the act of the Kelpie (sea dwelling creature that can change into either a horse or a handsome young man, either way its enchantment is powerful) taking all the cheiftain’s sons. Donall is sent to look for the one man who may help them, Dall, a blind man who has great wisdom. Dall tells Donall that at the midnight feast of Samhuinn, he shall go to the waters of the sea and pit his magic against the Kelpie to get the sons back. Meanwhile, the Kelpie has seduced Donall’s best friend, Dianaimh, but the spell is broken when she gazes upon the Kelpie’s true slimy, water-horse form. She says she will only go with the Kelpie if she releases the cheiftain’s sons (one of which was her brother). The Kelpie agrees but secretly makes a plan of his own. At the Samhuinn feast, the Kelpie comes and takes Dianaimh’s beautiful cousin into the sea with him. At the same time as this, Dall the Blind has gone to the sea by the castle and works his spell. The Kelpie frees the chieftain’s sons and keeps the vain, selfish girl as a slave in his under-sea kingdom, allowing the mortals to think that Dall’s “magic” was powerful indeed. Now, that’s ‘Trick or treat’ for you!

From the stories and tales, we can see the idea of Samhain being close to the Otherworld and the supernatural. If the stories actually contain a truth in the act of having the feast by a lake or the sea, then this is probably because water was seen as not only the realm of the goddess, but of the Otherworld. Usually, in Celtic myth, if water or an earth mound wasn’t the gateway to the Otherworld, then fog was. What is fog if not a form of water vapour? And in autumn and winter, the chill in the air does indeed bring fog and mist…

Apart from being an ideal time for telling stories of heroes, creatures and gods, Samhain must have also been the last great festival before the hardship of winter was to come. The harvest was already gathered and livestock that was surplus would have been killed for the good of the people. This might seem harsh, but back then when there was only a fire to keep away the cold, sustenance as well as shelter were vital for survival. Animals were not killed for the sport of it as much could be gained from its death: Meat to be cooked and salted, bones for tool handles, jewellery, drinking horns, the creatures fat used for candles and cooking with, fur and feathers for cloaks, bedding and clothes against the snow and ice, its skin used for leather for belts, clothes, shoes, shield decorations and armour. To our modern point of view this might seem brutal, but to our ancestors, it was a necessity as in winter, the cold could kill human and animal alike. And if you didn’t have enough grain to feed the excess cattle, better to use the spare animals than leave them to die of hunger and cold.

Bonfires at Blodmonath?

Coincidentally, the Anglo-Saxons shared in a celebration around the same time as Samhain, this was called ‘Blodmonath’ (Literally ‘Blood Month’) and consisted of ceremonially sacrificing the cattle for the purpose of provision and sustenance as given above. This took place in November and involved a ritualised version of animal slaughter and meat salting, with the head being given to the gods. As well the burial of these animal heads at the homestead, the Anglo-Saxons also lit bonfires; something that Modern Pagans have always ascribed to Samhain and the Celts.

Fire was (and is) seen as a deterrent for spirits of all kinds, whether they are the sprites and brownies of the woods and the home or the spirits of the dead.
There is a number of folk customs around Samhain to suggest that fire was important at this time of year. Obviously when at the end of summer and the beginning of winter, fire was a very useful thing to have. Though it is interesting to note that none of the Celtic stories above mention anything about fire playing a prime ritualistic or ceremonial feature.
Folk customs around Great Britain and Ireland are varied at the time of Samhain, not all revolve around fire, but the some do:

In Ireland, a cross made of sticks and straw called a ‘parshell’ was hung outside the entrance of people’s homes. This was meant to keep out the fairies and goblins from wreaking havoc in the homestead.

In Scotland, Sir James Frazer in his ‘The Golden Bough’ writes of a Highland custom with fires called ‘Samhnagan’, involving the burning of ferns and long grass stalks with tar.
Another tradition involves the collection of peat to make a fire for burning the burning of witches…. crikey!

He also writes of the Welsh Calan Gaef (Calends of winter) custom which happens at the same time as Samhain; this is called ‘Coel Coeth’ and involves the burning of a bonfire until it became ash. At this point each family member of the homestead places a white stone with their name attached, before going to bed. Apparently if any went missing, it meant that the individual whose stone disappeared would die before the next Halloween.

The above practices are mainly Halloween customs of the remaining Celtic lands from the past few hundred years. Though not strictly Samhain rites, there is still the element of the supernatural about them.

“Celtic New Year”

It is in Modern Paganism we find the god has now officially died. The Goddess retreats, carrying the new god within her womb until his birth/rebirth at midwinter. In this version, Samhain is seen as the ‘Celtic New Year’ and a time of ancestor worship as Pagans use this time to say farewells to family members who have died in that year or simply get together to honour their ancestors and gods.
The ancestor part of Samhain actually comes from All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Unlike the traditional Samhain connections with the Otherworld, the focus of these Christian festivals is on the dead. The Catholic emphasis was of ensuring the souls of the dead could move on from purgatory to Heaven, often enacted with the burning of fires or straw to help guide the souls of their departed loved ones.
At some point, every culture has a form of recognising the ancestors. For Samhain, is it a kind of “Chicken and Egg” scenario? who venerated their ancestors first? the Pagan Celts? the Christian Britons? Or did the Christians begin honouring their dead because the old associations with the Otherworld and Unearthly beings became seen as something “evil”, or at least ‘Non-Christian?’

And what of the ‘Celtic New Year?’ According to Ronald Hutton in his ‘Stations of the Sun’:

…the philologist Sir John Rhys, who suggested that it (Samhain) had
been the ‘Celtic’ New Year. He had not documented this from early
records, but inferred it from contemporary folklore in Wales and
Ireland, which he felt to be full of Hallowe’en customs associated
with new beginnings.

Hutton also reveals that Frazer expanded on this idea as the ‘Celtic feast of the dead’.
Indeed, in the classical Samhain, there is no mention of the festival having anything to do with the New Year, Celtic or otherwise.
One argument for this could lie in the fact that the Celts counted their days at night and their months on the New Moon (as in the dark phase of the Moon, not the first crescent it is considered now). If this model has been interpreted correctly then it would make sense for the ‘New Year’ to be placed in the beginning of the dark half of the year. Truth is, we don’t really know.

The modern Samhain accepts the classic idea of the ‘veil being thin’ between our world and, in this case, the world of the dead. For Modern Pagans it is a night of honouring the ancestors, even saying goodbye to those family members and even pets who had died in the year. There are many ways of doing this, some give out litanies of those who they want to acknowledge, others give offerings of food and drink. Some even honour the Cailleach (Hooded One, or Hag), the Celtic Dark Mother who is seen as the personification of Death and winter. She has been compared with the Crone aspect of the Goddess in the Western Magical Traditions, along with Cerridwen and Hecate.
Because of the associations of ‘between the veil’, Samhain is now recognised as a time for performing divination magic. Of course this varies a lot, whether its using Tarot cards, runes, pendulums, tea-leaves, even simply watching the dancing of the flames of a bonfire. There is often a ritual or prayer to deity, an offering of incense before the divinatory rite is held. The stereotype here is that witches call upon demons or the spirits of the dead to do their bidding. The reality is actually of reverence, not enforced servitude; spirits and deities are invited to come forward and give any advice should they wish to do so. Once the rite is over they are politely dismissed, or invited to stay and enjoy the energy of friendship and joy, leaving in their own time before the night is done.

So, aren’t Samhain and Halloween just the same thing?

The answer is both ‘no’ and ‘yes’. Samhain, in its classical version, as we have explored, was seen as a time when Otherworldy beings would become more active and prevalent, as if the transition from late summer to early winter created a sort of ‘doorway’ for spirits, fey people and even the deities to come and interact with the mortal realm. It wasn’t until the advent of Christianity the focus changed from one of a time of mystery to a time of honouring the dead.
Even then there are two festivals: All Hallows Eve, a festival for honouring the saints of the Roman Catholic pantheon, which in time became abridged to the shortened name ‘Halloween’. The second is All Soul’s Day, where fires used to be lit and prayers sung to guide the souls of everyone who wasn’t a saint out of Purgatory and into Heaven.
The bonfires (which may or may not have come from Pagan practice) were then employed to drive away the spirits and devils that were believed to be active at this time. In this regard, Samhain and Halloween are similar as the focus is on the supernatural and protecting people from it.
I still remember when I used to go to church and was horrified to learn they didn’t “Do Halloween”, but they did burn a bonfire for All Hallow’s Eve with the intention of driving away malignant spirits and demons.
Being a Catholic tradition, Halloween would have been taken in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries with the immigrants from Scotland and Ireland to America where it intermingled with another celebration: Dias De Los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead. This is another Catholic practice, although mixed with Native American culture of the Aztecs. They believed the journey to their Underworld was a dangerous one, their gods only letting them pass with bribes. When the Spanish Catholics came, they condensed the two month festival into All Hallows and All Souls. This became Dias De Los Muertos and is celebrated for the spirits of children with candy skulls, toys and gifts. The Adult version honours the deceased with alcohol and tobacco. Both have the motif of skulls and skeletons, possibly stemming from the ‘Danse Macabre’ artwork popular in Europe around the Sixteenth to Eighteenth centuries.
It is quite easy to see how in the America’s, the Latino ‘Day of the Dead’ and the Celtic Halloween became entwined. Both were Christian festivals heavily influenced from native traditions and became festivals in their own right. Within the Twentieth Century, Halloween had become something else: it became a night for costumes and playful horror. By the time it returned to our part of the world, here in Great Britain and Ireland, Halloween became a night for dressing up ourselves as well as our homes. Folk traditions of children dressing up on All Hallows Eve with costumes and masks painted, speaking in silly voices so neighbours had to guess their identity have given way to costumes of ghosts, vampires, witches and now space aliens and pirates!
Even today, Halloween has kept some of the old influences; apple bobbing, for instance, now a game for children was originally a mild form of love divination. Originally, apples were filled with a slip of paper onto which a message would be written such as “Your love will be true” or “He will be handsome yet penniless”. Young ladies would still have to ‘bob’ their heads into the water to retrieve the apple without the use of their hands, however. In fact, a lot of the Halloween superstitions are concerned with young ladies finding out the identities of their future spouses whether gained by peeling an apple skin whole to reveal their true love’s initial, divining what kind of man they will marry by pulling out a cabbage stalk, or even combing one’s hair in front of a mirror at midnight by candle light was said to reveal the face of their future love in the mirror as though standing behind them!

In conclusion…

From (classical) Samhain we gained a time of the supernatural, which then went then became folk traditions of protection and divination. The old stories seem to paint a picture of Samhain being a feast or event taking place by the waters, whereas fire (Christian or not) was also a social hub for people to gather. The Christian element of respecting the dead has now gone full circle, Halloween is about keeping back the monsters. The Modern Samhain draws from a Catholic background with a Celtic flavour, but at the same time has links to traditions that aren’t necessarily Christian. This is why, of all the eight festivals in the Wheel of the Year, I would suggest that if Halloween isn’t the descendant of Samhain, then it is certainly its evolution. Whether Modern Pagans like it or not, Samhain today, with its focus on ancestor worship is not the Samhain of the past; with its physical games, tournaments and slaughter of cattle.

Bibliography

http://m.dictionary.com/etymology/samhain?linkid=8uxrdf&srcpage=definition&site=dictwap

Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, CARDINAL Edition, Sphere Books, London, 1974.

Peter Berresford Ellis, A Brief History of the Druids, Constable & Robinson Ltd, London, 2002.

Ancient Irish Tales edited by T.P. Cross and C.H. Slover, 1936 used in the book: Celtic Myths, Celtic Legends, R.J. Stewart, BCA, London, 1994.

Peter Berresford Ellis, The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths And Legends, Constable & Robinson Ltd, London, reprinted 2002.

Gale R. Owen, Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons, Barnes & Noble, Inc., New York, Reprinted 1996.

Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, Re-issued 2001.

Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Hertfordshire, 1993 edition.

David Clarke, Strange South Yorkshire: Myth and Magic in the Valley of the Don, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Chesire, 1994.

Jennifer Cole, Ceremonies of the Seasons, Exploring and Celebrating Nature’s Eternal Cycles, Duncan Baird Publishers Ltd, London, 2007.

Anon. The Complete Book of Fortune: The Secrets of the Past, Present & Future Revealed, Blaketon Hall Ltd, Exeter, 1988.

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Why perform ritual? 

“Do you perform it for their glory, or for yours?” Was the question that popped into my head as I poured the water from Monday’s ceremony into the kitchen plant. 

    A slight rewording from the question posed to Dr. Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but an effective one nonetheless. 

    That previous night had me perform a personal meditation in order to find an answer to something I was thinking through.  Well, more accurately, the meditation was the middle bit of my ceremony (to my fellow members of the Grove who wanted to know how it is I can recall the words by rote….. This is how).  And to perform the meditations and visualisations I use without the ceremonial bits feels…. Naked.

    This is how I do it: 

    1. Peace to the quarters.
    2. Cast the circle.
    3. Bless the circle with fire and water.
    4. Prayer to deity or deities.
    5. Awens.
    6. Middle bit.
    7. ‘Hour of recall….’
    8. Thanks to Deity.
    9. Uncast the circle.
    10. Declaration of the end of ceremony. 

        It’s mainly based on the general OBOD ceremonies, but I have found the form that works for me.  No flowers though.  Can’t be doing with taking from the plant realm for the sake of aesthetics!

          The Order encourages members to try things out and see how things work for them, even saying to stop something if it doesn’t work for you.  I have kept the above as it works for me.  Some of the wording is different and the words I say to deity are my own. 

        The ritual water I give to the household plants, a way of giving back and not wasting what was taken.

        There was a time I would perform this every day, and even though it did calm my being, I became stifled with the repetition.  So now, I like to do it with meaning, the ritual bringing calm and satisfaction to myself as well as honour and communication to those that are listening.  

        Do I do it for their glory?  Not really, as I have other personal rituals for giving thanks and honour.

        Do I do it for my glory?  Perhaps.  But when I perform the ceremony it isn’t for glory, it is a series of repetitious actions that allow me to enter a certain level of consciousness that allows me to find a stillness.  This stillness can be used to calm my fiery temperament, to gain insight or inspiration.  

        And even if there is no one in the ether, the ceremony still serves it’s purpose. 

        “There are FOUR lights!” Pic by Locksley2010.

        The Masculine Principle in Paganism- Part 3: The Life Force

         

        yin-yang-symbol-variant_318-50138

         

        The Life Force is what is in each one of us; it is in all living things.  Not just animals and plants, but down to our cells and all of them reproduce.  They pass on what they are to the next generation, or in some cases, simply replicate each other.  I could have just labelled this particular post as ‘Sexuality’ but that’s not just what this post is about.  Ok, I lied.  It is!

        When talking about the Life Force as procreation, most species do require male and female parts in order to procreate.  There are other species that do not.  Cells replicate their DNA asexually, as does bacteria.  Some species such Earthworms are hermaphrodites, beings that don’t require sexual partners because their biology enables them to create their own offspring.

        For the sake of this blog series, I shall be referring to the Human Condition, already aware of how complex that already is.  Yes we as a species require a sperm and egg to fertilise in order to reproduce, but not everyone who is born identifies with the simple male and female categorisations.  It does indeed appear that the Human Condition is not as binary as we originally thought, but does need binary Humans in order for the Human Race to continue.

        And reproduction was seen as the basic manifestation of the Life Force.  The model of Sky Father and Mother Earth for example is something that was big in olden times.  The sunlight and rain make the Earth fertile and grow millions of flora and fauna, feeding and housing countless species around us.  Interesting then that in some cultures the Sun is seen as female (The Irish name for the sun is Grian, a feminine word.  The Norse mythology has the sun and moon as sister and brother respectively as Sol and Mani.  In the Japanese Shinto it is the deity Amaterasu).  To counter this, some Neolithic monoliths have phallic features carved into the rock, the phallus of the earth pointing to the impregnable sky.

        We also see this in ancient statues, the Venus type, for example showing the round image of a pregnant woman.  In some cases images like these were carved to include phallic shape in order emphasise the male parts + female parts = life.

        Ain Sakhri Lovers
        Two lovers carved into a phallic object, the Ain Sakhri Lovers

         

        Ritual & Magic:

        In the Western Magical Tradition, this union of masculine and feminine energies is one of the most powerful acts of magic.  The act of placing the wand into the chalice is extremely symbolic of the penis entering the vagina in order to create a magical outcome.  Not every magical act requires this as there are thousands of ways to make a spell without any sexual connotations or symbols.  That’s right, faithful reader, anyone who practices magic isn’t just going around shagging everyone and nor should they.  Sex can be used in magic with consenting adults or just between a couple and not just limited to heterosexuals.

        Modern Paganism is filled, saturated even with sexual celebration, even if only metaphorically.  The ceremonial wheel of the year, for example, sees The Goddess bloom until the God has grown into adulthood, they marry and have sex as the Summer goes on until the God begins to wither and dies as Autumn turns to Winter, the Goddess gives birth during Midwinter after which she takes on her Crone aspect until she is reinvigorated at Spring.  The Modern Pagan version of Beltane would have us believe that May is a time of sexual awakening and the whole of summer is about the celebration of the growing energy in our part of the world.  This, despite that Human Beings don’t have a set mating season, but it’s all in the cosmology and symbolism of the Modern Pagan view of the awakening world around them.

        Of course not all Pagan spirituality follows this imagery as there are different paths and interpretations of the seasons.

        This imagery happens once again in the relatively recent personification of the Green Man entering his Oak (another phallic device, just think of the shape of an acorn) phase and as Spring grows into Summer he brings his Life Force into that of the Earth so everything comes alive.

        The Elements

        Even in the Alchemical Elements we have examples of the Life Force split into masculine and feminine in the energies of Air, Fire Water and Earth.  This is most regularly seen in the Tarot:

        Air:  Masculine:  Represented by the Swords, a piercing (phallic?) device with warlike connotations.  The realm of air is normally associated with logic, thought and ideas.  Supposedly these are the traits of the intellectual MAN.

        Fire: Masculine:  Represented by the Staff or the Wands.  A more obvious phallic device, especially when the fiery qualities of dynamism, determination, passion are thought of as traits of MAN.

        The staff has more phallic imagery behind it when we identify Bile (Tree) as being the name of the Irish father-god, the consort of the watery mother-goddess Danu.

        Water: Feminine:  Represented by the Cups or Cauldron.  The watery world of emotions, of dream, of the heart has been assigned to the qualities of WOMAN.  The Cup has been used as a device of the vulva and the Cauldron as the womb.

        Earth: Feminine:  Represented by the Stones, Coins or Pentacles, although not sexual in imagery, the stone is symbolic of the Land.  And with the land comes Sovereignty.  Mother Nature, the Mother of All: She gives and she takes.   This is the realm of the physical; the malleable and tactile.

        Interestingly, given the masculine attributes of the symbol of the sword it is in Arthurian Legend we find the sword as being temporarily given to man.  It is loaned from the Lady of the Lake and must be returned before the user dies.  The sword known as Excalibur originally came with a scabbard (vaginal device?) which protected the user from harm, but this was stolen from Arthur by Morgana La Fey.  In the story of Balin and Balan, a sword of power was drawn by Balin, a knight of Arthur and Camelot.   He was supposed to give it back to the Lady of the Lake, but in his hubris he kept it and beheaded her!  His life was then cursed until both he and his brother died fighting each other.  A prime example of the Masculine Principle being too out of flow with the Life Force and not heeding the request of giving the power back to its source, the feminine.

        Being a part of the Arthurian world, which takes its themes from the Celtic myths and legends that came before, the Lady of the Lake not only represents the Divine Feminine, she is also the Goddess and guardian of Sovereignty.  In the Celtic stories, Sovereignty could only be passed on to the chief by the Goddess.  In other words, it could not be taken, the women chose the men to give it to!

        Ultimately, when talking about the Alchemical Elements, Air, Fire, Water, Earth or even the universe itself:  Planet Earth, the moon, the sun, planets, stars….. None of these have gender.  It is only us, the Human Beings that assign such things to them.  Yes, it is fascinating when different cultures have different names for the sun or even different genders for it, but at the end of it all it is a great big star in our sky.

        What we have to bear in mind here is that this particular system of Masculine and Feminine energies became widespread among the known world during  medieval times, of which the mindset was utilised by the Church and saw Masculine as dominant and the Feminine as submissive.  Because my main spiritual focus is of the Pre-Christian peoples of this land, I can share that they saw things differently.  Both men and women could be chiefs and warriors and they could also be hunters and Druids.  Quite often in the old tales, it was the women who would initiate courtship or sexual relations.  Even the gods shared similar powers but there is one thing women could do that men could not: bear children.  For that reason alone, for the mothering of future generations, can we see why the Celts traced their blood through their mothers?  As previously mentioned, women could give their sovereignty to a man of their choosing making him chief.  Indeed, it was normal for the chief to marry the goddess of their land.  This was an act that our Celtic ancestors shared with our Germanic ones.  Our Germanic ancestors even had a magic called Seidr which was said to be for women only.  It involved speaking to the ancestors, healing and divination and was priestess led.  It was considered taboo for a man to learn this and any man who did was considered feminine.  Curiously enough, Odin, the Germanic All-Father god in his quest for wisdom learned this.   I am no expert when it comes to the Germanic lore, and if I have got this wrong, then that is my own ignorance.

        So what have we learned about the Masculine Principle in the Life-Force? According to this particular paradigm, it is but one part of a whole in our species.  The example of Balin shows what happens when the Masculine Principle becomes too dominant, it becomes aggressive.  Without the temperance and sustaining rationale of the Feminine Principle to balance the cold, hard logic and powerful dynamism, it becomes destructive and harmful.  One half is needed to balance the other, without both halves, the whole dies out.  Ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the idea.

        Cormac had already lost his wife and children to The Stranger who had exacted his price, it wasn’t just his woman or his legacy that he had lost; it was what completed him.  His reason to keep going, his cause to be the best chief he could be.  Yes, he had material wealth, but what is that without his family to share with?  Only too late did he learn this, and so he went in search of them.  Not just in a rescue, but a quest.

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

        Wisdom or Cliché?

        Templeofapollogtp.gr

        Image of Temple of Apollo from gtp.gr

        I recently read a blog writing about two phrases that are often parroted in modern Pagan writings.  I first came across these in my early and mid twenties and was interested by one and confused by the other. You will have come across these many times, they might mean something to you or they won’t.  But if you’ve read any blogs or books, magazines about Paganism, Occultism, New Age Philosophy, you will have encountered them:

        Know Thy Self”

        And…

        ” As Above, So Below

        I looked at them and thought to myself ‘Wow, are we still using those?” I’ll admit to being a bit jaded when I see those quotes.  It’s not so much that I don’t like them, but feel that they are often over used in forums and articles alike.  Y’know? Like a really good song with too much air time.

        What I do like about them is that for those who first come across them, they are inspirational! I mean ‘Know Thy Self’ Man! That’s deep! The phrase from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi (Used as a sign in the kitchen of the Oracle in The Matrix- Oracle of Delphi- gettit?) That challenges YOU to KNOW who YOU are.  Yet how many of us do?
        How many of us look at that phrase and actually, really examine ourselves? We are complicated meat-bags walking around with emotions and thoughts, feelings and beliefs.  But how many of ourselves actually know ourselves?

        To know yourself is to know where you come from: your background, your childhood, your parents or guardians, the environment you came from, the education you received (and what it did or didn’t do for you), the beliefs you found or were indoctrinated with.

        If you believe in anything, to know yourself is to challenge what those beliefs are to you, constantly.  How did you come to those beliefs, how did they shape you? Did you come by them yourself or were you taught? What do they mean to you now? Are they applicable to who you are anymore?

        To know yourself is to see all your strong points and accept them.  It is to also know what your weak points are and accept them too.  And if you don’t like them, what do you need to do to change them?  What are your limits? Why do you dislike something? What inspires you? What do you dream?

        To know your self is to be completely honest with yourself.  It’s no good if all you are doing is painting an image of the person you want to be or the person you are not.

        Deep huh?

        One of the things I love about studying the Bardic course in the OBOD Gwers is that you learn to know yourself before you can proceed to the Ovate and Druid grades.  Because how can you explore the deeper mysteries if you don’t understand the deepest of mysteries…. You.

        And then we go onto: “As Above, So Below” When I first saw that I eloquently came out with: ‘What the fuck does that even mean?’
        This only made sense to me if you look at it in terms of the weather: rain makes things wet or floods.  Snow clouds making the ground whiter and whiter, a sunny day makes for dry land and thriving plants, etc….
        This phrase apparently comes from the writings of Hermes Trismegistus and even then is supposedly part of what he wrote:

        That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing“*

        Yes, I’m quoting Wikipedia but only because it provides the source of that translation.
        I’d love to know more about that and also about to what Trismegistus meant by the ‘One Thing’. Creation? Life on Earth? Ponder, ponder ponder……
        It’s an absolute wonder that our planet generates its own electromagnetic field to protect its multitude of life forms from the solar radiation of our Sun.  From the collection of dust and rock of the ‘Above’ has the ‘Below’ been created.

        I’m sure there are very deep insights you can gain from either quote and when used for inspiration they do exactly that.

        Writing this post, I am very aware that I have indeed just created another article featuring both phrases.  Well at least I didn’t mention ‘Microcosm’/’Macrocosm’…… Doh!

        * https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism

        A Moot Point (or points)

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        Image from wizardmagicfantasy.com

        At a networking night at the beginning of this month I was in conversation with someone about storytelling.  Something, which in her opinion, seemed to be often done badly (going on and on and on, not engaging your audience and telling tales of sexism are NOT the ways to go.) and are popular with ‘Those Pagans’.

        After revealing that I am one of ‘ Those Pagans’ and much talking about Pagans in general, I discovered that not only did this person not like Pagans, she had a general disdain for any type of religion or spirituality at all.  She told me of how (some years ago) she went to a Pagan Moot, here in Notts, to find it was filled with “lecherous old men and damaged young women.” Tried as I did, I couldn’t piece together which moot she could have gone to.  Most of the Moots here certainly have a higher proportion of female members and attendees, it’s not often a Moot here in the East Midlands will have a male majority, rarer still are they ever filled with ‘lecherous old men’.

        Although the lady did have a point.  We do attract a lot of damaged people, don’t we?  I suppose it’s because we’re an accepting lot, many of us are rarely mainstream and quite a lot of us are considered ‘outsiders’ to the social norms… Interesting that.
        I like to think it’s because Paganism is as open and diverse in its flavours and themes as well as its members.  We are healthy, we are sick, we are entertaining, we are socially awkward, we are wise, we are angry, we are disabled, we have emotional problems, we are every sexuality under the Sun and Moon, we are confident, we are nervous we are…. Everyone.  It’s just that we accept our differences as well as everyone else’s.  Doesn’t mean we all get on though.  Like every group of Human Beings, we have our Dick-heads as well.

        I’ve been fortunate to go to quite a few moots in many different places, Hell, I even co-run my own.  Each have their own ways of doing things, but here’s a list of do’s and don’ts of attending, running, hosting and behaving in a Moot.  These are of my own experiences and from what I have observed in others.  And yes, even from some of my own mistakes:

        DO be polite and welcoming.
        DO consider disabled people coming to your Moot.  Not everyone can do stairs.
        DO take the time to talk with everyone.
        DO be prepared to be able to take the piss out of yourself if you are going to take the piss out of others.
        DO be accepting of others paths and points of view, just because theirs might be different from yours it doesn’t mean that they are an enemy.
        DO encourage discussion and friendly debate, much can be learned from each other.
        DO talk with your Moot friends about any advice you might need.  Some people gel together really well and might want to share personal information with each other.  And that’s fine, that’s amazing!
        DO respect others privacy (see the point above, as some folks might need to separate themselves from the larger group to discuss something private).
        DO listen to others.
        DO include everyone in any ritual work.
        DO explain to first timers what is going on and give them the option of observation if they are not comfortable.
        DO call time if a conversation has gone wrong and is getting out of hand.  Also if someone is telling their life story in an exercise where it should just be “Hello, my name is Locksley and I’m a Pagan Druid” “Hello I’m Ronnie and I’m a Wiccan” etc, then steer it back!
        DO tell everyone in good time about what is happening, where and when.
        DO be prepared to explain to outsiders who ask you what’s going on when they see you do a ritual or a meeting…. They might learn something.
        DO stop staring at that rather attractive goth witch girl in her early twenties…

        I have had the good fortune of going to moots that are well organised but there are always maybe those few attendees who are questionable.  And again, some of these points are from my own mistakes:

        DON’T go to a Moot demanding respect.  Respect is earned.
        DON’T go to a Moot thinking it’s ‘all about you’, it really isn’t.
        DON’T sit there being ‘mysterious on purpose’ you’ll just come across as a mardy prick.
        DON’T try and peddle your wares without permission, especially if your Moot takes place in a shop….
        DON’T come out with sarcastic comments after every sentence in a ritual, it might have been funny the first time, but any more after that and you just come across as obnoxious.
        DON’T ruin a moment of revelation for a group.  Just because YOU might have been privy to a secret rite or poem in your old Coven; and then a special guest speaker reveals it to the group, the worst thing you can say at that moment is “I’ve already heard that!”
        DON’T go to a Moot expecting a sex orgy….
        DON’T slag off other traditions, you wouldn’t like it if someone slagged yours off now, would you?
        DON’T go to a Moot, not talk to anyone and then go to another Moot and slagging off the previous one as being ‘cliqueish’ as they didn’t include you.  You got there, make the effort!
        DON’T be cliqueish, try and include everyone, especially new comers.
        DON’T turn up and start telling everyone about your ‘powers’ discussing abilities is fine, as is sharing your experiences.  DON’T start talking about how your Grandmother described how you will be ‘One of the most powerful witches she has ever seen.‘ And even if you are that’s great, wonderful. Terrific! But apart from telling everyone how powerful you are, what have you done to make the world a better place with this power? Yeah.  Didn’t think so.
        DON’T just turn up to a Moot and sit there reading your mobile phone.
        DON’T throw a tantrum if someone questions what you do, questioning is healthy.
        DON’T assume everyone knows what you know, take the time to explain.
        DON’T give up on your Moot, be prepared to adapt and change it.  What does your Moot specialise in?
        DON’T be that lecherous old man preying on young damaged women!

        The Masculine Principle in Paganism – Part 1: The Fairy Branch

        This was originally written back in November 2015 following the talk I gave for the Pagan Federation.  I also apologise for it being sort of badly written as I originally posted it after writing it on my bus journeys to Derby and back.  And I can only think ‘Men’ with a capital M was from my phone’s autocorrect and I overlooked it.  Enjoy….

        Earlier on this month I attended a Pagan Federation conference on exploring ‘The Masculine Principle’ within spirituality.  It was perhaps the first time there was a very strong presence of men in a Pagan meeting!  Indeed there was only one woman and she was keen for her Husband to find masculine-centric things to be involved in.

        The talks covered different ground: Smith Gods and the powers of fertility, potency and creation, the journey of Male Spirituality through the ages of a lifetime and how we cope (or not), male bonding and finding acceptance with oneself.  It was especially interesting throughout the whole day these following points came out that seem to be the things that Men are looking for in any spirituality or path: Fellowship, initiation, acceptance, their place in the world.

        My talk covered the character of the Masculine Principle.  It was originally made for the Nottingham Goddess Camp, where the event organisers asked if I could give a glimpse into ‘Male Spirituality’.  Were they mad?  Could they not see I am not exactly the burning example of full blown testosterone fuelled machismo?  Either way I arose to the challenge (there’s a phallus metaphor in there somewhere hur, hur….) and did the best I could back then.  The talk was made and done, but I knew it was unfinished.  There was more to contemplate and examine as well as live through.  And that was back in 2012 or thereabouts.

        Cue 2015 and I was asked to resurrect my talk.  I’ve lived since then and in doing so my mind expanded to give the talk that I delivered on Saturday the 7th November at Treadwell’s Bookshop.  So I dusted off my old thoughts, talked with a few folks and helped form my talk anew.  It’s still not 100% finished.  And like any artist looking at their work, it never will be.  But, faithful reader, I present to you a series of posts (I predict 4, however if I end up with more, that’s ok) exploring the murky world of The Masculine Principle.

         

        WHAT THIS WILL NOT BE: Is a Cis-white-heterosexual-male written tirade against Feminism, Women’s Right’s or any immature self-sympathy wallowing in misogyny or seeing the world as “unfair” to Men.  Scratch that- to anyone!  Neither will this be an instruction guide on ‘How To Be A Man’, although you might take stock from any of the material given and be inspired on how to be a better person in general.

         

        ***

         

        So, what’s The Fairy Branch got to do with it?

        Why it’s this story which I used for the basis of my talk.  I originally got it from Claire Hamilton’s ‘Tales of the Celtic Bards’ but I’ve put my own spin onto it, as any storyteller should and shall do so for this blog series:

         

        Once, long ago, Cormac MacArt, the High Chief of Ireland looked down from his fortress on the hill of Tara to see a man walking the land from the West.  He had long white hair and a cloak that shimmered with teal, green and blue hues, the colours of the sea.  Going down to meet this stranger, Cormac learned this man came from Tir na n’Og, the Land of Youth.  The Stranger told of how his land was a land of plenty, there was no want and everyone lived in peace.

        ‘If only my lands were as peaceful and prosperous as yours, come! Let us be allies and friends!’  Cormac offered, the Stranger accepted and they laughed and talked some more until Cormac saw the silver branch with three apples golden in colour.

        ‘This, is a magic branch,’ explained the Stranger.  ‘With three shakes, it will send all who listen to it into a short slumber.  You can have it if you like, but I will name my price a year from now.’

        Cormac agreed, thinking that he has plenty of cattle, gold and weapons with which to trade.  The deal being made, the Stranger left and Cormac showed his new toy to the court.  He was very pleased.

        A year and a day passed, and at one feast with his people, Cormac is alerted to the Stranger’s appearance.

        ‘Greetings, Cormac Mac Art, I trust the branch gives you pleasure?  I have come to ask my price for it.’

        ‘Greetings and name it.’  Cormac agreed, prepared to empty his coffers of whatever the Stranger asked.

        ‘I demand the price be your daughter.’ The Stranger declared.

        The court hushed in silence, but Cormac had already agreed and could not go back on his word.  He nodded in agreement.  Well, the court burst into uproar as the young girl left with the Stranger.  So stricken was Cormac at the lament, he took out the branch, shook it three times and made everyone sleep.

        The next month, the Stranger appears once again, this time asking for Cormac’s son.  Once again, Cormac cannot stand the upset to himself and his people, he shakes the branch a second time.

        The Stranger comes a third month, this time asking for Cormac’s wife.  Being honour-bound to keep his oath, Cormac agrees and he shakes the branch for the third time.

        ‘ENOUGH!’ Cormac roared upon waking.  ‘The Stranger has asked too much of me, warriors to me!  Get your best horses, weapons and armour…. we’re going to find this stranger and get my family back!’

        And so Cormac on his strongest horse, finest armour and keenest weapons charged down the hill of Tara with his host, but as soon as hoof touched the base of the hill there was a great fog from the ground.  It was so thick that none could see their comrades nor hear their voices.

        Cormac pressed forward alone until he came across a land not his own.  The grass was thick and a vibrant green.  The sky was the deepest blue with peachy-gold lining the horizon.  Each tree he passed had healthy and bountiful fruits.

        Travelling further, he came upon a house with horsemen trying to lay huge white feathers for the roof.  Each time they did this, a breeze would whip them off and they would try again and again.

        Travelling further, he comes upon a young man keeping a fire which would die down quickly, so the lad thrust a log into it to keep it going.  Which it would then flare up but immediately die down again and so the lad repeated himself again and again.

        Travelling further, he comes upon a pool of water being fed from five streams.  Around the well were nine hazel trees, and when a hazelnut would fall, a salmon leapt out of the pool and took the hazelnut into its jaws.  At this pool, Cormac climbed down from his steed and took a handful of water into his mouth.  A calm took him and he realised he was being watched, yet felt unthreatened, he turned to see a woman and a warrior dressed in blue.  They were beckoning him to join them in their feasting hall.

        Cormac joined them and sat with the small company around a cauldron.  Before them was an old man, an axe and a pig.  The old man nodded and smiled to Cormac, indeed the woman and warrior seemed as if they too were pleased to see the High Chief.

        ‘This is how this works.’  The old man began; he then took the axe and chopped the pig into four quarters.  He took the first piece and dropped it into the water of the cauldron.

        ‘The fires of this cauldron will only light when there is a truth being told; so as this will be our meal it will be warmed by truth.  And my truth is this:  When my neighbours’ pigs broke free of their pen, they came near my home.  I helped him gather all of the pigs until they were at his farm and as a reward he gave me one of those pigs, this axe and this cauldron.  And he told me that I can cut the pig into four pieces everyday and boil it in the cauldron and never go hungry because the pig will be whole the next day.  And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and his meal was cooked.

        The woman was next; she took her quarter, dropped it into the water and said:  ‘The animals around us keep us warm with their fleece and hides.  The cows I have are plentiful in their milk and if allowed to roam freely, their milk would probably feed all in the world.  The animals are our friends not just our livelihood.’  And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and her meal was cooked.

        The warrior was next; he took his quarter, dropped it into the water and said:  ‘There is a force that grows in the Earth.  It allows us to grow crops and puts fruit on the trees.  Our lands sustain us.’  And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and his meal was cooked.

        Cormac was last, he took his quarter, dropped it into the water and said: ‘I met with a stranger one day and because I was so enchanted with the magic branch he had, I lost what was dearest to me.’ And with that truth, the flames flared up, the waters boiled and his meal was cooked.

        The warrior turned to him and asked ‘Then you must be Cormac MacArt, the High Chief of Eire?’

        ‘I am he,’ Replied Cormac ‘and in my foolishness I traded my family for a magical bauble and seek to get them back.’

        ‘Come now!’ said the old man ‘are you not enjoying your meal?’

        ‘I would enjoy it better with the right company.’  Cormac admitted solemnly.

        ‘Then be sad no longer!’  Said the old man, but not in an old man’s voice.  The old man stood and disappeared in a bright white light which vanished after a few moments.  In the old man’s place was the stranger with long white hair and his cloak shimmering like the sea.

        ‘Greetings, Cormac Mac Art!’ Said he.  ‘I am Manannan MacLir, it was I who gave you the branch in order for you to find what was most precious to you: your wife and children!’ With that, the two doors at the other end of the hall opened up and to Cormac came running his family.  They embraced in joy, they were unharmed and time moved slower here they said.  All took part in the feast and Mannanan MacLir explained the three mysteries Cormac came up on:

        ‘The horsemen were like the man who follows his own vanity; he has no substance for vanity is fleeting.  The young man is like a man who uses up his strength too much for others and has none left for himself.  The well you saw had the Salmon of Wisdom which is fed by the inspiration of the hazelnuts that fall.  That well is the well of the heart and is fed by the five senses, for it is only by knowing the world around us is wisdom gained from it.  But the world is fed by the wisdom we give into it.  You can keep the branch; I have another gift for you, here.’

        Mannanan MacLir passes a cup with four sides to Cormac, explaining that it will break upon a lie being told in its presence, but a truth will make it whole once again.

        After their meal and drinking everyone fell asleep and Cormac MacArt, with his family awoke back at their fortress in Tara.  The people were confused as Cormac had only set out an hour whence!

        All Good Things…

        image
        That NEEDS a wash, Mister!

        It’s Monday, 3rd of August and I am lying on my bed.  Absolutely stuffed after being to an All You Can Eat buffet with my Parental and Brotherly Units.  This morning, my body still felt the events of Pagan Pride 2015: a tiredness from being awake from 5am to be on site for helping set up.  Hips, knees and ankles aching from running around checking my venues throughout the event (not to mention legging it at the parade to find it was much longer than before), my voice; hoarse from yelling to keep the parade spirit up with jeering.  These are not complaints… They are badges of honour!

        I’ve been with Pagan Pride UK since it’s inception back in 2008.  2009 saw it as a picnic in Nottingham.  2010 saw it’s first festival complete with fundraisers (PP has been and is a non-profit organisation, it relies on donations from the fundraisers and people to make it happen.).  It has been getting bigger and bigger each year.  Always on the first Sunday of August, come Sun and rain!  Hey, it’s an outdoor festival, you’ll experience Nature in ALL of her glory! 😁

        If you’ve never been, it’s a free festival that starts with a parade from Nottingham City centre which leads up to the Arboretum where an opening ceremony takes place. It has stalls, food vendors (never seems to be enough), there are bands, dancers (Belly Dancing and Border Morris), story tellers, speakers and workshops.

        And it’s been my job to sort out the last three, for 6 years.

        I have learned much about festival organisation and about how much to inform the potential speakers, or how to politely refuse any speakers if they aren’t suitable (“That’s a great talk but has nothing to do with Paganism…“)

        I have learned that negotiation is a great tool.  And if something is just impractical to work out, then refusal is the last option.

        Patience is a virtue… Only in the world of books.  There have been times I’ve yelled out in frustration (“Whaddya mean they fucking cancelled!?”) or wanted to throw my smartphone across the room (“But I already told you about THAT!”). Alright! I’m parodying myself a lot here, this doesn’t apply to any specific person except me.

        Ok, shit happens. Deal with it.

        It’s all been worth it though.  If someone wanted to be at a different time slot, ask others if they are willing to help before refusing, you’ll be surprised at Human Kindness!  Fulfilling requirements to help someone’s disability or anxiety issues and they deliver a talk with a big audience, priceless!   If a workshop leader cancels, leaving you with an empty slot, call on your backups… In fact, ALWAYS have backups!

        And remember your team on the day! Advise them, tell them everything they need to know.  Treat them like people and don’t assume they can read your mind.  Help them to help you! Luckily, I worked this one out really early.

        Chat, laugh, take no shit (like the guy with the boom box who me and a big marshal escorted off the premises, when he called me a ‘fucking fascist’, I glibly replied with “I’ve been called worse.” Step in when you need to (“You have 5 mins to wrap up!”)

        When I check that all the speaker zones are running well and folks are good, that’s when I know that all those late night emails, material checking, insurance evidence asking, experience checking, problem spotting, information chasing has been worth it.
        I’ve truly enjoyed my service for Goddess and Country and have met many wonderful people during the past festivals, a lot of whom I can call friends*.  I sincerely wish the rest of the PP team the best of luck for next year as I have been part of that team and know what effort it takes to get each festival underway. And no, it isn’t easy.

        Well, it’s time for me to step down and let fresh blood take my role of Performance Manager.  This year has actually been a struggle for me to balance this, my full time job (with two reassigned locations this year) and focusing on my performing.  I can now hang up my purple shirt as I won’t be at PP2016 in an official capacity.  I’ll be there to help set up on the day, but that’s it for now.  I can definitely say that I’ve ended on a high, that I AM PAGAN AND I AM PROUD!

        If you’d like to know more about Pagan Pride UK, or get in contact, visit the site: http://www.paganpride.org.uk

        *And to those random people who snuck me sneaky drinks of Hobgoblin from a horn, or mead in a plastic bottle, ta very much!