Songs for Beltane

Beltane is both the most complicated and the easiest holiday to celebrate.

For my family it is usually overshadowed by the folk traditions of my husband’s village in South Bohemia. There the entire village gathers on the green and builds a 100-foot maypole and a monstrous bonfire, In which they burn scarecrows that they call "witches." Then everyone gets drunk.

Beltane dance poem meme.jpg

It’s fun and very simple. There are no words spoken by the mayor or anyone else. Ostensibly there is no meaning to this holiday. If asked, some of the older people in the village will tell you that the witches burned on the bonfire are not meant to symbolize real witches, such as people who are outcast in the village. Rather they symbolize “the witch of winter.”  But that is the end of any meaning ascribed to the day. 

And that is where it gets complicated for me.

I haven't truly had the chance to celebrate Beltane in any other way, so while I know about the deeper symbols of the day in different cultures, I have no set ritual, no songs and very little tradition--except attending the village festival--attached to it.

This year a friend and I decided to introduce our children to a more Pagan-oriented Beltane. Before the festival we will build our own small maypole in the yard. We will gather in a circle for a small ritual, give flowers from the garden as offerings to our deities and the Good Neighbors, sing a song or two, eat colorful candy made with natural food coloring, dance around the maypole and have a picnic lunch with a small fire.

During my preparations for this celebration, I have found that it is more difficult than I thought to express the essence of Beltane. Ironically the darker holidays, such as Samhain or Imbolc seem to have more easily defined themes.

It is easy to say that Beltane is about joy, passion, love, fertility, expression and life. But it is harder to define exactly what these things mean. Almost any song of joy and love might be appropriate for the holiday but that also means that none seems to be essentially fitting. And for our purposes, the songs need to be simple enough for both kids and adults to sing without a lot of preparation.

I have several Pagan chants that seem appropriate and my kids are working on the melodies on the piano. There is one called Hoof and Horn, about the rebirth of all life. The earthy lyrics, reminiscent of the Green Man make me think specifically of Beltane, though it could be used during any part of the year. 

We decided to include the Ancient Mother chant and Everlasting Sea with lyrics adapted to work as a song for calling the elements and four directions.

I love you like the wind.

Ever-singing wind. Ever-singing wind.

I love you like the sun.

Ever-shining sun. Ever-shining sun.

I love you like the sea.

Everlasting sea. Everlasting sea.

I love you like the earth.

Ever-turning earth. Ever-turning earth.

These are still general though. We often use the melodies of other songs and put our own seasonal lyrics to them. It isn’t usually a terrible challenge. But this holiday does not lend itself so well to deep thoughts. Beltane is all sensual and sensory, all experience and action with few words. 

It is challenging to put the instinctual, active, earthy, physical essence of Beltane into words. In the end. I chose the melody of Scarborough Fair but used seasonal lyrics.

Are you going to the Beltane fair?

Dancing, fire, ribbons and wine.

Laugh your heart full when you get there,

for 'tis the goodness of the springtime

I'm wishing you a joyful and peaceful spring.

What I learned from Christians and Muslims about sharing one's identity with assholes

A few years ago, I attended the concert of a local Pagan band which was heralded as the Pagan event of the season in our area. The music was OK, but then half-way through the concert, the band started making the Nazi salute and yelling "Hail!" 

I grew up in one of those earth-centered families where we didn't call ourselves Pagan, but we read the stories of Norse, Greek and Native American gods, called the elements to start rituals, did Tarot and read the Runes... you know, all that good wholesome Pagan stuff. When I discovered the modern Pagan movement as an adult, I was delighted. There was suddenly so much more information and a whole world of potential community. 

 Creative commons image courtesy of Novak Hunsky

Creative commons image courtesy of Novak Hunsky

The days of avoiding the pesky "What's your religion?" question in public were forever behind me.

Or so I thought.

I moved to Central Europe twenty years ago, following my journalism career. And there are many positive things in my new country, but racism isn't one of them. To say that I was upset to find neo-fascism spreading its slimy tentacles through the local Pagan community is an understatement. I was devastated. My experience with the band was, unfortunately, not an isolated incident and I struggled to find Pagan friends.

I set out for an international Pagans and Witches conference with high hopes of finding a more open-minded atmosphere in an international group. My children were little more than toddlers at the time and I wanted them to grow up the same as me, except better. I wanted them to have all the comfort and wonder of earth-centered spirituality AND a vibrant and friendly community where that spirituality is wholeheartedly accepted. 

I enjoyed being part of a large group ritual and found many of the discussions at the conference interesting. But several prominent persons at the conference made neo-nazi references and while some people seemed uncomfortable, no one said anything. As the only person there who didn't personally know anyone, I was hesitant to speak up, and when I did, I was harshly rebuffed and told to keep to my own business by one of the organizers.

I left the conference early. My mission had failed, since my children aren't white and I could see that even at an international gathering, they wouldn't always be truly welcome.

As a result, I was aware of the insidious creep of white supremacist groups encroaching on Pagan circles long before it became big news in the United States. Now with prominent white supremacist leaders claiming to be Pagan and alt-right demonstrators carrying Pagan symbols it is no longer so easy to admit to being Pagan in public. 

I have written about this scourge before and urged fellow Pagans to stand up to the abuse of Pagan symbols and groups by supremacist ideology. But for a long time, I struggled to make peace with the issue within myself. Should I abandon the term "Pagan?" I grew up without it after all. I could live again with a nameless identity or find a different term that might fit better.

Should I try to promote understanding of the Runes and other symbols as Pagan spiritual symbols, risking being painted as a racist bigot myself, or cede them to the Neo-nazis, allowing them to become public symbols of hate without a fight? There are certainly enough internet discussions on these issues and I've heard passionate and thoughtful arguments on both sides of that dilemma.

I have heard Pagans of Jewish and Native American background say that we are obligated to stop using the Runes and other symbols stolen by racists. I have also heard people from the same backgrounds argue that white Pagans have no right to just gift these symbols to white supremacists and hide from the problem, that we are obligated to publicly denounce the racist use of these symbols and advocate for their true meanings.

It seems that whichever we choose, we can't just blackout the assholes and go on with our merry lives in peace. At first, this seemed terribly unjust, and in fact, free fodder for the alt right--you know, white people being denied the right to their own cultural symbols because they "offend" someone.

 Creative commons image courtesy of Shadowgate of flickr.com

Creative commons image courtesy of Shadowgate of flickr.com

But then I got some perspective from a surprising source.

"Now you know how we feel," one Christian friend mentioned while I was in the middle of this lament. 

I stopped. "What?"

But of course, progressive Christians have to deal with being associated with conservative Christians and fudnamentalists all the time. They've had a racist, sexist, homophobic, hard-right side of Christianity dominating their image in the United States for decades. They have cults, politicians, sexual predators and profiteers all leaching off their identity.

Many Pagans like the idea that because we have no central authority, we are fundamentally different from other identities. Paganism isn't even a religion, the say. We are just spiritual and we aren't going to say it in polite society but we believe we're more enlightened than Christians. 

As it turns out, we aren't all that different. Our beliefs may differ and our relationship with the gods may be radically different, but in some ways it really is the same old story.

By the time my Muslim Palestinian friend chimed in, I got it. Yes, I can imagine how irritating it would be to have your identity associated with the likes of "the Islamic State." 

As much as I would love to have an identity term that encapsulates only open-minded, diversity-loving, tree-hugging polytheists, I don't. All kinds of people on the Internet will tell you that they are Pagan and then drive a jacked-up truck with a bumper sticker that reads "F--- Mother Earth" without seeing any hypocrisy in that. There are Facebook-feed-loads of self-described Pagans who think one of the best things about their ancestral past was its mythical--and much overestimated--racial purity. 

So I got a little more humble and decided to look at how other spiritual groups have handled this kind of honor bruising. Certainly, there are plenty of authoritarian religions who have taken to declaring who is out of their religion for various transgressions. But this didn't seem like an attractive option.

I took to reading blogs by progressive Christians protesting the hateful and harmful practices of fundamentalist Christians. I found some very passionate denunciations, tough questions and calls to reexamine both the scholarship and basic values behind bigoted words and actions by other Christians. But after about two months of research, I was surprised by one thing I did not find in the posts of progressive Christians. 

I did not find any disowning, excommunicating or banning statements--no cries of "Those are not Christians!" 

Not one of the dozens of articles I read, as critical as they were, tried to say that fundamentalist hate-mongers aren't Christians. It isn't so much that I want to follow their example, but that I am surprised to see it. Some fundamentalist Christian denominations do claim that they are the only true Christians and refer to anyone else, including all Catholics, as non-Christians in Sunday School materials. I would expect that eventually progressive Christians would reciprocate. But for some reason they don't.

And the other thing they don't do is bequeath their symbols and terminology to hate-mongers. These progressive Christians don't turn belly-up and cede public views of Christianity to fundamentalists. Similarly my Muslim friends and several well-known Muslim authors, despite being slandered and attacked worldwide, continue to calmly repeat that Islamic fundamentalists don't represent them. 

I may not take my cues from other religions, but I am smart enough to learn from history. This is apparently the price of having that wide and inclusive community, full of new information and potential support which I was so delighted to discover. Soon enough someone hateful is going to claim that identity and abuse it for aims that appear to desecrate everything it stands for. 

That does not mean that we are implicated automatically or that we cannot use our own symbols. It does mean, however, that we have to stand up and face this. We may not have caused it, but at the same time we have a responsibility to speak out against those uses of our identity which are abhorrent.

I, for one, believe we should still use the Runes, but we must also acknowledge that when we take them up, we take up the burden of fighting racism and xenophobia as well. We don't get to just have our identity and remain silent believing that the injustices perpetrated in the name of that identity don't reflect on us.

Like everyone else, this is part of our story.

14 things I love about mud season

As the spring equinox fast approaches, the climate where I live has entered that stage commonly called "mud season." That is where the ground is still frozen hard two or three inches down but the top layer has turned into mud. Very little is blooming or even has leaves and the grass is still asleep and not doing it's job of holding mud in place.  

This is rarely anyone's favorite season. Two reasons come quickly to mind: 1. mud-caked shoes and 2. mud-caked children. Bonus reason: Frequent and unpredictable rain showers.

 Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

But I actually rather enjoy this season. Here are a few reasons I personally love mud season.

  1. The sun has really come back and the days are no longer dark and gray.
  2. You can actually feel a faint warmth when the sunlight touches your face.
  3. You only need a jacket and can leave some of the winter gear at home, at least around noon.
  4. Animals all around are starting to get really happy.
  5. The smell of mud and melting snow is dizzying.
  6. The few flowers that do come up now are among the prettiest and smallest and you can actually find them because nothing else is growing.
  7. Eggs and more eggs.
  8. The sun is up when the kids go to school.
  9. My greenhouses are lovely and thawed now and I can play in them and pretend that it's true spring.
  10. Did I mention the sun?
  11. The air is cleaner in our smoggy area than at any other time of the year.
  12. The birds come back all of the sudden and sing in a great chorus in the empty lot of brambles next to us.
  13. Flu season is almost over.
  14. Anticipating true spring is almost as good as the real thing.

I hope this list may be more amusing than annoying. If you are grumpy about all the mud being tracked into your house or you live someplace so hot and dry that you think we are jerks to complain about mud, I wish you a better-balanced equinox and a gently passing season.

Comment

Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Astrology versus the scientific mind

I am the kind of person who gets in trouble for being "too hung up on logic." The other day, I was in an argument and my family member yelled, "I don't care about the facts!" It's the sort of response you get when even your spoken words come with bullet points.

I'm just saying that I have a moderately scientific mind. I want to see the evidence. I have a really hard time taking things on faith, even when I really want to. For instance, when I study herbs, I need a scientific source or a good reasoned argument to even begin to experiment with a new herbal treatment and then I need to see several clearly successful cases to put it down as a useful remedy. 

As a result, I have this problem with astrology.

 Creative Commons image by chelmsfordblue of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by chelmsfordblue of flickr.com

Actually, it isn't just astrology. It's everything to do with the energetic level of reality. I have seen an energy healer diagnose a long-standing chronic illness and fix it in minutes. I've also seen a traditional shaman fail to cure a child of a dangerous but treatable case of dysentery. I've seen an astrologist pinpoint major events in the lives of strangers with astounding accuracy and I've seen a strong prediction by the same astrologer go awry. 

I'm a strange specimen--a person who demands logic and evidence and yet studies the Tarot, astrology and the five-thousand-year-old Chinese divination system of the i-Ching. And increasingly I trust those systems of connecting to non-physical reality. 

Lay people outside science often assume that scientists must know a thing one hundred percent without doubt and know how and why a thing is in order to accept it. That is far from the truth. In fact, science is made up of conditional facts and endless skepticism. What lay people call "facts", scientists call "theories."

That's why evolution and climate change are called "theories." They are as true as anything we know. Gravity is also technically a theory and less understood than evolution. That doesn't make it less true. There are well-developed theories like these in which scientists know not only that a thing works but even why and how it works in the world. 

But there are also instances where scientists know that something is or that it works but not why or how. Scientists still don't know exactly why we yawn, how cats purr or why there is an ambient hum in the air. The sun's corona is several million degrees hotter than the surface and scientists don't know how that can be.

You've certainly heard doctors and scientists talk about "the placebo effect." It's a well-known phenomenon and you can watch it work yourself, but scientists still don't know WHY placebos work so well. Yet every local doctor worth their salt uses them for the very real aid of their patients. Similarly we demonstrably need sleep. Sleep deprivation causes severe medical problems, but scientists still don't understand exactly why the human body needs so much sleep and some animals need much less sleep.

Here's one mystery that gets a bit closer to my main topic about astrology. Nine out of ten people are right-handed. We know the medical costs of forcing left-handed people to use their right hand and it is likely that the same costs would apply to a right-handed person forced to use their left hand. So this is a real, inborn trait. But why isn't it random? What evolutionary advantage could have caused right-handedness to become so dominant? One possibility is a connection to the magnetic poles of the earth and the earth's spinning and it's affect on the perceived motion of the sun and moon. 

Many types of birds migrate thousands of miles back to the same location every year. There are hypotheses about how this may also be connected to the earth's magnetic field but really scientists are still very unsure how the internal GPS system of birds works. If you look at monarch butterflies you add a whole extra layer of complexity. The butterflies migrate to very specific areas every year but each butterfly only lives six months, so the butterflies that return are the children of those that left and make the journey precisely and only once in their lifetimes. Scientists really don't know how that works.

The possibility that the movements of enormous planets, even at a great distance, could have an effect on the delicate chemical balances of our brains isn't really all that implausible. We know for instance that the cycle of the moon impacts the ovulation cycle of human women, while most other female animals ovulate on rhythms independent from the moon. So it is just our special connection to that orb. 

And the gravitational pull of planets, the moon and the sun is not the only possible reason for the observable effects of astrology. It is possible that astronomical movements simply provide us with a time-keeping system and the cause is something much closer to home, such as the kind of magnetic forces that affect monarch butterflies. 

Still, astrology is one of those things most scientists won't touch with a ten-foot pole, which means that there are very few large-scale psychological studies that look at the possible effects of astrology and certainly none with any degree of nuance.

Newspaper horoscopes may or may not actually be written by real astrologers, but they clearly bear little or no relationship to reality. They are generally too vague and when they aren't, they are just wrong. Even the more detailed predictions of individual astrological charts, involving trines, squares and asteroids confound my need for logic and evidence. 

The most common argument against astrology is that it is so vague that it can apply to anything. But in the case of the details of astrological charts, I find that they are too specific and thus too easily disproved. 

But there are other things in astrology--primarily sun signs, ascendants and moon signs as well as the houses to some degree--that cause my skeptical mind to stop and take notice. Take a few dozen friends and it is easy to observe that people born between March 21 and April 20, give or take 24 hours, are disproportionately feisty and adventurous--both typical Aries traits, while people born between August 23 and September 22 tend to focus on details and have high standards--both Virgo characteristics.

There are a few scattered studies that make weak attempts to document the correlation between birth seasons or months and character traits. Scientists in Japan showed that people born between December and February have a significantly lower propensity to agree to new ideas presented by others. A Swedish study found that women born February through April seek new experiences more readily than others. Those who wish to dismiss astrology out-of-hand point out that Capricorn (mostly January) and Sagittarius (mostly December) have very different astrological profiles and so these studies shouldn't be taken to support astrology. However, real astrology is based on nature and no competent astrologist will insist that characteristics are cut off on a hard date or that adjacent signs bear no relation to each other.

Sagittarius and Capricorn are both signs in which one would expect a lower level of agreeableness, although they are different in other ways. While Aquarius, Pisces and Aries are all signs that point to quick beginnings and exploration, although in different areas and in different ways. 

Beyond that, astrology is much more complex than the month of one's birth. Ascendants have as much or more effect on a person's outwardly measurable personality than the month of birth and ascendants change every four minutes or so. With a good understanding of both psychology and astrology, one can easily observe the correlations between the month of birth or ascendant and the personality of the individual, but at least those two factors must be taken into account and it is difficult to isolate one specific measure to tag on its own.

Even worse than establishing astrological correlations would be explaining how or why such effects might occur. Some birth-date-connected differences in personalities are found to follow the seasons rather than the months in the southern hemisphere. But others do not. Seasonal differences in personality could be linked to the weather, temperature or habits of those first perceived by the infant. On the other hand, calendar-correlated differences are harder to explain away without getting close to astrology.

So how could such a phenomenon work? One theory is the gravitational pull of different planets, the moon and the sun. Another is something to do with the earth's magnetic field. But we're far from understanding how astrological correlations to personality come about and with the taboo on the subject in scientific circles it is unlikely to be seriously studied.

Still I can't help myself. My child with both a sun sign and an ascendant in Capricorn is the most stubborn and persistent person I have ever seen. My Gemini brother is so sociable and indecisive that it's a family joke. And I fit my sun sign so well that people think I was named for it, which I wasn't but I might as well have been.

Astrology is too complex to use it as a simple measure but knowing the combination of sun sign, ascendant and moon sign for a particular person gives you about as much information as either a week living with them or a Myers-Briggs personality test. It's correlation though, not fate written in stone. 

Going on the theory that some influence might be exerted on us in line with the calendar because of either magnetic fields or subtle gravitational forces, it is understandable then that the cut-off lines are not sharp and that these are merely influences, not hard and fast rules. We're talking about natural phenomena after all.

Just as my brain naturally tends toward visual learning and I have a knack for graphic design, even though I'm legally blind, we can find conflicts between circumstances and a person's astrological influences. My daughter, the one with the double Capricorn influence, also happens to have severe ADHD. So, while she is stubborn and can persist at an argument longer than anyone else I know, she is easily distractable and terribly impulsive, which are not typical Capricorn traits. She often gets horribly frustrated by the distractions and appears torn about persisting on tasks. It is as if the neurological glitch of ADHD, which can be linked to chemical exposure or other external circumstances, clashes with her basic temperament, much the way my visual disability clashes with my learning style.

What I take from this, as a logical person with an--at times--overbearing demand for evidence, is that astrology is an influence only, not a predictor of fate. Astrology is a pull in one direction or another that may or may not be readily apparent depending on how strong the specific pull is and how circumstances compound or contradict it. 

Comment

Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Identity for children in Pagan and mixed households

When I was a child, it bugged me every time someone asked me, "What are you?" meaning "What religion do you follow?" That wasn't because I didn't want to be asked. It bugged me even more, when they just assumed I was Christian like 95 percent of everyone in the community around us.

It bugged be because I had no words for it. 

I grew up in a time and place where earth-centered spirituality was kept under wraps and publicly admitting it could very well lead to employment problems and/or an investigation by Child Protective Services. It was probably a good thing that I had no words for the little rituals, rune drawing, Tarot cards and quarter calling that I participated in with my mother's circle. And I survived the quiet longing for something more openly stated pretty well. 

 Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

But today most Neopagans have no such external restraints on giving our children a spiritual identity. Instead we are caught in the dilemma of whether and how much to hand our kids the ready-made Pagan identity. 

This goes beyond the concern that some adult Pagan events don't or can't reasonably include children. There are plenty of ways a child can be involved in earth-centered or even specific Neopagan practice. The feasts of the Wheel of the Year provide plenty of kid-friendly fun, inspiration and tradition, even if that is all a child is exposed to. 

But many earth-centered parents have either seen friends undergo or undergone themselves the forcing of a religious identity in childhood. The major religions today, other than Paganism, insist that children born within them should be held to them. Many Pagans who weren't born into an earth-centered path are Pagans specifically because they fled the oppressive atmosphere of religions that force an identity and practice on children.

So naturally we don't want to become just as bad as what so many of us struggled to free ourselves from. And the issue of how much to develop family-centered traditions permeates Pagan parenting discussions.

In my family, that dilemma intersects with another long-standing controversy in Neopaganism--the issue of ethnic identity. There are many mixed-race families in Paganism today. I've run into Norse-tradition Heathens who are half-Scandinavian and half-African but naturally to Europeans look more African than Scandinavian. There are Irish-East Indians. a great many people with mixed European and Native American background and many Pagans whose ancestry is all over the map.

And in my family and several others, there is the issue of inter-ethnic adoption. Life takes us down unexpected paths and ours led my husband and I to adopt two children who happen to be of a different ethnicity. They are Romani (ethnic Gypsies) and as such there is some debate over whether or not they qualify as ethnic Europeans, since their ancestors came to Europe from India somewhat more recently than most Europeans. 

 Illustration from the Pagan children's book Shanna and the Pentacle, Copyright Julie Freel 2015

Illustration from the Pagan children's book Shanna and the Pentacle, Copyright Julie Freel 2015

This type of thing isn't a controversy because we believe that one must follow the Pagan tradition of one's genetic ancestors. There have certainly been plenty of non-Celtic Wiccans while other Wiccans claimed some connection between Wicca and ancient Celtic traditions. But it is uncommon to find a Slavic reconstructionist Pagan who doesn't have at least some Slavic genetic background. And when it comes to children, it is particularly important to honor their own unique genetic heritage.

It's an unarguable fact that most earth-centered traditions share a deep connection with ancestors and the land on which ancestors lived. Certainly we can and do honor ancestors connected to us by our tradition, craft or beliefs as well as those of blood and nation. But it is hard to entirely ignore the issue without some doubts of authenticity creeping in.

There is very little scholarly work to be found documenting original Romani spirituality. There are always rumors and plenty of people who will claim their Romani grandmother passed great Pagan spiritual traditions down to them. But Romani people still living in the Romani communities today usually vehemently deny much of what these revelations claim. While the Roma as a people have held on to their language and culture far more fiercely than most other small, landless ethnic groups, they are chameleons when it comes to religion. 

Wherever Romani communities are found today, they match the religion of the majority society. In Muslim areas, they are Muslim. in Catholic areas they are Catholic and in Orthodox areas they are Orthodox. Whatever is left of their original spiritual traditions is well buried. 

And so I not only stand in the usual dilemma of most Pagan parents today, but also on an ethnic divide, where one side is almost entirely unavailable. I feel a strong connection to the ancestors and spirit of the Central European landscape where I now live and to Celtic traditions. But neither of those seems to have much to do with my children. My altar carries ancestral symbols for everyone in our household--Celtic, Norse, Romani and Slavic. And when I honor ancestors of blood, I honor them all.

But I am hesitant to tell my children what they should be. 

I tell them they are Romani and teach them to be proud and not to hide it. I tell them their citizenship in two countries. I tell them about Romani ancestry and about mine and that of my husband. I tell them that the spiritual traditions we practice are sometimes called Pagan. 

But there is a line where I stop. I don't tell my children they should call themselves Pagan.

I have pointed out when someone identifies as Christian or Pagan or Muslim, explaining what it means to identify yourself that way. But I leave their own identity open to them with enough words and experience imparted that when they do want to choose i hope they will know something about what they are choosing.

So far, my nine-year-old daughter wants nothing to do with spirituality. She refuses to enter churches and avoids my altars and Tarot cards, and she always has. My seven-year-old son, on the other hand, often asks to light a candle on the altar, colors pictures from Pooka Pages, asks to draw a Tarot card, spontaneously says a Pagan morning prayer sometimes and requests Pagan songs for his piano lessons. These are all things he is exposed to because of adults around him.  

This is the wavering line I've decided to walk in parenting between too mysterious an identity and forced identity. 

We read myths and other stories from a Pagan worldview. I have even authored several Pagan children's books, illustrated by the children's grandmother. I don't hide my rituals or altars and I sing a short blessing song before important meals (though not before all meals). We occasionally meet up with another Pagan family with young children for holidays.

We celebrate the eight holidays of the Wheel of the Year as a family with specific earth-centered traditions. My husband enjoys the traditions and the focus on nature but isn't particularly spiritually inclined. So some of the holidays aren't overtly spiritual. It's just what we do and it adds a pleasant, natural rhythm to the year. 

There are many different paths to walk in Pagan parenting and it is beyond my station to say what is right or wrong in it. The Shanna books (Shanna and the Raven, Shanna and the Pentacle and Shanna and the Water Fairy) portray a single-parent household that is somewhat more overtly Pagan than mine. The children in the story are older than my kids and have a more developed sense of their identity.

But much of the conversation and holiday traditions practiced by the fictional family of the story is similar to what our family and many others do. The second book, Shanna and the Pentacle, weaves a story around the issues of identity that kids in middle childhood often face.

In this spring-equinox themed story, eleven-year-old Shanna has to consciously acknowledge what her pentacle necklace means, though she previously thought of it mainly as a gift from a friend. And she has to learn to stand up for herself in the face of pressure in a society where Pagans aren't the majority. The story is one that is close to home for most kids in Pagan families and Shanna's adventures along the way prepare her to make her own decisions about identity. 

I wrote that story and the others as part of my quest to find the right balance of information, experience and freedom of choice for my kids. My parenting is a work in progress and I love to hear from other parents dealing with related issues. Please leave comments below if you are inspired.

How do you approach passing on your values and beliefs to your children? Is your family mixed? How do you approach holidays with extended family that may have different traditions? What is the hardest part of parenting children in an earth-centered spiritual tradition? What's the easiest or most fun part? I look forward to reading your experiences.

Blue Moon / Imbolc wishes

One of our family traditions for Imbolc (February 2) is to write wishes on slips of paper and put them into a wish jar for the year. First, we pull out last year's wishes to see if any of them have come true, and then we drop in new ones. It's surprising how sometimes the wildest wishes do manifest themselves in some way.

We make a point of going beyond "realistic wishes." When you wish, wish in full. This is what wishes are for and it matters. Imbolc is a special time for wishes and for prophesy. The full moon is also a magical time for wishes and a blue moon may have particular potency. 

This year I have decided to spread my pleasant wishes as far as possible. Here are my wishes for you. Feel free to share them and wish the same to your friends and loved one's. 

Blue Moon wishes meme.jpg
  • I wish you a clear night sky to view this super blue moon. 
  • I wish you a bright dawn full of hope and promise.
  • I wish you comfort and shelter in rough weather and the freedom to roam in fine weather
  • I wish you lively consciousness, a resilient body, the love of acceptance and surety of purpose.

And I also have wishes for the world at this turning:: 

  • I wish everyone could simultaneously wake up full of hope and compassion one morning, so that no one's small gesture of kindness would be rebuffed and the sense of hope would just keep going.
  • I wish all the pundits and news anchors would decide to speak honestly from their hearts and deepest convictions. 
  • I wish the people who run big corporations would suddenly all stop and consider the future of their own descendants and decide to tackle climate change seriously with us right now.
  • I wish that human leaders should be held accountable to law and the democratic will of the people this year. 
  • I wish for all humans to become aware of our close connection to plants, animals, the land, the air and the water around us, so that we make decisions that will give us the life we actually want.
  • I wish for all people to be free from addictions as well as from the dissonance between beliefs and actions.
  • I wish all the lonely and outcast people could find each other and become the biggest, most accepting and most joyful tribe on earth. 

You may laugh at my unrealistic wishes. But they are real, not just platitudes. This is the breath of hope.

Yule carol to a 250-year-old Slovak tune

This time before the Winter Solstice looks like a gloomy time at our latitude. The sun is far to the south and even at midday it sits near the horizon. Sunday will see the dark of the moon and arguably the darkest night, though the Solstice is a few days away. There will be only stars to light this long night.

 Creative Commons image by fdecomite of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by fdecomite of Flickr.com

Monday will usher in a tiny crescent of moon after sunset in the far western sky. And each day after that the crescent will grow and be higher in the sky as night falls.

On the 21st the sun will give the least light in the northern hemisphere and it will stay that way for three exceptionally dark days. It is a time of stars, of small, twinkling lights and of solace in the darkness. 

And yet, people have celebrated the
Winter Solstice since prehistoric times in one form or another. Music of wonder and hope belongs to this season and I am always in search of more songs that celebrate the sun and earth, the moon and the stars. When I can't find a song that fits just right, I have to put my nose to the grindstone and write my own.

Below you can find the lyrics I wrote for this Winter Solstice. It's a song for rising at dawn--not that early, so not hard to do--on the Winter Solstice and going out with a mug of something hot and spicy into the cold to greet the sun. 

The tune is from a 250-year-old Slovak carol by František Sušil. You can listen to the melody here and follow along with the words. It's meant to be sung as a lively tune, but it is easy enough even for those of us without a great deal of musical talent.

 

Rise in good cheer

 

Rise in good cheer children of earth

Bring a coal to kindle the hearth

Hail the rising winter sun

Star of hope and our rebirth

Greet the light this winter's morn'

Star of hope and our rebirth

Through midnight's shadow I may go

Storm of sleet and wind and snow

I seek a light to guide my way

Star of waking, light and truth

Shining at the darkest hour

Star of waking, light and truth

An earth-centered spiritual perspective: Why is there undeserved suffering?

When I was twenty-three, I traveled around Bangladesh and walked alone into a slum where a million people lived in cardboard and tin shacks on a plane of mud. There I met a woman who was little older than me but looked like she was 80. She was born there and lived her whole life in extreme poverty. She broke bricks with her bare hands for a living. I met this woman because her eight-year-old daughter rescued me from an angry mob. 

 Creative Commons image from the Department of Foreign Affairs of Australia

Creative Commons image from the Department of Foreign Affairs of Australia

I found my new friends to be incredibly hard working, compassionate and all-around good people. And I was forced to consider the question of why they lived such terribly hard lives, amid constant misery and sorrow, while I lived relatively easily and had many things handed to me, even though I was born in a shack without an indoor bathroom myself. 

In Bangladesh, they had an explanation. Bad karma. Supposedly the little girl who rescued me--a complete stranger--from a crowd of men demanding to know why I had come into their slum, even though I had tried to dress modestly according to local custom, had been naughty in a past life.

Though her eyes shown at me with kindness and innocence, that is one accepted explanation. There was very little chance she would ever be able to go to school or eat a decent meal and if she lived to be 30, she would be haggard, old and fortunate to still be alive.

And something in my spirit rebelled. This idea of karma was no better to me than the talk of hell fire, I heard from Christians back home in America. I was brought up with an alternative spirituality, but I had not been given an alternative explanation of suffering. 

Even in much less extreme situations, good fortune appears to be random. I grew up among relatively poor people in rural, remote Eastern Oregon but I managed to travel to five continents and forge a good life for myself, partly because my parents, though poor, were fairly well educated and did not harbor the hopelessness of generational poverty. My experience, moving between many different social classes has shown that there is little correlation between hard work and financial success. The poor are every bit as likely to work hard as the rich, if not more so. Laziness, apathy, depression and addiction happen among the rich and the poor. 

Today, as the political battles over things like food stamps, universal health care and free education heat up in the United States, I constantly run across arguments, in which one side claims that poor people aren't committed enough to earning a good living and they just need to work harder or smarter. And the other side claims that the economy is rigged against them or that health, family or other circumstances made a higher income unreachable. Rarely does anyone in the verbal sparring stop to acknowledge that hardship is mostly random and the only real question to argue about is why that is and what, if anything, we wish to do about it.

Spirituality arose among the first humans for two reasons: first, to discuss what happens after we die and whether or not we are just meat with neurons; and second, to answer this question: why do bad things happen at random even to good, hard-working people? 

Modern earth-centered and Pagan paths have various but fairly standard interpretations of the first question. As for the second question, it is worth some thought.

If you are the kind of person who believes in gods, whether a primal earth mother, a vague universal spirit or a whole pantheon of gods, then you have to confront the question of whether those gods have any power to affect our lives. Many people today believe that gods are beings that only act through our connection to them or our enlightenment, whether they just all "in our heads" or not. Others believe that spirit or the gods pervade the natural world and are part of us and everything else in the world. Some believe in gods or spirits who are specific beings with relationships to specific humans and that they can give aid, withhold it or even cause harm as they choose.

Either way, it seems like spiritual beings should have some justice to them. What would be the point otherwise? Modern Pagans mostly don't beg their gods for favors in prayers. But we do--well many of us do--ask for help sometimes. And even if you believe that it is only in reflecting in prayer or magical work that you help yourself, you either believe that is beneficial or you're just fooling around with candles and pretty rocks.

And if you're a pantheistic sort of spiritualist, who does not believe in gods per se, but believes that divine energy infuses everything, that nature is filled with sacred energy, then you also must believe there is some reason to acknowledge that creative force. You may not believe that the universe is either benevolent or malevolent. But you still must wonder if there is any point to the randomness of misfortune in our world.

There are also humanists, who do not believe in gods or divine powers or believe that if they do exist they have no power or desire to intervene in our affairs. Humanists may subscribe to the traditions of a spiritual path whether Pagan, Christian or otherwise, but they believe that humans have to deal with our own troubles on our own. While these humanists may not have to deal with the question of why gods let good people suffer, they must in the end discuss the randomness of hardship as well.

It has taken me many years of study to arrive at my own answer to this question, but when I found it, it turned out to be incredibly simple.

Suffering and hardship are random, whether the gods willed it to be that way or not, in order to give us compassion.

I do not believe in karma in the sense that you are punished for some sin in one life by being born to hardship in another. Nor do I believe in divine punishment either in this life or in an afterlife. Certainly we can make our own hardship at times, but the greatest suffering that humans endure is usually acquired at birth and is non-negotiable. 

And here's the crucial point. If we truly believed that everyone deserved what they got, either by karma, sin or sloth, and that the world gives everyone an equal, fair shot, then you would have no compassion. And you would be justified in that. It would be correct to have no compassion. It would be foolish and enabling of wrongness to have compassion.

The only reason for compassion is the understanding that much of the pain, hardship, loss and suffering of others is not a result of their cruel, stupid or lazy actions or inactions.

It just is. 

No god, goddess, spirit or karma put them there and none will rescue them without our energy and intention. Prayer matters. Physicists can demonstrate it. My personal polytheistic belief is that our gods do care about suffering and may in fact give solace or aid when our intention is strong and positive, but it is not in their nature to banish all suffering. And I am not sure that they would if they could.  

When I come closest to my matron goddess at moments of despair, I feel great compassion and caring from that source. But I also have heard a signular message. No one with the power to stop all undeserved suffering in the world would use it. Suffering is terrible, but it is not as terrible as a world of entitled, compassionless light without any understanding of darkness would be.

A circle of ancestors: Truths from deep in the well

Dark comes fast amid the trees, turning the colors of drying blood, red to brown. It's that time of the year, when thoughts turn to the past and to ancestors.

I put up an ancestor altar for Samhain / the Day of All Souls. There is one significant new addition to my beloved dead this year, a sweet voice I can still hear in my memory. But also over the past year, I have learned a few tidbits about how at least one of my ancestors was involved in a KKK group in Oregon. And some of the best photographs I have are from a more recent ancestor who was known to be both sexist and racist, along with having some better qualities. 

Ancestor altar.png

What does honoring the ancestors mean? Does it mean that you can take credit and say thank you if you don't know anything negative about your ancestors? Does it mean you ignore the ancestors you feel ashamed of and celebrate only those who did good things, like my great aunt who saved many lives as a humanitarian worker in the Philippines?

The past few weeks have been particularly hard on my family with a lot of community pressure and internal struggle for balance. There are times when I rethink the old belief that the universe gives us only as much hardship as our spirits can bear. It seems like the universe has been cutting it awfully close these days.

And sometimes I wonder. Maybe my philosophy is wrong. Maybe this is just bad karma from my prejudiced ancestors. 

Should I honor my ancestors?

I think of the well at our old family homestead. Once when I was fifteen, I was lowered into it to help with repairs because my slim body was a better fit for the narrow well than my father's broad-shouldered frame.

My father told me not to look up because sand and dirt could fall into my eyes as he lowered me on a rope 60 feet into the earth. I obediently kept my eyes down. With the headlamp I was wearing I got a good look at the rows upon rows of hand lain rough field stone that was used to reinforce the walls of the well. 

To this day that is one of the most respect-inspiring sights I've ever seen. I knew the rocky, clay soil of our remote Eastern Oregon ridge intimately. I had helped grow food in it since early childhood. I'd built forts and hideouts in its rugged outcrops. I had also dug for camas root in the meadows with precious little success, bruising both hands and tools on the many rough gray rocks in the clay. With my significant vision impairment, I had learned to move carefully among the jagged boulders on the windswept top of the ridge. This was not a land that lent itself to digging. 

And yet someone dug a 60 foot shaft by hand in the age before machinery and lined it with neat rows of perfectly fitted field stones. These were not the ancestors of my blood but they were in every fundamental way the ancestors of my our hearth. 

The winter my mother was pregnant with me, my family shared a tiny cabin with another family. Four adults and three small children in what was once a one-room schoolhouse. In November, they were out one night when the cabin burned to the ground, due to a faulty wood stove. My father moved my pregnant mother and two-year-old brother a quarter mile up the hollow to the moderately flat spot where this well stood. 

At the time there was nothing else there. Just the well, left by nameless settlers amid the snow and mud. My father parked an old, broken-down truck next to the well and spent the winter building a new cabin around it. I was born in the loft of that cabin, built over the roof of the old truck the next April.

This is my history and the significance of that well to me. Without a well, the dry Eastern Oregon ridges are unlivable. I knew people who had to haul water, and even as a small child, I remember having a deep gratitude for that well.

And yet...

My parents may have purchased that land fair and square, but there were--as it turned out--other traces of human habitation on it. My brother found Native American artifacts in an embankment in one of the camas meadows. And there is a circle of ancient mounds on the ridge that is too regular to be natural. 

The settlers who built the well or those who came before them--someone--stole this land, and while the road there still isn't paved, they made it possible for us to live there. 

This is what I think of every Samhain. My awe and respect for the lives endured by the ancestors of our land, hearth and family, as well as great sorrow and pain for the wrongs that can be remembered if one is willing to look. 

While I was down at the bottom of that well at the age of fifteen, I laid some insulation cloth as my father instructed. Then just before giving the proscribed tug on the rope to signal, so that I would be pulled up, I cautiously turned my head and looked up. 

I have rarely felt such raw terror in my life. At first I thought something was wrong with my vision, not out of the question given my eye condition. The top of the well was gone or else it was night and the full moon had risen. But I couldn't possibly have been down there that long, I thought frantically.

Then the truth crashed in on my consciousness. That distant round moon of light WAS the opening of the well. I had not thought about how far down 60 feet is or how closed in and vulnerable a soft human body would be that far under the earth in a shaft so narrow that I had to turn around carefully. Now that I saw the distant opening, the realization was terrifying. 

I felt my throat constrict and I fought a wave of panic that threatened to send me into senseless screaming and thrashing. My father had told me to be still and not make any loud noises. He was afraid I might dislodge stones in the well and be injured. Getting out of that well calmly was probably the first truly brave thing I ever did. 

That well was our lifeline and also an artifact of one of the worst genocides in human history. I was the great granddaughter of immigrants and settlers. I then left that land and went far across the ocean to another country, where I am a first generation immigrant and now a new citizen. I married a man who can trace the names of his ancestors back 600 years on the same little farm in the swampy land of South Bohemia. And our children are adopted from decimated families who were among a handful of Romani (Gypsies) who survived both slavery and the Holocaust in central Europe. 

Samhain is far from simple around here. 

In the end, I cannot make justice or peace for history. I can only set out the photographs, the names and the symbols of those people who came before, those who gave us life, sustenance, hope and a chance to make our own mark. 

The land of my childhood sustained me and gave me a body with health and resilience for which I am often grateful.  As a child I learned to call the quarters in the Native American way and I studied the Teutonic runes. Blood says I have no claim to the former and history has tainted the latter. There is truth in that. 

There is also truth in gratitude, in respect and in remembering. I will not claim stolen heritage. And yet, I cannot shake the feeling of kindness and peace that comes from the earth at the old homestead. I feel sorrow for the people forced to leave that land, but I do not sense that they hate me. I feel a circle of presence at Samhain, all the ancestors of my childhood--of family, of land and of hearth--and all the ancestors of my present, those of my husband, so well documented, and those of my children, unknown except for the painful history that we know rolled over them in one way or another. 

No, I do not feel an idealized warmth from all the ancestors, a circle of support and blessing. I do feel intense currents of sorrow, pain, shame and anger, interspersed with love and hope. But they are all there. They are not absent.

They are all in the circle at this time of year, no matter what baggage they may carry. And I feel called to honor them, not just on this one day but also by living in a way that gives honor for the gifts they each gave me. When the burdens seem too great, I want to always remember this. I humbly accept this life. I acknowledge what came before.

Books for attuning to the rhythms and magical energies of the moon

If you have always wanted to be more in touch with nature or attuned to natural cycles, the new moon is the time to take a step toward it. For me the first step on a new path is often reading books. It isn't just a passive, relatively easy step without a lot of commitment. I follow through on what I read.

Several years ago, I started reading about moon phases, signs and cycles on a new moon. Now I've come through most of a year, focusing my daily spiritual practice and much of my household activities on attuning to the moon's cycles. The result isn't some sort of higher plane of existence, but rather a comfortable routine that feels grounded, healthy and now so utterly natural that I am surprised to realize that it has only been a year.

Here are some books I recommend for learning why and how to synchronize yourself to the moon and use the energies of the moon for well-being. 

Moon Magic

This is a complete guide for those just beginning on this quest. 

A new title from Moon Books, Moon Magic is a modern witch's exploration of everything moon related. It's nominally multicultural, providing the names and symbols of deities from around the world, but the rituals and visualizations all have a modern, Wiccan-inspired atmosphere. All the deities hug you, for instance.

Still this is a good introductory reference, including helpful lists of monthly moon names, rituals and visualizations for each moon phase and the Celtic tree calendar. One of the less common and most helpful things in this book are correspondences of positive and negative symbols, herbs, colors and incense for each  astrological moon sign. 

The book is well-written and concise. There isn't a lot of fluff or talking you into reading further. Moon Magic is a good reference for beginners with the caveat that there is a bias toward modern, European witchcraft and the multicultural aspect is token. 

Llewellyn's Moon Sign Book

I have searched for just the right moon calendar in the English language for years, and haven’t found it. Llewellyn’s is the best I can come up with. That’s primarily because I’m looking for both moon magic, astrology and a practical gardener’s almanac that is in tune with the moon as well. I would particularly like a Pagan-oriented moon calendar with references to a wide variety of deities, beyond Middle Eastern and European.

Yeah, I am a tough customer. I am also less interested in random women’s poetry, affirmations and artwork, which adorn so many moon calendars. 

Llewellyn’s Moon Sign Book has a lot to offer though. The weekly calendar section provides the dates and times of moon transits through astrological signs and phases in a less than ideal format but it can be made to work, extremely brief gardening pointers, a short quote, a practical simple living tip, a tiny black and white picture and three or four lines for notes. 

There follows a good, universal gardening-by-the-moon section, which explains the basic principles but doesn’t include specific daily gardening tips. There is an extensive planting table showing which sign and phase to plant a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs as well as a separate companion planting table.

Both are quite helpful, though I find calendars which simply give specific days in the right part of the year for planting the various types of plants require less astrological study to decode. For instance, the book also includes a Moon Void-of-Course table which shows days when planting is not advisable, despite the sign and phase. So planting by the moon with this book requires reference to several different tables and pages for each calculation of a day or time to plant a specific species. 

That said the book does include a nice table that lists specific dates in each month for a wide variety of activities from weaning children to laying wooden floors. If you’re able to plan activities in advance this is a wonderful addition. Monthly moon tables (including the daily sign, element, nature and phase) and aspectarian charts are included, which allow for more detailed calculations. There are special tables for egg setting, hunting/fishing and pest/weed eradication dates. 

Less helpfully, major portions of the book are devoted to US weather forecasts over large “zones” by moon phase and these, in my observations, bore less than usual correlation to reality. This could be due to climate change and not the publisher’s fault, though climate change was not mentioned or discussed and probably should have been.

Another large section is devoted to a pan-sector business forecast that is both too broad to be effective and to focused on random details that did not in the end prove portentous this year at least. There is an energetic and relationship forecast that includes references to specific signs and this was moderately helpful or at least entertaining to read. 

Each  year the book includes several essays in the back on interesting moon-related topics ranging from healing, the moon phase divisions of various cultures and specific agricultural techniques. These were interesting and decently well written. 

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets provides a list of herbs specifically for attuning to the moon. More than that, it provides a detailed discussion of plants and herbs for the planets as well. 

This tightly packed book takes the reader beyond lists of herbs. It includes the chemical make-up, medicinal and magical uses as well as the history of a set of herbs for the sun, moon and five additional planets. 

This book, though best used as a technical reference rather than read straight through, is helpful in determining which herbs and plants are suitable as offerings or incense when an astrological connection is needed.  

Staking a claim: What is Paganism?

With a quick search, you can find an active discussion--or more likely an argument--on one social media platform or another about the definition of the word "Pagan" at any given moment.

That is the nature of social media and the nature of Paganism. Both are amorphous, unbounded by time and famously light on rules. 

I have joined several such discussions over the years--first with mounting excitement as I discovered that the spirituality I was quietly--almost secretly--raised with had a name and then later in increasing irritation as I saw that name gnawed, mauled and fought over like a bone in a dog fight. So many groups lay claim to it or insist that they define it, either for themselves or for others, and it is no wonder that a newcomer just discovering this spiritual movement today might be confused.

Even my mother, who taught me the basic tenants of Pagan spirituality based on nothing but an intuitive reverence for nature and some scattered esoteric reading, is wary of the term Pagan. Living in a conservative rural area, one absorbs the linguistic definitions of the surroundings, and when asked to define what she thought "Pagan" meant, she recently said she got a general impression of "hedonism, promiscuity, disrespect for authority and drugs."

That's a microcosm of what can be observed in the media. Many people, even those who are essentially friendly to Pagan spirituality, have this same general impression.

So, because I write about Paganism and toss the word around here with abandon, I suppose I need to define what I mean by it, both for insiders and for outsiders, unless I want to risk giving the wrong cpnnotation. And in the process I will have to stake a claim of sorts, to take a side in several hot arguments. After considerable thought, discussion and research, I am prepared to take that stand.

What Pagan once meant

 Creative Commons image by Dan Meineck

Creative Commons image by Dan Meineck

The people of ancient Europe may have had a name for their spirituality or they may have just called it some equivalent of "common sense." We don't know and instead we know them by the words used by their conquerors. 

The oldest definition of "Pagan" according to Merriam-Webster and every other scholarly source comes from ancient Rome, when it was used to mean "a country dweller." As Christianity moved into Europe, primarily in urban areas, and the rural areas remained largely non-Christian, the term Pagan came to mean simply "non-Christian." 

Even today, Google's automatic definition for the word "Paganism" is "a religion other than one of the main world religions, specifically a non-Christian or pre-Christian religion."

This is the historical origin of the term and many Christians as well as Christian, Jewish and Muslim publications use it to mean beliefs outside those three faiths, including atheist and agnostic perspectives which are entirely secular.

This gives rise to the vehement insistence of many of the denizens of the internet that Paganism is not "a" religion at all. Clearly a religion, a tradition or an identity can not be simply defined by what it is not. 

What gives a word meaning?

If one insists on a historical and primarily Christian definition of the term, then you are stuck there and in that sense Paganism is almost a meaningless term and one most of us would hesitate to adopt as an identity. But just as many Native Americans call themselves "Indians," when the origin of that term was a rather embarrassing goof made by an outsider, today there are a great many people who have adopted the term Pagan as a positive, meaningful identity. 

My argument is essentially the same as that of Native American Indians. Words change. Definitions are first and foremost what they actually mean to most people at this given moment in history. Scholars can argue all they want but we use words to be understood and so while another term may be more academically correct, it makes more sense to use the term that the person hearing or reading your words will actually understand as you intend.

And so, if you want to say that you are Native American but resent having to use a long, cumbersome term dependent on the name of an ancient explorer which many people in your own community don't recognize anyway, you may well use the word "Indian" because it gets the message across correctly and quickly, regardless of its original goofiness and the unfortunate need to specify a continent when discussing it internationally. 

The same principle applies to the word "Pagan" today. At least among the vast majority of Pagans, if you say "I'm Pagan" that means something positive and reasonably specific. It is quickly understood--by fellow Pagans at least--and it does not require a pedantic style to express as do many multi-word descriptors.

What Pagan means today

While many dictionaries today try to avoid defining Paganism beyond it's original "country-dweller" and later "non-Christian" meanings, it is enlightening to look at definitions given for the benefit of non-native English speakers. The purpose in this section of a dictionary is not to prove a point but rather to actually allow a traveler to know what is meant in modern society by the term. As a result, these are the most current and practical definitions.

Thus Merriam-Webster gets down off the high-horse of defining Paganism tritely as "a: pagan beliefs or practices, b: a pagan religion," and changes the definition for ESL learners to, "a religion that has many gods or goddesses, considers the earth holy, and does not have a central authority."

Ta da!

There is a definition that almost all Pagans can agree on.

Almost all, but not every last one. That is why there are the endless on-line arguments.

Polytheism?

There are some groups who are undoubtedly Pagan in spirit but specifically honor one god or goddess. Some honor only "the god" and "the goddess." Still. it can be safely said that--with only purposefully contrary exceptions--even Pagan religions which honor only one or two gods or goddesses, recognize the validity of religions that honor multiple gods and goddesses (rather than calling them inherently false as some world religions would) and thus in effect give a nod to the existence of multiple gods and goddesses. 

Some Pagan religions don't call spiritual energies or forces "gods"  at all. Others consider everything or all life to be "divine"  or "infused with spirit" and adopt a pantheistic view. However, this view serves essentially the same functions as gods and goddesses. It is simply better understood without the baggage of those terms.

This can be argued endlessly on-line, but it is one claim I am making. At least for the purpose of my writing, Paganism is positively defined as a religion involving many gods and goddesses or other spiritual entities or a universal spiritual connection with many means of approach. 

Nature as sacred?

The other point that is most likely to be bickered over is the idea of the earth or nature as "holy." That would depend on the definition of "holy," but to avoid that kettle of fish, I offer the term nature-centered (often said as earth-centered) spirituality.

Paganism is and was connected to nature in its basic forms, beliefs, myths and concepts. Even in the days when Pagan meant "non-Christian," the religions this originally applied to--i.e. indigenous Middle Eastern and European religions--were  highly focused on the earth, natural cycles, seasons, the fertility of the land and so forth. 

The pantheons of Egypt, Mesopotamia,  Rome, Greece, the Norse and the Celts were made up of gods and goddesses that represented the powers of the sun, sea, fertile land, rivers that brought life-giving water, rain, the moon and many other parts of nature and the cycles of life. By contrast, the focus of these religions was NOT on a world of pure spirit or mental gymnastics. They could have been. But they were not. They may have employed energy healing or a great many other psychic practices, but their focus--the focus of their gods was on nature. 

And most Pagans today share this focus. Most, but not all, who claim the term "Pagan."

Staking my own claim

There are those today who see Paganism as primarily an ancestral tradition and racial identity. That is not Paganism but simply the misuse of the concept of respect for ancestors to further a race-divided worldview.

There are others today who confuse Paganism with a craft in which events (or one's own mental processes depending on your take on the craft) can be influenced through the use of psychic discipline and the will. This is commonly referred to as "witchcraft," and is often confused with Paganism by practitioners and outsiders alike. There are however certainly Pagan witches who are both Pagans and practice witchcraft, just as there are Christian witches who are Christian and practice witchcraft. And from my observations, there are also atheist witches.

But there are a great many Pagans who do not practice witchcraft as well.

There may well also be other definitions offered and there are those who insist that all those who claim the term "Pagan" must be included, regardless of how vastly they differ from the accepted definition of the term, because the one part of the definition that everyone agrees on is that there is no central authority with the power to say, "This one belongs and this one does not."

Nor do I claim that there is any such "central" authority. But I do claim that language has meaning. And I do insist upon the real meaning of the term "Pagan," as understood by the vast majority of those who use it. 

When I explain the term "Pagan" to an ESL learner, which as an ESL teacher I do have occasion to do, my definition is very similar to that of Merriam-Webster. I do not confuse the issue by saying that some want to say they are Pagan. but claim that nature is not central to their beliefs. The truth is that those groups have other names for themselves as well and have no need to co-opt the term "Pagan." 

The Pagan Federation (one of several groups which claim to speak for a broad variety of Pagans) has an excellent, though lengthy definition of Paganism, which recognizes the broad diversity of Pagans in which many deities are not conceived of as either humanoid, super-powered or having an assignable gender. while also giving a clear and constructively stated definition: "A polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshiping religion." That works for me.

With a little more depth the PF site continues, "The Pagan outlook can be seen as threefold. Its adherents venerate Nature and worship many deities, both goddesses and gods."

Yes, that actually makes three principles: nature is sacred, there are many deities and at least some of them are female.

When I post this article to social media, there are bound to be arguments and someone who claims to know of a group that is "truly" Pagan, but doesn't subscribe to such a definition. That's okay because my foremost goal here is to define a term for my readers. When you read my writing, you will know what I mean. 

Paganism is a vast umbrella term for a religious category, much as Christianity is. To be Christian, one should revere Christ. That is the bare minimum of what it is to be Christian. Sure, Christians will often haggle and say that this or that group isn't the right kind of Christians so they aren't really Christian at all, but from a scholar's perspective, if they revere Christ, they are Christian is some sense. 

Paganism conversely requires at a minimum that those who claim the word revere nature and are at least open to the idea of multiple deities/spiritual forces and acknowledge that those deities/forces may--among others--be female. That's the bare minimum.

My beliefs may vastly differ from other Pagans. There are times when I find myself more in accord with certain Christians, Buddhists or Jews on some point of spirituality or ethics. But this has more to do with our sociopolitical stance than it does with the umbrellas of our religious identities. 

There is no central authority in Paganism, any more than the Pope dictates the beliefs of all Christians. But there are those who set themselves up as authorities in one group or another. Paganism is very diverse and often democratic. But just as in other religions, there are groups that are more or less formally or informally led.

I am not dictating my definition as a leader. I merely state it as a wordsmith. This is my use of the term. 

A respectful nod

A special note should be given regarding indigenous religions with their own names which have not in any formal or informal way adopted the term Paganism themselves, but which nicely fit the definition I have given for Paganism. This includes Native American, African, Siberian, Australian, Hindu and other nature-focused Asian faiths.

I cannot help that in my lexicon, the definition of Pagan fits your religion. I attempt to use the term "Pagan" specifically only in cases where a group has actually expressed a desire to be called Pagan. But when I'm talking in general about all nature-centered, polytheistic/pantheistic religions on earth, I do necessarily include many who have not chosen to be called "Pagan." 

I would heartily welcome an understanding between all earth-centered faiths on the planet. If and when a different term comes to encompass all of us in the actual use of the English language, I will gladly embrace it. If those who now fit the definition of Pagan decide to adopt this term, I will wholeheartedly welcome them as my spiritual cousins. For now I respect the decision of each individual or group to make that choice on their own.

And the staves crossed

However, to those who wish to claim the term "Pagan" for purposes that contradict the earth-centered and open values of Paganism--those who wish to use the strength of spiritual seeking in our movement for political, racial or domineering intentions--I say "no."

That is not Paganism. I am not a central authority, but I am my own authority.

Therefore, no.

I am one Pagan who says "no" to racially defined, authoritarian and earth-disinterested co-opting of my identity. There are plenty others with me. We are our own authority, and those shall not pass. 

What is a meaningful harvest in the age of over-consumption

Six years ago, I decided I wanted to mark the beginning of the harvest season in a specific and flexible way In the middle of the summer, we are rarely home on a predictable date and we have a hard time keeping any sort of routine, so any family tradition in this season has to be portable and simple. 

My solution? I found a durable  table cloth and each year on August 1 or 2, the Celtic feast of the first harvest, I ask everyone who happens to share a major meal with my family, to sign the table cloth. We all sign as well. Then in odd moments over the winter, I embroider all the signatures onto the cloth. 

I'm not an expert at embroidery, so some parts are a bit clumsy, but it is a meditation in gratitude for me. Every year, that meal has been a special one, serendipitously surrounded by good friends or supportive and lovely strangers. As I embroider my gratitude is as much for the community and friendship of those brief summer moments, as it is for our physical harvest.

The harvest feast and the sense of relief and gratitude for winter's security that went along with it was a crucial part of human experience for millennia.  Today we have kitschy phrases for affirmations of gratitude, which we tend to force on people who are surviving the hardest moments of their lives--telling those fighting cancer or grieving the loss of a loved one to focus on "gratitude."

It isn't working.

Our society is increasingly disconnected from thankfulness and moreover we almost never feel that relief and satiation, the knowledge that our families are secure for the upcoming season.

Our economic ideology is one of constant "demand." We are encouraged to feel--even manipulated into believing--that our livelihood is insecure and we need more. "Employee insecurity" is a prized goal in business circles--keeping professional staff on their toes in a scary marketplace.

And the modern world really does require an awful lot of expensive stuff, if you want to have a career and not live on the margin of society growing herbs, like... ahem, some people you know. 

The reason I want to mark the harvest season isn't just because we have a garden and actually get some small harvest at this time. It has more to do with things everyone today can relate to. After all those thousands of years, humans still need a moment of relief. We don't do well in a constant state of need, anxiety and uncertainty. 

Harvest isn't just about gratitude. It is also about securing the hatches and experiencing a moment of safety. 

Gratitude is good. If you can truly feel thankful for what you have and know you have made it, marking the harvest season may come naturally. But if you are really struggling, either materially or emotionally, as so many people are today, being told that you should focus on what you are thankful for at any time of the year is not likely to help.

Instead, especially at this time when the harvest season is just beginning, there is also a need to find a moment of relief. Whatever it is that troubles your life, what would let you know that you can get through the next few months? Can you reach for something now that will give you at least a brief sense of security and stability?

Whether that's taking a much needed break and going on a well-earned vacation or reaching out to supportive friends at whatever distance, this is the modern spirit of the harvest feast.

Our modern harvest may not be an annual event, timed to the growing season. It may not even involve food or material things at all. But the biological rhythm of our bodies needs this sense of relief and security periodically. And this is a time when we are naturally yearning for it.  

In the age of too much consumption, a celebration of bounty and prosperity may not make the most sense. Instead it may help to take this time to reevaluate what we truly need, to gain a sense of fullness, so that we can let go of over-abundance and clutter. 

Our greatest need today often isn't material but rather social and emotional. What about instead of celebrating matieral bounty, celebrating the family, friends and community we have, be it small or large? What about looking at the emotional strength and balance you have built up--even if it still isn't perfect--as a harvest after hard work?

Gratitude is important. In fact, it is probably the most necessary  prerequisite for happiness. But I don't believe in feigned or forced gratitude. If you don't really feel thankful that you are not hungry, then there is little point on trying to make yourself feel it.

Looking at those things that are hard-won in your life, whatever your important milestones are--gaining confidence at work, finally starting that creative project you've dreamed of, growing a family or network of friends and so forth--may be more useful. And sharing whatever you have in over-abundance, whether it is time, knowledge or material goods, with those who have needs in that area is the best way I know of to foster your own gratitude. 

Once harvest celebrations were about amassing enough food to tide us through the lean times. Today we can adapt this concept even if you live in a city without so much as a house plant. Harvest is whatever you build up to tide you through hard times. That can be emotional, financial, social or life energy based. 

Now is the time to fill the reserves, to figure out what it is that will tide you over. You have the strength for it now. 

Hindu Goddesses of the Thunder Moon

The full moon glows in the still, hot night air. The thick aroma of ripening fruit permeates the night. I sit in cool water in our wading pool. The silver light makes me the same pale non-color as the normally bright blue pool. 

 Creative Commons image by San Sharma 

Creative Commons image by San Sharma 

This is called the Thunder Moon, and this year it is living up to it's name with a vengeance. My mother was nearly struck by lightning just the other day, on the other side of the world in Oregon. The whole world went pure white around her and the shock of immediate thunder shook the whole town. Here the stifling air--even after dark--is a good sign a big storm is on its way and the night will soon be filled with deafening noise and sizzling forks of light. 

On nights like this, it is not difficult to understand how ancient peoples often included a ferocious god or goddess of storms in their pantheons.  We have angered the climate gods with our decadent burning of fossil fuels and pollution of the sky. Storms seem to be the retribution of choice. Well, that's one way to look at it at least.

But July has always been the time of thunder in northern lands. The heat of June often gives way a bit and purplish clouds pile up, streaking neon-blue lightening. Tomorrow the forecast calls for another storm and I'm hoping for some rain on the garden. My eight-year-old daughter is still terrified of thunder and I don't blame her. The feeling of awesome power sweeping across our exposed hillside is disconcerting.

I have a hard time understanding how our little wooden house can withstand the ripping winds that send the tops of all the trees around us thrashing like dancers in a mosh pit. But our house stands and other than the startling slamming of doors, all is well. I check the chickens and the greenhouses in the moonlight. The garden is past the young and tender stage, so I don't cover it but let it weather the storm on its own. 

 Creative Commons image by Stefanie Härtwig

Creative Commons image by Stefanie Härtwig

I am on a quest to study a different pantheons of ancient goddesses for each month (or moon), and there should be a special place for Hindu goddesses. My children come from a people who migrated relatively recently from northern India and still bear the features of that land in their faces. And so, if my daughter is afraid of the thunder, i hope these may give her some comfort and inspiration.

The Maiden of the Hindu goddesses is Laksmi, who is sometimes portrayed as a mother because of her gifts of plenty, but she is called a maiden in many traditional chants. There are many mothers in the Hindu pantheon, but I have chosen the  Mother as Anumati, goddess of nurturing and permission. The Dark Goddess is, of course, Kali, the terrifying goddess of vengeance, transformation and destruction. She no doubt approves of these thunder storms.

The Full Moon

Anumati is a goddess of spirituality, good fortune and motherhood. She is also a personification of Shakti. Her name means “to give permission.” (Dalal 2011) When she is called in the heat of the summer, her permission grants freedom from bonds and burdens.

There is still a need for caution. The thunder moon is a time of limitations, the tempering of spring and early summer enthusiasm. So, we must think specifically of what we seek and ask permission with the knowledge that not all paths are open at once, that by taking one path we choose not to take another.

Anumati's symbols are simply of the moon and the blessings of plenty and divine favor. It is a time to make wishes and choices, to ask permission of the Goddess for those things we most wish to do with forethought and the knowledge that this is one of the most open times to do so. Incense is a fitting offering.

The Waning Moon

I’ll admit that I’m a bit afraid of the Hindu images of Kali, somewhat the way my daughter is afraid of the thunder. I’m into intensity (and so is she), but this is over the top.

Kali is this ferocious goddess who kills those who defy her and hangs their body parts around her neck. One of the best understandings of Kali I have found comes from the book Naming the Goddess, in which Jennifer Uzzell describes the honoring of Kali in her Hindu family where she is seen in diverse aspects, both motherly and destructive.

Kali's great intensity has the power to transform in the most profound way. (Uzzell 2014) Like the Tower in the Tarot, her power is terrifying and yet necessary. Other than her fearsome images she may be symbolized by the orange and black colors of the monarch butterfly that embodies transformation. She can be honored with meditation and chants and an openness to change in necessary ways.

The Waxing Moon

Lakshmi is the Hindu Maiden Goddess of gifts and happiness. Her essence is positive emotion and beauty. Like the soaring beauty of the summer crescent moon, she is pure and radiant. We can honor her by sharing and spreading around the wealth and well-being she brings to us. (Rhodes 2010)

Her symbol is a white owl, symbolizing the need to open our eyes wide to the light of spiritual wealth. Stand in the center of your sacred space and turn to each direction, calling on the elements of the directions to spread the wealth and well-being of Lakshmi to all living beings in that direction. Aesthetically beautiful food is a traditional offering to Laksmi. 

When exploring other cultures, perhaps especially a culture my adopted children have some ancestral connection to, it is of paramount importance to try to put these goddesses into cultural context.

In accordance with Hindu traditions, it makes sense to set up a shrine or altar to these goddesses with candles, incense and traditional Hindu images of their diversely lovely and terrible faces. Modern Hindus keep such a home altar in the north east corner of a living room, parlor or special room on the ground floor if at all possible. If such a spot is not available, it is acceptable to have a special shelf on an east or west wall or in a kitchen or bedroom, though never in a bathroom or storeroom. Cleanliness of the area is paramount and there is an important rule against keeping money or valuables in this space. 

Keep respect in your heart and actions. The thunder moon will bring you well-being and helpful transformation.

Bibliography

Agrawala, P.K. (1984). Goddesses in Ancient India. New Dehli, India: Abhinav Publications.
Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Chaudhuri, S. K. (2003). Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Japan. New Delhi, India: Vedams.
Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Rhodes, C. (2010). Invoking Lakshmi. Albany, NY: State University Press of New York.
Skye, M. (2007). Goddess Alive! Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications.
Uzzell, J. (2014). Kali. In Greenfield, T. (Ed.), Naming the Goddess (pp. 220 - 223). Washington, DC: Moon Books.

Hearth-side comfort that's in tune with the moon... and free

The popular hearth-side email circle, which now has over 500 subscribers, provides interesting posts on practical herb lore, earth-centered spirituality, social inclusion and simple living. Now this newsletter-come-virtual-cup-of-tea will also help you take note of the phases of the moon.

This past year I have synchronized a lot of my activities with the phases of the moon. It has helped me to not only increase my garden's productivity but also to become more closely attuned to the natural environment.

 Creative Commons image by  John Flannery 

Creative Commons image by  John Flannery 

It's a challenge though. Our calendars are not set up that way. In the beginning, you have to keep checking moon phases and be more conscious of routines to make it work on your own.

That's why i wasn't successful in some of my attempts to do this in previous years. But this year I have done it and now that it is done it feels easy and natural to me. 

I can now pass this on to my readers. Instead of sending out the Hearth-side emails on Fridays. I will be posting in the twenty-four hours before the new moon and before the full moon, barring computer glitches. 

This will lessen the frenetic pace, ensure better quality reading and give you a heads up on the moon phases, which won't require any extra attention. New subscribers are welcome. You can subscribe via the form at the end of this post and unsubscribe automatically at any time. New subscribers also get to choose a free ebook.

The moon is dark at the moment and in the northern hemisphere the nights are short with the summer solstice just passed. As far north as I live on the 50th parallel there are only a few hours of intense velvet darkness. If you can get out away from city interference and smog, the stars can be particularly brilliant

I wish you deep and refreshing rest as well as abundant energy for new beginnings in the morning. Take time to experience the season of summer, the sun, the wind and the dappled shade. 

An offering at the neglected shrine of Venus

Here is a poem inspired by the vibrant beauty of a June morning and my reading on the ancient goddess of Rome and other reading on today's weird social norms. 

 Creative Commons image by Sarah Zucca

Creative Commons image by Sarah Zucca

She was told she wasn't really pretty

and she believed it.

The first boy she loved at sixteen

said he loved her even though she was fat

Solid calf muscles and round biceps

from track and hiking are not glamorous

Her full-hips and strong abdomen

were not in the magazines or on TV.

She noted down the numbers,

At five nine, she should 

be one thirty by that reckoning. 

Her face was never perfect,

her eyes too small and squinted

But sometimes she'd catch a glimpse

of her own shadow or her face looking up

she'd follow the line of her body with her eyes,

thinking it wasn't so bad,

nothing there to drive disgust, 

even grace of a kind, the health of nature

She was strong and swift.

She bent her mind to studies and career.

Twenty years flashed by before she knew it.

She scarcely thought of her body in all that time, 

except to be thankful for health 

and sometimes quietly to wish

that things could have been different.

How many times had she shouldered a pack

and hiked mountains or explored cobble stones

She built sturdy rock walls

with the husband she finally found.

He was not considered handsome either,

dumpy and overweight but strong as a mule.

And they decided dispassionately to throw their lots together.

She took care of her body's needs,

brushed her teeth and went for checkups

ate well and didn't smoke or drink.

But she rarely thought of it and rarely adorned it.

It was mostly just "it."

No mask nor jewelry,

except the thin gold of marriage

more a symbol than an ornament.

She pulled her long hair into a braid and called it good.

She had more important things to do

with her mind, with her heart, with her soul.

And the shrine of Venus grew dusty with disuse

When she comes to it at last after decades have passed

and looks at the lines across her face,

the flaws grown much deeper

and her body heavier and not nearly so strong.

Then she knows the price of offerings not left.

Now she places flowers before the shrine 

and puts gems in her ears and sweet oil on her skin.

She gives honor to the goddess she forgot

and dances in the beauty of a crone's body,

good and true to the health of nature

The Spiritual Runes: Pagan book review

I can't recall a time when the runes were not a part of my life. My mother has carried a little bag of clay bits engraved with runes on walks with her ever since I can remember. She'll stop at a bench overlooking an immense view of the Grande Ronde Valley and pull a rune out of the bag to contemplate.

Never content with things as they have "always been done," I've read several books on runes to try to understand them at greater depth. Most of these books discuss making rune scripts or bind-runes for the purposes of focusing intentions and bringing needed energies to a place or a specific issue. But mostly these books make only a token stab at substantial analysis of the spiritual basis for or history of the runes. 

That's why I leaped at the chance to review The Spiritual Runes by Harmonia Saille. Here is a book that claims to occupy the middle ground between the pocket how-to books that are accessible to all but seem to fall short on substance and the dense academic and primary source material.  And it makes good on that claim.

The Spiritual Runes is the first book I have encountered which provides solid historical information--including facts about the modern use and abuse of the runes--as well as rune interpretations for divination and very specific instructions for the use of runes in ritual and intention-based magic. Each section is complete and of suitable length and depth. No corners are cut and the tone is friendly and accessible at all points. 

The book goes into somewhat greater historical depth and provides more credible background for historical claims than most of my previous reading in commercial rune books. Still, the part where I found the book truly shines is the final section on rune rituals. This is mostly personal taste. I love the rituals suggested in this book. They are beautiful, simple enough to be practical and yet well-aligned for focusing intentions. I am sure to try several of them. 

Comment

Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Faerie goddesses of the Flower Moon: International Moon Circle 11

Until now, this series on moon goddesses has focused on a different culture every month. Yet I am not trying to proscribe to others which goddesses should be honored in which months or which cultures should be considered. It is more a template of how you can explore different energies and invite the blessings of goddesses into your life.

I have explored a wide variety of cultures because it is important in today's mixed and matched world where families and nations often represent more than one cultural root--to stretch our muscles of inclusivity and to understand that what binds us together and what differentiates us in goddess-centered circles. 

 Public domain image

Public domain image

Still there are other ways, other templates for exploring goddesses beyond a cultural theme for each month, it is quite possible to focus on a topic, region or element. For May--the Flower Moon--I have chosen to focus on goddesses connected to elementals, the Fay and denizens of the Otherworld.

Many cultures call these "fairies" and they are--in the most basic sense. But in ancient times, they were not seen as frilly little pixies with pretty wings and dresses. Instead they were usually understood as powerful land and nature spirits, connected to the sovereignty of a country. 

This then is the focus for the Flower Moon and because I live in this land, I will stick to Europe for this month with goddesses that did not fit neatly into the cultural themes in previous months. (That's bound to happen. Culture has few hard and fast boundaries and many goddesses belong to more than one culture or only belong to part of a larger culture. They do not respect human borders drawn upon maps or even our narrow ideas of tribe and ethnicity.)

The Maiden for the Flower Moon is the Albanian fairy goddess Zana, the Mother is Danu the ancient goddess of rivers and hollow hills, and the Dark Goddess is Morgan Le Fey of legend, fate and the fairy realm. 

The Waxing Moon

Zana is the fairy maiden of the Albanian mountains. She leaps on sheer and wild mountain sides, singing in the eternal spring dawn, accompanied by three prancing goats. (Lurker 1987) She can be headstrong like a little mountain goat, but her spirit is that of freedom and nimbleness in mind and body.

She is close to the land where I live and folklore points to similar figures throughout Central Europe, though their names have been lost to time. Zana is a good name to use, because hers is still known. She is the youthful goddess of the growing things and the animals of the land I live on and thus a connection to the to the natural world.

Her symbols are mountains, goats and wildflowers. You can connect with her by visiting a place where plants and animals are able to live wild and untamed. Dance is also good.

 Creative Commons image by Sandy Sarsfield 

Creative Commons image by Sandy Sarsfield 

The Full Moon

Archaeological evidence and linguistic roots trace the emergence of Celtic culture to the upper part of the Danube River in the heart of old Europe. The name Danube and the names of many other rivers in the region, such as the Dnieper, can be traced to an ancient Indo-european word for “flow” or “river,” which is very likely synonymous with the name of the goddess Danu, who has been carried into modern times by the Irish. (Koch 2006) 

It is impossible to know for certain that there was an ancient goddess called “Danu” or something similar in Central Europe as well as in Ireland, but it is likely. There are certainly plenty of unearthed goddess figures from that ancient culture and many cultures have associated rivers with goddesses. (McLeod 2014) 

There was a goddess in this ancient land and Danu is as good a name for her as we have. The hills in Central Europe are gentle and resemble illustrations of sleeping dragons, half sunk into the earth. The rivers flow between them, carrying the life blood of the land. Danu’s symbols are here in the old hills--metamorphic rock such as marble--and in the water, rivers and marshes.

One way to connect with Danu would be to engage in flowing, fluid dance. Another way would be to trace Celtic knot work or a triple spiral goddess symbol in a flowing unending pattern as a meditation.

The Waning Moon

Much fantasy has been written of Morgan Le Fey and it is difficult to find any certain truth, unless you are willing to trust to dreams and personal intuition. She is a well-known legendary figure but also an older or even crone goddess connected to healing, fate and transition to the Otherworld. (Slocum 1992) She may be another form of the Irish triple goddess of death, war and destruction, the Morrigan. Her symbols are lakes, a barge, a sword or a crown.

In Arthurian legend she is sometimes seen as a wise healer, sometimes as a malevolent destroyer and strangely also as both the enemy who causes hurt and the healer who nurses those she injured, according to some sources.  Whichever way you choose to take her, she has been a powerful figure for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. She is the mystery of fate which may not have a clear line from cause to effect or deeds to consequences.

You can connect with her by considering the role of fate and consciously choosing to face needed changes. Light a black, white or silver candle and let it reflect in a bowl of water. Consider that fate may not be set in stone and it may also not be a matter of getting what you deserve. Fate is just the part of what happens that is not within our control. As you accept that you cannot control all the important things in your life, you accept Morgan le Fay--her potential for healing and her potential for destruction.

Bibliography

  • Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
  • Koch, J. T., Ed. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.
  • Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
  • Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
  • Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
  • McLeod, S. P. (1960). The Devine Feminine in Ancient Europe. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers.
  • Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
  • Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Reid-Bowen, P. (2007). Goddess As Nature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
  • Slocum, S. K. Ed. (1992). Popular Arthurian Traditions. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.
  • Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical Mythology. New York, NY: Routledge.

The Hawaiian goddesses of the Egg Moon: International Moon Circle 10

The energy of spring is a welcome boost to activism and social justice movements. We need the joy of dance and flowers, the breaking free and the energy of fire. 

 Creative Commons image by  Steve Corey

Creative Commons image by  Steve Corey

Though ancient Hawaiian culture was quite formal, it gave us some of the most inspiring goddesses for social justice. It is to these women of joy, freedom and fire that I devote the month of April, the Egg Moon. 

It takes a while for spring to make it all the way up through Central Europe to our Bohemian valley. February is long and frigid. March is usually gray, muddy and lashed with chilly rain. When spring does come it often brings sudden, wild color and light to our area. The shift usually happens in early April and I have chosen to focus on the colorful and sensuous goddesses of Hawaii for this moon. The Maiden is Laka, the Mother is Hina and the Dark Goddess is Pele--goddess of fire, destruction and anger.

The Waxing Moon

Laka is the Hawaiian Maiden Goddess of the wild wood, dance and gifts. Her energy is that of pure joy and the colors of the natural world. She embodies joyful wildness, the innocence of young things full of promise and delightful movement. (Andersen 2011) This is what happens in April when flowers burst forth and the first green is brilliant. Laka's symbols are flowers, dance and the color yellow.

 Creative Commons image by Crishna Simmons

Creative Commons image by Crishna Simmons

The energy of Laka is a glorious gift. She reminds us to bring play into our lives, to dance, to make fun gifts for no particular reason. This type of connection to a childlike joy is also a way to honor her. This is a great time to make a dandelion or buttercup crown or bouquet and to dance with no one watching.

The Full Moon

Hina is the female generative force of Hawaii, the ancient creatrix. She leads other goddesses and breaks free of male domination. She takes on many different identities, including that of trickster. But she is always tied to moonlight. She represents the rainbow array of women’s experience and the mother beyond stereotypes.

The stories of Hina are full of action, adventure, dragons, flamboyant tricks and colorful mist. One important myth of Hina is about how she made the decision to leave her husband and find a new home. She has the power to create and the strength to call an end when needed. (Monagham 2014) Her symbols are dragons, rainbows, tricks (such as April Fools day pranks) and dance. Reading stories of her adventures would be a good way to honor her as well as making dragon and rainbow decorations.

The Waning or Dark Moon

 Creative Commons image by Ron Cogswell

Creative Commons image by Ron Cogswell

While Pele is the goddess of volcanoes and anger, she is treated rather nicely by the popular media. There was even a club founded in 1922 for people who had looked into her volcano in a Hawaiian national park and made offerings to her. (Nimmo 2011)

Images of her often emphasize her joyful side, which does exist. But she also truly represents the intensity and quick temper that often make strong women intimidating and gain us the labels of “hysterical” or “raging.” Half the time this intensity doesn’t even come from Pele’s anger. Like many emotionally intense and expressive women, she just is that way. She may be expressing joy but it comes with fire and spitting lava.

A way to connect with Pele is to release your inner intensity, express emotions vehemently, even if only in private. Fire is her primary symbol, though dragons may also be appropriate.

Bibliography

  • Andersen, J. (2011). Myths and Legends of the Polynesians. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
  • Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
  • Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
  • Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
  • Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
  • Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
  • Nimmo, H. A. (2011). Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai’i: A History. Jefferson, NC. McFarland & Company, Inc.
  • Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Reid-Bowen, P. (2007). Goddess As Nature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
  • Skye, M. (2007). Goddess Alive! Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications.
  • Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical Mythology. New York, NY: Routledge.

Of Beltane and earth warriors

Pagans and earth-centered people, even if you consider only those who celebrate Beltane, are wildly diverse in worldview, beliefs and lifestyle. We don't all teach our children the same things. It has often been said that there can be no Pagan politics, because we never agree on anything.

Be that as it may, it is not difficult to see connections between earth-centered spirituality and the movement for social and environmental justice. If you have a strong spiritual path and you also feel strongly about protecting the earth, there is no doubt that these two parts of you will be intertwined. Likewise, spirituality and social/ethical values are interconnected for most people, whatever their spiritual path.

 Creative Commons image by Francesca Ubliani 

Creative Commons image by Francesca Ubliani 

We follow an earth-centered path because we resonate with a way of being that is concerned with interconnection, natural cycles and a sense of the divine in many parts of life. We are concerned about the environment for the same reasons - interconnection, natural cycles and a sense of sacredness in the natural world.

Many also translate this into social justice. We are interconnected. Injustice anywhere is my business, because I'm part of the weaving. Natural cycles and the freedom to be close to nature is crucial. All beings have a part in the divine. Wildly diverse Pagans--just as people of other faiths--are going to translate these abstractions into concrete reality in all sorts of ways.

But in the end, the point is that we cannot actually separate spirituality from social and environmental concerns.

Beltane is a time when that connection is even more apparent. As the veil between the worlds thins, so does the separation between the spiritual and the social, the personal and the political.

Beltane is most often associated with sexual energy and passion. It represents the vibrant maturing of the youth phase in most cycles, that stage in which energy is moving upward and outward.

But it is difficult to ignore the other side of this coin of passion. There is love and sexual passion, yes. There is also the passion of the warrior. The Lovers card in the Tarot is followed immediately by The Chariot. And there's a reason for that.

Beltane is the celebration of passionate union. It is also the celebration of unity in struggle. It is no coincidence that movements for social solidarity adopted May 1 early on as May Day. Like everything sacred throughout history, that connection has, of course, been used and abused by those seeking control and power. But that doesn't negate the foundation--the energetic connection. Earth day is also close by on April 22.

When the body and spirit feel oppression within our human and non-human family or destruction of our home (the earth) happening all around us, warrior energy rises within us and demands a greater channel. 

This is a season when our warrior energy is demanding a release. In times of peace and tranquility that energy can be channeled into dance, love and other energetic, expressive pursuits. But when the body and spirit feel oppression within our human and non-human family or destruction of our home (the earth) happening all around us, warrior energy rises within us and demands a greater channel. In such dangerous times, the denial of warrior energy leads to predictable results: anger, fury, conflict and further destruction.

Anyone who has been in close contact with teenagers (the human stage closest to the energy of Beltane) knows that sexual energy is powerful. Suppression and silence only lead to unhealthy results. That is why we give it expression in healthy ways, learning how to channel it.

 Creative Commons image by sammydavisdog of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by sammydavisdog of flickr.com

Warrior energy is the other side of that coin, the shadow in the spring sunshine. And its suppression is no more possible. 

The Warrior

Human society relied on literal warriors and hunters for the vast majority of our genetic history. In recent centuries, we have shifted our social organization from tribes to nations and tried to relegate warrior energy to defensive armies and law enforcement.

I'm for peace as much as anyone, and I have huge respect for professional police officers and soldiers. Their channeling of warrior energy for the protection of all is part of what is needed.

However, the warrior energy does not simply dry up in the rest of us--the civilians. Modern society attempts to suppress it for the sake of the status quo, but when we see and feel injustice, it erupts. If not given a legitimate outlet, that eruption is often self-destructive or harmful to others.

This should not actually be nearly as much of a problem as it has become in our modern world. We try to force warrior energy to conform to sports competitions or try to drug it into submission with video games. But neither of these truly satisfies the need at a deep level.

The most basic reason for this lack of release is that injustice and the destruction of our earth is all around us. And as long as there is such a threat, our warrior energy will not rest.

Yet there is something constructive and positive that can satisfy it. Instead of suppression, professional armies, sports or video games, we need to recognize that the incarnation of the warrior today is the activist.

 Creative Commons image by Greenpeace Polska

Creative Commons image by Greenpeace Polska

As such, Beltane is the natural celebration of activism and resistance to tyranny. In this year when much of our environmental and social fabric is threatened, the celebration holds particular meaning.

The Activist

You may not like the word "activist" because it has been  used as a pejorative in recent years--to mean someone with a selfish agenda. But a person who is pursuing an agenda for profit is most often simply a business person. A person pursuing a profitable agenda for some other entity is just an employee. These are not activists, but rather people working at a job, whether you like their agenda or not.

Calling anyone with an agenda an "activist" Is a trick of those seeking power to suppress the warrior energy of those they want to control. 

Activists, on the other hand, are in the most clear definition of the word not paid and not working for any specific personal gain. Instead their motivation is that of the warrior--protection of home and family, protection of the tribe, defense of the interconnected reality that allows the self to live and thrive.

This is the other energy of Beltane, the shadow side.

The opposite pole in the dance with the lover is not the hater. It is the warrior. Union is the natural partner of protection.

In the past year, the brave people of Standing Rock helped other people all over the world realize the fundamental link between the ancient warrior and the modern activist. While there are activists of many types, fighting in defense of home, family and tribe in a myriad of ways, the activist most easily connected to the warrior tradition is the environmental activist.

From Standing Rock campers to alternative energy innovators, from animal advocates to investors in rain forest reserves, earth warriors share the energy of Beltane. That is why for me this is a celebration of environmental activism and interconnection around the world as much as anything else.

Children and warrior energy

Now that I have children, this topic has become critical for me. I see them pulled--by peers, media and society--toward frittering their life force away with video games or allowing it to be suppressed. I realize the need to awaken that warrior energy for appropriate modern activism. 

I have been an earth warrior from an early age. I spoke up in defense of Greenpeace activists when a teacher at my conservative middle school denounced them. I wrote letters to the local newspaper when I was fourteen to protest clear-cut logging practices. I marched in anti-nuclear protests when I was much younger than that and protested the 1990 war in Iraq, at a time when few others did.

The book Shanna and the Water Fairy is children's fiction but its writing was informed by these experiences. I know from my own childhood that children often feel the pull of warrior energy. And if given access to information about the issues, they are often passionate earth warriors. This book is first and foremost a gripping story that kids love to read or hear read a loud, but it also has the capacity to give hope to the spirits of young earth warriors, who may be beginning to feel that the struggles are too big for them.

Pagan Book Review: Pagan Dreaming

A review of a non-traditional dream manual

As a person interested in earth-centered spirituality, I've heard plenty of theories on dreams and dream interpretation. I've always been fascinated by the subject, but never committed to a paradigm. I've read both mystical and psychological texts on dreams, but didn't feel that the theories and interpretations made intuitive sense.

Now finally there is a book for people like me--the practical and scientific-minded mystic. Nimue Brown's Pagan Dreaming: The Magic of Altered Consciousness is a non-traditional dream manual that not only makes sense, it is also a comfort to read. The tone is like sitting down to a cup of tea in a homey kitchen with a woman who takes no nonsense and puts on no airs.

Brown's approach is dramatically different from the many dream dictionaries that claim that dreams speak to us in a universal symbolic language. Instead Brown argues that symbols are varied and--in our diverse world--likely to be individual in their language. This book is more about learning your own symbolic language of dreams than using someone else's. 

Pagan Dreaming presents both the physiological and brain chemistry side of dreaming as well as the processes by which giving dreams their rightful place in our lives can enrich a spiritual life. It's more of a manual of techniques and thinking than it is a dream interpretation book. And this sits well with me. 

The premise of the book is that most dreams, probably the vast majority of dreams, are ordinary processes of the body reflecting physical needs or sorting memory--essentially the "system check" mode of our bodies. And then there are a few dreams which may--and then really only subjectively--be considered to have emotional or spiritual meaning. This is the experience of most people.

Many books have claimed that the more one can act coherently in dreams and choose the type of dreaming, the more spiritually aware and integrated the person. Many books have claimed that a truly spiritual or enlightened person should have prophetic or significant dreams. These books are likely to make those whose dreams are more like a"system check" feel inferior and perhaps ready to accept the wisdom of a supposedly enlightened teacher. Brown is selling none of that. 

Instead she gives a guide to learning about one's own dreams, empowering the individual to be their own teacher. As such, I did not find in this book the answer to questions I have about some rare bit eerily predictive dreams I have experienced since childhood. I did not learn how to turn my mundane dreams into more of the predictive kind. But I did gain some ideas and a structure in which to start looking for a greater understanding.