Oracle of Hekate

delphic oracle

The Delphic Temple of Apollon Image Credit by world-visits.com

On November 11th I fulfilled my annual contract with Hekate and became Her oracle. She spoke to the people present and gave prophecies. But She has a general message which I am sharing here:

“The winged shadow arises. Fog envelops the people. My people. But hearken! Light shines from the torches of illumination. 3 cycles of My silver light shall rise and set before the bushel is revealed and My spirit is poured among My devotees and worshippers. Arise My children! I am the tender-hearted Lady of compassion and strength. I am the Goddess who dispenses what She will and holds what She will from the unworthy. I am the Gracious One. Know Me, and you shall know my strength.”

Blessings,
~Oracle~

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Worship

Ancient Greek Worship

Ancient Greek supplicants in worship and sacrifice. Artist currently unknown.

worship (n.) Old English worðscipwurðscip (Anglian), weorðscipe (West Saxon) “condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown,” from weorð “worthy” (see worth) + -scipe (see -ship). Sense of “reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being” is first recorded c. 1300. The original sense is preserved in the title worshipful “honorable” (c. 1300). (1) 

Worship (n.) 1. The practice of showing deep respect for and praying to God or a god or goddess. 2. Religious rites and ceremonies. 3. Great admiration and respect for someone. 4. (His/Your Worship). Esp. in Britain: a title of respect for a magistrate or mayor. 5. v. (worships, worshipping, worshipped; U.S. also worships, worshiping, worshiped). 1. Offer praise and prayers to God or a god or goddess. 2. Feel great admiration and respect for. (2) 

 

So, I was going to write a post on Dia de los Muertos and cultural appropriation, since that is a hot topic at the moment. But after I shared my post on Hekate and Samhain, a comment arose about a statement I made. Here is the original paragraph: 
As previously posted, Samhain is an important holy day in modern Druidry, Wicca, and some other witchcraft traditions. While a Gaelic festival, some modern witches have incorporated the meaning of this night with the worship of the Goddess Hekate. I say “worship” rather than “work with.” (emphasis mine).  I hate the latter phrasing, making it seem as though the Gods and spirits are toys to be trifled with. One minute they are useful, and the next to be put away in some neat package of your mind until They are useful later on again. I consider that disrespectful.
The comments made were geared towards stating that they do not worship. They do not grovel. They do not beg. Others PMed me, stating that they desired to know the difference as to where I was coming from when I made those statements. 
Christian Worship
Christian theology teaches that Christ is the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.” (Revelation 19:16). It’s a genitive phrase. “Genitive” is rooted in the Latin word gignere, meaning “to beget.” It’s a phrase of ownership, a possessive statement. “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” means that Jesus owns you when you profess salvation in His Name. He is your High King, deserving (note that word) of your praise. In fact Jesus states that God, who is known by the Hebrews as the “King of Glory” (Psalm 24: 7 – 10), can only be honored if Jesus is accorded that same exact honor (John 5:23). It is His due. He demands homage and humility from His followers, and blind obeisance. To disobey him is likened unto the sin of witchcraft, the penalty of which was death. (1 Samuel 15:23, Exodus 22:18). Another thing to note here is that Christian theology demands that Christians treat themselves as slaves to Christ and God (Ephesians 6:6, 1 Peter 2:16). In fact Christians as slaves is the best way to describe their relationship with their God. The word appears 130 times in the New Testament alone. He is their Master. Groveling and begging are demanded of their time. No questions asked. This insight hopefully will help you to understand the fundamental difference between Christian worship and pre-Christian forms of worship. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
Hellenistic Worship
When it comes to Hellenism, we aren’t going towards theology so much as philosophy and practice. Works, not Faith, is the foundation here. In remote times it seems that there were no public temples: just private sanctuaries and hearths in the oikos. Their greater temples were done in ancient groves or near rivers, lakes, crossroads, or pits. Over time the Athenians and their colonies built greater temples on high places, hoping to be near to their Gods (unless it was the Underworld Deities). In Sparta, however, religious areas were not so grandiose because the Laws of Lykourgos demanded that service to the Theoi were done with as little outlay as possible. (3). Worship here became synonymous with Themis: “Divine Law.” Themis is the Goddess of Divine Law and Cosmic Order.
The Hellenes felt that by sacrifices and hymns that they propitiated the Gods and spirits in order to ensure that their societies retained favor and well-being. She proclaimed (themistes) the sacred customs and ways to the people of hospitality, piety, offerings to the Gods, conduct, and right governance. As an example of cosmic and terrestrial order, Her children were the Moirai (Fates), Eirene (Peace), Dike (Justice), and the Horai (Seasons). (4). These divine children were considered the stewards of all of humanity. Religious practices ensured this divine contract between mortals and Immortals was assured. The philosophies and ways of the Hellenes later expanded the worship of the Romans, except the Law of Themis was translated to the Pax Deorum.
Celtic Tribal Worship 
Little is known about the actual worship practices of the ancient Celtic tribes. What little we do have seems to focus on hymns and prayers, similar to those which are in the Carmina Gadelica. (5). The most extant documents on their customs and ways we have are from the writings of the ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, archaeological finds, and medieval Irish documents.
According to author Peter Berresford Ellis, the Celtic peoples often gathered in sacred groves or gave offerings and sacrifices in the earth, springs, bogs, rivers, and lakes. (6). The Druid caste members officiated over the ritual proceedings and sacrifices. They led the public rituals. According to archaeological evidence and some writings, the Celtic tribes had their own local Gods and spirits that they worshiped.
The question though comes as to WHY they worshiped their Gods and spirits. While the Hellenes, Romans, and some other Mediterranean peoples felt their societies were in Right Order by Right Practice, the Celtic tribes (from what we currently know of) seemed to have petitioned favor for courage, fidelity, honor, truth, and strength. They hallowed bravery in warfare (which was very common among the clans), and sought to die honorable deaths. Offerings such as Battersea Shield, Wandsworth Shield, and Waterloo Helmet are ripe examples. Llyn Cerig Bach in Wales had over 150 offerings of metal objects also related to worship and warfare. Not all votive offerings were though. Bowls, torcs, and jewelry found their way into sacrificial pits. 
As Roman influence made its way into the Celtic tribes of Gaul and Britain, images of their deities and small wooden temples were constructed. Here the Celtic tribes venerated the forces of the natural world. (7). I believe that there was an influence on philosophies of religious practice which possibly made its way into the Celtic lands from the Graeco-Roman world. Whatever they were, however, has been lost to us for the time being. 
Conclusion
I’ve tried to cover the main areas of Neopagan and modern polytheist interest. As a Hellenic polytheist, that is main area of strength and so I will understand the nature and ways of worship much more readily. However, as someone interested in Druidry and Celtic Reconstructionism I cannot ignore the ways of the ancient Celtic polytheists. 
My original thesis was to ensure that a proper understanding of Christian worship was given. These notions of slavery, obeisance, and a theology of the slave-master relationship all demand groveling and begging. This is the caricature that many Neopagans and some witches have of “worship.” They will go into immediate defense mode about how they don’t bow but are on an equal eye-to-eye standing with their Gods and spirits. Personally I have misgivings about that. To me it is hubris to think we have an equal footing to some of the most powerful beings in the cosmos. I don’t think I am equal to Hekate or Dionysos, for example. I am also someone who gladly bows down in reverence and gives hymns to my Gods and spirits. I am gladly humble (not humiliated) to be in contract with Them. My worship is a reminder to stand in Piety and Good Fortune.
Granted, the Powers That Be don’t need my worship to stand on Their own. I choose to worship. I choose to make my hymns of praise known to Them. I am not in a slave-master relationship, and I will never be in one. I chose to be in a contract with Hekate and Dionysos. I chose to follow the leading of my spirits and go down the paths I am now on. 
As we can see, the results of worship are part and parcel of religious practices in the ancient world, and I believe belong in the modern world. I believe that we should not let Christianity dictate our forms of worship these days, and that the “w” word is nothing to be afraid of. I don’t “work with” Gods and spirits. I am not on equal footing, as I said. I am also not in the habit of Deity shopping for the most convenient divine genie who can help me at any given moment. “Working with” has been used for a long time in the Neopagan communities and some modern witchcraft traditions as meaning, “I don’t grovel, I am equal, and when I am finished I will move on with my life until I have need to court Their favor again.” I work hard to maintain these relationships, and I believe anyone who is willing to walk the path of the modern polytheist or witch should take time to cultivate the roots of their work. 
In the end, we must all seek for ourselves the nature of our alliance with our Gods and spirits entail. I know what my alliances entail, and how. The affinity we take to Them and with us must always be questioned. I know I always question mine. I encourage that we take back the “w” word and understand that it isn’t a boogeyman. To be afraid of something is to give power to it, and in this case allows another conquering religion to monopolize the nuances of our praxis. 
~Oracle~
(1) Worship. In Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.etymonline.com/word/worship. 
(2) Waite, M. (Ed.). (2013). Worship. In Pocket Oxford English Dictionary. (Eleventh Edition, p. 1074). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 
(3) Berens, E.M. (2013). The Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome. Bremen, Germany. 
(4) Hesiod. (1914). Theogony: The Homeric Hymns and Homerica. (Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Trans.). NY: The Macmillan Company. (Original work published 8th – 7th c. BCE). 
(5) Carmichael, A. (1900). Carmina Gadelica. Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable Publishers. 
(6). Ellis, P.B. (1998). The Ancient World of the Celts. UK: Constance and Constable Publishers. 
(7) Cunliffe, B. (1997). The Ancient Celts. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press

Hekate and Samhain

Red Hekate

Hekate by Patrick John Larabee

As previously posted, Samhain is an important holy day in modern Druidry, Wicca, and some other witchcraft traditions. While a Gaelic festival, some modern witches have incorporated the meaning of this night with the worship of the Goddess Hekate. I say “worship” rather than “work with.” I hate the latter phrasing, making it seem as though the Gods and spirits are toys to be trifled with. One minute they are useful, and the next to be put away in some neat package of your mind until They are useful later on again. I consider that disrespectful. I’ll write a blog post on worship later on, but for now let’s return to the task at hand: Samhain and Hekate.

The Underworld
Below the soil of our world, where trees take root and caverns open wide, lies a place known as the Underworld. Many societies and tribes had their own versions of an Underworld, presided over by a God or Goddess that dealt with death, if not death itself. In ancient Greece it was Hades, who was later joined by Persephone: both were not a God and Goddess of Death so much as Those who reigned over the Underworld which held the dead and a host of spirits. Hekate is known by many names (called epithets). One of those epithets is Khthoniê, or “Of the earth,” aka “Underworld.” The world was seen to be divided into 3 separate realms: the land, the sea, and the sky. The land, or beneath it, was the residency of the Underworld, hence “Of the earth.” Khthoniê is another name for other Goddesses, such as Demeter and Persephone. Unfortunately, because some have matching names people tend to think that They are the same God/dess but in a different guise. They aren’t. It just means they share similar functions but perhaps differently. For example, when I worked as a bank teller, I was a teller. Other people there had the same title: bank teller. It didn’t mean we were related in some way or the same person. It just meant we shared the same functions. So when someone says Hekate is Demeter or Hekate is Artemis, the answer is “Nope.” We’ll be going through this in another post about polytheism. So for now let’s focus (again) on the nature of this post.

Queen of the Dead
Another epithet of Hekate was Anassa eneroi, or “Queen of those Below [Dead].” Again, Her Underworld status is well established. This means that Hekate is the ruling monarch of those who dwell there.  This was an epithet which Medea, priestess of the Goddess Hekate, called on when doing some magic. Apollonios Rhodios writes the following: (1)

To make the ointment, Medea, clothed in black, in the gloom of night, had drawn off this juice in a Caspian shell after bathing in seven perennial streams and calling seven times on Brimo, nurse of youth, Brimo, night-wanderer of the underworld, queen of the dead (Anassa Eneroi)…

“Anassa” is rooted in the Greek word “anax.” It has variously been translated as [tribal] chief or leader. The title of “Anax” was used in the Iliad for rulers such as Agamemnon. It was also a title, not just for monarchs, but for those of “lesser station” within the ruling household. Examples include the master of slaves, the lord of the stables, and the house-lord. (2). So while Hades and Persephone are the overall King and Queen of the Underworld, Hekate is also Queen; just with a shared influence and possibly that of a lesser station in the Underworld. “Lesser” is not synonymous with “less powerful.” Hekate is Lady of the 3 Realms of Land, Sea, and Sky. She is favored by Zeus and can do so much within Her power. If you want to know more, read the Theogony by the Greek writer Hesiod. Any copy can be obtained from Amazon cheaply. Hekate does have a lot to give, but when it comes to the Underworld, She doesn’t make the final say-so.

All of the Gods are limited within Their scope, as it should be. The only deity who claims to be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent is the God of the Christians, Jews, and Muslims. I don’t need my Gods and spirits to be all of that. They aren’t and I am fine with it.

The Role of Hekate 
As can be seen by two of Her epithets, Hekate has a great deal to do with the dead. Since Samhain is a night or festival devoted to them, it is only right that many modern witches and even some Druids have called on Her to help them with ancestral workings. She is the Guide of the Dead, after all. They walk with Her and behind Her. She is the Lady to be called on, and from my experience She is only too happy to oblige.

Hekate has helped me in my ancestral workings. I’ve called on Her aid to open the gates between this world and the Otherworld: to guard them and then close them when I am finished. She keeps evil and restless spirits at bay. I often propitiate these spirits on the dark moon, leaving behind food and offerings at a local crossroads. I don’t look back. I believe the spirits witness it. Although no dogs have barked, they don’t need to. I practice my rites and I have seen results to this type of working by veneration and honor. I haven’t had any issues with wandering dead in my home. The only spirits in my house are those which I and my household have welcomed.

Conclusion
I think a connection between Samhain and Hekate are inevitable. Wicca, Druidry, and some modern witchcraft traditions have introduced Samhain to the Neopagan communities at large. This makes it a communal festive. The Goddess Hekate is no longer confined to Greece or ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Her worship has been revived and spread.

To combine the two isn’t cultural appropriation in my opinion. I say this because I’ve had a couple of people message me about Samhain and cultural appropriation of a Gaelic feis. I’m sorry, but that hasn’t been the case since the Celtic Revival of the late 19th – early 20th century, when Samhain customs were introduced to the States. If you would like to celebrate it your ancestral way then do so. I can see what you’re saying, but Samhain is a public festival now. I only hope that Neopagans can continue to bring honor to that holy day with respect and love, which happens. It is such a reverential day. Yes, some people do mix it with Halloween, and that’s just as fine.

The question comes about Dia de los Muertos: is it cultural appropriation to celebrate it? I’ll write that in a later blog post. Cultural appropriation and respect are important during this time (i.e. honoring the ancestors). Blessings to you and yours. May the Infernal Lady guard the gates and keep the restless and evil spirits at bay this Samhain. Hail Hekate!

~Oracle~

(1) Apollonios of Rhodes. (1989). Argonautica: Book III: 828. R. Hunter (Ed.). UK: Cambridge University Press. Original Work Published in the 2nd century BCE.

(2) Deger-Jalkotzy, S., Prof. & Lesmos, I. (Eds). (2006). Ancient Greece: From the Mycenaean Palaces to the Age of Homer. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Samhain

Samhain

Samhain night is one of the 8 Sabbats of the Neopagan Wheel of the Year.

Samhain is an important holiday in Wicca, Druidry, and some other modern witchcraft traditions. So much has been written about this holy day that I am loathe to add anything to it. But there were a lot of questions I had: did Halloween customs really originate with Samhain? How? Did the Irish bring it over? What about this talk of it being a New Year? Is this an ancient truth or a modern construct in Wicca? And why the end of October/beginning of November? What makes this season particularly important?

Origin 
Samhain means “Summer’s End,” as opposed to the holy day of Cetsamhain, or “Opposite,” that is, the opposite of Summer’s End (i.e. Summer’s Beginning). The latter we also know as Beltainne. (1). It is a Gaelic feis (festival). The name may come from a month in the Coligny Calendar which has the name of Samonios. Samonios takes place from mid-October – mid-November (possibly new moon to new moon). Samonios means “Seed Fall.” The name alludes to the time when, in Gaul (modern day France) and the other lands of the Celtic tribes saw nuts, acorns, and other seeds from trees and plants begin to fall as the trees lost leaves, preparing for Winter.

The Coligny Calendar 

 

coligny_calendar

The Coligny Calendar

The Coligny Calendar that was discovered in 1897 is a bronze tablet which dates to the 2nd century C.E. The calendar was created in ancient Gaul by the Sequani tribe. It is written in 2 languages: Gaulish and Latin. This helped immensely in deciphering it. It might have been created as a result of trade and travel between Gaul, Rome, and Magna Graecia. The calendar is in the style of what is known as a parapegma. A parapegma was a type of ancient almanac: a tablet which had descriptions of weather phenomena, seasons, and star constellations. Holes were made and pegs were formed which could fit into those holes. The pegs would be moved to indicate the days of the month. Using this instrument, the pegs could be inserted days in advance to accurately predict the weather and star movements.

In the Coligny Calendar, each month begins with a set moon phase. It is lunisolar like our modern Gregorian and Julian calendars, but the Coligny has an emphasis on lunations. It has 5 months of 29 days and 7 months of 30 days. (2) In 12 months this makes for a total of 355 days. Every 2 1/2 years, a 13th additional month was added. Together this creates 2 full years of 13 months (385 days), and 3 hollow years of 12 months each (355 days). This makes the average year 367 days. A ‘day” to the Celtic tribes was from sundown to sundown. Months were divided into 2 halves: 15 days leading up the full moon, and 14 – 15 days after. Room was given for lunar cycles throughout the month.

Celtic-Months-300x265

The Gaulish Celtic Months from the Coligny Calendar

Samonios
As previously stated, Samonios is the time period between mid-October to mid-November. Now, some have conjectured that Samonios comes from “samon,” meaning “Summer,” and that the Coligny Calendar begins in April/May, Samonios located in that time period rather than November. However, little evidence has yet mounted to support this hypothesis. Another conjecture is that Samonios takes place around the Winter Solstice. The reasons are varied, but again there is little evidence to support this. Alexei Kondratiev, the late Celtic scholar and linguist, uses linguistic evidence in Celtic languages which points to Samonios being equated with the month of October/November.(3). Samonios through Giamonios (April/May) marked the dark half of the year, or Winter. Giamonios through Samonios marked the light half of the year, or Summer. (4). This demonstrates that the Celtic tribes had only two seasons.

As also previously stated, the months most likely began new moon to new moon. In the Coligny Calendar there is an interesting inscription that reads:

TRINOX[tion] SAMO[nii] SINDIV
“Three Nights of Samonios [today]”

It is thought that perhaps these three nights of Samonios correspond to three nights of Samhain.

The Dead and the Barrow Mounds
Ireland tends to be the best bet for how Samhain was celebrated. After all, it is a Gaelic festival. According to evidence, this was a time to honor one’s ancestors as a collective. Evil spirits, which would roam, were to be warded off. Sacred mounds were places where the dead were buried, and Druids would often sleep on these mounds at certain times of the year to gain ancestral knowledge and wisdom. Inhumation was the top way that the Celts buried their dead. The bodies were contracted; that is, they were places in a fetal position. (5). Some conjecture that this was purposefully done to show the dead were being “birthed” in the Otherworld. They were buried with ornaments and food. Bodies occurred at various levels in the mounds, showing that the barrows were used repeatedly. In Ireland, the most famous barrows were located at the famous hills of Tlachtga and Tara. While Tara is a famous hill, Tlachtga was the religious heart of Ireland for almost 2,000 years. (6). The festivities located here had origins in a fertility cult, but eventually were incorporated into the later Fire Festival.

Festivities
A Fire Festival, a bonfire was lit on possibly the hill of Tlachtga. Bonfires were also lit throughout the land, possibly kindled by the major one on Tlachtga. All fires were extinguished to be set alight by that bonfire alone. Cattle were driven between the two fires, most likely to rid them of pests. Hollow turnips were carved which were turned into lanterns; they illuminated the processions and possibly were believed to harness the power of light against the evil spirits which roamed about. On the political capital of Tara, 12 miles away, the people gathered to hear the Druids recite the ancient laws, enact new laws, and recite the histories of the land. (7). This helped the people stay in touch with the environment and their ancestors. Grievances, debts, and disputes were judged and settled. The king also mated with a white mare, the representative of the Goddess of Sovereignty. After ritual copulation, the horse was sacrificed and dismembered.

When families settled in each evening for the 3 days Samhain was celebrated, food and offerings were left out for them. The light from the turnip lanterns guided them, but many spirits were thought to be tricksters (the fairy folk), and so venturing out past nightfall was taboo.

The Catholic Church: Allhalowtide
Samhain is a 3 day festival, and so is the Catholic holy days of Allhallowtide. Allhallowtide includes All Saint’s Eve, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day. There is Christian history of respecting the dead and remembering them. A 4th century theologian by the name of Ephraim (later known as Ephraim the Syrian) wrote about honoring the dead and the importance of relics. He writes:

Wherefore, of those that live with God , even their very relics are not without honor. For even Elisha the prophet, after he was fallen asleep, raised up a dead man who was slain by the pirates of Syria. For his body touches the bones of Elisha, and he arose and revived. Now this would not have happened had not the body of Elisha were holy.

We could conjecture that the practice of holy relics came from pre-Christian practices of Hero cultus, and possibly it is so. However, needless to say that even if this were the case, it does not pollute Christianity with “pagan practices.” Christianity is but one religion which found its own practices verified through exegesis of the New Testament and Tanakh (Old Testament). The veneration of the dead is a near-universal practice. I believe simply that early Christians found a way to incorporate this practice into their own liturgy using their own sacred texts.

Allhallowtide was the vigil held before the actual honoring of the saints and the martyrs: All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. These were also known as the “triduum of death.” In the mid-15th century, Pope Sixtus IV extended Allhallowtide to an 8-day celebration. This was rescinded in the 1950s following Vatican II Council.

Originally, Allhallowtide was celebrated in Ireland in mid-April. (8). It was the end of the Winter season approaching the beginning of Summer, so the placement makes sense. It wasn’t transferred to November until the 11th century, when it finally moved to the late October/early November date. Interestingly enough, when the old Irish calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1752, 12 days were dropped. This caused date confusion, moving Samhain to November 12th. This is now referred to as “Old Samhain.”

New Year’s? 
Today many in the Neopagan and modern witchcraft communities celebrate Samhain on November 1st and as the hallowed Celtic New Year. Is this true? Scholars are divided here. As mentioned earlier, many things took place at Samhain on the hill of Tlachtga. It was a time of important transition. The Winter in Ireland was harsh, and families would settle in for the entire season. Tlachtga is also famous in that the sun rises into the mound on the morning of Samhain. Obviously it was a very important festival. There were practices which seemed to follow other New Year’s festivities in other countries on Samhain: games, feasting, drinking, divination for one’s future lover, as well as dousing the old fire and reigniting the new. But still, the evidence that it is a specific New Year holy day is scant. When the Irish Revival took place in the late 19th – early 20th century, the hypothesis of Sir John Rhys as the “Celtic New Year” became prominent. So much so that in a famous film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” one of the characters on Halloween night states, “Well another year come and gone.” This was entrenched in the popular mind, and it has been repeated by authors ever since. Regardless, it is now accepted as the Neopagan New Year. More specifically, the Wiccan and Druid New Year. Not all Neopagans celebrate Samhain after all.

Conclusion
We’ve taken a journey from the past to the present. A lengthy blog post to be sure, but one I found important for myself as well. When writing, I am always learning new things. This helps me, as a Wiccan (among other things) to understand the holy day better. It gives me a sense of history and purpose. It allows me to question and contemplate. I don’t like accepting things “because they are that way.” It’s just not me.

Samhain seems to have always been a festival held by the Celtic tribes, although our best evidence is from the annals and myths of Ireland. It was an important occasion, marking so much activity for the political and spiritual well-being of the tribes. Today we can stop and remember our link with the land, sea, and sky around us. We can learn to embrace the dead and, yes, learn to have a healthy sense of fear for the aos sidhe (fairy folk). I’ll write about my thoughts on the fairy folk in a later blog post. For now, suffice it to say not all spirits are wings and fairy dust. There are real spirits which need to be held at bay for a variety of reasons.

The Roman Church had its own theologians which wrote on the importance of honoring the dead. Sure, it might have stemmed from the earlier Hero Cults, but borrowing has always been a religious tradition. This doesn’t make the Church corrupt, so much as what it is: a religion. Does it make it hypocritical? Sure. Especially when writers with that religious background condemn all things “pagan.” But it’s important to take into account that nothing was stolen. It merely traveled and amalgamated.

This Samhain I plan on remembering my ancestors and helping to celebrate the collective dead with my coven. I always venerate mine, but Samhain affords me the opportunity to cherish and share these things with like-minded individuals. If one thing ancient Samhain customs have taught me while writing this, it is that community is important. We are all related, and at some point your ancestors converged with mine. We need to keep this in mind. It is a time of reflection: to know where we came from. May the blessing of Samhain this season bless you and your ancestors. Remember, what is remembered lives!

~Oracle~

(1) Nichols, M. (2010). The Witches’ Sabbats. OR: Acorn Guild Press, LLC.

(2) McCluskey, S.M. (1998). Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

(3) Kondratiev, A. (2003).  Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. NY: Kensington Publishing Corp.

(4) Hopman, E.E. (194). A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year. NY: Simon and Schuster.

(5) Scott of Rothbury, A., Reverend. (1894) The Celts and Druids and Their Stories From the Earliest Times, in Twelve Chapters. North Shields, Bedford Street: W.J. Potts, Printer and Publisher.

(6) Gilroy, J. (2000). Tlachtga: Celtic Fire Festival. Glanmire, Cork Co., Ireland: Pikefield Publications.

(7) Crump, W.D. (2008). Encyclopedia of New Year’s Holidays Worldwide. NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers.

(8) Hutton, R., Prof. (1996). Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. NY: Oxford Paperbacks.

The Burning Times

Malleus

Malleus Malificarum, or “Hammer of the Witches.”

The Burning Times. The time when women who were village wise women were rounded up by the millions in Europe and burned at the stake. They were followers of the Old Gods, and paganism was now under attack. Paganism had to go underground. Women were systematically hunted down because of their in-depth knowledge of herbs which rivaled the new, patriarchal, medical profession. The Church set an all-out war against women, creating horrendous torture devices for confessions of witch meetings. Women were the inheritors of the Old Religion. They were kin with the fairies and the land, and when they were slaughtered the kinship with the earth was sacrificed and patriarchy began the industrialization which set out to rape the Earth Mother. The revival of Witchcraft and the return of women to their right in power is a battle between the Earth Mother and the tyrannical Father God who oppresses women.

Is It True?
The bitter topic of the Burning Times has been and still tends to be a measure of how feminist one is in the Neopagan and Witchcraft communities. It’s almost like a penile measuring rod, the “my witchcraft is more authentic than your witchcraft” trope. Many in the early part of the Craft claimed that their ancestors were burned at the stake. That they were the inheritors of surviving lore from the Old Religion. Interestingly enough, I’d like to point out that the phrase “Old Religion” applied to Roman Catholicism in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1).

The Precursor
Many believe that the Roman Catholic Church pushed for a belief in witches and condemned women in particular for being so, that the Church viewed paganism as a rival religion. The manual which really started it all was the Malleus Malificarum (2). But was it? Let’s examine this further, shall we?

Early modern Europe was the period roughly from the 15th – 18th centuries. This was a time of profound changes in European society en masse which affected every strata of the continent, particularly due to the empirical nature of Europe and its alliance with the Holy Catholic Church. This monopoly of religion found rivalry with Islam in the East as well, which peaked with the Crusades between the 11th and 15th centuries.

The Rise of Nationalism 
The Church had been facing unprecedented challenges to its hold over the European kingdoms and empires. The secular nature of rising kingdoms in England, Spain, and France led to the breakup of the Roman Church in other countries. Kings objected to the Pope’s rule. One of the best examples of a nationalistic church that answered only to the monarchy was the Church in Spain.

Religious Rivalry
In 1453 a wave of panic swept through Western Europe as news came of the fall of Constantinople by the Ottoman forces under Sultan Mehmed’s 80,000 troops. The Muslim Turks made their way to Eastern Europe. The Orthodox Church, which was based in the East prior to its fall, was cut off from Western Europe (except for its cultural arm of Russian Orthodoxy in Moscow). As a result of this separation, Orthodoxy was never exposed to the Reformation.

In 1517 Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation with the publication of his 95 theses in Germany. Prior to this, the Czech reformer named Jan Huss spread his changes against the Roman Church. Huss was burned at the stake in 1415 for heresy. This is important to keep in mind. John Calvin, another reformer, burned a polymath by the name of Michael Servetus at the stake for heresy against his teachings.

Jews
Jews were always viewed with suspicion. They were always accused of blood sacrifices. They were also held responsible for the Black Death, the people believing that Jews poisoned the wells. However in other parts of Europe minus France, England, Germany and its states (i.e. Holy Roman Empire), the Jews were expelled. When the Muslims in Spain were ousted, the tolerance which Jews found under their reign was renounced by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The Spanish Inquisition was founded in 1478 to root out Jews and Muslims in hiding who became Catholics in name only. Prior to this in 1451 a Papal Bull under Pope Nicholas V was issued that prohibited social intercourse between Muslims and Jews with Christians.

The Hammer of the Witches
During this entire upheaval in Europe, in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued a Papal Bull known as the Summis desiderantes affectibus. It was specific about paganism and witchcraft. Now here is where we go: to the persecution of witches which set off the Burning Times. The secular authorities in Germany opposed the inquisition led by Institorus (known also as Kramer). The Bull was to circumvent this battle of jurisdictions. In the end, however, no secular support came to Kramer and Sprenger. Their methods failed, and even the Church condemned them later on. Thus, no action was taken against purported witches by either secularists or church officials. Even the Spanish Inquisitors were told not to believe anything the Malleus said.(3)

Burning At the Stake
In the lands where the Holy Roman Empire once ruled (such as Germany), the witch hunts went crazy. The first major witch hunt were the Wiesensteig witch trials in 1562-3. The root of the hunt was the religious zeal on both Protestants and Catholics, along with natural disasters. As a result 67 women were killed by being burned at the stake. Trials which followed later led to a total of 44 deaths by burning. As gruesome as this is, it must be kept in mind that burnings at the stake afflicted others aside from women as “witches.” Remember the Black Death accusations against the Jews I wrote about earlier? Over 800 Jews were burned as a result of these accusations. Remember the Spanish Inquisition I mentioned? From 1478 to its ending in 1813, Jews suspected of not being true to the Catholic faith were burned at the stake. It is estimated by some that over this period of time about 30,000 Jews were executed by burning.(4) While witchcraft was viewed with skepticism, Jews were seen as major adversaries to be quelled.

But the numbers, while high, also don’t take into account how many bodies were exhumed to be burned or even effigies of the individual in case the person had escaped. For example, in 1415 John Wycliffe, the English Reformer, was declared a heretic. His body was taken out of the grave and burned.

Witches or Jews? 
Did trials against accused witches occur during early modern Europe? Yes they did. The problem comes from how we interpret “witchcraft” during this time period. Also, it wasn’t just women. Priests, judges, animals (yes, animals), nobles, and other classes were frequently accused of witchcraft. In this case, witchcraft was associated with diabolism. Remember that the famous Papal Bull by Innocent VIII gained little traction, even though it is repeated in many modern and popular books on witchcraft by prominent witches themselves that it was accepted by society at the time with gusto. Witchcraft, however, in early modern Europe was synonymous with heresy. This expands the scope of our investigation.

As we saw earlier, Jews were heretics. They were blamed for much of the witch craze. In unstable religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in Italy, Germany, France, and England, witch hunts increased. But the perpetrators en masse were often either Jews, or Catholics (in a Protestant dominant area) or Protestants (in a Catholic dominated area). Jews, however, are the “witches” we are looking for. Witches’ meetings were called Sabbaths and their meeting places synagogues. (5) Many of the accusations made to witches such as the Black Mass, desecrating the hosts, and orgies were made against Jews.

It is my personal belief that the witch hunts which killed thousands of people over a period of 300 years was targeted at heretics, in particular Jews, Muslims, and other Christians. Actual “witches,” as many have come to envision them, did not exist. I know this may make me a laughing stock by some. People want desperately to believe in persecutions to make their religion valid. Nearly every religion has faced some kind of persecution. But not only religious figures; secular figures as well have faced opposition by Christianity or Islam. Persecution for being different is what happens to us. We all have been either persecutors or the ones being afflicted. With some exceptions, that doesn’t make our stance true. It doesn’t make what we believe any better because we have a martyr syndrome. I grew up in a church which thrived on the Martyr Complex as evidence for authenticity. As we have traveled briefly, we have seen that the entirety of the witch hunts was much more complex than we believed. Massive social and religious changes in Europe contributed to an atmosphere of instability, causing widespread panic and fear. People did what they thought was right: murder. This just goes to show you the depths of depravity that we can do because someone is different.

I don’t think I need to spend more time on this. I think it is safe to say that there is probably more to address, and I will do so in later blog posts, such as the Society of Diana and Magic in the Middle Ages. But for now, let’s try to understand how most of the witch craze began. That way, when we are watching modern witches and Neopagans tout that the Burning Times was real as described in the first paragraph, we can be armed with information. Not that it will probably change their mind. But at least it can hopefully change yours, and give us a much healthier sense of Self. We don’t need to look back on false history to say that what we believe and practice is authentic to ourselves. That Magic works. That we are empowered as women and men of the Craft to make changes in our lives and the lives of others. To follow the guidance of the Gods and spirits. Let’s embrace real change. If anything, we have enough of modern witch hunts to deal with, between persecutions of polytheists around the world to many Neopagans and modern witches here in the States: there windows smashed with rocks and their jobs threatened. We have a lot of work to do now. Focus on the present so the future can happen. This is where real Magic lies.

~Oracle~

(1) Challoner, R. (1814). The Grounds of the Old Religion, Or Some General Arguments in Favour of the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman, Communion. London: Augustine Pagan.

(2) Institorus, H., & Sprenger, J. (2006). Malleus Malificarum (C.S. Mackay, Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Original Work Published 1487).

(3) Jolly, R., & Peters (eds.), (2002). Witchcraft and magic in Europe: the Middle Ages. London: The Athlone Press.

(4) Pasachoff, N. E. & Littman, R. J. (2005). A Concise History of the Jewish People. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

(5) Ginzburg, C. (1989). Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath. (R. Rosenthal, Trans.). Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.

 

I Am Aradia!

Aradia

Aradia: Or the Gospel of the Witches of Italy by Charles Leland. One of the most influential books on modern witchcraft.

#Metoo 

Have you seen this hashtag lately? It’s all over social media. The purpose of the hashtag is to bring awareness to the fact that women have been sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted. The more the hashtag appeared on my feed, the more I realized that all of the powerful women I know were brought down to their knees by the simple fact that “No” was not enough. Men are a threat. They always have been. Even in places where women are empowered, men are still a threat.

The Legend
Aradia is considered by many in Neopaganism and modern Witchcraft as a demigod Hero (even a Goddess). Her legend can be found in Leland’s “Aradia, Or the Gospel of the Witches of Italy.” According to the Mythos, the Goddess Diana made love to Her brother Lucifer. Lucifer is the God of the Sun, the Moon, and Splendor. At the time that Aradia was set to be born, many were rich but many more were poor. The poor were slaves. This situation is similar today.

The Mission
Aradia is the daughter of Diana and Lucifer. She is the enigmatic Hero and Goddess who was commissioned by Her Mother to come down to Earth and teach the art of Witchcraft to the masses: both women and men. The poor, the oppressed, the outcast: these are the people to whom Aradia was sent to empower. The slaves of the rich. The oppression of women threatens them with a type of slavery (or, in many cases in other countries, they are). Mental, emotional, and physical pain often find their way to them via the violence of men. Around the world in such places as India and Afghanistan women are consistent targets of rapes and murders. Here in the United States women’s rights have been rolled back by pompous men who seem to denigrate women’s own choices on sex and healthcare.

Her mission, in all, was to bring liberty. How? She passed onto them Magic. Magic to oppress your enemies, to manipulate the weather, to cause their enemies’ crops to die, and even cause the death of their oppressors.

But Harm None? 
Sorry folks, but this was pre-Rede. Witchcraft is grit and dirt. It is steeped in the power of Nature melded with the capabilities of the human mind. The Rede should not apply when you are being targeted because of your gender. It’s time to fight back. Use all of your power and influence. It’s time to reclaim your birthright as a Daughter of Aradia…nay, the spirit of Aradia Herself dwells within you.

Aradia was beautiful as she was dangerous. So are you. Women have ultimate power over their own bodies. They should have power in the workplace, in the home, and in every inch of their lives. Women are the oppressed gender, make no mistake about that. To deny it is to silence their voices. It is to be hypocritical.

“But I am not the oppressor!” 
it is not just about you being an oppressor or not. It is about awareness. It is about knowing that women on the daily experience harassment of some kind. Some men laugh about it. Some men ignore it. Others perpetuate it, eventually taking it beyond levels with simple “fun” into aggression and violence.

Crossed a Line

As a man in the Craft, I know I am part of a religion which gives strength and voices to women. But that doesn’t make me guiltless. How many times have I jokingly laughed at what I thought was funny but turned out it wasn’t okay with her? How many times did I refuse to pay attention when others did the same? How many times did I make an innocent remark that was uncalled for? It doesn’t always matter with your intent. What matters is how women deal with this on a daily basis and now they have to put up with you too. They may say it’s fine, but they may say it because they are afraid to lose their job or to even entertain conflict. To be viewed as a troublemaker, a bitch, a whining girl.

Men, now is the time to step up and say “I believe you.” Women are Aradia. They embody Her power and spirit. They need their voices heard. They need us to step back from the conversation about what is right for them and let them take charge of it…without your input. It’s not always needed. It’s definitely not always wanted. Remember whenever a woman needs to find their personal power, that she is the body and soul of the Goddess.

Women: you ARE Aradia!

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
~Oracle~

Remember The Dead

Myrrh Gum Burning

Myrrh Gum Burning. Myrrh is often used in Underworld workings for the blessed dead.

Many in the Neopagan and Witchcraft communities state that at this season, as Samhain approaches, the veil between the worlds is becoming thin. Personally, I have a difficult time with that concept seeing as the veil tends to be continuously in motion around me. Basically, I think no veil exists. If it did, communing with my spirits would be a difficult thing.

What Veil? 
I think a lot of people would agree with me on this. There has been an objection raised that what is meant by the term “thinning of the veil” is that even people who are not involved in the Neopagan and Witchcraft communities can sense there is something “else” in the air. I still don’t know about that. Roman Catholics have their sacred days at the end of October and the beginning of November. Many Christians have Harvest Festivals. Mexican-Americans and other Hispanics such as Bolivians have their Day of the Dead. I guess it seems like everyone has something about the Otherworld to celebrate; to bring the ancestors close to us. I just find it funny since, as a Hellenist as well, the dead aren’t necessarily celebrated right now. So it’s a cultural thing methinks. Besides, technically Samhain is a Celtic holiday which made its way into Wicca. Since Wicca is not a Celtic path, there is room to mix and match here. Anyway, the main thesis of this post is not to downgrade the season. Rather, it’s about to emphasize something important: veneration of the dead.

I once wrote that if my family got together and spoke to me once a year and walked away thinking I’m all better for it, they better think again. How do your ancestors feel? Samhain/Shadowfest/Feast of the Dead shouldn’t be the only time we commune with our beloved Dead. They have a right to commune with you, to be fed and honored.

A Part Of Us
Ancestral veneration seems to be in inherent part of humanity. We don’t just have special days designated for them, but we also instinctively seem to want to do it. As an example, when loved ones pass away, some folks build a small “shrine” with photos and mementos where they can be seen. People will toast to their memory on their birthdays. They’ll say “They were here today watching over you,” or even “So-and-so is an angel now.” None of this involves magickal rituals, just remembrance. For a particular person who might have had an extraordinary life or tragic death, a non-profit might be named in their honor to raise awareness of something dear to them. For major celebrity figures, a statue might be erected, or their home might have flowers, cards, alcohol, and other memorabilia stacked. This happened when Princess Diana passed away. Another celebrity was Harry Caray, a sportscaster who was known very well for his undying support of the Chicago Cubs. He once said, “Sure as God made green apples, someday, the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series.” As the Chicago Cubs entered the Play-Offs in 2016, people began putting green apples on the statue of Harry Caray, hoping it would bring “luck.” Something must have worked, because that was the year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

The Holy Days of Memory
The capability of the imagination and its link to Memory is something powerful. We build egregores and monuments. We light birthday candles sometimes or say, “Happy birthday Grandpa.” All of these are instinctual actions that help us venerate the dead, and we shouldn’t limit it to once per year. They need to be honored and fed. We need to talk to them. We need to celebrate their achievements. Why? Because when you honor them, you are honoring yourself. You are a part of a remarkable lineage of people who survived so much to be here: war, famine, plague, slavery, persecution, poverty, rebellion, and so much more. You have a lot to offer this world. Your ancestors made sure that they survived so you can be here. There is something inherently spiritual about that.

Memory is very tangible. It was so important to be remembered that many folks in the ancient world adopted others into their family if they had no children just to be remembered. Memory is what keeps us alive. We become part of the stream of consciousness that, like a river, is ongoing in the subconscious of our human race.

Before the Gods
I think Samhain and other holy days set aside for the dead should be simply when an entire community of strangers come together to honor everyone. I know that this is the definition of Samhain for many (a DUH from some), but you’d honestly be surprised how many forget about the ancestral dead after Samhain.

I was taught by Hekate to honor the ancestors in ritual before honoring the Gods, because it was the ancestors to whom knowledge of the Gods was discovered and to whom the sacred lore was passed down to. In turn they passed it down to the next generation, and they in turn to the next, etc. In addition, the ancestors are the closest thing to us who understand our trials and tribulations. While I honor the Gods, I also honor the ancestors. I pray to them constantly because they know my plights more than the Gods. The Gods, being Gods, might not sympathize with humanity as much. They have their own time table. They may not understand why we need that donation, or that paycheck. They may not understand how we need to cry and release our depression. Gods tend to separate from humans because of pollution (miasma) until we are purified again. But the ancestors? Being human spirits, they know what it is to be stuck in the metaphorical mud (sometimes literal). They know our suffering and desperation.

Remember: Honor your past so that your present has meaning and your future is blessed.

Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
~Oracle~