A Pagan on the Paranormal

David Lee, Ghosthunter, shares his article, originally posted on pfsouthmidlands.org:

With the time of Samhain and the dark half of the year quickly approaching, People’s thoughts often to of departed loved ones, ancestors or just the things that go bump in the night. This is historically a time when it said that the veil between the world of the living and dead is at its thinnest and the dead walk amongst the living. As Pagans, we are probably more predisposed to hold such beliefs than people of other (or no) belief systems, our path will usually require us to have some acceptance of the presence of gods, goddesses, de(a)mons, magically created entities and the like in our lives, so why not the presence of ghosts?

The concept of ghosts and ghouls seems to be an intriguing one for us humans. Throughout history people have been telling tales of the paranormal, whether they are spectral forms of grey ladies, invisible forces moving objects, strange lights, odd noises or even strangely reminiscent phantom scents. These tales have provided fascination and fear for their audiences across the globe. Every culture has some form of what we would class as a ghost story, and no matter how advanced a culture becomes, the fear associated with unseen or mysterious beings lurking in the dark has never lost its ability to terrify.

I started ghost hunting about ten years ago, I approached it with a scientific and sceptically interested point of view. I wanted to be able to prove there was something more out there than the mundane, physical world we live in. For the most part the ghost hunts I have run I would say that around ninety percent of all incidents experienced on such ghost hunts or in vigils have had natural and boring explanations, pipes expanding, wind howling and the like. There are other not so obvious, but equally natural explanations for such seemingly unexplainable events; presence of infrasound, electromagnetic energy or presence of fumes in the air, all of which have been shown to have physical or psychological effects that can trick a person into believing that someone is watching them or passing them by.

So (if you want to) you may feel reassured that any experiences you may have had can potentially be explained scientifically.

Other readers might be equally happy to hear that, in my experience, there is still that 10 percent of occurrences that require more investigation, things that happen, are seen or experienced, which defy any logical explanation.

Let us start with some definitions…

Types of Ghost

I believe that what people often refer to as a ghost can, at a high level, be broken down into three distinct categories. The first is what I refer to when I say the word ‘Ghost’ it is also often called by ghost hunters a ‘Residual’ entity. These forms are what can be considered ‘replay’ type ghosts, those that appear at the same time in the same place over and over again, such as soldiers still walking the battlements of abandoned castles or monks seen gliding across fields. These entities appear to have no knowledge of us and do not respond to any attempt to make contact. They appear to only be replaying past events either continuously or on certain anniversaries. These types of presence can be seen to pass through walls, not because they have supernatural powers but usually because there were probably not present whilst the person lived.

One theory to explain this is known as the ‘Stone Tape Theory’. Working similarly to an old style video camera, the rock or stone of a building or the land on which it stands could have magnetic properties and under certain conditions, events may be recorded onto the stone in the same way that a video camera records images and sounds onto magnetic tape. The theory states that given the atmospheric conditions these images and sounds can play back. Ghosts from events of particularly high emotional energies such as battles, murders and suicides are often reported and it makes sense that it is these events that seem to be captured by the ‘stone tape’.

The second type of entity is known as an ‘Active’ presence, sometimes also called a ‘Spirit’. These ghosts appear to have some form of awareness, They are often believed to respond to questions by knocking for instance. This type of entity can also include the Poltergeist or Trickster energy that can reportedly move objects around and have sometimes been known to interact with humans by way of a poke, the feeling of something holding a hand or sometimes a push. Not only do these energies display a form of intelligence but also have some form of memory. The cause of these types of phantoms is unknown but explanations are often along the lines as “departed souls of humans trapped on earth” I am not sure I buy into this explanation is it tends to fall in line with certain religious beliefs.

Lastly there is a stranger kind of entity which I describe as an ‘Elemental’. For a pagan these might seem strangely familiar, They are sometimes called an Earth Energy or Guardian Spirit. These entities are not of human origin, and are often seen as swirling black masses (similar to dense black smoke), black dogs with red eyes, inhumanly large humanoid forms (often with glowing eyes and/or wings), snakes, wolves, and generally anything considered fearful. These energies are often experienced at ancient sacred sites such as Iron Age burial mounds or other locations of historical significance. They tend to be able to shape shift and would seem to be guarding the area, making people want to leave by taking the form of something frightful and/or filling the atmosphere with a feeling of malevolence. Some believe that these are energies caused by natural energy crossings on the earth such as Ley Lines, and that ancient folk were aware of the energy so chose these as their sacred places, but it is my belief that these entities could have been created by ritual means. The magicians of ancient times may well have been performing some kind of ritual during their funerary rites which may, either purposefully or unintentionally, created a kind of guardian spirit at a location. For those that have not had experience of creating magical entities, this might sound far-fetched, but experiments have been carried out to discover if it is possible to create magical entities.

In Tibet there is an ancient magical rite that can create a ‘being’ of this sort called a Tulpa. Reports have claimed that some Tulpas have even been so real and believable that villagers think that this entity is a new visitor to the village. In 1972 the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) began a similar experiment to create a ghost. They conceived of a man named Phillip, a Scottish nobleman with a fictional and purposefully false and impossible history, drew a picture of him and meditated on all of this for a year, after which time they tried to see if anyone could detect the presence of the ghost of Phillip. They did this by using séance techniques and mediums from other groups with no prior knowledge of the experiment. They did indeed report making contact with a man named Phillip and stated that his history made no sense. The entity also started moving objects around the room and answering questions by way of tapping in front of the group, guests and a film crew, supplying answers from this purposely inaccurate history. (A Google video search for “Toronto Society Psychical Research Phillip” should produce some video clips from the original footage of the table tipping experiment and interviews with people who were present).

So what causes a ghostly experience?

It is my belief that entities are able to use energy in the atmosphere to “power” whichever perceived phenomenon is experienced. I am sure that everyone has heard a story where just before a ghost appears in the room it becomes freezing cold and people can see their breath. This is an example of energy exchange where the heat in the atmosphere is taken to power whatever is about to happen.

An example which illustrates this need for energy by ghosts could be the infamous and oft reported ‘Grey Lady’ or ‘White Lady’. There have been many instances of this type of phantom reported from all over the country, and one that I would like to relate was a reported sighting of a translucent figure of a woman, grey in colour in a cobblers’ shop. This report came from the 1950s but a similar report from the same location in the 1900s described a “white lady” with no report of it being transparent. My suggestion is that over time, ghosts lose their vivacity Starting as something as indiscernible from you or me, gradually their colour fades until they become just white, then grey, then transparent, until finally they no longer have any form.

Sleep paralysis

One more type of ghost that may be experience and might be of interest to the Pagan reader is that of the Night Visitor. Many cultures all across the globe share very similar stories of night terrors, the usual experience happens like this; you wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to move, aside from your eyes. You also may feel as though there is a heavy weight pushing down on your chest or legs. In the corner of the room you see a dark figure sometimes reportedly with red eyes. It quickly moves towards you and in some cases has been said to lay or sit on top of you. These experiences are often extremely disturbing.

Much research has been done on this subject, and what might appear to be an incredibly frightening experience may actually be able to be explained. One explanation is that when a body goes into REM sleep, your muscles relax and your body attains a form of paralysis, this is purported to prevent you from physically acting out dream scenarios and hurting yourself in the process. Sometimes it is possible to wake and become aware before the REM cycle of sleep is complete and the body is therefore unable to move until the body comes out of its paralysis. To explain the visions, the entities reported are believed to be the overlaying of dream images over the normal vision, similar to hypnagogic hallucinations.

An interesting thing to note is that the word ‘Nightmare’ actually derives from these ‘Night Terror’ type experiences; the word ‘Mare’ being a derivative of a Norse or Germanic word for demon, as folklore would have you believe that the night visitor is in fact a demon. Although research may have attempted to put pay to Night Terrors being a paranormal experience, there has been nothing that has been able to explain the similarities in the visions that are experienced during this experience. The description may seem familiar to some of you, for me the ‘Night Visitor’ seems to be a dweller on threshold, a form of guardian or a kind of gate keeper between two worlds, those of waking and sleeping or of the conscious and unconscious.

During the years of research I have to say that there have been a few occasions where I honestly believe that I have had an encounter with a non-corporeal being. Three that stand out are: An apparition of an old man sitting in the Judge’s chair at the Galleries of justice in Nottingham, a large wolf type spirit (I think an elemental) at Warwick Castle, both of which were independently verified by at least one other person, and a floating translucent apparition of a young girl at Coal House Fort in Essex. These experiences were so obviously paranormal that I had to reconsider my entire take on the subject, and more than that, these experiences made me question the Atheist standpoint on religion to which, as a scientist, I held dear. This was the start to me discovering and pursuing a magical path in Paganism.

I still approach my paranormal research with the presumption that none of this is real, to enable me to have an objective viewpoint on matters, but now with the hope that the truth is able to be captured and shared. I have examined carefully my beliefs and feelings on these matters over the last ten years and they can be summed up like this: If you were to ask me “Do you believe in ghosts?” I would now have an answer, and I would have to say, “I believe that most ‘ghostly activity’ can be explained by science, however let’s just add that I am more afraid of the dark now than before I started my research”.

    Posted in Articles | 1 Comment

    Online conduct of members

    We, like all other organisations, need to move forward quickly to keep up to date with electronic communications.

    As Complaints Officer of the Pagan Federation it falls to me to remind members that the Code of Conduct applies regardless of whether actions take place online or in person. Please remember that, although online communication can give an air of anonymity, online actions can cause as real an offence as physical ones but with the additional issue of a wider audience being able to see your conduct.

    The Pagan Federation does not condone any kind of aggressive or bullying behaviour, your actions should be in accordance with the code of conduct.

    Keith Tovey

      Posted in Pagan Federation news | 1 Comment

      Aradia’s King

      The Chanting HedgeWitch shares this poem she wrote for Samhain, 1992:

      Bewitched by Diana’s gentle beam
      I turned down the wooded willow green.
      I had no prayers – no goal in sight –
      Yet brightly, did he reveal his might.

      There! The fawned shoulders starred,
      The mane of mottled forest guard.
      I saw hooves, firm as Gaia’s bed
      And pointed rays, that crowned his head.

      Struck in awe at his great height
      My lips did drop the name of light;
      And pausing, he turned and smiled at me
      With visage plain, guileless and free.

      Sweet reeds of the seventh did he grasp
      To weave the mystic song of life’s past;
      And nature enchanted, held her breath,
      His beauty to embrace and caress.

      Oh would I!
      That he guideth me nigh.

      Hail Pan!
      Hail cloven hooved God of last!

        Posted in Poetry | 3 Comments

        Beginnings

        Lucy Greenwood says, “I’m fairly new on my path. It can be very daunting to actively involve yourself in a world full of passionate and well practised people. I wrote a poem inspired by beginnings.” She shares her poem:

        Every beginning starts with a shoot, but as it grows it will firmly root.
        Life as an anchor, light as a guide.
        Fear and woe have no place to hide.
        Open mind and open heart, perfectly matched to a positive start.

          Posted in Poetry | 5 Comments

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            Pagans in prison

            Helene Mobius is the Prison Ministry Manager:

            For the past 25 years the Pagan Federation through the Prison Ministry has gained recognition with the Home Office and Justice Department in England and Wales as the governing body of the Ministry, within the prison system. The Pagan Federation are the only body that can endorse a Pagan Chaplain in the prison service, and membership of the Pagan Federation is mandatory. There are now quite a few PFPM Chaplains that visit different establishments, and quite a few more writing Ministers that correspond via letter. There are even PFPM Chaplains and writing ministers overseas, all working to do their bit to educate, enlighten, and provide a resource to all those that would like to know more about “Paganism”. It has been an uphill struggle, a relay marathon that has tested the endurance of every PF Ministry Manager, it has not been easy and now the baton has been passed to me, I hope that I can do my predecessors justice in the role of PFPM Manager.

            Behind the scenes Pagan Prison Chaplains provide a forum whereby those who chose to, can practice their faith in a “safe” environment free from prejudice and misconception. They provide support and assistance to those who are exploring their spirituality or those who have found their path but would like to learn more. The British prison service, even now is dominated by Christianity and these days Islam is not far behind, but laws have been passed to make certain that every person has the right to corporate worship with a minister of their own faith. This includes Paganism which unofficially (at the moment) stands as one of the fastest growing religions in Great Britain, and the 7th officially recognised religion in this country, after Hindu and Sikh.

            I became involved in the PFPM when I realised that although we have taken great strides in gaining recognition, the problem is, there are still too few of us offering spiritual support to those who can be intimidated and vulnerable. We are still being asked basic questions that show that most people are still ignorant of what our faith is truly about. We can put out literature and books, but they do not replace the face to face contact and communication that a Pagan Chaplain provides. It can be challenging and frustrating, but the rewards are shown when statistically, there are stronger more informed, Pagan groups in the prisons that have Pagan Chaplains, than in the ones that do not.

            Prisoners have already been punished, and it is not our place to further judge the crimes they are imprisoned for. We are there to support them and to make sure their right to practice their religion is protected, that exploration, development, and questions are met in a healthy informative way. Religious discrimination is still happening, so we still have a way to go to change attitudes. There are still prisons in areas of England that are not covered by a Pagan Chaplain so we are still looking to recruit, and further raise the profile of Pagan Chaplains in prison. Vacancies will be listed on paganfed.org.

            The application, screening, selection and clearance process is lengthy and arduous, so patience and stamina are a pre requisite, but you will also need a mature attitude, good communication skills and recognition of the need to keep confidentiality. A knowledge of, and experience in your own Pagan Tradition is essential, however an eclectic approach is ideal, as you need to be confident to teach inmates that may only be at the beginning of their personal journey of discovery. This job will test the strength of your convictions and is not for the faint hearted, however, the rewards are immense and successful applicants can/will be remunerated.

            If you are not put off by this article and would like to know more then please contact me at prisons@paganfed.org

              Posted in Pagan Federation news | Comments Off on Pagans in prison

              Initiatory Witchcraft and the beetle in the box

              Rhys Chisnall shares this short essay on the use of words, their meaning, and Gods:

              Beetle in a boxAlthough I should know better and haven’t done so for years, and will probably not do so again for many more, I recently took part in a debate on the Craft on the inter-web. Generally speaking I think this is a bad idea as the anonymity the internet provides tends to make some folk feel that politeness is optional. Also the net does not convey body language and tone of voice which can lead to misinterpretation of intent, context and meaning. Happily this remained a civil debate amongst, for the most part, intelligent people. However one of the participants was someone who used the debate to have her own faith position confirmed and became defensive when it wasn’t. Her position was that you could only be in the Gardnerian Craft if you had a literal belief in the Gods.

              My experience of initiatory Craft is that it does not have or require orthodoxy of belief. As a mystery tradition it does not offer easy ready-made answers in the way that exoteric religion does. There is no faith position, but positions as numerous as the individuals that practise; hard won through the processes and arts of mysticism and liable to change in light of new experience. This lady had a religious faith, and a faith can’t be changed in accordance with evidence or experience, else it would not be religious faith (as commonly understood). She was told by someone that a certain faith was required for initiatory Craft and she expected everyone to think the same.

              “Why then”, this person asked, “do we have the word ‘Gods’ if we don’t all have to literally believe in them?” To my mind it is because the meaning of words such as ‘God’, ‘Goddess’ and ‘Divine’ are not as fixed in meaning as she might think.

              In the theory of language called descriptivism a word’s meaning depends on its extension and intension. Its extension is what the word refers to in the real world. This is what Hillary Putnam meant when he said that ‘meaning is not in the head’ (Putnam as cited in Barber, 2010, p., 193); the conclusion he came to from his famous Twin Earth thought experiment. So water means water because it refers to a substance in the real world. That substance has the chemical formula H2O and it does not refer to something that looks exactly the same as water with a different formula says XYZ (Barber, 2010, p. 43), even if we can’t tell the difference. The lay person learns the meaning of a word through deference to an expert who fixes its meaning. However, as you no doubt have spotted, this can’t be the whole story as we have words for things that aren’t real, such as phlogiston. There can be no extension of the word phlogiston to fix its meaning. So a words meaning is also fixed by its intension. This is the lexical description of what the word means which we carry around in our heads. For example water is wet, colourless, falls from the sky, can drink it, swim in it, favoured by fish etc.

              This would seem to make the Lady’s assertion that Gardnerians should all believe the same thing by the word ‘Gods’ to be correct. So far it seems that for the word to have meaning it must have an extension, but it is more complex than that. Descriptivism also claims that words can have intension and no extension. For example we can talk about Santa and Phlogiston without them existing (Ok, ok so Santa is real). But should the words we use all have the same intensions? Ned Block says no, because meaning can be narrow or wide (Block as cited in Barber, 2010, p 248). Narrow meaning is when concepts vary from person to person. For example Jocasta is Oedipus’s mother and wife is the wide meaning of the concept Jocasta, but the narrow meaning for Oedipus is that Jocasta is my wife and not my mother (Barber 2010, pp 245-246)- until he finds out differently. So if narrow meaning varies amongst individuals then how can words such as ‘Gods’ be used in discourse amongst those who hold it to mean different things?

              To my mind Ludwig Wittgenstein, without a doubt one of the most important philosophers of the 20th Century provides us with an answer.

              In his famous thought experiment from his book, ‘Philosophical Investigations’, he writes.

              “Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle”. No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine that such a thing is constantly changing. But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people’s language? If so it would be the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language – game at all; not even as a something; for the box might even be empty.” (Wittgenstein as cited in Beaney 2010 p., 131-132).

              Wittgenstein was using his thought experiment to illustrate how it did not matter what the subjective meaning of pain meant for the word pain to mean what it means. But I think the analogy can be extended and even works better for the experience of the Gods and the mysteries. For example, in the Craft we all have individual subjective experiences of what we call the Divine. For some, it is seen as an experience which is interpreted as a literal god, for others it is interpreted as a Jungian archetype, for others it is simply interpreted as a mystery. We cannot look into each other’s heads to directly see what the experience was. Even if we could, we could not have that experience of the other person, in the subjective first person and in the same context. The only way we can know anything about what the other person experienced is by using language.

              Here in lies a problem. Experience of the mysteries is transcendent of language. This is the definition of mystery; it comes from the Greek musterion, meaning to close the mouth. It is ineffable and can’t be adequately described with words. Perhaps it would be better to follow Wittgenstein’s advice in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus where he says “whereof what we cannot speak there-so we should remain silent”.

              However we are a chatty species and do like to communicate using words. The words we are using in this case are words like ‘God’, ‘Goddess’, ‘Divine’ and ‘Mysteries’. These words from Wittgenstein’s perspective have a function in discourse which is not directly attached to their extension, or even intension. They are words that are learnt when we learn English and are used in a specific way, in this case they are words used to describe our own gnosis (gnosis when used in English refers to spiritual knowledge). Therefore the words refer to different things to different people but can be still used in discourse where the function need not rely on the direct reference of the experiences that they pertain to. In other words in using the language of the Craft, when we are engaging in its myths and ritual, we can use the same words, as their functions are not fixed by lexical intension or literal extension, but by discourse. Therefore Initiatory Crafters don’t all have to believe the same thing to share a common language and use words like ‘Gods’.

              References

              Barber, A., (2010), Language and Thought, Milton Keynes, Open University

              Block, N., (1994), Advertisement for a Semantic Psychology, in Barber, A., (2010), Language and Thought, Milton Keynes, Open University

              Putnam, H., (1994), The Meaning of Meaning, in Barber, A., (2010), Language and Thought, Milton Keynes, Open University

              Beaney, M., (2010) Imagination and Creativity, Milton Keynes, Open University

                Posted in Articles | 1 Comment

                Why I Celebrate Mabon

                Mish, Regional Coordinator for North Lancashire and Cumbria, shares why she calls the current celebration in the Wheel of the Year, Mabon:

                I’m an Eclectic Wiccan; Wiccan because I worship in a recognisably Wiccan way – inside a Circle into which I have called the Quarters and primary in the deities I honour are the God and the Goddess surrounded by Magic. Eclectic because as I have come across traditions and paths I have incorporated that which makes sense to me in my practice currently this includes elements of Druidry, Heathenry, Shinto and Native Mexican working.

                I started on my path in the early 90s and one of the first books I came across was Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, in fact a lot of the generic pagan books available at that time were heavily influenced by the Feri Tradition. So although Scott Cunningham, Marian Green and Vivianne Crowley may have been referring to the Autumn Equinox as the Autumn Equinox (three other authors who I was reading at the time) what I called that particular festival was Mabon.

                I don’t think I’m unusual in that when I decided I was serious about this Wicca thing I read up on everything possible so that I, solitary in a small village in Lincolnshire, ‘Did It Right’. I took a postal course, did a heck of a lot of pathworkings and researched names so that I could find out what this wheel of the year thing really was. The postal course had me reading The White Goddess and I don’t think any other book has had quite so much influence on my understanding of poetry or religion, for me they’re intimately connected via intuition. (Intuition being located somewhere between thinking and feeling – I also recommend SSOTBME by Ramsay Dukes). I do not dispute reconstructionist viewpoints or religions, but they are not mine. I worship in a poetic religion, Gardner et al put together this way of worshipping at some point between the 30s and 50s. That does not deny that it’s older but I would suggest that the methodology and minutiae are not, the soul of the religion is. The soul, the poetic understanding is, for me, what we connect to when we come together in circle.

                In the name of ‘Doing It Right’ I did a particular pathworking, I had come across the name Mabon before as I was interested in the legends of Arthur before I knew I was interested in Paganism. This was in the days before the internet so I had no way of looking up on Wikipedia whether or how the names were connected. Even these days, clicking and reading is not the only way I try to understand my religion.

                Mabon ap Modron; Son of Mother.

                What are you, a hunter, doing giving your name to a harvest festival at the Autumn Equinox?

                Mabon is The Eldest, Mabon is the Hunter, Mabon is Wise.

                Mabon is known by his relationship to Modron. Mabon is the Son of the Mother. Mabon seems out of place to this daughter of the farmlands because of his status as Hunter and I have always associated Harvest with being the territory of farmers. But it is the earth’s bounty that we harvest. We are of the earth as is Mabon, first man, the eldest. He is of the earth as are we. Mabon’s skills which were of such use to Arthur.

                Of the images that I have received over the years during pathworkings one that retains perfect clarity is that of the silhouette of the huntsman against a starry sky.

                What is Mabon ap Modron doing at this the second harvest? Reminding us that it is not only what we take from the ground that is the harvest. We are of the earth as well.

                It’s a personal gnosis and is (as far as I am aware) completely unsubstantiated but Paganism as a whole and even Wicca is not only about the Reconstructionist path. Sure, you ought to do the groundwork but to discount the intuited poetic soul of this religion is, for me, to ignore much of the raw magic that knits Wicca together.

                I’m an Eclectic Wiccan and I call the Autumn Equinox Mabon because his name fits and names have power.

                  Posted in Opinion, Wheel of the year | 7 Comments

                  Goats & Sheep: A season of Autumnal Fruitiness

                  Sorita d’Este, esoteric author, shares this post from her own blog about the use of the word “Mabon” in reference to the Autumn Equinox, the Wheel of the Year, and the importance of original thinking:

                  "To Autumn" by William James Neatby

                  “To Autumn” by William James Neatby, from A Day with Keats, 1899

                  My friends and colleagues will know I am keen on common sense, whichever way it manifests its a good thing.  Being mindful about our actions and words, and in all aspects of our spiritual and mundane lives, can only be a good thing too.

                  And so we are nearing the Autumn Equinox again here in the Northern Hemisphere.  A beautiful time of the year.  Keats really understood it, and shows his connection with and understanding of the natural seasonal change, its strengths and symbols in his poetry:

                  Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
                  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
                  Conspiring with him how to load and bless
                  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
                  To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
                  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
                  To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
                  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
                  And still more, later flowers for the bees,
                  Until they think warm days will never cease,
                  For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

                  Keats wrote the above words 193 years and 2 days ago.  And the words still hold true, most certainly so.

                  Pagans today often muse that they are lovers of nature, that they care about the cycles of the Earth, Mother Earth – and that they honour the Divine in nature.  I often hear that Pagans like to be freethinking and individualistic, that they question what they are told and that they try and avoid being like members of other religions in which misinformation was used at times to direct and manipulate the masses.  Yet, it would seem that in particular aspects of modern Paganism these things are simply not true and that especially when it comes to avoiding misinformation, being armed with knowledge and ensuring that one is not lead into a world of delusion, illusion and fantasy by others, there is something wrong.  Very wrong.   Maybe it is just that there are leaders and followers in any movement, and no matter how freethinking individuals claim to be, to themselves and their friends, they are more likely to be followers, who are happy to do what they are told, repeat what they are taught and do all of this without question – just like the followers of other religious movements whom they accuse of being “sheep” for doing so.  Goats are more difficult to herd than sheep, but they are still herd animals really, and according to this goat farmers website, not only are they herd animals, but “More so than any other livestock, goats depend upon staying together for safety. They have few natural defenses and many predators.”   So maybe the sheep and goat analogy which is so often passed around holds more truth than some people realise, again due to a basic lack of knowledge about the goats they compare themselves to!

                  Like all historical religions before it and ones to come, modern Paganism relies on making links with its perceived historical past.  This manifests itself in all kinds of ways which cannot be supported by factual information, and unfortunately for modern Paganism the claims are usually so broad and incomprehensible that it leaves outsiders thinking they are all uneducated and a bit silly in the head for believing it.  Of course there are exceptions, a wonderful example is sitting here on my desk at the moment in the form of THRACIAN MAGIC by Georgi Mishev in which the author provides details of his practices as a modern day practitioner of magic and priest to the Gods; providing a historical basis for the beliefs in his region (Bulgaria) and careful comparisons between ancient exemplars and modern survivals.  It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but then isn’t that the point?  That we all find our way to the Mysteries, to Nature and to the Divine in our own unique way, without barriers which confine our freedom and creates obstacles for further learning.

                  You know, we have all been there.  I was told things and read things when I first started out on my own journey into the world of mysticism and magic which I believed because it was convincing.  It sounded right.  And years later I found that it was wrong, sometimes completely – sometimes slightly.  And with wrong I mean factually incorrect and that it would be better for me to adapt my thinking with the facts as I found them in the here and now.  Language is a barrier and I know that all to well.  I am multi-lingual and was raised with more than one language around me.  Sometimes, as a young child I would use the term I was most familiar with for something around people who did not speak the language the term originated from, and boy did I confuse people!  So eventually, through experience and further education, I learned and corrected myself so that I could be understood. That is an ongoing process, no-one is perfect, least of all me!

                  And words have power.  So much.  Mythology is filled with stories telling us about the power of words and names, you don’t have to look far – my favourite example is the story of how the Egyptian Goddess Aset (Isis) tricked the secret name of power from the Sun God Re (Ra).  And with that name, gained his power.  And in contemporary society we are all very aware of identity fraud, armed with your date of birth, full name and address fraudsters can cause you a lot of damage, anguish and loss of both time and money.  Names are also so much more.  It is who you are, and can be who you become.  This is why the practices of many of the mystery traditions involve the taking of a magical name or motto upon initiation, the “witch name” of modern initiatory Wicca being one such example. But it is not just what we name ourselves which matters, what we name others also matter.  Insults and compliments, pet names and names of endearment can change someone’s mood and self-esteem.  Doubt that words have power, just think of a time you were insulted (wrongly or rightly!) or when you received a deep felt compliment …  and if you tell me that you have never felt a change of mood or energy in yourself and your environment at such times, no matter how small, then I will probably think you are telling me a fib!

                  So then, we return to the subject of the Autumn Equinox – and indeed the entire “Wheel of the Year” phenomena.  I used to love the festivals, and I still love the times which mark them and celebrate each in my own way, but I cringe and become incredibly irate when anyone suggests that by doing so I am a “Pagan”.  If Keats’ poem was an example of Pagan mysticism and thought I would be first in line to have the word “Pagan” tattooed on me – but instead it seems to me that Paganism is mostly very confused about itself, about the Wheel of the Year celebrations and on the symbolism of it all.  And that is a weakness, a disease even which seems to be getting worse with each passing year, as the mistakes of yesterday is repeated and the idea of learning from the past is largely ignored by some of the loudest components and leaders of the movement.

                  On the one hand I keep hearing stories of how hard done by Pagans are for still being persecuted and not being taken seriously as a religion; but then those very same individuals who complain about being persecuted seems less than keen to ensure that they are well informed about their own religious / spiritual beliefs and practices.  No instead the same old stories are repeated without question, without thought – and then the same surprise reactions are manifested when those stories are questioned and challenged by outsiders.  A warrior knows his / her own strengths and weaknesses, and ensures that they learn as much as possible about the same in their enemies, and how it compares.

                  So that brings me onto one of my ‘knickers-in-a-twist’ irritations with the Wheel of the Year, an irritation I once contributed to by ‘repeating what I was taught’ being the so called “Celtic Names” for the festivals. Some of the names used at least have a seasonal relevance to the time of the year; so for example Beltane, for May Day, or Samhain for Halloween.  Not at all offensive or idiotic as the words have bearing on that time of the year.  But then there is this business with Mabon.

                  Now I have written about this before, see Who, or rather WHAT is Mabon http://sorita.co.uk/what-or-rather-who-is-mabon and Modron the Mother http://sorita.co.uk/modron-the-mother if you want the source references.  But let me make it very clear, this is foolishness manifest in complete stubborn ignorance which makes many of the claims Pagans make against some of the so called patriarchal religions seem tame in comparison.  At least those claims more often have their claims in superstition or religious belief!

                  Mabon is NOT an alternative name for the Autumn Equinox.  Mabon is a character, maybe a God, from Welsh mythology. His name is Mabon Ap Modron, which literally translates as “The Son of the Mother” – his name being “Son” and that of his mother, being “Mother” to make it clear.  Mabon is described amongst other things as a Wizard and as “the oldest of men or beasts living on earth”.  It is also said that his story was unknown, probably tying in with the idea that he was the oldest of men or beasts, therefore how could it be known!

                  Then came along an American author who named the festival after this God, based on misinformation and a misunderstanding, and because it sounded authentic and because everyone decided to follow, rather than question, it soon became the name for the festival.  Strangely, the majority of those using the name did not, and still does not seem to know, that it is the name of a God / male hero from Welsh myth.  Now putting my mystical hat on this might lead me to believe that;

                  Mabon is mighty!  Long live Mabon!  He is so mighty that he discreetly gave his name to the festival, no-one noticed, but soon everyone was worshipping him without even knowing!   ~ and if this is true, Mabon also wants you to send me your life savings so that I can build a nice temple to him, so get writing those cheques!

                  or possibly that;

                  Mabon has a secret priesthood, who are operating undercover to convert all Pagans to his cult.  And then when they succeed they will also take all your money, but probably your souls too.  So, better you just send me the cheque, I promise I am not interested in your soul.

                  Come on people, don’t turn me into a conspiracy theorist!  Mabon ap Modron has nothing to do with the Autumn Equinox, he should be honoured for what he is, if you are going to honour him.  If you want to include him in your Autumn Equinox celebrations, good for you!  You can declare it a festival of Mabon ap Modron to co-incide with the Autumn Equinox – I look forward to seeing hymns and rituals dedicated to him, as I find him utterly fascinating, so if you do be generous and share it with me here on my blog, or facebook .  But please, don’t try and tell me its an alternative name for “Autumn Equinox” or that it is a historical festival of Mabon at the time of the Autumn Equinox, as I really don’t like having to offend you by laughing and likewise, I don’t like being offended by what I perceive as power being taken away from the gods and goddesses of the British Isles, especially not my beloved Wales.

                  Honour Mabon as a Wizard, a Merlin type figure, as the oldest of men and beasts, honour him as the Son of the Mother, and a hero – don’t take that away from him by ignorantly using his name as if it is a different word for Autumn Equinox.  If you really believe that the Old Gods of these lands still live, that they should be honoured and respected, then do that.  Don’t join the generations who tried to belittle the Gods in an effort to diminish their power.  And don’t be either a sheep or a goat, be yourself – an individual with a voice, with the ability to think for yourself and to question what you are told so that you can walk your path freely as you.

                  And honour the changing season at the Equinox!  It is a time when Summer turns to Winter, Light turns to Dark, but in itself a time of balanced forces, balanced light, a tipping point.  A time when you harvest the fruits of your labours and enjoy walks down country lanes with the beautiful seasonal colours all around.  Celebrate nature, celebrate the celestial wonders which creates the seasons.  Reflect on how your ancestors, our ancestors, lived and understood nature, and how you and your children live and understand it now and into the future.  Mark the occasion with a simple smile at the falling leaves, or with something more elaborate – but understand it through observation and experiencing it.

                  By experiencing Nature, you will also soon realise that words are irrelevant. Learn from Nature will lead you to knowledge and knowledge to wisdom, and when wisdom is gained, it will be time for you to learn something more, and build on what you have learned, experienced and gained in wisdom before.  An infinite process.  Never quite completed.  And throughout there will be times when you realise that some things you were told, taught and even things you taught are wrong.  And then it is time to clear space for new experiences, new knowledge and more wisdom.

                  Many blessings from me to all of you in the Northern Hemisphere for this Autumn Equinox.  Let it be a time of balance, as the wheel turns from light to dark once more on this wonderful spiral we call life.

                  ps. And if you are desperate to name Autumn Equinox by another name, try Fall Equinox, but ask yourself WHY?  Is the word Autumn offensive to you?  Is it the word Equinox which is offensive?  Learn more about Equinox at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equinox

                  I will leave you with this less known, but noteworthy poem also entitled Autumn:

                  Autumn
                  By Thomas Hood
                  1798-1845

                  I SAW old Autumn in the misty morn
                  Stand shadowless like Silence, listening
                  To silence, for no lonely bird would sing
                  Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn,
                  Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn;–
                  Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
                  With tangled gossamer that fell by night,
                  Pearling his coronet of golden corn.

                  Where are the songs of Summer?–With the sun,
                  Oping the dusky eyelids of the south,
                  Till shade and silence waken up as one,
                  And Morning sings with a warm odorous mouth.
                  Where are the merry birds?–Away, away,
                  On panting wings through the inclement skies,
                  Lest owls should prey
                  Undazzled at noonday,
                  And tear with horny beak their lustrous eyes.

                  Where are the blooms of Summer?–In the west,
                  Blushing their last to the last sunny hours,
                  When the mild Eve by sudden Night is prest
                  Like tearful Proserpine, snatch’d from her flow’rs
                  To a most gloomy breast.
                  Where is the pride of Summer,–the green prime,–
                  The many, many leaves all twinkling?–Three
                  On the moss’d elm; three on the naked lime
                  Trembling,–and one upon the old oak-tree!
                  Where is the Dryad’s immortality?–
                  Gone into mournful cypress and dark yew,
                  Or wearing the long gloomy Winter through
                  In the smooth holly’s green eternity.

                  The squirrel gloats on his accomplish’d hoard,
                  The ants have brimm’d their garners with ripe grain,
                  And honey bees have stored
                  The sweets of Summer in their luscious cells;
                  The swallows all have wing’d across the main;
                  But here the Autumn melancholy dwells,
                  And sighs her tearful spells
                  Amongst the sunless shadows of the plain.
                  Alone, alone,
                  Upon a mossy stone,
                  She sits and reckons up the dead and gone
                  With the last leaves for a love-rosary,
                  Whilst all the wither’d world looks drearily,
                  Like a dim picture of the drowned past
                  In the hush’d mind’s mysterious far away,
                  Doubtful what ghostly thing will steal the last
                  Into that distance, gray upon the gray.

                  O go and sit with her, and be o’ershaded
                  Under the languid downfall of her hair:
                  She wears a coronal of flowers faded
                  Upon her forehead, and a face of care;–
                  There is enough of wither’d everywhere
                  To make her bower,–and enough of gloom;
                  There is enough of sadness to invite,
                  If only for the rose that died, whose doom
                  Is Beauty’s,–she that with the living bloom
                  Of conscious cheeks most beautifies the light:
                  There is enough of sorrowing, and quite
                  Enough of bitter fruits the earth doth bear,–
                  Enough of chilly droppings for her bowl;
                  Enough of fear and shadowy despair,
                  To frame her cloudy prison for the soul!

                    Posted in Articles, History, Opinion, Wheel of the year | 4 Comments

                    Mabon, with children

                    Emma Threadgold shares this post from her blog about the seasonal festival of Mabon, and a few ways it could be shared with children:

                    Mabon bowlAutumn Equinox (also known as Mabon or Harvest Home) is celebrated when day and night are of equal duration before the descent into increasing darkness and is the final festival of the season of harvest.

                    In nature, the activity of the summer months slows down to the hibernation for the winter.

                    For many Pagans, now is time to reflect on the past season.

                    It is also a time to recognise that the balance of the year has changed, the wheel has turned and summer is now over.

                    Astrologers will recognise this as the date the sun enters the sign of Libra – the Scales of Balance.

                    Now is the time to gather! In our ancestors’ time this would have been a very busy period; gathering what can be from the hedgerows and storing it and making it into jams, chutneys and medicines for the winter.

                    Following on from the Elderflower collecting at summer solstice, myself and little one collected the elderberries to make into jam and syrup and the blackberries to also make into jam.

                    http://www.learningherbs.com/herbal_cold_remedies.html

                    Again another brilliant opportunity to to identify plants and understand how flowers turn into berries! Not to mention just getting outside!

                    Amazing craft opportunities arise when the leaves start to fall!

                    Collect the leaves and place between books to flatten, place in between some sticky back plastic (clear book covering) and don’t forget to place the clear thread inside as well. When the leaves are inside the clear plastic cut around the leaf shapes and hang onto a twig to make a pretty mobile.

                    You could also throw in some leaf and tree identifying into the mix!

                    http://createwithyourhands.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/autumn-leaf-bowl.html

                    The above is one of my friends rather creative blogs! The picture at the top of this post is one of her’s and her family’s creations. The concept is similar to how you do paper mache.

                    Smudge stick making! Grab your herbs; we chose sage, rosemary and thyme…if you’re stuck for herbs in the garden or you don’t have a garden/window box, then supermarkets do them already in bunches!

                    Wrap your herbs together and hang to dry. This is another good way of getting children exploring with their hands and nose and identifying the herbs they are using! These smell amazing whilst drying too.

                      Posted in Community, Wheel of the year | 2 Comments