New artwork, Bare Sunshine

Lusete shares her photograph, “Bare Sunshine”, which is also featured as the background on this blog.

Bare Sunshine, by Lusete

    Posted in Artwork, Photography | Comments Off on New artwork, Bare Sunshine

    So it shall be written

    Atreyu Crimmins shares this article on language, man and gods:

    SamasWe expend our lives in a torpid emission of discourse. High on allegory, dripping in euphemism and saturated with simulacra. Every utterance is a periphrastic orgy of recycled hot air. Language, we revel in it like pigs in filth, and we abuse it like buffed tartan lancers in a Mel Gibson film. But language carries so much more than merely the message of communication—it is a portal to the lore of our species. It is in language that gods and civilisations are forged and destroyed in the glowing embers of a fire; timeless, motionless, yet at the same time in a permanent state of flux and evolution. But what if we stopped. What if we all shut up for two precious, evanescent moments, would we cease to exist? Would the ‘sacred sentience’ intrinsic to our blueprint shut down and disintegrate?

    I have spent the last two years researching the marriage between man and God and the sacred writ that extolled their covenant. From Christian scribes espousing the virtues of the written word to prehistoric shamans retreating into the darkness of caves, entering a trance state and painting images of their visions as they petition the spirits in a form of hunting magic, man has always found some pictographic way to represent his dialogue with unseen forces. According to Judeo-Christian tradition, God created the universe by a series of utterances that inaugurated the creation of the world. He then instructed Adam to name all things, “and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof” (Genesis 2:19). Judeo-Christian theology is not the only system of belief to ascribe divine providence to language, however.

    The idea that language is somehow borne out of the gods and holds magical properties, some that are inextricably linked to creation and the fate of mankind, can be observed in countless spiritual traditions. In fact, it is one of the few motifs that features in most if not all the mythologies of the ancient world; from the transcendent life-begetting incantations of ancient Sumer to Odin’s self-sacrifice on Yggdrasil, the world tree, to gain the wisdom and oracular properties of the runes. The Assyrian and Babylonian deity Nabu, the celestial scribe of fate, is credited with the creation of language and was worshipped as a patron god of scribes. Nabu’s cult was ubiquitous in the ancient world; he was recognised by the Greeks as Apollo and by the Romans as Mercury. Thoth, the Egyptian god of scribes and sciences, is the undisputed master of language. He is the author of all knowledge and the scientific disciplines, and becomes the instrument that allows the demiurge to materialise his creation.

    While ‘the divine word’ has been associated with mysticism since the dawn of civilisation, some languages have undoubtedly achieved a ‘holier’ reputation than others. There have been several examples throughout history of languages that have been used largely for ceremonial practices; as a means to converse with God(s) and glorify the divine architect of the universe by sacred rituals and incantations that were more often than not indecipherable and inaccessible to the common man. Indeed, since the majority of people were illiterate in pagan times, particularly those inhabiting the dark ancient woodlands of Europe (cuneiform and hieroglyphs predate runes by over 3000 years), it stands to reason that only the priesthood class were fortunate enough to enjoy ‘special relations’ with the gods and speak their divine language. Therefore, the reality of a ‘sacred tongue’ or a ‘magical script’, understood only by the very privileged, was a convenient way to control and manipulate not only the spiritual lives of the people—but their fortunes, too.

    The early Christian missionaries worked to change that. In my humble opinion, if Christianity had one advantage over the pagan religions it was slowly replacing (and bastardising), it was literacy. No longer would there be a linguistic barrier between God and His children. Christianity was not the only religion espousing the virtues of the written word to the masses, however, Judaism had been doing that for hundreds of years already. But has language retained its religious flavour in the minds and hearts of modern adherents? Do we, as the so-called enlightened progenies of our forest-dwelling ancestors, have any particular affinity or reverence for sacred tongues?

    Ancient Hebrew inscription

    Ancient Hebrew inscription from the 10th Century BC (the period of King David). What I find uncanny is how closely ancient Hebrew resembled runes; the aleph and fehu are virtually identical, as are the resh and wunjo.

    I have always found it interesting to identify and reflect on the linguistic similarities in languages spoken in Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent by looking at religious worship, place and deity names. My research has taken me from the charming austerity of the British Library to Jerusalem’s Old City, where I’ve spoken to clerics of several denominations and had the privilege of exploring the archives of the Bible Lands Museum. I have spent hours poring over wall charts, dictionaries and crumbling tomes of ancient Near Eastern (ANE) narratives. One thing is clear. Language variance was pervasive throughout the ANE. Not only was it pervasive, but many of the languages had completely different linguistic origins. Some were isolates (like Sumerian;  a modern example of a language isolate is Basque), Akkadian is Afro-Asiatic (like ancient Egyptian, Hebrew and Aramaic), and Hittite is Indo-European (like English). Now here’s the fascinating part, in spite of these differences, when it came to religious and/or perceived sacred language usage, many of the words stem from a common linguistic ancestor, as illustrated in the following paragraph.

    The Sumerian deity Inanna, goddess of love, fertility and sexuality, was worshipped throughout the ANE. There is evidence of her worship in the form of devotional text on cuneiform and figurines excavated all over the region, from Mesopotamia and the Levant to Egypt. Her name(s) in the languages of the region:

    Akkadian/Assyrian/Babylonian AŠTARTE or IŠTAR
    Canaanite/Hebrew ASHTERET עשתרת
    Hittie IŠHARA
    Egyptian ASET (Isis)

    It is clear from the above that, in spite of the different language families, there is a common linguistic root to her name. There are many examples of this; another is the Akkadian/Assyrian/Babylonian sun god Šamaš (pronounced shamash) and the word shemesh in Hebrew and al shams or shamsiyyah in Arabic, all meaning sun. How did the name of an ancient pagan god become the equivalent semantic idiom in two of the world’s greatest monotheist religions? And, when uttering the words shemesh or al shams, are we invoking Šamaš? Or rather the curative and/or destructive powers of the sun? According to the ancient Akkadians, that is precisely what we are doing. By uttering his name we are conjuring his presence. But I wager a few million Muslims and Jews would take offense to that idea.

    Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow. For as long as I can remember, language and spirit have been inextricably linked in my mind, a veritable contravention to some—but for me the path to paradise. It is no coincidence that I studied linguistics and regard multilingualism as the most noble of skills. I am now in the possession of a minefield of ideas and abstractions itching to be written. Like a petulant child tugging at the apron of a frazzled mother, it will be a constant niggle and an open wound until paper is pressed and the blood runs clear.

      Posted in Articles, History, Opinion | 3 Comments

      Write your own sacred text

      Brynneth Nimue Brown shares this idea for a new project:

      Sacred bookI’d like to launch a project, one I hope would then run indefinitely. However, to make it work, I need input from other pagans. Lots of input. I’m aware that many Wiccans and Witches keep Books of Shadows, recording rituals, spells and whatever else that resonates. So I’d like to start by making clear that’s not what I had in mind. This is about the kind of material you could, and hopefully will, choose to make public. While writing a sacred text could well be a deeply personal journey, there are reasons why this is going to work better if people are willing, and able to share. Write it for your child, or for a child of tradition you haven’t met yet. Write it for someone who needs to hear the things you’ve learned. Don’t write with excessive authority and dogma, the idea is not to produce the next Bible, but to challenge the whole principle that currently underpins how we think about sacred writing.

      It is my firm belief that every sacred book in existence was written down by humans. I’m perfectly happy to accept the possibility of divine inspiration for any and all of them. What I absolutely do not accept is that any sacred text is the unadorned and unadulterated word of god and that it therefore should be obeyed to the letter. We’re moving away from sacred books as literal truths, in more enlightened circles at least, but there are far too many unenlightened circles out there, where human writing, attributed to god, is used to justify horrors. If we could, as a species, acknowledge that there have been many flawed, human involvements in the creation and selection of all Holy books, that might enable us to loosen up a bit and stop killing each other over them. I’m nothing if not an optimist. The assumption of the ‘word of God’ in holy books is the source of a frightening amount of pain, violence and death. If we could only let go of that, and view them as inspired, and written by humans, so much else would change.

      My vision is of a world in which it is perfectly normal to write your own sacred book. You might share it online, give copies to friends, pass it on to your children. It would be no more, or less important than any other sacred book written by a human being. There’s no restriction to one, either. You might find you have a great deal to say once you get going! Why shouldn’t your learning, your vision, your truth be as important as words that came out of a desert several thousands of years ago? Are you any less a child of the gods? Are you any less able to be inspired?

      Every religious rite in the world is the consequence of human invention. Again, perhaps divinely inspired, perhaps not. Every prayer, every hymn, every pilgrimage and act of faith, is intrinsically human in origin. We tend to give validity to the practices that have been around the longest, and there are sound pragmatic reasons for taking such a line. Namely that tried and tested things may have the advantage over new stuff. But once, every last word and hand gesture of it was also new stuff, and it only got to be tried and tested, by being tried and tested. Rejecting any spiritual practice on the basis of newness, is therefore not entirely sensible. Again, if we accept the importance of human creativity and human innovation in the mix, we do not have to rely on ancient, out of date and irrelevant spiritual practices.

      We can make our own. I’d go further and say that we should make our own. We can draw on inspiration from many sources, but we are here, and now, each of us in situations unique to us. We should not deny our own spirits and our own spiritual power by relying too much on external sources of words, and others who mediate between us and whatever we hold sacred.

      So, my suggestion is this: Write your own sacred book. Write it, and, if you’re feeling brave, share it. And if you want to come and tell me about it, drop by and let me know. I’ll happily share links for handmade sacred texts.

      I’ve been exploring the possibilities of this for some time now, and it’s not as difficult or daunting as the premise may suggest. You simply need a dedicated notebook, and if something occurs to you, add it. Generally, sacred texts include mythic histories of founders and creation, stories that illustrate ethical principles and demonstrate how to behave, wisdom statements, prayers, observations on life and on what works and what doesn’t and things to do and not do. Now, there’s no requirement to have all of these in your book. You might want to take existing stories, myths, etc and include them. This is fine. Reinvention is nothing new. Arguably, the Bible is full of examples of people recycling other people’s ideas in just this way, and our ancient Pagan ancestors were forever borrowing from each other. However, if a text has a name on it, bring that along too. It’s important, it keeps the writing out of the hands of the gods and reminds us of our own fallible humanity.

      If Facebook is anything to go by, many Pagans love finding and sharing little wisdom statements and expressions of love and hope. There is no reason why a sacred text couldn’t be a collection of these – original, borrowed, or a mix of the two. No source is off limits. Take your favourite Jesus quotes if you want to. Or those from your favourite comedian.

      Consider what advice you’d most like to share with the world. What have you learned? What do you know? If this was going to be the one book everybody read, what would it need to say? It’s often said that everyone has a book in them. For some reason this is always assumed to be a work of fiction. It is my firmly held belief that what we could all write, is the book of our own religion.

      I’ve been working on a project in this vein for six months at the time of writing this. I add things as they occur to me. I’m a Druid, which means that a lot of what I’m doing is observing things in the natural world and then reflecting on the meaning of the experience. I spend a lot of time learning from what I see – recently that’s meant water birds more than anything else, but I know that will change. I reflect on life events and seek lessons in them, and when I think I’ve pinned a thing, I write it down. This helps me focus in my daily practice. Contemplation is a big part of what I do, and trying to reduce concepts to potent nuggets of insight has added to my spiritual journey. It’s also given me a book of words I can reflect on. In times of stress or uncertainty, flipping through the pages of my own observations is a comfort. I can see that with enough thoughts collected, I might even be able to use them in the same way as I might a set of oracle cards, flitting to a random page in search of inspiration to help me tackle the day.

      It would be an option to write an entire book full of useful bits of advice. There doesn’t have to be any religion in it at all, technically. In fact, one of my hopes is that a few atheists may become interested and have a go. The deflating of the power of the ‘word of god’ in the form of human texts, might have some appeal there. A person can have spirituality without belief. They can have ethics, guiding stories and wisdom sayings without needing any gods at all.

      For someone who follows a deity, writing a sacred book might be heavily influenced by that experience of the divine. It might be a record of encounters and experiences. For someone whose perspective is more animist, the sacred text might be a reflection of how spirit manifests in life.

      There are so many ways in which this could be done. None of them better, or any more right than any other way. There should in fact, be as many unique sacred books as there are people undertaking to write them. That’s part of the beauty of it. No authority. No monopoly on truth. No power base. It will only work if plenty of us undertake to do it, though. With self publishing on Lulu and Amazon so easy, with blogs freely available, there are many ways of doing this and sharing it without incurring any personal cost – only the dedication of time and love required.

      Imagine what it would be like to read a modern, sacred book written by an equally modern fellow pagan. Not a book about how to be a pagan. Not a book about what ancient pagans used to do. A book that is a living, breathing expression of paganism, in just the same way that The Bible works for Christians. And then to read another, completely different, no more right, just as important, and know there are plenty more out there. That would be something! Imagine writing one of those for yourself. Think about how focusing and empowering it would be. How would it feel to hold in your hands the expression of your beliefs? What would it be like to place that piece of work on your altar? Imagine reading it at rituals. Swapping with a friend so that you can read each other’s testaments. Maybe copying a few choice lines to add to the next edition of yours.

      By ‘book’ I do not mean some epic tome requiring half a tree to print it. Your book is precisely as big as it needs to be. Perhaps in three pages you’ll have said enough. Perhaps you’ll need three hundred. There are no wrong answers here. Just write it. Do it for yourself, and for whatever you hold most sacred. Do it for a wounded world that has been battered by human war for too long. Not only is writing a sacred text and act of personal faith and exploration, it is also deeply political and subversive. Especially if you talk about it.

      The more people write their own book, the more it demonstrates that people can write sacred books, and do, and that a desire to put spiritual experience into words is the only qualification you really need. People wrote the Bible, the Koran, The Talmud, the Vedas, the Tao Te Ching. How different would the world be if Jesus had written his own book and we had his words, not the things his followers remembered, or wanted him to have said? The more we point to the human element of sacred writing, the more we refuse the authority of older texts. This is a notion that carries a lot of power and potential in it.

      As pagans nature is our book. We say that often. There is no one sacred book. There should be no one sacred book either, because to do that would be to try and assert authority, to claim a monopoly on wisdom, insight and truth that none of us have any right to claim. But if we all write a book, that’s a very different thing. Power is distributed. Wisdom disseminates. We increase our scope to learn from each other, and we tackle head on a thought form that has led to far more violence and cruelty in this world, than bears thinking about. Sacred books are written by humans. And so, as humans, we have the power to write them. Not to express superiority, not to control others or to demean what anyone else values, but to express our own ideas.

        Posted in Community, Opinion | 3 Comments

        The Pagan Community; do we exclude children and their parents?

        HB Horne, Regional Coordinator for Somerset, asks some hard questions about our responsibilities to pagan families:

        The pagan community has been thriving in ever increasing numbers since the 60’s. Many believe that the recent UK census will reveal that the number of people who identify as of pagan outnumbers those of the Sikh and Jewish faith communities. We are certainly growing at a rapid rate.

        However, when we refer to “generations” in the pagan community, we are not talking about familial generations (mother to son, father to daughter, for example). We are generally talking about the decade that each new group converted to, or found paganism. The generation who found their path in the 70’s or the 80’s or the 90’s. We are not talking about the generation that were born into a pagan spirituality. Which leads me to ask…have you ever met someone who was born into a pagan spirituality?

        There are older children and teenage converts to paganism and there are parents who raise their children as pagan, but very few of these children grow up to remain pagan in adulthood. Many parents in the pagan community simply choose not to raise their children with an overtly pagan practice at all.

        As a pagan parent myself, I can understand this. There are so many potential obstacles and dilemmas to being a pagan parent. We live in a hyper paranoid and vigilant culture, especially where children are concerned. I am asked to sign a form every time my children get a bruise! So imagine the potential reaction to a child telling their teacher that their “daddy dresses like a ghost for rituals and has a big sword”, “mummy likes to dance naked outside with her friends”, “my uncle doesn’t believe in Jesus, he likes hairy Vikings!” What do the other children at school think when pagan children talk about the Goddess or not celebrating Christmas (although granted many pagans make merry at Yule)?

        It’s a veritable minefield. Choosing a pagan spirituality as an adult is to accept that you might either choose to be discreet about your faith or to spend the rest of your life explaining and correcting people who make judgements or express prejudice towards you and your beliefs. So how ethical is it as a parent, to expect your children to potentially face those questions and that prejudice? I suspect that this is at the core of why so few pagans choose to raise their children in an overtly pagan practice. I have actually been warned not to raise my children as pagan by other pagans.

        After giving birth to my first child, I started to look for a pagan parenting group. I wanted to discuss all these questions with other parents; who else would understand? How to manage questions from school, what would we share with our children by way of practice and what we would explain to our children of a theology? I lived in London at the time, but there was no group. I left an advert in the Green Pages to start up a group, but I didn’t receive a single response. I tried to set up my own group but none of the pagan parents that I knew had time. It wasn’t a priority. That’s not a judgement or criticism. Committing to your own spiritual path, in addition to having a family and holding down employment can be pretty time consuming. What compounded the problem for me is that so many pagan events, gatherings and practices are in the evening. During grown up time. The events in the daytime are often talks and conferences for adults, and if children attend them at all they tend to disrupt the adults trying to listen and engage. Which is not fair on the children who become bored, or the adults who are wanting to focus on the speaker or facilitator and who have paid money for a ticket.

        There are picnics and camps, but again, not many of these have specific activities for children, least of all young children. As a pagan parent you can begin to feel ostracised and unwelcomed by the pagan community.

        Paganism for teenagers is a different ball game, of course. Paganism has huge appeal for adolescents. It is political (environmental/feminist), it’s rebellious, it accepts huge variety and alternative views, alternative clothing, piercings, tattoos, crazy hair colours, it can be a bit mysterious, sexy and dark…but again, the needs of adolescents are very different from the needs of young adults. Having worked with families, children and adolescents as a mental health professional for the past 10 years, I am acutely aware of the different developmental needs and complexities of each stage of childhood and adolescence. Adolescents need their own space to experiment with who they are, including in the spiritual context. Their needs are vastly different from the adult pagan community so how do we cater for this? It has been noted by many that in actuality the pagan community is an predominantly ageing population. Whilst many young people are quite interested in paganism earlier on in their teens or early adulthood, the same number don’t stay active within the pagan community. Let’s ask ourselves why this is?

        I have been to many pagan events over the years and I can say with very few exceptions that either myself, a friend or my husband have had to step out of or leave an event because it wasn’t really appropriate for children. Even when activities are put on for children, it can feel a little token, or there aren’t often enough children there to make it a true success, because pagan parents often stay away or get a baby sitter and leave the children at home. Taking a child into most events within the pagan community is not easy.

        In this country, we have become more and more disparate over the last few decades. People have questioned whether a locational sense of community exists as strongly as it once did. Certainly there are now great physical distances between family members and this has become a reality of our modern lives. But the issue of community isn’t entirely about physical distance is it? Communities continue to form and develop online or around common interests and that has certainly happened within paganism. But there isn’t a thriving pagan families network online either.

        An old African saying that states “it takes a whole village to raise a child” and my interpretation of this is that children are affected by the whole community around them. That we all have responsibility to be positive role models for the generations that follow us. If children do not have access to the pagan community, how will they have any sense of us at all?

        An important caveat might be to note that there is also vast variations between the different pagan traditions. In particular I think of Heathenry being clan and tribe focused. To follow a heathen path is to share responsibility for your community as a whole. So I might suggest that perhaps this issue is less prevalent in certain traditions.

        In the the past year or so I have begun to feel hope. I see the beginnings of change. The Pagan Federation 40th celebration last year held a free family friendly day which had wonderfully engaging activities for children. Bristol has a pagan parenting group now with some 60 or so members, articles are appearing here and there and paganism is being taught in some schools, if requested. (Thanks to the hard work of a few members of our Pagan Federation committee).

        In more recent years, I have had the chance to attend and help facilitate a few pagan family groups with activities and themes especially for children. The holidays and Sabbats that are important to many pagans are celebratory in nature. It is a wonderful thing to be able to celebrate the turning of the wheel with a group, especially for children. To dance and sing, decorate and feast. There is so much fun, celebration, joy and laughter to be shared.

        Like C.S. Lewis I happen to believe that all children start out pagan. Born with an inherent sense of awe and wonder in nature, born without sexual guilt or gender stereotypes, with a sense of magic and divine in all things. I appreciate that my concept might be extremely offensive to many non-pagans, so I apologise to those who might read this and baulk at the idea of an inherent pagan nature in their children. But it is a concept that I personally embrace with much enthusiasm. As a mother, the idea of encouraging my daughters to see their inherent divinity as embodied and demonstrated in the symbols of powerful Priestesses and Mighty Goddesses, to see masculine power in a necessary, collaborative relationship with femininity is something to embrace. To see a faith that instills our responsibility to this earth and doesn’t place mankind external to and above nature, which in my opinion carries the implicit permission to take as much as we want from the earth as if it was our limitless and personal supermarket.

        Some of us have had spiritualities inflicted upon us, religions that we ultimately abandoned in favour of paganism. Are we choosing not to pass on our own spirituality to our own children for fear of them rejecting it, as we rejected the one passed on to us? Is it maybe that we want them to have the freedom to find their own path without fear of guilt or reprisal?

        I feel strongly that a pagan spirituality is a strong and positive one and I would rather my kids experience that as part of their upbringing than nothing. For millennia human beings have acknowledged the value of myth and symbolism, they have interacted with the natural world around them with reverence and awe and it scares me to think of humanity stripped of that sensitivity. Our children will also be exposed to many other beliefs throughout their lives and I would like my beliefs and practices to be amongst them, whatever path they ultimately choose for themselves. I have no intention to force anything on my children, far from it, but I want to offer them experiences, stories and imagery that inspire awe and wonder. I believe myths are fundamental to our sociological and psychological well being, to our sense of belonging and community. We need to find a way, as a community, to share this with our children because it is within the community that the myths come alive and take on sociological meaning.

        After some years pondering this issue I have decided to take action and am building an online forum called “The Pagan Child and Families Network”. It will be a space for pagan families to discuss this topic, explore these questions, share their practices and support each other in our roles as pagan parents. I also hope that this forum will help to develop a momentum for pagan parenting and to encourage community activity and inclusion.

        I would love to hear from you, both positive and negative feedback are welcome, and please feel free to share this article with any pagan parents or groups that you know.

          Posted in Community, Opinion, Reflections | 33 Comments

          Pagan Pride 2012

          Lily Oak, Regional Coordinator for Northumbria, shares this video she produced for Pagan Pride 2012:

            Posted in Community, Events, Video | 3 Comments

            Your Pagan Federation Needs You!

            The Pagan Federation Needs You!The Pagan Federation has been working away to progress the rights of Pagans, for many years. Until recently we have been quite modest about our work..then we hit our 40th birthday and thought, you know what?…we do great work here and we ought to blow our own trumpet a bit more!

            We have helped to put pagan spirituality on the interfaith stage, to be recognised in the public sector, we have helped to inform the public and private sector about our pagan spirituality and dispel some of the misunderstandings they might have about us, we have developed hospital and prison ministries, we provide solvent and positive representatives for the media, an advocacy service, we host not-for-profit open events and rituals for the pagan community, we provide a national network for pagans to meet each other, we are currently developing a celebrants and rights-of-passage resource, we produce the Pagan Dawn magazine and a lot more besides.

            The Pagan Federation are a voluntary not-for-profit organisation, and therefore we are only as strong as our membership. Please join us in our work, and help make us even more extraordinary.


              Posted in Pagan Federation news | 1 Comment

              Roots of the Rede

              Originally published in Pagan Dawn, Luthaneal Adams, Deputy District Manager for London, shares his article on the origins of the Wiccan Rede:

              King Pausole and the Wiccan RedeThe Wiccan Reed is one of the most well known sayings in modern Paganism and has been adopted by a variety of modern Pagans.

              “An it harm none, do what thou will”. A message that holds a unique allure and that is perhaps quite deceptive in its simplicity. The philosophically minded can spend many hours expounding upon the meaning of the Rede and its applicability. However, one subject that is often glazed over with careless abandon is the origin of the Rede itself. Indeed, I think that some consider it’s origin to be a ‘done and dusted’ matter, but I believe that it is a subject worth revisiting.

              The actual formula of the Rede is not entirely original. Similar concepts have echoed in various writings for hundreds of years.

              Of course, for us, the source of the Wiccan Rede takes us directly to Gerald Gardner, father of Wicca, who gives us this explanation for where it comes from:

              “[Witches] are inclined to the morality of the legendary Good King Pausol, “Do what you like so long as you harm no one”.
              Gerald Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft

              King Pausole is a fictional character created by French novelist and poet, Pierre Louÿs (pseudonym of Pierre Louis). Very often it has been the case that Gardner’s explanation of equating witchcraft ethics with that of King Pausole, is dismissed in favour of an examination of Gardner’s connection to Thelema and Crowley. While it is certainly true that the Rede is similar to the ‘law of Thelema’, I think that those versed in both Wicca and Thelema will agree that this similarity is superficial and that the actual meanings behind the words are quite dissimilar. I have even seen some authors suggest that Louÿs’ The Adventures of King Pausole is too obscure a book to have been the source of the Rede and that any such connection is implausible. However, this ignores the fact that Gardner was obviously well aware of the book in order to be able to reference it in the first place.

              In fact, looking into The Adventures of King Pausole reveals a book that Gardner was most likely not only familiar with, but was actually right up his street!

              Pierre Louis (1870-1925) was the best selling French author of his day (so hardly an obscure figure writing obscure works) and the two works that got him there would have definitely been of interest to Gardner. In 1894 Louis wrote book entitled Chansons de Bilitis, a work of prose poetry exalting Sapphic love. Louis claimed that this work was translated from older Greek writings and even managed to fool the experts of the time. Two years later, in 1896, Louis wrote his best selling book Aphrodite, which portrayed the life of a hetairai (courtesan) in ancient Alexandria.

              Philip Heselton, in his book Wiccan Roots, explains that before Gardner found his way to Witchcraft, he had believed that he was the reincarnation of an ancient Cypriot weapons smith and that in 1939 Gardner had bought a plot of land in Cyprus, which he believed corresponded to this past life and where he, according to Cecil Williamson, intended to build a temple to Aphrodite.

              It is not difficult to imagine that someone like Gardner, devoted to pursuing a path to the Goddess Aphrodite, would be rather interested in a best selling book of the same name and another by the same author that is deemed to be ancient Sapphic poetry. Indeed, given Gardner’s interests at the time, I dare say that he was most likely well aware of the writings of Louis and that this, in turn, led him to The Adventures of King Pausole.

              I imagine that King Pausole would have struck a cord with Gardner. From Gardner’s own reference, we know that he must have read the book and taken enough inspiration from it that he would call it to mind in reference to the Craft some years later. But it is really no surprise that a book like this would stay in Gardner’s mind, as it in so many ways reflects his personality.

              King Pausole is the ruler of the land of Tryphemia. A quirky character with a unique outlook on life, the king ruled his land under his own simplified justice system, in which there was just one law, summarised in two articles:

              1. Thou shalt not harm thy neighbour.
              2. This being understood, do as thou woudst.

              Immediately we see the early stirrings of the Rede.

              The king was also a Pagan in his own right: “…Pausole tolerated all religions, and himself practiced several, so as to experience the consolations of the various paradises in turn. The altar which the king preferred was a small temple dedicated to Demeter and Persephone situated in one of his parks. The two goddesses having no longer any worshipers on earth listened benevolently to him who remembered them.”

              Pausole’s Pagan mentality was quite akin to Gardner’s own in many ways, especially considering the Greek influences that would have surrounded his pursuit for Aphrodite in Cyprus.

              Additionally, King Pausole shared another dominant trait with Gardner, his love of nakedness and beautiful women. Pausole possessed his own naked harem, which was made up of his many wives, who numbered one for every day of the year. In keeping with the king’s rather unique perspective, he viewed this as the perfect number, so that by spending one night a year with each of them, none would get jealous of favoritism.

              His wives spent all their time naked, which was not simply for the king’s own taste, but as part of the custom of the land, which the king himself had installed. In Tryphemia, it is common custom for young and beautiful women to be naked as often as common sense and decency would allow. However, as a twist in the outlook of the people of Tryphemia, it is considered far more decent to display the naked body for all to enjoy, than it is to cover it up in public, presenting a false sense of modesty and allowing the minds of the depraved to run wild with ideas of what may lay beneath the clothes of such young ladies.

              For someone like Gardner, a nudist who has been described by his contemporaries as being “an unashamed sensualist”, it isn’t hard to see why the ideals of Pausole and Tryphemia would be very appealing.

               he role of central character in the plot is shared between Pausole and one of his pages, named Giglio, whose exploits drive the plot forward in a combination of guile, cunning and sexual (mis)adventure. In many ways Giglio is the star of the tale, displaying a wit and roguish nature than allows him to constantly get the better of his counterpart, the king’s Grand Eunuch, Taxis. The interplay between Giglio and Taxis is quite noteworthy and very much in keeping with the way in which Gardner tended to portray himself. Giglio is a rogue and rascal, winning people over with his stories and quick thinking. Taxis on the other hand, is a staunch and stuffy Protestant who stands in utter disdain of just about everything that the king stands for. He is anti-nakedness, anti-sensualist, anti-sex and represents all the oppressive qualities that the writer sees in Christianity.

              One can well imagine how Gardner, that great “leg-puller”, may well have identified with Giglio and Pausole, as he and his witchcraft stepped into a largely Christian religious arena, where so many would cast their own disdain upon him and his practices.

              However, I think that perhaps we might see Gardner and the Craft best reflected in the words of Pausole, himself, when presented with the proposition that everyone in Tryphemia should be forced to adopt the custom of nakedness and the ethical views of the king and the majority:

              “…Tryphemia is not a topsy-turvy world; it is a better world, at least I hope so, but I have not spared my people certain bonds in order to cause them to suffer other chains. …Sir, man demands to be left alone. Each is a master of himself, of his opinion, of his behaviour and of his actions, within the limits of inoffensiveness. The citizens of Europe are tired of feeling at every moment the hand of authority on their shoulder, an authority which is made unbearable by being omnipresent. They still tolerate the fact that the law speaks to them in the name of public interest, but when it begins to interfere with the individual in spite of or against his wishes, when it direct his private life, his marriage, divorce, last wishes, reading, performances, games and costume, the individual has the right to ask the law why it has poked its nose into his affairs without being invited.

              …Never will I place my subjects in a position of being able to level such a reproach against me. I give them advice, it is my duty. Some do not follow it, it is their right. And so long as one of them does not put out his hand to steal a purse, or to give a rap on the nose, I do not have to interfere in the life of a free citizen.”

              Ultimately, is this not the spirit of the Reed? Advice that may be taken, but with the understanding that each person is the master of their own life and their own destiny, and that so long as we seek to treat each other with kindness and respect, we may live free.

                Posted in Articles, History | 4 Comments

                A modern Hedgewitch in action

                The Chanting HedgeWitch shares this charm:

                Other than water, green tea is the most popularly consumed beverage in the world (apparently). It contains the amino acid L-Theanine which promotes relaxation without drowsiness (relaxed yet alert).

                In scientific studies, L-Theanine has been shown to stimulate the production of alpha brain-waves  – and alpha brain-waves are abundant when one is calm and lucid, and when one is in a deep meditative state.

                The following charm spontaneously came to me, whilst one of my clients was describing difficulties with a friend, and at the same-time, enquiring as to whether green tea actually had some health benefits – or if it was “just another fad”:

                Green tea charm for clarity (Anger Release)

                (as you pour boiling water over the tea bag, say:)

                Sharp is my eire
                – it blurs my sight
                Strong, my desire
                – for hallowed night
                Green, may you fire
                – the seeds of plight
                So that Clean, I acquire
                – a Deity’s light!

                (drink the tea chanting:)

                I see
                May you see
                We are seen

                (Translation of “Namaste” = “I honour the place within you, where the entire Universe resides. I honour the place within you of light, truth and peace. I honour the place within you, where when you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me; there is only One of Us.”)

                  Posted in Ritual | Comments Off on A modern Hedgewitch in action

                  Where did all the Teenage Witches come from?

                  Jack Dark argues that they’re largely a creation of the media and marketing in the 90s, but the pagan community has a strong responsibility towards them now:

                  Teenage Witches in the media, The Craft

                  Teenage Witches in the media, 1996’s “The Craft”.

                  I was a Teenage Witch!

                  Well, sort of…

                  I’d read a fair bit and was doing my own small spells and rituals. This was a few years before the Internet made information about witchcraft and paganism easily available. The Farrars’ A Witches’ Bible seemed to be the choice for young people of my era wanting to learn about real Witchcraft. It was a wonderfully gothic looking tome which could sometimes be found sitting in bookshops drawing attention to itself, with that title promising that it was some kind of encyclopaedic doorway to forbidden magical knowledge.

                  Back then, serious books on magic or witchcraft were exceedingly hard to come by unless you knew exactly where to look. A Witches’ Bible seemed like a naughty artefact that the larger chain bookshops would sell more as a novelty item with an arcane curiosity value, than out of a commitment to cater for people wanting to learn about the subject.

                  Now, with experience I know that it’s a fairly decent book about Wicca-flavoured witchcraft, but the magic word ‘Bible’ in the title, together with the idea that it was some kind of heretical Witches’ Bible in opposition to the regular Bible, and the white on black drawings on the front of broomsticks and ritual tools, were what made it seem so appealing back then.

                  I saw it on the shelves many times, but never had either enough nerve or cash to buy it, so my first book on witchcraft, actually written by a witch, was Doreen Valiente’s Witchcraft for Tomorrow much later.

                  Nowadays, there’s a whole industry selling books on witchcraft aimed at teenagers and the ‘Teen Witch’ is a demographic that the pagan community, once closed to anyone who wasn’t able to pass for grown-up, is having to deal with.

                  Let’s not beat about the bush here – a lot of the books and material aimed at these kids is exploitative rubbish intended to rid them of their money without actually imparting any useful information, whilst feeding the egos of the authors by setting them up as wise gurus. They’re sold to people wanting to use spells as a ready-made quick-fix solution and contain little in the way of spirituality.

                  There have always been kids who are into the dark and spooky, and let’s face it, Halloween is much more fun than Christmas, and then there are those who come to paganism through environmentalism, but there’s another aspect to it now, which needs to be understood – the ways that media representations inspire people.

                  So – back to I was a Teenage Witch.

                  There wasn’t actually a film called that made in the 1950s, but there might well have been. There were, however, a lot of horror films aimed at teenagers with titles like I was a Teenage Werewolf or I was a Teenage Frankenstein.

                  Teenagers, and all the physical changes that come with puberty were seen as scary in an America that was just starting to openly talk about such things, so they added these into the mix of cinematic monstrosities to reflect back at the audience some of the fears of society, as well as fears of the supernatural kind. These films don’t seem very scary at all now, but teenage rebellion was a very real issue in a 50s America that was struggling with its identity as a nation after the Second World War and into the Cold War. If teenagers rebelled, who would join the army to protect against the Reds under the bed? They might even easily become those very Reds if they came under the influence of reefers or subversive literature and politics! Or worse… the atomic age meant that the fear that mutant monsters might be around the corner was one that also took hold.

                  They way that these fears were safely contained was to show their defeat on the cinema screen, and also to provide wholesome equivalents. Alongside the ‘I was a teenage…’ monster movies, one of these first appeared in Archie comic and was the squeaky clean and friendly Sabrina the Teenage Witch. That’s where the phrase ‘Teenage Witch’ came from as far as I can tell. The TV series came later but it was comics that were sold in supermarkets and newsagents stands that were trying to appeal to a younger audience than the horror films of the 50s that first used the term.

                  Over the pond, there are two very significant British contributions to the idea and fictional evolution of the Teen Witch, which were grounded in a very different cultural context. Jill Murphy’s wonderful The Worst Witch was published in 1975, and for perhaps the first time showed in both prose and pictures young girls studying and practising magic and spells, wearing pointy hats, riding broomsticks and other doing other witchy things. The Worst Witch books were Enid Blyton stories by way of The Addams Family albeit with slightly less barely repressed lesbianism and transvestisism, but even though the solutions to difficult situations that characters found themselves in were usually magical, they still required bravery and creative thinking and intelligence, so were largely portrayal of young witches as role models. However, Mildred Hubble, the main character and ‘worst witch’ wasn’t a power fantasy, or a naff ‘chosen one’ – she was someone who you could relate to whilst being a bit of a feminist icon, of sorts.

                  There was also, in early 80s, a magazine called Misty aimed at teenage girls, which was mostly supernatural mystery stories but also featured articles about tarot cards, fortune telling, astrology, and mythology. The ‘hostess’ of this magazine was a very goddess-like ‘Lady of the Mists’ called ‘Misty’. The editor of Misty was very pagan-friendly and also responsible for Slaine in 2000AD, and I’m sure he didn’t have any kind of agenda to convert his readership into witches, but he was putting these kinds of things into a magazine that had a large teenage female readership and could be bought in almost any newsagent. In Misty, this editor made sure that things like witches, pagan gods and mythology were mostly presented in a positive and fairly accurate way.

                  Now, we come to the time when I was reading about magic and witchcraft, and meeting other pagans for the first time – the early 90s. There’s a groundswell of interest and more books being published with ‘Wicca’ or ‘Witch’ in the title, and the Internet leading to easy communication between groups and organisations. Paganism was growing and spreading.

                  Now, you knew I was going to mention this sometime, so there it is – The Craft. Hollywood finally figured out that there was a teenage girl demographic they could aim a horror film at. And in the vague tradition in Hollywood of hiring consultants to advise when producing films, the producers of The Craft hired a representative of a pagan organisation – The Covenant Of The Goddess – as an advisor. This advisor was put in the strange position of being both asked for contributions which would make the Witchcraft seem authentic, but also being told that it was a fantasy film which wasn’t going to take the material too seriously.

                  So, what we got was some fairly accurate Wiccan terminology with the casting of circles and calling of quarters shown and a representation of a dedication ritual with what were once supposed to be secret passwords revealed onscreen. This was in addition to the special effects-led fantasy elements such as flying and shapeshifting. So, there were a few authentic bits, but it’s still largely a fantasy film.

                  However – what you do have, and this is the important bit, is a group of outsiders, gaining confidence and empowerment through practising witchcraft. Up until the fantasy elements kick in, this is clearly being shown. The girls in The Craft are a group of friends becoming more attractive, having better social lives, and being better able to deal with the pressures of school, through getting together to practice magic. Well, until it all goes wrong because they argue over boys, but anyway…

                  The Craft led to Charmed, which also borrowed terms from ‘proper’ witchcraft, and used the word ‘Wicca’ and also the ‘Rule of Three’, which is based on the Wiccan law of threefold return. We’ve also got the original teen witch, Sabrina on television, and although that’s further away still from the real thing, these are all young role models who call themselves witches.

                  And then you’ve got Harry Potter and Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and… and… and…

                  Now, I’m not saying that all the young witches that are around nowadays were inspired by these fictional creations. It’s more of a two-way thing, with the growth of paganism and the media portrayal of witches influencing each other. And, of course, a desire for spirituality that’s not being supplied by the more established religions, and rising environmental awareness, also linked in with the interest in paganism amongst the young and the increased availability of information about it. But the relationship between fiction and the growth of interest in paganism, witches, witchcraft and Wicca is clear.

                  In the midst of all this, what a few people did latch onto as a very marketable concept was the term ‘Teen Witch’.

                  And this is where it all goes wrong.

                  The various books with ‘Teen Witch’ in the title or subtitle, so far almost without exception (and yes, for the sake of research, I’ve read most of them) seem to be aimed at people who want to emulate their on-screen role models. The writers insert themselves into their books as fountains of knowledge and wise advice and promise that the spells that the books are padded out with can solve all of their readers’ problems.

                  There’s a lack of honesty about where the practices that these writers are handing down come from. They say ‘real witches do this…’ or ‘real witches never do this…’ and with almost every instance I’ve been able to think of exceptions.

                  There’s little context or background given, and the advice about the things that matter to teenagers, like school, relationships, sex, drugs, booze, friends, bullying, parents etc is little better than that in the problems pages of any teen magazine, and often worse – because they frequently convince teenagers to try magic as a substitute for practical solutions which may be more appropriate.

                  The writers either seem to be overbearing motherly types who feel they know what’s best, because they have teenage children of their own, or are deadly serious born-again pagans who fear a return to The Burning Times and seem to expect to be constantly persecuted for their beliefs and offer advice about that to about this, rather than about anything more useful and relevant to day to day life.

                  These books seem to be trying to shape their readers before they get on to other material or think too much for themselves, and don’t really seem to be an accurate representation of what does go on, on the pagan scene or what witches really do. The only reason I can think of for this is to bolster the egos and wallets of the authors. They promise empowerment, but don’t deliver real knowledge or information about the whole realm of paganism, witchcraft or magic. The same goes for certain witchcraft organisations that market their events and services at teenagers that I could name.

                  In many ways what they are offering is a trade off – ‘If you do this, all your problems will be solved BUT many people will want to persecute you for solving them in this way and for using words like ‘Witch’ to describe yourself’.

                  There’s a hint of truth in this, perhaps, but it seems like alongside the spell-casting problem-solving they’re also offering a form of rebellion which is as sanitised and harmless as the music that tries to pass for punk these days, which people may find appealing because of the promise that others will find it offensive.

                  So, from the situation maybe ten or fifteen years ago where younger people seeking information, guidance and teaching were told to come back when they were a bit older, or if they were lucky were pointed at the very, very few reputable pagan youth organisations that existed, we’ve now got a very distinct figure of the ‘Teen Witch’ in the media and society, who we can’t and definitely now shouldn’t just tell to come back when they’re older, because if we do there’s plenty of other people who’ll view them greedily as a marketing demographic or worse.

                  Today’s teen witches are in danger of being given very bad advice and exploited and ripped off by profit-driven organisations which are all too often unaccountable commercial businesses masquerading as spiritual movements.

                  This risk has always been there, but now with the whole teen witch concept established as a ‘thing’ there are far more kids that we’ve got to take some responsibility for offering good advice to.

                  Maybe this isn’t something we wanted or asked for, but it’s something we’ve got to think about and the serious pagan organisations which actually do hold ethics above profits shouldn’t just turn the younger seekers away, but should find some way of giving them what they need, which is good advice and the way towards knowledge, instead of just selling them a pre-packaged persecution complex and false promises of spells to solve all their problems.

                  What do you think?

                    Posted in Opinion | 19 Comments

                    Autumnal reflection

                    Chattering Magpie, Deputy District Manager for East Midlands, shares this personal reflection:

                    It has been approximately a quarter of a century since I began to walk this path I now call, Traditional Paganism. In the beginning my path was less Traditional but has always been and remains, Pagan.

                    Like many whose journey began in the nineteen eighties, my influences were primarily Gardnerian. What today we may call “Wicca” although at that time, that was a word few heard or used.

                    Within the past decade my practice has changed, as have my beliefs somewhat modified. I have become perhaps more earthy, polytheistic, increasingly inspired by folklore, less “wiccanesque” and increasingly, what some may describe as “Traditional.”

                    My studies began with correspondence and the type of year long postal course that many today dismiss without thought. However, I was lucky. My exchange was with a couple in Yorkshire, whose sound advice and level headed approach has served me well. Although I am less “Wiccan” in my approach now, their teachings remain an important foundation of my praxis. I am indebted to them and they remain my spiritual parents.

                    Over the past decade I have developed further than in the previous decade and a half. This has been facilitated by my improved opportunities to socialise with other Pagan folk, the formation of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, with the attendant development of coven working and brainstorming sessions with persons whose friendship, I sadly no longer enjoy.

                    In recent weeks emails and visits from persons new to Paganism, has caused me to reflect upon my own first steps upon this Crooked Path. They come to me so insecure, so full of questions but with a fear of making themselves appear foolish or ignorant. Twenty five years ago, that was me and I sought the very same answers.

                    This has all given me “pause for thought” as I have found their questions difficult to answer. Not because they are complex but because they are simple enquiries. The questions are often difficult as they relate to matters that do not apply to my own specific path. They are difficult because there is so much that I no longer do. Nor are their questions foolish or stupid, they are rational and sensible; even though they may think that they are indeed, asking “stupid questions.”

                    Is the fault mine? Is it really so difficult to communicate with someone who has not read the same one thousand books? That being a conservative estimate is not boasting but has relevance. Reading has been a significant influence upon my development.

                    It is therefore, proving increasingly difficult to communicate ideas and concepts relating to my own beliefs and practice, in an intellectual sphere, simply because so much of my own praxis is instinctive. I feel totally under-qualified to teach but that is preferable to being a self-proclaimed expert on everything under the sun.

                      Posted in Reflections | 4 Comments