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Ásatrú Alliance of Independent Kindreds, The.  “2257 Runic Era Calendar Feast Days and Days

of Observance.”  The Ásatrú Alliance. 18 Jun. 2008  < http://www.asatru.org/ >.

Clifton, Chas S.  Her Hidden Children The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America.  Lanham:

AltaMira Press, 2006.

Ellis, Peter Berresford.  A Brief History of the Druids. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers,

2003.

Ellison, Robert Lee.  The Solitary Druid.  Kensington Publishing Corp.  New York, NY.  2005.

Freeman, Mara.  Kindling the Celtic Spirit. Harper Collins. New York, NY.  2000.

Hutton, Ronald.  The Stations of the Sun A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.  Oxford

University Press, Oxford.  1996.

Johnson, Helen Sewell.  “November Eve Beliefs and Customs in Irish Life and

Literature.”  The Journal of American Folklore. Vol. 81, No. 320.  1968.

Jones, Prudence, and Nigel Pennick.  A History of Pagan Europe.  New York: Barnes & Noble,

1995.

Mac an tSaoir, Iain.  “Samhain.”  Clannada na Gadelica. 1999-2007.  18 Jun. 2008

<  http://www.clannada.org/bof_samhain.php >.

Markale, Jean.  The Epics of Celtic Ireland. Inner Traditions International.  Rochester,      Vermont.  2000.

Rolleston, T.W.  Celtic Myths and Legends. Dover Publications, NY.  1990.

Thesmophoria.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 18 Jun. 2008

<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/591846/Thesmophoria>.

 

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Clifton, Chas S.  Her Hidden Children The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America.  Lanham:

AltaMira Press, 2006.

Many of us come to Paganism with an interest in ancient history.  We wonder who and how our ancestors worshiped and we attempt to follow in their footsteps.  I can speak for myself when I say that when I began studying Wicca in high school I was not interested in Paganism’s modern history until I reached a point in my spiritual journey where I started to wonder why certain things were done.  Her Hidden Children the Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America by Chas S. Clifton attempts to explain the evolution of modern Paganism in ways that are both respectful and honest.

The important thing to remember when studying Paganism is that it is a spiritual path made up of many different religious outlooks.  Not everyone can agree on what Paganism is as a whole and so the movement must be looked at as an organism made up of many smaller cells.  Clifton successfully compares modern Paganism to an island teeming with diversity.  Just as everything is connected and dependent on one another in an ecological biosphere, so too are the modern Pagan movements connected.  Each Pagan path shares certain commonalities, whether it is a group of founders, cultural inspiration, similar ritual patterns, or the similarity of existing outside of the major five world religions.  Clifton’s goal is to examine Pagan literature as he believes that a study of the writing is the only way we have to map the evolution and growth of the movement. It is in this way that he is able to piece together the history of modern American Paganism.

Clifton’s main focus is Wicca.  It cannot be denied that Wicca has played a significant role in popularizing Paganism in general.  Like many forms of Paganism, its history starts outside of America – in Europe – with a man named Gerald Gardner who, by publishing Witchcraft Today, allowed for society to start thinking about Paganism (14).  Since then, numerous authors have written on “the craft” including Raymond Buckland, Doreen Valiente, and Cunningham.  Clifton argues that literature has been paramount to the spread of Wiccan thought and practice (13).  Since so many Wiccans are solitary practitioners, they rely on the written word to teach and learn more often than not. Clifton’s discussion on Wicca’s history is worth reading due to Wicca’s influence on Paganism as a whole.  The elders of the movement, dead and living, possess such interesting characters that one cannot help but admire them for their eccentricity.  Just as interesting is the transformation that Wicca has undertaken from a coven-centered religion to a diverse buffet of traditions with many eclectic solitaries.  The availability of literature has played a significant role in this growth and change, but the increasingly sexy portrayal of witches in the media, as discussed in the chapter “The Playboy and the Witch: Wicca and Popular Culture”, has helped as well.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book takes an in-depth look at Paganism’s relationship with nature.  I read this chapter shortly after taking part in a heated forum discussion on just that topic.  My experience on the Pagan forum was a revelation – not all Pagans identify with the title “nature religion.”  Many felt that their religion did not focus on nature but rather on magic or cultural heritage.  Others, like myself, argued that all of those things were part of nature.  Clifton explores this situation and suggests that there are three categories of “nature religion.”  He calls these “Cosmic Nature,” “Gaian Nature,” and “Erotic” or “Embodied Nature.”  Simply put, Cosmic Nature is concerned with magic and energy, Gaian Nature explores the philosophy of the Earth as a deity, and Erotic Nature involves sexual pleasure.  It is interesting to explore the different approaches to nature taken by other spiritual paths within Paganism, but the inherent message from Clifton is that concept of Paganism being a Nature Religion is  largely an American phenomenon with connections to the growing environmentalist movement (41).  However it must be understood that not all Pagan faiths are concerned with nature in the same way that some Wiccans and Druids are.

The book includes a chapter dedicated to other modern Pagan movements, but the discussion is very limited.  Clifton summarizes such movements as The Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia, The Church of All Worlds, The Council of Themis, and, finally, modern Druidism.  I was surprised that there was not a larger discussion on Reconstructionists (although they received brief mentions scattered throughout the book), Asatru, Modern Shamanism, or Chaos Magic.  Some of these movements, especially Asatru, have become incredibly influential in the Neo-Pagan world.  Clifton’s discussion on Druidism, while very interesting and helpful in understanding the development and inspiration for Ár nDraíocht Féin, seemed to fall short of other Druidic traditions.  The Henge of Keltria is only mentioned, and the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids seems nowhere to be found despite its having American members and an obvious influence on the modern Druidic movement.  If Clifton were to release a later edition, my suggestion to him would be to include a chapter on Druidism as well as a chapter on Astaru and Heathenism.  His chapter on other Pagan paths should be dedicated to the less understood, less discussed paths such as chaos magic and Christian Witches.

Despite the minor quips I’ve expressed, Her Hidden Children was an immensely enjoyable book with a lot of important information.  The writing style was very straightforward and easy to understand.  At times, the book was a page turner simply because of Clifton’s narrative style and the interesting facts he presented.

Her Hidden Children has been helpful in understanding the development of Wicca, Druidism, and Paganism as a whole within the United States.  It does not change my spirituality in any way, but it does make me a wiser, more informed, more tolerant person.  I think that, if Paganism is to remain a strong, growing religion, the diverse paths will have to celebrate their differences while embracing their similarities in order to unite for the common good.  This book serves as an excellent starting point for just that.

 

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Jones, Prudence, and Nigel Pennick.  A History of Pagan Europe.  New York: Barnes & Noble,

1995.

 

A side of history that has remained silent for many years is finally revealed in Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick’s work A History of Pagan Europe.  Through exploring the tomes of history, lore, and archaeology, the authors have put together an impeccable overview of the various ancient people of Europe.  In doing so, they exhibit not only how Europe became Europe, but how modern Paganism came to be.  A History of Pagan Europe is an excellent source for Pagan students.  What I found most fascinating were the similarities shared by the various cultures discussed.

Many people of European descent know very little about their ancestors.  The authors begin their work by stating that most people “are more familiar with native traditions from outside Europe than with their own spiritual heritage” (1).  This is sad, particularly so because many European descendants vehemently distance themselves from Paganism even though it has always been there and continues to exist, as Jones and Pennick argue, within our modern society, intertwined in some of our most seemingly secular institutions (1) such as democracy the celebration of Christmas.  The authors set out to debunk the misconceptions about Paganism held by society and show that we really aren’t so different from our ancestors.

The authors attempt to define what Paganism actually is.  I’ve found that it’s difficult to do so in this modern age because so many people, in particular Pagans themselves, refuse to be defined.  I feel that Jones and Pennick come to a satisfying conclusion.  If Paganism is ever to become unified (even though, again, some modern Pagans would argue against this notion), we have to unite under a name and group definition.  The authors first describe how people have defined Pagans in the past.  From country bumpkins to “non-combatants” (as opposed to the “soldiers of Christ”), the word “Pagan” has had a more or less pejorative meaning for the past few hundred years (1).  Jones and Pennick then look at the modern, spiritual definition and conclude that Pagan religions, past and present, share some common traits: polytheism (or some form of worshiping more than one deity), the view of nature as a theophany, and the recognition of Goddesses as well as Gods.  While some Pagans will argue with this, I feel that it covers many of our past and present traditions.  In my opinion, the authors do Paganism at large a service by providing a positive and academic definition.

We then delve into the history of the Greeks and the Eastern Mediterranean, the Romans and the Western Mediterranean, the Celts, the Germanic people, the Baltic people, and the Slavic people.  I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between these different cultures.  For instance, sacred trees kept revealing themselves in each culture.  The authors explain that in Greece “[m]any sanctuaries in later Greek culture centered on a sacred tree…”(6).  Later they explain that “[n]o temple was dedicated unless there was a holy tree associated with it” (20).  The Celts were said to worship in groves of trees (81) and some Germanic tribes also met in such places (116).  The Baltic people had celebrations revolving around ritualized trees that Pennick and Jones argue represented the “axis of the Earth’s rotation” (174).  In Lithuania, there were also sacred groves that were not to be cut  (176).  Everyone seems to have had a sense of the importance of the forest.  I was surprised, however, that the authors did not discuss the world tree of Norse tradition.

Nature was repeatedly venerated in some way from culture to culture. Sacred springs or wells played central roles to many of the old religions.  Slavic Pagans had rituals in which ceremonial dancers “undertook a nine-day ceremony [in which they] visited nine boundary-points, filled a ceremonial vessel with water from nine springs, and prayed to their patron goddess Irondeasa” (190).  The Celtic tribes felt that springs were sacred places as well.  There were springs at Bath associated with the Goddess Sul and “[s]sometimes these springs were thought to cure eye diseases, bringing the light of the Sun to the eye of the sufferer” (88).  In Ireland, “well-worship continues in a modern form, sometimes as a local folk-observance but more often by adoption into Christianity in the form of ‘well-dressing’” in which the well is decorated by the community and then blessed by a local priest (83-84).  The Greeks also recognized sacred springs (10).  The various cultures covered also had strong beliefs associated with fire and/or solar powers, nature spirits, agricultural festivals, and honoring the Earth.  It was interesting to see that, although the cultures venerated nature, they also exploited it. Unlike our modern world, however, our ancestors were very aware of the balance and the need to give back to nature and the Gods.

The dead and the Otherworld were also a common theme.  In Rome, “the remains of the dead were elaborately honored and they were housed in elaborate necropolises…” (26).  Obviously, there existed a concern with the afterlife. We know from Celtic lore that there were times of the year when the dead and other beings of the Otherworld could commune with the world of the living (90).  We know of some Germanic funeral traditions, some from direct observation.  While we may not know the meaning behind the traditions, it is, again, obvious that the dead were being taken care of and that they seem to have been sent into the Otherworld fully prepared for renewed life (138).  In addition, Pennick and Jones point out that the Germans were a bit different from other European Pagans in that they actually felt that their tribal ancestors were Gods (116).  In my opinion, this adds a whole new layer of sacredness to ancestor worship.

There were so many common themes that it would take pages and pages to discuss them all.  Reading about the various similarities helped to reinforce the customs of Ár nDraíocht Féin.   The creation of our altars and what goes on them makes more sense when viewed as a continuation of our ancestral religious traditions.  The tree represents the sacred tree that reveals itself again and again throughout the pages of the book.  The well represents the many sacred springs.  The cauldron represents the sacred fire.  We give offerings to the nature spirits because, like our ancestors, we believe that we need to give back to nature in thanks for what it gives us.  We honor our ancestors like our forefathers and mothers did.  We set up temples and worship in or around sacred trees.  Having read A History of Pagan Europe, I’m filled with a more academic understanding for all that we do in our tradition and it fills me with pride. It almost seems that through practicing as my ancestors did I am honoring them.

Reading the book hasn’t really changed how I practice my religion.  I’ve been recognizing the importance of the sacred tree, well, and fire for awhile now, and have been observing the other customs of ADF because they felt right. Reading about the historical background of everything only reinforces my spiritual practices and gives me a better understanding for other cultures that I may otherwise have never read about.  As someone who has clergy aspirations, it is useful to know that many of our practices are universal throughout Europe.  If I was required to do a Norse ritual, for instance, I wouldn’t feel too out of place after doing the appropriate amount of research on the pantheon.

The book ends by discussing how Paganism has been reestablishing itself, first through the Renaissance, and finally through the various modern movements.  The authors briefly touch on Druidry and Ásatrú, however I felt that they were more favorable of Wicca.  While Ásatrú has more of an honorable mention, Druidry is made to look like a fantasy-based fraternity (211).  Some of the first modern Druids do have Masonic roots, but the authors have failed to take note of other viable Celtic-inspired traditions that do more research and rely less on romantic fancy.  Perhaps it’s because the book was written before Ár nDraíocht Féin and Celtic Reconstructionism were as known as they are now. Meanwhile, Wicca is praised as the “kind of Paganism [that] looks ahead, offering a new philosophy, more strongly than it looks to its roots in the past” (220).  While I’ll never condemn Wicca, I do think that the authors have ignored the fact that many groups, including Ásatrú groups, take on the Reconstructionist principal that religions should be updated for our modern world while holding onto those traditions that are still applicable.  Meanwhile, many branches of Wicca have become just as fantasy-driven as the old Druidic orders.  I believe that having an understanding of history is very important, especially where religion is concerned.

A History of Pagan Europe should be read by every Pagan and history student alike.  Modern Pagans should have a firm understanding of where their traditions have evolved from.  Even Pagans who do not have European ancestry should give the book a try, especially if they live in a Euro-centric country like America or Canada. It can give a lot of perspective on our culture, especially where holidays and our calendar are concerned. Meanwhile, history students should appreciate the other side of the story and see the many examples of how Paganism was not necessarily stamped out, but rather absorbed into our modern world.

 

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Weretoad and I had a lovely Winter Solstice!  I was so excited and in a festive mood.  While he was away at work, I finished wrapping gifts, put on some Solstice music, and lit the tree.  It’s the only night we leave it on and it’s a great reminder of what we’re celebrating.

I also busied myself preparing the feast you see at left.  I made a vegetarian roast with baked scallions, carrots, and potatoes.  I also made fresh bread, steamed brussels sprouts, and bread pudding.  Mmmm…carbs… Magical, wonderful carbs!

In addition, I brought home cranberries and made popcorn to turn into garlands.  We did that after our ritual.  After discussing what we should do, Weretoad and I decided to honor the Nature Spirits who have to struggle through the bitter cold.  It is a hard time to be wild.  Many creatures die.  Food is scarce.  We forget that in our warm homes with our stocked larders.  Our main offering was the garland which we put on the little spruce we keep on our patio.  Next year I would like to do more for deities as well but I’m still uncertain as to who I should honor.  Should I visit the Norse deities of my Germanic ancestors and honor Odin as he rides through the sky?  Should I honor the Cailleach as the crone of winter?  Should I give praise to Angus as he is associated with New Grange and thus the Winter Solstice?  I lean more towards the latter two…  I guess we’ll see what next year brings.

We went a bit overboard on gifts this year.  In years past we kept a tradition – three large gifts and three stocking stuffers.  This year…  we kind of forgot and got lost in the joy of giving to each other.  We really need to restrain ourselves next year.  That said – I got some lovely gifts from my husband!  In addition to some shiny and practical items, he also contributed to my growing Pagan library. I got a recycled three ring cardboard binder – something I want to use to make my new Druidic grimoire.  I also received The Black Pullet (an old grimoire) and Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants by Claudia Muller-Ebeling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl Ph.D.  (For my birthday a week ago, he gave me Toads and Toadstools: The Natural History, Mythology and Cultural Oddities of this Strange Association by Adrian Morgan.)  Needless to say, I have a ton of new books to enjoy and learn from!  Squee!

Today I am busying myself with last minute gift sewing and wrapping.  Yes, I still “celebrate” Christmas with my vaguely Christian family.  I love the excuse to see them. They know I consider the gifts I give them to be Solstice gifts just as the ones they give me are for their own holiday of giving and love.  We somehow meet on common ground.  At the same time, I look forward to having my own large home and throwing wonderful Winter Solstice parties for the whole family…  Some day…  This year, I enjoyed my quiet Solstice with Weretoad. 🙂

( For My LJ and FB Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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  • I’m working on a fairy costume for Samhain.  I scrapped my original idea which involved a laced vest.  I’m going to try and make myself a chemise type dress with a girdle/faux corset thing around the chest.  I’m trying to go for an elegant but wild look, if that makes sense.  I bought ear tips and need to paint them…
  • I’m signed up to participate in an artisan trading card exchange through the ADF Artisan Guild.  I’m excited about it but need to figure out what to do…  The deadline is approaching…  
  • I really, really need to finish reviewing a DP that was resubmitted to me…  
  • Work is draining me.  It was a short week and everything, but I return home and feel so out of it.  I just want to sit, watch things, and sew/crochet.  So…it’s not like I’m being a total lazy bum, but there are definitely other things I need to work on.
  • Still chugging along on Magic I.  
  • Still chugging along through “The Two Towers.”
  • I’ve been slowly working on two dolls.  Their clothing is coming into existence.  I’d like to get a felting needle to help me with some accessories.  I also started another tree spirit yesterday.
  • I’ve been really horrid about meditation recently.  My discipline gets completely out of sorts whenever I visit family.  I don’t blame them at all – I blame myself.  Still, I see them so infrequently that I can’t justify pulling away to be by myself when I’m down there.  I’m hoping to attend a meditation class at a local yoga center this coming week.  I hope it helps reenergize and refocus me.

( For My LJ Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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Life has been pretty busy this past week due to work, a death in the family, and plans with friends and family.  My craftiness has been slowed and, as work picks up, will probably stay that way for a few months.  I still have a DP to finish reviewing and an email from my mentee to look over and reply to.  I haven’t done any work on my study programs this week, but did finish reading The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien.  It was such a fun read.  I pour over so much history and folklore recently that I don’t often treat myself to more modern literature.  As I already have a copy of The Two Towers, I’m sure I’ll be delving into that next!

What else is going on with the Ditzy Druid?

I went to the NY State Fair yesterday with my husband and a couple friends.  It was exhausting but fun.  Thankfully it wasn’t as hot as it was the last time I went.  The temperature comfortably hung around the 60s all day.  I actually wore a sweater!  It was wonderful.

Anyway, I was able to take advantage of some of the state artisans and famers.  I bought some supplies for art and wildcrafting, such as the brick of beeswax at left.  I’m planning to make some herbal ointments soon, starting with a soothing jewelweed and witch hazel concoction for poison ivy rashes and other itchy irritations.  I must get the other ingredients soon!

I also bought some soy candles made by Canterbury Cabin of Greene, NY.  I picked out “Eucalyptus Avalanche” specifically for congestion and healing spells.  The “lemongrass and ginger” I’m planning to consecrate for cleaning and purification magic.  Can you tell that I’m big on candle magic?  The “Waterfall Mist” was Weretoad’s favorite scent and I had to treat him. 🙂

Weretoad treated me to this lovely pewter figurine of Galadriel, one of my most favorite Lord of the Rings characters (along with Gandalf and Sam).  I was so excited when I saw her!  I’m not sure where to put her yet.  I’m thinking about near a mirror, along with other confidence-building trinkets.

I also bought myself a small pewter figure of a witch/sorceress.  My interest in Dungeons and Dragons was recently reawaken and I’m playing with some acquaintances.  My character is a sorceress.  You may be surprised to learn that this is my first time playing a caster.  The last few times I played I was a fighter/bard, a rogue, and a rogue/bard/exotic dancer cat person.  The spell casters have always intimidated me due to the amount of work that seems to go into them.  I would have played a Druid but one of my friends has never played before and seemed to have her heart set on that class so I let it go.  I would rather her enjoy her first experience.  Besides, I’m a real Druid every day!  Well…a ditzy Druid in training anyway.   Perhaps I’ll post about D&D sometime.  I have a lot of thoughts about it in regards to Paganism.

I also stopped by the wool center to purchase some roving.  I want to try dying it for doll hair and spinning.

In other news, these are the skulls I found a little over a week ago.  They’re all cleaned and bleached now.  Sarah Lawless, an experienced traditional witch and wildcrafter, thinks the larger skull belonged to an opossum.  I’m moved to agree after looking at more photos of opossum and fox skulls. You can especially see the features of half an opossum skull in these photos.  How fascinating, to be true!  Just as the authors of that blog describe, I was surprised to learn that this skull with very long and sharp teeth belonged to an opossum.  It’s obviously not the first animal I thought of!  When you look at images of fox skulls, you can see the difference.  The opossum skull, for starters, has a ridge on the top whereas the fox skull is rounded.  Neat, huh?  The nature spirits teach us so much when we take the time to learn.

Finally, and in honor of the coming season, I give you the Autumn Oak Tree Spirit!  She’s not quite finished (I want to buy another acorn button first), but is ready enough for me to share her with you.  I’m too excited about her to withhold this photo any longer!  I hope you like her!  My goal is now to make a tree spirit for each ogham character.  Next on my to-do list are willow and birch!

( For My LJ Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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I’ve been reading Magic in the Ancient World  by Fritz Graf.  While I’m not even halfway through, I’m learning a lot about magic in the Mediterranean world.  The concept changed throughout history, but there was always this concept of the “other” – the enemy or the outsiders – practicing malevolent magic.  Unless I am way off base, it seems that beneficial magic (like healing) was hardly considered magic at all because, for some time, magic was considered a practice apart from the official religion – and healing was endorsed (this became complicated when healing magic was differentiated from medical science). People who attempted to control the will of the Gods were argued to be atheists by some because they questioned the power of the Gods.  It’s interesting how concepts change throughout time.

I’m not sure what to assume about the Celts in their many tribes.  We know the Druids and the common folk practiced magic of varying degrees, and yet there is still the concept of the horrible witch – the other apart from the Druid.  She (or he, I suppose) practiced wicked spells and was feared (but usually bested in the end).  Was this a carryover from Christian fear, another way to view deities of death and decay, or did the Celts categorize magic as good and bad; endorsed and prohibited?

Some people have this idea that the witch of ancient times was really once a respected wise woman or man.  That is true for some periods, but not all.  And the witches in the stories are not healers – they are quite the opposite!  Many in our communities today would also ostracize and perhaps even persecute someone who practiced magic for immoral reasons such as stealing another’s property.  Thankfully, it seems most Pagans do not aim for such roles.  A normal person detests the wicked witches in the lore – lore that may be propaganda against the innocent practitioners of folk magic from an older, once endorsed religion.

When we look back at magic and how it has been perceived through the years, it is complicated and depends on the time and the place.  It also depends on who you talk to.  Magical history is not so cut and dry as some would have us believe.

( For My LJ Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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