As a practitioner of a religious path that is both utterly modern, but that has roots in the ages, obviously, I think the answer to this question is ‘yes’. Though I am not sure if ‘reviving’ is exactly the right word, because religion, like all things, must change and adapt with the passage of time if it is to survive.
There is great debate within the Pagan community as to whether or not Pagan practices (if not entire Pagan paths or traditions) are truly continuations of the Old Ways, or if they’re modern revivals and interpretations based on what limited information we can glean through history and archaeology. I tend to think the latter, but I suppose that some Pagan traditions may go back further than others relatively in-tact. Please let me be clear here; I do not mean ‘Wicca’ when I say ‘Pagan’; I think it’s widely accepted that Wicca is a modern religion. When I say Pagan, I include folk religions from the United States stemming from Africa and Haiti, as well as European and Germanic Pagan traditions, indigenous religions from the American continents, and tribal religions from the Americas, Africa and Australia (which may *actually* be continuations of older/ancient practices).
Some practices may have existed and may well have been handed down through the generations from parent to children (behind closed doors when necessary), but I feel like almost all of them, through various forms of persecution combined with the societal Christian indoctrination we tend to have in this country, have been eroded or tainted what would have otherwise been ‘pure’ Pagan traditions and practices. Part of that was systematic; other parts of it was purely due to the passage of time and the necessity of change to preserve the spirit of the tradition if not the path as a whole.
Back to the question at hand … is reviving the religions of the ancients even compatible with modern life?
In a word, yes. I would even go so far as to say that as our society and world becomes increasingly ‘high tech’, the fundamental connection with Nature and the Spirit World that most Pagans enjoy will lure others to seek out a similar connection. As the song says, “The Earth is our Mother“, and without an intimate connection with the ground we walk upon, we lose something of ourselves.
So how, in this high tech age, do we maintain that connection? If you’re Pagan, then you likely have a good handle on that already. In some form or fashion, you’re probably honoring the Turn of the Wheel each year, Observing the Cycle of the Moon each month, and Marking the Change of the Seasons. You may also, depending on your path and preferences, maintain a garden, meditate, work spells (pray), invoke deities and otherwise interact with either/both the physical Earth and the Spirit Realm. But if you’re not, then the answer is simple: go outside. That’s it; that’s the answer. Go outside. Be IN Nature. Look around and marvel at the wonders of the natural world. Look for signs and symbols, instances of hierophany, that move you to appreciate that the Earth is a Living Thing and it is our privilege and responsibility to be here on Her.
If you’re inclined towards a Pagan path, you’ll find the right steps as you go, but the main thing, I think, is the connection to the natural world.
What do you think?
I really enjoy herbal-crafting. Making teas, tinctures, salves and other herbal concoctions is relaxing, and it makes me feel good to know that I can create things that help my family feel better. There’s something comforting and empowering about knowing exactly what it is that’s going into the medicines and cures I am using to treat myself and my family. Additionally, there’s a connectivity between Man and The Earth that I appreciate in a very visceral way when learning about herbs and choosing herbal allies to help protect my health.
If you’re new to herbal medicine, there’s a lot to be learned, and it can be overwhelming when you realize how much there is to know. But even a beginner can feel confident using herbal medicines, and just a few things can create a good foundation upon which to build. Let’s talk about a few herbal allies that almost anyone can use with ease and confidence. [STANDARD WARNING: As with all medicines, treat herbal remedies with respect. Use caution and care when using herbs as medicine. Start small, with single-herb remedies and gradually work your way towards more complex recipes as you gain knowledge, experience and confidence. Always document well so that you can pinpoint any potential issues to a particular herb in the event of an allergic reaction or emergency!] Because there are so many articles out there that focus on the more common ‘beginner’ herbs (lavender, chamomile, raspberry leaf, peppermint leaf, etc.), I’m going to focus on some of the herbal allies that are less common but still extremely easy to use.
YARROW – Yarrow is really an unsung hero. It’s something that I’ve kept in my medicine cabinet for years now, and if you’re a mom, it’s great for kids. One of my favorite preparations is a yarrow tincture, combined with olive leaf, ginger, slippery elm and catnip. Yarrow is also helpful for relieving fevers, promoting relaxation, and can be used during your menstrual cycle to help alleviate cramps. We also have used it in salves, along with calendula, arnica, chamomile and other herbs in a beeswax base to apply to minor cuts, scrapes and mosquito bites. It can also be used with elderberry to shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms. If you’re into the spiritual aspects of herbs, there’s a connection to Greek Mythology, in that it’s said that yarrow is one of the herbs used to treat wounds on the battleground of Troy, and in ancient Britain, a yarrow leaf pressed to the eye is said to bring on second sight. Traditionally, yarrow has been called a variety of names, including bloodwort, woundwort, devil’s nettle, and knight’s milefoil, to name a few.
ELDERBERRY – Elderberry is another staple for us. I make a new tincture every year, and combine it with honey to make elderberry syrup. It’s a great preventative medicine for flu season – just a spoonful in our normal cup of tea is how we normally take it. I’ve been planning to make either elderberry and marshmallow root lozenges or gummies for a while now, and just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe later this summer, I’ll finally make time to do that! Elderberry is incredibly easy to use though, especially for tinctures – just fill your vessel with dried elderberries to about an inch of the top, then fill with the highest proof vodka you can find (cheap vodka is fine). I’ve also made tinctures with Everclear, moonshine and apple cider vinegar, and all worked just fine; the vodka is my personal favorite method though. Put the vessel in cool, dark place for a minimum of 4 weeks, but you can leave them for up to 3 months, then strain through cheesecloth and coffee filters into a clean vessel and voila! Ready to use tincture! Elderberry has some connections to the Teutonic goddess Hulda, with parallels drawn to Persephone, Frigga and Aradia.
CATNIP – Catnip is another great herb for families. In addition to helping with digestion, it also promotes relaxation and calms restlessness. It’s great for ‘growing pains’ and RLS (restless leg syndrome) when brewed in tea, and can be a really good addition to a sleepy-time tea blend or tincture. My youngest has trouble sleeping every now and again, and so we use a catnip tincture combined with honey and a smidge of valerian. Catnip is super easy to grow and if growing it isn’t your thing, it’s usually sold in the garden department of home stores if you want to keep it fresh. Obviously, as catnip is beloved of cats everywhere, there’s an obvious connection to Bast, and to Frejya and even Hecate.
HONEY – Even though honey isn’t an ‘herb’, I’m including it here because it’s SO GREAT to keep on hand as an extension of your medicine cabinet (and beauty cabinet as well). I use honey to make incense, to make herbal remedies go down a little easier, as the base for some of my herbal remedies, as an ingredient in salves, lip balms, beauty treatments (masks), and just in and of itself to go on cuts and scrapes and nicks to the skin (though of course you would not use honey on a child less than one year of age).
In addition to teas, tinctures, syrups, and salves, I also encapsulate herbs and herbal blends for specific purposes. I take a fertility/menstrual health blend that is biphasic (meaning one recipe is used during the first half of my fertility cycle, and another blend is used during the last half). I also take several amino acid supplements, and with all the media attention that commercial supplement companies are experiencing for using fillers in their capsules, it’s very comforting to know that what is going into my capsules is actually the herbs I have chosen and not fillers. It also gives me control over how much of each herb to put into my blend, making my dosages consistent and easier to keep track of their effects.
I hope you’ve found some information here useful, and inspiring! Please comment and let me know what your ‘unsung’ herbal allies are!
Houston’s Pagan Pride day is coming up soon, and my Circle-mates and I are planning on having a vendor’s booth set up, which means that I am going into arts-and-crafty-mode very soon to prepare. I’ve been thinking about what kinds of things I have typically seen for sale at events like this and considering what I might want to make. As a consumer/practitioner, I don’t typically buy tools for my personal practice because I prefer to make them myself (for various reasons), but there are some things I can’t make, and some things I want to purchase because they have a level of craftsmanship that I lack. So in that vein, I’ve been considering what kinds might be attractive as a customer, what skills I have as a craftsman, and how the two might merge.
I have an Etsy store, but if you’ve ever clicked on the link, it’s usually closed; I don’t craft with sales in mind, so this is kind of a new thing for me. The only reason I started the store was because I went through a period of sculpture and thought the little figurines I made were cute, but I didn’t need quite so many of them! I ended up giving them away, and then lost the inspiration for sculpture, so my store has been closed for a long time. My next crafty endeavor was wood burning. Turns out I love doing that, so I started making spirit boards and boxes and other burned art projects. I kinda ran out of things I need personally, so that may be a great way to blend my talent with what someone else may be seeking.
But I am getting off-topic of what I really wanted to talk about, which is art. Yes, crafting is art, but I mean meaningful art. The argument could be made that all art is meaningful, but I am specifically talking about art with a purpose. In this case, Shadow Books (or Books of Shadows/Light/Mirrors or Grimoires – whatever you choose to call them individually or collectively – I call them all Shadow Books because it’s easier and I’m too lazy/busy to make the distinction). I love art journaling; I’ve been an avid fan for several years now. When I first started, it was just art for arts’ sake – nothing particularly meaningful behind it. But as I progressed, it took on new forms; I found myself working through personal issues through my art journals, and eventually that spread to my practice.
I was looking back through a few of my old journals, and came across these – a couple of Shadow Books in art journal format. They’re both fairly old, from around 2012. The one on the left is a more personal reflections journal (Book of Mirrors) and the one on the right is more path-based (Book of Shadows). It was interesting to go back through and read what I had written. Some of the things in the Mirror Book were dream logs, which was fun to go through. I don’t write my dreams down as often anymore and it’s actually something I miss doing now that I have had the opportunity to read back over how detailed my log was – I don’t remember that much anymore!
There is a lot of drawing in both of these books – something else I don’t do nearly as much anymore. I just don’t have the time – more to the point, I am not making the time to work on these kinds of reflections that I used to.
Over the next few weeks, I will be working on creating arts and crafts to offer to my local Pagan community. I do take pride in my work, and I put a lot of time and effort into making sure that anything I make that is to be used in practice is mindfully and intentionally made. I am grateful for both the skill and the opportunity to create beautiful things hat will serve its bearer well, and I love the thought that something I make might be passed down to a future witchling. I think this stroll back through my older books is also a wake-up call that I needed as a reminder of what I loved and to make time for that style of reflection and note-booking. As a Pagan, I like having the progression of my practice – how it’s changed and evolved over the years, and I think it will be an interesting keepsake to pass down to my children one day.
For now, I encourage you to try art journaling as a way to take notes and record how your practice looks and feels. Even if you’re not particularly ‘artsy’, it’s still a really great way to convey more than just words. If you’re raising witchlings, art journaling is a great thing to introduce to them – something you can do together!
I’ve been seeing quite a few posts on Facebook lately that talk about ‘women’s wisdom’, and the idea that all women have something of a witch inside them. That notion feels right to me; any woman who has children (be they born to her or only close to her heart) has an innate sense of them – sometimes reaching far beyond what science would consider reasonable – and yet she KNOWS when her child needs her. This sense too can be applied to her partner or spouse, siblings or even close friends – many of us have either experienced it firsthand or know of a woman who has. I don’t think that this applies only to women, of course; many men are very sensitive to the vibrations or cosmic twinges or whatever it is that makes your spidey-senses tingle. That intuition is there, if only we care to listen to it.
It’s more than just an awareness of your kindred though; it’s the connection to the moon, and the cycles of life that are inborn in women that connect us to each other and to the earth. I’ve been spending some time contemplating these connections and it’s led to some interesting thought experiments! Since I’ve been exploring Germanic paganism more of late, and I came across the witte wieven which are (depending on which source you’re looking at), either the spirits of the ‘wise women’ of a village, or the women themselves. It could also be referring to folklore and elven healers, but in the historical context, I tend to think of them more as the wise women or healers… the witches, if you will.
Witte wieven in modern Dutch literally translates to “white women”, but originally meant “wise women” in dialects of Dutch Low Saxon. Historically, the witte wieven are thought to be wise female herbalists and medicine healers who took care of people’s physical and mental ailments. It was said they had the talent for prophecy and looking into the future. They had a high status in the communities, and so when they died ceremonies were held at their grave sites to honour them. According to mythology, their spirits remained on earth, and they became living spirits (or elven beings) that either helped or hindered people who encountered them. They tended to reside in the burial sites or other sacred places. It was thought that mist on a gravehill was the spirit of the wise woman appearing, and people would bring them offerings and ask for help.
My interest in my Germanic roots, and the arrival of Spring has brought all of this together. Spring is the time of year that I start checking the medicine cabinet and preparing for fall and winter, so I thought it was interesting and appropriate that I look to the witte wieven, in my case, my maternal ancestors, to help me with that task this year. The connection of the witte weiven to traditional folk healing (so-called ‘white witches’) is an easy one to make, and so I thought it quite appropriate!
I’ll be making another post on what’s in my medicine cabinet, so be sure to check back for that!
They say that the Universe works in mysterious ways. It’s always been fascinating to me when things just ‘fall into place’. Not only things, but also people, and even deities that appear just when you need them.
Every once in a while, I will find myself drawn to a certain thing – an image, an animal – and find it popping up over and over again, only to discover later that the thing in my view is the symbol of a deity with an attribute that I am in need of. Some might say that it’s a sign of a deity making themselves known. Recently, it’s been mermaids. I have always loved mermaids – what little girl hasn’t? But over the last few weeks, it’s been near obsessive. I even decorated a box with a mermaid motif a few weeks ago, and spent hours on the creation and design, getting it ‘just so’.
In conversation with a new friend, I mentioned some health issues I am currently recovering from, and she spoke of Yemaya; that she’d keep me in Yemaya’s Healing Flow. That’s a Goddess I haven’t heard of before, so I started reading, and what do you know? Mermaids…. as in, She is often depicted as a mermaid. I found a couple of pages devoted to Her, one at A-Muse-ing Grace Gallery, one page at About Santeria, where She is traditionally kept in a porcelain soup tureen (which I thought was great – so many of them are absolutely beautiful works of artistry); and GoddessGift.com, where the story of Her waters breaking at her death gave birth to the 7 oceans.
One of my favorite places to be is the beach, especially when I need an extra spiritual boost. The feminine energy of the sea is very healing to me, plus the wind to carry away my troubles makes for a very peaceful and restful place to recover. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get to the beach for a couple of weeks yet, but I am planning on spending Friday in the water, so maybe I can channel some of Yemaya’s energy poolside!
I just wanted to take a few minutes to remind you that the thing you need may be closer than you think; you just might have to get creative in how you’re looking for it!
Last month, I posted about Lupercalia, and finding ways to make old holidays and traditions meaningful in today’s fast-paced world. Continuing in that vein, I thought I’d write about the ancient Roman festival of Matronalia. Traditionally, March 1st was the beginning of the new year, which made Matronalia was the first festival celebrated each year. That makes sense, considering that March is typically consistent with the beginning of Spring and the Earth coming back to life; ‘giving birth’, so to speak, to flowers and greenery after the long Winter sleep. Dedications to Juno, the Goddess of Birth and Motherhood and women in general, were made by everyone in Roman culture, from unmarried women, to new parents, to older women – everyone had reason to celebrate.
While Matronalia may be an ancient holiday, we have remnants of this festival in our own culture in Mother’s Day. Even though that’s absolutely a thing I make time for in May, as a mom myself, and as someone who works with women, birth and new mothers, I can’t help but like the idea of celebrating motherhood anytime the opportunity presents itself, and Matronalia, with the traditional celebration of these themes is a holiday very near to my heart.
One of the things I love about motherhood is the transformation. It’s not just ‘having a baby’ – there’s this whole world of transformation that goes on when a woman BECOMES a mother. It’s not something that happens to her; it’s a transition that she undergoes to become this whole other, new being. This is where the power and allure of Goddess-based worship lies for me; in the creative power that She both embodies and gifts to women, and the experience that I personally, as a woman, have undergone, and have witnessed in countless other women over the years.
So how does one go about translating an ancient festival into modern-day practice?
Since my personal fascination with motherhood is where my focus is, that makes it easy for me to create a framework to work from to craft my own version of a Martonalia celebration. Depending on where you are in your path, your framework might start with a different focus; fertility, protection or even gratitude. If your focus is motherhood or birth/transformation, then you might start with looking for deities that appeal to you within that frame – those dealing with birth, protection, mothers, babies and the like. Juno, since it was Her festival originally, is the obvious deity of choice, but if you don’t follow a strictly Roman of Greek path, She might not work for you. Depending on your path and needs, you might feel comfortable including other deities that have meaning for you. Lucina (another name for Juno), Ilithyia, Demeter (Roman and Greek); Haumea (Polynesian); Renenet, Hathor, Bes, Heket, Iat, Isis and Taweret (Egyptian); Frigg and Freya (Norse); Danu (Celtic) all could have a place during your celebration.
From there, you may start gathering items that symbolize whatever the basis for your celebration is focused on: femininity, motherhood, fertility and the bounty that ‘mother earth’ provides, protection, gratitude – whatever feels right for your needs. You may also choose to represent things sacred to any of the deities you choose to invoke, like foods, flowers, animals, stones, shells, incense and other such tangible items that feel appropriate. Since this holiday festival celebration isn’t one that’s common today, you can really do whatever you like with it, as long as you do so respectfully.
For my personal celebration, I am taking the time this year to reflect on the changes that my life has undergone since becoming a mother, and in gratitude that it’s been a relatively easy transition. Since peacocks were one of the birds sacred to Juno, and figs were a favored food, I am decorating my altar with peacock feathers, and doing a simple ritual with incense made from dried fruits and honey, and a simple cakes and ale with milk and figs.
How are you celebrating Matronalia this year?
A friend of mine recently game me a name for something I’ve been making for a while, but calling something else. I’ve been making art shrines – little boxes full of paint, decoupage, paper, miscellaneous bric-a-brac, shiny and glittery things, handwritten notes, printed bits of paper, old torn up books… all arranged in some way that pleases me, but with a definite thought or concept tying the whole thing together. Her name for them, intent boxes, makes perfect sense, because that’s what they are – not so much ‘spells’ or ‘altars’, but similar to both and yet not quite either.
Well, she says ‘boxes’, I say ‘shrines’. Boxes, I would think, are more a home for a collection of things that you may gather and store for a purpose – things you can get out and touch and physically experience while meditating or to re-focus on your path when you may have wandered. I can see the value in creating such a box, with tangible reminders designed to be taken out and savored, or contemplated, on the path towards a goal. I have keepsake and ‘remembrance’ boxes that serve a similar function. Even my kids’ baby books have grown to the point of needing a box to keep them in because there are so many things filling them and falling out. For a tactile person, holding the physical memento or symbol of a goal can be a very powerful tool.
My version is more an art piece with intent built-in. This box, for example, is along the lines of ‘being kind to myself/yourself’. The mirror, with its persistent requirement of looking oneself in the eye (to see the ‘truth’ of yourself) is a prominent addition, with banishing oil in a vial (for banishing negative thoughts); a butterfly for transformation, Stella Maris for mercy and forgiveness, the key to unlock a brighter future… each element has both meaning and adds to the visual whole.
Another aspect of such a creation is the time and energy both spent on and invested in the box, itself. Energy work is a major part of my path, and it’s one of the reasons I choose to try to make most of my own tools – the energy I put into creating the tool literally makes it the tool I need it to be. My focus and intent and will imbue the tool or object with whatever my goal is, and I believe that makes it all that much more effective. There’s also the placement of the tool, whether on my altar or tucked away for use only in Ritual observances; this box, for example, is still tucked away in my art cabinet, because I am not quite ready to have it placed just yet. I’m still waiting for a final bit of inspiration to call it ‘done’ and figure out where it lives.
I have created others; one that I made several years ago still hangs on the wall by my bed. It’s focus is on both unlocking and honoring the creativity that I rediscovered during an art course I took. The shrine was the final project, presented at the end of the class. It is one of the first things I see when I wake up in the morning, and it’s been very inspiring.
Do you create similar ‘boxes’?