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’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?
When my children were born, I was somewhere in the midst of a philosophical crisis of sorts. I was of an age where I knew what I wanted, but lacked the confidence to go after it. I found it really difficult to decide what the ‘right’ thing to do was, regarding teaching my children about religion:
- Should I bring them up in my parents’ religion (I turned out ‘fine’, right??)? Even though it wasn’t my belief, most of my family is in the church, and there’s a rich history that comes with it. Is it ‘right’ to deprive them of that culture, even though I personally disagree with it?
- Should I raise them to follow my personal belief system, even though I recognize that my personal belief system is ever-evolving? I think it’s okay to not be ‘sure’ and to adopt new ideas and attitudes, but do children need more stability (even if it might be wrong)?
- Should I not tell them anything and let them figure it out on their own? Are they capable of making that kind of decision?
- Should I give them a wealth of information on all religions and hope they choose wisely? What happens if I don’t do a good job of making other beliefs available to them; what happens if they’re swayed by one religion before gaining an appreciation for all and/or less structured belief systems?
- Something in between all that? And what happens if I choose wrong, or change my mind mid-stride?
Being a parent is exhausting, and trying to figure out some of the more obscure and complicated aspects of producing a functional member of society can be extremely taxing! Even knowing that you don’t have to have it all figured out today does nothing to alleviate the looming responsibility of raising your children ‘Right’.
Obviously, I can only share my own experiences, and I am far from anything resembling an expert. But as my kids get older, I do feel like the choices that we made with regard to bringing them up have been good ones. That is to say, they’re no more screwed up than any one else (and a great deal less so than many others). I’d also like to preface this article with the understanding that my viewpoint is a rather conservative view, both because I prefer my privacy (while not ‘in the closet’, I don’t advertise my spirituality overtly), and to protect my children’s privacy until they’re of age.
Living in the South, there were/are often a number of additional factors that go into your decision-making progress. I live in an area where Paganism and its associated terms and beliefs are stigmatized negatively. In my town, for example, there are probably as many Christian churches as there are gas stations (and we live in the petroleum refining capital of the world… so that’s saying something). We’re deep in the Bible Belt, and it’s generally assumed that you’re Christian until you say or do something that casts that assumption into speculation. Everyone here has a ‘church’, and you’re absolutely judged by which one you attend. As far as ‘progress’ goes, there’s a growing Atheist/Secular Humanist movement, which is helping to bring round the idea that one doesn’t have to be religious to be a good person, but it’s ever-so-slow, and does absolutely nothing to help the stigma attached to Pagan Life (and often creates yet another source of friction due to the ‘woo’ factor).
The children, themselves, are another problematic issue. The little
blabbermouths darlings tend to have no filter, so openly talking about your beliefs in easily-recognizable terms can be problematic should they say something unexpected at a playdate or party. Even mostly benign subjects like meditation, mentioning the full moon, and herbal medicine can get the side-eye from the conservative set. Having people in your home is another source of worry. If your altar is in public view, it can create tensions with people who visit – even if they don’t know exactly what they’re looking at, they know it’s ‘Something’ and that that Thing is different from their Thing. Even hosting a family ritual in the back yard can cause problems with neighbors.
I use the term ‘relaxed approach’ because that’s my parenting style in general – at least, I feel like it’s relaxed in relationship to how I was raised (which was extremely authoritarian). I’m sure some would look at my approach and say that I am authoritarian as well, but I am okay with that. What I mean by ‘relaxed’ is that we didn’t start out with a framework that we tried to fit our lives and our kids into. Rather, we let our growing relationship with our kids help shape the framework that our lives became based on. We didn’t necessarily start out with the idea that they should be brought up with XYZ ‘beliefs’; we took a more broad/general approach. We shared stories and read myths and tales with origins in many religions. As an American, our entire culture is shaped by Christianity, so I feel like my kids need to have a basic knowledge of what that means. As they get older, we’ve taken a more ‘religious studies’ approach, which seems to have been a good choice for us/them.
As for the ‘how’, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when or how we went about teaching them. As parents, you’re always teaching your kids – whether intentionally or not. They pick up on everything you say and do, and in many ways, the habits and routines you set just become part of their life effortlessly. If you pray or do spellwork openly, then so will your kids. If you honor the moon, or pay homage to deity, then your kids will, too. You can certainly call attention to it with explanations and rote, but as long as your path is fascinating and tended with love, then your children will grow up with those values and traditions and habits. I took a more conservative approach – while not doing such things ‘openly’, I didn’t hide it, either. That created a safe space for me to settle into life as a confident adult, while still exposing my kids to my belief system without overwhelming them. As they have gotten older, I’ve found it to be easier to talk to them about what I feel or think and why.
Some of the more important things to me, we’ve covered a little more in-depth, and certainly where interest is shown, I am more than happy to delve into. I do feel like it’s good for the children to know what my beliefs are, and to participate in group activities with other kids who are in non-traditional/non-Christian households, not necessarily because they’re ‘Pagan’, but because such people tend to have a more open and accepting worldview. That is the kind of attitude that I want to foster in my kids, and that is the community that values it. That doesn’t limit their fellowship, but it does segment it to a certain degree. Pagan families are hard to find, I think partially because of the stigma attached to Pagan religious misconceptions. Groups like Spiral Scouts have made it a little more mainstream, but the minute people read that it’s based on Wiccan philosophy, people immediately shun it.
I was fortunate in that by the time I decided to be more open with my kids about what I believe, they were a bit older. The only thing that ‘changed’ really was talking about it. They were already familiar with Mommy’s altar (very, very simple when they were little – but the same rules apply about touching), and meditation practice and herb crafting. Many of the things we did at the turn of the seasons became more celebratory, but they were still the same things we’d always done. Books like Circle Round, and Honoring the Great Mother, and Pagan Homeschooling were great resources, too. Even though they seem to have gone dormant, back issues of newsletter like Pagan Moonbeams and Pooka Pages have tons of great kid-centered information.
Autonomy is important to me, and as a parent, it’s important to me that my children have the autonomy to choose their own paths. We emphasize communication and the idea that you should try things before deciding that they’re not for you (most things; some things we can look at objectively and make a decision based on those observations). We’ve invited the kids to participate in ritual and Teaching Circle classes, and also taken them to visit local churches and facilitated discussions about religion with peers and family members. My youngest has a personal altar set up in his room, but my oldest doesn’t feel the need for it. Neither have chosen a set path, but I feel like they have the opportunity to learn and choose as they will, and I’m okay with that. My point in writing this is to emphasize that you really DON’T have to have it all figured out. It’s perfectly fine to take it day by day, or situation by situation, and address things as they come up.
What’s your approach to raising witchlings look like?
This is the first year in the last several that I haven’t celebrated Samhain in a group setting. Our Circle group has been somewhat disjointed lately, though we are getting back to regular studies (though the Ren Faire has interrupted our regular classes lately), but it’s hard to plan a group ritual without a space.
Lacking a group observance, I’ve had to observe in solitary. It’s not unfamiliar to me; I was a solitary for years before working with a group. In a sense, it was like slipping on an old familiar pair of shoes – shoes that had been molded to my feet, specifically; well-worn and perfectly fit. In another sense, it was unfamiliar – different from the feel of celebration and observance that I’ve become accustomed to. I both enjoyed it, and felt a pang of regret that I wasn’t with my Circle. The past few months of solitary observances have made me appreciate more than ever the group I have in my life now, and I can’t wait to get back to practicing and observing the High Holy Days as a Coven.
This time of year is all about remembrance for Pagans the world over. Little bundles of rosemary adorn collars and altars to scent the room and pay honor to our beloved dead. Family, friends, forgotten ones – all hold a place in our hearts throughout the year, but at Samhain, they draw a little bit closer to the veil and, I find that certain spirits weigh on my mind more so than at other times of the year.
This year, I’ve been thinking more about the baby that I lost a few years ago. This was the first year since that brief spark flared to life and then was prematurely snuffed that I didn’t make a specific memento or act to call the baby’s spirit to me in some way, and I find that it’s here anyway. A few changes have been going on recently – I started working as a doula again, one of my very good friends is due with her second child in a couple of weeks (and I will be one of her birth attendants), and October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness month. I am sure those things all play a monumental role in where my subconscious thoughts are, and why my sweet babe is on my mind. That said, it’s not been a ‘sad’ sort of presence. More like a nostalgic one – a fleeting touch here and there that is more comforting than anything else, which is a nice change. In the past, it’s been very sad for me to think about and remember. This feels like healing, which is a big part of Samhain observances for me – the reminder that though our Beloved Dead are not here, they’re never far away.
Hoping your Samhain was beautiful!
This is a topic that I have wanted to write about, especially since my next post for the Pagan Blog Project 2012 will be on ‘growing older’ and the Crone aspect of life. Right now, I suppose I would be considered in the Mother aspect. I have two young children and am still very much required in their lives on a daily basis. I have found, over the last couple of years as my children get older, that I am having a hard time staying connected with this aspect.
When my children were very young, it was easy. With a life growing in your belly, or babes in arms or at your breast, it’s very clear where you’re at. Reveling in the new life and the beginning you’ve reached together with your child has such a special energy. It’s overwhelming at times, but for me it was always so easy to connect with the Mother at that point. Pictures of ‘the mother’ almost always show the Goddess pregnant, Gaia with the World in her womb, a voluptuous, fertile goddess with large breasts; or either giving birth, with an infant or breastfeeding – all so evocative of that fresh, new and changing energy.
But when your children are older, it seems that the Mother is less obvious. She is wrapped up in the ins and outs of daily life, caring for her family, raising her children. So, too, am I – lost at times in the day-to-day shuffle of getting here and there, making sure that this or that has been taken care of. That’s one of the reasons that I love the picture here – this is one of the few Goddess images that shows her with multiple children – older children, not just babes in arms. I wish there were more of these images to represent the Mother aspect. I am a pretty visual person and seeing her interact with her older children is a very powerfully connective image for me.
In some ways, I am connecting more with deity at this point in my life, though perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I connect more with my own desire to have deity in my life. My children are still young, but considerably more self-sufficient than they were as babes. That means that I have more time to myself than I have in the past – more time to focus on my own needs. Meditation, daily practice and other such things are easier to work into the day-to-day happenings than before. But there also seems to be a strange sort of disconnection for me. What does the Goddess do all day when her children are older? When they start branching out and she is less of a central figure in her children’s lives?
I don’t feel a connection to the Crone just yet, either. My face is unlined, my hair is not grey (though the good people at Clairol may have something to do with that; I’ve not seen my natural hair color in years), and my bones and muscles are still strong. On the other hand, I have been an active volunteer in my community for years, and so offering direction and sharing my experiences to younger mothers, much like the older women of a tribe might do, has been part of my life for some time now in both a professional capacity and on a personal level. It is this juxtaposition that has me at odds – I don’t feel truly in one phase or the other, and yet I am not in a transitional phase, either.
In considering ‘where I am’ in the stream of things, I am still in the middle of the Mother phase of my life. I do still have young children at home, and the care and keeping of them occupies the vast majority of my time. Like the Mother aspect, I don’t have a lot of time to sit for portraits; tending my family keeps me more than occupied. It’s just harder to connect with the Mother when she and I are both so very busy!