Monthly Archives: January 2015

Ancient Wisdom: The “Threefold Rule”

triskelbrooch

Silver triskelion (triple spiral) brooch, which you can buy from my Dad’s shop!

One thing I’ve really come to respect about Paganism, and particularly Wicca, is that rather than attempting to teach rules and ethics, it teaches wisdom. There’s really only one moral “rule” in Wicca, which is the Rede, “An it harm none do what ye will” – in other words, do what you like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or anything. Which is a fairly liberal code in itself, but even then, some Wiccans do not follow it; to quote Pirates of the Caribbean, they might see it as “more of a guideline than a code.”

But related to this is the “rule of three,” also known as the “threefold rule.” This is usually interpreted as, anything that one does to another person, they can expect it returned on them threefold. So if a Wiccan decides to curse a person, that curse will magically come back on them – but three times worse. [Read more]

 

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On Pagan “Temples”

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Shinto shrines in Japan are designed to stand harmoniously within nature

There seem to be quite differing opinions within the Pagan community when it comes to the idea of building Pagan “temples.” On the one hand, some love the idea of having a building where Pagans can all go to honour the deities safely and comfortably. On the other hand, there are Pagans who see that their “temple” is all around them – in the form of the forests, rivers, mountains and oceans – and so a temple is not necessary.

When I read these debates, I always think that Shinto has a good solution. [Read more]

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Reflections on “Folklore and Customs of Rural England,” Margaret Baker

folkloreandcustoms

Why did I choose to read this book?

It was a piece of luck! The January Moot at Medway Pagans was a book exchange night, and I happened to pick up Folklore and Customs of Rural England as I thought it would be interesting! Especially because some of the best books I’ve read about Pagan-related themes are not by Pagans, but by folklorists. And as an English girl, I feel I ought to know more about the folklore traditions of this country.

In a nutshell, what it is it about?

It tells of the many folkloric traditions that governed the lives of people living in the English countryside that continued right up until the early 20th century. This include the rituals employed to ensure the fertility and health of crops and animals, magic used to protect the household, the significant dates within the country calendar (which generally correspond to the Eight Sabbats celebrated by modern Pagans), ceremonies to mark significant life events, and traditional cures and remedies. As I mentioned, it’s written from the perspective of a folklorist rather than a practising Pagan, giving it a little more objectivity than might be found in books on similar subjects written by Pagans. Throughout the book are nice illustrations and even photographs depicting rituals, festivals and significant folkloric objects.

What did I particularly like about it?

One thing I really appreciated was the significance placed on Christianity in English folkloric traditions. Books written by Pagans for Pagans often shy away from the Christian side of UK folk tradition, so it was good to see it explored here; I think that Christianity plays a highly significant role in our folk history, and its combination with older, Pagan ideas reinforces the concept of Christianity as a folk religion.

I also really liked the writing style, which is clear and eloquent. It reminded me a lot of The Golden Bough in that it illustrates its points through multiple anecdotes, and indeed it explores many of the same concepts such as sympathetic magic. The structure is good too; the chapter division focussing on specific aspects of rural life is logical and easy to follow.

The inclusion of different concepts of “witchcraft” was interesting too. There were several references to the “witches” that belong in the same supernatural category as fairies and goblins, i.e. malicious creatures that cause disruption and harm through their magic. But towards the end in the section on remedies, the people that modern Pagans usually identify as “witches” are mentioned, i.e. users of folklore and herb knowledge to heal people.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

To be honest, no! This book was engaging, intriguing and really useful in understanding English folk traditions. I was really very impressed with the breadth and depth of information here, as well as the way in which it is presented.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

Not only has this booked helped me to better understand my cultural heritage as an Englishwoman – it has also served as an excellent source of ideas for my own rituals today, and to give some explanation as to the whys and wherefores behind folklore.  I know that I will be referring back to it again and again for more ideas for rituals, charms and spells!

Would I recommend this book to others?

Absolutely! I would recommend it not only as a brilliant guidebook to English folk traditions rooted in Paganism and folk Christianity, but also as an impartial, objective and rational study of Pagan ideas that can still be applied within our modern lives. Even though the folklore outlined in the book refers to country life, much of it (especially in the section on folklore related to home and hearth) will resound with urban Pagans and many of the practises could easily be put into practise in any setting. It’s also a really interesting read. Definitely recommended for any Pagan for whom English traditions are a big part of their practise!

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Nature Gods verses Human Gods

"Fujinraijin-tawaraya" by 俵屋宗達 (Tawaraya Sotatsu, ? - ?) - Brother Sun , Sister Moon. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Fuujin and Raijin, the fearsome and inhuman Shinto gods of wind and thunder. “Fujinraijin-tawaraya” by 俵屋宗達 (Tawaraya Sotatsu, ? – ?) – Brother Sun , Sister Moon. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In all the Pagan religions I can think of, practically all the deities have some kind of darker, fearsome aspect to them. And there is a very good reason for this – they represent the forces of nature. [Read more]

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Illegal action against freedom of expression is just plain lazy

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The statue of Manannán Mac Lir in Londonderry before it was stolen

Just weeks after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, another incident happened in Northern Ireland in which it appears religious fanatics took illegal action because they were offended by artistic expression.

A beautiful and impressive statue of the Celtic sea god, Manannán Mac Lir, was stolen from Binevenagh Mountain in Londonderry. In its place, the thieves left a wooden cross with the words ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ More details are available at the BBC website here. The evidence suggests that the statue was stolen by Christian fanatics who took offence at having any God but the Christian God depicted in the vicinity.

There have been many times in my life where I have been offended by the actions of others. I have witnessed animal cruelty, environmental destruction and members of the far-right marching in my very home town, and every time I saw such things, I felt literally sick with rage. All these things I saw went against everything I had been brought up to believe in about respecting life, being kind to people and animals, and tolerating other cultures. The primitive, animal part of me wanted to physically hurt and destroy the offenders, so I wouldn’t have to look at them any more.

But I never did anything of the sort. Instead, in all these cases, I found other like-minded people and together, we raised our objections. We sent letters to the offenders or to MPs telling them what we thought. We raised public awareness of the issue to try and get more people on our side. We participated in noisy demonstrations and protests. But we never did anything illegal. While we all hated what the offending party said and did, we respected that they had the right to free expression within the law, just as we did.

Which is why I disagree so vehemently with some of the comments that are coming out in the wake of Charlie Hebdo saying that the right to free speech has limits when it comes to religion – in other words, saying that those who insult religion are “asking for it.” I say a big NO to this. Aside from hate speech and other speech that incites criminality, by definition freedom of expression gives us the right to offend. It gives us the right mock religion and any other aspect of human culture without fearing either action by the state or vigilante action, terrorism or otherwise. That does not mean that you are free to say what you like without anyone else countering you (expect to lose friends very fast when you spout unpopular opinions) – but those who counter you must also act within the law. There is NO excuse for murder or any other illegal action against those you find offensive.

If someone wants to make fun of me for worshipping a fox-god, fine – don’t expect me to be very nice to you, but I’m not going to hurt you or do anything illegal in response. And if you want to tell me that my religion is blasphemous to you and offends you, that’s fine too – again, you’ll probably make me very unhappy, but you have the right to say it. And if you take offence at a statue of a Celtic sea god, you have every right to tell the world and protest about it and give people a chance to hear why you don’t like it. But you never, ever have the right to take the law into your own hands and actually destroy the statue. When you think about it, it’s just lazy. It’s just refusing to engage in the long process of protesting and slowly bringing people to your way of thinking. And it makes you look barbaric and idiotic.

And no, I don’t think the entire Christian world needs to be condemned for the actions of a few fanatics.

As for a response to the theft of the statue, I think the best thing to do would be to replace it with 100 more statues. I’d like to see someone try to steal all of those…

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Why I love the word “kami”

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The Japanese kanji for “kami”

In Japanese, the word used to refer to any kind of deity is kami, sometimes with the suffix “-sama” at the end to show respect. Out of all the words for “deity” I know in any language, “kami” or “kami-sama” is perhaps my favourite. And here’s why… [Read more]

 

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“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Aquarius

zodiac-aquarius

The latest in my Goth Zodiac series – Aquarius!

I see Aquarius as being very much the opposite of its adjacent sign, Capricorn. For me, Capricorn symbolises things that are old, dark and heavy – hence Capricorns are said to be long-lived, conservative and stubborn. Whereas in my mind, Aquarius is new and breezy, which is reflected in Aquarians’ tendencies for creativity and unconventionality. In this series, I therefore gave the Capricorn Goths an oldy-worldy Steampunk look with occult trappings, while Cyber fashion inspired my Aquarius Goths.

You can view the rest of the series so far and my other artwork here: http://trellia.deviantart.com

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Gratitude for Life (Even in Death)

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Anubis, dog-headed God of Death. “Tutanhkamun jackal” by Jon Bodsworth http://www.egyptarchive.co.uk/html/cairo_museum_50.html. Licensed under Copyrighted free use via Wikimedia Commons

Over the weekend I celebrated my 30th birthday. This milestone has become a rather ambiguous one in Britain; although it symbolises reaching a certain level of maturity, and therefore status, many young people dread this birthday as it also represents the closure of youth and the approach of middle age and all those things that come with it – weight gain, failing health, lower energy levels and so on. People who are turning 30 may also feel like they have somehow failed if they haven’t reached other milestones by this age, such as getting married, owning a house or progressing in their career. And for women, turning 30 is a big reminder of the tick of the biological clock. It’s no wonder so many people have mixed feelings about this birthday!

But really, it should be treated as a celebration. Not everyone is privileged enough to reach this age. And attaining maturity is a good thing – it means you are wiser and more experienced, and probably more knowing of yourself than you were in your twenties. If only we could get Western culture to celebrate maturity again! Aware that I should be feeling grateful for the 30 wonderful years of my life I’ve been blessed with, I made a prayer and an offering of mochi (rice cake) to Inari Okami to thank her for my life.

This year’s birthday however was tinged with a different sort of sadness. The day before my birthday, our family dog had to be put down. He was 15 years old and had a lot of health problems (arthritis, digestive problems, neurological problems, you name it) and after months of different treatments and very strong painkillers, my parents and the vets mutually agreed that the kindest thing to do would be to put him to sleep.

It’s very poignant that at the same time I was celebrating a milestone in my life, a member of my family had come to the end of his.

I made a prayer to Inari-sama for my dog as well. Some Shintoists hold that because foxes and dogs are natural enemies, Inari-sama finds dogs offensive, but I see both foxes and dogs as members of the canine family, and therefore brothers. It therefore seemed natural for me to ask for Inari-sama’s blessings on my dog and to guide him safely to wherever he is destined to be now. I also wanted to express my gratitude as well, for the years of joy and love that our dog had brought us, and for easing his passing into the next world.

Next Full Moon, I think it would be appropriate to make offerings to some of the other deities associated with dogs – such as Anubis or Diana – in honour of my dog.

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The Four Elements and the Four States of Matter

Medieval_four_elements

The Four Elements are, by definition, fundamental to many forms of Paganism, and particularly Wicca. In the modern world however, I find it difficult to reconcile the four classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water with the 100 or so scientific elements – how can I refer to the four elements that make up our world when I know that the reality is far more complex? [Read more]

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Funding for a Torii at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America

Tsubaki-shrine

Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Washington, USA. By shigthenewt (shrine (8) Uploaded by Nesnad)

Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America is one of the most important Shinto shrines in the world of international Shinto. It’s one of the few large Shinto shrines outside of Japan, and it was first one to be build in mainland US after the Second World War. A number of deities are enshrined there; the prime deity is Sarutahiko-no-Ōkami, a deity often associated with martial arts, and Ukanomitama, a deity often identified as Inari.

At the moment, the shrine is trying to raise funds to build a second torii gate as an offering to Inari-sama, which would be the beginning of a torii tunnel. Projects like these are a fantastic way to raise the profile of Shinto outside Japan, and to demonstrate to the world that Shinto is for everyone, of all nations. And you can be a part of it!

If you would like to make a donation towards the building of the torii, you can do so on Inari Faith International’s fundraiser here. All donators will be invited to attend the Houno-shiki (Shinto dedication ceremony) at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. If you choose to make your name public at the time of your donation, your name will also be published on the torii dedication page of the Inari Faith International website.

Donors will not only be showing their respect for Inari-sama; they will also be playing an important role in the effort to internationalise the Shinto religion. Why not donate and become a part of creating real Japanese cultural heritage outside of Japan?!

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