Monthly Archives: February 2015

RIP Leonard Nimoy

 LeonardNimoyRest In Peace Leonard Nimoy, a gifted actor whose portrayal of Spock on Star Trek taught me that it is possible to combine science and logic with a compassionate and spiritual outlook.

I hope your spirit finds its place among the stars.

May the Lord bless and keep you and may the Lord cause his countenance to shine upon you. May the Lord be gracious unto you and grant you peace.”

– Priestly Blessing accompanying the hand gesture performed by Jewish Kohanim which inspired Nimoy’s “Vulcan Salute”

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Altar for March 2015

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Now all the major festivals for February are over, I’ve redecorated my shrine in preparation for March’s festivals. It’s features include:

For St David’s Day (March 1st): A daffodil, love-spoon and figurine of a girl in Welsh national dress. I’ve also included a miniature cauldron and a cute witch to represent Ceridwen, one of the most important Welsh deities and also a symbol of rebirth so appropriate for Ostara as well.

For Hina Matsuri (March 3rd): Also known as “Girl’s Festival” or “Doll Festival,” this Japanese festival celebrates girls; especially girls looking to marry. It’s traditional to display dolls representing an Emperor and an Empress in the days leading up to Hina Matsuri, and so I have three pairs of Hina Matsuri dolls displayed on my altar (including the pair I re-painted to represent the God and Goddess all year round). I’ve also used a Hina Matsuri-themed Japanese cloth on this altar, which has a pink/white/red/green colour scheme that suits Ostara well too.

For Ostara (March 20th):  The rabbit/egg figurine I re-painted. I don’t really have a good figure to represent Ostara herself, so instead I used one of my collection of kokeshi (traditional wooden Japanese dolls). She looks young and has a cherry blossom motif, so she seems a suitable symbol for Spring

For Spring in general: The sun plaque I painted gold, to symbolise the end of the cold winter months and the start of the warm, bright months of spring and summer.

I wish I had something good to represent the Mother Goddess for Mother’s Day, and a few more Ostara-related items. I’m sure I’ll find something eventually!

Hinamatsuri-InariI also added a ceramic Hina Matsuri couple to my outside Inari altar. Believe it or not, I managed to find this set in a local charity shop for 60p!

As with most Japanese festivals, there are specific food items associated with Hina Matsuri – special types of rice crackers, mochi and sushi. I wonder if I can find any in the UK in time for March 3rd!

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Great News from Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America

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The Inari shrine at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America

A month ago, I posted about a fundraising campaign to build a second torii gate at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. Thanks to tremendous support, the organisation behind the campaign, Inari Faith International, have succeeded in reaching its goal of raising $3,500 and have even exceeded it. This means that the torii construction can begin.

The fundraising is continuing to construct a third torii, so if you are interested in contributing to the development of Shinto outside of Japan, as well as showing reverence for Inari Okami, you can donate to the campaign here: https://www.crowdrise.com/torii

A great accomplishment for Shinto devotees all over the world!

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“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Pisces

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A series exploring how the qualities associated with the signs of the zodiac can manifest in Goths!

We finally get to Pisces, the final sign of the classical Zodiac. Pisces seem to be the archetypal Romantic Goths to me – dreamy, melancholy, artistic and mystical.

And so this spells the end of the Goth Zodiac series…or does it??

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

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Reflections on “Brida,” Paulo Coelho

BridaWhy did I choose to read this book?

After reading my review of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, Cassie & Sophie of the excellent blog Devil’s Advocates recommended Brida by the same author as it goes further into Coelho’s thoughts on magic and witchcraft.[Read more]

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Naples Trip Part 4: Shadows and Skulls

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Skulls in the Fontanelle Cemetery

Our final full day in Naples delighted my inner Goth, as we spent the whole day exploring Naples’ fascination with darkness and death.

Our first stop was la chiesa delle cape di morte – the Church of Skulls. When you first enter it, it looks pretty normal for a Neapolitan church – beautiful art and architecture with a few discreet skull motifs here and there. But for a small fee you can enter the lower church..which is just incredible. Unfortunately photos are not permitted in the lower church but you can view them here. The lower church is starkly monochrome, with no colour anywhere and an enormous black cross painted on the wall. You then descend a stairwell into a crypt filled with the skulls of those who could not afford a proper burial. People leave these skulls offerings of money, flowers and religious artefacts as part of the cult of anime pezzentelle (poor souls), in which followers “adopt” skulls and pray for their soul. The most famous of these skulls is dubbed Lucia, after a neon sign of the same name left by her. She wears a tiara and was supposedly a teenage bride. Nowadays young brides leave her offerings as they see her as their protector. As a newly-wed myself, I left an offering of a few cents hoping to receive Lucia’s blessing on our marriage!

After this, we went on to the Catacombs of San Gennaro, where the patron saint of Naples was interred in the 5th century. The tombs are in the form of alcoves in the walls – those of the wealthy are of course larger and some have beautiful frescoes. Here are a few pictures:

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Finally, we went to the Fontanelle Cemetery, which was my favourite part of the day. Like the Church of the Skulls, it’s a site of the cult of the poor souls, in which skulls are adopted by followers and offered money, flowers and prayers. However, it’s much bigger than the Church of the Skulls and a guide is not necessary to explore the cemetery.

Fontanelle Cemetery is beautiful, with a darkly peaceful atmosphere. I loved seeing how well the skulls are cared for by visitors, who treat them in much the same way they treat the street shrines to the saints. I thought it was really positive to see death being venerated in this way – in Britain, where death is very much taboo, such a cult involving offerings to skulls would be unthinkable, which is a shame. And again, I was struck by the similarity between the shrines of the skulls in the cemetery, and the shrines to the old Pagan gods in Pompeii. It was wonderful to see how the Pagan traditions still continue in Naples, albeit in a Catholicised form. I think Fontanelle Cemetery represents a really wonderful expression of syncretism, folk religion and ancestor worship.

Here’s some of my favourite photos from the Fontanelle Cemetery…

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Naples Trip Part 3: Pompeii

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The shrine in the Thermopolium of Asellina in Pompeii, copies of which can be found in many modern-day Roman Pagan lararia

I think my highlight of our trip to Naples was exploring the ruins of Pompeii. This is partly because the first textbook we had in Latin class was all about Pompeii, and I’d tried to imagine what it would look like. So to see it in reality was really special for me – and still, it defied all expectations.

Firstly, it is HUGE – it really is a whole town, and you really do feel like you’re walking around a town when you’re there. In fact, there’s many more areas that are off-limits to tourists, but what you can access is plenty enough. And there is a lot of freedom to explore. By ducking under arches and squeezing through little hidden passages, you’ll discover all sorts of remarkable things.

Secondly, it is really, really beautiful. Not only the ruins themselves, which are gorgeous in their own right, but the nature that surrounds and intermingles with them. The atmosphere is very serene and, yes, quite mystical – a far cry from the devastating eruption that made Pompeii so infamous.

Thirdly, it is in a remarkable state of preservation, right down to the graffiti on the walls. Some of the interiors of the houses are still so vividly coloured, it’s very hard to believe they weren’t painted yesterday. It really does feel like travelling back in time.

Fourth, I found the experience very emotional – from the joy of realising what a wonderful place this is, to the feeling of tranquillity in the lovely surroundings, to sadness on seeing the preserved casts of the people who perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Actually, I wasn’t prepared for how that last item would affect me. I’d seen pictures of the Pompeii victims before in textbooks and hadn’t thought much of them, but seeing them in real-life almost made me cry (especially the bodies of the people who had died embracing each other). I didn’t feel respectful taking their photos, so you won’t find them here – you can find plenty though Google, anyway.

One thing I loved was discovering all the little alcoves, many of which were probably lararium or other kinds of shrines. They reminded me of the shrines to Christian figures that proliferate in Naples today – many of them even look very similar in shape. I can’t help but feel that Naples’ modern shrine culture may well be rooted in the Pagan shrines of the Romans who once lived in the area thousands of years ago.

Near one of the lararia I found, there was a little patch of clover growing, so I picked a few and left them as an offering at the lararium. I wanted to pay some kind of tribute to the spirits of the place – the lingering spirits of the Roman deities, and those of the departed souls of the city.

Here’s some of the photos I took to try and capture the profound experience of walking through Pompeii…

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Naples Trip Part 2: Antiquities Galore

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The highlight of our second day in Naples was probably the Museo Archeologico Nazionale – the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, which has enough classical mosaics, frescoes and statues to make a Hellenic or Roman Pagan swoon. Here’s some of my favourite pieces…

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Naples Trip Part 1: Huge cathedrals and tiny shrines

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One of the numerous little shrines you’ll find on the streets of Naples. This one is to San. Gennaro, Naples’ beloved patron saint

As my 30th birthday present, my husband took me on a trip to Naples last week. It’s been a dream of mine to visit there ever since learning all about Naples, Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius in Latin class as a child. So I was really excited to go…and it was even more incredible than I imagined!

It’s a bit of a cliché to call a place “magical,” but I can’t think of a better word to describe Naples. From its ancient Roman ruins to its medieval streets to its colourful modern urban culture, there is something very otherworldly about Naples. And as a Pagan, I saw and experienced many things that filled me with joy. There’s a lot I want to share, so I’m going to spread the account of my Naples trip over several entries.

We arrived in the evening on Friday, and I was immediately struck by the weird, anarchic aesthetics of Centro Storico, the old part of the city where a large proportion of Naples’ most interesting sights are to be had. It’s very run-down, with peeling paint and graffiti on every wall, but it absolutely teems with life. And on each tiny street (crammed with people and motorbikes) you’ll often find some beautiful church or other historical site, making it the perfect place to just explore and soak up the atmosphere.

The first sight we visited was the cathedral (Duomo), which is free to enter and is open until the early evening. Most churches in Britain seem to close before sunset, so it was quite a treat for me to be able to visit a cathedral under the night sky!

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Inside the Duomo

We first discovered Naples' fascination with the skull motif in the Duomo - in fact, skulls are an important feature of religion and culture in Naples, both ancient and modern. Some attribute this to Naples' proximity to Mt Vesuvius, and the ever-present threat of death it brings.

We first discovered Naples’ fascination with the skull motif in the Duomo – in fact, skulls are an important feature of religion and culture in Naples, both ancient and modern. Some attribute this to Naples’ proximity to Mt Vesuvius, and the ever-present threat of death it brings.

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Another of Naples’ shrines

The Duomo is very beautiful, but in some ways, I actually found the tiny little shrines that are present all over the city (and especially the older, more run-down parts) even more intriguing. You’ll spot a shrine to Jesus, Mary or San Gennaro in almost every alleyway, usually illuminated at night; the story is that in the past criminals would steal street lamps, but putting the lamps in shrines would deter them. The shrines usually have offerings of flowers, and they are treated with great reverence; we spotted some locals make the sign of the cross as they passed.

They remind me so much of hokora, Japan’s roadside shrines. And they also demonstrated to me that Catholicism in Italy very much has a folk tradition that British Catholicism seems to lack. And as I later found out, there seems to be a link between Naples’ modern tradition of street shrines and its ancient Pagan past…

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Save Anthropology A-level!

anthroIt is hugely regrettable that, in this day and age when intercultural understanding is not merely a preferable but essential skill for living in an increasingly connected world, the AQA Exam Board has decided to axe its new Anthropology A-level.

I strongly believe that without anthropologists, modern-day Paganism as we know it simply wouldn’t exist, and Shinto would be unknown outside Japan. I strongly believe therefore that students should have the option to study this fascinating, respected and significant discipline while they are at school. As we know from recent global events, cultural misunderstanding is one of the root causes of conflict today; a greater knowledge of anthropology can help to cure this by teaching us that the huge variety of different ways of life that exist among different cultures should be appreciated and celebrated.

If you feel the same way as I do, please sign this petition to AQA to re-instate Anthropology A-level.

NB – The note in the image is by Ruth Benedict, one of the most influential and important historical figures in the field of Japanese Studies. 

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