Monthly Archives: November 2015

Salt Dough Holly Kings

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Today I was racking my brains trying to think of the perfect Christmas gifts for some of my relatives. Then I remembered that one of my aunts likes to paint us pictures as gifts, and I thought, why don’t I try making something as well?

I thought about the Green Man mask I made for Beltane, and wanted to try something similar. So I decided to make some salt dough Holly King ornaments that my relatives could put on their Christmas trees. I’ve had a go making things with salt dough before and found it pretty easy and fun.

Above is the result. It was a lot of fun, and because they’re flat, the Holly kings turned out a lot better than my first salt dough ornaments. Now all I have to do is paint them and puts some nice ribbons on them for hanging on the tree! And if they turn out well, I think I’ll make some more…

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Yes, Environmentalism is Humanist

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By Lauren raine (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve heard some arguments that environmentalism is inherently misanthropic. In other words, environmentalism limits progress, oppresses the masses, and is rooted on the pessimistic assumption that humans are bad, destructive creatures undeserving of nature’s bounty. I’ve encountered some (but by no means all) Humanists  who hold this view, because they believe ultimately in the goodness of mankind, and that the needs of our species should always come first.

But I believe this is precisely why arguments for environmentalism are Humanist ones…[Read more]

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Pagan and Spiritual Book Round-Up November 2015

 

greenmantle Greenmantle, Charles De Lint

I have to admit – the main reason I bought this book was because someone posted the cover art on a Pagan-related Facebook group, and I loved it. There’s something almost Miyazaki-esque about the colour, lighting and subject matter. That’s what prompted me to track down this fantasy novel. But you know what they say…never judge a book by its cover, and sadly, this book was a good example of this rule for the most part. Although the blurb describes it as a fantasy novel about magical forests and ancient gods, there’s rather little of this in the book. Most of it is focussed on a rather dull story of Mafia warfare and an equally dull family caught up in it all. The more fantastical parts of the novel are quite interesting, taking direct inspiration from Pagan ritual, worship of the Horned God and the concept of the resurrected Green Man but they are completely overshadowed by the aforementioned main plot. Disappointing, I’m afraid to say. Still, that cover though!

ExperiencingtheGreenManExperiencing the Green Man, Rob Hardy & Teresa Moorey

I bought this while getting Christmas presents at the fantastic Hedingham Fair online shop; I have a particular fondness for the Green Man but haven’t read books specific to him (apart from Greenmantle above). This is one of these books made by a small publishing house, and it feels it – it’s cheaply printed and bound and the text inside is amateurishly written, poorly edited and riddled with typos. Thankfully, there’s also something charming and nice about it – with its friendly tone and focus on local traditions, it feels very British. For such a little book, it’s also got a surprising amount of varied content on the subject of the Green Man, including legends, guides on local churches and landmarks where Green Men can be found, rituals for honouring the Green Man, craft ideas, and even the full script for a short Mummer’s play featuring the Green Man. I additionally liked the attention paid to the Green Man within Christianity – I much prefer it when Pagan texts emphasise the links between Paganism and Christianity rather than focussing solely on the differences. It may not be a slick product, but for lovers of the Green Man, this book would probably make a welcome addition to a collection of literature about this mysterious figure.

 

LookingForLostGods Looking for the Lost Gods of England, Kathleen Herbert 

This really more of a bound essay than a book – you can read it very easily in one sitting. Herbert investigates the beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons, drawing from the writings of Roman settlers, the Venerable Bede, and texts of the Anglo-Saxons themselves (runes and Old English a-plenty). It’s a very detailed, interesting and academic piece, but due its length I can’t help but think the general reader would find this more appealing as part of a larger collection of essays on Heathenry, rather than as a stand-alone essay.

DictionaryShinto A Popular Dictionary of Shinto, Brian Bocking

Exactly what it says in the title – an A-Z of Shinto-related, Japanese terminology. I flicked through the whole book, which was very interesting and meant I discovered a lot of new aspects of Shinto, such as obscure kami and practises. Generally, I thought the explanations were pretty good – clear and easy to understand. But there were two things I thought could have been added to improve it. Firstly, it could perhaps do with a few simple illustrations to help those unfamiliar with Shinto tools and architecture; this is pretty common in Japanese dictionaries. Secondly, there isn’t a single Japanese character in the whole book. I thought this was a considerable oversight – the kanji used to write Japanese words is very important, especially in matters pertaining to religion. Including kanji for each entry should have been an obvious thing to do, and would have greatly aided understanding for those who can read Japanese (and there’s a lot of non-Japanese people interested in Shinto who can).

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Quick visit to the British Museum

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Egyptian king flanked by deities imbuing him with powers.

Yesterday my husband and I were in London, showing around a couple of my husband’s friends from Australia. As part of the day we dropped into the British Museum for about an hour, most of which is free to attend. I’ve been to the British Museum a couple of times ago, but I thought this time I’d share a few pictures of the Classical section, which is where we spent most of the time.

I love dolphins, so I was delighted to spot this little dolphin featured on an Assyrian relief!

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Venus. I love her pose here.

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Dionysus, looking particularly feminine (aside from his naughty bits!)

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A procession of Dionysus’ followers, the Maenads.

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These Eros statuettes look like they’d be right at home on a modern Christmas tree!

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Eros riding a dolphin.

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A really interesting relief of Athena blessing her followers. Look how tall she is compared to the men!

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Pan.

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Bronze mirror depicting Nike. You can easily see how images of Nike later inspired images of Judeo-Christian angels.

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A depiction of two of my favourite Greco-Roman deities, Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Gentle Death).

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I really liked this tiny little figure of dancers – I’ve seen so many modern New Age candle holders and sculptures that look similar!

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I really want to go to the Celtic exhibition that the British Museum are holding at the moment (we didn’t go this time because it’s quite expensive, and for first-timers to the BM it’s best to stick to the free exhibits). It would be something of a pilgrimage for me to see the Gundestrup Cauldron currently on display there, which depicts a horned figure now identified with Pagans as one of our most beloved deities – Cernnunos. Next time!

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Yuletide Cards from Hedingham Fair

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While purchasing a Wassail Cup for my brother-in-law for his birthday (he decided to start a tradition of wassailing the trees in his garden last year) from the fantastic online Pagan/Folk shop Hedingham Fair, I also decided to buy two sets of 25 Winter Solstice / Yule Cards to give as Christmas cards this year.

For £12.00, I think this set was an absolute bargain. The cards are beautiful – especially the linocut ones, with their dark, bold borders and bright colours. Although very Pagan in flavour, incorporating Yuletide symbols like the Holly King, Stonehenge, Viking deities and druid’s sickles, they also have plenty of images of Christmas familiar to non-Pagans (candles, holly, mistletoe etc.), making them perfect for Pagans who want to give Christmas cards that subtly express their Pagan pride to non-Pagan friends. I’m really excited to give them!

After buying the “Winter Solstice” Bumper Set, I discovered that they also have a 25 card bumper set of “Christmas” Cards as well, which are slightly more Christmas-themed than Yule-themed (although the two are pretty similar). I also discovered they have some other designs not included in the 25 bumper back, which is kind of a shame because they’re so nice! (But I guess they have to leave some designs out to save many). Maybe next year I’ll buy these ones as well! But for this year I am really happy with my purchase and can totally recommend these beautiful cards for any Pagans out there still looking for the perfect Christmas cards for their loved ones.

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Why should Pagans support people of other faiths?

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Green Man at St Peter’s Church, Barton-Upon Humber – a Pagan figure guarding a Christian place of worship. Richard Croft [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 The recent horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Mali and parts of Nigeria have emphasised one thing in particular for me. That all of us who believe in the values that Daesh (a.k.a. “Islamic State”) hate – freedom, equality, education, justice, love – need to stay united in order to fight terrorism and extremism. For despite the differences we may have in nationality, race, political views and, yes, religion, it is these values that stand out above all others and what set us apart from the monsters that have slaughtered so many innocent people.

As a follower of a religion, I also believe that now, more than ever, it is vital that members of different religions come together, to share in each other’s views and to work together to fight against terrorism and radicalisation however we can. And this means that I believe members of the Pagan community have an important part to play – to not just tolerate members of other religions, but actively support them in any challenges they may be facing during this difficult times.

Here are a few reasons why I believe Pagans should support people of other religions:

  1. Pagans can easily empathise 
    Pagans are no strangers to intolerance and discrimination. Pagans represent the traditions practised by those who were systematically persecuted by the state, and even today, Pagans still face prejudice and hatred from others (only recently, a fundamentalist Christian group in Scotland attacked Pagans as one of “the biggest threats to Western civilisation.”). We therefore know and understand the frustration, hurt and fear  that arises from being victims of religious discrimination, and we should help defend and stick up for members of other religions who are suffering from prejudice and misinformation.
  2. Paganism is an inclusive religion
    Most Pagans pride themselves on the fact that their faith is a great big mish-mash of other traditions. In addition to adopting deities and traditions from the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Vikings, modern Paganism also borrows from religions not usually considered Pagan. Much of Paganism’s rituals and philosophies come from Christianity, as well as Asian religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Some magical practises in Paganism originate from Middle Eastern mysticism. In addition to this, many Pagans are happy to accept that all deities are manifestations of one underlying entity, meaning that all religions are “true.” Because of this, Pagans should respect and support those of other religions, especially as modern Pagans owe other religions such a debt in terms of how much they have borrowed from them!
  3. Protecting others is protecting ourselves
    When we allow members of other faiths to be bullied, misrepresented or discriminated against without taking action, we set a dangerous precedent for ourselves. The basic rights and freedoms afforded to religions should apply to ALL religions, and so if one religion faces a breach of those rights, it is inevitable that others will also fall victim to the same oppressors. Conversely, by speaking out for other members of the faith community, we are also speaking out for our own rights and freedoms. We are all much stronger if we stand shoulder to shoulder.
  4. It will change other religions’ attitudes towards Paganism
    Some members of other religions think that, because Pagans can be rather secretive and because they use “occult” imagery associated with all things “unholy” in horror films and other media, Pagans are inherently opposed to Christianity and other monotheistic religions. While this may be true for some Pagans, it certainly isn’t for all of us, and this perception that people become Pagans in order to rebel against other religions is damaging to the Pagan faith. By standing together with members of other faiths and showing your support form them, we can demonstrate to the world that Paganism is not some kind of anti-Christian cult or anti-religious movement, but rather is an important and valuable asset to society that plays an important role in people’s lives.
  5. It will expand your mind.
    Just as Pagans can influence those of other beliefs, so too can those of other beliefs influence Pagans. By making sure you’re not residing purely in a Pagan “bubble” by actively mixing with those of other religions, you will be exposed to many different viewpoints, attitudes and ways of life. And this is very good for intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual development. What’s more, by understanding the religions of others, you’ll also gain a greater understanding of what it really means to be Pagan.
  6. We can work together to solve issues related directly to religion
    There are inevitably things that you, as a Pagan, will disagree with within different religions, such as attitudes to gender, sex and sexuality, treatment of animals and so forth. But what is important to realise is that there are members of those particular religions who also disagree with those aspects of that religion and are working to change them – and they need your help. For example, there are many Catholics who believe women should be afforded better status within the Catholic church, and Catholics who believe the Catholic church should change its views on contraception. By working together with like-minded Catholics, rather than solely against the Catholic church, Pagans can have a much greater impact in bringing about changes that will benefit everyone.

So as a Pagan, how can you show your support for people of other faiths? There’s plenty you can do!

1. Take an active interest in other religions. Read about them and their sacred texts, watch documentaries about them, and, of course, speak to members of those religions who are comfortable talking about their beliefs. This is the first step to understanding and appreciating other faiths.
2. Visit places of worship – even if you do not participate in prayers or a service, simply being there will show your support. Most churches are generally open to the public when mass is not in session, and many synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras and other places of worship hold open days specifically for those not of the faith to learn more about them. Check out the calendars of your local places of worship and see what they are up to.
3. Take part in local religious festivals. Where I live we have a large Sikh community, and so we are blessed with a variety of colourful and vibrant Sikh festivals in our town throughout the year. Coming along to festivals, even if you’re not sure what they’re all about, is a fantastic and highly enjoyable way to get to know others in your community, especially those of different faiths.
3.  Join in with interfaith activities. Interfaith is all about creating positive dialogue with members of other faiths, so if you join a local interfaith group you are bound to meet like-minded individuals with an open and welcoming attitude to all religions! UK residents can find local interfaith groups via the Inter Faith Network UK.
4. Invite members of other faiths to observe or take part in Pagan ritual or gatherings. This could be as simple as having a friend of another religion over for a feast to commemorate a sabbat, or by inviting members of another faith-based organisation to come along to your moot. It should be an enjoyable and eye-opening experience for both parties!

5. Watch the words and attitudes of other Pagans in your community. How do other Pagans feel about those of different religions? Is there any kind of irrational animosity felt towards particular non-Pagan religions being expressed? If so, make sure you get your views heard too, and speak up for other religions. As you friends, other Pagans are likely to listen to you and, gradually, you may find their attitudes change.

6. Pray and make magic! Of course, Pagans shouldn’t forget to seek the help of the deities and forces of nature! Ask the deities, or if you are more witchcraft-inclined perform a spell or ritual, to help spread peace and tolerance in your community and throughout the world, and ask them to grant wisdom and clarity to people of all faiths so we can all understand and support each other better.

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Action needed! Save the sacred trees of Shimogamo

shimogamo

An ancient, sacred grove of trees by the Shimogamo Shrine in Japan are being threatened with destruction in order to make way to build luxury apartments – which will help to finance the shrine.

It is unacceptable for a Shinto Shrine, a place designed specifically for reflecting upon the sacredness of the natural world, to be causing such devastation to the surrounding environment.

For more information, please see Green Shinto’s post here.

You can sign a petition to the Shinto priest of the Shimogamo Shrine, the Mayor of Kyoto and JR west real estate & development against this development here.

 

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Why should religious people support secularism?

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The dove is a symbol of both spirituality and freedom

As you may have guessed from my recent article about faith schools in the UK, I am a secularist. As one who considers myself a spiritual person, I believe that all of us, both religious and non-religious alike, would be much better off in a secular UK. Why is this?

Firstly, I believe there are some misconceptions surrounding the word “secularism,” which may be why you hear so many people call themselves “atheists,” “agnostics” and “humanists” but rarely “secularists.” In fact, I think the majority of people in the UK share the founding beliefs of secularism without realising it. So what exactly is secularism?

What secularism is NOT

Firstly, secularism is not the same as atheism, agnosticism or humanism. The latter three represent people who do not follow any religion, do not believe in any gods, or at least do not live their lives according to any religious doctrines. In contrast, secularists are not necessarily non-religious – there are those, like me, who enthusiastically follow religion – but they believe deeply in the individual’s right to follow whatever religion they wish – and the right to not follow any religion at all. Secularism is attractive to atheists and humanists, but it is certainly not limited to those who do not follow a religion.

Secondly, secularists do not believe in the abolition or prohibition of religion. On the contrary, secularism promotes freedom of expression of the individual – and that includes freedom of religion. And secularists certainly don’t want to abolish our beloved British festivals and traditions that are rooted in religion, such as Easter and Christmas!

What secularism IS

As defined by the National Secular Society (NSS), secularists believe in “the strict separation of the state from religious institutions”  and that  “people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.” These are the two founding principles of secularism. The goal of secularism is therefore to promote equality between people of different religions and no religions, and to defend the freedom to believe, or disbelieve, whatever religious teachings you wish. As the NSS explains, “Secularism is simply a framework for ensuring equality throughout society – in politics, education, the law and elsewhere, for believers and non-believers alike.”

Some of the ways in which the NSS works to make the UK a secular society include campaigning against religious affiliations within state schools, religious practises engaged or promoted by the state, and censorship of expression due to religious concerns. You can read their full charter here.

Why do religious people need secularism?

Just as secularism grants freedom from religion, it also grants freedom of religion. It gives everyone the right to worship freely – and ensures that no religion is given a more privileged status in society than another.

I invite all Pagans reading this to imagine what a secular Britain would look like. Our children would no longer be indoctrinated by their school into a different religion to the one we practise at home, because Church of England schools and other state faith schools would no longer exist. And the advantages that children attending faith schools might gain in doing so, due to the inequality of funding, would also no longer exist. Pagan handfastings would have equal status to church weddings. With the Church of England no longer exerting its currently considerable power over the government, we would no longer need to fear that the political decisions might be made in the best interest of Christians but to the detriment of Pagans. And by having equal status in the eyes of the law and state to Christianity and other major religions in the UK, some of the discrimination and prejudice that Pagans face would start to disappear.

I also invite all Christians reading this to think of the benefits they would gain from a secular Britain. It would shift the balance of power away from the very highest elite in the Church, back into the hands of the people. It would force the Church to become more democratic, as its followers would have a much larger stake in the Church’s future. It would also force the Church to become more transparent, helping to eliminate some of the terrible scandals that have happened within the Church over the years due to the secrecy surrounding its processes. It would lead to a society filled with greater tolerance and more brotherly love between one another, a central Christian principle. And it would bring the focus of the Church back where it should be – on individuals working to live a moral life within their society according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

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RIP Carl Llewellyn Weschcke

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Hail and Farewell to Carl Llewellyn Weschcke of Llewellyn Worldwide. I am one of hundreds of Pagans who have relied (and continue to reply) upon the simple, friendly and informative guides on Paganism and magic published by Llewellyn. Paganism’s success among the masses is in many ways indebted to Llewellyn, and it is thanks to the work of Weschcke that many of the misconceptions and fears surrounding Paganism and the occult among the masses have thankfully been dispelled.

May he find everlasting peace and magic in the Otherworld.

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Grief is a private matter

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“Priestess Offering Poppies,” Simeon Solomon

The poppy is a very powerful symbol for people in Britain, and like Remembrance Sunday itself it seems to mean many different things to different people. But like all powerful symbols, the poppy is not without controversy. [Read more]

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