Monthly Archives: December 2015

Pagan and Spiritual Book Round-Up December 2015

naturalmagicNatural Magic, Doreen Valiente

Doreen Valiente is one of the most important figures in Paganism, so I thought it was important to read her works. Despite its title, Natural Magic is not so much about working with nature as it is a little guidebook to various aspects of witchcraft, including herbs, working with the four elements, and sexual magic. Valiente’s writing style is lively and engaging (it reminds me a little of Rae Beth), although I felt that this book was a bit of a slow start – this might simply be because I’ve now read quite a few introductory books on witchcraft and much of the content is similar. It’s worth persevering though as there’s lots of interesting content – for me, the highlights were the sections on talismans, dream magic, weather magic, and cartomancy using ordinary playing cards. It is quite a slim read though, and more experienced witches will probably chew their way through it very quickly. Probably best for beginners.

WitchcraftToday60 Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On, ed. Trevor Greenfield
**Book of the Month!**

This book was released in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, one of the most important Wiccan texts, as a documentation of how far witchcraft has evolved in those 60 years. Admittedly I still haven’t read Witchcraft Today so I was worried that this book might contain a lot of analysis of the original that would go straight over my head, but in fact, aside from the introduction, 60 Years On does not really talk about the original. It is instead a collection of short essays by individuals within witchcraft (some well-known, some unknown), talking about their particular path and what it means to them. Although this book lacks practical information (it isn’t intended to be a reference book for magic or for factual information about different forms of witchcraft), I found it inspiring. I enjoyed all the individual approaches displayed by each author – not only in their practise of witchcraft itself, but also in their writing style. Each account is personal, idiosyncratic, and honest. My favourite essay was probably Rick Derks’ description of Hekatean Witchcraft; not only am I particularly drawn to Hekate, but I found this the best-written out of all the essays, with an excellent bibliography to help out those looking to find out more about Hekate. I also found the section on Dianic Wicca fascinating, specifically because this form of radical feminist Wicca is the least known to me. I’ve never met anyone from this path so it was interesting to be able to find out more about what Dianic Wiccans think about their path. Finally, it was great to see that Kevin Groves, a fellow member of Medway Pagans, had also contributed to this book! It was a great reminder that, although Paganism continues to grow all the time, it’s still quite an intimate and friendly community. Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On succeeds well in celebrating Gardner’s legacy, and gives a fantastic insight into the personal thoughts and feelings of contemporary witches.

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Star of Wonder

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Star of Bethlehem on the exterior apse wall of the former church at Hadanig. By Johann Jaritz (Own work) [via Wikimedia Commons

Last night, Christmas Eve, the UK was treated to seeing the International Space Station fly over at 5:20pm. It’s a great sight for people in Britain, not least because we all know one of our own, Tim Peake, is up there right now. And it is of course fantastic timing – its appearance on Christmas Eve is reminiscent of the Star of Bethlehem in the Nativity story, while parents have been telling their children that it’s Father Christmas flying over in order to deliver presents! Either way, the ISS has captured the imagination  and enthusiasm of the British public.

I was lucky enough to catch sight of the ISS returning home from some last minute shopping, and for me, it was just as exciting as witnessing a natural phenomenon, like a shooting star or a rainbow. It reminds me of the incredible scientific achievements we’ve made, and that we are adding new and wonderful things to Nature itself. It also makes me think of all the potentials and possibilities laid before us that we can achieve, if we just keep on working together with other human beings, and with Nature, to to understand more about the Universe and discover and create wonderful things that can improve our lives.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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The Need for Human-Friendly Environmentalism

Diana

Diana, Goddess of hunting and guardian of wild animals.

I’ve recently been watching BBC’s “The Hunt,”  a David Attenborough documentary about nature’s predators and how they live. While for the most part it’s an excellent series, I found the final episode disturbing. [Read more…]

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“Celts: Art and Identity” at the British Museum

Gundestrup

By derivative work: Fuzzypeg★ Detail_of_antlered_figure_on_the_Gundestrup_Cauldron.jpg: Bloodofox [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, my husband treated me to a trip to the Celts: Art & Identity exhibit at the British Museum in London. Although pricey, it is a fantastic exhibition, showcasing an incredible variety of stunning Celtic objects; enormous gold and silver torcs, horned helmets, shields, stone Celtic crosses, figures of Gods and Goddesses, and examples of beautiful Celtic illuminated manuscripts.

For me, the highlight of the exhibit was the magnificent Gundestrupe Cauldron, an enormous silver bowl dating from between 200 BC and 300 AD. It is a spectacular sight, ornately decorated both inside and out with pictures thought to depict ancient Celtic legends. Among Pagans, it is perhaps most famous for its enigmatic depiction of a figure with antlers, gripping a torc in one hand and a snake in the other, surrounded by wild animals. We do not know who this man is for sure, but among Pagans he is commonly identified with the Horned God, sometimes called Cernunnos or Herne the Hunter.

Seeing the famous Cernunnos figure in real life, after seeing the image so many times in photos or reproduced as statues or items of jewellery, left a deep impression on me. I have to say that after seeing this image, it does seem likely to me that it depicts a God. His strange, meditative pose, his interaction with the snake, and his animal companions, certainly seem to suggest a powerful spirit of the forest and nature.

But what impressed me most of all was not what this figure may have originally symbolised, but what he represents now. To modern-day Pagans, the Cernunnos figure is an icon – and I mean this very much in the religious sense of the word. He has become a symbol of the Great God and the spirit of nature, and represents a link to the ways of our ancestors. So for me, as a Pagan, going to see the Gundestrup Cauldron was very much a pilgrimage, evoking the same emotions that Christians, and members of any other religion, must feel when they visit a significant place of worship or see a famous relic or icon.

The Celts exhibition runs until January 31st, and I very much recommend going to see the Cauldron and all the other incredible artefacts while you have the chance!

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Winter Solstice 2015

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Today I celebrated Yule (I prefer to celebrate on the date of the actual Solstice, rather than on the 21st). I began by climbing the local Windmill Hill to “see” the Solstice Sun rise. It being a very cloudy day, I couldn’t actually see the Sun (typical!), but I enjoyed being there as the light grew brighter. I made some offerings of sherry to some of the trees on the hill, including a very large Oak tree. There were a couple of dog walkers around, and I think they were somewhat bemused to see this strange girl out on the hill spilling a chalice of sherry around the tree roots!

When I came home, I placed offerings of a satsuma, chestnut and mochi (in addition to the usual offerings of water, sake, rice and salt) at my Inari altar and recited the Hifumi and Inari Norito. As you can see from the photo above, I’ve recently started using the old Hindu shrine I picked up at an antiques fair as a makeshift Kamidana, until my finances mean I can get a genuine Shinto one. I think it works pretty well for the time being.

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I also made offerings at my Pagan shrine. The posters on the wall behind are prints from Brian Froud’s Good Faeries, Bad Faeries, which is an excellent book that I highly recommend. Unfortunately, I discovered that the cover of my copy and some of the inner pages had become utterly ruined by damp and had gone really mouldy, but not wanting to throw away the whole book, I cut out some of the pictures that were still OK. I plan to change them on my altar according to the season; I think the ones above look quite wintry.

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I also added some of the salt dough Green Men that I’d made and hadn’t given away yet to the altar. I put one Holly King mask on the God side of the altar, an Ivy Queen mask on the Goddess side, and another Holly King hanging in the centre.

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Finally, in the evening I made some “rune cookies,” just like I did last year (but with additional clove and ginger this year). Although the first batch turned out well, I unfortunately burned the second batch! Today’s been a bit of an unlucky day for cooking actually – the oven’s been playing up a bit as well. Perhaps I need to pay more attention to the Goddess of the Hearth and let her know that I appreciate her work for us! I did place an offering of the best (non-burnt) biscuits on both the Inari shrine and Pagan shrine – I hope the Powers That Be like them.

Have a Magical Yule everyone!

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Yule Moot 2015 with Medway Pagans

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Last night was was the final Medway Pagans moot of 2015 – but our first moot in a brand new venue, where we’ve moved for various reasons. We were all a bit nervous at first of moving somewhere new, but it turned out to be fantastic  – very friendly, with a great space for ritual.

The moot began with a lovely ritual by Phoenix, welcoming the birth of the Sun God, in which each of us received a candle to welcome in the light. We also sang a Pagan version of Silent Night, beginning with a solo by Phoenix which she sang really beautifully (she’s in a choir!). I think all of us singing together really heightened our emotions – as the ritual ended, I felt really moved. A lot of others felt the same way.

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After the ritual, our Yule dinner was served. And just like last year, it was delicious! I opted for the vegetarian courses this year, despite not being veggie – partly for a bit of a change, and partly because I am trying to cut down on meat (I used to be vegetarian for several years as a teenagers). I’m really glad I chose the veggie option – yummy soup followed by amazing mushroom patties.

Between courses we did Secret Santa. My husband (he always tries to come to the Yule meal even though he isn’t a Pagan, which means a lot to me) received some patchouli incense and a beautiful glass pyramid with a pentacle inside (he plans to put it on his desk at work), and I got a really interesting-looking book about candle magic, which may well prove useful when I hold the Imbolc moot in February. I’ll probably end up reviewing the book on this blog at some point!

I took the opportunity of the moot to film some of our members talk about their views on Paganism and feminism/women’s rights/gender equality, which I plan to use at the discussion I’m leading with Medway Inter Faith Action. I was delighted to hear so many views articulated so well by our members. Although everyone’s views on the subject varied, one theme that kept coming through was the idea of balance – that there must be equal Masculine and Feminine energies, and so both sexes should be treated equally. This is very useful for my presentation, as it takes a historical look at the relationship between Paganism and feminism, which at times could be rather one-sided towards the Feminine, so it is interesting to hear how ideas and attitudes have moved on in the 21st century to reinforce the notion of balance more than the idea of a primarily Goddess-centred belief system.

It’s also interesting how the ritual we performed right at the beginning of the moot had this theme of balance too – to directly quote from the wording of the ritual, “Darkness cannot exist with out the light, as the Goddess cannot exist without the God. They are in an eternal balance.”

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Medway Inter Faith Action (MIFA) Discussion on “Women’s Rights and Religion”

MIFAwomens_rights

I will be leading a multi-faith discussion on the theme of Women’s Rights and Religion with Medway Inter Faith Action (MIFA) on January 22nd. I will open with a little presentation on the topic from the Pagan perspective, including a look at Goddess worship and the relationship between witchcraft and feminism. The presentation will be followed by an open discussion on the topic, where those present will have the opportunity to talk about the theme from their own individual perspective and the perspective of their faith. If anyone reading this within travelling distance of Medway would like to attend, please let me know!

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Yule Altar 2015

Yulealtar1

I’ve added a few things to my altar to Yule-ify it a little now. There’s some ivy above it, a little wooden Christmas tree, a Yule-themed pentacle, and finally, a Nativity set.

I imagine a lot of people will think it’s strange that I have such a Christian symbol of a nativity set on my altar this year, so I thought I’d write a little about it.

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This nativity set was given to me by my parents this year – they actually have loads of nativity sets and they wanted me to take one of them. On top of this obvious sentimental value, I’ve always loved this nativity set; it’s carved out of stone and is based on Viking figures. The figurines are so beautiful, and remind me a little of Japanese dousojin figures as well. The set really reminds me that at one time, ordinary people did practise Christianity alongside the old ways, without any conflict.

The figures of Mary and Joseph are so simple and beautiful that I plan to use them after Christmas as God and Goddess figurines, replacing my smaller ones that are repainted Hina Matsuri dolls (I’ll probably start using these as Hina dolls again). I’ll only put out the ox, ass and Baby Jesus figures out at Christmas time. I personally see nothing wrong with appropriating figures from one religion (especially figures that look so generic anyway) to use for sacred purposes in another; people throughout history have always done this, such as the figures of Kannon that Japanese Christians would venerate as Mary, or the Celtic Goddess Brigid becoming St Brigid in Christianity. It reminds us that all religions are connected.

 

 

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The Finished Holly Kings

Last post, I posted pictures of some of the Holly King decorations I made out of salt dough to give to friends and relatives for Christmas. I’ve made a few more, as well as painted and glazed them, so I thought I’d share the finished items here!

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This was the first one I made; I based the shape very much the one on the Green Man mask I made for Beltane. My husband thought it looked a bit scary from a non-Pagan perspective – a bit devilish, perhaps? So I tried to make the other Holly Kings without such pointy horns.

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I really like how this one turned out; I thought the shape looked very “classic,” like the Green Man faces you see at churches.

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This is another one of my favourites. I think it looks a little like a pixie! This one I didn’t put a hole in for the ribbon as I wasn’t sure if the final products would be strong enough to support their own weight when hung so I made some without holes – it turns out that after baking, they are pretty strong and I didn’t have anything to worry about. I plan to stick strong magnets on the backs of the ones without holes.

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I experimented with making a Holly King with a proper face, rather than just a mask. It turned out alright, but I decided I preferred the mask design better.

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Some other small masks, including an Ivy King (Queen) at the bottom.

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This is the smallest one I made. Making eye holds within the holly leaves on such a small scale is really difficult, so I cheated and poked in the eyes with a straw after putting in the holly. I don’t think the result is as nice as shaping the holly around existing eye holes. I think this one turned out cute though.

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These two were my least favourite – they were made in the second batch, and for some reason the salt dough didn’t turn out as well that time (I think it needed more flour), and the result was harder to shape and a bit flat. Also, with the Ivy King I experimented with a different painting process (painting dark on light as opposed to light on dark which is what I did for the others), and didn’t like the result as much. But as a pair, I think they go together really nicely so I’ll give them as a couple.

 

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