Tag Archives: skull

Samhain 2015

WP_20151101_12_49_09_Pro

My Samhain offerings at the local cemetery

I tend to view all the Pagan Sabbats as a “season,” with the official date of the Sabbat acting as the epicentre of the season with ripples into the days before and after. That’s one reason why I decided to hold my solo Samhain ritual on the Full Moon prior to Samhain, and why I didn’t actually hold any sort of ritual on October 31st itself.

WP_20151031_14_14_24_ProHowever, I did make some Samhain Soul Cakes yesterday, using my favourite recipe with added matcha (Japanese green tea powder). Matcha is interesting to work with – when used as an ingredient combined with other things, it only really looks green in the presence of moisture, so the dough didn’t look green until I added milk, upon which it turned a very vivid shade of green. Unfortunately, when the moisture evaporated on baking the cookies, they reverted back to mostly brown with only a slight greenish tint. I can see that if I bake with matcha again and want to retain that green colour, I’m going to have to use a lot more. But this in itself is tricky because matcha is a bit like saffron – it’s expensive and can have a strong flavour, so you don’t want to use too much, ideally. It went really well with the cinnamon and nutmeg I also added to the mixture (hint: don’t be afraid to use quite a lot of cinnamon!)

I used a wonderful set of “Day of the Dead” skull cookie cutters. These were a gift from my sister-in-law, and it was great to have such a perfect opportunity to use them.

My husband and I took the cookies to my parent’s house, where we were taking part what’s close to a “religious observance” for my Kiwi husband and Welsh mum – the Rugby World Cup final! (To my husband’s delight, the All Blacks were victorious). But keeping with the Halloween theme, my Dad had bought the biggest pumpkin I’d ever seen, carved it and hollowed it out, and used the innards to make delicious pumpkin soup and toasted pumpkin seeds. So even though I didn’t hold a particular ritual on Samhain Eve, it was still meaningful for me to spend it with my family and enjoying some very Halloweeny food!

Traditionally Samhain continues into November 1st, and so today my husband and I went walking in the local cemetery, where I placed my offerings originally given at my altar on the previous Full Moon for the deities of death, departed friends and ancestors. It was an absolutely perfect day to do so – overnight a mist had descended over the town, and the cemetery looked beautiful and very otherworldly.

WP_20151101_12_41_58_Pro

WP_20151101_12_51_46_Pro

WP_20151101_12_52_11_Pro

I found a moss-covered tree stump that acted as a perfect natural altar, and placed my offerings of a miniature pumpkin, garlic, soul cake and dog treats there, as well as sprinkling some incense. I also offered a fallen branch of rowan. My offering was not only to my own ancestors and loved ones, but to all those whose spirits rest in the cemetery. I hope they liked my gift.

WP_20151101_12_49_15_Pro

On our way back, I noticed something I had never noticed before, even though I have been in this cemetery many times –  a grave with a pentagram on it!

WP_20151101_13_02_16_Pro

The pentagram is a sacred symbol in Christianity as well, so it’s not particularly shocking to see one on a 19th century gravestone, but nevertheless it seems to be quite uncommon. I wonder why Sarah’s relatives had chosen this symbol for her grave as opposed to a more traditional funerary symbol? Were there Freemasons in her family? Or did they simply like the design? In any case, I am really surprised I’d never spotted this before and I was so glad to see this reminder of the connection between Christianity and Paganism in our cemetery. Perhaps the spirits within the mist, still dwelling in this world while the veil to the Otherworld is so thin, had given me the extra clarity to see it today!

I wish everyone a very Blessed Samhain!

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Nature & Environment, Places, Rituals & Festivals

“A Darker Shade of Burlesque” with Vintage TeasE

The hypnotic Coco Deville. I hope she doesn't mind me stealing this image, from her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ms.coco.deville?fref=ts

The hypnotic Coco Deville. I hope she doesn’t mind me stealing this image, from her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ms.coco.deville?fref=ts

Last night I went to a local Halloween-themed burlesque show, “A Darker Shade of Burlesque,” by Vintage TeasE. It was the first proper burlesque I’d attended, and it was a fantastic evening. The performers were all women with a wide range of body types, styles and talents, and the majority of the audience were women too. It’s interesting and encouraging to see performances that, although historically intended to titillate men, now seem to appeal very much to women through their glamour, costumes and sense of empowerment of seeing other women with bodies very much like their own looking confident and sexy as they bare all.

All the acts were very entertaining. It was headlined by a very beautifully gothic Bonnie Fleur, who had not one but two acts – as a seductive Morticia Addams in one of the earlier acts, and an intense, vampiric Red Queen at the close, who swooped around in Isis wings designed to look like a huge red cloak, and ended by pouring “blood” from a chalice over herself. There was also Jeanie Wishes, who performed a sexy pole dance in the persona of a spider queen; a bride who hacked off her own chastity belt with an angle grinder (sparks flying and all); and a bizarre “werewolfess” who at the end sported a wolf mask and very little else.

But for me, there was one act that really stood out above all others, and that was a voodoo-inspired dance by the award-winning Coco Deville. She made her entrance to The Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs,” dressed in an incredible outfit of a feather headdress, feather skirt and trailing cloak made from different fake fur prints stitched together. She was carrying a skull, which she placed reverentially upon a table with a red and black cloth and a lit candelabra, and knelt before it as if praying to the spirits of death. She then began her dance, with slow, hypnotic movements reminding me of those used in tribal bellydance. As she stripped off each layer of clothing, from her cloak down to her skirt, she toyed with a riding crop, bringing an element of bondage into her dance. Right at the end, she took one of the candles and poured the wax all over her now mostly nude body.

What was incredible about this intense act was the effect upon the audience. Throughout the show, we were all encouraged to clap and cheer during the dances as each layer of clothing came off. But for Coco Deville, the audience was spellbound into a respectful hush. Most of the cries that came from the audience were the kind of ululations you might hear women make at events of particular ritual or religious significance in the Middle East and Asia. Everyone else simply gazed, mesmerised by Coco’s preternatural grace and captivating presence.

That’s when I realised that what we were watching somehow transcended mere performance and entered the realm of ritual. This young lady, part-voodoo priestess, part-dominatrix, part-goddess, with her supreme confidence and talent, had the entire audience under her spell. Erotic it certainly was, but in a manner that re-enforced the connection between sexuality and the divine.

As a Pagan observer, I would certainly call the effect of this performance magic. It was a reminder that magic does not need to be performed by self-identified witches within a coven, or practitioners of ritual occult – a simple dance in a cabaret show, through the combination of music, movement, costume and the energy of the dancer herself – can invoke just the same level of power.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art & Expression

Reflections on “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, The Skeleton Saint,” R. Andrew Chesnut

devotedtodeathWhy did I choose to read this book?

Ever since reading various internet articles about Santa Muerte, Mexico’s “Skeleton Saint,” I have been absolutely fascinated by this deity and her fast-growing cult. A personification of Death venerated by people who identify as Catholic, yet whose worship is condemned by the Catholic church? A saint who devotees routinely included the last people we would usually think of as “spiritual,” including drug barons, prostitutes and the police who incarcerate them alike? As a Goth, Pagan, ex-Catholic and someone who has a broad interest in folk religion in general, I was intrigued and wanted to know more.[Read more]

2 Comments

Filed under Reviews

My New Pagan Altar

FennelAltar01

We’ve been in our new house for a couple of months now, and my new Pagan altar is finally starting to take shape.

We’re lucky enough to have an amazing cellar in the new house, which is being used as a wine cellar, entertainment room and my “altar room.” It’s great that I now have a whole room dedicated to Pagan worship! I also like the fact that it’s rather hidden, below ground level – it gives it a real feeling of mysticism, as well as having the practical advantage that it’s one of the most private rooms in the house, being very much blocked off from the other rooms.

The big Green Man scarf forming the backdrop of the altar is the one I bought from the local shop Impact. It’s actually hiding a really horrible Totteham Hotspur badge that the previous owners of the house had painted there beforehand!  (I will have to get round to painting over it eventually). It also has some of my most precious altar tools, including my athame, chalice and pentagram, as well as my tiny Goddess/God figurines that are so small they’re hard to see (I’ll have to get some larger ones some time). And for Samhain, I’ve added a skull, pumpkin, Grim Reaper and a male and female skeleton pair that represent the Death aspects of the Goddess and God.

fennelaltar02

Below the main altar shelf is an alcove in which I keep some of my other tools, my Book of Shadows and my Pagan-related literature.

fennelaltar03

Finally, there’s one more little alcove in the cellar, in which I have set up a tiny “Death” shrine, in honour of the spirits of Death. As a Goth, I feel very drawn to death deities and so it feels proper that I give them their due respect. This shrine was partly inspired by some of the skull shrines I saw in Naples on my holiday last year. The box actually contains graveyard dirt and a “vampire’s tooth” that my Dad bought from Romania! Whether it’s a real vampire tooth of not is of course debatable, but it is an incredibly interesting little artefact. I plan on leaving some offerings here at Samhain.

3 Comments

Filed under Musings & Miscellaneous

Neopaganism v. Shinto: Attitudes towards Death and Darkness

altar-skull

The use of skulls and other symbols of death and darkness is not uncommon in Neopagan altars. By Malcolm Lidbury (aka Pinkpasty) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Continuing with my exploration of some of the key differences between Western Neopaganism and Shinto in Japan, I thought I’d look at the attitudes towards the “darker” aspects of existence, especially death, in both religions. [Read more]

1 Comment

Filed under Musings & Miscellaneous, Shinto / Japanese Religion

Naples Trip Part 4: Shadows and Skulls

WP_20150216_12_40_52_Pro

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:

WP_20150216_11_21_02_Pro

WP_20150216_11_48_49_Pro

WP_20150216_11_45_59_Pro

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…

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Places

Naples Trip Part 2: Antiquities Galore

WP_20150214_11_36_08_Pro

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…

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Places

Naples Trip Part 1: Huge cathedrals and tiny shrines

WP_20150213_19_33_51_Pro

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!

WP_20150213_17_06_36_Pro

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.

WP_20150213_19_33_58_Pro

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…

4 Comments

Filed under Places

“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Scorpio

zodiac-scorpio

The latest in my Goth Zodiac series – Scorpio!

This one was pretty easy. With all the associations of sex, death, secrecy and the supernatural surrounding Scorpios, Goth comes naturally to them!

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

1 Comment

Filed under Art & Expression

My new indoor altar

myaltar1

After a lot of thought about the benefits of having an indoor altar as well as my outdoor Inari altar, I finally decided to set one up in our living room. And here it is! It’s on the top shelf of our large wall-shelves (surrounded by DVDs!). The “permanent” features include:

  •  My re-painted Hina Matsuri dolls as representatives of the God and Goddess at the centre, on a large shelf mirror (mimicking the Shinto tradition of the sacred mirror), with my pentagram tied with handfasting cords above.
  • My collection of Pagan and folklore-related  books on the left side, and Shinto/Japanese spiritual books on the right
  • My book of shadows
  • Two tea-light holders
  • A pentacle dish (that’s also an incense stick holder) with a crystal ball on top, representing Earth.
  • A lovely chalice I found at a charity shop (that I haven’t consecrated yet) representing Water
  • My athame, representing Fire
  • My wand, representing Air
  • A bell, for summoning the spirits and snuffing candles

The skulls, tombstone angel statue, and Fukurokuju wood carving are just there for Samhain, representing Death and old age.

I’m quite pleased with the result! I look forward to using it in rituals and improving it over time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Rituals & Festivals