Invoking Animal Magic. Samhain kept stealing pages from the book and tearing them up. I responded by giving her a special folder with her own papers, another gift she appreciated and another gift that did not entirely serve its purpose. My latest attempt to shape behavior has been over tarot cards. I like to leave tarot spreads out several days so I can contemplate the cards, but this means Samhain has to be watched carefully. I decided to try giving Samhain mini card readings, and it turns out Samhain, like most narcissists, really really likes having her cards read. But she still can’t be trusted not to mess up mine.Samhain\Kitten is a fascinating multi-talented familiar, and I could easily write a multi-part blogging essay about her. I realize, however, that only literary giants like Doris Lessing or May Sarton can get away with writing whole books about their cats (and having peple read them). But now that I have made this introduction, Samhain will show up from time to time as I discuss my magical work.My familiar Samhain (pronounced SOW-when) is a seven year old blue point Siamese cat. Among Siamese afficionados, she is known as an “applehead,” meaning she has not been bred for the extremely svelte figure favored in cat shows. Her shape is more like the Buddhist temple cats bred for centuries in her native Thailand.One of the many apocryphal legends about this breed recounts that a pair were left by a monk to guard an important Buddhist relic, but the male became restless and set off in search of the human. The female stayed with her entrusted task, focusing so intently on the treasure that her eyes crossed and her tail became kinked. This earned the female Siamese cat the reputation for being the preferred temple guardian.I had decided that I preferred Siamese cats as familiars even before I learned about their importance in Thai Buddhist temples. By “familiar” I mean an animal who assists with spellcasting and clairvoyant work. To be an effective familiar, an animal must have psychic abilities and must also bond closely with her witch companion. Dogs bond easily with humans, but dogs are a bit tricky because some dogs are very psychic while others are entirely flat-footed (flat pawed?) when it comes to contacting the etheric realms. Cats are reliably psychic, unless you get the rare one that’s actually psychotic, but they sometimes bond imperfectly even with a person who treats them well. Horses and birds meet both criteria, but they can pose logistical problems. A Siamese cat will usually bond firmly with one other person, and like all cats will have psychic abilities. There are downsides to choosing a Siamese. They require a great deal of attention and they have high energy levels. If you do not play with your Siamese enough, you will get the “ankle attack.” Getting a second cat as a companion will not solve the problem, since the Siamese bonds closely with one other being, and you want that special one to be yourself. Also there is the talking issue: this is a breed with a loud voice that communicates vocally. Someone once told me that one of the first cat rescue groups focusing on a specific breed formed around the Siamese, because many people are attracted to the look of the breed, then can’t handle the energy level and the constant talking. So if you get a Siamese or Siamese-mix, be sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into. I like the idea of tuning into and bonding with my cat familiar before I actually meet her by trying to discern the name corresponding to her universal soul vibration. I have tried this with two cats now, and I do not think I was able to achieve this. The first time the name Michelle came to me, which I changed to Misha because I thought Michelle was a stupid name for a cat. When I arrived at the house to meet Misha/Michelle, I discovered that the little girl had named this kitten Michelle. Was Michelle the vibration emanating from the kitten’s higher self, or did I just discern the name the kitten was already responding to? With my latest familiar, the name that kept coming to me was Kit, as in Kit Carson. I thought Kit was also a stupid name for a cat. When I arrived to pick up this kitten at the home of the family who bred Siamese cats, I inquired about the name since I wasn’t coming up with anything satisfactory. The lady told me “The children give all the kittens names, often really silly names, but this one they just call Kitten.” I had done it again. Maybe kittens don’t have human names corresponding to their soul vibration. Or maybe they do, and the children didn’t understand “Kitten’s” real name because it was an unfamiliar word. I ended up naming her Samhain, which is Irish for Halloween, because I brought her home with me the day before Halloween. One of the challenging things about having a familiar – and I imagine this holds for all familiars, even the discarnate ones – is that the familiar will try to steal the power of her witch companion. With cats this takes the form of power struggles over magical objects. The altar has been a particular focal point of this struggle with Samhain. Someone suggested that I give Samhain her own altar to defuse the tension, and it seemed like a good idea. Samhain was delighted with having an altar of her own, but this did not take away her fascination with mine. Another power struggle emerged while I was writing my book,
The god Jupiter has occasionally appeared to me over the years, and I have found his presence surprising for two reasons. The first is that he surely understands that I am a feminist, and a Dianic at that, and am therefore rather miffed about the role his cult has played in the suppression of matrifocal religion. The second thing that has surprised me is that Jupiter’s energy has not seemed offensive and thuggish. He looks stocky and muscular, with an impressive amount of hair and beard, but his energy feels solid yet gentle.Jupiter is considered the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Zeus, the father god of the thunderbolt, who rules the pantheon. He is also the namesake for the large red planet, considered in astrology the planet of good fortune. Some scholars say that the Indo-European Roman Jupiter became merged with Zeus due to Greek influence in late classical times. Others say that an Etruscan god Tinia, who may himself have been drawn from Greek influence, became merged with the Roman Jupiter. Still others say that both Jupiter and Zeus are forms of a proto-Indo-European supreme sky father deity. An alternate idea is that a pre-Indo-European god of unknown name became merged with Jupiter after Indo-European conquest. None of these hypotheses are exclusionary: a proto-Indo-European Sky Father may have merged with prominent local gods in the Greek and Roman peninsulas, later becoming merged again, with another god Tinia thrown into the mix during a period of Etruscan influence.There is not much written for the lay reader on the earliest form of Jupiter. Most people simply do not find early Roman religion very interesting. We do know that his earliest known shrine was southeast of Rome and pre-dated Rome, and that a confederation from the Latin cities convened there for ceremony twice a year. Stewart Perowne says of Jupiter’s temple in Rome, “It is rather a shock to find that he was neither godlike nor human: he was just an old stone, Jupiter Lapis.” But now my interest is piqued. Here we have the material connection, the fundamental source in nature.Jupiter Lapis “the old stone” oversaw both individual oaths and the ratification of treaties. Perowne asserts that this “goes back to the neolithic days, perhaps even before them . . . When the metal-users arrived they associated these venerable and rather terrifying flints with the greatest deity they knew, the god of light, Jupiter, who among other functions was the punisher of perjurors.”But if Jupiter Lapis really is a Neolithic deity, he must be defined by a different relationship than Sky Father. Primary male deities from pre-patriarchal Europe, though they may also be consorts or fathers, are identified by their connection to the Great Mother: they are known as sons or brothers, not fathers. Could Juno be Jupiter’s mother, not his wife? Cicero, who records the oath sealing of Jupiter Lapis in the first century B.C.E., presents another possibility. He describes a statue at the temple of Fortuna in Praeneste, apparently no longer extant, which depicts the infant Jupiter on the lap of this goddess. The infant reaches for her breast, with his sister Juno beside him.Patricia Monaghan describes the goddess Fortuna, whose cult is very ancient, as “the goddess who controlled the destiny of every human being. No mere ‘Lady Luck,’ she was the energy that drove men and women to reproduce themselves….” Jupiter as child of Fortuna makes perfect sense. Our journey to find the Son has led us back to the Mother.SourcesCampbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. New York: Penguin, 1964.Cicero. De Divinatione, II 85.Jordan, Michael. Encyclopedia of the Gods. New York: Facts on File, 1993.Monaghan, Patricia. The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1990.Nova Roma. Iuppiter.Perowne, Stewart. Roman Mythology. London: Hamlyn, 1969.
Just as there is an aphorism that “the victors write history,” there is another that says “history is continually rewritten.” Both of these sayings apply to this rehabilitation of the biblical queen. Hazelton views Jezebel’s story as an earlier version of tensions between liberalism and religious zealotry, drawing direct parallels to present day conundrums over Christian, Jewish, and Muslim fundamentalism. Hazelton’s prose is spellbinding, and though the book does not read like a novel, the story is riveting all the same. Rhetorical asides are satisfying and engrossing. There are many good, satisfying quotes from this book:
When your story is written by those in passionate opposition to everything you believe in, it will be, to put it mildly, warped. Everything becomes twisted; every action, every gesture, becomes not only suspect but turned on its head. The wildest rumors are passed off as fact. Inconvenient facts are ignored or edited out, relegated to oblivion, until all we are left with is not a real person but an image, a morality-tale character, which is how Jezebel would become a kind of wicked witch of the east.
The first thing Hazelton does is to dispense with the common portrayal of Jezebel as a sexualized being, a harlot. This was rather disappointing for me, because that was what motivated me to buy the book. I had read in another review that this book challenges the idea of the “sacred prostitute” in ancient Near East religions. I myself have become frustrated with the “sacred prostitute” terminology, having come to the conclusion that expressions of sexuality in ancient religions bears no resemblance to prostitution, sacred or otherwise. The concept of the “sacred prostitute” has long been politically used to denigrate priestess cults, and more recently to glorify prostitution. I would love to see this phrase stricken from our spiritual conversation.But if I hoped to find a more nuanced exploration of feminine sexuality in religion I was disappointed here on many levels. Hazelton begins her dismissal of the harlot angle by expounding on the limitations of nineteenth century archaeologists, always exasperating because at this point I can see clearly where such a setup is heading. After raking the pioneering archaeologists over the coals, she concedes that they did not come up with this sacred prostitute theory out of nowhere, then proceeds to accuse the Greek historian Herodotus of inventing the concept whole cloth. Hazelton’s treatment of this subject exemplifies problems with her narrative found throughout the book: the naïve acceptance of twenty-first century archaeological perspective, which has its own patriarchal biases; the impulse to conflate goddesses along with a generally poor understanding of Semitic polytheistic cultures; and a tendency for her analysis to fall into the very absolutism she decries in the prophets of Israel.But despite the flaws in perspective, I would not write off this book. The political drama surrounding the story is fascinating, and although this is not my forte, it seems that Hazelton has a good grasp of Old Testament history. She has visited most of the places where the action occurs, and her description of the settings adds an immediacy to her account. There is a map in the front of the book which is helpful.In the end I agree with Hazelton’s refusal to examine Jezebel’s life and legacy in sexual terms. The new framing works, at least for now, though perhaps in the future a biographer will dismiss the theme of religious fanaticism as emphatically as Hazelton dismisses the sexual theme. Like many a good myth, the story of Jezebel will probably always be more useful than it is true.
I am pleased this week to write about my forthcoming book Invoking Animal Magic: A guide for the Pagan priestess. The book reflects my research into the legends and folklore of various animals, as well as my direct experience in ritual and spellcasting. Rather than write an exhaustive encyclopedia of the “meanings” of different animals, I have elected to identify some of the principles of animal magic in Euro-shamanism and discuss them in a general way. The nine animals I have chosen to explore in depth are representative of different types of animals: those that live underground, those that migrate, those that fly, those that hibernate, etc.Nine is the number of pregnancy, and while I have no illusions that a book is anything like a baby, the process of bringing forth a book is like giving birth. The book is something that came from me, but at the same time is not me. I keep thinking about the last lines of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Metaphors”:
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,Boarded the train there’s no getting off
Yes, the train has left the station. All the revising, the endless fact checking has to come to an end somewhere. Errors in fact and grammar must now stand. Even scarier is the thought that decades later I may disagree with what I’ve written. How much of what I thought twenty years ago is true for me today?But mostly I’m excited about the start of another journey, looking forward to talking to people about my ideas and curious about the direction they will take me and others.The website for Invoking Animal Magic has more information and an excerpt. The book will be available to hold in your hands in a few months. If you live in the UK, you can pre-order on Amazon. You can receive an email when the book is ready for purchase by going to the US Amazon page or leaving your email address under “subscribe” on the Invoking Animal Magic webpage. Even better, ask your local metaphysical store to carry the book. If you are interested in writing a book review from a pdf copy, let me know.Here’s to an intriguing and illuminating adventure!
Frigga as goddess of the birch. The following list of sources is for the entire series (seven installments).BBC. “Boar Watching.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Wild_boar#p0087k14BBC. “Pigs Have Evolved to Wallow in Mud.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9464000/9464994.stmBarrett, Clive. The Egyptian Gods and Goddesses: The Mythology and Beliefs of Ancient Egypt. London: Diamond Books, 1996.Cooper, D. Jason. Using the Runes. Wellingborough, UK: The Aquarian Press, 1986.Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Gyrfalcon.” http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/gyrfalcon/lifehistoryGimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddesses. Miriam Robbins Dexter, ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.Guerber, H.A. The Norsemen. London: Senate, 1994.Hopman, Ellen Evert. A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 2008.Monaghan, Patricia. The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1990.Ombrello, T. “Conifer Cones.” http://faculty.ucc.edu/biology-ombrello/pow/conifer_cones.htmSullivan, Janet. “Picea Abies.” U.S. Dept of Agriculture, 1994. http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/picabi/all.htmlTaylor, Thomas (trans). “The Orphic Hymns.” http://www.theoi.com/Text/OrphicHymns1.html#15.Tekiela, Stan. Trees of New York. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Boooks, 2006.Vikernes, Varg. Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia. London: Abstract Sounds, 2011.Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.While Frigga’s worship was prevalent in all regions of Germanic settlement, Frejya’s worship seems to have been concentrated in the Nordic countries. This supports the hypothesis that she was a latecomer to the pantheon, her relative prominence a sign that she was the principal deity of an indigenous people.When Germanic tribes adopted the Roman calendar, the sixth day of the week, which the Romans dedicated to the goddess Venus, became Frejya’s day. Although Venus and Frejya are not terribly similar, Frejya does have the most Venusian qualities of the pantheon. Where Freyja was not the dominant goddess, the sixth day was dedicated to Frigga. The English Friday was clearly derived from Frigga, although in Scandinavian languages the name of the day probably came from Frejya.Frejya is closely aligned with her brother the boar god Freyr, who is like his sister in many ways, aiding the harvest, bringing wealth and protecting children. While Frejya’s symbol is the vulva, Freyr’s is the phallus, and he was worshiped at a huge phallic monument. Frejya also has a lover, the god Oder, who has a tendency to wander, and Frejya will wander herself in search of him, leaving the earth cold and barren. Frejya wears a necklace of amber which she obtained from the dwarves. She also wears a cloak of falcon feathers and leather tunic and leather leggings. She has a lovely red mouth and is generous with her affection and her possessions. Frigga is wife of the Germanic god Odin, who is the chief male shamanic deity. Odin obtained most of his magic by threatening and confronting various goddesses and priestesses. He is no match for Frigga, however, who can always best him in a battle of wits. Before Odin arrived on the scene, Frigga’s principal male deity was probably her son Balder. She doted so much on her son that she extracted promises from every living thing on earth never to harm him. She overlooked the poisonous mistletoe, since it is such an innocuous looking plant, and was tricked into revealing her oversight. Frigga’s loss of her son and their subsequent reunion mirrors the dormancy and regeneration of vegetation. In pre-patriarchal societies, the role of goddesses as sisters and mothers rather than wives is emphasized, since children belong to the mother’s family.Frigga cries tears of gold when she mourns and has a great love of adornment, wearing precious jewels and a showy crown of heron feathers. She dresses in finely woven cloth. Her spinning wheel revolves in the night sky as a constellation. Frigga is a generous goddess like Frejya, but in one area she is famous for her stinginess: she usually refrains from divulging prophecy, even though she knows everything which is to come.This is by no means a complete picture of either Frejya or Frigga, but by now a picture should be emerging of two goddesses who can neither be conflated nor made entirely distinct. The best way to get to know them is to take a meditative journey to meet them face to face.This is the final installment of this series on Frejya and Frigga. Also see an earlier post on
The Greek pantheon became large and complex because so many cultural influences shaped Greek history. New gods became incorporated through outside invasions, trade interactions, and the conquest of other states. The foundational strain of Greek civilization, called the Pelasgian culture by ancient Greek historians and part of the wider civilization of Old Europe by archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, placed goddesses at the center of worship. Indo-European invasions introduced a patriarchal religion headed by a sky god Zeus. In time other deities were introduced through trade (e.g., Aphrodite) or conquest (e.g., Hecate). Meanwhile devotion to pre-Indo-European goddesses such as Artemis or Athena persisted.Like nearly all polytheistic societies, the Greeks absorbed new deities by incorporating them in a common religious framework. A favored way of doing this was to marry one of the old goddesses to a new god. The goddess Hera became the wife of god Zeus and Persephone the wife of Hades. Since marriage was seen as subjugation of the goddess, where the cult of a goddess was particularly strong she remained virgin, as in the case of Artemis or Athena. Another way of creating order in the pantheon was to assign specific functions to different deities. Thus Aphrodite was not allowed to do any “work,” but must (officially) stick to her realm of romantic love. Sometimes a deity with a weaker following would become the priestess of a deity with a more robust cult, especially if these deities had similar functions. Thus the Arcadian bear goddess Callisto was said to be a priestess of Artemis. The ecstatic Dionysus was followed by the wild goddesses known as the Maenads. Other times deities with similar functions would be subsumed under the name of the deity with the more powerful cult.When the Romans adopted the Greek religion they pursued this strategy with abandon, and nearly all of their deities had a Greek equivalent that the Romans considered identical. The Romans believed that the gods in all other pantheons were identical to their own, even pantheons from cultures they considered very different from theirs. In some cases the deities probably were the same. For example, Father Zeus, Zeus Pater, not only has an identical position and personality to the Roman god Jupiter, the names sound very similar. Deities from other cultures may have been integrated into the Roman pantheon at an earlier time, or similar deities could have a common origin in an earlier Indo-European or Old European culture.In the Middle Ages the Roman, but not the Greek, names for deities were known to most people in Roman Catholic countries. Common people called the old gods by their Roman names or by the name of the fictitious saint they had been reinvented as or by the original name in their own language. Scholars in all but a few monasteries in Ireland read Latin but not Greek, and so Greek literature was unavailable to them. With the Renaissance came the rediscovery of Greek literature along with renewed interest in the Greek and Roman deities and perhaps the apogee of Western literature and art. From this time the greatest literature in English has sought inspiration from the old gods. This inspiration has been understood to be, at least officially, one of symbol and of metaphor rather than of worship. This interpretation has emphasized the functional aspects of the deities. So Hera becomes Marriage; Pan, Nature; Aphrodite, Love; Zeus, Authority. This is how we learn Greek mythology in high school.I asked at the school in my village if Greek mythology was still being taught, and I was told, “Yes, of course! The children get a brief introduction in grade school and more thorough exposure in high school.” I think they were a bit shocked that I would even ask the question. But it is important to keep in mind why children are forced to learn the Greco-Roman pantheon. It is so they can understand ancient literature, Renaissance literature, literature of the Romantic era, and the small amount of art history they are exposed to. It is not about understanding the gods. So we know Hera as the jealous wife of Zeus who presides over marriage, Demeter as the goddess of motherhood, Persephone as ruler of the death realm, and Artemis as forest maiden who hunts critters.The problem is that not even the Greeks understood their gods in this way. Take this classical hymn to the goddess Hera:
O Royal Juno [Hera] of majestic mien, aerial-form’d, divine, Jove’s [Zeus'] blessed queen,
Thron’d in the bosom of cærulean air, the race of mortals is thy constant care.
The cooling gales thy pow’r alone inspires, which nourish life, which ev’ry life desires.
Mother of clouds and winds, from thee alone producing all things, mortal life is known:
All natures share thy temp’rament divine, and universal sway alone is thine.
With founding blasts of wind, the swelling sea and rolling rivers roar, when shook by thee.
Come, blessed Goddess, fam’d almighty queen, with aspect kind, rejoicing and serene.
Hera is not only the goddess of marriage and the wife of Zeus, she is the creator of everything, the sustainer of life, the protector of people, the force that drives the wind, the waves, and the torrid rivers. She is a big deal.The problems in how we conceptualized the Greco-Roman gods in our high school English class increase exponentially when we begin applying this methodology to other pantheons. Our understanding becomes not only grossly reductionist, but wrong.Let’s look again at the Germanic pantheon. The Germanic tribes, like the Greek, had a steadily growing collection of deities to sort out. Unlike the Greeks, who lived for millennia in the same place and found themselves conquered and reconquered, the Germans grew their pantheon by conquering others and absorbing the local gods, then repeating the process many times as they moved westward. It is common wisdom that the gods of the Vanir branch (including Freya and Freyr), are the Old European gods and the larger Aesir branch (which includes Frigga, Odin, Thor and many others) is the Indo-European one, but the Aesir includes plenty of Old European deities that were absorbed at an earlier time. I have heard Odin described as the old warrior and Thor the young warrior; Skadi the winter goddess and Idunn the spring goddess; Frejya the woman warrior and Frigga the hearth goddess. These depictions are totally accurate but completely wrong.Sometimes a discussion of Germanic mythology from a functional perspective describes the afterlife as the Hall of Valhalla presided over by the god Odin. Only warriors go there, so Odin is the god of the warrior death realm while the goddess Hel is queen of death for ignoble people. But further reading of the myths reveals that half the slain in battle (actually the preferred half) go to Frejya’s Hall of Sessrymnir. Hel’s death field is a sheet of ice, but there is a death goddess by the name of Mengloth who lives on a hill in the underworld called Lyfjaberg. Frigga greets the dead from her island of Fensalir. The god Heimdall meets his faithful in his hall of Himinbjorg. The Germanic tribes seem to have sorted out their gods not by dividing functions, but by allocating real estate in the afterworld. They were a people who lived very close to death, after all.Unlearning high school mythology allows us to make better sense of the Germanic mythology penned by the first generations of Christians, and perhaps even to discern some of their conceptual errors. Next week we will again look at the goddesses Frejya and Frigga, and hopefully understand them in a better way.