Rose of Champions

Photo by JR04.

Photo by JR04.



Among the many things that the rose symbolizes is recognition of an achievement. A diva is presented with bunches of roses following a star performance. The winning horse at the Kentucky Derby is draped with a blanket of red roses. For the unfortunate soul Lucius the rose came to symbolize attainment of the blessed life offered to those who follow the goddess Isis.

Lucius relates that he was on a business trip in Thessaly when his luck began to go sour in every way possible, culminating with his being transformed into a donkey. Lucius presents himself as a man in search of nothing more than comfort, amusement, and conviviality. He possesses neither malice nor ambition, and he goes where life takes him. He is certainly not a spiritual seeker, and it is only a long journey as a miserable ass that brings him into contemplation of the Goddess. Her famous words in response to Lucius’s prayer are

I am Nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are. My nod governs the shining heights of Heaven, the wholesome sea-breezes, the lamentable silences of the world below. Though I am worshipped in many aspects, known by countless names, and propitiated with all manner of different rites, yet the whole world venerates me…. I have come in pity of your plight, I have come to favour and aid you. Weep no more, lament no longer; the hour of deliverance, shone over by my watchful light, is at hand.

Isis then instructs Lucius to approach one of her High Priests at a procession he will be attending the next day in his captive donkey guise. The priest will be carrying a garland of roses.

The next day unfolds for Lucius as Isis promised. The priest is expecting Lucius and holds the sweet garland out for the donkey to eat. Lucius is transformed back into a man, and he leaves with the entourage of Isis to be initiated as one of her priests.

If you have never read The Golden Ass, the first century novel from which this story comes, I recommend that you add it to your list. Despite being informative and worthwhile ancient literature, it is an entertaining read that can also be enjoyed simply for the story. The translation by Robert Graves is considered the best.


Apuleius. The Transformations of Lucius Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass. Robert Graves, trans. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951.

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The Old Sow, part IV

Eleusis.350bceThe final segment of my four part series on the Sow Goddess is up at Return to Mago blog. Also see Part I, Part II, and Part III.

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Queen Deities and Patriarchal Distortions

persian.crown
As Pagans our spirituality suffers not only from the alienation from nature that is the bane of modern life, but from the class structures we struggle under. This can be seen in the way we think about and address our deities.

Often when we address a nature deity which does not have a specific name, we refer to that deity as a mother, deva, goddess, or queen. For example, Hedgehog Goddess, Hedgehog Mother, Hedgehog Deva, or Hedgehog Queen. Where an animal deity is addressed by name, the name is usually the word for that animal in some non-English language, such as Arachne, which is Greek for spider, or Epona, which is a continental Celtic word for horse. Deva is borrowed from Sanskrit and is a masculine noun in that language. Mother, goddess, and queen are clearly feminine nouns and also carry the connotation of rank, privilege, or power-over.

The word queen is derived from another word that means woman, which makes this word in English different from most other languages, where the word for feminine ruler is derived from a word meaning king. The word queen referring to a feminine male homosexual probably derives from the older English association with woman. The Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins says:

Queen goes back ultimately to prehistoric Indo-European *gwen- ‘woman,’ source also of Greek gune ‘woman’ (from which English gets gynecology), Persian zan ‘woman’ (from which English gets zenana ‘harem’), Swedish kvinna ‘woman,’ and the now obsolete English quean ‘woman.’ In its very earliest use in Old English queen (or cwen, as it then was) was used for a ‘wife,’ but not just any wife: it denoted the wife of a man of particular distinction, and usually a king. It was not long before it became institutionalized as ‘king’s wife,’ and hence ‘woman ruling in her own right.’

The idea of Hedgehog Queen harkening back to the idea of a Hedgehog Woman reminds me of referents to spiritual or mythological beings in Native American cosmologies. I’m thinking of White Shell Woman or Changing Woman or Thunder Boy Twins. Frequently in Native American spirituality, prayers to animal deities are addressed simply to “Wolf,” “Eagle,” or “Deer.” I’m not saying Pagans should emulate this practice. Probably for anyone whose primary language is English these Native spiritual beings become processed in the brain under rubrics of “goddess,” “ruler,” or “demon” despite the democratic phraseology. It cannot be otherwise, because language reflects cultural understanding. Any animal by common name has the taint of exploitation. “Woman” carries with it connotations of inferiority and weakness, whatever our intentions and aspirations for the word. “Boy” carries with it the idea of subjugation to the man. Even the word “man” has a link with the concept of commoner or vassal, as in “my man George” or “the King’s men.”

When we refer to our nature deity as “Butterfly Queen” we get around negative connotations and associations with the profane, and so to a great extent this works. It also unavoidably separates us from the deities. They are on one level; we are on another. This conundrum illustrates how it is not just patriarchal denigration of nature that has distanced us from spiritual sources, but patriarchal class structures, patriarchal authoritarian family structures, and – especially – patriarchal conceptions of women. Spiritual connection at a societal, as opposed to individual, level will require the dismantling of class structures, humane treatment of animals, recognition of children as persons with basic rights, and the liberation of women.


Sources

Ayto, John. Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1990.

Online Etymology Dictionary http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=queen (accessed 8/12/2014).

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Review: A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Plants & Herbs by Rachel Patterson

rachelsbookcover
Magical herbology is an area every witch needs to develop competency in, whatever her eventual area of focus. The challenge is to gain more than an abstract knowledge of herbs, to find opportunities for hands-on learning. A Kitchen Witch’s World includes tips on ways to work herbs into your daily life and your magical routine. Over 150 common herbs are covered, which for most witches includes all that will ever be needed. Most of the herbs are easily obtained, although one important herb – mandrake – is hard to find in the United States. (Occult stores will try to sell you mayapple as “American Mandrake” instead.) The entries for each herb are fairly short, but contain a brief description of the plant or its growing habitat, which I believe is important because most beginning witches first encounter these herbs in a package.

I think what I like most about this book is that it doesn’t indulge in a plethora of correspondences. The tendency to go overboard with correspondences, to the point where it begins to inhibit learning rather than adding to it, is the bane of beginners – yet correspondences do have an important, necessary role in herb magic. I think this book sets the right balance to a thorny issue.

If you already work a good deal with magical herbs, to the point where you have begun growing your own, this book is probably not for you, and if you decide to make this your area of expertise you will outgrow this book in a few years. This is not an encyclopedia, and I think we’ve come to expect the encyclopedic approach to herbs, whether for magic or healing. If you would like to use magical herbs a bit more than you do at present, this would be a good resource to have.

A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Plants and Herbs is due out this fall and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

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Puleew Highway

Photo Hal Brown.

Photo Hal Brown.


A significant bird for the Delaware nations is the Eastern Wild Turkey – Puleew in the Delaware (Munsee) language. The pronunciation is pooh-LA, with a nasal vowel in the second syllable, the way an American would pronounce the “a” in the word cat. It is the emblem for one of the three major clans. Women used to dress for special occasions in cloaks of wild turkey feathers.

While I appreciate the beauty of turkey feathers and have fond memories of turkey dinners, I’ve never had much respect for the intelligence of this bird, as it doesn’t display much sense around traffic. I’ve had some close calls braking for unexpected turkeys, which are large enough to cause serious accidents.

Sometimes they can be cute though. In mid June I spied a hen with eight or ten little yellow chicks as I sped down State Highway 73 and I had to stop for a picture. Mother and babies were reconnoitering for a highway dash. I have an inexpensive digital camera not designed for photographing wildlife, so I got out of the car and crossed the road to get close enough to shoot the family. Maybe you can guess where this is heading.

There are little yellow turkey chicks in here, hiding from me.

There are little yellow chicks in here, hiding from me.

The hen became alarmed and went after me, though she first got her chicks hidden in the brush, which actually showed some presence of mind. It took me a few seconds to grasp what was about to happen. As she sped over in my direction, it occurred to me that if I stood my ground I could get a really good picture. But I decided to retreat.

When I thought about the incident later, I realized this situation could have been catastrophic. If the hen had attacked me, I would probably have run into the road without looking for traffic, and I could have been hit by a car. Like I always say: those darned turkeys are really dumb around traffic.

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The Old Sow (part 3)

pictboar
The third installment of my ongoing saga The Old Sow is now up at Return to Mago blog. Please note that you do not need to read these articles in any order.

This series talks about the Sow Goddess, her importance in Neolithic pre-patriarchal cultures in Europe and the Middle East, and her subsequent vilification as patriarchy solidified.

There was some discussion after my last article about my assertion that the pig was domesticated about 10,000 years ago. I did not realize that my readers would consider this bit of information interesting, yet alone controversial, or I would have included some sources. Greger Larson, et al, in a 2005 article in Science Magazine place pig domestication at 9,000 years ago while Jean-Denis Vigne, et al, in a paper from the 2009 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say pig domestication could have occurred as early as 13,000 years ago. The Cambridge World History of Food (2000) gives a date of 10,000 years before present. Part of the discrepancy in dates involves the definition of “domestication.” If we define a domesticated animal as one that is commonly raised in captivity for food or work, then earlier dates apply. If an animal that is born in captivity and lives out its life in captivity is considered domestic, then the date of domestication becomes somewhat later. These scenarios reflect the idea of domestication that is most prevalent among journalists and the general public. Archaeologists for the most part have begun defining a “domestic animal” as one that has been selectively bred over a period of time to develop physical features that distinguish it from its wild cousin. This should make it easier to agree on a date, but there have been complications. “Domestic” pigs have often been allowed to forage in the wild, resulting in continuing hybridization between the pig and the wild boar, which was once a common animal with a widespread range. Needless to say, because there are challenges dating the emergence of the domestic pig, there have been disagreements about where the pig was first domesticated (probably in Asia Minor), whether domestication arose independently in different places (considered unlikely, except in Asia Minor and China), and whether pigs were domesticated before or after certain other livestock.

I think that it is less important to put a date and an order on domestication of animals than it is to understand 1) that domestication of animals was integral to the development of the type of agriculture needed to support large settled populations and 2) once people got the idea of raising large animals in captivity, they began trying to domesticate many animals that could be a potential food source (usually without success). Since all of this happened so long ago, and since the domestication of animals for food happened quickly, ascertaining the geographic spot and the relative dates is difficult, and even with improved methods of dating, these dates may always be tenuous.


Sources

Kipple, Kenneth and Ornelas, Kriemhild Conee. The Cambridge World History of Food. Cambridge, UK: The Cambridge University Press, 2000. http://www.cambridge.org/us/books/kiple/hogs.https://community.dur.ac.uk/

Larson, Greger, et al. “Worldwide Phylogeography of Wild Board Reveals Multiple Centers of Pig Domestication.” Science Magazine, March 2005. greger.larson/DEADlab/Publications_files/2005%20Larson%20et%20al%20Science.pdf

Vigne, Jean-Denis, et al. “Pre-Neolithic Wild Boar Introduction and Management in Cyprus More Than 11,400 Years Ago.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Aug. 2009. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752532/

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Oracle

Photo Dick Daniels.

Photo Dick Daniels.


You come for answers and don’t even know
what the questions are.

But you ask questions.

Vague and general; specific and focused. You have questions questions questions and
can’t decide which questions to ask first. The questions

spew like the chip chip chip of the chipping
sparrow, gathering momentum, each chip meaning nothing

on its own.
The best oracles
also know the questions.

Listen.


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Non-Hierarchy in Covens

Photo Oxfordian Kissuth

Photo Oxfordian Kissuth


I was discussing hierarchies with a friend of mine last week: where the ideal of the nonhierarchical group comes from, why it usually doesn’t work, what women mean when they promote the idea of the nonhierarchical coven.

In my experience the woman with the most urgent need for a “nonhierarchical” women’s group, and the type of woman who promotes the idea most emphatically, is the woman with highly controlling tendencies who is uncomfortable with her need to control and wishes to change. She will declare the group “nonhierarchical” and proceed to run it, insisting to herself and others that there is an equality of leadership. Needless to say, this is a recipe for a series of power struggles down the line.

The other type of woman who emphatically promotes the concept of a nonhierarchical group is the highly controlling woman who finds herself in a group where another woman is in charge. If she perceives this woman as a strong leader she will accept the situation or go elsewhere; if she perceives her to be a weak leader she will attempt to wrest power without admitting to herself or others that this is going on. “Non-hierarchy” provides a means of self deception. Usually other group members are under no illusions about what is happening, but since they do not hold power in the group they remain silent and resentments simmer under the surface.

The nonhierarchical controller commands a women’s spirituality group in a number of subtle ways. The first controlling gesture is to declare the group nonhierarchical without discussion. No group can be nonhierarchical without a common understanding of what this means and a discussion of the pros and cons of this arrangement. The nonhierarchical controller also decides what is nonhierarchically to be decided and what is just the natural correct way for the group to flow. Another classic way of controlling the group is for the non-leader to be habitually inflexible about her schedule, expecting others to bend and accommodate when arranging meeting times. Of course, job schedules, parenting, and other responsibilities often dictate the amount of flexibility a woman has, but maintaining inflexibility about scheduling is still a common way of asserting dominance. The non-leader will often control under the guise of “taking care of my needs.” It is true that we all have the responsibility to assess and assert our needs, but if a group is habitually adjusting to the needs of one particular person, that person is running the group. In a truly nonhierarchical group, members sometimes have to put their own needs secondary on minor matters and make compromises. This brings up another telling characteristic of the nonhierarchical controller: there are no minor issues. If another member challenges a point or seeks to do something a different way, the nonhierarchical leader digs in her heels and argues for her way. When she inevitably wins the point, she tells herself that she is not dominating, but in the right.

Once the nonhierarchical controller has decided the meeting time, the place, and how long the ceremony will be, she characteristically stands back and asks for group consensus on how the directions will be called, where the altar will be, which deities to invoke, and other details. The problem with this arrangement is not so much that one person is running the show, but that there is deception around what is happening: a person cannot control a group outside of the formal ritual structure without holding the energy in ritual space as well. In this situation there can be no equality, only dishonest leadership.

The root of this challenging dynamic is not really with one particular personality, no matter how controlling. Where there is strong leadership in place, the woman with a high need to control will either accept the situation or go elsewhere. The core issue is that humans are herd animals, who like any other herd animals do not function well outside of hierarchical structures. Only in a limited set of situations do nonhierarchical power structures work. Where there is no clear leadership, stronger personalities usually step in to fill the vacuum, sometimes causing the group to suffer as they jockey for position. In large groups a more stable form of supposedly non-hierarchical control will sometimes be established by unacknowledged agreement. This happens in some social activist groups where power on the basis of economic or educational background is consciously eschewed, only to be replaced with a power system based on political correctness.

In my observations, I have found the covens in which a nonhierarchical structure works best to be those which are small, those which are all women, those in which all members are willing to do an equal amount of work, those in which all members have known each other for some time and get along well outside of coven activities, and those in which all members have a similar amount of experience doing magical work. There’s a lot of ifs here; the stars have to be exactly right. If the coven is strongly dependent on one woman, rather than many, a truly nonhierarchical situation cannot be established. This would be the case if one woman has a great deal more experience, if the group believes they cannot function without meeting on property held by one particular woman, or if one woman holds prestige that the group relies on for attracting new members or holding power in the larger religious community.

Must a women’s spirituality group be nonhierarchical? Our ideal of this type of group is usually based on the early Neolithic matriarchies, where based on the size of houses and the distribution of grave goods it appears that resources were more or less equally shared. For those of us today who have only known a world of class-based patriarchy, these matriarchal societies can easily be characterized as nonhierarchical. But perhaps we should re-examine this assumption. In the matriarchal aboriginal societies that have survived into historical times, there is always, to my knowledge, a clear structure of leadership. One man explained it this way: “We are led by the old women, because they listen to the people and can tell the chief about the desires of the group.” This provides some insight into the nature of the problem. Perhaps we need to stop promoting the abolishment of hierarchy and instead examine better group power structures and models of leadership.

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Nut a Sow Goddess?

Egyptian pig amulet in blue-glaze faience. Raised area on back is probably meant to signify erect bristles, emphasizing sow’s ferocity. 600 b.c.e. Drawing HMR.

Egyptian pig amulet in blue-glaze faience. Raised area on back is probably meant to signify erect bristles, emphasizing sow’s ferocity. 600 b.c.e. Drawing HMR.


My Sow Goddess essay part 2 is now posted at Return to Mago. These essays are intended to stand on their own, but if you want to read the first Sow Goddess article it’s here.

This second piece talks about Mediterranean porcine deities, including those in Egypt. The dietary prejudice against the pig that developed throughout the Middle East is touched upon here and will be explored again in a later article.

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Witchcraft Today: 60 Years On (Review)

witchtodaycover
This anthology, published today, is a look at the major branches of witchcraft that have emerged since the publication of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today 60 years ago. The branches examined in this book have been heavily influenced by Gardner, reflecting to varying degrees not only the practices of the coven he was initiated into, but Gardner’s own reflections and innovations.

The first section of the book explains many of the most popular traditions, while the second section is a collection of personal reflections by practicing witches. There is also a brief biography of Gerald Gardner and a discussion of the climate from which his groundbreaking book emerged. You do not need to have read any of Gardner’s work to follow the articles. This book aims to give an overview of what “witchcraft today” has become and how it has matured.

I have written the chapter on Dianic Witchcraft for this anthology. It is not surprising that the Dianic tradition is included here – we usually are mentioned in any overview of Paganism and Witchcraft – but this is the first time to my knowledge that the section on Dianic Witchcraft in an overview has been written by a Dianic priestess. There has been so much misinformation propagated by those outside the Dianic tradition over the years that I think it is an important read not only for women who may be considering finding a Dianic coven, but for all witches. I think this background on Dianic Witchcraft is also important for all feminists, even those who do not consider themselves spiritual. Like it or not, a large part of the battle for women’s rights is occurring within religious institutions and frameworks.

Witchcraft Today: 60 Years On is edited by Trevor Greenfield and published by Moon Books. It can be purchased in bookstores or on Amazon.

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