Some Announcements and My First Vlog

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Sheep Knuckles and Cylinder Seals


I’m blogging today about a piece of information about cylinder seals I ran across in a children’s nonfiction book on Mesopotamia. The book is Passport to the Past: Mesopotamia by Lorna Oakes.

Cylinder seals are small cylindrical carved pieces designed to make impressions in clay. They were used in Mesopotamia to sign documents and affix ownership. Kings, officials, and just about anyone with wealth or rank had their own unique seal which they guarded carefully. These seals might be carved of ivory, shell, bone, limestone, or lapis lazuli. According to Oakes, some believe these seals evolved from sheep knuckles used for the same purpose. The book has a picture of a seal with a knob in the shape of a sheep. I could not find a public domain photo of this cylinder, but I did find another cylinder pictured here that has sheep carved into its knob.

Cylinder seal. Top knob has a sheep design.

Cylinder seal. Top knob has a sheep design. Uruk 3200 b.c.e. Photo Marie-Lan Nguyen.

The sheep knuckle is a small roughly square six-sided bone from the hind legs of the animal. This bone, or analogous bones from deer, antelope, and goats, has been ubiquitous in cultures all over the world. Most commonly it is used for playing games (knuckle bones were the prototype for gaming dice), but it is also used for divination and casting lots. Sheep knuckles have also been carved as amulets and votive offerings. Animal knuckles are often found in burial sites. I don’t know if the sheep knuckle could be used in forensics like fingerprints, but the pictures I’ve seen show considerable variation, so it’s plausible that indentations in clay from a sheep’s knuckle could have been used like a signature. A carved knuckle would have been even more recognizable.
Roman women throwing knuckles.

Roman women throwing knuckles.



I have quite a few books on Mesopotamia but none go into the evolution of cylinder seals. Oakes lists the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago as sources. If anyone has a written source about the role of sheep bones in the evolution of cylinder seals please let me know.

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Like a Vague Malodorous Stain Seeping into the Theological Discourse

Photo Ervin Popisil

Photo Ervin Popisil


Note: I am aware that the words “male” and “female,” used to signify biology, have moved from the passe to the forbidden and are now considered by some to be offensive and bigoted. I am going to use them anyway, because I cannot make a coherent point without them. That is probably why these words have become verboten in these post-enlightened times. The road of postmodernism, if followed far enough, will end in the forced fealty to the idea that nothing exists. And yet the strong will still take from the weak.

This article discusses the parallels between fascism and political movements that view themselves as rooted in postmodern philosophy, especially Postmodern Feminism and Queer Theory. I wish to show how postmodernism is harming feminist religions just as it has ruined about everything else. I am not implying that fascism and postmodernism are the same thing; they are two very separate ideologies, albeit similar in certain presentations, self-conceptions, and tactics.

Fascism is classically defined as a version of romantic nationalism that became a political force a century ago in Europe. It was characterized by obedience to an authoritarian militaristic state. Postmodernism seems to be the polar opposite of this. It is characterized by amorphousness, lack of definition, and fuzzy boundaries. In fact, many people are unsure exactly what postmodernism is. At one time postmodernism simply referred to bad poetry and atrocities in the visual arts. Later it transitioned to mean obscure, unintelligible, and increasingly irrelevant academic papers. Although enthusiastic acceptance of the philosophy in academia implies some grounding in theory, the political and social manifestations of postmodernism are so contradictory to claimed post-structural origins that it is as difficult to link postmodernism to theorists Foucault or Derrida as it is to trace Nazism to Nietzsche. It is as if the Postmodern Feminist insistence that sex be replaced with gender identity were an example used to illustrate Foucault’s thesis that knowledge is used to regulate people. It is as if students who band together to prevent scholars critical of Queer Theory from speaking at their universities were demonstrating Lacan’s chains of signification on the unconscious self. Or maybe they are queering their role as students by performing the role of the uptight university president.

But I am not going to get lost here in the contradictions between social/political postmodernism and the theories that spawned it. Instead I want to point out a curious parallel between fascism and postmodernism in practice: both have been heavily promoted as progressive and youth oriented. Nazism was so expertly packaged for appeal to youth that, despite being thoroughly discredited with the majority of the population, a brief flirtation with the ideology remains a rite of passage for a subset of white males. Postmodernism and its demon children are also posited as edgy and new even though 1) being new and being progressive are not the same thing, as those early postmodern philosophers would have been the first to agree; and 2) postmodernism is getting long in the tooth. I was way too cool for postmodernism when I was in my early 20s, and I am no longer a young woman. In fact, I am one of those “second wave dinosaurs” that postmodern feminists and their ilk contend need to “die off” to make room for a feminism queer-identified males approve of.

The postmodern cult finally got a toehold in Paganism several years ago with the demand that Dianic priestesses admit trans women into our rituals on the grounds that biological sex has been theorized out of existence, or at least relevance, in favor of self-identified gender. It’s the new best thing. Gender itself is not defined because nothing in postmodern politics is defined. Definitions are passe, especially when they create boundaries you want to crash. Demands to admit males into female spiritual space have been present since the seventies, but now they are based on the argument that the old women, “on the wrong side of history,” need to step aside for the new generation with the new ideas, an argument that drips with ageism. Ageism isn’t particularly new, especially when applied to women. Go read about the witch hunts.

I am not going to expound in this article about the right of women to set our own boundaries or the reason Dianics have decided that trans women do not belong at many of our rituals. I set out the rationale for this position in my essay for the book Witchcraft Today: Sixty Years On. What I want to say is that I am tired of hearing the position that biological males are entitled to erase the boundaries of biological females argued as new and progressive. It is a position older than fascism, older than monarchism, and older than Aristotle even if it is wrapped in some version of postmodern non-speak. Please postmodern third wave progressive queer theorist feminists, stop trying to tell me what’s old and what’s new, because I’m old enough to know the difference. And I’m sorry I made fun of your poetry: it seems pretty harmless, compared to subsequent developments.

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Reflections on Recent Events in the Dianic Community

Portrait of a Woman as a Vestal Virgin by Angelica Kauffman

Portrait of a Woman as a Vestal Virgin by Angelica Kauffman


It has been reported on a few of the more popular (non-Dianic) blogs that Z Budapest and Ruth Barrett are at odds over Z’s decision to ordinate Brazilian Claudinay Prieto as a Dianic priest in the Kourete tradition, which is a matriarchal men’s path parallel to women’s mysteries. There have been press releases, official statements in protest, and responses to the official statements. I am somewhat bemused at the interest in our disagreements and squabbles to those outside the Dianic tradition; it is further proof that what we do is important, however much others claim to dislike us.

I have nothing to add about the disagreement between Z and Ruth, because I know nothing other than what is in their statements. Though I have been a Dianic Priestess for a very long time, I live in an obscure corner of the universe trying to keep a small number of worshipers nourished in the wilderness. I am saying a few words because I also have a modestly popular blog, and I want to address the speculation about “what this means.”

I try, as much as my integrity will allow me, to avoid telling priestesses in my tradition what they should do, or even making judgments about whether they are taking the right or wrong path. This is part of my practice as a feminist witch. Therefore, I am not going to comment on, or even try to decide, whether Z was correct in ordaining a man, or whether Ruth is correct in breaking with Z over this issue. My most immediate concern is for healing between Ruth and Z and their closest supporters, as their statements reveal that there are personal issues tied up with these disagreements over ideology and strategy. It is difficult to sort things out on the intellectual plane when there are uncomfortable feelings lying in the heart.

It may well be that over time Z’s decision will be proven to have been beneficial, but I think we do need a long, in-depth, and measured discussion about the ordination of Kouretes. The pros and cons need to be weighed both ideologically and strategically. I am mindful that this issue has arisen in the context of a persistent and at times vicious attack on biological women’s intentional space. The commitment of all parties here to women’s only space is strong, but we need to be conscious about the effect of our actions on our ability to keep this commitment, given the realities of the world we are living in.

I do not have a position on the ordination or participation of Kouretes, and I am resisting the impulse to form a conclusion at this time. I look forward to reading more and speaking more with other priestesses over the months and perhaps years ahead before reaching a decision. I think one of the most baneful habits of humans on the planet right now is the tendency to form quick judgments and take positions without allowing thoughts to ripen and many sides to be explored. If I can add anything to the discussion right now, it is not by producing an argument or a strategy, but by offering a reminder to take things slow.


http://zbudapest.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/press-release-zsuzsanna-budapest-blesses-claudiney-prieto/

http://medusacoils.blogspot.com/2014/08/z-budapest-temple-of-diana-claudiney.html

http://zbudapest.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/elder-and-originator-z-budapests-official-statement-to-the-dianic-community/

http://www.templeofdiana.org/home.htm

http://wildhunt.org/2014/09/pagan-community-notes-rip-jeff-rosenbaum-climate-march-curriculum-reform-polythiest-com-honoring-margot-adler-and-more.html

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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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