The Joy of Laughing with Them

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One of the things I appreciate greatly about Mesopotamian mythology is the humor. It’s not just the things that sound funny to us today, from far outside the culture, that tickle me. There are some of those, to be sure, as there are with any mythology. When Ishtar issues her zombie threat at the gates of hell, declaring she will raise up the dead to devour the living unless she is allowed to pass through, Americans giggle because we think zombies are hilarious. Mesopotamians were chuckling because when Ishtar issues this blackmail she has not yet been to hell (she’s trying to get in!) and has no power there. It is an empty threat. Also, even if the scenario she describes were something she would do (it isn’t), it’s a bit of overkill.

Sometimes we understand right away what the Mesopotamians were laughing at, such as when the god Enki gives Inanna all the accoutrements of civilization while he is in a drunken expansive mood, then gets an a dudgeon when he sobers up and realizes all his stuff is missing. Other times it takes some familiarity with ancient cultures to catch the humor. In the Gilgamesh myth the hero Enkidu takes the haunch of the bull he has just killed, to Ishtar’s outrage, and he throws it at the goddess. The haunch was considered the choicest part of the animal, and when a bull was sacrificed this was the part that was ritually offered to the deity. Here, instead of offering the haunch with humble obeisance, the hero is deliberately offending the goddess by throwing it at her. No doubt there are a lot of inside jokes in these stories that we don’t have the background to catch.

Sometimes the stories don’t convey humor so much as wry irony. This is the case with the story of how the fly came to pester humankind, or how Gilgamesh lost his herb of immortality.

I will be teaching an online class in another month where we well discuss these myths, particularly the one about Inanna’s descent into the underworld. Reading materials and instructions for joining the live sessions will be available April 26, and the first live session will be Sunday, May 3. Sessions will last for about an hour and meet every other week until July 26. The class will be taught through Mago Academy, and information for signing up can be found at this website.

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Spring is a Sound, not a Picture

I wanted to post a nice flower picture for my Spring Equinox entry this year, but alas not even a snowdrop is blooming. The subtle signs of spring are welcome but not eye-catching. I doubt anyone wants to see a picture of snow fleas, who aren’t really discernible anyway except by their movement. Similarly, the increasing flow of water can only be expressed over time. There are brown bare patches of earth in the fields, but mud is not the best part of the thaw, and anyway these patches will be covered once again in the snowstorm this weekend.

The most startling shift for me at the equinox is an audible one: the winter birds begin making their presence felt. They have not been completely silent during the dark months, to be sure, but now their calls are louder, more frequent, and much more varied. Blue Jays, ravens, chickadees, doves, and woodpeckers are most prominent. The migrating birds have not yet appeared, but soon the cacophony of Canada Geese will be overhead and then the huge chorus will begin, going on all day and all night, with insects and frogs adding to the fracas. I can’t wait. Whoever said the country is quiet? Only in the winter, and I am beginning to hear the sounds of spring.

chickadee

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Crocs with Style

"Goddess, I'm beautiful!" Nile crocodile photo by Stuart Burns.

“Goddess, I’m beautiful!” Nile crocodile photo by Stuart Burns.


From my forthcoming book:

The crocodile is an appropriate mother deity not only for her position as apex predator (and thus ruler) of the Nile, but for her maternal instincts. Crocodiles are more like their bird cousins than other reptiles in taking responsibility for their young. Mothers do not feed while they are nesting, and they guard their eggs continually except for brief periods when temperatures rise so high that they must enter the water to cool off. Nile crocodiles prefer colonial nesting, although predation by humans discourages this behavior. Eggs are buried in sand, and babies squeak as they are hatching. As soon as the mother hears the squeaks, she uncovers the eggs and carries the babies in her mouth to the water. During their first months of life, juveniles seek out and receive protection from adults, usually but not necessarily the mother.

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The Myriads of Wenut

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If you’re wondering who Wenut is (and most people are), this is the name of the Egyptian hare goddess.

The Egyptians had a hare goddess?

Yes, her name is also spelled Wenet, if that clarifies things for you.

Wenut is considered an obscure goddess, and she gets little or no mention in my library of books on ancient Egypt, not even the books on animals or goddesses. Yet I have seen a fair number of leporids in Egyptian art, usually presented without explication. In some cases I am not sure that I’m really looking at a hare, because the desert foxes also have long ears, and the Jungle Cat is sometimes drawn with exaggerated ears to distinguish it from the Libyan Wildcat. Yet Egyptian drawing conventions are so standardized that I’m confident that most of these long-eared creatures are hares.

Hare funerary offering. 1500 BCE.

Hare funerary offering. 1500 BCE.

One explanation for the ubiquity of the hare is that it is the hieroglyph for a common verb or sound. For example, Hilary Wilson in Understanding Hieroglyphs writes that the symbol for the hare corresponds to the sound wen and is the verb for “being.” To me this explanation begs the question. Why would the hare correspond to a common verb if it were unimportant?

Furthermore, one of the provinces in northern Egypt was called Hare, and the city of Hermopolis within this province had a hare as its emblem. Hermopolis had the main temple to Wenut.

The litmus test for whether an animal (or anything else) had religious importance in Egypt is its presence in funerary materials, and here, too, the hare does not disappoint. Hares appear as votive offerings, and are mentioned in funerary texts as well as illustrations accompanying those texts. Spell 17 of The Book of the Dead says the “Swallower of Myriads” lives in the Lake of Wenut. There are other references to Wenut in the Book of the Dead and the Coffin Texts. Wenut is not prominent in funerary literature, to be sure, but neither is she trivial.

Cape Hare

Cape Hare

Meditating on Wenut, whose name means “the swift one,” is a reflection on the meaning of obscurity, for hares with their genius for camouflage have a tendency to hide in plain sight. Understanding Egyptian mysteries requires extraordinary perspicacity, because what is important is not so much hidden as overlooked.

March is a March Hare
Online Webinar
Monday, March 9, 2015
7:00 Eastern Time (Daylight Savings)
Cost $25
Webinar will be recorded

Register Here

Sources

Dunn, Jimmy. “El-Ashmuneim (Ancient Hermopolis)” in Tour Egypt. http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/hermopolis.htm

Germond, Philippe. An Egyptian Bestiary: Animals in Life and Religion in the Land of the Pharaohs. Barbara Mellor, trans. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.

Houlihan, Patrick F. The Animal World of the Pharaohs. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Iles, Linda. “Wenet the Swift One” in Mirror of Isis vol. 5, Samhain 2010. http://mirrorofisis.freeyellow.com/id599.html

Bronze hare weight, Late Period.

Bronze hare weight, Late Period.

Goulet Jr., Ogden, et al, trans. The Egyptian Book of the Dead rev. ed. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015.

Lesko, Barbara. The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Norman, OK: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Wilson, Hilary. Understanding Hierogyphs: A Complete Introductory Guide. London: Brockhampton Press, 1993.

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New Online Class: Emerging Interpretations of Inanna’s Descent

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I am pleased to announce that I will be teaching a longer online course through Mago Academy that will meet seven times over the course of three months. The subject will be Inanna’s descent to the underworld and her subsequent return. I have long believed that this myth deserves more scrutiny than it typically receives. While it is enjoyable at the first read, it is still a complex myth that takes some time to appreciate. More information and registration can be found here.

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White Rabbits I Have Known

One of the things that fascinates me about hare magic is that it continues to evolve. In my book Invoking Animal Magic I put forth the theory that the hare is a vessel for whatever values are strong within a culture, whichever culture that is, and that the hare becomes denigrated when cultural values are undergoing a dramatic shift. In that sense the hare is a symbol of what the culture sees as its strength.

For the ancient Celts, that strength was prowess in warfare, particularly hand-to-hand combat. Here are two European Brown Hares duking it out.

These guys and ladies live in rough world. They fight in the spring, usually during March and April, during mating season. Males will fight other males, females not ready to mate will fend off males, females ready to mate will test males. Brown Hares are not the only species that fight, by the way, but they get the most camera footage.

Americans tend to conflate hares and rabbits, which sometimes irritates natives of the British Isles, but from a Eurocentric point of view a lot of our rabbits act like hares while our hares act like rabbits. We need to get technical for a moment here, however, in order to talk about a very famous hare battle, Monty Python’s Rabbit of Caerbannog. As rabbits had not made their way to Britain in King Arthur’s time, this leporid could only have been a hare. More importantly, King Arthur and his men would have been extremely suspicious of a hare guarding a cave. Here’s the skit:

Today rabbits are often synonymous with magic. While the rabbit hat trick is a standard illusion of magician-entertainers, the phrase “pulling a rabbit out of hat” is used to refer to any surprising and impressive feat that seems miraculous. Then there is the White Rabbit who starts Alice on her adventures when she chases him into his burrow, making “down the rabbit hole” a reference to a fantastic ineluctable journey.

White Rabbit illustration by John Tenniel from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

White Rabbit illustration by John Tenniel from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

On March 9, 2015 I will be hosting a webinar entitled “March is a March Hare,” where we will explore the magical significance of the rabbit/hare. While not neglecting traditional Pagan symbolism, this webinar will have more focus on modern interpretations than my other webinars, as I am interested in the evolving mysteries of the hare.

March is a March Hare
Monday, March 9, 2015, 7:00 pm EDT
Cost: $25
Webinar will be recorded
Register here

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Online Presents

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A very lucky Friday the 13th to everyone!

This post is about some of the changes I have been making (and will be making) with my web pages.

I now have a blog specifically set up for webinars:

hearthmoonwebinars.com

I will continue to post here about upcoming webinars and classes (look for something in the next week or so), but basic information can easily be found on this page. Go ahead, click, and find out what the next webinar will be about. (Hint, it has to do with an animal.)

I have repurposed my name dot com as a hub page to all my web pages.

hearthmoonrising.com

This should make it easy to find everything, as my online presence becomes more and more complex.

More changes are in the works. I will at some point be updating this blog to be more compatible with phones and other small devices. I’m hoping access to posts here will not be impeded during or after the changeover, but I can’t guarantee that. If you have a favorite post, you might want to cache it. Stay with me, I’ve paid my hosting fees through the year, so I’m still around.

I will be updating invokinganimalmagic.com at some point to make it compatible with newer electronic devices and to add more material.

I can also be located at Moon Books. If you’re on Tumblr, I’ve started a blog there. hearthmoonrising.tumblr.com. I’m on Twitter, though I don’t tweet much. I use it to publish updates about classes and blog posts for people who like to get information that way. There are links at hearthmoonrising.com to all my social media accounts.

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The Real, True, Totally Authentic &c

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From Invoking Animal Magic:

In the Pagan view the wolf is simply another creature with whom we share the world – not a separate world, but the same world. She has at times been a poor neighbor, but then again, so have we. She shares our devotion to family and our ability to survive in challenging environments. She is a part of our history and, for better or worse, we are a part of hers. The wolf mother says to us, stop trying to make me what you fear me to be, what you want me to be or what you need me to be. Become like me, temporarily, and let me show you who I am.

Register here.

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Review: Naming the Goddess

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Okay, I’ve been promising to say something about Naming the Goddess for some time, so here it is. I lent the book to someone who refused to give it back, but thankfully I bought several copies. Naming the Goddess, edited by Trevor Greenfield, is an anthology by Moon Books on the subject of Goddess worship. It has a section on more general issues related to the Goddess of about eighty pages and a longer section of about 250 pages on various individual goddesses. I have been reading the book as I imagine most people will, by flipping back and forth between different sections in no particular order. Since the sections on individual goddesses are short, this is a book that you can carry around with you and read during brief moments of down time. In terms of sales, this is already one of the best-selling anthologies that Moon Books has put out, so by that measure it is an unqualified success.

I’ve been following the reviews on this book, and they have been positive. One reviewer said she thought the whole book should have been devoted to more general essays like those in the first section of the anthology. The essays in the first section are very good. Selene Fox’s short history on the goddess of liberty, Libertas, is fascinating. Robin Herne’s provocative piece asks us to consider how certain aspects of myth may be continuing to validate rape culture. My own essay is a response to the anti-Goddess backlash currently trending in the more trendy Pagan circles. Many women have come forward to thank me for writing this piece, although I have a feeling others will scratch their heads and wonder what I’m talking about. If you read my essay and have no idea where it came from, good for you. Hopefully you never will.

A criticism I have also heard is that there are already many books of this type on the market, meaning that there are a lot of encyclopedic compilations on various goddesses available. However, I think this second part of the book does fill a slightly different niche. The “goddesses of the world” texts are generally better researched, putting worship in historical and cultural context and alerting the reader to the process of syncretism, yet they lack the immediacy of an exposition penned by devotees with a true relationship with each goddess. A lot of anthologies discuss personal relationships to the Goddess, but they are more narrow in focus. There are so many entries to this section – over seventy – that while it is not comprehensive, it covers some serious ground. Also, there is a longer description of more obscure deities, such as Aine or Eris, than are generally found in encyclopedic texts. I don’t think this book duplicates anything that’s out there.

I too would like to see Moon Books come out with an anthology with longer essays such as those found in the first section of this one. These articles suggest that there is time and talent for another groundbreaking book such as Carl Olson’s 1989 anthology The Book of the Goddess Past and Present. But we’ll have to wait on that one. In the meantime, I recommend you peruse Naming the Goddess as a potential resource to add to your collection.

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New Webinar About the Wolf

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I am pleased to be bringing you another animal-focused webinar, this one about the wolf and her shapeshifting cult – in other words, werewolves! I will have many pictures I was not able to include in my book Invoking Animal Magic and I will talk about the wolf-coyote hybrids now colonizing the Northeastern United States and Canada. I think this will be of interest both to people who are familiar with these hybrids and those who are not. The werewolf herself is a type of hybrid, being a human in wolf form. I will not be ignoring the sensationalized aspects of werewolves, but this webinar will look at the phenomenon more from a historical and occult-scientific point of view. From the book:

The werewolf is a complex creature that is part science, part magic, part tradition, part superstition. She embodies a concept that has become confused over the centuries as Christianity and science have attempted to understand the phenomenon in their own terms. Fears and misconceptions about shapeshifting have been projected mainly onto wolves, which makes the werewolf a good study on the crazier side of shape shifting.

The Real, True, Totally Authentic and Genuine History of the Werewolf
Monday, February 9, 2015
7:00 – 8:00 pm Eastern Time US
Cost: $25
Attend live or stream later

Pre-registration Required

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