Monthly Archives: August 2014

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

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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

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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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