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Imbolc – A Time of Renewal

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May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell

Bless every fireside, every wall and door

Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof

Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy

Bless every foot that walks it’s portals through

May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.

Poem Source


Many of us modern folk may think of the Spring Equinox on March 21st as the first day of Spring. But back in ancient Ireland, it was actually around January 31st. It was the day that marked the waning of winter and the coming of longer days. A time when the snow started melting, the animals began coming out of hibernation and birds started singing. A day in between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

The term ‘Imbolc’ derives from Old Irish and means “in the belly,” or alternately “ewe’s milk,” pointing to the the time when the first lambs were born, associated with a celebration of fertility, reproduction and the young.

This is a day connected with the Celtic goddess Brigid, and Imbolc is one of the few contemporary Pagan holidays that is connected completely and solely to a Goddess. Brigid is the goddess of creativity, warfare, healing, fertility and the hearth.

In Christian times, the goddess Brigid was transformed to a Saint. Saint Brigid is still a pretty big deal in Ireland today. The second most popular saint after Saint Patrick. It is believed that Saint Brigid could perform miracles, such as healing the sick. She also acted a bridge between Christianity and Paganism. Even Brigid’s cross is both a reference to both Jesus and the Celtic sun wheel. So as a bridge between two religions, she is a fitting symbol of the threshold between winter and spring.

A good way to celebrate this holiday is by doing some spring cleaning. Getting rid of the old and preparing your home for the new season to come.

Since Brigid is a goddess of creativity, another good way to celebrate is by trying your hand at writing a poem, maybe even writing a song or doing some other creative project.

Most importantly, this is a time of renewal. Do you have any new projects you’d like to start? Or old ones that you need to finish? Is there something you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t gotten around to doing it yet? Or any old habits that need to thaw out and melt away like the winter snow? This may be the time, and the strength of Brigid will help guide you through.


THEY AWOKE TO THE SCENT OF SPRING

(I know I shared this song before, but it’s a good one for the occasion)


LINKS

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Brighid – Goddess and Saint – Lady of Transitions and Inbetweens (Metal-Gaia)

Lady of The Flame  (Metal-Gaia)

How to celebrate Imbolc (Pagan Wiccan)

The Right and Wrong of Imbolc (Patheos)

Imbolc 2016: Facts, Dates, Traditions And Rituals To Know (Huffington Post)

Pagans Celebrate Coming of Spring with Imbolc Festival (World Religion News)

Imbolc Poem (The Fellowship of The King)

Documentary About Saint Brighid


Valhalla or Heaven?

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Hrmm…doesn’t seem like a difficult choice to me.


Hallmarks of 2015 for Pagans

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As we wrap up 2015, it’s important to think of what has been accomplished and what more needs to be done. While pagans are still a pretty small, religious minority, it is indisputable that our numbers are growing along with our influence in public life.

Since the beginning of the Neopagan movement in the 1950’s (along with more ancient traditions dating back to Medieval Times), pagan and occult practices have been limited to small (and mostly secretive) gatherings.

But now as public religious acceptance grows, these gatherings are becoming less secretive and more public. In fact, we have seen things happen in 2015, that have not occurred in hundreds – and perhaps even a thousand years.

In the beginning of this year, Scotland saw its first gay, Pagan wedding.

Then plans were announced in Iceland to build the first temple to the Norse Gods since the Viking Ages.

Meanwhile, the U.K. announced the creation of a druid college.

In April, Northern Ireland  certified its first pagan priest since the time of St. Patrick. Ironically, the name of the pagan man himself is Patrick. Who says the Gods don’t have a sense of humor?

Another big story in April was when a Wiccan Priestess was invited to give the opening invocation before the Iowa State Legislature.

Then in October, the Cascadia Grove of Ár nDraíocht Féin outlined plans to build a shrine to Cernunnos, God of liminality, commerce and the forest.

In terms of other big news, the U.S. Supreme Court made gay marriage legal nation wide this June.

And of course, last but not least, the metal heads of this blog will be mourning the loss of the metal god and legend Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead who recently passed. I realized since I wrote my last article, that I shouldn’t say RIP, because I can’t really see Lemmy sitting around quietly for too long. It’s more likely that he’ll be rocking out with the gods in Valhalla and writing some of the best damned metal anyone ever heard with Dio.

So this new years raise a glass in toast for all the good, bad, and ugly that happened this year. And let’s hope to make 2016 even more exciting and eventful than 2015.


Ways to Celebrate the Autumn Equinox

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Autumn is a magical time of year. Not because of Pumpkin Spice lattes and the eagerly awaited release of the last Hunger Games movie…but that’s exciting too. Fall is a time when the natural world begins to transition towards death. The leaves are falling from the trees, a chill grips the air, animals begin collecting food for the winter, and the harvest is winding down (not that many of us are farmers anymore, but I guess this could be a metaphorical point as well). Most of all though, it’s a time for gratitude, a time to appreciate the fruits of your labor. (See that…I made the metaphor work, ;-D)

Gratitude is perhaps one of the most important parts of any spiritual practice. A lot of people like to think religion is about getting God/The Gods to give them stuff. But this is not so. Gratitude for what you already have results in much more happiness than focusing on your wants. And more often than not, when we take the time to appreciate what we have, we realize that we are pretty lucky. So if there is one thing you can do to celebrate the coming fall, it’s to think of all the things/people in your life that you are grateful for.

Ten Ways to Celebrate Mabon (Pagan-Wiccan)

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The Evolution of Religion and Spirituality From Ancient Times to Today

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CLICK PICTURE TO EXPAND

MAP IMAGE SOURCE

MAPPING OUT WORLD RELIGIONS

DISCLAIMER: The map makes a lot of assumptions (given that we can’t really know what people believed before written, recorded history. The dates are also not to be taken as fact, but are a broad estimate).

Above is a map of the evolution of the world’s religions and belief systems. This map was put together thanks to Simon E. Davies at the Human Odyssey Facebook group. The map itself covers most of the world’s geographic regions and cultures: European, African, Semitic, Iranian, Indian, East Asian, Arctic, North American, South American, New Guinean/Australian and Oceanic.

Religion, spirituality and myth is the narrative through which human beings understand the world, themselves and their place in the universe. This narrative can be very unifying or divisive depending upon the circumstances involved.

Below I will make some brief points about the evolution of spiritual systems into the world we live in today.

DISCLAIMER: My posts below focus more on religious developments in the Near East and the Western World. there is much more that could be said about Asian religions as well as those of the Americas. Unfortunately this article is not broad enough to address all these things, but hopefully I can address them in a future article. 


ANIMISM 

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For about 95%-90% of human history we human beings were nomadic hunters and gatherers who lived in tribes of around 100 or so people.

Anthropologists have made the assumption that most nomadic folk were animists. Do we know if that’s true? We weren’t around back then, so we can’t be entirely sure.

 The word “animism” is latin for “soul, life.” It is a belief that all things have a soul: plants, animals and even inanimate objects. Many tribal people prayed to animal spirits and incorporated spirit animals into shamanistic rituals.

Many animists see humans, plants and animals on an equal footing. Hunters and gatherers living in a tribe may have seen themselves as equals to the animals they were trying to either hunt or make peace with in the natural environment.

There is the Cherokee Legend “The Little Deer, Awi Usdi.” (If you want to read the whole story, you should click on the link.) A little deer tells all the hunters that they must only hunt when necessary, that they must pray for permission before they kill, and that they must ask pardon after they have killed. This story is an example of the attitude that many tribal people had in regards to their environment: take only what you need and be grateful to the animal and plant spirits for what you get.

Trees were considered sacred by many ancient people and believed to host holy spirits of life, spirits that provided human beings with fruit and shelter. The belief in the sacredness of trees existed in Druidic rites in sacred groves as well as with the Greek belief in Dryads (female tree spirits).  Sacred trees and sacred oaks were widely venerated by the Germanic peoples before Christian times. In an attempt to completely extinguish pagan practices in the region, Christian missionaries cut down the sacred tree “Donar’s Oak” and used the wood to build a church. However, some of the Germanic tree traditions still exist in popular culture today – for example the Christmas Tree.

Water also contained powerful spirits. Hindus today still bathe themselves in the Ganges because they believe it is a sacred river (which is unfortunately very polluted). The Celts in Ireland also had a strong belief in sacred wells. This belief was so strong that many Irish Wells today are still considered sacred, but now they are associated with saints. This tradition has also lived on in the belief in “wishing wells.”


POLYTHEISM

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Polytheism is broadly defined as a belief system with multiple Gods, and a majority of the polytheistic systems around the world focus on a central pantheon of Gods.

As civilizations emerged, spiritual paths began to become more “humancentric.” This can’t be assumed for all civilizations. Some civilizations had a mix of animal and human worship, the Egyptian Gods represented the powerful traits of both animals and men. Other civilizations like Greece and Rome focused more on human deities.

Perhaps as humans began to cultivate the land and domesticate animals, they began to see themselves as superior to nature, and thus elevated the status of human beings in their own spirituality. (But this is just my guess, not to be taken as some kind of historical fact)..

Most Polytheistic pantheons have a mixture of both Gods and Goddesses. Polytheistic people see elements of the divine in both the masculine and feminine gender (just as many animists do). The existence of powerful Goddesses among ancient polytheistic cultures is perhaps evidence that women held more power in the beginning of civilization than they did later on (my guess). In fact, in the first written law code, The Code of Hammurabi, women actually had a great deal of rights compared to later civilizations. They had the right to own property, run a business and get a divorce.

Even in patriarchal Rome the chief deity of wisdom and strategic warfare was a woman, and women could hold roles of religious power: being a priestess or a prophet. There were also some rituals that only women were allowed to attend. So we see that even in patriarchal polytheistic societies, the existence of the female divine was still undeniable. This began to change in Rome with the conversion to Christianity.


MONOTHEISM

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Monotheism is the belief in one God.

Some of the first major monotheistic religions were Judaism and Atenism. Atenism did not last very long and Judaism was a religion of the Hebrew tribe (not anything mainstream). Christianity was the first monotheistic religion to be followed on a massive scale. I’m not going to cover the entire early history of Christianity in this text because that would be a lot to go over. However, I will mention a few brief points.

There is much debate over how Christianity started and if Jesus even actually existed. The first century CE was a very well documented time period in history – yet there is no mention of Jesus in Roman historical texts in the time. The first written accounts about the life of Jesus weren’t made until several decades after his purported death.

During this time there were a large number of cults that believed in similar ideas: Gods of light, a duality god of Good and Evil, gods of redemption and deliverance. Some say that Christianity was a cult cooked up in Alexandria. Christianity’s status as a “monotheistic” religion is also debatable since God exists as a trinity and that many pagan Gods were converted into saints.

Whatever the history of Christianity really is, the religion did become important when Rome converted in the 4th century CE. However, Christianity came into Rome as an alien influence and the empire collapsed only 80 years after its conversion.

In my opinion (not a historical fact) Christianity at its core was not meant to be an empire building religion. I believe that the original practice was supposed to be monastic. Jesus says the following in the New Testament: “For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…” Much of the language in the New Testament suggests turning away from the desires of the material world, turning away from family, and devoting oneself to the Kingdom of God.

Yet the monotheistic religion of Islam that evolved out of Christianity was much more successful in its attempt to unify diverse peoples. Before the establishment of the Islamic religion, the Arabian Peninsula was a place of warring tribes. But once these tribes embraced the religion by the 6th century CE, they stopped fighting each other and decided to fight other people instead.

The religion of Islam took over a large amount of territory in a short time. I’m not going to say Islam is the most tolerant religion, but there was never a big inquisition like there was in the Christian world. There was a degree of tolerance allowed for religious minorities (Jews, Christians, Sabians and Zoroastrianists) as long as these people paid a tax. It wasn’t ideal, and many of the people lived as second class citizens. But there was enough tolerance for diverse people to live together in relative sanity. (I’m not saying the Muslims never committed any wartime atrocities against religious minorities, but I’m saying that there were Islamic empires where religious minorities were treated with a degree of tolerance that was progressive for the time).

There were also some pretty progressive reforms passed for women (for the time). Women were given the right to divorce, inherit property (a fraction of what men could inherit), testify on a jury (although their voice was worth less than a man’s in certain situations), have her own money that her husband wasn’t allowed to touch and negotiate peace treaties in wartime. Islamic reforms also made some vulgar  pre-islamic traditions illegal: female genital mutilation and the common practice of killing baby girls at birth. So, by today’s standards these laws aren’t very progressive, but the Muslim woman in the 7th century CE did have far more rights than the average Christian or East Asian woman.


THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD AND RATIONAL MATERIALISM (1650-Present)

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Up until the 17th century, religion was the primary vehicle through which people understood the world and most scientific knowledge was intertwined with religion. For example, many people believed that the Earth was the center of the solar system due to biblical scripture. Psalm 104:5 says, “the Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Further, Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that “And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place.”So Galileo got into major trouble with the church for promoting a heliocentric view of the solar system, even though the scientific evidence supported this model. Galileo was found guilty as a heretic under the Roman Inquisition and remained under house arrest for the rest of his life.

People in Europe became sick of religious fundamentalism after the Thirty Years War, which occurred just before the Enlightenment began. It was a bloody conflict between Protestants and Catholics, and it is said to be one of the longest and most violent wars in European history.

So after this period, many people in Europe were having a religious hang over. The Enlightenment Era emerged in the 1750’s as an era that emphasized intellect, reason and science over traditional forms of authority, such as the church. In rebellion against the traditional authority of kings, democracies and nation states were established. A new merchant class emerged after revolutions that trimmed down the authority of kings and priests, and thus Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution got started. There was a hope that the human condition would be elevated and improved through the vehicle of science and rational thought.

A new world of science, medicine and technology caused the human population to experience exponential growth and explode beyond anything ever seen in history.

So is this good? Is this bad? Such things are debatable. It could be argued that humans today are living in the best of times (those of us who live in developed countries anyways). But due to the unsustainable nature of today’s material consumption, such comforts are not sustainable for a long term future.

It was ultimately a good thing that people began to question the church and look to other points of view. However, in developing a material view of our world have we lost something? Today’s leaders are presiding over a criminal destruction of nature. In 40 short years half of the wildlife on the planet has been destroyed.

We created the machinery of material production yet we did not give this machinery a soul. We didn’t just stop at using machines to power our societies, but our very society itself became a machine and we the people the spokes and wheels of the production line. Schools took on a factory environment to mass produce “educated” citizens who know just enough to do what the are told, but not enough to question these instructions. Ours is now a world of tedious conformity, a suburban hell in which all the houses look the same and all the people think alike.

Yet the machine of “progress” is not doing so well and people around the world are beginning to wake up to the reality that this system isn’t sustainable.


SPIRITUAL REVIVAL

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To change the system we must change the way we view ourselves and the purpose of our existence on this planet. The most profound change occurs with a widespread spiritual shift in consciousness. We cannot approach the problems of today’s world at a merely individual level. Buying an energy efficient light bulb will not save the world. Even ending the conflict in Syria will not save the world (although that would be a positive change in global affairs).

The root of today’s problems is a profound spiritual sickness that permeates the souls of our leaders and the minds of the day to day human being. I’m not talking about perversion in the way that the Catholic Church would (considering sexuality a perversion). I’m talking about real perversion, a distorted and polluted view on what is true and what life is supposed to be about.

Is life simply about making and spending money? Is life all about trying to score with one of the sexy models you see on a billboard? We live in the theocracy of the capitalist religion, and we as human beings have sold our souls and our planet for the indulgence of temporary pleasures.

It is time to center our lives around something more permanent. Call it God, Fate, Nature or whatever you will. Nature is a system that has existed for 5 billion years. It has stood the test of time. It is truth itself.

If human beings cannot find a sane way to live on this planet, we will be eliminated like a bad case of fleas.

In many ways, our animistic ancestors were much wiser than we are. Tribal life wasn’t ideal. It was brutal and violent. Some people even practiced cannibalism, human sacrifice and ritualistic torture. Yet humans survived through almost 100,000 years of tribal animism without destroying the resources necessary for life or nearly wiping out the human species. What’s the track record of today’s so called “advanced people”? Not so good.

Am I saying that we should abandon everything and go off and live in tribes. Not necessarily. But I’m saying we need to change the atmosphere, the current spiritual sickness that infests the soul of the modern man.

It is time for a baptism of the sick.

Let your soul burn anew in the passion of powerful art and music.

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Let your heart be washed pure by the waters of an ancient spiritual wisdom

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Find time to be alone and purify your mind from the madness of today’s world.

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And disappear into the depth of the forest, to become one with nature’s purpose

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Happy All Snakes Day!

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(Image Source)

St.Patrick’s Day has become one of those holidays that no one understands, but everyone likes to celebrate (just like Cinco De Mayo and Mardi Gras). After all, it’s a great excuse to get wasted, kiss Irish people, wear your best green shirt and pinch people. However, for those in the Pagan community – especially for those who are Celtic Pagans – the holiday has less lighthearted undertones.

St. Patrick’s claim to fame is that he “drove the snakes from Ireland.” Now of course, there were no snakes in Ireland. So this phrase is a euphemism. What it really means is that he is the person who drove the druids from Ireland, since snakes were a sacred symbol that many druids had tattooed to their arms.

Ironically, this patron saint of Ireland isn’t even Irish. Patrick was a 5th century Romano-British missionary and bishop who came to Ireland to preach Christianity. According to the Confessio of Patrick, he was captured from his homeland in Britain and taken to Ireland as a slave where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. Later, when he became a cleric, he returned to the land of his capture to spread the Christian religion.

However, it has been argued that Patrick’s conversion of Ireland is a highly exaggerated affair. There were Christian missionaries in Ireland long before Patrick arrived, and the druid culture existed in Ireland centuries after Patrick died (on March 17th). Many aspects of the pagan culture in Ireland even blended into Christianity over time: holidays, holy wells, and even Gods were absorbed into the Christian tradition and called saints.

Whether Patrick’s conversion of Ireland is exaggerated or not, I still have a problem with dedicating a holiday to this man. I have a problem with celebrating a figure who is famed for driving the druids out of Ireland, so I will not celebrate his name.

Some also suggest that the institution of “St Patrick’s Day” was an attempt by Christians to replace the Pagan celebration of the Spring Equinox.

So I agree with many others when they say that we should instead call this day “All Snakes Day.” Hail the Irish Druids! Hail the holy symbol of the snake, a creature of healing and power! I will take today to celebrate my own Irish heritage and welcome the coming spring with open arms. I will take today to cherish the connection of my ancestors with Ireland’s ancient druidic culture.

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RELATED ARTICLES

Saint Patrick, Druids, Snakes, and Popular Myths (Patheos)

Saint Patrick and the Druids (Sacred Texts)

Snakes and Bladders: Celebrating All Snakes Day (The Pagan Pope)


Druid College in U.K. is born!

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2015 has been an exciting year for Pagans so far, and we’re only in February! First it gets announced that Iceland is buildings its first temple to the Norse God to be erected in 1,000 years. Now a U.K. branch of the Druid College has been born. The other sister college is in the U.S. in Maine. (I personally would love to see one in every state).

The Druid College’s goal is to cultivate priests of Nature. They are dedicated to

  •  to Earth-centered spirituality
  •  to  the integrity of our natural home
  •  to the crafting of sacred relationship

The foundations for this life long journey are established by three years of study. Unlike contemporary universities, Druid studies are furthered not only by personal reflection but primarily by ongoing personal connection and spiritual guidance of (i.e., apprenticeship to) a Druid Priest.

What does being a priest mean to the Druid College? Here is what the website says: “Being a priest of nature does not mean being an intermediary, but instead living a life in service, crafting a sacred relationship with the land, the ancestors and the gods.  It requires service to the community as well as the land, wherein the priest acts as guide, witness or celebrant to a journey or journeys of crafting sacred relationship.”

While one can learn about druidry anywhere, the college itself has a specific focus on cultivating people who can perform service to the land and community. Given that human beings currently have a very dysfunctional relationship with their environment, the college stresses that priests of nature are needed more now than ever.

NOTE: The Druid College is not an accredited college. It’s not a place where you would go to get a degree. They use the word “college” in an earlier sense to describe the place as a center of learning.

 RELEVANT LINKS

Druid College Home Page

Druid College FAQ

Druid College Facebook

Big News – Druid College UK is born! (Witches and Pagans, 2-6-15)