Wednesday, 28 October 2015

AN UNDERSTANDING OF POLYTHEISM by Jenny Blain ©2003/2004

Polytheism refers to the honouring of many deities, each of whom is experienced and acknowledged as an independent, individual personality, not as an aspect or archetype of something else.


Polytheist belief systems have a number of deities or sacred beings. Some may have jurisdiction or governance over a large area, others may be associated with a particular river, town, or family. Sacred beings may include spirits, wights, ancestors or ‘small gods.’ Often individuals within Polytheistic cultures will form relationships with a small number of specific Goddesses, Gods or other beings, while acknowledging their kinship to other discrete entities who are important within the culture, cosmology, and landscape.


In Polytheistic cultures, deities are experienced as complex personages. Many have particular skills or abilities but are not restricted to these. A Goddess is unlikely to be, for instance, simply a ‘Goddess of Grain’ or a ‘Goddess of Weaving,’ although she may have particular interest in these areas, just as a human musician is also a member of a family and a community, visiting shops and participating in political debates.


Most pre-Christian cultures of Europe and indeed many cultures around the world, have been and in some cases remain Polytheistic. Today many people in the ‘Western’ world are returning to Polytheism. Often they will attempt to reconstruct or re-establish a specific pre-Christian belief system, by studying its history and archaeology, ancient writings (which may or may not be viewed as ‘Sacred Texts’) and the cultures which embraced it, to recreate a living spirituality that works within today's world.


Examples of ancient texts include the Odyssey, Sumerian poems or the Eddas, writings which make reference to deities, other non-human beings and give insight into the worldviews of those who composed them.


Individual deities may be known by more than one name, just as human people may be known by different names or titles (Doctor, Dad, etc.) to different individual people. For instance, Odhinn has over one hundred names in Mediæval texts and is a master of disguise. He remains distinct from other Gods such as Thor or Vidar, just as a cousin who is an actor (taking many parts) is distinct from other relatives or members of the wider community (including other actors).


The original link for the above text is below:

The main website for the Association of Polytheistic Traditions is:



Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Sūrat al-Kāfirūn (The Unbelievers) the 109th Surah of the Qur'an



Say: “Oh, you who disbelieve!
I do not worship that which you worship,
Nor do you worship that which I worship.
Nor will I worship that which you have been worshipping,
Neither will you worship that which I worship.
To you your religion and to me mine.”

NB. This Surah is subject to a much disputed abrogation.



SPINNING JENNY BY MARTIN WALKYIER


She came down from the Western Hills when we were not prepared.
I turned deaf ears to words of warning now I'm running scared.
Casting caution to the wind now that the cat's away.
I say my grace - fill my face (then for forgiveness pray).
God knows I was an honest man - the same as any other.
Who loved his wife - worked all his life to keep his family.
Until the 'beast' that never sleeps beneath my silken covers.
Reared its head and bit its thumb at my morality.

[Chorus:]
Her passion for passion - it will devour.
Cruel are the thorns of this delicate flower.
Her lust for lust - it will consume.
A siren song summons all men to their doom.

She whispered of her innocence - (a plea I must contest).
While baptising helpless sinners with a missionary zest.
She will exorcise your demons - then exercise your thighs.
Await your 'second-coming' with a hunger in her eyes.

Her sweetmeats are the souls of men - she'll gorge herself to bursting.
And for yours her heart is thirsting - as a spider craves a fly.
No mortal man could ever hope to suit her as a suitor.
She'll rewrite the Kama Sutra if you'd care to watch her try.

[Chorus:]
Her passion for passion - it will devour.
Cruel are the thorns of this delicate flower.
Her lust for lust - it will consume.
A siren song summons all men to their doom.

I reach for heaven - desire drags me down.
When fools choose their king I'll be heir to that crown.
A strange kind of madness I cannot condone.
If you are without sin come cast the first stone.


From the 1992 SKYCLAD album:
‘A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol.’

YOUTUBE LINK

AMAZON LINK FOR PURCHASE






Thursday, 22 October 2015

Museum of Witchcraft at Empyrean 2nd September 2015

On Wednesday the 2nd of September I had the pleasure of once again attending a meeting of the Nottingham Empyrean Pagan Interest Group. This particular meeting was like many previous gatherings, noteworthy for the importance of the subject and those presenting.
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic has a unique place in the documentation of the public face of Paganism, Witchcraft, Folklore and Magic. The Museum was originally founded in 1951 and today houses the world's largest collection of witchcraft related artefacts and regalia, together with a renowned research library.

As a paid up member of the Friends of the Museum of Witchcraft and recognising how unusual it is for the Museum to give a presentation this far from Cornwall, this was an event I was unprepared to miss, recognising both the importance and rarity of the event.
The MOW&M presentation was given by two charming representatives, Judith and Peter Hewitt, two of the current and relatively new management team. They began as one would expect, with a brief history of the Museum. Starting from its early days with Cecil Williamson and Gerald Gardner on the Isle of Mann, to the present home in the Village of Boscastle in the English Democratic Republic of Kernow.
The main part of the presentation was a series of visual chapters, each looking at a current gallery. This provided an imaginary walkthrough of the current displays, almost step by step. So following a brief introduction, we explored briefly the time of heretical persecutions and the English Witch Trials. At this point when discussing the weighing trial and suitable comparative weights, I couldn’t help myself and suggested that ducks were indeed used as a standard weight; as per the recommendations of Monty Python.
This section rather suitably led onto the next gallery and the place of Witchcraft within and without the law. This was rather an expansive subject area covering the Ancient World, the Modern World and everything in-between. Not unnaturally no mention of such a subject, following on from the persecutions, could fail to touch upon that magnum opus of King James (6th of Scotland and the 1st of England including Cornwall), Daemonologie of 1599. This book was ably used by Judith and Peter Hewitt, to illustrate the influence of printing and the spread of a learned class, would have upon the understanding of society upon magic. Ideas were perhaps for the first time documented and spread widely, equally leading to a more analytical approach to folklore.

At this point, the halfway mark in the presentation and if we were actually at the physical museum, the halfway point of the tour, we pause to discuss the Temporary Exhibition Space. Currently this area is displaying the paintings of Erica Jong, used to illustrate her famous work ‘Witches.’
We then jump to the next gallery and a suitable progression from the folkloric elements hinted at earlier, as here we look at objects herbs, healing and the Pellar. Those who have visited the Museum will be familiar with the magnificent cabinet of herbs on display. Another of the Museum’s famous exhibits is Joan’s Cottage, which has currently undergone renovation, complete with a new sound recording provided by persons linked to the Museum. It was noted that a definition of Pellar presented on the new recording was that of a White Witch, this was brought up later during the discussion post presentation. Members of the audience raising an objection partly based upon historical observation but in particular, perceiving it as a modern misconception.
The next gallery in our enjoyable virtual tour was that exploring the controversial area of Cursing. Here again we were reminded of another of the famous displays, the Poppet display. This section also included aspects of apotropaic magic; such as Witch Bottles, the Brigid’s Cross, Horseshoes, Keys and Hag Stones. One of the most amusing objects shown on screen was a Hitler Pincushion, in which the pins were inserted into the Dictator’s bottom. This was a fun example of sympathetic magic, in which rather imaginatively, pain was wished upon the German War Leader during the war years. Before journeying upstairs we were shown a slide of that iconic Museum artefact, the magnificent Hare Woman. Miniature replicas of this truly intriguing artefact were available for purchase after the presentation.
Those upper galleries of the museum are well known for being home to the items from the Bob Richel Collection and many objects of interest, from phallic wands, the Mano Fico and Old Hornie himself seated in a corner. Here subjects as wide ranging as the Green Man, Spare, Crowley and Satanism are covered in an almost overwhelming display of curios.


As we neared the end of our virtual tour, just like the real Museum, the objects of interest and educational information, continued to delight. The gallery dealing with matters of Divination, including magic mirrors, tarot palmistry and tealeaf reading, naturally held our attention. We were treated to slides of such curiosities as the Dark Mirror before moving to the next gallery, Sea Witchcraft and Sailing Magic.
Sea and Sailing Magic is a subject one would expect to be covered in a museum based in a coastal town and therefore, an assortment of locally relevant artefacts are included here. These range from knots tied for wind and obviously, the famous Witch Ball or glass float.

As we approached the end of the presentation we were able to cover even more folk magic, ranging from Moonraking legends (common throughout Britain), Three Bees being kept in a bag for luck and the practice of keeping horse chestnuts (conkers) in the corners of a room to deter spiders. This is a practice I may consider myself, although alternatively I could simply dust more frequently.
The latter galleries covered in the presentation brought the subject up to modern times by referencing the Gerald Gardner Collection and developments since the repeal of the Witchcraft Act. This section includes many items that once belonged to Gardner and coming right up to date, that famous hand painted Wheel of the Year. The final slides covered the Shrine, an award winning quite space and the new window displays.

The evening was a fascinating tour, educational and entertaining. It was a presentation that managed to keep the audience engrossed from beginning to end. The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic is now undergoing a series of changes to accommodate the merger with the Museum of British Folklore It is confidently hoped that far from having an uncertain future, it will continue to grow and retain its central and iconic place, within Paganism and Witchcraft.


Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (Facebook)

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (Website)





Thursday, 15 October 2015

STEELEYE SPAN – KING HENRY

Let never a man a wooing wend
That lacketh things three
A store of gold, an open heart
and full of charity;
And this was seen of King Henry
Though he lay quite alone,
For he's taken him to a haunted hall
Seven miles from the town.

He's chased the deer now him before
And the doe down by the den
Till the fattest buck in all the flock
King Henry he has slain.
His huntsman followed him to the hall
To make them burly cheer,
When loud the wind was heard to sound
And an earthquake rocked the floor.


And darkness covered all the hall
Where they sat at their meat.
The grey dogs, yowling, left their food
And crept to Henry's feet.
And louder howled the rising wind
And burst the fastened door,
And in there came a grisly ghost
Stamping on the floor.

Her head hit the roof-tree of the house,
Her middle you could not span,
Each frightened huntsman fled the hall
And left the king alone,
Her teeth were like the tether stakes,
Her nose like club or mell,
And nothing less she seemed to be
Than a fiend that comes from hell.


Some meat, some meet you King Henry,
Some meat you give to me,
Go kill your horse you King Henry
And bring him here to me;
He's gone and slain his berry brown steed
Though it made his heart full sore,
for she's eaten up both skin and bone,
Left nothing but hide and hair.

More meat, more meet you King Henry,
More meat you give to me,
Go kill your grey-hounds King Henry
And bring them here to me;
He's gone and slain his good grey-hounds,
It made his heart full sore,
She's eaten up both skin and bone,
Left nothing but hide and hair.


More meat, more meet you King Henry,
More meat you give to me,
Go fell your goss-hawks King Henry
And bring them here to me;
And when he's slain his gay goss-hawks,
It made his heart full sore,
She's eaten them up both skin and bone,
Left nothing but feathers bare.

Some drink, some drink you King Henry,
Some drink you give to me,
Oh you sew up your horse's hide,
And bring in a drink to me;
And he's sewn up the bloody hide,
And a pipe of wine put in,
And she's drank it up all in one draught,
Left never a drop therein.


A bed, a bed now King Henry,
A bed you'll make for me,
Oh you must pull the heather green
And make it soft for me;
And pulled has he the heather green
And made for her a bed,
and taken has he his gay mantle
And o'er it has spread.

Take off your clothes now King Henry
And lie down by my side,
Now swear, now swear you King Henry,
To take me for your bride.
Oh God forbid, says King Henry,
That ever the like betide,
That ever a fiend that comes from hell
Should stretch down by my side.


When the night was gone and the day was come
And the sun shone through the hall,
The fairest lady that ever was seen
Lay between him and the wall.

I've met with many a gentle knight
That gave me such a fill,
But never before with a courteous knight
That gave me all my will.
























From the album BELOW THE SALT and highly recommended. A link to an audio recording is below:


Thursday, 8 October 2015

CENTRE FOR PAGAN STUDIES, THE DOREEN VALIENTE FOUNDATION AND THE CASTLE BYTHAM SPIRIT CIRCLE 30th SEPTEMBER 2012

On Sunday the 30th of September 2012 I journeyed with friends the not inconsequential distance by car, to the Castle Bytham public house in the picturesque Lincolnshire village of Bytham itself. The evening trip was to attend a meeting of the Castle Bytham Spirit Circle. This is a monthly meeting held for those with interests in a variety of esoteric subjects, hosted by the convivial landlord and Steward of the Hell Fire Club, Mr Eamonn Loughran.

This particular meeting featured a presentation by Mr Ashley Mortimer, a trustee of the Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation. The presentation, informal talk and later discussion was of a broad sweep covering the history of Gardnerian Witchcraft or Wica, the life of the founder Gerald Gardner himself, the life and influence of Doreen Valiente, together with a brief exploration of the aims of the Doreen Valiente Foundation. The meeting was notable for the attendance of several literary luminaries, including Shani Oates the Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain and Philip Heselton, who is himself an author and authority on the history of the Gardnerian Craft. Both of these illustrious personages knew Valiente in life.

Mr Mortimer due to the breadth of the subject matter and the time permitted, was only able to a give the most limited exploration of the complex subject matter, correctly concentrating upon the most important factors relevant to our understanding for the evening. This he did with practiced competence and maintained the interest of the audience throughout. Taking us on a journey that included Gardner’s return to England, his meetings with persons living in the New Forest area and finally, moving on to discuss the influence of Valiente, not only upon Witchcraft but Paganism as a whole and her role in the foundation of the Pagan Front, later to become the Pagan Federation.

The evening was further enlivened by the presence of various artefacts owned by the Doreen Valiente Foundation, many of which were of a personal significance to Valiente during her lifetime. This informal exhibition enabled Mr Mortimer to discuss plans for the future of the Doreen Valiente Collection, including the search for a permanent home. The evening ended with mention of the much hoped for biography of the lady in question, before a short break and questions.

The evening was most enjoyable and well attended, with many present having made a journey of no mean distance. Those not returning the same night having booked rooms at the various boarding houses in the village, those offering bed and breakfast, were able to stay and move into the public bar. The company was therefore, genial and stimulating.

The Castle Bytham Spirit Circle continues to hold regular monthly meetings with a speaker each month and has an active Facebook group (see below).

CASTLE BYTHAM SPIRIT CIRCLE FACEBOOK GROUP
https://www.facebook.com/groups/castlebythamspiritcircle/?fref=ts

CENTRE FOR PAGAN STUDIES BLOG:
http://www.centre-for-pagan-studies.com/centre_for_pagan_studies-paganism-Blog-17.php



Liber Nox: A Traditional Witch’s Gramarye by Michael Howard. Published by Skylight Press 2014


Liber Nox is in some respects a return for Howard to his earlier works published by Capall Bann, such as ‘The Sacred Ring’ and ‘Light from the Shadows.’ I have something of a fondness for his earlier writing, as I first discovered Howard via his runic works.

In Liber Nox Howard presents us while using a down to earth, friendly and open style of presentation, a review of nine common festivals observed by some practitioners of Traditional Witchcraft in Britain today. The work is divided into two sections; the first is an explanation and review of the customs, belief and folklore of each named festival. The chapters are well written, informative and reminiscent of the classic already mentioned, ‘The Sacred Ring.’ Liber Nox is illustrated with charming line drawings provided by the Cornish writer, Gemma Gary.

The second section is a presentation of a surprisingly complete ritual, for each of the festivals previous described in part one. They are practical, clear, well composed and incorporate some excellent prose. I was at first surprised that in a work on Traditional Craft practice, Howard chose to incorporate the casting of a circle as opposed to compass work. I was eventually able to guess the reason and indeed it should have been obvious. Liber Nox is a gentle introduction to the Traditional Craft, not a heavy theological thesis.

The work is well referenced, although who is and who is not referenced is something of a surprise. Since Gary is responsible for the artwork, it is no surprise to see her referenced. It is a surprise however, to see Robin Artisson referenced by such an experienced writer as Howard. It is no surprise to see Cochrane and Evans referenced but I was at first surprised not to see Oates mentioned. The reason however, is obvious once one considers the intended audience. In the same way as Howard makes no use or mention of the compass, he avoids Oates; as Liber Nox is not aimed at a more advanced readership.

It is likely that the relevance of this work is being misunderstood in many quarters and its importance simply overlooked. This book will serve for many years as a starting step, an introduction to Traditional Witchcraft of a devotional nature, serving to guide the seeker away from the new-age Paganism and pop-wiccan material that is prevalent today. If on walking into a bookshop someone buys this book and not a book by Cunningham or Ravenwolf, then Howard has done his job and done it well.

"Liber Nox serves as an ideal introduction on the subject of Traditional Witchcraft, preparing the way for the seeker to move eventually onto more in depth writings; such as those by Gemma Gary and such luminaries as Shani Oates. Howard should be congratulated for taking this brave step, for daring to engage with those lost on the path but seeking something with bite.


IS IT TIME FOR PAGANISM TO CLEAN UP ITS ACT?

On a trip to the Derbyshire Peak District in the autumn of 2012, specifically Stanton Moor and the Nine Ladies Stone Circle, I was quite shocked at the number of offerings left, that were in truth nothing more than items of rubbish. The majority of the items were tied to the nearby ‘fairy’ or ‘offering’ tree.

Amongst this rubbish was a plastic bottle that was formally used to contain mineral water, plastic based ribbons, plastic toys, plastic jewellery, plastic buttons, plastic charms and even an empty packet of Paracetamol. The key word as I am sure you may have noticed; is plastic. I removed two coat pockets full of this junk, which was as much as I could carry at the time. There was just so much of it that I could not practically carry away more and eventually, I deposited this rubbish in a bin while passing through nearby Bakewell. I make no apology for this action.

I have seen littering of a more deliberate sort when visiting the better known sites, those that attract the larger crowds. Although the Nine Ladies attracts many campers at the Summer Solstice, obviously the numbers are not comparable to those of Stonehenge or Avebury. At the latter two sites and after a Summer Solstice, I have found myself physically disgusted by the rubbish left behind by so called fellow Pagans and New Agers celebrating the festival. Interestingly, at the Winter Solstice, when perhaps the gathering attracts the more hardcore Pagan and fewer numbers, there is little or no litter.

This suggests that Pagans are not solely responsible for this littering but whether that is true or no, we share a collective responsibility by our presence. Furthermore and again whether we like it or not, we are by the public, by landowners and local government, tarred with the same brush. Pagans whilst claiming to revere nature are unfortunately labelled as nothing more than litter louts by some today.

I personally do not object to biodegradable post ritual offerings such as wine or a little cake. Although more awareness by the casual visitor that human foodstuffs such as chocolate, may be harmful to wildlife would be of benefit. My real objection is to the remains of spent candles, plastic ribbon, toys and crystals (yes crystals) being left at sacred sites and other ancient monuments.

I am not advocating an all out ban; neither Paganism nor our sacred places are museum pieces, although some historians may argue otherwise. The sites are used and have been used as places of power, reverence and magic for centuries, long before the repeal of the Witchcraft Act. This we can deduce from local folklore and legend associated with the many ancient monuments or sacred sites. Like a Christian Church, our sites are old (and older) and very often, they have remained in some form of use. They are living places of worship, reverence and magic.

I emphasise that my objection is not to the leaving of food and drink, nor do I object to the leaving of biodegradable items such as cotton ribbon and pieces of cloth. My objection is the leaving of artificial items, generally plastic junk and the burning of candles directly upon the stones of an ancient circle or other such site. Obviously there are some things that I would not remove and this includes the items made from natural materials that will eventually degrade. However, we have to be more aware of how much is left behind or our sacred sites will end up looking like a rubbish tip.

I am therefore left making the suggestion, which I am fully aware is not an original one: that local Pagan groups should with the knowledge and approval of the landowner, ‘adopt’ individual sacred sites, cleaning and maintaining them for the enjoyment of all.

Naturally this would require some diplomacy, as some using the sites for recreational purposes may raise objections to the removal of some items and some working groups may leave physical and spiritual ‘markers’, which are indeed best left alone.

In the case of a physical marker, the item is usually of a Traditional nature and is left denoting Craft usage of a particular spot. Such items for example, would include a carefully and deliberately placed animal skull or an old iron horseshoe placed semi-hidden in a wall or tree, these items mark ‘territory’ and should be left undisturbed. This is how we do things in Derbyshire.


Further diplomacy with regard this issue will be necessary in those parts of the country such as Cornwall, where independent non Pagan Federation groups have already begun this proposed ‘adoption’ of sites. It is unfortunate that in some quarters of the Pagan Community, the Pagan Federation is not highly regarded and attempts to assist may be perceived as an attempt to take over. In these situations it may, for the sake of public relations, be better for the Pagan Federation to take a more reserved, background and supporting role.

First published as: Chattering Magpie (D.B.Griffith) (2013) Is it time for Paganism to clean up its act? Deosil Dance. issue 57 Mabon 2013 pp29-31.