News of the Past

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Top 10 Tales of Witchcraft in the Midwest

By Michael Kleen

[Snip] 10. The Weighing of Nancy Evans

Bethel, Ohio

In 1805 on the Ohio frontier, two teenaged daughters from the Hildebrand family began to display strange behavior. According to History of Clermont County, Ohio (1880), “On the approach of night they would scream, and at times become perfectly frantic from fright of the hideous objects which they professed to see, and which maintained such a spell over them that they were unfitted for their duties.” Their family came to suspect the girls were under a witch’s spell, and applied an obscure folk remedy. They conducted a ceremony over a linin and wool bag designed to trap the witch inside. Then they sealed the bag, chopped it to pieces with an axe, and burned the remnants. The girls continued to be tormented, however, so their suspicion turned to an old woman named Nancy Evans. In order to keep matters from getting out of hand, a local justice of the peace ordered a large wooden scale to be constructed. It was believed that God would not allow a witch to weigh more than the Bible, so Nancy was put on one end and a Bible on the other. In sight of witnesses, Nancy tipped the scale in her favor and was exonerated. Talk of witchcraft in Bethel died down after the Hildebrand family moved away.

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Theurgic Binding: or, “S#!t Just Got Real”

By Morpheus Ravenna

[Snip] I’ve been asked a few times recently about what it means to dedicate oneself to a God, and in particular to the Morrígan, the Goddess I’m dedicated to. I get questions like these:

“At what stage in a relationship with Deity (the Morrígan specifically) can I consider dedication through ritual?”
“Everybody keeps telling me: don’t rush into it and be 100% sure. As things are right now, I really, really WANT to. So then… Why wait?”

In lieu of trying to explain this on a theoretical level, I’m going to get personal.

When the most recent question came in I was in the doctor’s waiting room, to review an MRI scan of my damaged ankle. You see, three months ago while fighting in armor, I got knocked down by a pile of big shieldmen and sprained my left ankle ligaments severely. I was given crutches and told to stay off it for a month while the sprain healed. My friends, knowing I’ve been under orders from the Morrígan to write about Her, started joking with me: “Somebody really wants you to sit down and write that book!”

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Vampires in British Folklore

By Pollyanna Jones

Vampires in fiction have enjoyed great popularity, ever since Bram Stoker was inspired by Ireland’s cholera epidemic of 1832, and penned his novel Dracula.

Prior to his birth, his mother had lived through horrific scenes of this outbreak in her home in Sligo, Ireland, and the young Bram would sit, darkly enchanted by her gruesome tales from before his birth. Scenes of gaunt, half dead creatures with bloodied lips were described, along with tales of the dead rising from the grave.

The more rational explanation for these terrible sights was that there were so many dying from this epidemic, they were hastily buried for fear that their bodies would infect the living. Not all of them were fully deceased; instead being in a deep coma, awakening at some point and clawing their way out of the ground.

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Nature Religion: Reuniting Religion and Nature

By John Halstead

[Snip] What is a Nature Religion?

The terms “nature religion”, “earth religion” and “earth-centered religions” are used more or less interchangeably to refer to those religions which are defined primarily by their relationship to the natural environment. Not all forms of Paganism are nature religions. The category of nature religions includes many indigenous religious, those forms of Paganism and feminist spirituality which are concerned primarily with nature generally or with the local bioregions specifically, those forms of neo-animism and neo-shamanism which view humans as a non-privileged part of a more-than-human community of beings, and those forms of environmental protest that Bron Taylor calls “Deep Green Religion”.

Michael York writes that nature religions share “a this-worldly focus and deep reverence for the earth as something sacred and something to be cherished.” According to York, nature religion is part of a wider post-modern protest against the modernist separation of nature and the sacred. There is a fundamental theological divide running through most religions separating matter from spirit. York calls these “gnostic” religions, which he contrasts with “nature religions”. In the latter case, nature is neither fallen nor a prison from which we must escape.

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Finding Faith in the Gods

By Elani Temperance

[Snip] “Hello Elani! I’m having some trouble with my faith in the Gods… how do you incorporate them every day in your life at the beginning of your path? How do you work as HP and recon while living in a Christian household? How do you feel the Gods on a daily basis? Does any of this make sense?! Thank you very much.”

So, let’s break these down. Let’s talk about incorporating the Gods into your (daily) life first. I have a tendency to go adopt new things in a very specific way: in general, I dive in without any restraint, give it my all, and spent every waking moment in it until the obsession normalizes. I don’t believe in the slow build, in the careful exploration. I tend to go in full force and always believe I can do it. It was the same with adopting Hellenism. I started my new practice, read up as much as I could in a day or two, and started morning and evening libations, as well as a blog so I could share my new obsession with the world. I’m the type of person who would rather correct the course of the train than drive slow until I’m sure of the course.

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Ecstatic Trance Postures

By Aridela Pantherina

[Snip] In my blog and previous posts I have often referred to “ecstatic trance postures”, and I would like to share more about what I mean by that, how I discovered them, and why I think other pagans and polytheists could benefit immensely from what is essentially an incredibly simple technique.

Six years ago I read an article in Sagewoman magazine called “Visions of Crete”. Within the author’s personal narrative she referenced the research of anthropologist Felicitas Goodman, who discovered that the body postures in the statues and art created by hunter or horticulturalist societies are not simply arbitrary or aesthetic, but had been intentionally recorded because they are keys to certain types of religious trance experience. Goodman discovered that maintaining one of these postures for 15 minutes, combined with drumming or rattling at 210 bpm (beats per minute), prefaced by a simple ritual and sitting meditation, was an effective formula for almost anyone, even the most inexperienced, to have a vivid journeying/trance experience. Each posture was different from the other, but trends emerged and Goodman was able to place most of them into five major categories: divination, spirit journeying, healing, initiation, and shape-shifting/metamorphosis.

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Syncretism: Some Definitions and Clarifications

By P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

One of the most difficult matters facing someone who is attempting to discuss syncretism in a nuanced and useful fashion within modern polytheism is that the term “syncretism” refers to at least two different phenomena as it is commonly used. The second of those phenomena can be further subdivided into (at least) two further categories. What I hope to do at present, however briefly, is to draw out those nuances here in an accessible manner.

But first, it might be worthwhile to have a quick look at the word-origin of syncretism. It comes from the Greek root syn (“with, together with”) added to Kretismos, “as the Cretans do.” It was used first by Plutarch to describe the way in which the Cretans ignored their various local differences in order to band together for common causes. Thus, many things that are positive, and many movements that have done something similar in order to achieve good results for a diversity of individuals, are doing syncretism. In that definition, the modern umbrella movement of Paganism can be considered syncretism, as can the present website, polytheist.com, since it is not seeking to create an orthodoxy of or amongst polytheists, but instead is a resource for bringing many different people and traditions together in conversation and solidarity for the good of all.

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The Penguin Book of Witches, by Katherine Howe

Reviewed by Genevieve Valentine

In William Perkins’ 1608 A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, he opens with a list of the reasons such a treatise is necessary, beginning with one that now reads as far more astute that he intended: “First, because witchcraft is a rife and common sin in these our days, and very many are entangled with it.”

Indeed witchcraft was a common sin, for a list of distinctly secular sociopolitical reasons that often overlapped. But in The Penguin Book of Witches, whose dry title belies a fascinating collection of primary sources surrounding three centuries worth of witch trials, editor Katherine Howe has her eye firmly on Perkins’ second concept: that witch hunts were above all a pervasive fracture of government and community, a failure that carried a body count.

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Cultural Memory and Imagination

Dreams and Dreaming in the Roman Empire 31 BC – AD 200

By Juliette Grace Harrisson

Abstract: This thesis takes Assmann’s theory of cultural memory and applies it to an exploration of conceptualisations of dreams and dreaming in the early Roman Empire (31 BC – AD 200). Background information on dreams in different cultures, especially those closest to Rome (the ancient Near East, Egypt and Greece) is provided, and dream reports in Greco-Roman historical and imaginative literature are analysed. The thesis concludes that dreams were considered to offer a possible connection with the divine within the cultural imagination in the early Empire, but that the people of the second century AD, which has sometimes been called an ‘age of anxiety’, were no more interested in dreams or dream revelation than Greeks and Romans of other periods.

This thesis outlines, defines and applies the newly developed concept of cultural imagination, developed from cultural memory, to its examination of dreams and dream reports in Greco-Roman literature. Using the concept of cultural imagination in preference to discussing ‘belief’ is shown to have advantages for the study of ancient religion, as it allows the historian to discuss religious ideas that may or may not have been widely ‘believed’ but which were present within the imagination of the members of a particular society.

Read the full article [NOTE: Opens as a pdf.]

(H/T History of the Ancient World)

Ecotheology: Reuniting God and Nature

By John Halstead

[Snip] In 1967, Lynn White published an article in the periodical Science entitled “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”. The article examined the influence of Christianity on humankind’s relationship with nature. White believed that the environmental decline was, at its root, a religious problem, specifically a Christian problem. White marked the Industrial Revolution as the fundamental turning point in our ecological history, when our ability to destroy nature grew exponentially. However, for White, the belief that the earth was a resource for human consumption was much older and could be traced back to the triumph of medieval Christianity over pagan animism, and even further back to the Biblical injunction to man to “subdue” the earth and exercise “dominion” over every living thing. Medieval Christianity, according to White, elevated humankind, who was made in God’s image, and denigrated the rest of creation, which was believed to have no soul.

“In antiquity every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own genius loci, its guardian spirit. … Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge of the particular situation, and keep it placated. By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feel in of natural objects. … Man’s effective monopoly on spirit in this world was confirmed, and the old inhibitions to the exploitation of nature crumbled.”

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