News of the Past

May 2015
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The Enigma of the Thracians and the Orpheus Myth

By Mado Martinez

The passage of the millennia has brought us traces of ancient civilizations that shone enough to make their cultural glimpses last through the ages. Humanity itself has featured in the art, culture, and funerary rites of these civilizations, so while from a mollusk we only find a trace of fossilized shell, from a human we find much more than just remains, we find pyramids, mounds, sculptures, coins, tools, weapons, scripts, treasures, houses, palaces, altars, and more.

All of this, in light of archaeology, allows us to know more about our ancestors. But for some of them, like the Thracians, what has been discovered barely casts a shadow over what is still unknown. There are many mysteries surrounding this ancient civilization that occupied what is now Bulgaria and some adjoining parts of Romania, Greece and Turkey.

In archaeological terms, evidence of civilization in Bulgarian lands date back thousands of years. Not coincidentally it was found in Provadia (Bulgaria) the oldest prehistoric city in Europe, dated between 4,700 BC and 4,200 BC, a fortified settlement of 350 inhabitants. On the other hand, we know that for years the world’s oldest golden treasure was not found in Sumeria, nor in Egypt, nor in pre-Columbian America but in Varna (Bulgaria), and dates from 4,600 BC.

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The Seax of Beagnoth, an Enchanted Blade

By Pollyanna Jones

In 1857, Henry J. Briggs, was milling about on the banks of the Thames at Battersea in London, when he found something lying in the mud. A labourer by trade, he pulled the metal item out of the sticky brown river sediment and wiped it clean. He realised that it was a treasure at once, and took it to the British Museum who bought it off the man. Henry had stumbled across one of the most important Anglo-Saxon relics ever discovered.

The blade at first was wrongly described by Augustus Woollaston Franks, who worked in the Antiquities Department as a “scramasax, in the style of the Franks”. We know now that it is an Anglo-Saxon blade from the 10th Century, in a style known as a long seax.

Made from iron, this wicked looking weapon was embellished with golden runes and decorations along one edge on both sides of the blade. Further study has shown that these decorations were fused in to the blade, with copper, silver, and brass wire delicately placed into grooves cut out into the iron. Lozenges of these precious metals were also worked into the edge, making it a valuable and special thing indeed.

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Breaking the Mother Goose Code, by Jeri Studebaker

Reviewed by Nimue Brown

I did not really expect to be convinced by Jerri Studebaker’s book about finding signs of ancient Goddess worship in fairy tales. I’m just not the sort of person who is easily persuaded by much, and the sleight of hand history of Dr Anne Ross, and the chicanery of Robert Graves have left me resistant, to say the least. I’m very wary of circular logic, too. Go out looking for evidence of sacrifice and you’ll see it any time there’s a dead person. Go out looking for Goddess survivals and you can all too easily infer them into anything with breasts.

I ended up persuaded to a degree that surprised me.

What makes this book such an interesting and provocative read isn’t, I thought, the main thrust at all. It’s the details. The histories of where nursery stories have come from and how they’ve changed over time. The correlations between fairy stories and other major cultural shifts. I’d not thought before about the way in which many fairy stories are really at odds with Christian stories. I was, I confess, too busy being cross about the princesses. But now I have reasons to rethink those, as well.

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Appealing to Your Ancestors

By Beth Wodandis

[Snip] Yes, I know the topic of ancestor work can be a controversial one in the pagan community, because so many of us have deceased family members we wouldn’t call on if it was the last option open to us. For example, if your late Uncle Mort was a child molester, chances are you don’t really want to be inviting him into your home. Also, as many of us are first generation pagans in monotheistic families, we might feel alienated by some of our immediate ancestors, feeling that they can’t possibly share very much with us and unsure why they would want to help with our relationships with pagan deities, demons, spirits, or what have you.

But we all have bloodlines that go back more than just the few generations we might know about. Whether you know it or not, whether you can trace it objectively or not, you have a bloodline that reaches back into the pagan past, into the depths of antiquity. Depending on what country your ancestors came from, what ethnicity you are, you have ancestors who worshiped Odin, or Cerridwen, or Isis, or Ogun. Some of our ancestors, granted, return to the “primordial soup” that provides a source for new souls at the birth of children. Of those who qualify as Mighty Dead—those who managed to distinguish themselves in life in some way—some may be reborn as themselves (with their individual spirit intact), in a new body; some may choose to dwell in the spirit realms and join groups of spirits such as the Wild Hunt. But every bloodline has one or two who qualify to be ranked among the Mighty Dead and who choose to remain attached to their own blood lineage, to watch over their descendants. These are the people to turn to when you get yourself into a sticky situation with a god, demon, or other entity who you seem to be stuck in an abusive relationship with (assuming you have tried to work things out directly with that entity and it has failed, or it isn’t possible or advisable to deal directly with them for whatever reason).

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The Beginner’s guide to Hellenismos: Ouranic versus Khthonic

By Elani Temperance

[Snip] Modern worshippers of the Theoi–myself included–often try to compartmentalize Their worship. This, because we aren’t raised in a culture where the Theoi are worshipped in grand festivals and we have to reinvent the wheel as we try to find ways to worship Them in a way that resembles the ways of the ancient Hellenes. To have some hard rules for this worship helps us greatly; it allows us to look at the parts of the rites we do know and infer the rest–at least in broad lines. The biggest boxes we use are ‘Ouranic’ and ‘Khthonic’, and we often think the two are entirely separate–they are not.

‘Ouranic’ is a term that replies to Theoi and practices who reside or that are associated with Mount Olympos, home of many of the Theoi. As such, Ouranic deities are also referred to as ‘Olympians’. In ancient Hellas, an altar for the Ouranic Theoi was called a ‘bômos’ (βωμός). Most bômoi were isolated cubes, around one meter (three feet) high, but there were altars which were far larger. The sacrificial altars were either square or round, and many held an ‘epipuron’ (ἐπίπυρον)–a movable pan or brazier, used on top of the bômos so it could serve as an altar for burnt-offerings. Impromptu altars for the Ouranic deities were made of earth, turf, or stones collected on the spot. What mattered was that the offering was sacrificed (high) off of the ground.

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Four Ways to Make Your Visualization Manifest

By Jocelyn Daher

What is visualization and why is it important to your life? Visualization is the practice in which a person intentionally focuses mental energy on a specific idea, image, or desired outcome for a prescribed amount of time. This is done for the purpose of sending the focused energy out into the quantum field where it can then synchronistically manifest into the life of the visualizer.

How does this work? First let’s start with the physics perspective of a thought. A thought is a frequency, a vibration. It is ultimately a form with structure. The only reason that the average person cannot ‘see’ a thought wave is because it is too fine of a frequency and our range of vision, the perceptual capability of our eyes cannot pick up on it. This does not mean it is not real. A thought is a thing. Pull up the image in your mind’s eye of a plastic sandwich bag. It is translucent, right? When it’s only one bag, you can easily see through it. Ok now in your mind stack a few more plastic bags on top of that one. Still see through? Yes, but getting a little more opaque. Ok now put 5 more,…10 more…100 bags. Is this stack of bags translucent anymore? No. Why? This is because although it is thin and translucent, it does have structure and eventually, when bound together, the density accumulates and forms something more massive. This is a simple way of explaining how thoughts work in our dimensional reality.

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(H/T. Alexandria)

Pagan and Wiccan Festival Etiquette

By Patti Wigington

It’s no secret that Pagans love a good festival. At certain times of the year, there are public events all over the world for Wiccans, Heathens, Druids, and other Pagans to attend. However, just because there’s no set of Pagan rules doesn’t mean there aren’t a few basic guidelines you should follow when you attend a public event. After all, the organizers went to a lot of trouble to put this thing on — the last thing they need is a bunch of people creating problems simply because common sense got left at home!

Let’s break it down into the Do and Don’t categories. Naturally, some of these may be flexible, depending on the nature of the festival itself, but the bottom line is if you’re in doubt about something, check with the organizers of the event.

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Topless Minoan Women: Not What You Think

By Laura Perry

[Snip] You’re probably familiar with the frescos and figurines from ancient Crete that depict well-endowed women in open-front tops that display their breasts for all to see. We may feel that the exposed breasts found throughout ancient Minoan art are provocative but the Minoans probably didn’t feel that way. Just as the Victorians found women’s legs to be terribly sexy simply because they were normally covered and hidden, we respond the same way to women’s breasts. But in Minoan society women frequently went topless, just as men did, so that would have been an ordinary sight, and of course ancient women nursed their babies so that would have been common and not provocative or controversial either. It would not have been sexy so much as normal. But when the priestesses of ancient Crete bared their breasts in a ritual setting, that had deeper meaning as well.

Its purpose was to remind everyone of the role that human and animal mothers play in the nurturing of their offspring, and thus of the way in which the Great Mother nourishes us all.

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How to Honor the Gods of Place

Without Being an Appropriative Prick

By Sannion

There’s nothing new about local focus polytheism. Indeed it was an important part of many ancient polytheist religions, especially that of the Greeks and Romans who set up colonies throughout a great deal of Europe, Asia Minor, North Africa, the Middle East. One of the first things that these colonists did was determine who the indigenous gods and spirits were and what forms of worship they found acceptable:

For those who arrived in a foreign land the custom was to sacrifice to the local gods and heroes. (Scholia on Apollonios Rhodios’ Argonautika 2.1271)

Today, however, there appears to be some reluctance among neopagans and polytheists – especially those of European extraction – to engage with local gods and land-spirits for fear of committing the cardinal sin of cultural appropriation. Understandably so, for Westward expansion was disastrous to the original inhabitants of North America. Huge segments of the population were wiped out by disease and biological warfare; others were starved to death, raped, massacred and forcibly removed from their ancestral lands. Christian missionaries violently converted them and attempted to eradicate all traces of their language, culture and identity. The few remaining indigenous populations are often consigned to small reservations and subject to alcoholism, abject poverty, corrupt bureaucracies and squalid living conditions that would be intolerable in a Third World country – but are even worse since they’re found here in the most prosperous and powerful nation in the world. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, there are a multitude of White New Agers who seek to exploit Native spiritual traditions for their own financial gain, peddling expensive weekend seminars and pseudo sweat lodge ceremonies to bored suburban house-wives.

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A Tapestry of Metaphor: Art and the Pagan Spirit

By Paul Rucker

[Snip] Religion — from re-ligare, “to bind together” or “to reconnect” — implies a specific community connected by a shared sense of the sacred. Sacred arts speak to the devoted heart of such a tribe, through images and symbols that make tangible its truths, its revelations, and its joys. Even as the gods create the world, humans make art, and make of art, their offering to the world.

As a contemporary Pagan who is both an artist and a mystic, it is difficult for me to imagine any religious culture without art, especially within the Pagan religions of today. My own art evolved from my need to make tangible expressions of the thoroughly Pagan visions I have experienced since early childhood. Thus, when eighteen years old, I discovered the world of modern Pagan culture and worship and I felt I had found my tribe. What had been a solitary visionary spirituality opened onto a hearth of Pagan religion.

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