News of the Past

October 2014
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What Is a Witch?

By Niki Whiting

For about a thousand years the witch has been drawn as an ugly, old woman, in league with the devil, living on the outskirts of a village, waiting to take advantage of the virtuous and/or small children. She flies on her broomstick and gathers with others under the full moon to do terrible rituals. Later, she acquired an outfit of black and a pointy hat. The Halloween stereotypes we associate with witches are not new; they are deeply embedded in the Western mythos.

None of these things are ‘true.’ Many of the images of the witch come from Roman Catholic Inquisition records (not likely to be trust worthy sources). The women (and a few men) were mostly on the outskirts of society and easily disposed of. Some of the elements are based on actual things witches did; all stereotypes are based on some element of truth. But this post isn’t about the historical image of the witch, although, that is a fascinating subject. That topic is the macro-social lens. Assuming we think witches are real and are not cartoon characters, what is a witch on a micro-personal level?

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We Need To Have A Talk About Folkish Heathenry

By Grumpy Lokean Elder

[Snip] For those who are unfamiliar with this particular “triad” of Heathenry, which is sometimes better described as a sliding scale, here’s a general summary:

•”Universalist” – anyone can join, more or less. Sometimes this particular stance is criticized as being “too broad” or “too open”, and “having no standards”, usually with the implication that Universalism will make Heathenry Wiccan (somehow) or that it will make Heathenry “New Age” and that Universalists aren’t interested in research or viewing things in their cultural and historical contexts. I’ve rarely found this to be true. Universalists tend not to view Norse Wiccans and Heathens as the same thing at all, there’s not a lack of interest in Norse-Germanic cultures or a lack of academic rigor amongst Universalists, and they’re no more prone to “New Age” thinking than any other branch. The primary feature of this branch is that no one is turned away based on skin tone or ethnic background. Genetics and heritage aren’t viewed as having any bearing on who can be a Heathen or who is a “better” Heathen who can “better connect with the Gods”.

•”Tribalist” – this started out as “anyone can join but no eclecticism is permitted, everything should be firmly kept within a Norse-Germanic cultural framework and researching and adopting the culture is of dire importance” but also with some encouragement for regional praxis/thew to develop, as had happened throughout history. (Pan-Germanicism is a myth. There wasn’t one agreed-upon pantheon with consistent beliefs and practices that matched up exactly everywhere Norse-Germanic peoples settled. Things varied greatly from region to region and tribe to tribe.) Genetics and heritage also weren’t viewed as having a bearing on who could join, as with Universalism, but the importance of keeping things within the original cultural contexts was given more weight than in Universalism.

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Dancing with the Ancestors

By Juniper

The ancestors we contact with may be family members or friends who have passed over, and it is common to honour their memories, especially around October 31st and on dates special to the family.
While other ancestors may not be relations by blood, but cultural ancestors, or those who have walked a similar spiritual path before you, your spiritual ancestors. From these spiritual ancestors we can glean lost or near-lost lore and practices to help us advance and flesh out our spiritual and magickal practice.

These customs flourished among the Celts, who honoured ancestral spirits as well as legendary heroes. In Brittany it is said that the dead seek warmth from the hearth at night, and a feast is spread for them on All Souls’ eve, or crumbs maybe left for them after a family meal. In Ireland, after a death food is traditionally placed out for the spirits. In some parts of France, milk may be poured out on the grave.
Whatever ancestor worship existed in ancient Rome was a family affair, not a public one. The diseased joined the manes, the household gods. They visited the families and received offerings and watched over family events.

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Did the Ancient Egyptians Practice Human Sacrifice?

By Sandra Alvarez

Thanks to Hollywood, superstition and folklore, many people have long held the belief that Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs regularly buried alive their retainers and household when they died. It’s a long standing fallacy perpetuated by blockbuster films and pseudo Egyptologists that the Pharaoh took his wives, servants and officials with him to the Afterlife. It’s a myth that needs to be debunked but where did this erroneous belief arise? What appears to have happened is that a grain of truth has been turned into the Gospel truth and the most likely explanation is the following: Ancient Egyptians DID practice retainer sacrifice but not throughout their entire nearly four thousand year history.

First, the obvious question…why?

There were two main forms of human sacrifice in Ancient Egypt:

1.) The offering of a human being to a cult. These victims were often criminals or prisoners of war and were used to re-establish ‘cosmic order and emphasise the role of the King as its main guarantor.’ In some cases, sacrifice was a ritualised form of the death penalty.

2.) The killing of the retainers (servants) after the death of the King so that they could accompany him to the Afterlife. This article focuses on the second of these two instances since its the myth most commonly peddled to the general public. Why did the early Pharaohs do this? One idea put forward was that this was a way to flaunt their power. Pharaohs were revered as Gods in human form so it would be impossible to persuade people to willingly give up their lives if they did not believe in life after death. The belief was that what belonged to the Pharaoh on Earth, also belonged to him in the afterlife. This didn’t just include material possessions but people, like servants. This belief enabled the Pharaoh to enjoy the same lifestyle in the Underworld as he did in the living world. There has been some suggestion that retainers agreed to be sacrificed to obtain eternal life and elevate their status, in much the same way that we see celebrities whose value increases once they’re dead. This idea, however, hasn’t been taken up as readily as the belief that they were selected against their will and murdered simultaneously.

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Socially Responsible Magic: Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

By Taylor Ellwood

There’s a saying that if you really put support something, you put your money where your mouth is. It’s an odd saying, one whose history I don’t know, but I nonetheless appreciate how it pertains to supporting the causes I believe in. I also see putting your money where your mouth is as a form of wealth magic, where wealth can be used to generate wealth for people beyond yourself. At recent Pagan events, I’ve noticed a trend toward donating some of the incoming funds to specific charities, and I think this is a good practice.

In the last few years, as I’ve developed a deeper connection to the world and a deeper sense of responsibility as a result, I’ve thought long and hard about what causes I believe in and how I support those causes. “Putting my money where my mouth is” recognizes that I can manifest my social responsibility with the purposeful support of specific causes embodied in the form of non-profit charities. Supporting such charities with donations provides me a way to make an offering to a cause I believe in. That offering is monetary–a suitable form of sacrifice, I think, because the money we make plays a significant role in our lives. A donation to a charity is a sacrifice, both in terms of the money, and in the effort involved in generating that money. Such a sacrifice acknowledges that the specific cause means something beyond what can be expressed in words. It is easy to say something about a cause, but actively supporting it requires a higher level of commitment and brings with it a different sense of responsibility.

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How to Make Your Own Personal Sigils

By Moonwater SilverClaw

Imagine putting a magical intention into an object. Why would you do that? Wiccans do this because they want the object to hold power to help them realize a personal desire. For example, you may be job hunting and you want the power of the object—in this case, a sigil—to assist you to get the ideal job.

Making your own personal sigils is easy. Some time ago, author/artist Austin Osman Spare devised a method for creating sigils.

Since that time, a number of authors have discussed Austin Osman Spare’s process of making sigils. One book I appreciate is Frater U. D.’s Practical Sigil Magic: Creating Personal Symbols for Success.

I have made a couple of my own additions to the process.

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Fairy Witchcraft: A Neopagan’s Guide to the Celtic Fairy Faith

Reviewed by Celtic Scholar

[Snip] If you know me well, you’d know that the moment I see the word Fairy in any book title I tend to run away and hide. The only reason I actually read this book is because I knew the author was a great researcher and an honest writer who tells it like it is. Plus it was a fairly short read and I was curious about the subject matter.

The Introduction to the book presents the author’s thoughts on her practice and what she is going to present in the book. The Frequently Asked Questions that she provided also answered a lot of the simple questions that came to my mind about the subject matter. The rest of the book gets down to the basics of what she is offering. She begins by giving us some pointers on how to interact with the Fairies and then she moves on to the aspects of beliefs, ritual, tools, and space. I absolutely loved the “Through the Veil” stories that she adds at the end of most of the chapters. A very human look at what can happen when interacting with Fairies.

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Pagan Leadership Revisited: New Visions for a New Age

By Crystal Blanton

Changing times in society cause shifts in the needs of the average person. While each community has distinctly different aspects, there are commonalities that exist within every community. The needs of those within any dynamic will dictate the needs of the leadership; Some say a leader should be a reflection of the people they serve. The Pagan community has walked through several different situations recently, forcing introspection on the ideals of what it means to be an effective leader, and challenging perceptions of accountability within the community. Pagans continue to question what types of leadership are truly needed within the community. What is the role of a Pagan leader? Who is accountable for Pagan leaders, and who is responsible to keep these leaders in-line with ethical standards? And what are those ethical standards?

As a community fragmented in our ability to come together under one set of common expectations and beliefs, these questions become more complex than they might in other communities. Answering a simple question like a standard definition of ethics becomes a hodgepodge of confusion around traditions, concepts, ideology, and practice. The Pagan community has finally appeared to reach the plateau where our needs for leadership cannot be filled by one type of leader, and the plethora of leaders we have are being challenged by the size of our growing community and what comes with that. We are no longer confined by the boundaries of initiation, or the systems of hierarchical structures, which has opened us up to a faster pace of community expansion. A quick-growing community — with a lack of definition around who our leaders are, and what makes a leader a leader — can lead to confusion.

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Hidden Agendas in Heathenry

By Heather O’Brien

Heathens generally own their own actions proudly, and they realize that comes with a large dose of accountability and mindful thought about how we spend our energy. Agendas belonging to others do not dictate our values and ethics, nor does formalized doctrine absolve us from having ethics or excuse us when we act with dishonor.

However, heathen groups attempting to take a stand on a controversial issue sometimes take a downward turn. Initially, most people will support such a stand if its pretense is to rid the community of something dishonorable. Then slowly, those initial intentions become blurred and the purpose is lost, due to an underlying hidden agenda. When a group leans heavily into a particular side of politics, and those politics are pushed into the faith, emotions tend to rule the ensuing discussions. Radicalism on every side of the political spectrum exists in all faiths, but embracing radical politics is rarely an effective means of positive community building.

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Dedications in Clay:

Terracotta Figurines in Early Iron Age Greece (c. 1100-700 BCE)

By Erin Walcek Averett

Abstract: This dissertation explores early Greek religion and society through a contextual analysis of the ritual use of terracotta votive figurines in the Early Iron Age, c. 1100-700 BCE. I have compiled the major deposits of terracotta figurines (both zoomorphic and anthropomorphic) from sanctuaries in the Peloponnesos and East Greece, creating a broad typology and chronology applicable to all Geometric terracotta figurines that allows for an in-depth analysis of the use, distribution, and symbolism of this category of votive offering. Terracotta figurines are among the earliest and most abundant figural symbols used in early Greece and offer insight into the evolving religious beliefs and social changes of the period. My diachronic approach to the Early Iron Age highlights the relationship of Geometric ritual to Mycenaean and Archaic traditions and contributes to the ongoing research in Greek religion, sculpture, figurine studies, and gender studies. I conclude my dissertation with a consideration of the relationship between votive, deity, and worshipper, exploring how gender construction and evolving social hierarchies in the Geometric period are reflected in the rituals practiced. This study highlights the elite concerns of figurines and their growing use throughout the Geometric period for encoding social roles in a changing society.

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

(H/T History of the Ancient World)