Midsummer is one of the times of year – and there are several – where the fairy folk tend to be more active. Unlike other times this increased activity is generally more benevolent, although what the Good People consider benevolent and what we would describe that way may not be entirely similar concepts. Nonetheless I thought it would be fun as we approach the longest day and shortest night to look at some folklore as well as offer some anecdotes and advice for dealing with situations that may arise.
In Ireland there are stories of the Good People appearing and blending in with humans as they celebrate on midsummer, often by infiltration bonfire celebrations. For example there is a folk story from Cnoc Áine of a midsummer bonfire on the hill where the fairy queen Áine appeared to several girls and showed them – by having them peer through a ring – the fairy people dancing among the revelling human folk.
In another story a group of boys is going to a community celebration and runs into a strange boy who goes along with them; when they all arrive the boys see many strangers mixed in among their neighbours and it is later revealed to them that these are the Daoine Maithe come to celebrate as well. The story is not entirely pleasant however, as several of the boys had been talking about how they didn’t believe in fairies as they walked and to punish them for this they are drawn away from the celebration and ridden by the fairies across the country, waking up exhausted in the morning.
There are also stories of malevolent fairy beings who wander in June and can bring madness with a touch or sweep a person up into a whirlwind. Generally though this is one of the safer times to be out and about and encounter the Good Neighbours, or at least as safer as it ever gets.
It’s good to keep in mind as we try to conceptualize the Daoine Maithe in relation to our world and folklore that they are not static beings any more than we are. They don’t exist in a timeless bubble and while many of the stories and anecdotes we have in writing come to us from the past there are also modern sightings which clearly demonstrate the adaptive nature of fairies.
Simon Young conducted and published a ‘Fairy Census‘ which collected modern anecdotes from a variety of people in several countries and I encourage those who are interested to read it to get a feel for some of the ways fairies are being seen today. I mention this here because I have noticed a tendency for people to have anachronistic expectations of them which are often at odds with actual reported encounters. Should you encounter any fairy beings this midsummer they are just as likely to be human-looking and in modern dress as they are to be obviously not-human and in archaic clothing.
I have had a few encounters around Midsummer that I can share, to just give readers an idea of the sort of energy that may be around. These have occured across decades and some were experienced by other people as well who could verify them, while some were personal solitary experiences.
At one public midsummer ritual I was helping with several of us were cleaning up afterwards when a large, palm-sized, light-coloured moth flew in. Two of us saw it as a small moth-winged person, clearly a fairy of some sort. One of my friends pointed directly at it and said loudly ‘You!’ at which point it dropped straight down into the area in front of a window and disappeared. Although we searched for several minutes there was no sign of it.
Another time a friend and I were at a state park to attend a small group ritual and although we were very familiar with the area we found ourselves walking the same trail over and over, unable to find our way off the path or to our destination. Realizing we were being pixy-led we managed to free ourselves and arrived at our destination a few minutes later.
Another time on midsummer I was out by myself later at night and saw a procession of white-clad riders passing by. through my suburban neighbourhood, mind you. I stayed quiet and inconspicuous and waited until they were gone to resume my walk.
Advice for Dealing with the Fair Folk at Midsummer
– When you are walking at night and you hear music, no matter how beautiful, or voices inviting you to join them don’t acknowledge that you can hear them and turn back towards home.
– When you are out walking at night and you hear the sound of horses or hounds or riders find shelter indoors or in your car quickly. The Wild Hunt (we call them Ghost Riders in America) is mercurial and if it’s the Slua Sí passing by they will do you harm if they can. In Sweden its said that the Wild Hunt is active at midsummer, and the Slua Sí are active year round.
– Never run from the Fair Folk, if you see Fairy hounds or anything uncanny that frightens you. Running is what prey does and you do not want to be prey. Don’t acknowledge seeing them, if possible, but leave as quickly as you can.
– One fairy being who is particularly associated with June is the Amadán na Bhruidne, called the Fairy Fool in English. Should you encounter the Fool, don’t look directly at him (or her) and don’t let him touch you; if he touches you he can steal your mind.
– If you are being pixy-led, if you have lost your way in familiar territory, turn your socks or coat outside in or laugh and joke about how much fun you are having. this will free you from the enchantment.
– Never speak ill of the Good Neighbours aloud, nor express disbelief in them. They take insults badly and if they happen to be nearby and hear you they may respond. You will not enjoy their reaction.
Bart Ehrman is by far my favorite New Testament scholar. When I saw he was publishing a book on the rise of Christianity, I was excited, and curious to see how he would tackle this subject. Like all his previous works, Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, is a digestible entry into the matter. I recommend you read it if you want to learn about this topic.
This entry of the Hearth of Hellenism is just a reflection on the topic of Christianization in the Roman world which were prompted by based on some material I read from Triumph of Christianity. My primary goal for reading Triumph of Christianity was to see how far Bart would go in recognizing the horror that the rise of Christianity was. I say horror because what happened to the “pagans,” the people who followed their ancestral religions was nothing short of an ethnocide/genocide. Christianity, with state support, sought to eliminate their opposition through any means necessary. Christian leaders hated Greeks and believed the empire had to be purged clean of their false religion and culture.
How would Bart deal with this Christian terrorism that plagued the Roman Empire? Bart touches on the subject a little in the introduction and dedicates a chapter towards the end of the book dubbed “Conversion and Coercion.” At the end of his summation of this chapter, Bart says “Paganism did not have to be destroyed by violent acts of Christians intolerance. It could, and did, die a natural death cut off from resources and abandoned by popular opinion.” I find this conclusion to be very soft and too neutral. I expected as much, how far would a New Testament scholar go side with polytheism? Academia has, in my opinion, has difficulty overall with giving any real sympathy for the pagans. It seems that what happened was just some sort of natural transformation and we really should not feel too bad or blame the Christians or the Emperors all that much in the end.
When Ehrman says “die a natural death cut off from resources and abandoned by popular opinion” is a nice way to say paganism starved to death. This can explain why it took many centuries for Christianity to eliminate their enemies. Starvation in this context is not a natural death by any stretch of the imagination though. Describing it in such bland terms that Ehrman uses overlooks what happened with the rise of Christianity. I think much of the issue regarding this subject stem from not orienting ourselves properly towards the destructive nature replacing traditional religions is. Because it is merely not just a religion that is replaced, but also an ethnic group’s identity is eliminated in the process. This fact seems not to get enough attention or is not stressed enough.
Conversion to Christianity kills your native identity in a nutshell. This may not have been the case in the first or second centuries – but once Christianity rises to the top of the government structure and that government gives support to only one religion and outlaws everything else, what do you think is going to happen?
Why do I say Christianization of the empire was a genocide? Under Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such” is a “mental element” of genocide. To become Christian meant giving up your ethnic identity and your heritage. In the case of Greeks, to become Christian meant to give up Hellenism, a Greek’s ethnic way of life, and cultural identity. Their gods were not allowed to be worshiped, temples destroyed, books burned, and the closure of centers of learning all constitute an attack on a people with the intent to destroy. The intent is clear as day in the historical record. Non-Christians were indeed singled out and murdered, but what was more detrimental was the cultural destruction Hellenism which was attacked and replaced with Christinaity.
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;
(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.
Many of these criteria apply when we discuss Christianization of the Roman world. The religions and way of life of the people of the Roman world were the indigenous religions of the inhabitants of the empire. I will discuss only the first two to not make this blog excessively long.
1. Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities.
The numerous Imperial laws which ban ethnic religion and exclude non-Christians from high positions in the imperial administration, military and education satisfy this. Here is a list of some laws which demonstrate “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” Non-Christians could not pass down inheritances to their children and could lose their property for violating these laws.
Here is a short list of imperial legislation against Hellenism found in The Passion of the Greeks: Christianity and the Rape of the Hellenes by Evaggelos Vallianatos.
346: Shutting down the temples and sacrifices
Temples shall be closed “in all places and all cities.” All men “shall abstain from sacrifices.” Anyone who commits the crime of offering sacrifice to the gods, “he shall be struck down with the avenging sword.” (Emperors Constantius and Constans, December 1, 346, ThC., 16.10.4)
380: Christianity the Religion of the Roman Empire
All people in the Roman Empire “shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans.” We consider the non-Christians “demented and insane.” They will suffer “the heretical dogmas.” (Emperors Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosios, February 28, 380, ThC., 16.1.2)
381: Sacrifice Forbidden
Sacrifices are forbidden by day or night. No “madman” or “sacrilegious person” ought to attempt, or think of, approaching any shrine or any temple for preforming criminal sacrifice. (Emperors Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius, December 21, 381, ThC., 16.10.7)
392: No more worship of the household gods
No person will, “by more secret wickedness, venerate his lar with fire, his genius with wine, his penates with fragrant odors; he shall not burn lights to the them, place incense before them, or suspend wreaths for them.” Those guilty of violating Christianity, will be punished with confiscation of their house or land in which they practiced their “pagan superstition.” (Emperors Theodosios, Arcadius and Honorius, November 8, 392, ThC., 16.10.12)
396: End of the Eleusinian Mysteries
All privileges ever granted to civil priests, ministers, prefects, or hierophants of the sacred Eleusinian mysteries are “completely abolished” – the law now condemns their professions. (Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, December 7, 396, ThC 16.10.14)
416: No pagans need apply for government jobs
No pagan may join the imperial government service or “be honored with the rank of administrator or judge.” (Emperors Honorius and Theodosius II, December 7, 416, ThC 16.10.21)
484: Killing Hellenism
Bishops and government agents should find and punish teachers of Hellenic studies. They should not be allowed to teach, least they corrupt their students. Bishops and government agents should put Greek teachers out of business, bringing the “impieties” of Hellenism to an end. No one shall leave a gift or bequeath anything to Greeks or to schools, and other institutions supporting the “impiety” of Hellenism. All previous legislation against the “error” of the Greeks I reaffirmed. (Emperor Zeno, C 482-484, Codex Iustinianus 1.11.9-10)
These laws have been largely dismissed, as spotty enforced and that the constant reaffirmation showed their ineffectiveness. Regardless of the effectiveness, these laws demonstrate state-sponsored anti-Hellenic actions with intent to do harm to non-Christians. I think most are not able don’t grasp the severity of this because it is presented as attacking “pagans” – a term which I reckon does not resonate sympathy with modern readers. When you label and talk about the people of the Roman Empire, the non-Christians as “pagan” – they become faceless, what does it mean to the average person? Pagan largely has no meaning to most people. However, when you read the law codes directly they don’t say pagan, they say Greek. These laws attacked Greeks (Hellenes) and anyone who partakes in the Greek way of life (Hellenism).
2. Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
The agrarian/religious system of the Greeks was under constant attack by Christianity. I wish I had time to go into explaining the agricultural system in Greece and its importance in economic/political/religious terms. This requires analysis from classical Greece to Byzantium, and I don’t have the space for that here. In simple terms, the Greek identity and sense of freedom were deeply tied to their land. The land had economic, political, and religious significance. When Rome conquered Greece, over time, land ownership became consolidated – creating large landowners. A somewhat good analogy would be what Walmart has done to mom and pop shops when they enter rural communities.
Jumping a little forward, the trend of large land ownership persisted. With the rise of Christianity and forward, churches gained control over land, replacing temples as they were destroyed. Imperial estates would be sold to the Church or the aristocracy, who then exploited the poor. In the West, Pope Gregory the Great, enslaved peasants to owners of plantations, setting up Western Europe for feudalism, the world’s most oppressive agrarian, social, and political system.
Bishops demanded the Greek stop celebrating their festivals. Festivals for Dionysus that connected the people to their land, framing, and harvest. It took centuries to accomplish this, Dionysus was worshipped as late as the twelfth century! Removing Dionysus was essential for breaking the Greek farmer’s spirit and happiness (theatre attendance was also banned/condemned, another attack on Dionysus).
George Gemistos Plethon (1355-1452) the Platonic philosopher in Constantinople pushed the Emperor to end the plantations in the Peloponnese and reintroduce an agrarian republic (based on the Greek model), ending the large land ownership and landless peasant problem. Even more radical, Plethon advocated for the reestablishment of the Greek gods and culture.
The Emperor did nothing, the ghosts of Hellenism, an agrarian republic, and the Gods were both too much for consideration. The Greek way of life was too alien by this point for anyone in power to consider it a viable reality anymore. Public ethnic Greek identity was gone thanks to centuries of persecution and cultural destruction. What the people had become were Roman Christians. The so-called Byzantine Empire, which is characterized as “Greek,” was far from Greek, the people called themselves Romaioi. Greek was not a viable self-identity. The “triumph” was secured thanks to the intentional destruction of the Greek people. A “natural death” it was not.
The Saturn Return is a crossroads. If we live long enough, we get three of them. Some of us get one. Some of us get none. The first Saturn Return happens around age 28. The second is the late 50s and the third the late 80s!
The Saturn Return is that time of life when you are called to dismantle, dissemble, whatever has become useless, ineffective, dangerous, rotten, immature, pointless, broken in your life. Whatever it is, it’s holding you back.
Alternately, what no longer “works” may just slip away. Instead of quitting, you get fired.
Not all Saturn Returns are career related, although one area of life that Saturn rules is your work and your purpose. Saturn tends to test us, though, anytime, anywhere, on whatever subject we need schooling. If we are diligent with our studies, we grow.
The Second Saturn Return: Not Dead Yet
You come home to find your husband or wife in bed with your best friend. You go to work and your job has now been filled by a younger version of you (someone probably experiencing their first Saturn Return!).
You wake up in the morning stressed about your mortgage, the car, how much the new roof on your house will cost, your children’s choices, your thinning and graying hair, your health. Who you used to be. How you used to look.
Was it all worth it? Is this my life? Or maybe you feel sad because you never had the house, the car, the kids, or maybe you had them and you lost them. Regret sets in and maybe even bitterness.
The good news is that the second Saturn Return is good medicine for this existential station. Not dead yet. The above scenarios could happen at any adult age, even the thinning or graying hair, but they tend to be hallmarks of the later years we call middle age or past middle age, which is the moment of the second Saturn Return, the late fifties.
No one would call you elderly; although you’re too old to act like a foolish kid, you’re too young for the grave. As with all the Saturn Returns, you must evaluate what is and what you want for your future. Stop. Think. Slow down. Yes, you do have a future, even if it doesn’t feel that way. For sure, this time period will be at least occasionally marked by feelings of: Why bother? Can I really do anything new or important with my life? Old dogs, new tricks?
It’s never too late for the lessons of Saturn, though, and I am certain this is the most important Saturn Return of all. The first Saturn Return is all about leaving childhood behind, making mistakes, fixing them, and getting the first taste of real grown-up responsibility. The third Saturn Return, which I’ll address in its own section, is primarily spiritual and creative. It’s also a transit of saying goodbye. Let’s not mince words here. When you’ve hit your eighties, you’re on your way out of this earthly form and moving into spirit form as the reality of old age and death is impossible to ignore like a neon billboard sign.
Even if your health is good at eighty-five, you can’t help but look back on your life and reflect, whereas with the first Saturn Return, you look firmly ahead.
That’s all I have to share for now, my friends. You’ll have to get the book to find out how it ends or maybe you survived your second Saturn Return and you know!
What I know for sure: crossroads, transitions, life passages are what astrology was made for. Astrology, my book included, is a map for you, a magical guide that explains who you are, where you are, and,best of all, where you’re going. Happy Saturn Returns 😉
Adapted and reprinted with permission from Weiser Books, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, The Little Book of Saturn by Aliza Einhorn is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher or 800-423-7087.
Hekate was with me last year when I went to the Pagan Spirit Gathering, and She will be with me next week as well when I return there.
This year when I arrive at Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) 2018, some things will be very different. Last year I still hadn’t totally transitioned from male to female. I wrote about the transformation here.
This year I will be arriving as the woman I was always meant to be. I still consider myself a transwoman though, even though my preferred pronouns are she, her, & hers. Being a transwoman will always be a part of my life, and I know I can’t hide or escape from that. And quite frankly, I’m fine with that. My purpose is and has been to set a good example for other transwomen like me. To give their lives purpose as well, to know that they too can be all they need to be. If my articles can accomplish that, I feel that I’ve succeeded.
Last year, even though I knew Hekate was with me, I was a little overwhelmed by my first PSG. I had lots of questions. Will there be other Pagans like me? Any other transwomen? I knew there were plenty of LGB Pagans there, but any Trans? I was fortunate to find out, yes, there were a few others like me. If any of you haven’t been to a large Pagan event before like PSG, here’s a great article at the blog Starlight Witch.
A first for me, is that I will be presenting a workshop this year called: A Conversation with a Senior Transwoman. There are a lot of older Pagans who have no idea what people like me are all about. Most of them were brought up with only two genders, male and female. Besides people like me, older Pagans I speak to are mostly very confused about non-binary and gender non-conforming people. Most older Pagan’s I have spoken to, especially after my Senioring Rite of Passage, are maybe too “embarrassed” to ask younger Pagan’s about pronouns, polyamory, Gender-Queer people, and related issues.
And, I am honored to be able to co-facilitate another workshop called Consent. I will be very happy to have Hekate by my side with these presentations.
A sad thing for me, and many others, is that we lost several sisters this year that were there last year. I had met Kathryn Ann Fernquist Hinds and Sandy Artisfair and had just started to get to know them. I’m very glad though that I had met both of them. Then May 31st, we suddenly lost Erica Eide, who I had known from Circle Sanctuary for two years. They all will be greatly missed. Blessed Be!!!
So until next time, with Her, I’ll see you…in the future!
Mighty Hekate, Queen of the Witches,
Blessed am I,
To call myself one of Your chosen.
(Above used with permission from Cyndi Brannen..with many thanks and love)
Here on the Hearth of Hellenism, my goal has always been to share with my audience information on Hellenism that I think will benefit them and their spiritual practice. This blog has also been a way for me to document my Hellenization process as a Greek-American who has grown closer to the Greek tradition over the last few years. I am not an expert on Hellenism on a professional level. I am however a graduate student in history, and I am Greek. My culture is Hellenism so I do think I can speak about Hellenism from my perspective as an insider to the culture, as a Greek in the diaspora, living in New York.
I have to say all of this because I have come into conflict with one or more people in the pagan community who make the error of thinking that Hellenism only refers to ancient Greek religion and or culture before the takeover of Christianity. One or more people have laughed at me when I said Greeks are the ones who define Hellenism – their position is that no one defines it. One or more people think that while their Hellenism is not like my Hellenism, that it is ok. I am so sorry to tell you that it is not ok because your Hellenism is not Hellenism. You really should not be calling what you are doing Hellenism – I shall explain.
Hellenism is Greek culture. The culture of almost 11 million Greeks in Greece and millions more in the diaspora around the world. We see our culture as Hellenism, a living thing that we partake. Hellenism is the -ism of Greeks, not just of the past but also the present and future. When someone tells me Greeks do not get to define their own culture, please tell me who does then? Who determines what the Greek experience is?
You might be thinking, “you guys got Christianized and stopped worshiping the gods” (in public). You might say Greeks are not doing Hellenism if it is not with the gods. I am sorry, but you cannot define a culture that is not yours. You cannot define us as not doing Hellenism simply because you cannot recognize it and that it is not functioning as you expect it to perform. Hellenism is more than religion.
While the ideal version of Hellenism does include widespread public worship of the gods and such, the fact that history played out the way it did and that the Greeks became victims of Fortune should not make you look down at us as less than compared to our ancestors. Greeks have been victimized by Christian ethnocide (killing off the culture) along with Ottoman occupation, slavery, and genocide. So please understand that Hellenism has taken enough beatings, you don’t need to kick us as well.
Even though Christianity dominated, Hellenism could never entirely be removed. Hellenism found its way into Christian theology for example. Christians appropriated Plato, not something I am happy about because they bastardized Plato, but never the less that shows you the power behind the tradition – the Christians could not avoid it, so they had to use it.
Even though most became Christians, not everyone did. Not every person was under the empire’s control always. Throughout Byzantine’s history the size of the empire shrunk and expanded and by the end, the size of the empire was essentially the city of Constantinople itself. Even under Ottoman rule, many Greeks were not under direct control because you can’t effectually have control over everyone in every space. There were people up in the mountains (it’s hard to travel in Greece because of the mountains) that were able to avoid the Ottomans. The island of Crete would not come under full Ottoman control until 1715, over 260 years after Constantinople fell to them. What do you think some of these people were doing unsupervised, on their islands or up in the mountains? No “pagans” existed on some level one way or another? Let’s be real.
Ok, let’s say that’s too far-fetched for you to believe. It’s hard to document the existence of a persecuted people that would like to remain hidden after all. What about the rest? What did the Greeks who became Christians do to keep their gods? They infused them into the new religion. See the thing people do not realize is that if you want to find the gods, you’ll spot them.
An excellent example comes from the Trooditissa Monastery in Cyprus. In this monastery, you will find Aphrodite. The monastery has an icon of the Virgin Mary (Panagia) of Trooditissa, also known as Panagia the Olympian or Panagia Aphroditissa. In the icon, Mary has pomegranates on her garment. Pomegranates are the sacred fruit of Aphrodite. What is also interesting is that women visit the monastery for aid with fertility, just as they did before Christianity, when women went there to ask Aphrodite for help.
While we may not look “pagan” in your eyes, we still behave like our ancestors – all that changed was management. Many of our folk traditions and dance have come down to us from ancient times. We still cook ancient foods like Koliva which is made for memorial services at Church. Koliva is the ancient panspermia which may go as far back as the Minoans.
Our festivals for the gods became saint’s days. Names changes, functions did not. We still gather together, eat, drink and dance. Some were so determined to hold on to their gods as was the case in Eleusis, home of Demeter. While the church replaced her with St. Demetrius, the locals at Eleusis created St. Demetra – retaining the ancient statue of Demeter for use, adorning garlands on it for a good harvest.
Hellenism might look like Hellenism to you; I am sorry that the temples are not standing intact and that the gods are not on the minds of Greeks all the time. But they still are in our hearts of regular people. Growing up, my father exposed me to Hellenism as much as he could before his early passing. Once when we visited our village in Greece, I recall him showing me the mountain where Hercules wrestled the Nemean lion. It was not the where it happened, but that’s not the point of telling the myth. He wanted not only to teach me the myth but to have an experience and connection to that myth. He also would put on documentaries on Greek history, where I saw the temples reconstructed from their ruins, I was amazed.
Did you know children in Greece are taught ancient Greek so they can read Homer? Did you know Greeks never stopped speaking the language? The language is our strongest link to our ancestors. The Greek language has never ceased to be spoken. Our language is what has always connected us to our past because we have always had access to Plato and other classical works. I won’t defend the Byzantines too much, but I will say that yes, they did preserve classical writings (whatever that was left) in the Imperial Library. When Constantinople fell to the Turks, the scholars fleed to the west with their books and fueled the renaissance in Italy.
So why exactly can’t you call what you are doing Hellenism? Hellenism is a living thing and directly connected to the Greek experience. If you have no interest in the Greek experience after antiquity into the present day – then it is not Hellenism you want. Hellenism is a living culture and heritage. It is the language, food, songs, and dances. The video below is an example of traditional dances, coming down from ancient times. The first dance shown is called Pyrrichios, a war dance. This is Hellenism in action. It is not just the gods; it is the whole Greek experience both then and now.
Am I trying to define your path? NO! The gods are free for everyone; you are free to worship them. No one owns the gods; the gods are not restricted to a group of people. Whoever you are that is reading this article, know that the Greek gods are your gods also. Worship them and love them as much as I do. If it makes you happy to reconstruct the religion and try to relive the past go ahead, but please do not call it Hellenism. If you do not want the living Greek experience in 2018 and opt instead for a recreation of the Greek experience from the past, that is dead Hellenism. That purist, living in the past does not reflect an organic living experience that is shared by others. So please call it something else, because what it is you are doing does not reflect reality.
I write the Hearth of Hellenism blog, so I can give you a piece of the living Greek experience however tiny it may be. I want people to experience it; I invite people to our rituals in New York if they show interest and can come. I make public as much as possible the activities of the Greek community to others so they can learn from us. Contact with Greeks is essential because that is how Hellenism spreads. In the ancient world, Hellenism spread through contact with Greeks and not just in books. You can learn much from books, but you will only learn about dead Hellenism that way.
Please understand that the term Hellenism is way much more than ancient religion and if you are unable to see current Greek culture as Hellenism, don’t call your religion Hellenism. Do not call your religion Hellenism if you think that the ancient Greeks are the only “real” Greeks. Do not call it Hellenism if you have no desire to Hellenize beyond worship. Do not call your religion Hellenism if you deny Greeks self-determination to define their culture and religion. Don’t call your religion Hellenism if you only want the gods and cannot give back something in return to contribute to Hellenism. Don’t call it Hellenism if you don’t actually care about Greeks.
Please understand that this is not about limiting you or policing you and your path. The gods are for everyone; you can worship them as you desire. Throw Thelema into it, do whatever syncretism you want, just don’t say what you are doing is Hellenism. This is about the word Hellenism and explaining the depth of it, what it means and what it represents. Hellenism is much more than religion. Hellenism is a people’s living culture and if you have no interest in that culture, to be a part of it or learn our story as a people after antiquity or to become part of our story, don’t call your religion Hellenism. Call it anything else but Hellenism.
The Constant Questioning Once You Reveal Your Faith
If you were raised or lived in a conservative Christian area as an open Pagan, the questions never seem to stop once you reveal your faith. People will usually find out about my faith if they ask me to join them for a church service or religious group at my campus. When they ask me join, I have to then find a way to politely decline, and this inevitably leads to more questions.
When you explain to them what “Paganism” is, you can expect to be immediately hit with the, “Since you do not believe in God, does that meant you worship Satan?” question. Honestly, after hearing this question enough times over the years it gets to the point where someone ask you this question and you just want to stab your ears so that you do not have to listen to the stupidity anymore. Even when you keep your composure and try to educate them and show them that you do not worship ‘Satan’, so many people just do not seem to get the point. And if you are also a witch and you mention that to them, oh goodness you might as well just have sacrificed an animal in front of them by the level of shock on their face!
You would think in this day and age, with all the knowledge that is available at our fingertips, people would educate themselves more on ideas, beliefs, and cultures around the world. A simple google search can educate even the most ignorant of people if they were only willing to step out of their bubble and study a belief other than their own. Learning about beliefs and values different from one’s own can be an enlightening experience. I am a very friendly and sociable person who loves to educate others about my faith, but even the nicest person can become annoyed by ignorant questions. It is good to educate people by answering common questions about Paganism, but everyone has their limits about what they can handle.
Pro Tip: Before you ask a question next time, ask yourself, “Is this a thoughtful question that requires an answer, or is this something simple I can look up online?”, because I can promise you that we Pagans have most likely heard that question before, and if it is about devil-worshipping, witchcraft being evil, or if we sacrifice babies/animals, you might just make us want to slap you instead.
The Assumption That You Are Doing It For Attention
This type of comment usually comes from those who think that every young person who chooses a different path than the norm must be doing it for attention. They assume that I am simply going with trends blindly to fit in with a group. I of course will shut down such ignorant comments when I tell them that I actually spent years studying world religions before I found one that suited me and considered myself a Pagan.
There is also this assumption that as a Pagan I must be a ‘dirty hippie’ living in the woods running around half-naked and rarely bathes or a weird Gothic person who always wears black and is obsessed with death. Yet, I am a young Southern woman studying public health at a university in a big city, I work in an office, and I have a strong Southern accent from being raised in a small Alabama town. To people that do not know me, I seem like stereotypical sweet southern woman.
The Constant Need by Christians to Proselytize You
If you live in the Bible Belt, this is something you have probably encountered as an out and open Pagan; Bible-thumpers will take any opportunity to tell you that your religious choices are wrong and that their deity is the ‘one-true God’. These kinds of comments irritate me the most, because people do not seem to understand that people can come from all walks of life and adhere to all different religious beliefs and still get along.
“Well, have you read the Bible?”, is usually the comment I will hear from older Christians who are determined to change my mind, after which I will have to explain to them that yes, I have read the Bible cover-to-cover because I was raised in a Southern Baptist family. I also tell them that I have studied the Bible, other religious texts and the history of different religions, and studying Christianity and other religions is actually what caused me to convert to a faith which fit me better and was something that I truly believed in (Paganism).
Even sometimes from my older relatives, they will somehow bring up the topic of religion and proceed to say things like “Well, you know, there is only one God and One Savior”, or “You have to accept Jesus to get into Heaven”; usually at this point I will just make a snide comment back to them such as “Well can you prove to me that you God exists? Can he come down and show me that he is real?” You cannot always be expected to educate everyone in your life, and you are not required to always be the bigger person in such situations.
The Elitist Attitudes Among Pagans
As if the things we have to deal with from non-Pagans are not annoying enough, often we have to deal with Pagans in our community who think they know it all and will make it a point to tell you how to do your craft. They think they are experts and if you are doing things differently then you are doing it wrong. They will be sure to tell you of all the skills they possess and brag about their spiritual gifts, even though you are pretty sure they are exaggerating or just blatantly lying, and anything you have achieved is never as good as what they have done. “Oh, you can sense when people are upset? That’s nice, well I feel people’s emotions as if they are my own, and I can tell what they are thinking.”
The Belief That All Pagans/Witches/Heathens are Satanists
As mentioned in the first section, there seems to be this prevalent idea that worshipping multiple deities and/or practicing witchcraft means that you worship Satan. Because of fear, hatred, and ignorance spread over centuries towards anyone who did not believe in the Christian mythology, a majority of Christians still believe that Pagans, polytheists, witches, or any non-Christians, are agents of Satan and are being tricked into devil-worship.
I have heard multiple times that my deities are really just Satan in disguise to trick me into turning away from Christ. Even if I tell them that Paganism has nothing to do with the Christian Devil and that I simply worship the deities of nature, they will insist that I will be pulled into a darker, evil side because Satan is a ‘master of disguise’. At this point in the conversation I usually roll my eyes and walk away. Nobody has time for ignorance.
Please let me know of any annoying encounters you have had based on your religion (funny or otherwise). We have all had to deal with ignorant people, sometimes laughing about it is the only way we can keep from losing our minds!
Recently* I’ve been thinking about stereotypes and the way that preconceived notions and expectations shape our larger community, and I’ve also been thinking a lot about acceptability politics, that is the idea that a minority group needs to make itself as acceptable as possible to the majority or mainstream in order to succeed in any sense. While I do understand both the motivation behind acceptability politics and also the desire that many people have to feel accepted by the mainstream despite following a minority religion, I have never myself been the sort of person who easily slipped into the mainstream. Maybe that gives me a different perspective.
I’ve been contemplating the way that one of the main ‘jokes’ about traditional witches is that they are soooo dark and into skulls which often isn’t untrue but also hits at the goth aesthetic pretty hard. And the way that people automatically play off goth-looking witches as posers or newbies, as if only people trying too hard or brand new to witchcraft would dress all in black. On the surface it often seems funny, a way to make a joke of people who seem to fit a stereotype of what a witch dresses like. When you dig into it though I think it’s really just acceptability politics in action, its the group trying to dictate a certain wholesome and acceptable appearance for its members out of fear that those who aren’t overtly friendly and safe looking will be judged by the mainstream as dangerous and reflect badly on the entire group. Basically, if you look like everyone else then you are like everyone else and people can see you are safe, but if you dress like the stereotypical witch then maybe you aren’t so safe (no matter how nice you might really be).
Here’s the thing though, for me anyway, how a person dresses shouldn’t be a measure of how well or poorly they fit into a spirituality. And I think we all need to be cautious about assuming that a person’s appearance fits into our own preconceived notions in any way. It can also be an incorrect assumption to think that a witch who wears all black is doing so for any sort of spiritual reasons, as opposed to purely aesthetic ones. People have a lot of motivations for dressing the way they choose to. Quite frankly even if a person is playing to a stereotype on purpose, whatever their reasons, I don’t think it makes any difference to their spirituality; what we wear may reflect our personality but it isn’t a measure of how spiritual we are or aren’t.
I’ve been thinking so much about this because it’s an issue that hits home for me. I am Goth and I am witch. I have been witch for a few years longer than I’ve been Goth*, and one has nothing directly to do with the other, but both are important aspects of my life. Both are part of who I am. However I have over the decades run into varying degrees of acceptance and pushback within paganism for being Goth:
– I have been told, years ago, by someone I respected very much at the time that I need to stop dressing like a stereotypical witch because it made all witches look less respectable.
– I have been told that people like me are why others don’t want to call themselves pagan.
– I have been told that when I get a bit more experience or have been pagan for longer** I’ll outgrow wanting to wear black
– I have been told that it’s sad that I want attention so bad I’m willing to play into the stereotype.
– I have been told that no one will take me seriously as long I keep dressing Goth.
– I have been told that I must be a Satanist, not a pagan, or I wouldn’t dress that way.
– I have been told that I don’t take my religion seriously because of the way I dress
– I have been told that witches like me are considered a joke and are the reason that the mainstream thinks our religion comes from D&D
There seems to be an assumption that if you are Goth and pagan you must be a newbie, and seeking attention, and not very serious, and confused, and melodramatic. Goth witches are rarely taken seriously in my experience and are very often criticized, even publicly shamed, for their perceived insincerity, youth, inexperience, and negative reflection on the rest of pagandom. In fairness this has eased up somewhat in recent years, but nonetheless I can still think of several recent times I’ve seen memes or blogs making fun of one type of witch or other by playing on the intrinsic idea that witches who wear black, love the macabre, and like skulls are the punchline of a joke.
Let’s be clear here. Goth is a subculture based in a variety of things including fashion, music and a certain macabre aesthetic. It reflects what I like and what I am comfortable with. Witchcraft is a magical practice and spiritual system I follow. It reflects a certain worldview, cosmology and core set of beliefs taht are important to my life. The two, subculture and spirituality, are not at odds and I have found they go well enough together in my life. Why my fashion choices and taste in music bother some of my coreligionists so much kind of baffles me, but I think it’s only fair if I can accept witches who like Country music and denim, or Pop music and tube tops, then my personal tastes can be accepted or at least ignored.
I’m proud of who I am, and I think I shouldn’t be judged on my appearance, anymore than anyone else should be. I also think that the idea of witches being accepted by the mainstream if we all just dress and act like the mainstream is a dangerous myth. Not only does it encourage us to try to enforce homogeneity within witchcraft which destroys our beautiful diversity, but it sells us a false hope that if only we act normal enough we can be treated just like the religious majority. Not because we have equal rights, not because we deserve equal treatment, but because we fit in so well that they like us enough to give us what we deserve. Think about that for a minute. Really think about it – do you want equal treatment because it’s owed to you, or because the powerful people decide they feel like doling it out like a table scrap?
Sometimes generalizing is necessary, but it’s worth considering that if you don’t personally belong to a subculture it may be unwise to think you can pass judgment on that subculture. Many of the hurtful things that I see being said are rooted in ignorance and misunderstandings that could be avoided with a bit of open-mindedness and a willingness to listen. It is also worth keeping in mind that sometimes the person who most looks like you expect a certain “type” of person to look may in fact be the least like your expectation. Acceptability politics and gatekeeping are not doing witchcraft any favors, in my opinion, and they creating even more fractures and ill-will in the wider community which is something we do not need. I strongly believe that rather than trying to get the mainstream to accept us for something we aren’t – i.e. just like them* – we should work on accepting each other more for what and who we are.
Some people identify as witches but they have the Samantha from Bewitched mindset about it, they focus on wanting to be the suburban mom who goes unnoticed by her neighbours, and that’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to fit in. But there’s nothing wrong with fitting into a subculture that isn’t mainstream America either. Those with an approach to witchcraft that’s more like Morticia from the Addams Family are often pressured, subtly or overtly to “grow up” and remember that they are representing their co-religionists (paraphrasing actual things I’ve been told) and to conform for the greater good. But just like it’s fine to be Samantha it is or should be fine to be Morticia as well.
And maybe that is something the community at large needs to do some reflecting about.
*this blog originally appeared in part on my personal blog in 2015 and is being re-posted and expanded on here
*as I’ve mentioned elsewhere I’ve been pagan since about 1991; I’ve been Goth since the mid-90’s.
*practicing magic by its nature makes us not like the mainstream, just like being pagan makes us not like the Christian majority.
Yes, it is true, I am getting married this June (2018) and we are tying the knot Pagan style….mostly. When we Pagans think of the term Handfasting it can conjure up an elaborate ceremony that pre-dates Christianity; a way to bind the spirits of two lovers. Yet, as much as a bubble-burst as this is, archeology has little to no concrete evidence of a ritual like this before the Middle Ages. Scholars throughout Europe and primarily in Scotland have found that this ritual can be found from around 1100 C.E. onward. The ritual mimics much of what we see today within the Anglican Communion. A priest will take his anointed clothe and wrap it around the couple’s hands as a way to bind them.
However, we can find more evidence of “jumping the besom” as a ritual in Wales, Scotland, and Rome that pre-dates dominant Christianity. This ritual looks a lot more Pagan and has evidence of crossing into the new home as a married couple. We are unsure if there were verbal contracts that fit within the realms of what we now know as a handfasting.
Now that I have burst your beautiful Pagan bubble, I have to admit even I was a little deflated. That was until I really thought about Pagan movements in general and how our revival really did not kick off until the 19th to 20th centuries with exploration of occultism and spirituality (thank you science for bursting the strong Christian bubble). Then my little Pagan heart started soaring again and I was right back at it with planning my upcoming nuptial.
So what goes into making a handfasting cord anyways? Also, what does one need to expect during the process? First, expect to spend a good amount of time making your cord and don’t wimp out on the process. My future husband and I spent three hours with a priestess in order to make our handfasting cord! We had to twirl and spin and twirl and spin and twirl…and you get the idea. Then at the end of the day we knew that this brief moment of hard work was a great symbol of what it means to be married in general. The cord takes dual effort (like marriage), has loads of twists and turns (like life and marriage), but those turns and twists are what make the cord strong (Yes! Just like marriage…it’s sinking in!).
For most of the process we were left to our own devices and we were advised to take the time to bond and put our energy into the cord. I would like to say it was ultra-spiritual and that we really put in some deep-rooted, ultra-super-powerful energy, and profound magickal love into each strand of yarn. But that would be lying to you and I would hate to lie to you!
Instead, we spent some of the time talking about what we want from our marriage and some of the mundane expectations. Things like: “We have to take over the other person’s chores if they get sick or really busy” or “In arguments try to know that the other person means well and still loves you. Just give them some slack.” And we even covered our hopes to adopt a child one day and that we shouldn’t be so sensitive to verbal comments because one day a thoughtless comment may slip out and it may not be covered in sugar and spice. We kept it realistic and made the process about who we are as people and as a couple.
Then we proceeded to make jokes and laugh because…well… because we were spinning and twirling yarn for three hours! You tell me that you wouldn’t eventually lose your mind a little! Then it was all done! We dingo-heads made this beautiful cord for our handfasting and it is actually beautiful and meaningful (que heavenly music)!
So, if you are about to “tie the knot” and would like to follow the method we used; below are instructions on fastening your own handfasting cord. There are various (and easier) methods but this one really felt special for us. Just remember that the point of making the cord is to symbolize marriage and life with another person. It isn’t easy but it can be really enjoyable and rewarding. So I hope you enjoy this method and that your cord is strong and full of positive energy!
Handfasting Cord Instructions:
1. Choose three colors that represent what you would like to bring into your marriage (we chose green, white, blue). Be sure it has meaning for both people and it does not have to be your wedding colors.
2. Purchase 100% wool-yarn in your chosen colors. The yarn should be a medium weight (thickness), and anywhere from 250 to 300 yards.
3. Create 27 “strings” from your yarn, 9 from each color (9 green, 9 blue, 9 white). The “strings” should be 13 feet long.
4. Choose 9 “strings” of the same color. For example: we started with blue.
5. Next, sit 13 feet across from each other and grab one string and begin to twist it to the right. You’ll twist until the string becomes super tight.
6. Once the string is tight put it under something heavy to hold it down so you do not lose the tension. (We used thick books as weights)
7. Do the same process for two more strings so that you have a total of 3 very tight strings.
8. Next, get your three tight strings and hold them together and twist them all together to the left until you have a very tight mini rope. Your mini rope will have enough tension to hold itself together and not come unraveled. So you can set it to the side.
9. Repeat steps 5 through 8. This should give you a total of 3 mini ropes of the same color (3 mini blue ropes as our example).
10. Now take all 3 mini ropes and begin to rotate twist them to the right until they are extremely tight. By the end you will have created a thick rope made of your first color. (The rope does not need to be tied off at the end because of the twisting technique it will be able to support itself).
11. Repeat steps 5 through 10 for your remaining two colors of yarn (Green and white as my example).
12. You should now have 3 thick ropes consisting of your three chosen colors (1 blue, 1, white, and 1 green as my example).
13. Combine the 3 thick ropes and tightly twist them to the left. Remember; try to get this as tight as you can without scrunching the rope or creating major lumps.
14. Tie each end of your cord. You should have some fringes that you can tie objects into if you like (we tied stones and feathers onto our cord).
15. You now have your handfasting cord!
The process isn’t easy and it is very time consuming but there are rewards. You and your partner spend time and energy making something that represents each of your intentions and hopes. For us, it was a series of jokes laced with dreams, expectations, and sincere love. I hope that the energy and experience will carry throughout our life together and our marriage.
As always, walk your path with integrity and light.
Wonderful things happened when I was invited for a social and spiritual circle weekend retreat with five of my Pagan sisters.
In my last article, I talked about having my gender reassignment surgery two weeks ago. Until that time, I was always a little uncomfortable being invited to women-only gatherings. That changed this weekend.
Why was I uncomfortable before, you might ask? Well, being a Pagan Transwoman, I always felt until that last part of my birth male appendage was removed, I was not like any of my sisters physically. Now I am.
When you’re at various crossroads in your life, lots of change happens. When I started to actively transition, about fourteen years ago, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. A lot of that’s emotional, not just physical. Fear and dysphoria are always there. especially around people who don’t know you as you really are. Some don’t even want to get to know people like me, and there are always people who don’t care.
Until I was active in the Pagan community, I always had to watch more of what I did. Where I went. With whom. What if somebody finds out what I am in women’s bathroom? Stuff like that. With my Pagan sisters, that doesn’t seem to matter, but still, I was uncomfortable. Until now.
This was the first weekend after my surgery that I was with female friends I had known for quite a while. A woman who was friends with the woman who hosted us. We had a great time. We chatted, helped prepare food for our meals, and really got to know each of us better. It helps when you’re in a beautiful house out in the country away from the hustle and bustle of city life where most of us live.
The most special time came when we gathered around a self-help altar for an evening Healing Ritual. I had been in larger mixed group circles before, but this had a wonderful feeling for me with just us women. Yes, just women! Including me. The energy was really good.
No matter who we are, we all have some issues we need to address and work through. I found that after surgery, I have an easier time than before. My emotional and physical selves are finally in the same place as my Spiritual self. Blessed Be!!!
So until next time, with Her, I’ll see you…in the future!
Mighty Hekate, Queen of the Witches,
Blessed am I,
To call myself one of Your chosen.
(Above used with permission from Cyndi Brannen..with many thanks and love)
It’s been months since I’ve written here so I figure come back in grand style which for me meant asking a Parisian pal, client, Twitter friend for a blog topic and strangely enough the topic she chose was also on my mind: the July 12th Solar Eclipse at 20 degrees Cancer.
Astrologers go a little nuts when the eclipses are coming although the message is often the same: HERE COMES THE BIG ONE! YOUR LIFE IS ABOUT TO CHANGE! TODAY! RIGHT NOW! AND ALSO IN THREE MONTHS! AND MAYBE SIX MONTHS! ALL YEAR LONG CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE.
I’m guilty of this too. And it’s often true. Eclipses are the great disruptors, kinda like the Tower card and the Death card and the Eight of Cups all at once with a side of Fool and possibly Six of Wands if you’re lucky. Are you lucky?
She also gave me some context. Clearly she had done more research than me. Jupiter is direct by this time (it’s retrograde now) and Mercury on the verge of a retrograde. In plain English? This eclipse is going to be BIG but possibly confusing. The first days of any retrograde will include some sleight of hand or backtrack, someone from your past motioning you to slow down.
Solar Eclipses are revved up New Moons and this New Moon in Cancer is a new start for you in the realms of home, family, nurturing, feelings, food, memory, and more details depend upon YOUR PARTICULAR CHART (a point I drum home often enough. I hope you are listening).
So yeah you could become a mother (of person or pet or project). You could find a new place to live. You could discover your lactose intolerance is really only for the soft cheese and not the hard cheese and that manchego is just fine by you. And don’t forget memory lane. Cancers live there. The views are amazing.
HOMEWORK: NEW MOON SOLAR ECLIPSE QUESTIONS
-What is home to you?
-Where is home?
-Who is home?
-Are you lost?
-Have you been condemned to wander, searching for so long now that you are certain you will never find it?
SOME GENERAL PREDICTIONS
Aries: you may move or renovate
Taurus: are you working on a writing project? Starting one?
Gemini: more money
Cancer: well it’s a whole new you, isn’t it? Possible appearance change or identify shift
Leo: meeting a spirit guide for the first time
Virgo: finally your social life improves!
Libra: good news if you’ve been job hunting
Scorpio: I see you traveling
Sagittarius: I see you having sex
Capricorn: I see you with someone new and nurturing, could be love, could be business
Aquarius: you start work on a new project AND your doctor or healer has advice for you
Pisces: maybe a baby
FOR THE WITCHES READING THIS
Yes, Eclipse magick is particularly powerful. Do what you usually do for a New Moon but do extra. Do MORE. Candle magick? Add one more. A ritual that lasts HOURS? Last longer. It’s reminding me of going to shul on Rosh Hashanah. Hours and hours of prayer. There’s something to it. I think it’s why I like long movies. Elbow room. Room to drift and then come back, keep coming back to the emotional intensity of the prayerful pleading. Do that. Cancerian questions: how are you feeling? Are you safe? Is everything okay? Are you warm enough? Can I get you a drink? Are you hungry? What needs to change? Everything? Lately I’ve felt this way about my own life and recent clients have expressed the same. Or maybe it’s just a piece, that piece, this piece.
Let me give you one more piece of advice for this New Moon in Cancer: find YOUR home. And you likely will find it over the next two years. I predict. Start searching June 12th. Not your family’s, not your culture’s, not anybody’s but YOURS. The home that is truly yours, where you feel: this is it. This is me. This is where I feel safe. This feels right. I’m home. I’m so home. And if you don’t think you can ever have that, fear not. Underestimate not the incoming eclipses in Cancer (this won’t be the only one). We astrologers live and die by this stuff. Trust me.