Monday, June 27, 2016

Reconsidering Smudging With Sage Bundles in Neo-paganism

Cultural appropriate is a real hot button issue for a lot of modern pagans, particularly when it begins to concern Native Americans. Although some Native tribes are quite open to those who are sincere, many Native Americans have come forward and asked people to please stop taking their traditions, and please stop taking them and using them out of context, or without any relation to a tribe, and so on. This is often met, unfortunately, with cries of things like "we're all one people," "spirituality needs to be shared," and "you should feel grateful that people want to emulate you." I would think one only needs to consider the history and current issues facing Native American populations to realize why these aren't exactly great things to say. (And yet...)

But the use of sage in particular is an issue I find interesting. Smudging with sage sticks, generally white sage (Salvia apiana), is just so ubiquitous within modern paganism, nobody seems to question it, or look at it's origins. White sage is native to western North America. The spiritual associations of it, using it for purification, the rituals surrounding it, and so on, all originate with some Native American tribes. White sage is also not the only plant used in such a way, of course, sagebrush, cedar, and other local plants would have all been used by various tribes.So why is it this one thing which seems to have become so widely spread throughout the pagan community? Especially when we consider that the pagan roots we tend to draw from have their own purification traditions.

Let's look at Greece, for example. C
ommon sage (Salvia officinalis) is native to the Mediterranean. Same genus as white sage, but a different species. Common sage, sometimes also called garden sage, is what you're likely to find in grocery stores for use in cooking. (Although white sage is edible, and was/is used as a source of food.) Common sage is found in Greece. It was very, very likely that it was one of the "aromatic herbs" burned as an incense offering to some of the gods. The Orphic Hymns recommend aromatic herbs be burned for Hestia, Hera, Athene, and Selene, for example.

But the Greeks didn't use common sage in smudging rituals like some Native American tribes would do. In Greek ritual, purification of people and spaces would have generally been accomplished with lustral water and barley.

Which is all not to say that no one else ever purified with incense, smoke, sacred fires, and so on. That's found in many, many places all over the world. It's just, there are so many ways to do this without pulling from Native American customs. So again, I can't help but wonder why that in particular was the thing to become standard practice for so many folks. Particularly when, for many pagans, connecting to our ancestral roots is such an important element of the practice. Why didn't we look more to what they did? Their traditions are just as valid, and often easily accessible, after all.

I doubt that I could ever talk someone out of using a sage stick if it's become something they've done in their practice for quite a while, and I'm not even sure if that's my 'goal' here, so to speak. But I do think paganism, as a whole, would benefit in looking at, and finding the value in some of our other purification traditions.

As a final note, I'm always someone who's often going on about the importance of looking locally, working locally, and so on, in witchcraft. However, it's quite possible to work locally, and even respect indigenous traditions, without lifting elements of their spirituality directly from them. Living in those areas would probably open you to the use of these kinds of sage in general, but I think there would have to be ways to utilize these plants respectfully, you know? Being aware of the cultures that still use them as part of their living tradition. Not living in an area where sage is native, I can't speak more on that. There's not really an easy equivalent where I live (not to mention, so many plants here have been imported, so they are local but not native). I'd be interested to hear more from witches living in such areas, however.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

I'm not and have never been a Christian. Also I made a sworn enemy and didn't even know it.

Oh gosh, while all that other stuff was going down someone said sent me a message - now on Facebook if you're not friends with someone, their message gets sent to the requests folder. Which apparently also has a filtered section as well(?). I did not know this. I had three messages in it, two of which I felt bad about missing for so long, one of which has provided some amazing entertainment after a somewhat stressful night.

So a month or two ago I had to ban someone from a group I admin for. I banned for them bashing Christianity and bashing a few other groups within paganism. Then personally insulting me when I said, hey, admin here, could you not? Which, all that, against our clearly stated rules. Anyway. So they also sent me a message after that. Most of it was just self-righteous babbling. With the lovely ending where they tell me to admit I'm an idiot or "you've otherwise just made an enemy you don't want who's remarkably popular and who doesn't take kindly to shite like this."

Oh. My. God. If you have to say something like that then, you know... mayyyybe not as cool as you think? (I was 'warned' that admins meet some real interesting people, heh, guess that was not a lie.)

But there was something in the message that made me pause. She said because I was defending Christians, I must be one. I've heard this before from other pagans. Some of which have also said I'm clearly carrying around baggage from my Christian upbringing.

Here's the thing. I was not raised Christian. I have NEVER truly been Christian. My grandmother is Shinto/Buddhist/sort-of-atheist, my grandfather is a theist who introduced me to many religions, and supported me in studying paganism. The closest I came to Christianity was a single year of a Christian kindergarten, because it was the only place that wasn't super far away from the house. You know what I remember from that year? A teacher telling me not to say something was wicked awesome, because wicked is bad. (I live in New Hampshire, things are wicked here. That's the law.) I have not been a Christian, I am not a Christian nor am I a Christo-pagan. I just don't like when people make broad, ignorant, sweeping statements about the followers an entire religion. Debate about Christian beliefs would be fine, I have engaged in it myself, and there are many aspects of Christianity I disagree with... but that doesn't mean I'm into insulting the whole lot of it, and those who believe in it. If you can't make a point without resorting to personal insults, your point must not be very strong.

Meanwhile both this person, and the others who have said this to me... were raised Christian or have ties to Christianity. Kinda ironic, huh? Kinda good to examine your own baggage before guessing about another person's.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Oh boy...

You know what I didn't miss in my break away from the pagan community? People who tried to pass their personal opinions off as historical facts.

For example, someone flat out claiming "(Hekate) is not the goddess of magic." Ummm, okay... Because, I mean, she certainly was, and is. She is a goddess of witchcraft and magic, that's like, one of her major functions. There are bunches of primary sources from antiquity which show her in this light. Since there's some confusion about what that means, a primary source is information that comes directly from ancient Greece. Not archeologist speculation, or someone writing about their thoughts on her in the modern day. It's stuff that comes directly from the ancient Greeks themselves.

Of course that doesn't matter. Because. "
Who's says the research you are studying is even the right research????… Who says the Greek were even right???" (Direct quotes folks, because the more question marks the better!)

Yes. Who is to say the ancient Greeks were even right. Those silly ancient Greeks who worshiped her for centuries, who erected countless shrines to her, who (in Athens anyway) celebrated her supper on the last night of every lunar month. What do those crazy people even know? After all, what are a few measly centuries compared to, you know, the few years you've put in...

But hey, it's just her opinion, right? Look, I'm all about the continuing growth of deities, their mythologies, and having personal relationships and understandings with these deities... but when you flat out state a fact like that? That's not an opinion anymore. You can say, hey, you know, I never really connected with that aspect of Hekate, it doesn't fit into my practice, and that would be fine. But to act like it doesn't exist at all? Nope, sorry, that's not how it works. That's no longer an opinion, not a belief, and it is factually wrong. It is not insulting a belief to point out an incorrect fact, because it's not a belief.

To end of this little rant, let me tell you about a book my partner and I have been listening to in the car. It's about aliens coming to take over the earth (and kill all people in the process, it seems), and a group of people who want the aliens to come do this. My partner's kinda caught up on that, why would anyone want aliens to destroy all people? Me. I do. Fling us all into the sun. Go for it. We probably deserve it.
(Okay, okay, not really, I don't really want aliens to fling us all into the sun. Even if sometimes the Internet makes me reconsider.)

((Edit: I also love backpedaling. Now it's just, well, Hekate wasn't only goddess of magic! Of course she wasn't. Also there are about a thousand better ways to say that. And you know, when it's clear someone has misunderstood your (super unclear) statement, the awesome thing to do is... you know... clarify. Not throw a fit and start ranting about sources and ancient Greeks and whatnot.))

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ethics and Morals

So, one last post on this subject before I move on to (hopefully) more interesting topics.

When it comes up that I don't believe in karma, the law of three, or the Wiccan Rede, some folks have jumped to the conclusion that I have no morals whatsoever. Someone actually called me dangerous because they assumed I was just cursing people left and right for funsies.

Yeah, I don't actually do that. Real talk - I am a very lazy person. Very lazy. It takes a lot of prodding before I decide to get off my butt and whip out the big guns. To put it another way, in the last ten years I can count on one hand the number of times I felt that was necessary, and two of those times dealt with feeling repeatedly physically threatened. And even then we're not talking super curse that will curse you and your mom and your kids for seven generations or whatever, just like... some good old fashioned drive away magic. (Particularly harsh drive away magic, but still.)

I also find it odd that people would assume I have no moral guidelines at all, simply because I don't share theirs. Not true, of course. While I have no hard and fast rules or laws, I do look to things like the negative confessions of Egypt, and the Delphic Maxims of Greece, for guidance. Not all of them really apply to life in the modern age. (Rule your wife, for example...?) But there's a lot of wisdom there to pull from... control yourself, control your anger, love friendship, don't look down on people, give back, don't waste, don't gossip, despise strife, don't be deceitful, and so on. I'm sure somewhere in there is also don't be lazy, but look, we can't all be perfect.

In all of this, I am continuously reminded of an ancestor divination that was done for me many years ago. The ancestors saw me as scorpion, that is, someone who is very happy to go about their business in peace, but we all know what happens when you piss off a scorpion. (Also, fun scorpion fact, some species of scorpion can lower their metabolism significantly and spend a lot of time just sitting around. So it's fine if I am lazy. Right?)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

No, I really don't believe in karma.

Sometimes I feel a bit like a broken record. I do not believe in karma. This seems like such a shocking topic to a lot of folks. Even in a traditional witchcraft forum, where I would not expect it to be controversial, and yet...

Turns out when I say this, some people seem to think I mean that I do not believe that karma has any sway over me, and just me. That I just consider myself above and untouched by the concept, while the rest of the peasants are all still getting pulled around by their karma. Which isn't the case at all. The truth of it is when I say I do not believe in karma, I mean exactly that. Not for me, not for you, not for anyone. The whole thing just does not exist.

And I don't know why that's such a weird thing to some folks. Certainly you've met someone who doesn't believe in all the exact same things you do, right? So how come this seems so different? It's not even like this was some universal thing in ancient paganism, lots of pagan cultures wouldn't have really had concept of karma as most see it today.

"So you don't think your actions have consequences?"
Well, no. Of course they do. All actions have consequences - I just don't think it's as simple as good for good, bad for bad. (And I certainly don't think there's any sort of times three, or times ten, or whatever involved.) Sometimes someone can do something bad and "get away" with it. Sometimes bad things happen to someone who is otherwise a good person. To me this is not all part of some great cosmic balancing act, it's just the way things are. As they say, shit happens, for better or worse. My own observations of people around me just do not point to karma being a thing.

And I realize a lot of folks do involve the concept of karma in their spirituality or practice of witchcraft, and that's fine, we're not all going to agree on everything after all - but when I say I don't, that's really all I mean by it. Doesn't make me better or worse than someone who believes in it, just different.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Witches don't hex? What?

So I guess a few days ago good old Raymond Buckland decided to come out and say that witches don't hex people. Look. I don't care how influential you are in the community, you don't get to call the shots for all witches across all traditions. Period. End of story.

But apparently some are trying to say, oh, he didn't mean witches, he meant Wiccans! Dude has been part of the community for how long and still doesn't know there are non-Wiccan witches, and that you really should use the word Wicca for referring to, well, Wicca? Come on now. Plus, it's still not true. Neither Gardner or Valiente took a 'never hex' stance, and I kinda think they both count as Wiccans, considering, you know, they were the ones who really created Wicca.

Heck, Buckland himself includes some hexes and the like in his Practical Candleburning book, but in a second post he says woah now, that's not witchcraft, that's magic! Uh... okay? He also seems to want to double down on the whole witches follow the Wiccan rede thing. I honestly do not understand how anyone could actually be actively involved in the community for so long, and still hold such an outdated misconception.

So let's say it again. Not all witches are Wiccans. Not all witches follow the Wiccan rede, the rule of three, karma, or any other such notion. Witches certainly do hex. There have always been witches who hex. If some witches or traditions make the choice to never hex, that is their call, and I will always respect that - but again, none of those folks get to make that decision for everyone. That's just not how it works, and not how it should work.

And look, I do get where he's coming from, the overall point it seems he's trying to make. A lot of people have worked hard to shed some of the stigma around witchcraft, and so all this hexing talk that's been going on as of late, I get why some say, hey, that doesn't really make the community look great... But there's a right way and a wrong way to discuss that. Coming out and saying witches never hex, disregarding anything that's not Wicca, etc, is a truly terrible way to open a dialogue in the community. There are so many better ways to talk about your experiences and get your message and opinion out there, do we really have to resort to dictating how others practice? How is that helping anyone?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Summanus is the Roman god of nocturnal thunder – counterpoint to Jupiter’s daylight thunder. In Rome a temple was dedicated to Summanus sometime around 278BC, after lightning struck a statue of Summanus that stood on the temple of Jupiter one night.

The temple was formally dedicated on June 20th, and each year on that day wheel-shaped cakes made of flour, milk, and honey (called summanalia), were offered to Summanus. While these cakes may have been a solar symbol, two black oxen (or castrated rams) were also offered to Summanus, and black animals were usually offered to chthonic deities.

The origins of Summanus are not clear, but it is possible he may have originated with the Etruscans, if he was not even older than that. While he was once a popular god among the Romans, likely even more popular than Jupiter at one point, in later times much of his character was unknown even to them. The Roman poet Ovid once wrote "the temple is said to have been dedicated to Summanus, whoever he may be."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The confusion of karma...

(I'll start this post with a big old disclaimer: I don't really believe in karma as a lot of folks seem to, if even at all. This isn't a post about what I believe, just speculating about some things I've seen.)

A few days ago there was a post on a forum I frequent that I've been mulling over a bit. A person had posted a public prayer of sorts, asking that karma make her rich so that her family would know they treat her badly.

Now, first of all, I'm not exactly sure that plan makes a lot of sense. If she gets rich, her family is just going to hound her for money, and if she doesn't give it to them they're just going to continue feeling justified in treating her like crap because she's selfish, or whatever... Not a problem money is going to fix - although it could at least get her out of the house, a good step in her own healing - money won't change someone else like that.

But beyond that, it brings me back to some confusion I have about karma as some see it. Isn't karma like.. always going? Doesn't karma affect what sort of family you're born into? Or your life situations? If you're in a shitty situation, isn't that supposed to be your karma playing out? How is it karma can be invoked to make her situation better, but at the same time a lot of these folks look at other people going through a hard time (deserved or not) and just sort of shrug it off as karma. If karma is bringing around bad stuff to some people, why is it not responsible for the bad stuff you're going through again? I've just seen a lot of cherry picking of what karma does or doesn't do, and it just seems odd to me.

Actually, this line of thinking almost strikes me as sort of viewing karma like luck, or fortune in a way, rather than some more cosmic force that's keeping everything in check.

I think I had an easier time of understanding karma when I studied it more directly as it's found in some schools of Hinduism, that great cosmic force of sorts... didn't really agree with it then, either, but at least it seemed more consistent? Who knows. I freely admit it's a concept within modern paganism I've always had a hard time wrapping my head around, and what people mean by it, which is a pain since it seems a lot of pagans do subscribe to the idea.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Travel and Spirituality

I had an interesting conversation last night about travel and enjoying 'pagan' or spiritual spots while traveling, and wondering why more pagans didn't travel more, and explore these thin spots more.

And I can only speak for myself, of course, but for me, well, I can sure show off some beautiful pictures from my travels, like this shot from Colorado last summer, or I can tell you the stories of the thin spots. The spots that matter to my practice of paganism. They're not the same, and they don't generally come with such exciting pictures. (Although I think they're nice.)

Groves of old pines, the hidden crossroads in the woods, the meadow just past that, the quiet stream. Even the altar in my own kitchen.

Don't get me wrong. I love to travel, I am moved by the extraordinary beauty of the world around me, and there are quite a few ancient ruins I would love to someday pay my respects at, but for me, these are not the places where the work is done.

But, perhaps that is just part of being a hedgewitch. I've come to know and love the land around me, to care for the land around me. I travel when I can, it's always good to experience new places, get a feel for these other lands, but I always have that longing for home when I am away too long.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Exploring the Myth and Imagery of Psykhe (Psyche)

When studying Greek mythology, it is very important to know that, for the most park, Greek myths are not to be taken literally. They are not “word of God” literal accounts, but often are symbolic, or in some cases, not much more than entertainment. So if we are to study Psykhe’s myth, we should first consider her name, as psykhe is the Greek word for the soul. The word is also used in modern psychology to describe the totality of the human mind, the conscious and unconscious together.

But when we first see Psykhe in her myth, she is only known as an extremely beautiful woman. So beautiful, that people stopped worshiping Aphrodite (Venus), and began to worship Psykhe instead. But Psykhe was only a mortal woman, placed up on a pedestal, and while her sisters were finding love and marriage, the idolized Psykhe could not form such bonds with anyone.

Meanwhile, in the myth, Aphrodite is angry that people are neglecting her worship, and sends her son Eros (Cupid), the god of love and desire, to cause Psykhe to fall in love with an ugly man. However, Eros scratches himself with his own arrow, causing him to fall in love with Psykhe. Since Psykhe is unable to find love, her father consults the oracle of Apollon, who says that Psykhe will marry a horrible monster. Psykhe is dressed in funeral attire for her wedding, and goes to her fate – to meet the unknown, in both marriage and death.

She is swept up by the west wind and brought to a palace. Here she never sees her husband, despite joining with him in the bedroom many times. Psykhe’s sisters are soon allowed to visit her, and seeing the wonderful palace in which she lives, they become jealous and try to convince her to see and kill her husband, who is surely the horrible monster the oracle foresaw. Psykhe, at night, looks upon her husband, and sees none other than Eros. She is so startled by his beauty, she manages to prick herself on one of his arrows, and spills hot oil on Eros, who flies away.

Psykhe then begins to wander the earth, searching for her love. Her sisters, on the other hand, become even more jealous when finding out who Psykhe’s husband was, and both offer themselves to Eros, jumping off a cliff in hopes the west wind would carry them to the palace… but, both fall to their deaths.

In her wanderings, Psykhe first comes across a temple of Demeter (Ceres) that has fallen into disarray. Psykhe, in contrast to the beginning of the story, realizes that the proper worship of the gods should not be allowed to decay, and sets about cleaning the temple. Demeter, however, tells Psykhe that she cannot help her. Psykhe runs into the same problem while serving Hera (Juno), and she realizes that she must go to Aphrodite herself.

Psykhe is sent by Aphrodite to complete a number of seemingly impossible tasks, which she manages to do with the aid of nature and the gods. Aphrodite then sends Psykhe to the underworld to obtain some of Persephone’s (Proserpina’s) beauty. This is similar in symbolism to Psykhe’s earlier wedding, where she was dressed in funeral garb. She enters into the land of the dead, and by escaping, is reborn. Similar myths can be found in many cultures, including Inanna’s descent into the underworld to retrieve her own lost love.

Psykhe passes by many challenges in the underworld, meets with the Queen of the Dead herself, and is given a box to take to Aphrodite. it is not until she is back in the land of the living that she is overwhelmed by curiosity – she has to know what, exactly, it is that Persephone has given to Aphrodite, and if she can use it herself. Remember, this is a human woman who is already said to be more beautiful than Aphrodite. So of course, it doesn’t end well for Psykhe. All the box contains is sleep, and she falls into a complete torpor.

The myth ends with Eros finding Psykhe, and using his powers to wake her. Eros then asks Zeus (Jupiter) for help, and Zeus agrees – with the stipulation that Eros helps Zeus with love when asked to do so. Psykhe is made immortal, and she and Eros are finally given a true wedding, this time as equals.

The whole myth is symbolic of the fall and redemption of the human soul. It is a story of transformation, and this is why in art Psykhe is often shown accompanied by butterflies, or with butterfly wings, as butterflies are also a symbol of transformation.

Beyond that, there are perhaps also some parallels with the mythology of Krishna and Radha, where Radha is seen as the longing and love a human might feel toward the divine. But more than that, Psykhe’s tale is also one of the human soul’s longing for love and union – again, be it with the divine, with those around us, or even in finding completion in ourselves. It is not just a story of two lovers finding each other, but the story of the human soul struggling to become whole onto itself.

In the story, some might see Psykhe’s act of looking on Eros as a stupid mistake. Things were going good for her, why would she listen to her sisters? Well, beyond thinking she was in danger, this is also the true beginning of Psykhe’s transformation. If she had chosen to never do this, she would have stagnated, and never would have grown. It would be like a caterpillar staying in its cocoon, never transforming, never emerging as a butterfly.

Psykhe would have continued meeting with Eros only in the dark, and their union never would have come to conscious light, and Psykhe would not have found lasting happiness and true love. Instead, she shines the light on the unseen, and although at first it seems this was a mistake, in truth in each following task she becomes stronger.

She chooses to search for Eros, she wanders until she discovers the correct path. She meets with Aphrodite who forces her to sort seeds (sort out herself, in a sense), to gather fleece, which she does when she realizes that she should use wisdom over brute strength, and so on. It’s not easy, but the soul is transformed through hard work, not through sitting stagnant.

With each task Psykhe wants to give up, she feels she can’t do these things alone - but of course she doesn’t have to. She succeeds in her tasks with the aid of those around her. However, although she is given instructions on what to do in the underworld, who to avoid, and so on, when she descends into the underworld to meet with the Queen of the Dead, she does so alone, and in the same way, she ascends back into the light on her own. There are some places within us that only we can journey to. And likewise we must know and travel our subconscious, the dark places within and without. If we don’t travel these paths, embrace them, can we ever truly become whole?

And who, on a spiritual journey, has not faced a large setback? No matter how far we might come, it’s always a possibility. Psykhe, free from the underworld, so close to the end of her journey, opens the box. She returns back to sleep, to unseeing, unknowing, unconscious. It is love, desire, that brings her, once again, back to the light.