Monday, September 3, 2012

Book Review!

The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook: A Grimoire of Philtres, Elixirs, Oils, Incense, and Formulas for Ritual Use, by Karen Harrison (Weiser, 2011).

For those that are cognizant of Karen Harrison’s standing within the Pagan community, she is the owner of a well-known mail order Witch-shop called Isis Books and Metaphysical Gifts[1] located in Denver, Colorado.  This established 20-year old occult store sells the herbs and essential oils employed by many Witches, however, Karen has spent many decades perfecting her own formulas—various incenses and oils for almost any purpose one might need.  That being said, this text is not a standard “formulary”, such as Lady Rhea’s rich text, The Enchanted Formulary (Citadel Press, 2006).  Indeed, what formulas it contains are chiefly reserved for a slim 8-page appendix near the back of the book, while a scattering of spells and other formulas are peppered throughout the text in an effort to more fully illustrate some key planetary concepts within the premier section.
            This book is really one of the best texts to cross my path on the subject of Herbal Magick in several years—and, it is now one that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to my own students of The Craft in a heartbeat!  It shows the wisdom of her years of experience, allowing the reader—whether new to the Craft or an experienced Elder—to directly learn from her as if she were allowing one the opportunity to privately apprentice under her guidance.  A couple tips worthy of note that I saw again and again was the common use of a small dropper bottle filled with grain alcohol in an effort to flush out the dropper when blending numerous essential oils (EOs) together in a formula.  This, however, may be more of a bother than it is worth, especially when considering that most essential oils are bottled with a plastic dropper fastened to the mouth of each bottle which portions out the EO in minute drop-sized amounts; these can even be purchased and snapped onto any bottles of an EO or even liquid candle dyes for ease of use in lieu of droppers should they be lacking.  Another fabulous tip was to blend or brew a herbal mixture in a glass, enamel, or ceramic vessel or saucepan because various herbs and essential oils can react with certain metals such as copper, aluminum and iron, etc.
            The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook is divided into three sections; the premiere being a discussion of the Elemental and Planetary signatures that affect each herb.  Personally, while the planetary rulership or government of a specific plant is very important in Herbal Magick, Karen’s application of it seemed rather somewhat vague and monotonous as if it didn’t matter what herb one chose, so long as the herbs, and their balance, were drawing upon the appropriate planetary signatures in a specific formula.  For example, if one were blending a love potion that was centered upon sex instead of romance, than one might compose a formula with several Martial ingredients with only a bare few Venusian components.  Unfortunately, nothing was mentioned about pagan Herb Lore in the text,[2] which is typically of more value than a given herb’s strict planetary signature/s in my experience.  She seemed to treat this with a rather cavalier attitude.
            There was also the occasional inaccuracy throughout the text, such as referring to one’s “Ascendant” (or Rising Sign) as a planet, when it is actually the demarcation of a specific astrological sign that was rising at the horizon in a given time and at a specific geographic location.[3]  Another was her acknowledgement that “[t]he words amulet and talisman have come to be used interchangeably for an object or charm that repels negativity”.  She then goes on to say that, “I generally use the word talisman to indicate something that symbols or words written or inscribed upon it, while I view an Amulet as an object that is composed of natural materials” (pp. 37).  While these may be her own professed connotations, these terms mean far more than she is admitting to.  According to Doreen Valiente, an Amulet and a Talisman is not the same thing; an amulet is strictly intended to ward someone or some thing by averting disaster, while a talisman is wrought to procure some benefit, whether it is in luck or love, etc.[4]
            It is the third portion of this work—detailing the construction of custom formulas—that makes for the most engrossing study by the casual reader, albeit is again a bit monotonous and vague in its seemingly generic applications, as I have already noted above.  The methods for engineering a custom formula outlined by the author are only a few: employing numerology based upon their name; choosing herbs or essential oils based chiefly upon one’s Sun Sign and the planet/s that govern it; and choosing herbs based upon any lacking Elements within one’s Natal Chart as they are associated within uninhabited Houses within one’s Chart.  In spite of this seemingly generic structure, however, it is still certainly a very thought provoking exercise!
            The second section of this text deals with the general construction of incense and ritual oils, etc.; and, it is somewhat rounded out by a compendium of herbs which take up nearly half the volume of this particular book.  Why each herb is listed with the Magickal uses that it is I cannot profess to know; each attribution is essentially a mystery that only the author can further explain because most do not seem to be based in standard herbal lore.  Such an explanation, however, would have made this large Appendix far more useful for the reader, rather than putting them in the place of merely accepting the author at her word.  For example, if a book says that a rose or vervain may be used in a love spell, it’d behoove the author to explain why on behalf of the reader.  (Hint: both were associated with the respective cults of Aphrodite and Venus in pagan narrative and local traditions.)  I also found it odd that an inordinate amount of time was spent in this Appendix on herbs that are somewhat rare, as well as those herbs that most Witches and Pagans tend not to use other than in Chinese herbal medicinal applications, such as Ginko Biloba.

[2] By “pagan Herb Lore” I typically refer to the mythology that has been attached to various herbs over the course of history; a brilliant text on the subject would be Herb Craft, by Susan Lavender and Anna Franklin (Capall Bann, 1996).
[4] Valiente, Doreene.  Where Witchcraft Lives, pp. 72.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Communing with the Elder Mother #1: 22 July, 2012

Pathworkings are a fabulous method with which to facilitate an intimate connection with the Deva of any given plant or herb for the purposes of using it in both herbal medicine or magick!  This method  is even useful when working with store-bought dried herbs...we may project ourselves backward in time and converse with the Deva in the still-living herb.

Count yourself down into the Alpha state of Consciousness.  Now, "see" before yourself the Elder bush that grows nearest to yourself--hear the crickets chirp, the birds sing, and observe the butterflies dancing atop the wild flowers...

An oil painting by by mid-19th. Century 
British artist, Arthur Rackham; I was surprised
when I saw this image because the depicted 
"Mother" greatly resembled my own visionary 
encounter with the Elder Mother!
With reverence step close to the Elder and kindly greet the in-dwelling Elder Mother who resides within the shrub.  Plants are uniquely sentient and can sense our presence, as well as our intentions.  Indeed, as I approached the Elder in my mind--as I have, before, with an elm tree on my property during my Waking Life--I could feel her sentience, her consciousness.  The very ground beneath me seemed to yield and to move, almost as if there were earthworms crawling beneath my feet.

I could feel how lonely she was, and how innately suspicious she was of the motives of humans.  It was at this point that I explained to her that, had I but known she was less than a block away from my front door I would have paid my respects long ago.  As I focussed my attention on the verdant green elder bush my own sense of reality seemed to warp as though it were a mere sheer curtain delicately placed atop another dimensional frequency.  I could suddenly see the home of the Elder Mother as she bid me to enter with merely a warm maternal expression.  She was quite elderly--like a grandmother--and was barely three feet in height with blue-grey hair that seemed pulled back in two "buns" at either side of the back of her head.  her complexion was also ashen, but she wasn't in poor health; I think this may have been the natural color of her skin, much like the bark of the very Elder bush itself.  I acknowledged that I was pleased to have met her and assured her that I would regularly stop by, either visually or physically.  She thanked me with a wry smile and handed me a bowl of nourishment that seemed to resemble white rice, albeit was gleaming white like a bowl full of pearls.  The bowl was even unusual; it had the texture of heavy and soft leather; in fact, if I didn't know better I'd have sworn that it was fresh clay from the earth that had been fashioned into a bowl.  (I have done that very thing as a child.)

It was shortly after this moment that I bid my adieu to the Elder Mother, at least for the moment.  However, like many dealing with the World of the Fey I realized that words are a poor method of communication; she seemed to understand and interpret my feelings at any moment's instance.  One could almost say that our hearts and minds had been connected at a quantum level.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Luna Invictus that Almost Wasn't...or Shouldn't Have Been!

This is a deeply interesting video featuring Janet Farrar and her husband/ working partner, Gavin Bone.  First and foremost, one is treated to Janet reciting The Charge of the Goddess.  But, what makes this lecture all the more fascinating are the anecdotes this brilliant pair relay at the commence of this prose.  Apparently, Doreen Valiente not only came to abhorred her own prose, The Charge of the Goddess, because every so-called "High Priestess"--wether Gardnerian or not!--would merely read it by rote from the Book of Shadows instead of reciting it from memory; but also because many practicing Witches are under the misimpression that by reciting The Charge they are effectively "Drawing Down the Moon" and thereby invoking The Goddess, as if all the power lay behind their intent and the rhythm of the words--not so!  The Charge was initially penned to avoid a lapse of embarrassing time when The Goddess was not authentically invoked into the High Priestess, or "drawn down" (as we say), because Gardner's initial Priestess was a Medium, which was a skill that was not passed down the line to the other initiates within the Tradition.  Farrar and Bone were able to confirm this by speaking with numerous Elders within the early Gardnerian movement.  This is nothing less than a Pagan bombshell that should have vast repercussions!  Indeed, it deserves out attention.

Coda: an acquaintance of mine, Rowan Pendragon, has stollen my thunder a couple months ago as she relates an identical encounter on her own Blog:
"I took a workshop with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone on trance work a handful of years ago and during it Janet talked about how Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess was written to be part of the Drawing Down the Moon rite specifically to be recited by the High Priestess when the nothing happened.  Sometimes the Goddess doesn’t come.  She has her reasons, but we still need something to present to the coven.  This is where the Charge would come it. It still offers the advice and guidance and allows the Priestess something inspired by the Goddess to share with the coven.  I have to say that makes sense to me.  Usually when doing this rite, if the Goddess does come, there is no reciting of the Charge.  There’s no need.  She’s there and has other things to tell everyone."  (sic.)
She confided to me, however, that the only reservation she has about this story is due to the fact that Janet and Gavin have, to date, been the only source for it, despite her enquiry for corroborative data (pers. comm: 18 April, 2012).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Luna Invictus, or the Ventriloquy of Caroline Tully

Recently, a student of Archaeology*--one Caroline Tully--published a, perhaps well-intentioned, opinion piece in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies under the antagonistic title of "Researching the Past is a Foreign Land: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans as a Response to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions", for which she was interviewed during the inaugural podcast of The Wild Hunt Blog!  The constructively heated debate that ensued seems to have compelled Jason to close the comments section entirely, afterward.  That being said, I would like to take some time to unleash my own hounds in response to this matter of Tully's problematic article.  First of all, however, as a so-called Pagan Journalist, Jason's commentary and questions were exceedingly one-sided and could have been far more penetrating; rather than merely accepting her criticisms of contemporary Pagans as lowly non-scholars.  In fact, he had a journalistic duty to test her mettle by probing her article and her responses far deeper than he allowed himself to do.  Imagine, for the moment, that she were a Christian writing of ancient Christianity in an interview with Mancow Muller (an avowed Christian himself who once studied to be a pastor), he would have grilled her for her obstinacy! 

As a Pagan who makes extensive and almost exclusive use of scholarly texts, as well as primary source-material and specialized journal articles (some of which are seldom cited even in the academic community) in my own historical writings in order to draw my own conclusions based upon the evidence at hand I found her polemicized opinion to be utterly condescending and grossly patronizing!  The essence of her piece is that Pagans must be schooled and talked down to by real academics so that we might never again question the established authority of Academic Orthodoxy, which is apparently for our own good, as Tully would have us believe.  This is a gross Logical Fallacy known as the "Appeal to Authority", and it must not be endorsed under any circumstances or else we risk turning academia into a religion of another nature!  Ultimately she seems to believe that Pagans are unworthy of academia, and that we cannot be trusted with it; that we are innately unable to grasp it.  The hinge-pin around which her insistence revolves is Ben Whitmore's brave and very well researched book, The Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft, of which she emphatically declared:
"Pagans who dislike British historian Ronald Hutton's book, Triumph of the Moon have participated in an internet smear campaign against him, motivated by [Ben] Whitmore's attempted criticisms of Hutton's book."
It seems to have escaped Tully that there might be the slightest justifiable cause for doubting the work and even the methods of Prof. Hutton's research before Whitmore's book came along.  But, even so, Whitmore had spent several years checking Hutton's resources in an effort to check his facts, however, what every academic and--consequential--negative review of his work seems to ignore is Hutton's own blatant academic impropriety.  One of the pivots around which Hutton's polemic revolved in order to forever divorce and seamlessly cut away any threads tying contemporary Witchcraft to antique paganism was the notion that the worship of the pagan gods might have survived the sloppy Christianization of Europe and even the Roman Empire!  Several academic works have commented upon this period, which Hutton has tried excessively hard to deny throughout his writings (with particular respect to Prof. Carlo Ginzburg):
  • A History of Pagan Europe, by Nigel Pennick and Prudence Jones: an academic book that Hutton has never cited, albeit he's read it!  It is far better than Hutton's own Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles principally because they include much of the historical data that Hutton seems to have omitted without good cause in his own zealous extremism throughout his polemics.
  • The Pagan Middle Ages, ed. by Ludo J. R. Milis: though I found it utterly shameful that Hutton would misrepresent this book's position as though it does not, in fact, advocate and provide evidence for paganism within the medieval epoch as a pretense utterly denouncing that position in his more recent book, Witches, Druids, and King Arthur!
  • Between the Living and the Dead, by Prof. Eva Pocs: provides evidence that shamanism was, in fact, extent, throughout the medieval witch craze.
  • The Survival of the Pagan Gods, by Jean Seznec: I was particularly struck by how he showed physical evidence that Renaissance people viewed Apollo as "God", among many numerous examples.
  • Early European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries, by Profs. Bengt Ankarloo and Gustav Henningsen: these authors, like the brunt of European scholars, have adopted the position of the survival and dissemination of shamanism and pagan worship throughout the Middle Ages.
  • The Mirror of the Gods, by Malcom Bull: another like Seznec's text.
  • Christianizing the Roman Empire: AD 100-400, by Prof. Ramsey Macmullen: Shows that the pagans from late antiquity would have had to have had an exceptionally simple belief-system to have succumbed to the attempted Christianization by early missionaries.  We, however, know that the opposite was true; that the pagan communities had a very sophisticated religious system.  Moreover, Macmullen shows that the pagan communities who were undergoing "conversion"--even forcibly--may not have realized that this was what was intended as a consequence of the Christians' ritual gestures.
  • Hellenism in Late Antiquity, by Prof. G. W. Bowersock: I was particularly saddened to discover, upon reading this book, which Prof. Hutton also extensively cites throughout his Withes, Druids, and King Arthur that, it was grossly misrepresented by Hutton.  Accordingly (pp. 137), he [Hutton] insists that paganism throughout the Mediterranean was completely and quickly extirpated from the world on a cultural level before the onset of the sixth-century.  However, in the premiere chapter of Bowersock's text, the only chapter that Hutton has refrained from even casually citing, Prof. Bowersock evidentially proves that Mediterranean paganism survived well into the seventh-century, but furthermore, at this era, it was not yet on the wane!  This is another known Logical Fallacy called "the Sin of Omission" or "confirmation bias" of which Hutton has been variously guilty of throughout his academic career, dating at least to The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles.
  • Indo-European Poetry and Myth, by Prof. M.L. West: shows that paganism survived in folk-lore and even popular culture, another belief that Prof. Hutton routinely rejects out of principle in Triumph.
  • Deciphering the Witches Sabbath and The Night Battle, both by Microhistorian, Prof. Carlo Ginzburg: Hutton and his Pagan acolytes have really gone at extremes to not only mitigate the importance of Ginzburg's findings, but also to misrepresent the data that he has found by insisting that there are no shamanic substratum to be found within this material.  I am reminded of Gardnerian HPs, Deborah Lipp, who has publicly denounced Ginzburg's material in favor of Hutton's polemic in an effort to appear more historically respectable as an American Pagan lest she be deemed a "Murrayite".
  • Cunningfolk & Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic, by Dr. Emma Wilby
  • Christianity: The Origins of a Pagan Religion, by Prof. Philippe Walter
  • Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Double in the Middle Ages, by Prof. Claude Lecouteux
  • The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind, by Prof. Claude Lecouteux
  • Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead, by Prof. Claude Lecouteux
  • The Witch Figure, ed. by Venetia Newall: contains a fabulous article by Dr. Carmen Blacker regarding the endemic shamanism centered around the witch's Familiar in Japanese witchcraft which she has dated back several thousand years.  Her examples come very close to intimating those from the European witch trials.
The following excerpt from Whitmore's text illustrates quite succinctly the problems we are dealing with in terms of misrepresentation found within Hutton's texts, problems that Tully seems to dismiss as non-exsistant:
"Hutton next rallies together the combined clout of seven prominent witchcraft historians of the 1970s — E. William Monter, Bengt Ankarloo, H. C. Erik Midelfort, Alan Macfarlane, Gerhard Schormann, Bente G. Alver and Robert Muchembled — who he says have ‘left no doubt that the people tried for witchcraft in Early Modern Europe were not practitioners of a surviving pagan religion’. Let’s examine what each of them actually say:
"E. William Monter, for a start, maintains that many ‘witches’ held beliefs firmly rooted in pre-Christian paganism. He suggests that the ‘coloured devils’ of the French woods were originally pagan deities, for instance, and that the obscure local saints to whose shrines white witches sent invalids on curative pilgrimages ‘were often local pagan deities with a Christian veneer.’  Is this not a description of vestigial pagan religion?
"The second of this group of authors, Bengt Ankarloo (I have not read his book in Swedish, but rather, later essays in English), distances himself from ‘the dogma of learned origins’ — the theory that witchcraft testimonies were shaped by learned theologians and interrogators through cultural infiltration of their ideas and leading questioning, and that it is useless to look for popular origins. Rather, he accepts the theory of Ginzburg, Gustav Henningsen and Gábor Klaniczay that a ‘pre-Christian, shamanistic substratum’ existed in many parts of Europe and contributed to beliefs surrounding the witches’ sabbath.
"American historian H. C. Erik Midelfort charts at some length how witchcraft beliefs developed out of pre-Christian paganism (for instance, the theme of riding out at night on the backs of animals in the company of Diana, described as a ‘pagan error’ in the ninth-century canon Episcopi Eorumque, turning into riding in the company of the devil by the fourteenth century), as well as from anti-pagan ideas of diabolical power and satanic pact that started forming from Christianity’s first arrival in Europe. He highlights the ‘superstitious magical beliefs and practices [that] were common among both village and city folk’, but doubts whether these ever culminated in organized group ritual.
"Alan Macfarlane, though not actively contradicting Hutton’s assertion, doesn’t support it either. In his introduction he dismisses Murray’s organized underground pagan cult as ‘too sophisticated and articulate for the society with which we are concerned [Essex]’, though he agrees with her that accusations should be treated as ‘something more than intolerant superstitions’. Beyond this, his interest is in the mechanics of societal persecution, not the actual beliefs of the accused, whose philosophical and religious outlook he makes no attempt to discover. As he explains it, ‘This study is mainly concerned with showing how witchcraft functioned, once the basic assumptions about the nature of evil, the types of causation, and origins of supernatural “power” were present.’
"Gerhard Schormann, on the other hand, affirms that surviving ancient forms of worship could at times be prosecuted under charges of witchcraft. Likewise, he cites a number of German trials in which folk-magic was denounced as witchcraft. In general, though, Schormann regards ‘witchcraft’ as an imaginary offense, with its most characteristic elements — the pact, the Sabbath, sexual intercourse with demons and so on — being inventions of the late Middle Ages.
"Bente Alver and Robert Muchembled were difficult for me to check directly, as my understanding of Norwegian and French is rudimentary, and the books cited by Hutton are not available in translation. I have only found a few passages of Bente Alver in English translation, but these appear to contradict Hutton’s position that accused witches ‘were not practitioners of a surviving pagan religion’. Read, for example, her account of the witch-trial of a Sami magician, as summarized in a collection of Scandinavian folklore:
The Lapp Quive Baardsen was clearly a specialist in making sailing wind by magic. His services were sought by the community. From the trial transcript, it appears that when his practice resulted in the death of some of his clients, however, he was legally held responsible. Quive Baardsen describes how the Lapps used their rune drums to put themselves into trances in which to communicate with the spirit world. In the eyes of the court, these practices must have seemed heretical; they were reason enough to condemn the accused to death.
"With Muchembled I have relied on a later essay in English, and he, for once, seems partially in agreement with Hutton, holding that the elements of popular culture and social reality that fed into witchcraft stereotypes ‘have nothing to do with any organized non-Christian cult, even of a residual or mythic kind.’ (Note, though: he only discounts organized forms of cult.) As Ankarloo and his colleague Gustav Henningsen summarise him, Muchembled is
…in line with the position of the seventies, when he regards the sabbath as ‘simply and solely a figment created by theologians, whose ideas governed the imagination of the élite classes of Europe in the late Middle Ages’. But he parts with the dogma of learned origins when he states that the demonologists’ description of the sabbath ‘was a diabolized version of practices, customs and beliefs which really existed among peasant folk ... with the difference that every one of its features is given a negative coefficient’
"So, while not affording these folk practices the status of an organized cult or religion, Muchembled at least affirms their existence and the antipathy of theologians towards them. As examples of such practices, customs and beliefs, he describes the night-time revelries of inhabitants of Artois and Flanders, which involved fights between armed youths and wild dancing in isolated spots in the wee small hours. He also describes popular superstitions and spells such as the lists of ‘mighty names’ that soldiers carried for protection.
"The major achievement of these seven authors of the 1970s was not in establishing that accused witches were not pagans; rather, it was in demonstrating how a number of societal factors converged in the Early Modern Age in different parts of Europe to precipitate moral panic and full-blown hunts. That a conflict between Christian and pre-Christian belief systems may have been one of these factors is in no way precluded; on the contrary, it is specifically stated by several of these authors, as we have seen" (pp. 6-9).
Prof. Hutton, in his own response to this book published in The Pomegranate under the title of "Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View" denounces Whitmore's criticisms whole cloth as merely catching him in "minor errors".  So, a major thread of an argument one is using to weave a tapestry of history is simply a "minor" issue not worthy of notice or further debate?  Tully rushed to Hutton's defense as a dutiful student of history, bellowing from her ivory tower as she insisted, through her Wild Hunt interview, that if Hutton had, indeed, committed any academic improprieties (and it is clear she refuses to believe that he has) than he would have been censured by his peers in what would amount to an academic bitch-slapping, rather directly implying that academia is an omniscient--all-knowing--entity.  However,  Tully fails to recall that the Triumph of the Moon evinces a gap, in this regard, because its author has variously admitted what "a lonely book" it was to write because his colleagues distanced themselves from directly supporting his efforts; a fact that he hinted at when penning the preface for this text:
" own colleagues treated my work with detachment and myself with continued affability..." (pp. xii) [emphasis mine].
How, then, can specialist scholars with no interest in a respective field censure a particular scholar for impropriety unless an outside individual otherwise brings it to their attention.  What Tully also seems to have glossed over in her rushed defense is that if Hutton's works are as infallible as she insists, then they should easily withstand any criticism levied at them, and that his main positions ought to be unaffected despite any academic impropriety, which seems, at this point, somewhat hard to imagine.  Indeed, if academia is as innately omniscient as she suggests, than why has academia largely allowed the late professor Norman Cohn to illegitimately discredit Margaret Murray in his obsolete text, Europe's Inner Demons, by declaring that she omitted valuable source-material that would have, were it allegedly included, rendered her thesis entirely untenable?  However, it has been unequivocally found that Murray did, in fact, include these texts, considering them in great detail.  Ronald Hutton later unequivocally relied upon Cohn's mendacious treatment of Murray to further damage her reputation throughout his texts.  But, when it was pointed out to him that Cohn was utterly mendacious with his treatment of Murray by an investigative freelance journalist who was once called before the United States Congress to testify, Hutton's response was two-fold: 1.) the matter was entirely insignificant (which seems to imply that lying to discredit an author is academically permissible), 2.) and cowardly when he sheepishly remarked that "Cohn may have been unjust to Murray" [emphasis mine], thereby leaving some room for apparent "doubt".  This example merely serves to illustrate that academia cannot always be trusted to police its own.  Interestingly enough, the so-called "academic" reviews of Whitmore's investigation have also dismissed even the allegation of Hutton's improprieties as utterly insignificant.  Ultimately, if there is any "internet smear campaign" against anyone, it has been directed against Ben Whitmore who has been the victim of a mendacious assault by the likes of Peg Aloi on her Blog wherein she grossly misrepresented Whitmore's findings and positions.  And, when Whitmore publicly rebuked her for her behavior on Chas Clifton's own blog, she had the audacity to insist that she had done nothing academically improper, as if lying about someone is professionally permissible!  Honestly, if I pulled half of these misdeeds to one in the Pagan community I would have not one shred of credibility to speak of, yet seemingly Pagans are more than willing to give professional scholars a Free Pass!  The double-standard is, wrenchingly, palpable.

On the other hand, however, I do sincerely sympathize with Tully in that Pagans, as a whole, require better access to academic material which may often be out of their reach for any number of reasons.  I have experienced, first hand, the vicious reactions of my own Pagan brothers and sisters for allegedly challenging their core beliefs and values due to a lack of specialist knowledge on their behalf concerning the subject of The Morrighan and, generally, Celtic Studies.  This does not mean, as Tully insists, that we must have any sort of a third party to regurgitate pre-digested and pre-approved material in order to spoon feed us history that we are thought to be ill-equipped to deal with or reconcile "for our own good"!  The problem seems to be, rather, an academic community that doesn't seem to respect the intelligence of the communities it is either writing about, or writing for, nor the fact that we might be just as aware as they of those texts they might be citing, evidence that they are unaware of or even omitting, or the historical period that they are writing of.  Tully must remember and take to heart, even though she is clearly cloistered in an ivory tower of her own making, what Margot Adler so succinctly wrote many years ago in Drawing Down the Moon (it's as true now as it was then), "Pagans are avid readers, scholars without degrees".

*Nota Bene: Another quibble that I have, in general, is that during her interview with Jason on The Wild Hunt podcast Tully seems to insist that the field of Archaeology is a perfect science interested only in the dates of artifacts that otherwise divorces them from the cultures out of which they arose!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Vindication for Celebrating the Vernal Equinox!

As readers of my blog may remember, my most recent post was in dealing with the Sabbat, goddess, and customs surrounding Ostara.  However, The Witches' Voice recently linked to an article written by Professor Philippe Shaw whom I cite at length in my own MS entry which I briefly excerpted.  So, for any who still doubt me and the existence of the goddess Ostara as a goddess, allow me to let this distinguished professor speak for himself:
Many scholars have suggested Bede invented the goddess Eostre. I disagree: Bede was a careful researcher, and not prone to inventions of this sort, as far as we can tell.
And we also now know that there were a group of minor goddesses with a related name worshipped by continental speakers of a Germanic language.
In 1958, more than 150 votive inscriptions from the second or third century AD were discovered near Morken-Harff in Germany.
These inscriptions must mark the site of an important cult centre, and the goddesses to whom these inscriptions were set up were called the matronae Austriahenae, loosely translated as "the eastern matrons" or "the matrons of the easterners".
The name Austriahenae comes from the same Germanic root as Eostre, suggesting that this was a root used in naming goddesses.
There is also evidence of its use in English place names and in the names of Anglo-Saxon individuals. There is every reason, then, to trust what Bede says about Eostre: she was a goddess whose name was attached to a month by the pagan Anglo-Saxons. When the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity, the name of the month in which Easter usually fell was transferred to the name of the festival itself.
Eostre also provides us with clues to the way in which Anglo-Saxon paganism worked. The word from which her name derives means "eastern", and is found in place names in England, which suggests that she may well have been a local goddess.
We are accustomed to think of pagan gods as having roles – war god, fertility god – but Eostre suggests that Anglo-Saxon goddesses may have been defined instead by their relationship to a local community.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Heralding Ostara: Lady's Day

Ostara has officially embraced the land as the early spring bulbs and vegetation bursts forth!  It has always been one of my favorite holidays, not the least of which is because it is near to my birthday (14 March), but also because I have a chocolate addiction, and that I love the pastel decorations adorning our Altars at this time of year.  In fact, I distinctly remember once, when me and my brother were little (shortly before they were divorced, unless I am remembering incorrectly).  We had just returned, presumably, from an Easter breakfast with a relative when, as soon as we had changed out of our coats and shoes Mom excited told us that she just saw the Easter Bunny out the kitchen window and he was running towards the front yard (why he's thought to be male, I cannot tell); so, me and my brother (Jared) darted towards the living room window just a short distance away.  We didn't see him (damn he's quick!); however, no longer than me and Jared had our backs turned, Mom had retrieved our Easter baskets out from her hiding place and had got them positions onto the kitchen table.

As a Pagan, however, Easter--or Ostara--has a much more significant meaning to me; and I recall having taken many of these new beliefs for granted when I was first a student of the Mysteries.  Or at least I thought so!  It was at the mid-point of my education in a more historical vein of Paganism that I was shocked to discover that the existence of Ostara as a goddess of the dawn was severely in doubt--especially by many within the Pagan community.  It was during this phase that I acquired a book by Jane Raeburn called Celtic Wicca.  In this work, which has its pros and cons (though I have long-since moved on and disposed of my copy), she insists that Ostara is merely "presumed" to have been a goddess whom, she implies, may have merely been a divined lexicon meaning "dawn" or "beginning".[1]  Here she seems to be citing, without direct attribution, Prof. Ronald Hutton and his work, The Stations of the Sun.  However, in so doing, she appears to be, at least superficially, misrepresenting Prof. Hutton's conclusion in which he establishes, based upon Indo-European linguistics, that while he doubts that Ostara was a pagan goddess, it is distinctly possible that she was, in fact, an Indo-European dawn-goddess who was appropriately worshipped "at the the season of opening and new beginnings".[2]  As a consequence, to finally put this "debate" to rest, once and for all, I would like to share a passage from an unfinished MS. that I am writing, Whence the Witches Sabbat wherein I have found recent scholastic evidence proving the existence of Ostara as a pagan goddess:

Ôstara and Ēostra or Ēastra (“east”) is an enigmatic heathen goddess who first enters the historical record, presumably, with the Venerable Bede’s eighth-century ce work De Temporum Ratione (“On the Reckoning of Time”) in reference to the month of April.  As a consequence, it has been widely assumed within academe that this personage, for which there is but a single literary reference was a fabrication by the monk, himself.  However, as the early Victorian folklorist, Jacob Grimm, and Folklorist Venetia Newall was quick to observe, Bede was more than merely hostile to the remnants of the pre-Christian religious traditions of Britain and would not have so easily volunteered—let alone invented—data that was non-existent; he would have been far more likely to have severely downplayed what he knew as he penned his manuscript.  Moreover, the sources for portions of his De Temporum have ultimately been traced to districts of eastern Kent in England where there survives a local place-name to the goddess as a linguistic noun after whom the parish of Eastry was named.  A cache of Romano-Germanic votive offerings were also discovered near Morken-Harff in the late 1950s which further affirm the existence of the goddess; they were dedicated to the matronae Austriahenar (“eastern mothers”), thus connecting her with the fertility Cult of the Matrons who oversaw prosperity and the growth of vegetation.
Ultimately, Ôstara seems to have been a purely local, indeed a sub-tribal goddess without a homogeneous cult following throughout the pan-Germanic world.  While, her associations with the dawn or the season of spring may be entirely incidental; the Christian festival of Easter (Ôstarûn) seems to have been named not after the goddess, but for the month in which this celebration was most commonly observed—April, or Ēostur-monath.[3]  Still, it has been deduced that her common epithet is derived from the proto-Indo-European root-word *aues- (“to shine”) or *eus- (“to burn”)[4] which signifies the blazing light of the sun.
Folk-lore, I believe, also needs to be examined with a finer comb.  Unfortunately, many pagans seem to have adopted a sort of orthopraxy that is decimated by a very small league of professional historians that are presently en vogue within the pagan community.  As a consequence, it is staunchly believed that folk-lore cannot be used, in any case, as a barometer to glean a picture of the rites, ceremonies, or even the believes of authentic paganism.[5]  Indeed, a recent and profound examination of Indo-European folk-lore by professor M. L. West (Emeritus Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford)--a formidable branch of academic study that has been continually ignored by Prof. Hutton since writing his controversial and obsolete treatise, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles (Blackwell, 1993)--has conclusively shown that district folk-lore does, indeed, provide an insight into Indo-European pagan antiquity.  One of the strongest of these leitmotivs is the imagery of the wheel:
Swinging is a recurrent feature of Indo-European springtime and mid-summer festivities.  In India, besides the Mahavrata, it had a role in the spring-time Dolayatra festival, at which the image of Krishna was swung to and fro on a swing three times a day.  In Europe we find it in ancient Athens (the Aiorai, incorporated as part of the spring Anthesteria), Latium (the Feriae Latinae, April), modern Greece (around Easter), Russia and the Balkans (Easter), and Latvia (Easter and midsummer).  A South Slavonic myth relates that as Grosdanka was swinging on Easter day the sun came down on his own invisible swing and carried her up to heaven to make her his wife.  Here, the ritual swinging performed by mortal girls is put up in direct contact with the cosmic swinging of the sun.
Hopping, jumping, and dancing are also characteristics of the spring and midsummer festivities.[6]
Indeed, many of the ancient rites and rituals surrounding the dawn goddesses, particularly from Greece and India relate to cultic dancing of young girls.  One little-known Grecian dawn-goddess was named Agido ("she who leads"), and local maidens would routinely dance in her honor.[7]  Dancing may have also featured in the rites of the Hindu dawn-goddess, Uas Dyotana ("The Light-Bearer"), as the hymnal texts depict the goddess adorning herself with her precious jewelry and accoutrements “like a dancing girl”.[8]  Even the infamous solar wheel features in the rites of spring, such as the Hot Cross Buns, and the pancake races that occur on Shrove Tuesday that are run by housewives which were probably originally customs of the Rites of Spring.[9]


[1] Raeburn, Jane (2001).  Celtic Wicca. Citadel Press: pp. 153.
[2] Hutton, Ronald (1996).  The Stations of the Sun.  Oxford University Press: pp. 180.
[3] Stations, pp. 180-81; Newall, Venetia (1971).  An Egg at Easter: A Folklore Study.  Indiana University Press: pp. 384-85; Shaw, Philip A. (2011).  “Eostre: Pan-Germanic Goddess or ‘Etymological Fancy’?” in Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matrons.  Bristol Classical Press: pp. 49-71; Simek, Rudolf (trans. Angela Hall, 1993).  “Ēostra”.  Dictionary of Northern Mythology.  Boydell & Brewer: pp. 74-5; “*Ostara”.  Op. cit., pp. 254-55.

[5] Hutton, Ronald (1999).  The Triumph of the Moon.  Oxford University Press: pp. 112-13.
[6] West, M. L. (2007).  Indo-European Poetry and Myth.  Oxford University Press: pp. 212-15.
[7] Ferrari, Gloria (2008).  Alcman and the Cosmos of Sparta.  University of Chicago Press: pp. 92.
[8] O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (trans., 1981).  The Rig Veda: An Anthology.  Penguin Classics: pp. 57, 66, 76, 81 n.5, 85, 115, 122, 152, 154, 179-81, 199-200.
[9] Kramer-Rolls, Dana (2002).  "The Ritual Year: Neo-Pagan Holidays and Festivals" in The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism.  Shelley Rabinovitch and James Lewis, eds.  Citadel Press: pp. 232.