Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pagans in the Media

Ok...on one of the member lists I'm subscribed to - for one of the largest pagan organizations in the US  - a call came in from a media firm looking for "interesting" pagans and witches for a possible reality show. 

I about spit out my tea. My opinion follows:

I guess TV is getting tired of pawn shops, auction hunters, bachelors/bachelorettes, housemates, housewives, honey boo boos, kardashians, child-exploitation pageants, women who view their wombs as clown cars, repo companies and similar reality shows, and are looking for a new genre to exploit and make money off of. After all, they have the Long Island Medium, right? Why not witches?

Much as I am all for equality and maintain hope that someday our beliefs and ideologies will be respected by mainstream society, I fear that such a project will be nothing more than a scripted freak show. These television producers don't want "interesting" pagans - they want the freaks who are completely removed from what pagans really are. Because let's face it, most of us are good, ethical people, with jobs, who pay our taxes and are pretty boring, and that doesn't sell advertising blocks. Most pagans I know are "interesting" - and by that, I mean, intelligent, insightful, spiritual, moral, thoughtful and kind people who operate their lives with integrity. That's not what these TV people want...they want people who will provide a shock value at whatever cost. And unfortunately, there are a lot pagans out there who are more than happy to oblige. Especially if there’s a few bucks in it for them.

Over the past few years, I've met people who have participated in "reality" shows of many different types...and my conclusion is that "reality" shows are nothing of the sort. They are heavily scripted, use multiple takes to get it "right", and they make changes to the location and activities to make it exciting for viewers. Trust me, no television show wants to see me, albeit very pagan, at my regular nightly routine: usually watching a documentary on the Science Channel, crocheting gifts while my geriatric cat sleeps on my lap. They want to see someone concocting potions, performing hexes, being rowdy and lascivious, breaking all societal rules, and all this with amazing pyrotechnics and other high tech effects every night before retiring. In my 30+ years of being a pagan, I haven't met anyone fitting that description. And so, I truly hope that this project fizzles before it even starts.

Remember about 15 years ago or so, when witches were the topic-du-jour for movies? Practical Magic, The Craft and other knockoffs really made a splash. Some witches thought the media exposure would help our cause - but let me tell you what it really did, at least in Southern CA and in Minnesota, where I was very active with the pagan community at that time. What these movies did was attract a bunch of guys who were hoping to score with a Nicole Kidman lookalike or young girls who wanted to magically change the color of their hair or some such nonsense. Supposedly, pagan women looked like Sandra Bullock, and pagan men looked like Tom Cruise as Lestat. They thought the drivel they watched in the movies was real and then were completely disappointed when they found out that we were just normal folks.

That disappointment then turned into cynicism and then complete derision.

Tons of people would attend public pagan events not to learn and to worship, but to spy on us "weirdos". They wanted to see if pagans were really as whorish as they were led to believe (to be an easy score). Do pagans really run around nekkid in public and doink everything that didn't put up a struggle?  Or maybe pagans are really just full of crap because they didn’t summon a corporeal Baphomet in the middle of Ridley Park on a Saturday afternoon.

What these gawkers found were a group of people who were simply honoring the Gods and the Earth through song and dance and ritual, and used community to network multiple Traditions that would normally never intersect. We talked about books, compared spiritual experiences, shared information, discovered mutual friends, and discussed life in general. How horrifically boring. One year, we had over 500 people show up for a Beltane ritual - I would say fully 2/3 of those people were there only due to the "freak factor". It saddens me to this day.

Ultimately, putting Paganism in the media ended up cheapening what it is we do. What we ALL do, whether you are a part of the media depiction or not. People WANT to believe that we do all those freaky stereotypical things, because "freakier than thou" sells - not boring. They think our homes are replicas of Medieval Times. The mainstream WANTS to think we dress like Renaissance Faire participants all the time, and run around hexing people indiscriminately; we all have warty green noses and always wear pointy hats; we bathe in virgins blood (wait...wasn't that Snow White, or something...?); we all have black cat familiars; we have a broom that comes when called; we are constantly casting spells; and we have a cauldron in our living rooms. Ok, that last part might be right in some cases. Whatever. You guys know what I mean.

Regular folk don't care that we do the dishes, have jobs & mortgages, get pissed off at our kids for being knuckleheads, and essentially do the same stuff that everyone else does. Heck, the only difference between me & my neighbor is that I have a few more gods than they do. The worst part of this is knowing that television shows will cast only the biggest wingnuts in our midst - those who are the most polarized and goofy, and those who LEAST represent the majority of good, loving, honest pagans out there. Still....whoever those television people choose - mainstream is going to assume we are ALL like those wingnuts, and they will make a snap judgement, for good or ill, based on that perception. It's not going to help us, or make us more acceptable - in fact, it may do the opposite.

I'd rather be one of the "hidden children" than to expose my belief system as a sideshow. What will it do to people who already live precariously - in communities that are already outright prejudiced against them? What will it do for Seekers who are looking for other ways to connect to Divinity only to be given the perception that Pagans are nothing more than out-of-time hippies who have blurred the line between real life and a D&D game? What will it do to those who are really trying to walk the Path of the Gods - the Rough Hewn Path? What will it do to the future of our belief system, for without Priests and Priestesses of Consequence, what we have is a shell of a religion, a pantomime of something that was sacrificed to the highest rating?

I think that putting paganism (or what they want to portray as paganism) out there may harm us more than help. I fail to see how this can do any good to Paganism as a whole. Your opinion may be different, and I hope for all of our sakes that I am wrong in this estimation.

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) Flags, Flax & Fodder,
(¸.•´ (¸.•`Kaerwyn Silverwood, HPS
Coven DragonVeil
1734 Tradition
Maryland, USA

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The First Harvest–Lughnassadh

Horned One, Lover, Son
Leaper in the Corn
Deep in the Mother
Die and be Reborn
- Popular Pagan Chant

In the pagan cycle of Sabbats, we are fortunate enough to have not just one, but three harvest celebrations. Lughnassadh, otherwise known as Lammas, is the first of these harvests. It is a fire festival, which means that it is one of the 4 Sabbats that is not either a Solstice or Equinox. It is tied to agricultural and seasonal changes and commonly celebrated around July 31 or August 1 although it can also be celebrated as late as August 6th. Like many pagan holidays of celebration, this Sabbat is about honoring the bounty of the earth, but understanding that the days are becoming shorter and nights are longer.

This sabbat is often attributed to Lugh Lamfada, who in Celtic / Irish mythology created this celebration to honor his foster mother Tailtiu who died of exhaustion to ensure that all the lands of Ireland were cleared for planting. It is also a time when handfastings were popular - a handfasting is a "trial marriage" or contract lasting usually a year and a day. If at the end of that time the couple feels they wish to make their union more permanent, they can do so. It is often said that the practice of handfasting led to our custom of engagements before marriage today. Lammas is the time to honor animals and their contribution to our harvest, not just as farm animals, but as companions, omens, and communications from the Universe. It is the time for crafts and handmade items, especially wheat weaving, and was the time when our ancestors would begin plaiting / weaving blankets and clothing for the winter time. It was common to have jousting or other tournament type games as well to celebrate the sacrifice of the Corn God, and outdoor feasting and games were popular.

The word Lammas - (or Loaf-day) honors the first harvest of the wheat. The early Anglo-Saxon Christians would often bring a loaf of bread to their Church in honor of this day. In Stregheria – a branch of Italian witchcraft – they call this day Cornocopia. And to our Teutonic witches, this day is often referred to as Thingtide. This time of year is also associated with Odin and his discovery of the wisdom of the Runes, by which he hung upside down on the tree of Yggdrasil for 9 days and 9 nights in his own sacrifice for knowledge, which he promptly shared with his beloved children of the earth. It is at this time of year that many cultures from all corners of the globe honor the earth and its bounty; you will find similar stories of abundance and harvest in your own quests for knowledge.

There are many associations with Lughnassadh in neo-paganism today. Certainly, it is a time of celebration. For our agrarian forebears, it was the time for reunions and taking a break from field-work. We can see in our mundane society that July and August are popular months for reunions and family get-togethers! Lughnassadh is the time when the first fruits are ripening, and as a pagan practitioner, you can start to see some of the results of your labor over the past year. In fact, some people refer to Lammas as the 'Blueberry' (or 'Blackberry' if you live on the west coast!) celebration, because that is when the blueberries / blackberries are sweet and perfect.

However, one of the most important components of Lughnassadh is the sacrifice of the God of the Grain in order to ensure the rest of the harvest is healthy and full. Lugh is beseeched so that he protects our still-ripening fields and keeps our upcoming harvests hale. He sacrifices his blood on the fields to nourish and protect the land. He returns to the bosom of the Great Mother to be reborn as your next harvest at Mabon. As the wheat is cut down, so is the Lord of the Dance. But it is not an empty sacrifice, as the God gives his gift of life to his people – us – so that we might best survive the cold and dark times of winter.

One of the way Pagans celebrate this holiday is to make a bread man for sacrifice. It's incredibly easy to do, and a great pagan craft to do with your family, coven or friends. You will need bread dough - either home made, store bought frozen or (my favorite) refrigerated bread sticks you can buy near the biscuit area in your food store. You will also need food coloring and any other adornment you wish. Remember, although you will NOT be eating this bread-man, it must remain edible!

First, build your bread God. Honor the bread before you begin to work with it. Thank the Sun for bringing life, thank the wheat for its gifts, thank the water for hydrating the land. Then, on a greased cookie sheet, parcel out dough for the body, two legs, two arms, a head, antlers, various body parts...and any other embellishments you want to add on. Make sure all the parts of the body are about the same height so they will all cook evenly. While the bread dough is pliable, you can easily make any shapes you want. Remember that the bread will puff up as you bake it, so you will lose some detail and will need to leave a lot of room for your God to grow. You can then use food coloring for different areas of the body if you wish. Some people cover their Bread God with seeds or herbs of the season. Once your God is how you envision him, bake him until he's golden brown. When he's all done, you can add things like flowers or any other non-bakable (but edible...) items you wish to put on him. Bring him and a big empty bowl into your Lughnassadh circle.

During your ritual set aside a time to reflect upon the glorious sacrifice of Lugh to your own personal harvest. Ask him to protect your life from any harm and to bring abundance upon the fields of your Spirit. And then....tear him up into tiny pieces. You heard me correctly! Everyone in Circle can do this, and kids are especially enthusiastic about this part! Just shred the bread man until he is nothing more than a pile of tiny crumbs. Each crumb is a piece of the God to feed the land. When your Circle is done, take the destroyed bread man and give him back to the Earth. You can take him on your next hike and toss him to the birds and small creatures, or even share him with the creatures who inhabit the wilds of your backyards or local parks. Thank the animals who partake of your bread god for bringing Him back to the Mother.

Lammas is also a good time to draw on the abundance of the Earth and the harvest in your own life. It’s appropriate to do magick to bring in all kinds of physical and emotional bounty; many pagans who normally don’t do a lot of spellwork will take this time to do something towards these ends. Even a simple candle spell to bring in your own harvest will reap great rewards. Many covens make a whole day of it, complete with picnics, games, singing and dancing.

As a pagan practitioner, you can celebrate this time of year with something more than ritual; this can be done by yourself, with a group, or with your family. Honor the season by volunteering at your local animal shelter to honor the animals who make our lives richer. Use your hands and make something to give away to show your own generosity. This is a wonderful time to bake with your kids and with your friends and honor the Sun God’s gifts. It is a time of plenty, a time of singing and dancing. For adults, this is the perfect time to visit a local winery and sample the fruits of the vine, each a different flavor of the harvest.

In our modern world, we aren’t always aware of the cycles of the earth – food is plentiful at any grocery store, and very few of us are required to harvest food for our own meals. It is important that we remind ourselves that in spite of the many conveniences we have, it is ultimately the Earth who gives us the sustenance we require and Lughnassadh provides us the opportunity to show our gratitude for the sacrifice and abundance we receive.

I wish you all a glorious Lughnassadh and a bountiful harvest!

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) Flags, Flax & Fodder,
(¸.•´ (¸.•`Kaerwyn Silverwood, HPS
Coven DragonVeil
1734 Tradition, Maryland, USA

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ostara–it’s not just Bunnies & Eggs!

The Vernal or Spring Equinox, also called the Ostara sabbat, is celebrated by pagans all over the world. It is a Solar or Fire Festival which was adopted over the years by the Christian church as their feast day of their God’s resurrection and rebirth. In German, Ostern – which is derived from the Teutonic/Anglo-Saxon Goddess Ostara/Eostre - is the translation for Easter.

The Goddess Ostara was honored at the Spring Equinox as the goddess of fertility and renewal, as this is the time of year when the first buds are seen in the trees, and the flowers begin to open up after a long winter of hiding under the soil. Day and night are equal, and day will be in ascendency until the Solstice. Winter holds no more power here, and we can rejoice in the return of the light. Ostara’s name is seen in the German word for East – Ost – where the sun rises and is reborn every morning. She is the Lady of the Morning Sun, the Maiden who welcomes the Sun God to a new day.

So prevalent was the Goddess Ostara’s influence, many cultures believed that there was great healing power in water drawn the morning of Ostara. This was a common practice in Germanic cultures until the 1800’s and is still common in many folk magick traditions to this day. Some of the more popular practices today are lighting a fire first thing in the morning to welcome the goddess and to purify the household; this is a popular day for household “spring cleaning”, a time of renewal and rebirth for the home. Ritual cleaning included scrubbing floors in a clockwise fashion (also known as going “deosil” or “sunwise”), to mimic the movement of the sun. This is the time of year when seeds were planted and songs sung to Ostara to protect and nurture the seeds.

The modern celebration of Easter, even to this day, has kept some of the same fertility symbols as in ancient times. Rabbits and hares, sacred to Ostara, have always been a symbol of fecundity. This is most likely due to the fact that they have one of the shortest gestation periods in the animal kingdom. The saying goes that for every one rabbit you see, there are 50 more you can’t! Eggs are another popular Easter/Ostara symbol. In times of old, eggs were dyed in the Goddess’ honor to represent the life lying within a seemingly closed shell, just as the flowers and plants are at this time of year. In ancient Rome, eggs were a common offering to the Goddess of the Dawn, as the yolk represents the sun that She welcomes. It is even suggested that humans learned to weave baskets by watching birds weaving nests for their eggs, which is where we might have gotten the idea for Easter egg baskets!

As a modern Pagan, you can use the power of the Spring Equinox to enhance your own life. Think about what you wish to make fertile in your life. Do you want to write? To paint? To learn? What abundance are you looking for? Now is the time to make fertile the soil of your spirit so the Gods can plant the seeds of that abundance and you will grow strong and healthy plants. This is the time of year to really think about our own personal fertility, the renewal of the spirit and the bringing of the Spiritual Sun into our lives. This is a perfect time to work magick for new growth in your life, to kick start any new beginnings and awakenings you wish to initiate. It’s also a good time to do magick to bring love to your life.

One of the ways to mirror your spiritual garden and endeavors is to be similarly active in your real world. If the weather is kind, plant a little garden and dedicate it to the Maiden of the Spring. If the weather is not cooperative, you can always prepare a small plot of land, clearing it of debris and weeds in preparation for planting. Perhaps starting an indoor herb garden is more conducive for you. Spend a few minutes to meditate on the rising sun and ask the Lady to guide you to your own personal abundance and spiritual growth. Take a long walk in a local park and look for the new life emerging; show your gratitude to the Universe by sending loving energy to those around you.

There are several correspondences associated with Ostara. One of my favorite things to do is to make an Ostara Basket and dedicate it in the Lady’s honor. This is a fun activity you can do alone, with your magickal working group, or with your family (kids love to participate!).

In your Basket, you can include stones such as jasper, amethyst, aquamarine and bloodstone. Choose flowers and herbs like violets, jasmine, rose, sage, honeysuckle, iris, daffodils, crocuses and other similar spring flowers. Add a few jellybeans and some dyed / colored eggs. You can include pictures or figurines of rabbits, the moon, the rising sun, and other such symbols too. When you’ve filled your basket, offer it to the Maiden on the morning of the Equinox. Place it in the easternmost part of your home so it’s one of the first thing that the morning ray of light will find. Sing songs or say a chant to the Maiden of the Spring – you can make one up or use one of the many popular ones in pagan practice.

One of my favorites is by Ann Moura, authoress of the Green Witchcraft series, done with a candle (I have used a jasmine scented tea candle for this):

Saying Farewell to Wintry spirits
by Ann Moura

Farewell to wintry spirits and friends;
On morrow we greet the spirits of spring.
Our blessings to thee as your way you wend;
And merry we’ll meet next winter again.
Blow out candle and say: Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again!

Ostara is a time to celebrate the coming of spring and the new growth of the year. All this new growth is important as it leads to our own harvests throughout the year!

Wishing you all a fertile and abundant Ostara. May the Lady bring us all the blessings of the Spring.