Samhain Swine

This was originally posted on Witches and Pagans on October 28th, 2013. I know we’re slightly out of season, but I’ve been working on some research that relates to this topic. Plus, I really like mythological pigs. They make me happy. Enjoy:

 

Samhain: During this time of year, some people celebrate the Lady’s return to the Underworld. Others remember their ancestors and give thanks and blessings to those who have come before us. Still others celebrate the end of the Harvest. Samhain is a time of diverse celebrations and remembrances.

I, however, think about pigs.

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, a king was hunting in the forest. As he was mustering his own pack of dogs, he heard a strange pack of dogs baying. As he and his dogs came to a clearing in the woods, he finally caught sight of the other pack of dogs. These dogs were white with red ears and they were chasing a white stag. (This should have been his first hint that this was no ordinary pack of dogs).

The strange pack of dogs brought down the stag and the King, whose name was Pwyll, had his dogs drive them off so that he could claim the prize of the stag for his own pack.

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As his dogs fed, another Huntsman appeared in the clearing.

Pwyll, King of Dyfed, greeted the stranger, but the stranger refused to introduce himself because of a great discourtesy Pwyll had done him. When Pwyll asked what discourtesy he had given, the Stranger answered.

‘I’ve never seen a greater discourtesy by a man than driving off a pack which has killed a stag, and [then] feeding your own dogs on it.

Art by Alan Lee for an illustrated version of the Mabinogion

Art by Alan Lee for an illustrated version of the Mabinogion

That’ said he ‘was the discourtesy, and though I won’t be revenging myself on you, between me and God, I will be claiming dishonour from you to the value of a hundred stags.’

‘Chieftain, if I’ve committed an offence, I will redeem your friendship.’

‘In what form will you redeem it?’

‘As appropriate to your rank – I don’t know who you are…’

‘A crowned king am I in the land I am from.’

‘Lord,’ said Pwyll ‘good day to you. Which land is it that you are from?’

‘From Annwvyn. Arawn king of Annwfn am I.’

It’s never wise to upset the God of the Underworld, and Pwyll realizes too late who he has offended. Arawn asks Pwyll for a service to restore his honor. Pwyll happily does the service asked of him, and this begins a great friendship between the Kingdom of Dyfed and the Kingdom of Annwn. Pwyll himself received many gifts from Arawn, the most important of which is Pwyll’ s wife, the goddess Rhiannon, which is another story entirely. (If you want to read the whole story, you can find it here). But the greatest gift the Kings of Dyfed receive from Arawn is a herd of swine.

This story comes to us from the first Branch of the Mabinogion. Throughout the Mabinogion, the ownership of the pigs is an important issue. Whoever owns the pigs has a close and friendly relationship with the Underworld, which brings them both prosperity and happiness.

Also from Welsh folklore, we hear about Henwen, the White Sow (another Underworld creature), who brought abundance to England by birthing litters of bees, wheat and barley. She also birthed eagles, ferocious cats and wolves. Henwen is a goddess of prophecy and would use sticks and runes to spell out someone’s future for them

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We see sacred pigs in many stories throughout European mythology.

The pig was sacred to Demeter, a goddess that is an important part of the Greek Underworld story of Persephone and Hades. This spilled over onto the Roman goddess Ceres as well. Sacred pigs were herded into caves for the goddesses in both lands. While most people agree that Zeus was suckled by a goat, some say he was suckled by a sow.

Circe turned Odysseus’s men into swine on his journey returning from Troy.

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The great goddess Cerridwen was known as “The Old White Sow” and the Irish god of the sea, Manannan had a magical herd of pigs.

The Russian witch/goddess Baba Yaga is also often thought by some to ride a Sow through the forest instead of the flying mortar.

In Norse mythology, the boar is a symbol of Odin, and the Valkyries serve the warriors who feast in Valhalla from the boar Saehrimnir.

Pigs still tie us to the Underworld, which is why I always “sacrifice” a pig on Samhain. This is a reminder to me and to the Gods of the relationship that we have with the Underworld. While most of us can’t actually sacrifice a pig, I make a delicious pork dishes and leave them out as offerings to stand in as a replacement for a living swine.

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My “pig” sacrifice for the year, made with pork roast and bbq sauce

So while you’re enjoying your Samhain festivities this year, whatever they may be, remember the pigs! They may sound like an odd creature to appreciate, but they are an important tie to the Underworld that can bring your home health, wealth and prosperity.

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*I wrote a children’s Henwen ritual for Samhain over at The Pagan Household. If you’re interested, you can find it here!

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The Melissae of Ancient Greece

[550] “But I will tell you another thing, Son of all-glorious Maia and Zeus who holds the aegis, luck-bringing genius of the gods. There are certain holy ones, sisters born — three virginsgifted with wings: their heads are besprinkled with white meal, and they dwell under a ridge of Parnassus. These are teachers of divination apart from me, the art which I practised while yet a boy following herds, though my father paid no heed to it. From their home they fly now here, now there, feeding on honey-comb and bringing all things to pass. And when they are inspired through eating yellow honey, they are willing to speak truth; but if they be deprived of the gods’ sweet food, then they speak falsely, as they swarm in and out together. These, then, I give you; enquire of them strictly and delight your heart: and if you should teach any mortal so to do, often will he hear your response — if he have good fortune. Take these, Son of Maia, and tend the wild roving, horned oxen and horses and patient mules.”                                          ~ HOMERIC HYMNS, TRANS. BY H. G. EVELYN-WHITE, IV. TO HERMES

According to the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the Thriae were three nymphs who taught the art of prophecy to Apollo. Apollo taught it to Hermes, who was the god that escorted souls to the Underworld and then escorted them back into life again. They were the original Melissae, or bee nymphs of Mount Parnassus named Melaina (“the black”), Kleodora (“Famed for her Gift”), and Daphnis (“Laurel”). Often described as women with wings and hair that appears white because of how much pollen was covering it, they are generally considered to be the triple goddess aspect of The Pure Mother Bee, also called Potnia who was possibly the older Goddess that originally dwelled on Mount Parnassus before Zeus and his siblings came into power.

Later associated with Kore and the Eleusinian mysteries, this may have been the goddess that oversaw the infamous labyrinth in Crete where beekeeping was a sacred practice. In the Eleusinian Mysteries, the three Melissae represented Kore’s descent into the Underworld, Demeter’s search for Kore and finally Kore’s ascent back to the Upperworld.

Potnia means “the mistress” and is often associated with larger Earth mother figures such as Gaia and Rhea. Many priestesses of important goddesses were called “Melissae” or just simply “bees”. The Delphic Oracle herself was often called the Delphic Bee and the complex at Delphi was said to be based on a beehive. Potnia seems to have later evolved into various aspects of Artemis, Aphrodite, Demeter and Cybele. Though Artemis, as the goddess of the wild animals, is the goddess who most usually came to be associated with bees.

Bee and Stag Coin from Ephesus

Bee and Stag Coin representing Artemis from Ephesus

Another story tells of the nymph Melissa, who taught people about honey. She discovered the honey in a honey comb and taught people how to mix it with water and then drink it. She was considered one of the goddesses responsible for civilizing mankind. And thus the bee was named for her. The production of honey was considered to be magical and divine. Because of Melissa’s association with bees, Medieval beekeepers believed that without a virtuous (or civilized) beekeeper, the honey couldn’t be made. Honeybees are of course extremely important to agriculture in most areas of the world. While Medieval beekeepers didn’t know why, they did realize that the bees needed to be kept happy.

Melissa hid the baby Zeus from Cronus, his father, who was determined to devour him as he had done to Zeus’ siblings. She nursed Zeus with milk and honey. When Cronus discovered her role in sheltering Zeus, he turned her into an Earthworm. Zeus, in thanks for all she had done for him, then changed her into a bee instead and forever afterwards Zeus always loved honey.

A different story tells about an aging priestess of Demeter named Melissa who was initiated into Demeter’s mysteries by the goddess herself. When Melissa refused to tell the secrets of her initiation, other women tore her apart. In anger, the goddess Demeter sent a plague of bees against the jealous women.

Melissa was also associated with Artemis. Artemis eased the pain of mothers giving birth and Melissa sent the souls of the newborns to their bodies in the shape of bees. Aphrodite had her own association with bees and was often called Melissa, the Queen bee.

Alfred Dürer, 1514: Eros, Venus and the bees. Eros stung by a bee, when he inhaled the pleasant fragrance of a rose, went crying to take refuge in the arms of Venus,” Dear mother, I die, have mercy on me, a flying snake bit me painfully cheek.”

In all the stories, the Melissae are symbols of regeneration and renewal and are also usually considered to be associated with the Underworld.

The etymology of the word ‘fate’ in Greek offers a fascinating example of how the genius of the Minoan vision entered the Greek language, often visibly, as well as informing its stories of goddesses and gods.  The Greek word for ‘fate’, ‘death’ and ‘goddess of death’ is ‘e ker’ (feminine); the word for’heart’ and ‘breast’ is ‘to ker’ (neuter); while the word for ‘honeycomb’ is ‘to kerion’ (neuter).  The common root ‘ker’ links the ideas of the honeycomb, goddess, death, fate and the human heart, a nexus of meanings that is illumined if we know that the goddess was once imagined as a bee. (Anne Baring & Jules Cashford, “The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image.”)

The Melissae were virginal priestesses because of the pureness of the honey. They drank a “toxic honey” made from psychedelic plants to enable themselves to experience visions. Transgendered priests in the temples of Artemis were often called essenes or drones and were there to help the Melissae. Bees are also often called “veil-winged” and represent the veil you had to cross to reach the Goddess in the inner temple (I see this as initiation), and a woman’s hymen, which of course veiled her body from sexuality until she was initiated into womanhood. The Melissae were often consulted in matters of marriage.

Bees dance and so did the Melissae. Accordingly, this is part of the reason that Apollo, who learned the art of prophecy from the Melissae, was also the god of light and music. Sacred music and dance played an important role in the lives of the Melissae.

Bees, who are known for the industry and order, were also used as examples of how a Priestess should live her life: she helped her community, assisted in healing the sick, crafted tools and objects and were capable of giving someone a good “sting” or set down when they needed it.

Further Reading –

Priestesses of the Bee: The Melissae

The College of the Melissae: Center for Sacred Bee Keeping

Honeybee in Goddess Mythology

Bees and Honey in Greek and Roman Myth

The Eleusinian Mysteries and the Bee

Pagan Women and the Wishy-Washy

The first time I met a particular friend of my S O, she declared that she liked me immediately because I was a Pagan woman with a job.

This confused me.

While I grew up with a very traditional Christian father and a mother who had converted for my father’s sake, I was extremely lucky that both of my parents also taught me to think for myself; to seek, to question, to form my own opinions and most importantly, to read. I grew up in a solidly middle class white collar family in a medium sized industrial town in central Ohio. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would graduate from high school, go to college and then get a job and support myself. My parents raised me to take care of myself. Through anything else that occurred in my life, I knew I would work and support myself. Becoming Pagan didn’t change any of this. I didn’t know that it was supposed to.

Most of my friends are the same way. Even though some don’t hold the traditional nine-to-five sort of job that I do, they work hard to do what they love and to support themselves and their loved ones. In my group, I am very lucky to be surrounded by extremely strong women who support not only themselves, but often their families. Ohio is not a good place for jobs right now and our women have kept everyone afloat for a long time. Pirate women weather the storms of life with feet firmly planted and shoulders braced against the wind.

One of the things that originally attracted me to Paganism was its characteristic of empowering the female, seeing the feminine in the divine and in most cases, balance between the sexes. I hated how the women in the Christian communities that I grew up around had no influence on their own lives or their families’. And it infuriated me even more that they refused to claim power for themselves. I had several moments in my own family settings where I was expected to be in the kitchen preparing dinner, taking care of the children, and then cleaning up, while the men didn’t feel the need to help at all, just because they were men. Where is the fairness in that? All the women in my family work just as hard as the men, but the kitchen is a woman’s place in the Christian household, and women obviously don’t deserve time to sit down and rest. Almost all of the women that I know in the Pagan community are well aware of their power and have equal decision making roles in their family life. Our men celebrate our power. My S O loves me for the determined woman that I am.

How then, do the women in our community have this reputation for either not working or not being able to take care of themselves?

I won’t argue that as a whole, the Pagan community can be very flaky. But all of the Pagan women I know are extremely capable people and for the most part, much more mentally healthy and stable compared to many of my non-pagan friends. I’ve noticed many more instances of abusive relationships, an inability to stand up for themselves and an inability to live without a boyfriend in my friends who are not pagan. I’ve always felt that making sure that womanhood is sacred in my life has enabled me to embrace my feminine power and all of the authority that comes with being a woman. I don’t need someone else to take care of me, I am a strong individual. I can do whatever I put my mind to.

While I am lucky to have a very supportive partner, I know that if he wasn’t there, I could still make it (not that I would ever want to!).

So again, why do our women have this reputation? Don’t we have an obligation to be all that our goddesses demand of us? If you look at most our sacred myths, the women have to make very hard decisions. When Persephone disappeared, Demeter nearly destroyed the world to get her back. And in the end, Persephone made her own decision in regards to herself (anyone that tells you Persephone ate those seeds without realizing what she was doing, doesn’t understand mythology). Whether you simply worship the God and the Goddess or worship individual deities, I feel that the Goddess, in whatever form she takes, demands that we take responsibility for our lives.”Follow your highest ideal; strive ever toward it.”

The current political trend in regards to women’s rights infuriates me. Our lawmakers have obviously forgotten that this is not a Christian country. How dare they instill their morals on me and mine. My body is mine. The decisions regarding my body are only mine. My sex life is just as valid as any man’s, whether it be for procreation or recreation. If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t get one, but don’t go out of your way to try and shame the women who do make that decision.

Even if abortion and birth control are legally banned, I know exactly what I can get down at the local herb shop, which is another amazing thing about the women of the Pagan community. We have not only the ability to decide for ourselves what to do with our bodies, we have the knowledge to do it without the help of mainstream medicine and without someone we don’t know “giving us permission to do it”. Our wise women, herb wives and hedge witches have carried this knowledge through the generations for centuries.

So where does our reputation for being unempowered come from?

Oh—And the friend who had decided to instantly like me because I was a pagan woman with a job, later ended up hating me because of it. She couldn’t stand that I had boundaries that I was willing to stand up for. If there is a real need, I will give you everything. If you’re being lazy and just don’t want to get off your ass and do something for yourself…well, I have very little patience for that. I don’t see being a Pagan as an excuse to not take care of yourself. In fact, I think that you have an obligation to take care of yourself to the best of your ability, if only to keep your covenant with whatever gods you worship.

I think that more of our women need to stop and say “look at all the amazing things that I do!” and “look at what I do for my family, my community and my gods!”. We need to get rid of this overwhelming blanket belief that Pagan women aren’t capable of and willing to put in the same hard work as the men. Why are we letting the majority, the monotheistic world, spread their misogyny into our community?

Pagan women are amazing people. I would not be the person I am without the Pagan women in my life. Take the time to stop and tell the Pagan women in your life how wonderful they are and thank them for all that they do. Maybe if more of our women know and believe this, it will be easier to undo the self-sabotaging notions that have crept from the outside world into our community.