Don’t Look Back

Dead things…dead things everywhere! It is that time of the year when the veil is thin and it is so much easier to walk back and forth between the worlds. Lately, on our walks through New Orleans, we have been finding many dead things.

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Found dead, Acadian Flycatcher, photo by my S.O.

The weather is finally cooling off here in New Orleans and Fall is upon us. My mother sent me this beautiful picture from her garden in Ohio.

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Fate is weaving her web for the new year and it’s time to get ready for the winter.

This is of course the time of year when the Goddess is making her way to the Underworld and it’s hard not to think about Persephone and Inanna and all the other various Underworld Goddess tales we know. The Hades and Persephone myth is probably one of the most well known tales in any tradition or culture and at least here in the US, one that most of us find fairly early on. I grew up loving this story and it has been interesting for me over the years to see how my understanding of the tale changes over time and through aging.

I stumbled across this favorite tumblr meme recently and it always makes me laugh a little.

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The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is of course an excellent example Hades allowing a soul to leave. Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies and Orpheus, who loves his wife so much, goes to the Underworld to ask Hades to allow her to come back to life.

(You can find a beautiful reading of Virgil’s Orpheus and Eurydice in Latin here).

I’ve always disliked Orpheus. His inability to not follow Hades’ directions to not look back bothers me. How can you go through so much to give up at the last minute?

Orpheus is impatient and this is his downfall.

Looking at the dead or the divine or the sacred is a taboo in many cultures.

Semele looks at Zeus and is completely destroyed.

Those who look at the Gorgon are turned to stone.

Pysche looks upon Eros and is cast out of her home and away from her husband and she must venture to the Underworld to win her right to her divine husband back.

Lot’s wife looks back at Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt.

Peeping Tom peeps at Lady Godiva as she rides by and is blinded for his lack of respect.

But why this rule in the case of Orpheus and Eurydice?

It is often believed that if Orpheus had looked back at Eurydice while she was still technically dead, he would have seen secrets that he, a mere mortal, literally couldn’t stand to see and would, like Semele, be obliterated by the sight of such immortal things.

In the mortal world, we find it important to look someone “in the eye.” Anyone who can’t do so, is generally considered to be deceitful or up to no good. So it’s interesting that not looking is such an important part of myth and fairy tale.

There are many recipes for salves to put on one’s eyes to allow you to see fairy. Of course, if the fey figure out that you can see them, there are also many stories of those who use the salves being blinded by the fey who know what they are doing.

It is never good to attract the attention of the divine or magical.

I stumbled across a short video series by Gia Coppola and Gucci for Vogue, the series is a retelling of the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice using fashion and NY to express the familiar tale.

It’s beautifully done and I love this video series, because Coppola manages to make you understand why Orpheus looks back. In this scenario, I might have looked back too!

 

 

 

 

Aristaeus plays a big role here. In some versions of the tale, Aristaeus fell in love with Eurydice, chasing her so that she is caught unawares by the snake that bites her. Here it’s interesting that Aristaeus is a woman in red, which symbolizes things like love and lust and vanity. She cannot quit watching Eurydice, inadvertently killing the very thing she wants, which is later echoed by Orpheus himself: “Orpheus’s bomber is stitched with the words “L’Aveugle Par Amour”– blind for love. In the film’s last scenes, we hope Orpheus will heed the phrase and keep his eyes off Eurydice, even as we—and he—know that he won’t” (Studeman, 2016). Orpheus is so distraught over losing Eurydice a second time, that he disdains women for all time. Later, the Maenads tear him apart for this hubris.

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I think that one of the things these videos proves is that the old myths are never actually old. They are still relevant to us today and still have many things to teach us, even though things have changed so much between their origins and now.

Don’t look back at the things the gods give us. They bring us only heartache and ruin. The gifts of the divine, especially when we transverse the Underworld, should never be taken for granted.

Don’t eat the fruit of the gods or fairy, unless you’re willing to be entrapped and don’t look at the divine unless you want to lose everything.

During this time of year, when the veil is thin, this is an important lesson to remember.

 

References:

Bonaparte, M. (1954). The fault of orpheus in reverse. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 35, 109. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1298189715?accountid=14437

Studeman, K.T. (2016). Gia Coppola’s New Film Takes Downtown Cool to Mythic Levels: A cast of Gucci-clad scenesters animate the director’s Orpheus series. W. Retrieved from http://www.wmagazine.com/culture/2016/06/gucci-orpheus-gia-coppola-lou-doillon/photos/

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Charon Ritual Response – Guest Blog

After posting my last blog, I sent it to my own students. We have been talking about ritual and the creation of magical works. We have been talking about the appropriate way to create magical workings while utilizing our ritual and the resources that can help you do so. I asked them to read my friend E’s ritual and discuss a few things:

Did you agree with what E did? Why or why not.

Would you change anything? If so, why?

What would you have done differently?

If you needed to create a ritual to end a cycle and get yourself out of a bad spot, how would you do it?

One of my brilliant initiates wrote me this response. I think it highlights the differences between eclecticism and formal Wicca, while giving a well thought out response to my questions. It also demonstrates the differences between someone who is new to this practice and one who is in dedicated service to this particular pantheon. E has never approached a working like this before, while C is a trained initiate.

I thought you would enjoy it as well. So without further ado, my lovely initiate C responds to my friend E! Posted with C’s permission…

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Perspehone by seaspell

Charon Ritual Response

First, I want to say thank you to you and E for sharing this. I think E’s thoughtfully crafted offering to Charon was a beautiful response to her current situation, and I suspect that many can relate to this predicament/ feeling of being trapped in hell. Props to her for taking real and significant steps (mentally, spiritually and legally) to achieve life again instead of trying to make a defeated existence in hell as comfortable as possible (the lazy choice made by most people).

My perspective on this ritual is based on my own experience, knowledge, and relationship with these gods. However, I recognize E’s intuition and intent, as a magical practitioner, as the correct guide for her own rituals and spell-work and believe that her sincere practice is right for her and will hopefully open the gates to a new life.

That being said, here are my thoughts on this ritual and the changes that I would make for myself:

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Pay the Ferryman by WalterODim

The most significant change I would make to this ritual would be including Persephone and Hades. I find it interesting that she focused on Charon. In this same situation of finding myself in the underworld, I would focus on Persephone and Hades, for it is their favor that is needed when trying to leave the underworld.

Phase 1: apology and belated payment for initial journey into the underworld

From my perspective, her lack of initial payment to Charon on her journey into hell makes her return possible. Coins were put in the mouth of the deceased as payment in order to secure their passage into the underworld and prevent their soul from returning. It was believed that without a proper burial and payment, the deceased would be denied entry by Charon. However, this did occasionally happen, like in the case of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, who had been ordered to report to the underworld as punishment for tricking and imprisoning Hades, cleverly instructed his wife not to bury his body or provide a coin for payment before he died. When he arrived in the underworld he was able to plead with Persephone to let him return on these grounds, arguing that he should not have been granted entry into the underworld in the first place without proper payment. Persephone agreed and allowed him to return so that he could secure a proper passage into the underworld.

With this in mind, having mistakenly ended up in hell without proper passage and payment, I would address my appeal to Persephone with the promise that proper payment be made upon my death and ultimate descent. In this phase of E’s ritual she provided the coin as payment for her initial journey. I would not have done this in fear that I would be trapping myself in the underworld by doing so.

I agree that the new moon would be an appropriate time for this ritual for two reasons: 1) As the conclusion of a previous lunar cycle, this phase is symbolic of death and is a good time to communicate with underworld gods and to discard any negative/undesirable behaviors/thoughts/attitudes and to communicate with underworld gods. 2) It is also the beginning of a new cycle, and the imminent illumination of the waxing moon will serve as a symbolic representation and reminder of the ascent to renewed life.

In a ritual focused on death and new life, I would find it crucial to acknowledge Persephone and Hades. Persephone in particular, as a goddess of renewal and changing seasons (and the more likely to be sympathetic to heartache… and being trapped in the underworld via marriage…) should be honored.

Other than the coin, I think that E’s offering of olives, wine and cakes was appropriate and generous, and mine would be very similar if I were to do this ritual. In addition, I might include some fresh (springtime) flowers and honey for Persephone.

Phase 2: payment to get out of hell

I found E’s approach to this fascinating. I like the idea of looking for modern analogies in a ritual context. I would never think of doing something like this, but after reading this I will definitely experiment this concept in my own magical workings (so thank you E for inspiring me to think outside of my box).

While E used a money offering to motivate Charon to deliver her from hell (very insightfully I might add), I would probably use a different approach based on my own resources.

E acknowledged the sacrifice aspect of her payment when deciding how much to give. I think this is particularly relevant in this case. I believe that the ascension out of hell is a daunting task that will require active participation, discipline and sacrifice on the part of the traveler.

Drawing from other myths about this journey, I would do two things to motivate and fuel my journey.

First, with music being a big part of my own practice, I would either learn a hymn or write

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Lyre of Orpheus by TALONABRAXAS

something to perform for Persephone and Charon. While my music obviously could never compare to the heavenly melodies played by Orpheus that enchanted Charon and tamed Cerberus, it is a thoughtful and active offering that is personal to me. The amount of emotion, power and breath that I give in my playing would serve as an expression of my sincerity and determination. This would also serve as a reminder to me that if I indulge myself by looking back (let past thoughts, attitudes, resentments etc. creep back in), I will be trapped in hell. A new life can not be possible as long as you remain stuck in the past.

I would also add a physical element in this phase of the ritual to offer Charon assistance with paddling. There are several instances of Charon asking/ordering travelers to do this. Ideally, I would do some type of aquatic exercise like rowing or swimming. However, because my environment does not lend itself to this type of activity, I would probably run instead.

At sunrise, the morning after my offerings on the new moon, I would commit myself to running 3 miles. I think 3 is an appropriate number to seal the work done the night before. Also, it should be noted that I am a horrible runner with horrible stamina and 3 miles would be a very difficult feat for me. This number she be adjusted depending on the physical ability of the individual to be adequately difficult. This struggle and sacrifice through physical exertion is 1) to make Charon’s job easier and 2) to demonstrate my active role in making it out of hell and acknowledging that though it will difficult and exhausting, it can be accomplished if I stay focused and keep looking forward.

My last thought on this ritual, as an initiate, would be to call upon (name of patroness) and (name of patron) who witnessed my initiation as they have already seen me through a journey of death and rebirth.

 

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!

Fall Fades Into Winter

I came across this poem tonight and thought it was appropriate for this time of year.

Persephone or, Why the Winters Seem to Be Getting Longer

by Wendy Froud

Six pomegranate seeds, as red as rubies, like on a golden plate. They glow with crimson fire in the candlelight. My lord bids me eat. I can feel his hands upon my shoulders. I can feel his breath hot upon my neck. I eat the first fruit, and as I taste, my lord tastes the skin of my throat, where the scent of flowers still lingers.

In the world above, the daylight fades. The wind blows cold among the trees.

The second seed is eaten, and my lord kneels at my feet. His hands reach for my breasts, and through the fabric of my gown I feel his caress, first soft, then hard. I watch my nipples rise then strain against the thin gold silk. He takes a small knife away from the table and, holding it delicately, cuts through the neckline of my dress. The fabric tears, parting from white flesh, and falls away.

In the world above, as night draws close, the grasses turn in the wind. Flowers bend. Petals fall.

My nipples are the color of crimson seeds. The third seed is upon my lips as my lord suckles at my breasts, tracing circles of fire with his tongue. They ripen like fruit beneath his kisses.

The world above is dark. The trees are black and bare. Creatures shiver, and shelter where they may.

My lord explores my body, kissing, biting, tasting the length of me. I need to see him. He will not undress. He will not let me touch him. I know that he is beautiful; I can feel that beauty as my body lifts to press itself against him. Naked now, my thighs tremble and open. The fourth seed is eaten.

In the world above, frost traces white patterns on brown leaves. The last of the summer fruit returns to the soil beneath the sleeping trees.

I catch my breath as my dark lord parts my thighs. His fingers touch me, there, gliding on the juices of my passion. His tongue, questing, thirsts for me, tasting me even as I taste the fifth seed upon my tongue.

The world above lies dormant, frozen. A creature caught by the cold, harsh air curls and sleeps, stiffens and dies.

He looks into my eyes, my lord, and slowly unlaces the robe he wears to taunt and tempt me. It falls to the ground. He stands before me, proud manhood beautiful. I long to take him in my mouth, to close my lips around that hot, strong flesh, taste the milky jewel glistening at its tip. He smiles as he puts instead the sixth seed to my lips. He gathers me to him; I twine my legs around his waist and open to his manhood. It thrusts deeper and deeper, taking me further into my dark lord’s dark realm. The last seed bursts cool upon my tongue as my lord’s seed bursts hot within my body.

The world above lies still as death, waiting for the spring to come. Hollow promise. Who can know how hard that promise is to keep?

I have always loved the taste of pomegranates.

Image Persephone by Silvereyed

You can find this poem here, and many others here.

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.