Honoring Juno & Vesta

In ancient Rome, Juno was the goddess who watched over women and marriage. Vesta was the protector of the hearth, and of virginity. Together, these two mighty goddesses were sacred to Roman women.

Image by DanFLCreativo via Canva

Although Juno’s festival, the Matronalia, was actually celebrated in March, the month of June was named for her. It’s a month for weddings and handfasting, so you could easily honor Juno at this time of the year. During the Matronalia, women received gifts from their husbands and daughters, and gave their female slaves the day off work.

Like nearly all Roman deities, Vesta had her own holiday as well. The Vestalia was celebrated from June 7 to June 15, and was a time in which the inner sanctum of the Vestal Temple was opened for all women to visit and make offerings to the goddess. The Vestales, or Vestal Virgins, guarded a sacred flame at the temple, and swore thirty-year vows of chastity. One of the best known Vestales was Rhea Silvia, who broke her vows and conceived twins Romulus and Remus with the god Mars.

Aerra Litha and the Germanic Pagans

When they arrived in the British Isles, the Saxon invaders brought with them the tradition of calling the month of June Aerra Litha. They marked Midsummer with huge bonfires that celebrated the power of the sun over darkness. For people in Scandinavian countries and in the farther reaches of the Northern hemisphere, Midsummer was very important. The nearly endless hours of light in June are a happy contrast to the constant darkness found six months later in the middle of winter.

The period following the solstice was called Aefterra Litha, according to the Venerable Bede’s eighth century writings about the “heathen” Anglo-Saxons.

Author Sandra Kynes says in A Year of Ritual: Sabbats and Esbats for Solitaries and Covens, “The ancient people of Europe left their legacy in stone all over the continent, the Mediterranean area, and the British Isles in the form of standing stone circles, alignments, and dolmens… It has been known for a long time that these places mark the rising and setting of the sun at the winter and summer solstices. They also mark lunar cycles, eclipses, and other astrological events.”

         Stonehenge image by janeb13 from CC0 via Canva

Hobbits, Doorways, and Viking Art

The Norse society valued art and craftsmanship, and left behind some exquisite work, much of which can still be seen today. From the ship burial of Sutton Hoo to the Harrowgate hoard, Viking artwork depicts men, animals, gods, and pieces of the natural world tied together with interlacing knots and spirals. This stylized blend of elements has made Viking artwork instantly recognizable the world over.

Image by Gagliardi Photography via Canva

For some three hundred years, beginning in the late eighth century, the Scandinavian explorers known as the Vikings wreaked havoc upon much of Western Europe. Starting with the sack of the monastery of Lindisfarne in 793, the Vikings invaded, plundered and destroyed villages and harbors around the British Isles, Ireland, France and even as far east as parts of Russia. They were well known for their fierce bravery in battle, their tactical skills, and their unflagging devotion to the warrior gods that called each man towards Valhalla, the hall of Odin the All-Father.

A man who died with honor on the battlefield was given the privilege of spending eternity with Odin in Valhalla, a realm where the dead engage in combat with one another, in preparation for Ragnarok, the great battle the signifies the end of the world. Worthy warriors were selected for and escorted to Valhalla by the Valkyries, Odin’s shieldmaidens, and welcomed to the hall with feasting and song. Battles took place all day, eating and drinking went on all night, and each evening, every warrior’s wounds were healed so they could fight anew the next morning. Depictions of Valhalla, the gods, and the coming of Ragnarok are popular themes in the artwork and mythology of the Vikings.

The most commonly seen Viking artwork still in existence is work carved in wood and stone, or etched in metal, particularly in silver or bronze. These stylized designs also appeared on textiles, although there are few well-preserved examples left. Perhaps the best-known textile containing Viking art is the Överhogdal wall hanging discovered in Sweden. Dating to around the tenth century, this tapestry depicts both pre-Christian imagery of the entire battle of Ragnarok, along with images of the incoming Christian religion and its churches (Brink et al, 2008).

Vikings even celebrated their artwork on human skin in the form of tattoos, although it is unknown just how widespread the practice was. We can make certain assumptions about Viking body art from writings of the time period by reliable observers. Ahmad ibn Fadlan was an Arab diplomat who was sent by the Caliph of Baghdad as an emissary to the Bulgars. Somehow, on his way to the lands of the Bulgars, ibn Fadlan fell in with a band of Norsemen in the tenth century as they explored what is now Russia.

He wrote, “Each man, from the tip of his toes to his neck, is covered in dark-green lines, pictures, and such like (Montgomery 2000).” At present, however, no tattooed skin has been found on bodies in Viking burial sites, but we know that ibn Fadlan’s reports are reasonably accurate, because he takes great pains to differentiate between things he sees, and things he is told. He deliberately uses phrasing like, “And this I saw with my own eyes,” versus, “This is what I was told by the men.” In addition, ibn Fadlan makes it clear that his writing is not meant to glorify or praise the Vikings he is traveling with; he finds them somewhat repulsive, particularly when it comes to matters of personal hygiene. As an outsider, he gives us an honest and almost clinical interpretation of what he sees and hears.

Scholars have also been able to determine through written words the details of some lost works of art. The Norse prose and poetic eddas and sagas contain passages describing the paintings on walls and shields that have since been lost to time.

In the remaining fragments of the Skaldic poem Ragnarsdrapa, 9th century Skald Bragi Boddason, alternately referred to as Bragi inn Gamli, describes in several stanzas the type of artwork contained on shields, which illustrated great battles, heroes, and journeys:

On the fair shield of Svolnir
One may perceive the onslaught;
Ragnar gave me the Ship-Moon [the Ship-Moon refers to a shield]
With many tales marked upon it (Pulsiano et al, 1993).

The Skaldic tales, or shield-poems, were typically performed live at a large gathering, and were generally used to extol the virtues a chieftain or ruler, celebrate his victories in battle, and pay homage to the strength and power of his ancestral line. However, they also reveal details of a variety of ornamentation, describing everything from the previously mentioned shield decorations to pictures of wall hangings in a great hall (Heslop).

Today, a thousand years after the last Viking ship set sail, we still see new interpretations of Viking artwork themes recreated in films, particularly of the fantasy and historical genres. Viking imagery appears in doorways and portals, ship design, and jewelry in a number of movies and television shows, and it is perhaps nowhere more visible than in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, based on the books by the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tolkien himself was a highly-regarded scholar of Norse mythology, and well versed indeed in the eddas and sagas of the Vikings by the time he wrote his classic Lord of the Rings between 1937 and 1949. The tale itself is deeply rooted in Norse legend, particularly in the Saga of the Volsungs, which tells of the adventures of Sigurd the dragon-slayer, an exiled king on a quest to find a magical ring that will unite the tribes of his land. When Jackson made Lord of the Rings into not just one but three films, the Norse influences of the books carried over heavily into the story’s appearance on screen.

Stave Church Image by Boke9A from CC0 via Canva

On the side of a fjord in Urnes, Norway, there is a small church. Built around the middle of the 12th century, not much is left of the original building, constructed of wooden staves. It’s a remarkable combination of traditional Viking artwork meeting up with the new Christian architecture of the time, and the Urnes church is one of only a few such structures left in the world. Its very name, stavkyrkje, means “church of staves.”

The church’s placement and location is significant. It is placed on the east side of the fjord, and is three miles from the closest village, Hafslo. The Urnes church sits on a promontory overlooking the Sognefjord, and can be approached by a simple footpath. For someone walking along through the green fields of Norway, en route from the village of Hafslo, there would have been ample time to ponder thoughts of a spiritual nature, with the church on its hill sitting in the distance, ultimately becoming a goal to reach at the conclusion of the climb up the promontory, an end to the spiritual journey.

The church, in its present form, dates from the mid-1100s, when a chieftain owned a farm in Urnes and its surrounding area. The exterior of the building is modest, and is reminiscent of the simply wooden style of a longhouse. However, as one arrives in front of the building, the imagery and artwork of the doorways and portals become apparent. The portals themselves, and the interior, are heavily decorated in the Viking style. The main portal, an early piece of architecture that was incorporated into later reconstruction, is decorated with elaborate intertwining animals, plants, leaves, and stalks, all surrounding an equally elaborate keyhole-shaped centerpiece.

Today, the interior of the Urnes church contains artwork from the 17th century, which was created as part of a renovation project. However, it still includes early pieces that were restored from the early medieval period, reflecting the blend of pagan Viking imagery with Christian icons and themes.

Jackson utilizes the image of doorways regularly in the three films. From the early sequences of the first movie, when young hobbit Frodo Baggins opens the round door of his home to permit the wizard Gandalf entry, to the scene in which doors are breached by Orcs and Uruk-Hai at the great battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers, doors are significant. In Norse mythology, doorways are very important too – there are five hundred and forty of them leading into the Hall of Valhalla, where warriors hope to find themselves after falling in battle. The doors to Valhalla show the power and scope of Odin’s rule; each is wide enough that eight hundred warriors can walk through them, fully armed, side by side.

Much like the Urnes portal, the doorway to the Mines of Moria sits in a far-away place… on a mountainside in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. As portrayed by Jackson in Fellowship of the Ring, the first film in the trilogy, the entrance way to the abandoned mines – known as the Door of Durin – is sealed with a series of magical runes. It too is decorated with scroll work, although not nearly as elaborate as that of the Urnes stavkyrkje. Jackson’s door is less complex, but still carries over the themes of spiraling branches, trees, and leaves on both the right and left side. The top arch, rather than echoing the natural elements found on the vertical aspects, instead is inscribed with Elvish runes. The runework is part of Tolkien’s original manuscript, in the Elvish language he created, and based upon early Scandinavian runic alphabets such as the Elder Futhark, said to be a gift from Odin himself.

Hobbit House Image by Kichigin via Canva

In The Two Towers, the second film of the trilogy, Viking-inspired artwork can be seen much more clearly in the decorations of the Golden Hall, the stronghold of Theoden, king of Rohan. Complex scrollwork details the walls and pillars throughout the Hall, which is structured exactly the way a Viking longhouse would have been a thousand years ago. Behind Theoden’s throne, intricate knotwork and spirals adorn the wall.

Most significantly, the massive set of double doors that welcome guests to the Golden Hall calls the artwork of Urnes to mind. Giant pillars on the Hall’s threshold are covered with interlacing branches, leaves, plant elements and even animals that are reminiscent of the artwork on the stavkyrkje’s portal. The doors themselves include sophisticated curves and spirals, painted boldly in gold upon black, carrying the centuries-old artwork of Viking craftsmen into the fantasy world of Middle Earth.

Later in the series, we see yet another prominently displayed and significant set of doors. Near the end of Return of the King, the last film in the series, Aragorn, the exiled son of the House of Gondor, is crowned as king before the giant doors of the city of Minas Tirith. Like the Golden Hall of Rohan, the doors of Minas Tirith are covered in elaborate carved spirals and knotwork, but they reflect to us that Gondor is a more modern kingdom than the lands of Rohan. While Rohan’s capital is a simple village, a giant hall built of wooden beams surrounded by peasant huts, Minas Tirith is full of massive stone buildings, twisting stairways, and complex masonry, towering high above the fields of Pelennor as a tribute to the power of the realm’s ruling kings. The technology of Minas Tirith is far more advanced than that of Rohan; the city has a warning beacon system, sophisticated weaponry and even aqueducts. The city is the hub of all trade and commerce for the entire kingdom of Gondor.

Like the church at Urnes, the doors of Minas Tirith, a city some three thousand years old, see their ancient artwork combined with the symmetric and geometrically aligned arches that blended with and then eventually replaced the art of the pre-Christian era.

Although Tolkien denied repeatedly during his lifetime that Lord of the Rings was an allegory for the technology of battle developed between the two world wars, the evolution of the realms of Middle Earth can often be paralleled with the developing societies of Europe. Interestingly, there can be comparisons drawn to the wars that brought about the destruction of Middle Earth in Tolkien’s books, and the saga of Ragnarok, the end of the world, in the poetic eddas left to us by the Vikings.

Other elements of Viking artwork are prominent throughout Lord of the Rings, and it is prominently displayed in the Elvish kingdom of Rivendell. In the final scene of Return of the King, Frodo Baggins, mortally wounded in the first film by the blade of a Ringwraith, joins his elderly uncle Bilbo on “the last ship leaving Middle Earth,” which will take them on to Valinor, the Blessed Realm. The Elvish vessel is styled much like a Viking longship, complete with runework and scrolls on the stern, and an animal-head post at the bow.

We can compare the artwork on the Elvish ship at Rivendell harbor to the remains of Viking boats that have been unearthed at places like Oseberg and Oslo. A typical Viking ship, used for exploration, would have been anywhere from fifty to ninety feet long, with a large, square sail and a carved wooden totemic animal at the front. These zoomorphic carvings represented family and kinship ties to the Vikings, and were often intertwined with typical Scandinavian stylized motifs, such as scrollwork and knots. When placed on a ship, they would have been not only a representation of kinship, but also a fear tactic – imagine being the enemy who suddenly saw the snarling face of a wolf appearing on the prow of a massive ship on a misty morning. For Tolkien’s Elves, and subsequently Jackson’s, however, a ship’s prow is a thing of grace and beauty, rather than of terror, with an elegant swan’s head taking the place of more frightening figures.

In addition to decorating their buildings and ships with artwork, the Vikings also wore intricate and beautiful jewelry. Burial hoards have been found in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany containing exquisitely detailed brooches, necklaces, armbands and other adornments. In 2007, a farmstead on the Danish island of Zealand revealed the remnants of a Viking settlement, which included numerous pieces of metal jewelry. Most notable was a copper pendant with human-animal heads depicted upon it. According to archaeologists, one of the figures features a “drooping moustache, but above its eyebrows two ears or horns emerge, giving the humanlike mask an animal character (Davis, 2013).”

A metal detecting enthusiast discovered an equally impressive hoard in North Lancashire, England, in 2011. The collection, now in the custody of the British Museum, contained nearly two hundred coins, brooches and bracelets, engraved with serpents, dogs, birds and plants (Daily Mail, 2011).

In Jackson’s films, the characters’ jewelry and body adornment is subtle rather than ostentatious. Each of the nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring wears a simple brooch, a green leaf with a spiraling silver stem. In appearance, it’s not terribly fancy, but the sweeping curve of the lines is clearly influenced by Viking elements. While the hobbits of the Shire are plain folk, with little to no ornamentation on their garments or person, the Elves of Rivendell and the citizens of Rohan seem to enjoy the elegance of simple curved lines of design with a Norse flair. The citizens of Minas Tirith wear armor and headwear decorated with curves, spirals, and tree motifs.

Image by Andrew Popalevsky via Canva

Lady Arwen, the last daughter of the Elven lord Elrond, wears a pendant known as the Evenstar. Made of the brightest silver, it features a floral motif, accentuated by knotwork and curves. Interestingly, the Evenstar is not part of Tolkien’s original source material. However, a pendant much like it appears in a short story by Marion Zimmer Bradley, called The Jewel of Arwen, which takes place in the lands of Middle Earth and describes a white jewel, one of the Seven Stars that shine over the lands of men and Elves, on a floral background (Bradley, 1961).

One prominent design seen in Viking artwork is that of the tree – the roots, the leaves, all of the branches. Because the story of Yggdrasil, the World Tree at the center of Asgard, features so prominently in Norse cosmology, representations of the great ash often appear in Viking art. The poetic edda Havamal describes it as the tree from which Odin hung for nine days, as a sacrifice to himself, before being granted the wisdom that would allow him to rule over all nine of the realms represented by the World Tree.

A key theme in portrayals of Yggdrasil is that it is represented not only by what is above the ground, but by what is below. Three great roots hold the tree up, each symbolizing a different realm. The first represents Asgard, the land of the gods themselves. The second is associated with Jötunheimr, the land of the giants, and the third is Niflheimr, the ice-covered domain of the goddess Hel.

Near the end of Return of the King, as Aragorn is finally crowned King of Gondor on the steps of Minas Tirith, his loyal army is shown bearing shields which display a tree, roots and all. This is a symbol of the legendary White Tree of Gondor, which also appears on Aragorn’s crown and armor. The White Tree features prominently in Middle Earth history, although this is not portrayed in the films. With Aragorn’s return, the once dead tree begins to flower again.

According to Tolkien’s original works, the White Tree is not just a symbol of a family, or even of a kingdom. In the text of The Return of the King, he describes the lineage of the tree as part of a speech by the Elven leader Elrond, detailing the tree’s association with the kings of Gondor; as the tree slowly dies off, so does the line of the royal family.

Later in the book, although not depicted in the film, when King Aragorn finds a lone sapling that is a descendent of the first Tree of Gondor. The wizard Gandalf points out to him that the once-withered tree is now in bloom again, a symbol of the light of the stars and the moon, and of the triumph of good over evil in the land of Men. He tells Aragorn, “[T]his is an ancient hallow, and ere the kings failed or the Tree withered in the court, a fruit must have been set here. For it is said that, though the fruit of the Tree comes seldom to ripeness, yet the life within may then lie sleeping through many long years, and none can foretell the time in which it will awake (Tolkien, ROTK, 1954).”

Tolkien’s original vision was a retelling of several Norse myths blended into a magical world of Orcs, Hobbits, Elves and Dwarves, and strongly colored by his knowledge of early Scandinavian culture. He managed to incorporate heavy symbolism found within Norse artwork and literature into the tales, from magical doors and graceful ships to elegant jewelry and the spiritual iconography of the World Tree. While the three films that comprise The Lord of the Rings, and their original source material, are certainly fantasy, it’s clear that many aspects of the films’ appearance draw significant influence from what we know today of the artwork left for us by early Viking craftsmen.

Resources

Boddason, Bragi. Ragnarsdrapa.

Bradley, Marion Zimmer. “The Jewel of Arwen.” Originally published in print in Palantir, August 1961. Retrieved on August 7, 2014 from http://timelineuniverse.net/MiddleEarth/JewelofArwen.htm

Brink, Stefan and Price, Neil, Eds. The Viking World, p. 643. Routledge Publishing. 2008.

Daily Mail Online. October 27, 2011. “The find of a lifetime: Treasure hunter digs up 200-piece haul of Viking jewellery and coins.” Retrieved on July 16, 2014 from
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2054158/Viking-treasure-haul-Cumbria-metal-detector.html#ixzz37wtyciAu

Davis, Carlo. July 25, 2013. Huffington Post. “Viking Jewelry Found at Denmark Farm Suggests Ancient Royal Settlement.” Retrieved on July 16, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/24/viking-jewelry-found-denmark-farm_n_3645016.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

Heslop, Kate. “Seeing things in the shield poems and other skaldic ekphrases.” Retrieved on August 2, 2014, from http://www.academia.edu/2453316/Seeing_things_in_the_shield_poems_and_other_skaldic_ekphraseis

Jackson, Peter, dir. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. New Line Cinema DVDs.

Montgomery, James E. “Ibn Fadlan and the Russiyah.” Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 3. Retrieved on August 2, 2014, from https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/montgo1.pdf

Pulsiano, Phillip and Wolf, Kirsten, Eds. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, p. 55. Taylor & Francis Publishing, 1993.

Sacred Destinations. “Urnes Stave Church.” Retrieved on August 4, 2014, from http://www.sacred-destinations.com/norway/urnes-stave-church

Short, William R. “Viking Ships.” Retrieved on July 16, 2014, from http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manufacturing/text/norse_ships.htm

Sturlson, Snorri. Prose Edda.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King. 1954.

Unesco World Heritage List. “Urnes Stave Church.” Retrieved on August 7, 2014 from http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/58

Saturday Spellwork: Coffee Spell to Change Your Luck

So I know this is technically Sunday, but honestly, I had this post scheduled to drop yesterday… or at least I thought I did. Instead, I actually had it set to drop on June 10, 2018, and when it didn’t appear in my feed… well. There it is. Anyhoo —

This is a simple spell that you can use to change your own fortune – and let’s face it, we’ve all had some runs of bad luck, where it seemed like nothing would ever get better. It does, eventually, but using a bit of magic is a great way to move the process forward.

Image by Leeser via Canva

You’ll need a cup of unused coffee grounds, a clean washcloth, and a green ribbon, because green is associated with luck. Put the coffee grounds inside the washcloth and tie it up in a bundle, securing it with the ribbon so the grounds don’t come out. Go take a shower, and use your handy dandy coffee bundle to scrub yourself from head to toe. As you do, say, Bad luck goes down the drain, wash all my bad luck away. Brand new fortune come to me, good luck is all my life will see.

After you’ve given yourself a good scrubbing, wait until you see the last of the coffee grounds go down the drain before you get out. And yeah, you’re going to smell like coffee, but who doesn’t love that, amirite?

Note: A variant of this spell appears in The Good Witch’s Daily Spell Book – go pick up a copy!

 

Paganism & Islam

Recently, several readers have reached out to me asking for clarification on items they had read elsewhere online; specifically, articles that correlated Islam with Paganism. According to these articles – which I’m deliberately not linking to here, because they’re fucking AWFUL, but you’re more than welcome to Google them if you’re really interested – Islam has its roots in Pagan beliefs, and therefore the two are the same, right?

Image by Elnur via Canva

Actually, no, not really, and I’m going to explain why. However, before I do, I should clarify that the information I’m about to present shouldn’t be interpreted one way or another as an approval or disapproval of another religion. It’s not my job to tell people what to believe, nor is it my job to tell them what not to believe – my job is to break things down and answer the questions of readers, in an academic and objective way. So that’s what I’m about to do. If you’re looking for an article that says ISLAM BAD or ISLAM GOOD, you’re not going to find either of those things here, just like you won’t find any articles about GOOD or BAD with regards to Christianity or other religions.

The Question of Terminology

Okay, so moving on to the question at hand: is Islam connected to or somehow related to modern Paganism? It’s not, and one of the reasons it’s not is because the people who are making such claims are not using “Pagan” in the same way that we, the Pagan community, generally do.

What I’ve found, after slogging through numerous websites that make these claims (yes, folks, I’ve taken one for the team so you don’t have to) is that these are sites that, more often than not, are run by what I’ll politely call the more fringe element of the Christian evangelical population. In other words, gentle reader, they are people who have a vested interest in perpetuating negative information about both Muslims and modern Pagans, with little regard for things like accuracy.

First of all, there’s the issue of semantics. Many of these sources are conflating the word Pagan with non-Christian. If you go by that logic, any religion that is not Christian must clearly be a Pagan one. That includes not just Islam, but Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Shinto, and numerous flavors of non-evangelical Abrahamic faiths – Catholics and Mormons, for instance. That’s in addition to the modern Neopagan movement, in which the word Paganism is more of an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of nature based and often polytheistic belief systems.

Pre-Islamic Polytheism

Secondly, Islam is a younger religion than Christianity, and can trace its roots back to the seventh century. Prior to this, polytheistic, non-Christian beliefs and practices were found all over the Arabian Peninsula. In the Qur’an, the existence of five pre-Islamic deities is referenced. A 1946 annotated translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali says, “The five names mentioned … represent some of the oldest Pagan cults, before the Flood as well as after the Flood, though the names themselves are in the form in which they were worshipped by local Arab tribes. The names of the tribes have been preserved to us by the Commentators, but they are of no more than archeological interest to us now… It is not clear whether these names are to be connected with true Arabic verbal roots or are merely Arabicized forms of names derived from foreign cults, such as those of Babylonia or Assyria, the region of Noah’s Flood.”

So, certainly, before Islam came along around the year 610 C.E., there was definitely some polytheistic activity going on in the Arabic world, just like in a lot of other places. However, the five deities of the local tribes of fifteen hundred years ago are not who modern Muslims are honoring in their beliefs and practices.

The Crescent Moon

A few of the websites that are promoting these articles declare that Islam is really a modern version of a Pagan fertility cult that honors a moon god, hence the use of the crescent moon as a symbol. While they do use the crescent moon symbol, that doesn’t mean that today’s Muslim is following a Pagan belief system, in the same context as the early settlers of the Arabian Peninsula. About.com Islam Expert, Huda, explains the crescent moon and star:

“Information on the origins of the symbol are difficult to ascertain, but most sources agree that these ancient celestial symbols were in use by the peoples of Central Asia and Siberia in their worship of sun, moon, and sky gods… It wasn't until the Ottoman Empire that the crescent moon and star became affiliated with the Muslim world. When the Turks conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, they adopted the city's existing flag and symbol. Legend holds that the founder of the Ottoman Empire, Osman, had a dream in which the crescent moon stretched from one end of the earth to the other. Taking this as a good omen, he chose to keep the crescent and make it the symbol of his dynasty.”
The Bottom Line

So, what does all of this mean? Is Islam a Pagan religion? It’s not, no more than Judaism is Pagan or Christianity is Pagan. Certainly, there were Pagan cults all over the classical, pre-Christian/pre-Judaism/pre-Islamic world, but that doesn’t mean that people today are practicing the same thing. After all, even those of us who consider ourselves Pagan today are not practicing in exactly the same way as our ancestors might have done two or three thousand years ago.

Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is a monotheistic religion, and from an academic perspective, today’s version of it just doesn’t fit into any of the same parameters or definitions as modern Paganism. I’d suggest that if someone tries to convince you that Islam is a Pagan religion – I mean, really tries hard to persuade you – you might ask yourself why it’s so important to them that you accept this theory as fact. What vested interest do they have in convincing you?

Holy Cow, Wicca Practical Magic is Here!

So yesterday, on June 6, Wicca Practical Magic launched on Amazon, and I can’t believe how many kind things people have said about this book in their reviews! I am just awed and humbled by the overwhelmingly positive response to this book, and owe all of you such gratitude.

And then last night, I got an email from Eli Becker, who is the amazing rock star marketing goddess at Callisto Media, and saw this:

Holy mother of Zeus, you guys!

 

Holy cow, y’all. LOOK AT WHAT YOU DID! You made Wicca Practical Magic #1 in the Wicca/Witchcraft category on Amazon yesterday! I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING! Thank you SO much for all of your love and support!

If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, no worries – you can go order one (or five) here on Amazon. And, for a VERY limited time, the digital version is just $1.99! What are you waiting for?

Saturday Spellwork: Protection Magic

Protection magic is right up there with love magic and money magic, as far as Stuff People Ask About the Most. I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite basic protection magic workings. Play around with them and see which works best for you!

Witch Bottle or Witch Bag

The idea behind this is to not only protect yourself but also send back the negative to who or whatever is being sent at you. To make a witch bottle, get a small glass jar with a lid. Fill it halfway with sharp rusty objects like nails or razor blades, pins, needles. When it is halfway full, there are two things you can do, depending on whether or not you are easily repulsed or not. One is to fill the remainder of your bottle with your own urine. Some folks are grossed out by that, and if you’re one of them, whatevs – fill it with salt instead of urine. Sea salt works best, but in a pinch regular old table salt is fine. Cap the jar, and seal with melted wax. I like red wax best but you could probably use black, because it’s good for banishing negativity. Dig a hole in the ground, at least six inches deep, more if you have time, and bury the jar. The further away from your home the better ~~ maybe even drive out in the country to bury it somewhere isolated.

The witch bag is similar, only you wear it on your person (so don’t pee in it). Use a small cloth pouch, and instead of sharp objects, put small items such as stones (lodestone is good for drawing positive energy to you) or agates, which bring good luck to a home, or turquoise. Fossils are great too if you can find a small one. Also include some dried herbs such as rosemary, basil, or dill which have protective properties. Tie the bag shut (preferably with red yarn) and either carry it in your pocket or wear around your neck.

House Protection: Stake Out Your Turf

Get a handful of iron stakes, like railroad spikes or something similar, and engrave messages on them. Make the messages something to the effect of “this is my turf and nasty things will happen if you do not respect my turf,” though you should capture this in words, runes, or sigils of your own design. Drive these into the earth along the boundaries of your turf.

Amulets

Amulets are protective devices that can either be worn on your person or placed in your home. I make amulets out of Sculpy clay, carve symbols in them, and then bake them. You can use protective runes as symbols, or create sigils of your own design. This is nice for kids, because they look cool. In the absence of clay, you can use stones with naturally made holes, which are considered magickal anyway. You can use hazelnuts strung on a cord, or pieces of hazel wood with holes drilled in them. Also, around your home, mistletoe can be used to guard against hostile spirits.

Spells to protect kids

Believe it or not, teddy bears are considered luck-bringing talismans for kids. You can increase a bear’s influence by saying a protective chant over it before tucking the kid into bed at night. The one I use with my little ones is a bit silly but they seem to like it: “Power in this teddy bear, chase the bad things out of there.” Sounds goofy, I know, but guys, it’s effective. Another ideal spell with kids is a kite spell. If it’s windy out, buy or make a kite with the child. Have the child tell the kite what is bothering him, or what makes him anxious. Take the kite out and fly it, and as the kite dips and sways it will release the child’s problems to the element of Air, which will carry them far away.

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Blend a Batch of War Water

In some magical traditions, war water can come in very handy in spellwork. It’s one of those magical ingredients that I don’t have call to use very often, but when I do, I like to have it already prepared and ready to go.

Sometimes called iron water, water of Mars, or rust water, war water is designed to impart the attributes of Mars, the Roman god of war… who is associated with (wait for it) iron. It’s found in many types of folk magic, primarily those with European roots, but it also appears in Conjure and Hoodoo. Cat Yronwoode of LuckyMojo says, “In the hands of African-American folk-magicians, it became a tool for laying tricks against an enemy by means of hostile foot track magic, causing “poisoning through the feet” and making everyone in the household quarrel and fight one another.”

There are a ton of recipes out there for war water, and you’re certainly welcome to play around with the different methods. This is the version that I personally like to use, but it’s not universal or required that you do it this way.

BASIC WAR WATER RECIPE

First, leave a mason jar or other container outside during a thunderstorm, and collect as much rainwater as possible. Bonus points if this happens at night, or if you can do it on a Tuesday, which is associated with Mars.

Next, add some iron nails – I like to use cut ones, because they rust faster – and leave them in the water for about a week. For the love of Pete, don’t use those crappy galvanized nails you bought at Home Depot. Use iron. Keep the jar in a cool place, out of the sunlight.

After the water has turned a nice murky rust color, remove the nails, and add other vile goodies like sulfur, urine, vinegar, or lead paint chips. Strain the whole collection into a bottle and cap it tightly (especially if you decided to use urine) and keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.

BUT WAIT, HOW DO I USE IT?

Any way you like! Use war water:

  • To banish negativity by sprinkling it around your home and property
  • To protect yourself or a friend from psychic attacks by adding Black Salt to it
  • To banish an enemy by writing their name on a coin, dropping it into the war water, and burying the bottle somewhere far away
  • To reverse a hex or curse by washing your hands in it (leave out the urine if you’re using it for this purpose, please)
  • To cause conflict in someone’s home by pouring it on their front steps

See? All kinds of useful applications! Make up a batch, and figure out the best way to use it in your own magical practices.

 

Using Magic for Personal Gain

One of the first cautionary warnings that people new to the magical life seem to stumble upon is the idea that magic shouldn’t be used for personal gain. There doesn’t seem to be any clear-cut precedent for where this mandate came from, and in fact not all magical traditions follow it. To do magic is, after all, to express your own discontent with the universe and the things in it, and to make changes come about to your satisfaction.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you are particularly skilled at building things. Is there some big Rule of Building that says you’re only allowed to construct things for other people, but never for yourself? What if you have a talent for balancing numbers? Does the Accountant’s Rede permit you only to do someone else’s bookkeeping, but not let you balance your own checkbook? Of course not. That would be ridiculous.

If your tradition says, “Don’t do this,” then don’t do it. Otherwise, what’s holding you back? Your personal code of ethics will help you determine whether or not you can perform an action or not.

Magic is a skill set just like any other. You can use it alone, or you can use it in tandem with the mundane. Part of developing magical ability is to make your own life better. If you’re sick, you do a healing working on yourself. If you’re financially strapped, you do a working that brings abundance your way. Just like with any other talent, use the skills you have to benefit yourself. If you’d like to use it to help other people as well, that’s awesome, and something to be proud of.

In the meantime, unless your tradition specifically forbids you from doing magic for personal gain, don’t ever let anyone tell you that your abilities can’t be used for yourself.

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The New Moon: Get Rejuvenated!

For a lot of us, the period of the New Moon – a time in which the moon is dark and cannot be seen – is a fallow phase. It’s when we recuperate and regroup, on a magical and spiritual level.

Getting Yourself Back In Order

Depending on how actively magical a life you lead, you may find yourself needing to take a breather every now and then, a time when you do no workings, and simply get in touch with your spiritual and emotional inner self.

Use the three days that occur before, during and immediately after the new moon as a time when you give your “witchiness” a rest, and instead focus on rejuvenation.

How can you do this? After all, you’re busy, right? You have a job, kids, commitments to keep… but you owe it to yourself to take a break once in a while. It’s not selfish to think of yourself on occasion — in fact, if you DO take the time to focus on you, you’ll be a happier and healthier person. Here are some ways you can get yourself feeling revitalized during the new moon:

  • Take a cleansing bath. Use herbal sachets, light candles, and scented oils if you like them. Shut off the phone, lock the bathroom door, and enjoy.
  • Go for a walk in the woods. Humans aren’t the only ones whose bodies move in tune with the moon’s cycles. See if the trees and sky feel different to you during this phase of the moon. Notice changes in energy in the natural world.
  • Take a catnap. If you’re feeling run-down and beat, nothing beats a quick 30-minute nap. Don’t sleep too long, though, or you’ll just feel off-kilter the rest of the day.
  • Make the time to get comfortable in your favorite chair or a spot on the floor, and meditate. If you have trouble meditating on your own, get a recorded guided meditation to follow along with.
  • Do something with your hands. If you’re a crafty type, now is a good time to do work that is physical, rather than mental or spiritual. Build something, paint a picture, chop some wood.
  • Get together with friends. Often, we forget how important it is to connect to people other than our spouse and kids. Get a group together and go out, even if it’s just for lunch.
  • Try something new. If you’ve always wanted to take a yoga class, learn Irish step dancing, or try out tuba lessons, now’s a great time. Think of the new moon as a time of rebirth, and a new you will emerge as the moon begins to move into its waxing cycle.
  • Plant something. Many gardeners swear by moon phase planting — the phase between the new moon and the full moon, when the moon is waxing, is when you should start your seedlings for plants that grow above ground. It’s also a good time to re-pot and trim up any houseplants that may have gotten scraggly.