Cooking Can Be Rather Pagan

When scanning through my social media feeds, one of the questions with which many fellow pagans — especially those newer to this world– struggle is how to define what they are doing — or just embarked upon.

Interestingly enough, from the responses — some of which rather challenging — one can see that there is quite a bit of confusion between paganism and the Path. While the former is more of a general life style outside the revealed religions (those where the essence of the religion was revealed to someone — usually a prophet, sometimes disciples, or authors of scripture — by a deity), the latter, the Path, is the spiritual aspect of that life style. That could be Druidry (like in my case), Wicca, Asatru, Heathen, you name it. Witchcraft is somewhat a hybrid, because it is first and foremost a craft, a tool kit, that can be used in any Path, but which can also, but doesn’t need to, become its own path for a particular person. Yet, witchcraft can also be practiced by followers of the revealed religions (as it was actually by many mediaeval European witches who were for all intents and purposes Christian — just not in the way other, more powerful Christians would have expected (but that’s worth another blog post)).

All these Paths do have certain elements in common, even though these elements are processed in sometimes vastly different ways. In pagan times, there were differences of practice between households within the clans and villages as well as differences between clans, tribes, and regions. If you were to time travel to a northwestern Europe before the dawn of Christianity, you would probably see how a family of inner-Alpine Celts would act out their worship, their spirituality, differently from Western Gauls, and they differently from the Britons, the Irish, the Picts and so on. The practice would be different, and so would be the Gods. If you were to cross over the Rhine and wander northwards, you’d see a slow but steady change to not only an entirely different language, but very much a different pantheon, lore, and worship.

However, Britons, Gauls, Germans, Slavs and whatnot still went about their lives in similar ways: they farmed, kept live stock, and interacted with one another — just guided and inspired by their particular faiths and pantheons.

So, let me take one aspect of life — food — today and contemplate how you can, through the simple act of production and consumption of life sustaining matter in all its variety, be essentially pagan, all the while completely independent from your and someone else’s path.

For me, taking an active part in processing food is one way to directly connect with my pagan ancestors. I know I have pagan ancestors, because every single person on this planet has them (we all come from people who lived before any of the revealed religions were formed). What I mean with actively partaking in the process of making food is to learn how to make the things I eat from scratch. As much as possible. So, while I am not able to keep and slaughter pigs in the suburban setting I live in, I can go to a farmer not far from me and get, say, pork belly from the recently slaughtered pig. I know, it sounds harsh for many nowadays, but it is in fact a part of my paganism to know where my food is coming from, that the meat that my family and I eat comes from animals that once went about their lives more or less happily. Only by not being in denial about this fact, and certainly by not thinking that some god gave me dominion over such animal, am I able to fully appreciate the gift — pork belly as it were today — that I am holding in my hand and that allows me to sustain myself and my family.

The act of processing this pork belly into bacon, or Speck as we call it in my home country, has actually started much earlier, last fall even, when I went into the forest to harvest wild juniper berries. I talked with the juniper tree there, sat a while leaning against its gnarled trunk — which wasn’t the most comfortable back rest — connecting with this creature and asking for some of her (only “female” junipers produce berries) seeds. I put the berries into self-made incense mixtures, but had already in mind to eventually use some of them in the rub for my Austrian style bacon.

Today, when I cut the pork belly into sizable pieces; ground coriander, caraway, the juniper berries, gloves, and pepper corns in my mortar; mixed that with curing salt, brown sugar, onion and garlic powder; and rubbed that mixture all over the meat and fat, I consciously connected with my ancestors, the plants, and the pig to honor the gifts each of them provided, gifts that enabled me make food today.

It is these little things, not the certificate of having been duly initiated into the Druid grade of the Most Ancient Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druid,s that form my paganism. It’s being there in the moment, feeling the coarseness of the rub against the smoothness of the meat, it’s the honoring of the traditions (e.g. putting juniper berries into the rub) and the ancestors, and it’s the listening to the whispers of the future — when all this has become bacon — that connects my paganism with my path of Druidry.


More thoughts about Alpine traditions in general can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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The Bloody Business of Sacrifice

schwarzesschaf

When the topic of sacrifice, especially that of animals, flared up on pagan social media sites recently (and only the Gods old and new know why), posters and commenters immediately formed two camps, categorial opposition versus “but the ancestors”.

As always, before I decide on anything, I try to deliberate the nuances of the question. And folks who know me know that I take great pleasure in deliberation of pros and cons, and none whatsoever in actually taking any decisions. I am a Libra after all.

What I did see a lot in the online discussions is a confusion of sacrifice and offering; often playing out as “why don’t you pour some milk and honey on the ground instead of killing a chicken. Well, short answer, “Because the former is an offering and the later (most likely) a sacrifice. We have to qualify the statement with most likely because if you were, for example, a member of the Perdue family (a mass producer of chicken in the USA), killing a chicken might as well be an offering. As you can imagine from that nuance, an offering is typically something that one has in more or less abundance. It can be obtained routinely — milk, for example, every day, whether you buy it at the grocery store or you are a dairy farmer. An offering is a gift, a token of acknowledgement, often an in-kind reimbursement for a deity’s or a spirit’s presence, blessing, guidance, or inspiration. Sometimes the offering is for straight forward divine help. In such cases, it usually is a bit more than a tablespoon of honey; a gold bracelet or a sword hurtled into a lake or such.

A sacrifice has a few components that elevate an offering to a different level. For one, the English term sacrifice comes from the Latin sacer facere, translating into making sacred or holy. That means you take an item (in the widest sense of the word) and, through an act of transformational Magic, change its very essence into something that is worthy of, and of the ethereal consistence accessible to, the Gods or the animus of whatever you want to gift that item to.
That sounds a little theoretical, but consider one widely practiced and known sacrifice, the Christian eucharist. In this process, a particular form of bread is, through the Magic of the Christian priest, transformed into the body of their demi-God, and then devoured by the worshippers. It’s a somewhat complicated (and deeply discussed) procedure, where the very essence of the inanimate piece of “bread” is made holy and then destroyed through ingestion.

Similarly, when our pagan ancestors sacrificed an animal, the intent was to give it to the Gods, not in its material form (that would be an offering), but with its essence changed. To achieve that, they, animists that they were, needed to free the soul of the animal – the part that actually is of the ethereal consistency that can be accepted by the Gods — from its material boundaries, the animal’s body. And the only way to do that is to terminate the current vessel trapping the soul, in other words kill the animal.

That transformation, the liberation of the animal’s soul, was the very act of making it holy, of sacrifice. Burning a part of the flesh, transforming that into ethereal smoke, too, was also oftentimes part of this transformation. Equally important in the process, but not the core act of sacrifice, was the ingesting of the animal’s flesh, most often as a communal affair. That allowed everyone to participate in that transformation, to become part of this Magic.

This complicated procedure was never done lightheartedly. There had to be a major issue at hand; the tribe had to be at a dead end of some sort, or needed one particular outcome of a venture to survive, so that the killing of an animal, of valuable live stock, was warranted.
So, if you are thinking about embarking on an animal sacrifice instead of an offering, don’t even start down that path unless it’s of immensely high importance for your whole community. Cracking a chicken’s neck to secure a new job or something of that nature would not fall under that. From the way the Gods communicate with me, slaughtering a goat to, say, bind an annoying person, is not only quite literally overkill, it would also be viewed as offensive brown-nosing. That one of their creatures would have to give its life for some personal profit or vanity would appall them far more than flatter them.

Also, please avoid, at all cost, justifying an animal sacrifice with “our ancestors weren’t such pussies” (as I have read on occasion in such discussions). Yes, they saw slaughtering of live stock – especially before winter — as a normalcy of life.
But, as discussed above, a sacrifice has never been a normal thing. And the animals chosen for a sacrifice weren’t normal either. Most likely, they were picked by the farmer well in advance, right after they were born, for that exact purpose. They were brought up in a special way: fed better than other animals, even brought into the living quarters to spare them from the elements. The farm family had a deep relationship with these animals.
And thus, when the animal’s time to be sacrificed came, it was a big deal to separate from it. It hurt. Emotional pain and suffering was part of the process. It supposed to hurt. It was the high and painful price to pay for the Gods goodwill.
In that sense, anyone whose plan is to grab a random chicken at the farmer’s market on Wednesday and to kill that poor bird in a non-pussy manner on Saturday has totally missed the point. Don’t go there unless you have obtained the animal as a little fluffy chick or big-eyed lamb, bring it up as if it were your own child, give it all it wants, including your love, and then cry your heart out when you gift it to the Gods (again, also only if the reason for that is of an importance as discussed above).

“So, Libra-man, what’s your decision, your judgment on animal sacrifice?”, I hear you, dear reader, asking. “Well,” I’d say, “Not hard. If your community faces a threat from where the only way out, the only guarantee for survival, is the sacrifice of an animal, and where that animal was brought up by you in the above described manner, or is given to you by a community member and their heart is ripped out by giving it to you, then by all means, conduct an animal sacrifice with the greatest integrity you can muster.

For all other instances: milk and honey. A gold bracelet maybe.

Here’s some food for thought, though. There is a valley in the Alps that has something like three villages, and every so often a ram is sacrificed. Based on a rotation, one family in one village is tapped to rear up a male lamb until its ready to be sacrificed. As it is tradition — stemming from pagan times — this animal is being pampered beyond belief, and then, when its old enough, brought to church in an elaborate procession. Nowadays, it is basically gifted to the church and the community, albeit the sacrifice is that it is not being killed, but rather that is allowed to spend the rest of its life in bliss, grazing on pastures and pampered even more. The sacrifice is that it is not turned into profit.

Just an idea.

 


More thoughts about sacrifice and Alpine traditions in general can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Apple Trees Are Queer

ApfelbaumTwo completely unrelated festivities have somewhat converged within a month now. One was Beltane (in the northern hemisphere), a fire festivals on the Pagan Wheel of the Year, and the other ones are the many LBTQ+ pride days and parades and balls that are now happening all over. There is certainly no purposeful correlation in timing between Beltane and the LBTQ+ festivities, but the closeness of these two got me thinking about one particular element of Beltane, procreation. And with that I wanted to contemplate some pagan paths’ focus on the unity between male and female, the alchemical Great Rite, the wand that is placed in the cauldron etc., particularly in light of being inclusive of the LBTQ+ community when organizing, and participating in, pagan ceremonies..

This seasonal focus works for me, I admit, for I am a straight, cis-gender male. So all these metaphors make perfectly sense to me, personally. At the same time, I am one of the elder Druids in my Grove, and as such I am also a go-to person when it comes to discussions about inclusivity of our Grove happenings. In this function — and quite frankly because I feel the urge to fight injustice when I see it — this question is no longer about me and how I feel about it. It has gone beyond my ego, and must be answered, well, inclusively.

But how do we find the right recipe for a balanced concoction enjoyable for all palates equally?

I — together with many others — do enjoy it when the traditional aspect of procreation (not acting on it, but the metaphors) and  the unity between male and female, form an essential part of a Beltane rite I attend. I can, at the same time, emphasize with anyone who’s unity with someone else does not follow the biological necessities of procreation, but for whom the magic such unity comes from loving someone of the same sex. Or the magic involves unity with someone from the other gender today and with someone of the same gender tomorrow. Or in a year and a day.
And I can not begin to imagine what meaning — or lack thereof — this concept of unity between male and female could possibly have for those members of our diverse genus homo sapiens sapiens,  whose gender identity does not correlate with their biological sex, or does not settle on either one gender for good.

So, should this unity, the alchemical Magic of procreation, be left out of the Beltane ritual entirely, to make it more inclusive? See, I am not a fan of that either. Not because I am insisting on traditional approaches, but because leaving out procreation in a ritual celebrating the coming of the season of procreation would make the whole festival a moot point.

Something’s gotta give. That’s the core of compromise. But what if, instead of doing away with the traditional procreation theme, instead of the LGBT community having to stack away their lifestyle once again just to be able to participate, we both, LGBT+ and hetero/cis folk, give up on something  else entirely, something we both share, and something I’d argue is not at all necessary for our ceremonies: anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism; our inherently human tendency to apply our value systems onto everything else, particularly Nature. We do that as kids when we begin to believe stories telling us that lions are majestic, eagles are proud, foxes are sly and hyenas are just plain and simple evil. That’s simply attributing to undeserving mammals our human (Greek: anthropos) form (Greek: morphe). Add to this that we humans think that everything should center around us, and poof, Nature all of the sudden is divided in genders just as we are. Well, most mammal species have one type that has a penis and the other a vagina, so they must identify as male and female, right? I do get it. We see the penis and the vagina (or at least where it is) when we look at other mammals. Ever seen a stallion? Or the butt of a “female” chimpanzee in heat?
But what about a whale? An enormous body breaching out of the ocean’s surface for mere seconds…you need to be specialist to determine the gender there. And fish? Reptiles? Only if the genders differ in size. Amphibia? There are some frogs who can actually change gender if need be. Some invertebrates have both genders.

You see, our human thinking, our urge to identify differences, does not even bring us that far with animals. For them, there is probably just the other one and if that other one smells a certain way, or has some body parts swollen, or dances in a weird way, then hormones trigger  some activity. Unity yes, but female and male? Nah.

Even more so when it comes to plants. Take, for example, apple trees. They procreate, right. Actually, if you want them to do exactly that (i.e. bear fruit), you need two apple trees, so they can cross pollinate. Now you tell me — or the bee flying back and forth between them — which tree is the male and which the female. Tell me that there is a male and female apple tree. They are both cauldron and wand for each other. Apple trees — almost any trees, or plants — are so gender non-conforming, and are at the same time gay, drawn to each other while being the same. They are of the same sex and they have sex with each other. Nobody could tell if they are gays or lesbians, though, because they don’t even have a gender.

But they still unite with each other to procreate.

This is the very essence of what we celebrate at Beltane: that the myriads of species in Nature sing their own song of uniting with each other to bring forth fruit — and they certainly don’t need us humans attributing any gender and other questionable distinctions to them. And if we see ourselves not as the center of this Magic, but as humble observants, we surely should all be able to celebrate that particular fire festival together, without excluding anyone, and also without feeling excluded. All we need to do is to be explicit about what it is we actually are celebrating: the queer way of Nature procreating.


How we celebrate the stations of the Wheel of the Pagan Year in the Alps can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Hexing the Cheater

DruidenFeuer

If you are like me a member of social media groups, particularly those into witchcraft, you have probably read, or even answered to, inquiries about spells for all kinds of things. Lately, it seems, the requests for spells to deal with someone who cheated, or abruptly left a relationship, have increased. Maybe it’s because it’s Spring (at least on the northern hemisphere) or maybe it’s just that I am more aware of these posts because that issue has caught my attention.

Typically, I see three types of responses.

One is basically to cut the loss, end the relationship, and move on. That’s how I would feel my best option would be. Because, why bother? Of course, this rather laissez faire approach only works if there is little responsibility the couple had together. No complicated financial situations (e.g. a house), for example.
And, more importantly, if there are no kids. Because if that’s the case, a total end of the interaction with one another is not possible. Money needs to be transferred to the person keeping the kid(s), visitation has to be agreed upon and so forth and so on. I am aware that this is not always (or even almost never) such a clear cut case, but spellwork won’t help there either.

Then there are the suggestions of what to do, what spells to utter, to bring the cheater or dumper back. I don’t know. Is that really the best course of action? How much trust can remain? And if the spell compels the perpetrator to do something they actually no longer wanted in the first place — i.e. love the betrayed or dumped person — that can only result in a relationship with a love-zombie.

What concerns me, though, are the responses of the third type, those that actually suggest to make someone sick, or even kill them with a spell. And these are not far and few in between! You often can read a litany of spell suggestions calling anything from erectile dysfunction to cancer all the way to deadly accidents upon a person who does not longer love their partner. These posts are usually accompanied with absolutely vile accusations and unmanaged anger.

Often enough, the original poster was just asking for a friend. May that as it be, when asked for a spell we would first and foremost ask ourselves what do we really know about the relationship in question, would we not? Because as functioning adults we’d have to gage if we really are in the position to judge a situation from one brief, and usually biased, social media post so that we can determine torture or death sentences as being what’s warranted? Especially considering the “though shalt not judge me” attitude that is prevalent in pagan and witch circles. Because if we don’t want to be judged, we shouldn’t really pass judgment on others, at least not with little to no knowledge of the circumstances. Otherwise…hypocrisy, right?
Unless you are willing to, if you’re the one who’s doing the cheating, the dumping, self-inflict.

Let’s just keep in mind that a relationship is based on love and attraction to things valued by one partner which the respective other partner has. And that is not restricted to looks. Sometimes, these attractions fade or change throughout one’s life . And of that happens, is one really to stay in a relationship against their will because they would otherwise be hexed into disease or death? What allows the person wielding such magic (purposefully not capitalized here) to think they can demand another person to love them no matter what, against their own interest, just because the partner knowing magic wants it that way?

I guess these out-of-proportion reactions to something that simply happens in life, like here in relationships, is why Gardner put the Rede in his Wicca. Or why folks from antiquity on warned that abusing Magic for pure egocentric purposes has its price (no, Gardner did not invent that concept, he just adapted it for his movement). Of course, one can whisk away the notion of ethical use of Magic by declaring they don’t believe in these measures — the Rede, the law of threefold return and such. And that would be fine if that person is able to stay within the ethical boundaries and expectations that come with power. But when I read some responses to these how-can-I-hurt-my-ex questions, there seems to be no boundaries or ethics. At all.

My way, my wish, or disease and death. That’s what these responses boil down to. We just have to ask ourselves if that is any better than the Catholic Inquisition with their “Burn them at the stake!” mentality, the Taliban, or some fundamental Evangelicals.  And that one moment of giving the matter some thought may help us avoid falling into the pit of rage like Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones.


Less outrageous Magic can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Listen! To everyone!

HawkWhen my Druid Grove prepared for the recent Beltane celebration, a discussion broke loose about the accessibility of sites where we typically hold or rituals.

We, the Mystic River Grove of the Most Ancient Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids as we call ourselves in high ritual, biting our tongues in our cheeks, have, even since before I joined, prided ourselves that we practically always have celebrated outdoors. There were, apparently, only less than a handful instances where it rained so hard that the celebration was moved indoors. Deep winter temperatures have not held us back from freezing through Alban Arthan and Imbolc celebrations.

With that outdoor focus comes, obviously — and for some regrettably —  a choice of sites that are not only a (short) walk away from the nearest parking lot, but sometimes over what’s considered harsh terrain. I grew up in the Alps, mind you, so I have a little bit of a different approach to what’s “harsh terrain” than the folks from the flat marshlands in Massachusetts where I live now, but we’re not talking about perfectly horizontal, paved paths either.

And that, the distance and the terrain, is an obstacle for some of our Grove members suffering from anything between aging knees and auto-immune diseases rendering legs powerless.

What to do about that, I don’t know. Yet. Suggestions were made, and opinions about the suggestions were expressed. The discussion has been absolutely civil, which somewhat restores my faith in humanity, considering the rhetoric we are seeing more an more in social media and at public appearances of political and spiritual “leaders” if we really can call them such in all earnest. “Closer to the parking lots” was thrown in, “carrying folks in stretchers” came up — and immediately struck down by those actually affected — and I am sure some had “why not function halls” in mind as well.

And while this discussion is going on, the only thing I can make sure of is that I listen very closely. And then wait. And then listen more. And only then offer my thoughts to what people were saying. Opposite to reacting immediately without reflecting on anything that was said.

Let me give you an example. When said celebration was posted, folks asked if there was barrier-free access to the site. As one of the organizers of this particular event, I responded that unfortunately not really. There was even an extended walk, a pilgrimage in a sense, involved. But obviously that we would be happy to help people, who are not willing to participate, to get directly to the ritual site (much shorter distance).

I said willing.

I chose to say not willing. I did sit in front of my computer and thought, ‘is it not willing or is it not able?’ Do I, if I chose not able, say — or even pass judgement — on what these Grove members can or cannot do? Do I disempower them when I say not able? I chose not willing. To me, it sounded more empowering.

There was a response, from an affected person, that not able would have been the better choice.

What do I know? No, really, what do I know about being disabled, differently abled? Ygritte, the Wildling, would say that I know as much as Jon Snow. Which is nothing. (Game of Thrones enthusiasts know what I mean). But I really don’t know anything about actually not being able to walk even a short distance. Or to not to be able to walk, period. I can imagine a tiny fraction of it, can be compassionate, but I do not know. Maybe I will some day. Who other than the Gods can say? But right now I can only do one thing.

Listen……..And then listen more. Compassionately, unbiased, without my own agenda.

And then, after all the listening, and talking, and understanding, I — we as a community — must act. Listening, finding explanations, is one thing. Only when that is followed by action, can it manifest in a better situation for all involved.

Mind you, this listening-thing is not restricted to reaching ritual sites for Druid ceremonies by foot. We have a lot more listening to do. There are women, who feel disempowered because the very people they have elected to manage the framework of their life and prosperity turned their back on them for their own political agenda. There are people all over the world who have, themselves and their kids, witnessed horrors in comparison to which Game of Thrones appears like Disney’s Snow White. And these people are standing on countries’ borders (and the US is not the only one facing refugee crises) hoping to survive with calling nothing but their clothes on their backs their own. We have to listen to the folks who’s biological configuration does not follow patterns some people 2,000 years or more ago thought to be the expectation of their deities, which their wrote into some books and scrolls. And we have to listen to the people whose dreams of a decent life were shattered by never fulfilled promises of something trickling down from somewhere, eventually.

A lot of listening needs to be happening.

Can you imagine how quiet the world would be for once?


Christian Brunner, the Appletree Druid, is also the author “Mountain Magic”, a stroll through lore, myths, and magical practice in the Alps. Available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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The Most Pagan Thing I Do…

20170409_154012Defining paganism as a “thing” — I like the term “movement” — is quite difficult. You get easily caught in a vicious circle of needing a definition so you and other people know what you and they hold dear and have in common, and at the same time of shying away from any definition at all to keep paganism as inclusive as it understood these days. And with this vicious circle often enough come vicious arguments on social media.

One step towards a better understanding could be that we all stop using “paganism” interchangeably with all the paths this umbrella term encompasses. Druidry, Wicca, Asatru, Heathenry and so on and so forth are all paths. I typically capitalize them to emphasize that these are names for particular paths. As paganism is general and the path is specific, so is what one does as a pagan more generic while the activities as a follower of a particular path are much more narrowly defined.

One of the beauties of paganism is that there is no rule, within the umbrella, which of the paths one should walk, or that one can only walk one path. You are entirely free to choose. But this is also the end of the no-rule — uhm — rule. Unfortunately, a lot of fake-lore has crept up over time, blowing that no rule idea completely out of proportion. And so there are some today who think that they are not bound to any guidelines of decency, honor, morality, or even positive law (written down or precedence law). Ignoring these rules doesn’t make you pagan.

So what does?

I stumbled upon a blog post by a certain Anna Walker recently, that, in a very simple but insightful way hints at what it actually means to be pagan, completely independent from your path. She writes in her blog:

As an animistic pagan, my most sacred practice involves neither cauldron nor athame, although I own both. My most sacred practice is walking daily through my neighborhood with my dog, Poe. Because I walk with Poe, I know–from bodily experience, not from faith nor from reason–that the moon was full two nights ago and that Orion is still visible in the night sky. I know that the days are lengthening, and that the first of this season’s mountain laurel blooms opened early this year,

This resonated deeply with me. Not only because I did something similar when we still had our beautiful Golden Retriever, our most lovely Vienna: I would take her out for her last pottyround for the night, and scan the dark sky for the Moon and the planets, was thrilled when I saw the Pleiades, and spotted Sirius following Orion like my dog followed me. I looked out and listened to owls, and every now and we even heard coyotes yapping — in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts, mind you.

I didn’t even notice how much this routine has become a part of my life until she suddenly died from a gruesome, aggressive cancer. First I didn’t notice, then I began missing it, and now I step outside before locking up the house. Winter, spring, summer, and fall.

This, and growing healing herbs in the yard, or having a deal with one of my neighbors, who only mows the lawn twice a year, that he would tell me before he starts cutting, so that I can harvest St. John’s Wort, Yarrow, and Plantain growing in abundance there, and making my own incense and tinctures, this is all embracing a pagan life. As much as I, a husband, father, director of program evaluation in a homeless service agency in an urban setting can do. Would love to do more, but there are people depending on me.

As Anna Walther says, I don’t need a cauldron or athame to pagan. I, too have that. And a Viking axe, a cloak, and a copper sickle. These are my Druidry things, though, (except the Viking axe, I just like it), the tools for my path.

Talking about which.

The path is where I worship a particular pantheon, tell specific lore to an audience, and devote time and energy to celebrate changes in the season and so on. I selected that path because, under the umbrella of paganism, I was free to do so. And I would be free to leave that path if I so decided. There is no rule telling me otherwise. There are rules within the path, though. Not many. But there always are.

The path is my specific spiritual expression within my pagan lifestyle. I some sense, they are two different things, but the are unbreakably interwoven with one another.

And it’s the latter why it is so difficult to find consensus within the pagan community. Because sometimes people say pagan but are talking about their path, and at other times people talk about paganism but use the perimeters of their path to describe it.

Being clear about the difference helps, though.


Traditions from pagan times can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Happy Passov-east-ara!

EasterBunny

For years now social media debates (to put it nicely) have flared up around the northern hemisphere’s Spring Equinox: What is Easter, who “stole” it from whom, and why be there bunnies? I admit, it is one of the less straight forward festival to sort out, and my sense is that it is because there are so many details to consider: three faiths (and for simplicity I am calling all pre-Christian European spiritual paths a “faith”) and a number of languages. On top of this, quite some time has passed, and with that our common knowledge today is so different from what it was about 1,700 to 500 years ago.

To sort this thing out, we need to make sure we truly understand one fact: Jesus was a Jew, assuming there was actually one physical person of whom all these stories are about. Just let’s, for simpler writing. As a Jew, he would have celebrated Passover, with a meal where bread is broken and all that.

Let’s keep it at that for a moment, and talk about the next detail in this mystery, the calculation of this festival. Passover is entirely bound to the cycle of the Moon, and happens six and one half moon cycles after Rosh Hashana, which takes place on the New Moon during the previous September or October.

The Christian Easter is Sun and Moon bound — it happens on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon on or after the Spring Equinox. With the caveat that western Christianity bases that calculation on a fixed date of the Equinox on March 21st and the ecclesiastical Full Moon that appears on calculation tables the Catholic Church calculated out, while eastern (orthodox) Christians base it on the astronomical Full Moon and the Spring Equinox as observed in Jerusalem. There could be a month between the two Easters.

Wherever these three different calculations bring us, we can all agree that the celebration they determine, Passover or Easter, will happen on a different day each year. And why, a scientific mind might ask naively, could they possibly celebrate historical events such as the Exodus from Egypt (Passover) and Christ’s crucifixion, while the anniversaries of which should, for all intents and purposes of historical events, happen on the same day every year?
Well, because we are talking mythology here. These are stories containing kernels of truth, but the stories themselves are not entirely true. So they need not necessarily be celebrated on an actual anniversary.

Going back to the tale of Jesus, we have already established that he most certainly would have celebrated Passover, and there is (assuming a lot of unknowns here) a chance that one year, right after he celebrated Passover, the Romans crucified him.

This is where the Christian and the Jewish festivals veer apart in meaning. The latter is still about the Jewish Exodus, the former becomes the Last Supper. And with that comes the different way to calculate. Never mind that “the first Sunday after the first Full Moon on or after the Spring Equinox” is not so far away from the “14th day of the seventh Moon after Rosh Hashana”, which is pretty close to the Autumn Equinox (surprise: roughly six moons ago). But still, even if Christians and Jews end up close enough with their Spring festivals, the calculation is distinct enough to be considered “their own”. Let’s not forget, they didn’t like each other that much back then, so the Christians couldn’t just adopt the Jewish calculation.

Was this already complicated enough, we now have to explore why we call it “Easter”.

Well, to begin with, “we” is a tall order here, really, because “Easter” is only used in the English speaking world. Add to this the German “Ostern” and you have quite a large language group referring to the celebration with a term other than Last Supper or Passover.

But: it’s Pâques in French. The accent on the “a” is important to understand here, because this particular accent on a vowel denotes that there once was an “s” after the vowel, which now no longer exists. So, it was Pasques in older French or the “s” was at last still present in the Latin root of the word. And obviously, the term has its roots in Pascha, the Jewish name for Passover.
In Spanish, the festival is called Pascua; it’s Páscoa in Portuguese and Pasqua in Italian. In other words, the whole segment of the Christian world speaking some form of a Roman language — and that’s quite a big part — does not even go down the road calling the festival something related to Easter. They stuck with the original Jewish word for it!

So, what happened?

To understand this better, we have to drop something that is quite similar to anthropomorphism (the very innate human behavior where we are so full of ourselves being human that we think that the rest of the world (animals, plants etc.) behave the same way). They don’t. But while it is good to drop anthropomorphism generally , what I am talking about here is that, similarly, we mustn’t think that certain knowledge and behavior we have today was common for people more than a millennium before us. It’s hard for my kids to understand how we functioned before cellphones, so it’s not a mystery that it is equally difficult to image a world without watches, calendars, functional maps etc.

In this particular case, to understand how life worked one and a half millennium and more ago, we must truly forget our knowledge of, or dependency on, the calendar. Or the ability to read it. That is: for the common folk that was not something they knew. People back then counted in days, fortnights, moons, and seasons. It was rather like “Let’s meet in three days” than “Let’s see each other on Tuesday”. The first church tower clocks didn’t even have a minute hand, and until the invention of pocket watches in the 16th and their actual coming into fashion in the 17th century, one would pick up the new coat from the tailor “in the morning” and not at 9:45 am.

In the Dark Ages, it was important for people to know the seasons, because they had to, for farming. But on which day the Spring Equinox occurred? That was told to them by the members of the learned class. In Celtic society, for example, that were the Druids.

So now, during the Dark Ages, the learned class of the people then classified as “pagan” was replaced by people of the frock, Church people. They, too, were learned, knew how to read and write, and interpret calendars. Or calculate out days. So, imagine yourself as an Saxon village person. You were always told by your learned person,

“Hey guys, in three days we will be gathering to celebrate the arrival of spring, and we will honor the Goddess Ostara.”

and now you are told by that new learned person,

“Hey guys, in three days we will be gathering to celebrate Passover, the Last Supper.”

And the village people were like,

“Huh?”

And the new learned person rolled his eyes, and goes,

“Like celebrating Ostara.”

And the village people were like,

“Ah, got ya.”
“Is that all? Gotta go milk them cows.”
“Should I slaughter a ram?”

“Beer!”

For the farmers and craftspeople, kind of pre-occupied with surviving, it made no difference. Some nerdy know-it-all told them when to celebrate. You throw on your best outfit, braid the girls’ hair, clean the boys’ noses and show up at the village common. Bring some for the potluck. That’s all.

So, yes, there is much intertwined into Easter, culturally and linguistically, that makes it somewhat confusing. But all we have to keep in mind are these few facts:

  • The Catholic Church doesn’t celebrate Passover, they just finagled the calculation of their Last Supper festival so that their resurrection celebration roughly happens at the same time their worshipped Jewish demi-god would have celebrated Passover.
  • They kept calling the festival — as evident from the whole Roman languages speaking world — Pascha (for Passover), probably for lack of a better word, and to draw some form of lineage to Jesus’ origin.
  • Only for some of the Germanic speaking people (not even all — Dutch: Pasen; Icelandic: Páska; Danish and Norwegian: Påske: Swedish: Påsk) — so let me rephrase that: for the (Anglo)Saxon speaking world, the festival was overlaid with a term the Saxons knew and could identify with, Ostara. Or, in modern English: Easter and modern Standard German: Ostern.

And what about the bunnies?

They are cute and, in Spring, do a lot of what bunnies do. And the hens increase their egg production that time of the year. And sacrificing a lamb for the divine or eating the last piece of cured leg of the pig (aka ham) slaughtered at Samhain (to not have to feed it through the harsh European winter) are all things that the pre-Christian Europeans of whatever “faith” have done for millennia. The Jewish people observed the same, by the way (wouldn’t eat ham, though).
And the “pagans” just kept doing the same old same old no matter what the Church called the festival of the season, or however that nerdy monk calculated the proper time to gather and celebrate. This is not “stealing”, it’s just people stubbornly continue doing what they’ve done for generations.


Other traditions people just kept doing despite the Church’s teachings can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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