The Names of the Gods

I found these great video’s on how to pronounce the names of the gods correctly in Old English.

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The Importance of the Hearth Cult

Today I want to write briefly about the Hearth Cult. What is this? Arguably this is the foundation of all Pagan practice, regardless of tradition. Or it needs to be.

The fundamental unit of ancient Pagan society was not the individual, it was the household. Pagans lived in small tribes made up of households. Now while there was undoubtedly an important community aspect to their religion, the primary setting for most pagan religious practice would have been the home. Worship was carried out in the home, with the Father and Mother maintaining religious roles as the Familial priests. And while there may have been some focus on the high gods, most worship would have been focused on the local spirits and ancestors. They would have primarily honoured the Cōfgodas (household gods) like the spirit of the homestead, the family ancestors, and local spirits of the land.

But where did the high gods come in? These would probably have been worshipped by the tribe as a whole – at community festivals such as Eostre, Lammas, Winternights and Yule. At these ceremonies, the king or tribal leader would have acted as the high priest of the people, their representative. This is the ancient concept of sacral kingship. And the high gods would probably have been more willing to pay attention to the needs of the whole community, rather than an individual (sorry we’re just not that important as individuals in the grand scheme of things).

So where am I going with this? There is a shift beginning in Paganism today to rediscover the importance of the hearth cult. It is our duty as Pagans to restore and then maintain our own household cults. Our primary focus for worship should be in, and on behalf of, our households. And it should be focusing less on the high gods, and more on our Ancestors, household spirits and local spirits of the land i.e. the one’s who actually have the interest in us and time to help. When we restore this, we can build a strong spiritual foundation in our lives, worthy of the name Pagan.

Celebrating Litha/ Summer Solstice 2017

Happy Summer Solstice everyone. It is the Summer Solstice or Midsummers Day in the Northern Hemisphere. The word Solstice comes from the Latin “Sol” meaning sun and “Sistere” meaning to stand still. It is the longest day of the year with 15 hours of sunshine. The sun is at its most powerful today. Celebrated by almost all cultures historically, it is an important time of the year for Pagans and Pantheists as one of the major festivals. Also known as Litha after the Anglo Saxon name for the summer months or Alban Heruin (light of the shore) in revival Druidry traditions, it is a great time to celebrate by having a BBQ and bonfire on the beach.

Crops have all been planted and are growing strongly, the earth is alive with blooming flowers, green trees and insects busy collecting pollen and making honey. It is a time to rest, to have fun and to celebrate before the hard work of the harvest begins. From now on the days begin to shorten again as we move back towards the winter. In the agricultural community, this is the traditional month for sheep shearing.

Although its not one of the four Celtic Fire Festivals, the day was probably celebrated by the Druids and its quite possible that places like Stonehenge were used by them at this time (no they didn’t build it). On the Isle of Man, there is a tradition of “paying rent” to the patron of the island, and Celtic god of the sea, Manannan Mac Lyr on this day, by offering him bundles of reeds, meadow grasses and yellow flowers, along with prayers for aid and protection in fishing. Another deity related to this time is the goddess Aine, the Irish goddess of summer, love, fertility and sovereignty. She is sometimes seen as the wife or daughter of Manannan Mac Lir, and is the queen of fairies because this is traditionally the night when they come out and join in celebrations. Aine is honoured on Midsummers eve with a feast, procession and bonfires.

Midsummer is very important in Northern Pagan traditions such as Heathenry and is a time to honour Sunne, goddess of the sun, the landspirits and sometimes Balder is also honoured. Grimm talks in Teutonic Mythology of setting up a “Sun-wheel.” For Wiccans, this is when “the powers of nature reach this highest point. The Earth is awash in the fertility of the Goddess and God.”

Historian Ronald Hutton says that at this time “Midsummer bonfires, with much the same rituals, are recorded all over England, Wales, Ireland, Lowland Scotland and the Northern Isles.” The first record of lighting protective fires on midsummer’s eve is from the 12th century, however in the 4th century pagans celebrated by rolling flaming wheels downhill to a river, a practice that can be traced right up to the 19th century in Dartmoor, Devon. It was a time for divination and the Anglo Saxon Lacunga says its the best time to collect certain plants for healing. In fact, St John’s eve was seen as the time when herbs were most potent and magical. In 13th and 14th centuries there are records of people carrying fire around their fields on midsummers eve, people staying up all night around bonfires in the street and youths gathering at wells for songs and games. Hutton says “the dossier seems to be complete enough to speak confidently of a pre-Christian seasonal ritual of major importance.” Meanwhile, in Audoenus’s 7th century text Vita Eligii, there is the statement “Let no Christian believe in bonfires or sit at incantations, which are diabolical works; let no Christian perform the solstice rites, or dancing or leaping to flute-player or diabolical chants, on the feast of St John.” Other traditions from Northern European countries include having a maypole, going to a “midsummer-tree” to pray that the fields might be given growing strength or making large Midsummer’s wreaths and giving them to others as a sign of affection. Bonfires were made in the streets and marketplaces and homes were decorated with sprigs of birch, fennel and flowers.

It is traditional to celebrate this festival by having BBQ’s and Bonfires with friends, watching the sunrise and eating summer foods e.g. salads. Strawberries have come into season now so eat I like to eat them on the solstice. It is a good time to be outside, to collect herbs, to go hiking or camping, to have a water fight and to make mead. It is a time to be thankful for the sun and to enjoy its light and warmth.

This year I will not be doing as much for Midsummer’s eve. I will try to spend time out in nature, do a ritual and decorate my altar with solar symbols like some oak leaves and some sunflower seeds.

Please note that I have also created a new ritual page with the ritual outline I usually use on high days such as Litha.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Kveldulf Gundarsson. Our Troth: Volume 2 – Living the Troth. USA: Booksurge Publishing, 2007.

10 Great Ways to Celebrate Litha/ Summer Solstice

Here’s a list of some good ways to celebrate the Summer Solstice this week –

  1. Strawberries are in season, so have some strawberries and cream
  2. Have a BBQ, bonfire or picnic.
  3. Do a ritual to honour the Sun or other deities of Summer.
  4. The Bees are busy making this year’s honey, so it’s a great time to make your Mead for the year.
  5. Elder flowers are in season so it’s also a good time to make Elderflower cordial.
  6. Go camping, maybe at Stonehenge if you can, and get up to watch the Sunrise.
  7. Do a beach clean
  8. Make an offering of rushes to Manannan, god of the sea.
  9. Collect herbs such as St John’s Wort for herbalism
  10. Decorate your altar with symbols of the season such as Oak Leaves and Sunflower Seeds.

Have a good one.

Celebrating Beltane/ May Day 2017

Happy Beltane/ May Day everyone. Beltane, meaning “bright fire” is one of the four great fire festivals of the ancient Celtic cultures. In ancient Irish culture it was the time when both the Tuatha De Danaan and the Milesians came to Ireland and was originally celebrated when the Hawthorns began to blossom. Half way between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, it marks the start of the light half of the year and heralds the beginning of summer. According to historian Ronald Hutton, “the ritual of Beltane was found in all Celtic areas of the British Isles, but also in pastoral regions of Germanic and Scandinavian Europe.” The historical evidence for the celebration of this festival is much better than for others. The earliest references to it are from 900AD which state “lucky fire i.e two fires Druids used to make with great incantations, and they used to bring the cattle against the diseases of the year to those fires” and “they used to drive cattle between them.” Another reference says “a fire was kindled in his [Bel] name at the beginning of summer always, and cattle were driven between two fires.” Like the other three Celtic festivals, Beltane is mentioned in the Irish tale of Tochmarc Emire and the ritual of lighting bonfires at this time survived right up until the 19th century. Like Samhain, it was seen as a liminal time “when fairies and witches were especially active, and magical devices [were] required to guard against them.” To the welsh, it was one of the “spirit nights.” Hutton says that “rituals were conducted to protect…against the powers of evil, natural and supernatural, not merely in the season to come but because those malign powers were supposed to be active at this turning point of the year.” Other celebrations in English areas at this time include “bringing in the May” and dancing around a Maypole. Bringing in the May dates back to at least the 13th century and refers to gathering flowers and foliage to bring home and celebrate the beginning of summer. Hutton says that there is no evidence for when the Maypole came to Britain but it was first recorded in a welsh poem in the mid 14th century and is also recorded in Scandinavia so probably originated from the continent. The May Pole was not a phallic or world tree symbol but was most likely simply a “focal point for celebrations” or something to hang garlands on.

Beltane marks the beginning of the pastoral season, the time when farmers traditionally moved their herds to summer pastures (driving them between two fires for blessing and protection first) and people could go outside because of the milder weather. The crops were in the ground by now and it was traditionally the beginning of calving season. There was lots of milking to do and making dairy products like butter. It was the busiest time to visit water sources to collect water for healing and good luck. It was also a time for the renewal of rents.

Learning from historical practices, Gaelic reconstructionists celebrate this time by extinguishing a flame (ideally a bonfire) and relighting it. If there is no bonfire or hearth fire, it is a good time to buy a new hearth candle for your altar and ritually extinguish the old one while lighting the new one. They eat a feast, usually including bannocks and oatmeal porridge or soup with soft cheese and shoots of new herbs and salad greens such as wood sorrel. They also decorate their houses with greenery and yellow flowers like buttercups and collect dew or water in the morning (considered potent for healing and maintaining a youthful appearance). They also make offerings to the gods, carry out protection rites to sain their house and land while warding the boundaries, and make charms of rowan. Some groups also see this as a time to renew their bond with the land goddess (the nearest river) by giving her offerings at her river bank. In Welsh myth this is the time when Taliesin was found in a river after being reborn from the goddess Ceridwen, and some pagans may choose to read his story on May eve.

For Anglo Saxon and Norse Reconstructionists like Asatru and Fyrn Sidu, this festival is called Blostmfreols or Walpurgisnacht. It is a night when witches gather and magic happens. For many, it is a time to honour Freya, the goddess of magic and love. It is also a time to honour the Landwights. Like the Gaelic Reconstructionists, it is seen as a time of supernatural danger, and is celebrated with feasting, bonfires and protective rites. Some modern northern polytheists see the 9 days between Earth Day and May day as the nine nights when Woden hung on the world tree to sacrifice himself in order to learn the mysteries of the runes. It is therefore a good time to focus on runic divinations and making runic charms. Along with this, some celebrate April 23rd as Sigurds Day (the norse equivalent of St George who slew a dragon) and some may choose to celebrate the ancient Norse celebration Sigrblot (victory sacrifice) on May 1st which marked the beginning of summer and asked Odin for victory in war and good luck on journeys.

Beltane is a time for fertility, fun and flowers. By this time most of the tree buds have burst and they’re becoming green again, insects and bees are flying around and countless species of flowers are in bloom, including the beautiful bluebells. It is much warmer now and the land is fertile again. Summer has arrived. For me, its a great time to get outside and enjoy nature coming alive again, to have a bonfire and picnic. One can build a maypole to dance around, or decorate our homes with lots of flowers. It is a good time to eat seasonable foods and make lemonade. This is the perfect time to get out and collect some wild foods to make a wild food salad as part of your Beltane feast. Nettles, Goosegrass, Wild Garlic, Dandelions, Jack by the Hedge, young Hawthorn Leaves and others are available now. This time is also a very good time to focus on the romantic side of life. Alternative ideas include dressing a well with flowers and ribbons, or a tree rather than the maypole and walking between two fires or candles for purification.

British Paganism Isn’t Dying

So recently there have been a few articles out about British Paganism. As a British Pagan I feel the need to comment on the issues raised.

To get started here are three very thoughtful blog posts looking at the issues that I’ve seen so far –

I have to disagree with the author of the first article. Key here is his evidence for the claim – which consists primarily of anecdotes. The one piece of good evidence – the census, actually disputes the claim and shows Paganism (including esoteric traditions) almost doubled in 10 years to 2011. I’ve noticed a big surge in particular streams of Paganism over the past few years – Asatru/ Heathenry is growing quickly and the Asatru UK facebook group now has over 1500 people and are even running a festival this year. In Devon, the county where I currently live, there are 500 people in the local Pagan facebook group from a range of traditions. And I come across more and more Pagans all the time. The author of the third article above, Ryan, points out that he has witnessed a whole range of people from different age groups, including young people, at Druid Camps. So there doesn’t seem to be a need to ring these alarm bells. I feel that maybe the author of the first article wanted Paganism to be dying, to fit into his anti-capitalist narrative. I don’t mean this as an attack as I am just as guilty of only seeing things through the lens I want to, too. And in this case, the last thing I want to see is a narrative developing that British Paganism is in trouble when the evidence doesn’t support that.