Yule be sorry

Christmas_with_the_Yule_Log,_Illustrated_London_News,_23_Dec_1848What curious news stories emerge from the Pagan and polytheist communities, such as the notion of trademarking Yule.  I came away from writing that with the impression that there was indeed a villain in that story, but that I may not have spoken to em directly.  To be fair, that feeling is almost always intensified when I interview attorneys, since they are trained to speak out of both sides of their mouths.  (That’s not a disparagement; more like an acknowledgment.)

I wonder if online selling has made it harder to promote a product without it appearing to be a shameless copy of someone else’s work.  That isn’t to say that I believe that’s what is happening here; only the Shadow knows.

Interesting times

Following on the heels of the very public binding of Donald Trump comes exactly what my sources predicted:  his esoterically-minded supporters took up the challenge.  Today’s Pagan Community Notes leads off with details about the witch war that is shaping up.  It may come as a surprise that 1) there are Pagans who support Trump and 2) many of them were offended by the ethical line that they believe was crossed by casting that binding.  (Mind you, others might say that mirror spells are just as bad.)

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What amazes me is that there are Pagans who are surprised that some of their co-religionists support the current president.  Not every Pagan is registered as a Democrat or a Green, but those who are think we all are.  It’s like those polytheists who insist that politics and religion are one and the same, and those other polytheists who keep telling them, “No, we’re honoring gods over here without getting into human politics, and it’s working out just fine.”  The assumption that people we share some commonalities with are people we share all commonalities with is a puzzling, but likely ancient, human failing.

Review of Ancient Egyptian Magic

ancient-egyptian-magicGenre: Magic

Title: Ancient Egyptian Magic

Author: Eleanor Harris

Overview: I opened this book knowing only as much about ancient Egypt as I recall from sixth grade, when building pyramids out of sugar cubes was in vogue. In short, I’m far from an expert in this area. I opened this book — a 2015 edition of the 1998 original — curious about the subject, and eager to learn. I closed with the sense that Harris did her research thoroughly, with it presented a plausible way to apply ancient Egyptian magical techniques to modern problems.

Hoping that more knowledgeable people have weighed in, I turned to the internet and found mixed reviews. On Goodreads,for example, one person found it thorough and another lacking. All I can say is what should always be said: it’s best to understand the sources the author uses, but one has to start somewhere.

Between these covers are an overview of the religious context in which these techniques were developed (magic was apparently incorporated into ancient Egyptian religion as thoroughly as it has been into modern Wicca), translated and modernized instructions for using them, and resources including glossaries of terms and deities, further reading, and catalog houses through which to shop for appropriate items (because the internet wasn’t all the big for commerce prior to the turn of the century).

There’s not a lot of information about ancient Hellenic magic, but the drier Egyptian climate was kinder. Rather than be jealous that students of Egypt have many papyri to study whilst my coreligionists have mostly lead tablets, I was drawn to the similarities since there was a lot of cultural exchange. What clues about Hellenic magic can I find in Egyptian sources which, for example, refer to the agathos daimon? Certainly the ethical system was similar; magicians did what they wilt and accepted the consequences, or not if they were strong enough to avoid them. Those hints about my own traditional roots were tantalizing.

On the other hand, much of the Egyptian system Harris describes wouldn’t sit well with me, whether or not my ancestors practiced similarly. She describes the use of shape-shifting as a means to trick or bully gods and other spirits into doing one’s bidding; failing that, magicians had no problem threatening gods to get their way. Not my cup of tea, but certainly an interesting insight into this fascinating culture nonetheless.

Quibbles: There are several instances in which the author provides substitutes for the components listed in the source material because the original materials are not practical to obtain. That’s fine, but I wish she had spent more time laying out what those original components were; that would allow modern magicians to more easily choose other substitutes based on their personal circumstances.

Conclusion: Assuming the scholarship is solid, Ancient Egyptian Magic appears to be a good starting point for learning about these ancient magicians, but nothing more. Magic did not exist in isolation, and it’s important to understand the cultural and religious context of the magical scripts presented here before attempting to apply them today. It may be just a starting point, but it’s a good point from which to start.

Title: Ancient Egyptian Magic
Author: Eleanor Harris
Publisher: Weiser Books
ISBN: 978-1-57863-591-7

For my many gods

Follower of gods and friend of mortals
let this work be shared with you and by you,
for as offering to the deathless ones
I pray it shall ever more delight their ears.

Begin always with Hestia,
first among those who dwell on high,
who walks as one with or beside
the wakeful Caffeina, bringing the gods to mind.

Remember too life-bearing Gaia and expansive Ouranos,
who began many things, and Eos, who greets the day,
the good spirit of the home
and any whose oaths expect it.
In this way let all beginnings be begun.

Honor thundering Zeus,
his brothers both kindly and implacable
Hera in whose eyes all love abounds
as well as fruitful, questing Demeter,
for in this way are the six remembered.

Forget not to honor the sire Kronos
from who seed those strong ones sprang
and beloved mother Rhea, who loves her children.
Offer as well to their holy kin:
Hekate, who walks all paths,
all-seeing Helios and dynamic Selene,
broad-shouldered Atlas, Themis the just,
and their brethren, known and unknown.

To high Olympos cast your thoughts
and lift your voice thereto.
Cast praises before foam-clad Aphrodite,
brothers Hephaistos and Ares, whose hands
differ in their tasks and from the craft
of aegis-bearing Athene. To Dionysos, wine,
and grant the twins their due lest truth
be turned to unwelcome purpose.
Whisper too sweet words in the good god’s ear
and know he will bear them to all.

The world is full of gods, good friend,
and to these too make offerings just.
The wild god, the healing son,
the cleansing and purifying holy ones.
Life-affirming Eros, laboring Ponos,
Ploutos who blesses without judgement,
the god of each river crossed or drawn from,
as well as Kairos, in his due time.

Be they daimones or deities,
honor spirits of place, and know your own.
Celebrate neighborhood nymphs,
spirits of home and health,
and that ancient one who calls cannabis home;
mint of the path, stream in the park,
Nikthing who guides through light and through dark.

Remember too those foreign gods who bear
prosperity close to home: Buddha and Hotei,
in their own way. The dead are countless and too often unnamed
but honor the ancestors:
those of blood,
those of spirit,
and all the priests who ever paid honor
to the deathless gods.

If not forsworn to acknowledge the past
then honor again the gods that thou hast:
the eponymous ones, Goddess and God,
the horned one, the Green Man,
the traveler unshod.

Honor the gods, good friend,
not because of what they may bring
— though their blessings are without end —
but because they are the gods
and no other reason is required.


Herein is the hymn to my many gods. Will you write one as well? Submissions close June 21, 2017.

Secrets of a magical cat toy

A few days ago I put together my largest order of kitty-come-home balls to date:  13 of them, each being sent to a supporter of The Wild Hunt.  Since I was alone in a room for several hours (for reasons which will become clear), I figured it was also a good opportunity to document the process of how I create the world’s first magical cat attractor.

The core of the kitty-come-home ball:  lodestone

In case you don’t know, I came up with this design after losing one cat, and nearly losing another.  Some cats are simply not going to be happy and healthy if they are cooped up inside, try as we humans might; a minority of mine insist on going out.  The purpose of the kitty-come-home ball is to create a link with those cats and clear away any barriers to them returning home for dinner.

Thread is used to string the lodestone (magnetite) beads.

Creating a magical item that will be used by an animal is only successful if that item works in concert with the animal’s nature.  Hence the string ball:  lots of cats enjoy playing with them.  My cat Peregrine is the poster animal for this cat toy because he knows exactly what to do with it.  Every time he comes back inside, he seeks it out and bats it around for a recharge.  It’s really quite adorable; sometimes he’ll just walk over top of it and start in with his back feet before falling over and getting all four paws involved.

Lodestone beads, strung and ready for activation.

I selected lodestone as the core because it’s got attractive properties.  Magnetite, as it’s often called, can be magnetized with little effort and is a common ingredient in spells that involve drawing things toward the caster, such as money, love, or in this case, cats.

Unfortunately, the only sources of drilled lodestone beads I’ve found only have these flat ones, which can be a pain to wind initially.  However, I have found it gets easier with practice.  Thanks, Wild Hunt readers, for helping me!

Wrapping the lodestone is when the magic happens.

Wrapping string around an oblong, slippery, tiny object can be tricky; keep in mind that this is when I begin working the magic into the kitty-come-home ball and the complexity is easier to appreciate.  I have thought about using an adhesive for this stage, but only if I can find one that’s completely edible and non-toxic.  Until then, I’ll just learn to visualize while squinting.

When in doubt, just add drugs.

What separates real magic from prestidigitation isn’t a spelling variation that is impossible to detect in conversation.  No, it’s the fact that forces which are poorly understood work in concert with forces that have been studied and tested more rigorously.  In the case of the kitty-come-home ball, catnip extract gives many cats the impetus to play with it in the first place.  However, there are catnip toys in my home that are more than twenty years old, and lost their drugginess before the current crop of kitties every encountered them, yet they are still popular.  There’s more even to catnip than meets the eye.

Distraction needed.

When calculating my costs for creating the kitty-come-home ball, I didn’t factor in the dry catnip needed to distract the local beasts while I work, lest they drive me insane by whining outside the door.

As it happens, I also didn’t properly factor in my time, and when I applied the cost of goods sold I realized that I was only making about two dollars an hour.  That was a revelation!  I’m glad I realized this while putting together donations.

Don’t trust that cute face.  She only wants drugs.

My work space can be closed off to restrict access to cats, but it in no way eliminates the scent of the catnip extract.  If it weren’t for the window panels I might have been able to soldier on, but that face!  How can anyone be expected to resist it?  Dawn spent half the time just staring at me like this; once she started to mew, it was all over.  I will always be a sucker for an adorable face, a fact that she has ever understood.

Kitty-come-home balls, hermetically sealed.

Once the toys are assembled and charged, I put them in plastic zipper bags which I then store in a sealed plastic container on a high shelf of a cabinet with a door until it’s time to pack them for shipping.

I have no illusions that my cats would not, given enough time, figure out how to get to them no matter where I hide them, which is one of several reasons why I will always make them to order.  Nobody wants strange cat drool on their new magical cat toy, after all.

If you have made it to the end of this rambling post, dear reader, then you get to be among the first to learn the bad news, and the good news, about the kitty-come-home ball.  As indicated above, the price is just too low, and I had to raise it to cover my costs and actually make these worth my while.  That’s the bad news.  The good news, though, is that the coupon code PEREGRINE will take $5.00 off your order when applied at check-out.  That’s a limited time offer, and expires on January 31, 2017.

Kheimenia

The winter solstice is when members of the Hellenic Temple of Apollon, Zeus and Pan celebrate the Kheimenia, which is a busy festival that tips the hat to an oodle or two of ancient and modern celebrations.  We were unable to gather together and each of us was given the opportunity to celebrate separately.  For me, setup began around noon and I’m just winding down now ten hours later.

The Kheimenia includes elements of the Maimakteria, Pompaia, Poseidea, Haloa, rural Dionysia, and offerings to Pan of the pines, Selene, Apollon, and Helios.  I was asked to set up images of all these gods, and my family’s main altar proved ideal when I decided to use cards from the Mythic Oracle deck to to so.  Selene gets the place of honor for her prominence relative to Helios, whose image is just below hers; the other deities are displayed on the main level.

This altar is against an interior wall which backs onto the chimney.  That means processions — and any time I’m asked to circle the altar — I can, although it’s not obvious.

In addition to the deity images I printed out pictures of a black sheep and caduceus (left, for the Pompaia) as well as a phallus and theater masks (right, for the rural Dionysia) since I don’t currently have real versions of these items.  I hope to eventually knit a black wool blanket to serve as the dion kodion, and at least get myself a wooden phallus, because one never knows when that might come in handy.

It’s a relatively large altar, but figuring out where to put everything proved challenging when I added in the sacrifice, a loaf of Nova Scotia brown bread which my wife baked from her family recipe.  I also needed room for my kantharos and the wooden ship I used during the ritual of the blessing of the boats over the summer, honoring Poseidon.

Hestia’s candle is on the mantle over the fireplace.  While the ritual script called for a prayer while lighting it, I kept it burning from when I made my morning offerings.  Instead, I gave her offerings of incense:  a Yule blend prepared at my local metaphysical shop (where an astounding number of the products are made in-house), mixed with frankincense.

After that, prayers were made to each of the gods of this festival.

The challenge of making room was complicated when I realized I can’t make the sacrifice over the offering plate.  Instead, I brought out the cutting board my wife made as a child.  She was at work, but between that and the bread I felt she was adequately represented.

Sacrifice, in our tradition, usually involves bread; I tend toward cookies when I’m alone but wanted to be more in sync with my temple-mates.  We do not receive training in the complicated process of animal sacrifice, but we temple priests are taught how to execute a sacrifice of this type in the spiritual, as well as physical, sense.

Each of the gods is given their due from the offering, which is then shared with the people.  The sacrifice is preceded by petitions for the coming year, and this offering will feed family and visitors for many days.

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Thereafter was the reading of omens by performing divination using a method of my choice.  I selected the Lymerian oracle combined with cards from the Olympus deck.  I will not go into my interpretation, as this may hold messages for other people, but I found it to be full of hope and promise.

Selene was offered white wine, but it was red for the other gods, alternating a libation for one of them, and a sip for me.  I’m a cheap date, and it doesn’t take much to make me heady.  I’d hoped to measure it out for just two cupfuls of wine mixed with water for all the involved gods, plus the first one of white for Selene, but I ran out before I could pour out a libation to Dionysos.  Apparently he wanted a full cup of his own.

I circled the altar with images of caduceus and dion kodion while reciting prayers to blustery Zeus and Hermes the protector.

The prayer to Pan asked for protection as well as guidance how to live in these uncertain times, and dedicated the tree and its decorations to the Arcadian god.

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Before that process could begin, we inserted a family tradition of lighting the Yule log, cut from last year’s tree prior to offering it through fire or compost.  (Last year’s, I believe, went to the community tree fire.)  In honor of Dionysos, we watched White Christmas instead of a play.

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Decorations for the tree and hearth really came together wonderfully this year, and it’s always nice to include spirits of the season.  More than any other time of year, the dark time is one that I feel all the various religious and cultural traditions I have honored throughout my life come together into a continuous spectrum of worship and celebration.

Somehow I managed to find space for my book of prayer and ritual on the altar among the various offering plates and bowls.  It was easier after the deity images were removed at the end of the festival.

Pan, though, is not going away quite yet.  He gets to watch over his tree until the time comes to dispose of this glorious offering.  To me, a tree is no less significant than the sacrifice of an animal, and I hope that Pan feels the same way.

No matter how you celebrate at this time of year, may you find just the right amount of light to balance out the dark times, or darkness to offset the light, if you happen to live south of the equator.

Music review: Sing the Sun’s Return

It being “giving Tuesday,” I wish to give something back to the merry Heathens who have brightened the hours of darkness in my home by producing a glorious collection of Yuletide music, Sing the Sun’s Return.

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Because I participated in the Kickstarter last year, I got the associated Yule song book at the same time, but that’s now sold separately.  The book has both music and words to many a song, from wassails and feasting songs to those that honor the gods of the dark times, including one that still rebounds inside my skull, an original piece called One for Old One-Eye.  Anyone with a penchant for making their own music would be pleased to have this slender volume.

For listening, though, the book is not needed.  Sing the Sun’s Return captures the sweet beauty of the Rowans’ voices as they play against each other through counterpoint and close harmony, the sort that gets this writer’s heart to skip a beat in excitement.  To make for a fuller sound, they are joined by other members of Chase Hill Folk (a Heathen spiritual community), Trevor Wentworth and Wolfhame Katrick.  Wentworth also contributed lyrics in several cases.

If you crave a certain kind of music at this time of year, but only tolerate the Christian themes that such music often carries upon its back, please do buy Songs for the Sun’s Return.  You will not be sorry.