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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Crooked

They call our path the Crooked Path, our god the Crooked Serpent.

But what do they know of Crooked and Straight?

We are crooked as the River that snakes across the Land.

We are crooked as the deer-path that winds through the woods.

Let them keep to the Straight, the unforked path.

Ours is the Crooked, the way of the River.

Ours is the Crooked, the way of the Deer.

Ours is the Crooked, the way of the Lightning.

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Bridey's Spring

Bridey's Spring, n. an early February thaw

 

Well, Winter's back, old Winter.

Oh, it was a glorious little Bridey's Spring here in Paganistan, while it lasted: two days of Sun and snowmelt, puddles of water—actual liquid water!—just in time for Imbolc.

Just a foretaste, and now it's back to the dark house of Winter.

Still, we've had our promise.

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The Call of the Horned Serpent

 Wrap your cold coils around the world,

bounding that which Is from what Is Not.

 

As Lord of Beasts, god of red life, the god of witches—him that we call the Horned—takes many forms. Among the least-examined of these in contemporary Witchdom is that of the Great (or Old, or Crooked) Serpent.

One readily understands why. Ophidophobia runs deep in Western culture. I'm afraid of snakes myself, though they fascinate me as well. (They say that fascinate originally referred to “the ability to induce an erection.” Make of that what you will.) The War between the Thunderer and the Earth Serpent is an old, old story, one of humanity's most widespread. It only becomes a danger when the War becomes morally weighted, as it does, most notably, in the Bible, in which the Serpent frequently embodies capital-E Evil: e.g. the polycephalous (many-headed) and polycerate (many-horned) Dragon of the bad acid-trip book of Revelation.

(Pagans, of course, knew—and know—better. Ba'al's adversary, Livyatán—who became the Leviathan of Hebrew mythology—is called náhash 'aqaltón: the “zigzag serpent.” Interestingly, Bible translators have tended to render this as “the crooked serpent.” Compare the two adjectives. One is morally-charged, the other merely descriptive.)

Here we see another reason for Wicca's aversion to the Horned Serpent. Wicca, for entirely understandable reasons, has tended to eschew anything that bears even the slightest taint of Satanism.

Old Craft is less fearful of Biblical imagery although—as Craft historian Mike Howard has observed—when it embraces it, it tends to do so for its own purposes.

One of the few contemporary Craft voices to speak about the Old Serpent is Tony Steele, who in his 1998 Water Witches writes about a purported Fam Trad, supposedly of Frisian origin, preserved among the canal-boatsmen (and -women) of the English Midlands.

Let me say up front that the credibility of his historical claims is gravely damaged by his decision to anchor them in the Oera Linda Book, a notorious late “19th” century forgery claiming to date back to Bronze Age “Atland” (i.e. Atlantis).

Well, for now let us lay historicity to the side. Steele claims as the god of these water-witches the Great Serpent “World”: in Frisian (supposedly) Wr-alda. (My Frisian-English dictionary doesn't turn up such a word.) Steele's ideas are most moving (and convincing) when he writes in a pagan idiom of the Earth Serpent, Whose power flows through the landscape. (Take a thoughtful look at the Great Serpent Mound to understand what he means.) It is less so when it seeks deep Craft meaning in the hallucinatory visions of the book of Revelations, where the Dragon is said to have seven heads and ten horns. Steele suggests that reflection on the uneven horns-to-heads ratio will impart deep insights into the nature of the god of witches.

Call me a skeptic, but I'm not convinced.

Still, Steele does indeed have his share of insights to offer, and I'd recommend a read to those whose ears the Crooked Serpent has tickled with His forkèd tongue.

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The Tale of Tarzan the Sled-Dog

I grew up hearing stories about my father's boyhood dog Tarzan.

Tarzan was big and black, and loved kids. Tarzan also loved to sled.

When the kids went out to sled down Pittsburgh's icy hills, Tarzan always went along. The best part was, after a ride, Tarzan was happy to pull your sled back up to the top of the hill for you.

But Tarzan was no fool. He didn't mind doing the work, but there was a price to be paid.

Tarzan wanted another ride, and he wouldn't let go of the drag rope until you let him back onto the sled.

 

My youngest aunt and oldest cousin were born in the same year. Those two were Tarzan's babies, and he willingly took on the role of nanny. Both of them learned to walk by holding onto Tarzan.

When they were both upstairs, Tarzan would lay at the head of the stairs, and nothing would move him. Those kids were not going to fall down the stairs, and Tarzan made sure of it.

One day my grandfather got home after a long shift at the steel mill. (He operated a crane at J & L for more than 30 years.) Tired and irritable, he trudged up the long, narrow flight of stairs, only to find the dog lying across the top, blocking the way.

“Move, Tarzan,” he said.

The dog looked at him, but didn't move.

“Dog, get out of the way,” said my grandfather.

Tarzan didn't move.

“Dammit, dog, move!” said my grandfather, and kicked him.

I can remember the look on my grandfather's face as he told this story. He was a gentle man, really, and—I think—ashamed of having lost his temper.

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In Search of Hot Chocolate

When I think about Imbolc, I often think about hot chocolate. Since dairy is highlighted on the Imbolc menu in some form or another, this could be the perfect time to search out the best hot chocolate in the area. While you’re sipping—and possibly dipping—a cookie in your rich chocolaty cocoa, meditate on where you’ve come since the holidays and where you’d like to continue in the months to come.

I’ve written about Imbolc before for Pagan Square, including a meditative cross-country ski you could take during this time of the year.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I celebrated Groundhog Day today with a home-baked chocolate chip muffin; from a mix not from scratch, and a glass of coconut milk

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Witches Stink

Such a smell of sulfur!”

(Glinda the Good)

 

Witches stink.

No, that's not some sort of paganophobic slur. Seriously, take a whiff. Can you smell it? That little hint of sulfur?

Yes, sulfur. Like god, like people, you might think. Well, yes, that's true, and in a bit I'll tell you the story. (There's a story for everything in the Craft.) But what it really comes down to is the old saw: you are what you eat.

What witches eat are lots (and lots and lots) of the king and queen of sulfurousness: onions and garlic. They're our favorite vegetables.

Food has to get flavor from somewhere. The gentry use meat; well, they can afford to. As for the rest of us, meat is expensive and mostly only for firedays. Most of the time, our food gets its savor grâce à that Royal Couple of the Underworld: you know who I mean.

When the Horned our god came down from heaven (but that's another story for another night), they say that where His left Hoof struck ground, garlic sprang up. (Old Hornie being Old Hornie, of course he landed Left-Hoof first.) Where His right Hoof hit, onions grew. To this day, you'll note that each clove of garlic still looks like half a miniature cloven hoof. Now you know why.

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  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    OMGs, that sounds delicious! Wish I were able to celebrate with Prodea. xo

Today is Imbolc, the Celtic festival of light and returning green which honours the Goddess Brighid. In truth she can be honoured all over this next few weeks, so don't overlook it if you don't have time this weekend.  Mistress of healers and poets, protectress of children, mothers and the hearth and home, Brighid is a goddess who should have a place in everyone’s home, and her strong yet gentle energy blesses all she touches. Yet we must also remember, her flame is fierce. In some tales she transforms into the maiden Brighid from the ancient Crone goddess the Cailleach, the wise old one of winter, and in other tales these two do battle to force the Cailleach to release her hold upon the land. She's strong is Brighid, not some slip of a girl, but a woman grown, strong enough to be a midwife, to hold all the family, all the clan. 

We live in challenging times, and the earth needs us like never before, our communities need us, and the powerless all over the world need those who can to stand up and bring in a more caring time…we need that light that Brighid brings so desperately. Yet we also need the Cailleach, she who teaches us about long winters, about wisdom and about what it is to endure. Today I see troubled times here in the UK and the U.S. and elsewhere, and I see a need for that wisdom more than ever, as well as a need for that light.

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