Pagan Studies


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Studies Blogs

Advanced and/or academic Pagan subjects such as history, ethics, sociology, etc.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Beyer-MLK_jail.jpgProfessor Ali Beyer has been featured in two recent exhibitions in Madison, Wisconsin. The Social Justice Center-Jackie Macaulay Gallery presented "America: Who Are We?" in January-February 2017. The show included Beyer's aquatint etching entitled,"Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Birmingham Jail (1963)."

A second show, "The First 100 Days," opened April 29th at Gallery 1308 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Beyer's 2017 mixed media collage is entitled, "The Bird's the Word."

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Wes-paket.jpgBy Rev. Wes Isley -- Dressed in my Vodou ceremonial whites and surrounded by Christian colleagues, I sat on the floor of a hospital conference room. I was sharing with them a story I had written about the Vodou lwa Papa Legba and Maman Brigitte, using it to illustrate my own theology of healing as a chaplaincy intern. They listened and they laughed and they didn’t run in fear. Afterward, two of those Christian chaplains asked for a copy of my story. And none of this would have happened without Cherry Hill Seminary.
That’s right, a Pagan seminary bringing together Christians and Vodou! As a Masters of Divinity candidate at Cherry Hill, I was able to sign up for the chaplaincy internship, and this is just one example of the spiritually enriching—and fun—things I’ve done as a student.
Sure, Cherry Hill students have to turn in research papers and exams, but we also have the freedom to explore spiritual experiences and topics that we might otherwise miss. We Pagans love to attend workshops and festivals in order to expand our spiritual skills and meet kindred souls; well, taking a class at Cherry Hill offers the same opportunity. The only difference is that students can luxuriate in the experience over weeks or months rather than in just one whirlwind weekend.
Here are a few of the projects, experiences and topics I’ve enjoyed most through Cherry Hill:
·    Meeting a favorite Pagan blogger and joining discussions with him as a classmate
·    Creating rituals for Beltane and for greeting local land spirits
·    Attending an interfaith symposium on spiritual responses to climate change and meeting Cherry Hill students, professors, staff and board members
·    Creating an emotionally powerful ritual for invoking a concept of deity that I call the Divine Androgyne
·    Discussing BDSM, polyamory, pornography and other sexual topics within a safe space
·    Exploring further my spiritual path of Vodou, including making a magickal object known as a paket for my home altar and a 3-D representation of Vodou cosmology
·    Representing Pagans on an interfaith panel as part of my chaplaincy internship
·    Dispelling stereotypes among local chaplains about what it means to be Pagan and a Vodouisant
There’s much more I could share, and I look forward to what happens next as I prepare for future classes. Cherry Hill offers more than a one-dimensional experience, and I have been enriched intellectually, spiritually, socially and professionally. Naturally, your experience would be unique and personal, and I hope you’ll seize the opportunity to find out what lies in store for you as a Cherry Hill student.

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Eurynome and Holding the Centre of the Dance

Magic happens. I know that absolutely to be true. Magic shows up when you have been running around gathering all the elements needed to prepare your Maypole for a ritual that is going to be happening in 3 days – and you have nothing but Maypole on the brain – and the individual chosen to pull the Goddess card for the focus of this week’s meditation completely randomly chooses Eurynome. As above, so below. There is dance in the air and She showed up to meditate.

There are a few different Eurynomes (or versions of Her story) that show up in mythology. Homer mentions Her as a daughter of the Ocean who nursed Hephaestus, and Hesiod claims She was mother to the Graces.  The Eurynome we met on Wednesday (as presented in The Goddess Oracle by Amy Marashinsky, illustrated by Hrana Janto) is possibly an older iteration that reflects a primordial creation myth. Born out of Chaos and a Titan ruler in Her own right, this Eurynome danced until She created the wind, out of which She fashioned the snake, Orphion.  As she continued Her dance, Orphion was so enamored of Her movements that he was overtaken with lust. The union of Eurynome and Orphion produced the Universal Egg, out of which all the animals and plants of the world are hatched.

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Broom Lore for Walpurgisnacht and Other Holidays

Every year in late April, I thoroughly clean my back porch for the first time since the descent into winter. Over the winter and early spring, things tend to collect -- dust, dead bugs, spider webs, tree pollen from early spring. The latter (especially from the pines that surround my house) makes it futile to do this any earlier because all of my hard work -- sweeping, hosing it down, vacuuming, and mopping -- would be nulled a few days later by a thick film of yellow powder. But by mid-spring, everything seems to calm down enough to make the deep cleaning worthwhile, which ends up putting this ritual right before Walpurgisnacht and May Day, which I celebrate to honor my German and Scandinavian roots. I won't go into the history of Walpurgisnacht here because it's already covered on a wealth of websites and books; I'd rather focus on one household tool that has a significant place in the lore of this holiday (especially to me personally): the broom.

Brooms are often featured in many spring holidays. At Easter in Sweden and Finland, the festivities take on a more Halloween- or Carnivale-esque character than in other places, and little girls dress up as Easter witches, wearing kerchiefs on their heads and carrying small brooms in their hands. On Walpurgisnacht, a Wild Hunt of witches and specters rides across the night sky to hold their revels on the Brocken. It's common knowledge that the broom as a flying implement is a development of the magic worker's staff. For hundreds of years, it has served as a symbol of feminine power masked as a common, humble household tool.

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Riding with Nicnevin

The Scottish version of Hecate (at least according to some) rides with a company of 'weird sisters' in the night, with wild plans of mischief. No wonder I think of it now that Walpurgisnacht is upon us. There's a most interesting poem that offers us insight in to the beliefs of the past. 'The Flyting Betwixt Montgomerie and Polwart' is a humorous verbal battle. Flyting is probably better known amongst the Norse, but the Scots have that tradition of joshing verbal battles, too. Though a challenging text, the 16th century poet Montgomerie demonstrates well the variety and force of Scottish insults (seriously!) but there's also some interesting supernatural information that usually comes in the form of scurrilous suggestions like:

 Wih warwolfes and wild Cats thy weird be to wander

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My First Course

by M. Macha NightMare - Back in an earlier incarnation of Cherry Hill Seminary, the late Judy Harrow and I were recruited to a new course offering called “Boundaries & Ethics in Pagan Pastoral Counseling” – yes, I dislike using the word ‘pastoral’ in a Pagan context because it’s a specifically Christian term relating to sheep and shepherds (“shepherds of men”; however, Judy convinced me that it was the term used for what she did as a member of professional counseling organizations).  Now Judy actually was a pastoral counselor by training, I, on the other hand, have never been one, nor do I have such aspirations.  This course is appropriate for anyone, Pagan or not, pastoral counselor or not.

I think this may have been CHS’s first online class, taught by the inestimable Cat Chapin-Bishop, Chair of the then-Pastoral Counseling Department.  This was during her previous career in counseling.  Our class had its own Yahoogroup for discussion, plus our weekly live online meeting held in a Yahoogroups chat.  This was prior to Moodle teaching programs.  As you can imagine, the chats were clunky and unreliable, with people getting bumped off and having to re-enter.

In any case, I found it to be really useful, addressing a topic that one doesn’t learn in the typical process of a Pagan training.  We discussed such issues as:

«    How much counsel coven or group leaders can reasonably provide (i.e., has adequate professional training);

«    Avoiding burnout;

«    Evaluating the counselee’s situation to determine if you (leader, HPs, whatever) can help or if and when to refer someone to professional therapists;

«    Researching local therapists, and even interviewing them, to see if they’d be sensitive to Pagan spiritualities (i.e., would they think it strange that anyone would consult the Tarot for guidance or do they think it’s is the work of the devil);

«    Researching and reviewing the ethics statements of various helping professions (i.e., American Counseling Association and the like);

«    Ultimately, writing our own personal statement of ethics, which may or may not be like others’ statements of ethics.

This last had the most value to me.  These things are not usually taught as part of Pagan religious training.  And it’s not essential for you to articulate a formal statement of ethics if you’re not the person whom troubled members consult.  However, it is important to review one’s own ethical principles once in a while.

In fact, one significant product engendered by that course is “Spiritual Counseling and Wiccan Clergy: not psychotherapy in disguise,” which remains available to the public among the archival treasures on the Proteus Coven website, founded by Judy Harrow and colleagues and thankfully still available to anyone online.

Cat’s solicitation to take this course recruited both Judy and me in the development of Cherry Hill [Pagan] Seminary.  Sadly, Judy is gone now, but I’m still kickin’.  Drop by to see how you can help and to see what’s being offered.

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  • Wes Isley
    Wes Isley says #
    I'll be taking an ethics course this summer at Cherry Hill and looking forward to it. I just completed a chaplaincy internship at

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Sharing Experiences

Just like other religious communities, Pagans experience births and deaths, pains and joys — the full range of human experience. Every week at Cherry Hill Seminary we hear comments like these:

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