Pagan Studies


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Studies Blogs

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

Ancestors at the Hearth: Hallowe’en Edition

I love the word Hallowe’en. It conjures all the warmth and mystery that I associate with the middle of the harvest season, and having celebrated it secularly throughout my life doesn’t diminish my now more spiritual experience of the holiday; instead, it accentuates it. Maybe it’s just me, but I find so much satisfaction in deepening my experience of the familiar, seeing beneath the surface of what is already around me. Making Hallowe’en sacred to me as a pagan is a rewarding experience.

While Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve, is a later, Christian term denoting a holiday that stems from the more ancient Samhain, it can still be relevant to pagans. After all, to “hallow” means to sanctify or venerate – to recognize something as sacred or worthy of veneration — which is what many of us do during this time. We pay homage to the dead: family members, beloved dead, cultural and/or spiritual ancestors, and sometimes even the dead with whom we have little to no emotional connection but who have walked the same earth.

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By now the Route 91 shooting in Las Vegas is old news, the shooter a mystery who will never have to answer for his actions in a courtroom since he chose suicide after murdering 58 and affecting thousands more.
 
b2ap3_thumbnail_vigil.jpgVegas was not a vacation destination I ever would have chosen. And I did not need to play the hero by rushing to volunteer in the aftermath. But I was asked to be part of the Red Cross team, so I packed my suitcase on Monday night, rose in the dark and landed at noon local time barely a mile from the concert/shooting site.
 
One cannot drive from the airport into town without passing the Mandalay. Two broken out windows with ragged plastic blowing out are a jolting reminder that this is not a made-for-tv photo shoot or footage from a documentary, but the real thing. Yellow crime scene tape reinforced the surreal knowledge that less than 48 hours ago this had been an apocryphal scene.
 
b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_20171008_184613180.jpgSurreal may be the best adjective to describe Vegas, generally and in better times. The lights on the Strip are eye candy that one cannot ignore. But behind the good-times face put on for tourists, not one person I encountered was not grieving or at least shaken to the core. A woman in a business suit waiting on her order at Panera Bread who broke down when she saw our Red Cross badges. The person checking me into my hotel room, who quietly admitted that one of their staff was killed, her friend, but still unnamed at that time. The paramedics who wondered out loud to me whether they would have been as brave as their coworker who was off duty that night but raced to the scene, rescued people, rushed them to a hospital, then repeated the process over and over again.

b2ap3_thumbnail_cops-with-posters.jpgAfter being on site a few days I became acutely aware that in our time we have created a new "client population," a diaspora of those who endure a tragedy like Route 91, then return home and try to go back to work, to families, to whatever was normal for them before. Because nothing will ever be the same again. Normal is no longer a relevant word for them.

A chaplain (or Disaster Spiritual Care volunteer, as Red Cross calls us) does not dispense anything that will neutralize what victims have been through, what anyone connected to a tragedy will wrestle with for a long time to come. Our role is to be there, to listen, to ensure that no one has to live through the aftermath alone, to offer prayers if asked, to connect individuals with that which best serves their soul.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_20171009_114038308.jpgWith 22,000 people present at just this one shooting, you can be sure, wherever you live, that someone connected to you has been affected. In fact, every one of us has been affected. In Red Cross spiritual care, we say that our goal is to be changed but not wounded by our work. But I see that our society, our nation, the entire world, is wounded by the violence. As Pagans who feel compelled to serve others, we can be prepared through solid training at Cherry Hill Seminary. I never planned on being a chaplain, but I'm so glad studied and did the work.  
 
We can also make healing and peace our personal mission. Temple Osireion (my local group) has been holding an interfaith circle every few months since 2016. Our goal is to give people of various and no religions a safe and sacred space in which to grieve, ponder, heal and build peace. (I'm happy to share our ritual with you if you are interested, just email me.) 
 
This Samhain I will be thinking of the many who were unexpectedly, prematurely, shoved beyond the veil this year. I will not call them to me, but I will wish them peace that passes all understanding, because I certainly do not understand.
 
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Medieval Consolations

The test of any philosophy is how it helps you survive difficulty. It is simple enough to hold the line in good times, but when your misfortunes seem to know no end, your patience and perseverance were truly tested. The Anglo-Saxons had a trust in wyrd both as pagans and as Christians. The thought might best be summed up in the refrain from the poem Deor:

Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg. 

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Okeanos Speaks

Okeanos’s Story

 

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Kim
    Kim says #
    What a lovely telling of the myth & spell. Thank you.
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Looking forwaaad to it, many thanks! Enjoy your conference. Blessed Be, Tasha
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Really nice! Thanks for sharing. Blessed Be, Tasha
  • Sara Mastros
    Sara Mastros says #
    You're quite welcome, Tasha! There will be more about his wife, Tethys, in the next week or two. It might be later than usual, bec

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Art Shows and Goddesses for Our Times

It is a great pleasure in the life of an artist to be able to share one's vision with the world. The internet and online libraries are a lot of fun, but being able to showcase one's work in a place where people can come and view it in person is so much better. This September has kept me super busy as I have had three shows, all opening in the same week. 

The image that heads this blog is my "wall" of art from Cheyney University's faculty art exhibition. I had created a number of canvases this summer for a solo exhibition, ranging in size from 11" x 14" to 30" x 40," and all of those were headed to a show in Wilmington, Delaware (more on these shortly). one of my colleagues was dumbfounded when I told her I wasn't sure I'd have work for the faculty show. "What about those hundreds of Goddess drawings you've been doing," she asked. I was a little stuck. I did indeed have hundreds of drawings as part of my "Goddess a Day" project, however, they were small, on paper, and would have to be framed.

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Corn Dollies: A Harvest Tradition

Since I can remember, my mom has had two small corn husk dolls. I’m not sure where or why she got them, but it was before I was born, so they’ve always been there, through all my family’s moves from city to city, country to country. Even now, they’re nestled among other knick-knacks in the enormous Bavarian schrank my parents keep in their formal living room. They are quaint, dainty little things, and they’ve always held a kind of mystery to me that, for a long time, I couldn’t quite pin down.

As an adult, I learned that corn husk dolls originated among the Iroquois, and the tradition was picked up by European settlers who had similar traditions. In some ways, corn husk dolls are the indigenous American cognate to European corn dollies, which are usually not so much “dolls” as we think of them as they are decorative objects taking a variety of shapes: hearts, handbells, lanterns, horseshoes, to name just a handful. Another difference is that corn dollies are often made of wheat, barley, or oat sheaves, not the ears of maize used to craft corn husk dolls.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Hugh Gadarn
    Hugh Gadarn says #
    Fascinating. I find corn dollies intriguing and there are examples in early Britain. On the eve of St. Bride's day girls used to m
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    Thanks for sharing, Hugh! I love learning about the similarities and differences in corn dolly traditions across European cultures

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Reflections on Melek Taus

Last week I attended an Interfaith Gala Dessert Reception to help the Yezidis Facing Genocide, featuring a delegation of Yezidis in exile here in North America and hoping to regain their homelands.

Held at Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, California, the room featured peacock feathers on each table and walls adorned with Yezidi (Yazidi) flags.  The screen upon one wall featured a large image of Melek Taus, the Peacock God of the Yezidis.

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