Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Burning Times

When Christians first left the Roman Empire for the rest of the known world (Europe and northern Africa), the people they encountered were reluctant to convert to Christianity. They were loyal to the deities their ancestors had worshiped for an unknown number of generations.

At first the priests were somewhat tolerant of the other religions, but began a subtle smear campaign against them. The Christian parishioners were told that witches were evil and meant them harm, even accusing Witches of devil-worship. Meanwhile, they began incorporating traditions from the religions they lived near. Sometimes it was decorations, sometimes it was holy days or festivals. At least once they compromised and turned a deity into a Saint.

While some might have fallen for the ruse that this new religion was just like their own, most didn't. They stubbornly refused to abandon their Gods. That's when the religious leaders in Protestantism and Catholicism began to allow the torture of Witches with intent to save them.

The Witch hunters came up with ways to falsely accuse Witches. Some had a pin that, when pressed, would collapse. They would say that, because the accused didn't react to the "sharp" object, that was proof she was a Witch. Others had the theory that if a Witch was thrown in the water and survived she was guilty and would be hung, but if she drowned she was innocent. Still more admitted guilt to save their lives, but were never released. They died in prison.

Some people were accused because they were healers whose patients died, especially mid-wives. Others were accused because the herbs they used to heal people were misunderstood as Witchcraft. It didn't matter to the people that no harm was meant, these people were still labeled as "evil".

The causes of the Witch Trials are varied. At first, it may have begun as part of the previously mentioned smear campaign on the part of the churches. Some were likely accused for the sole reason that their neighbors wanted their land, and intended on buying it from the city once it was forcibly taken away from the original owner. Ergot, which is a fungus that grows on grains, may also have been a factor. For those of you that don't know, Ergot is a hallucinogenic that, when eaten, gives the infected an LSD-like reaction. People in Europe, and later in Salem Village, Massachusetts, may have baked Ergot into their bread without knowing the side-effects.

No one knows now many people died in Europe and North America during this time, but it's an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 dead. Some say it was 9 million, but I believe they are wrong. A German in the 18th century calculated the number dead by selecting a specific amount of time, then multiplied it by the entire time of the trials. Unfortunately, he picked an extremely violent one that skewed the numbers to an unlikely amount.

The term "Burning Times" is also wrong. It is true that some burned, and at least one was crushed to death. But the vast majority of those found guilty were either hung, or died in prison. And no one was sentenced to burn in Salem Village, Massachusetts. If anyone was burned on the accusation of being a witch there, it was not a lawful execution.

It can't correctly be called the "Witch Trials", either, as most were not Witches. In the first century or two of the trials, it's likely that some of the accused really were followers of the Old Religions, but most, probably over 90% of the accused, were devout Christians.

Another error is that the Christian churches were responsible. But, other than the smear campaign against other faiths, they did very little. The trials themselves were held in town halls by lawyers and judges, not priests or monks.

It's my hope that, with time, the myths about this dark era will be forgotten and only the truth will be remembered.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Deity of the Month: Persephone

Persephone, or Proserpina in Latin, began life as a daughter of Zeus and Demeter. As a Spring Goddess, one of her responsibilities was the growth of flowers. She was doing her job when Hades spotted her from Tartarus. He immediately opened a chasm in the Earth and grabbed Persephone. No one, with the exception of Zeus and Helios, had noticed the abduction.

Demeter's heart was broken over the loss of her beloved daughter. She began wandering the Earth, searching, until Helios revealed what he had seen. Demeter was immediately filled with anger and went into solitude. Her absence was noticed immediately, because the plants ceased to mature or be fertile.

Knowing that if this continued the life that grew upon the earth was in serious jeopardy, Zeus sent Hermes down to Hades to force him to release Persephone. Hades reluctantly agreed, but before she left his palace he gave her pomegranate seeds (in some versions it's the entire pomegranate). In her joy, she forgot that no one must eat the food of Hades, and ate part of it. She was immediately bound to the underworld forever. Quick thinking on the part of Hermes found a loophole. Since she only ate half, she only had to be apart from her mother for six months instead of the entire year.

When Persephone is with Hades, Demeter refuses to allow anything to grow, causing the seasons of Autumn and Winter. During this time Persephone is Queen of the Underworld.

In anticipation of Persephone returning to her, Demeter returns to her duties and Spring soon follows. During this time Persephone is Goddess of Spring.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Equinox

As mentioned in a list of the eight Sabbats, the Spring Equinox is today. There are many different ways to celebrate, depending on your religion.

Personally, if it's not still winter here in Montana, I take a walk and enjoy the smell of new life that is distinctive after a long, bitter winter. The days are getting noticeably longer (even without the irritating time change) and I'm even able to open a window and let some fresh air inside my apartment.

This is one of two days in the year when the amount of daylight is the same as the amount of darkness. Ancient people in the modern day countries of Germany, Poland, Russia, Norway, Sweden, etc. noticed this and made a special day for it.

The term Ostara is a modification of the name of the Goddess Eostar, who was a patron of spring. She is most often seen as an older maiden or young mother figure, wearing white. Bonfires were a frequent part of the celebration of this holiday.

Pagans share a celebration of the theme of death and rebirth with the Christian Easter (guess where they got that name, by the way). Ancient Pagans who worshiped Cybele held a ritual for her consort, Attis. He was believed to die and be reborn at this time during the spring.

Another ancient story is also a Greek one. Demeter, who was responsible for the harvest and the change of the seasons, never allowed a season of death (winter). Then her daughter, the personification of Spring itself, was kidnapped by Hades to be his wife. In her grief, she ignored her duties and the first winter arrived in Greece. Zeus was uncharacteristically worried about the mortals and animals, and forced Hades to return Persephone. But, before he returned Persephone to Demeter, Hades tricked the young Goddess into eating food of the afterlife. Eating this food meant she was forced to live with Hades. Hermes, however, found a loophole. Since Persephone only ate half of the fruit, she was only required to live with Hades six months out of the year. The Spring Equinox is when Persephone returns to Demeter, resulting in Demeter returning to her duties and bringing Spring back to the world.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wheel of the Year

The "Wheel of the Year" is a Pagan term for the cycle of seasons throughout the year. The Sabbats, or Holidays if you prefer, themseves are a mix of Gaelic (otherwise known as Celtic) and Germanic pre-Christian feasts and festivals. The two cultures have been blended nicely, and is important to many people both ancient and modern.

The cycle itself is seen as an echo of life itself. Birth is the spring, life is the summer, decline is the fall, and death is the winter. Sometimes the seasons are even referred to in this way. With Wiccans, they also see the progression of the God and Goddess through the year.

There are eight Sabbats on this calendar. Four fall on the solstices and equinoxes, and are loosely based on or named after Germanic festivals. The other four fall roughly halfway between them, and are inspired in the same way on Gaelic festivals. Different groups put emphasis on different Sabbats, and celebrate them in different ways. Sometimes the festivals are very different from historic accounts of the festivals in pre-Christian Europe.

 Unless the religion you are a member of demands you celebrate every one, each Sabbat is optional. Personally, I celebrate five of them.

I will go into greater detail with each Sabbat as they occur throughout the year.

  1. Samhain is also called All Hallow's Eve, Last Harvest, Blood Harvest, Ancestor Night, Feast of the Dead, Nos Galan Gaeaf, and Halloween.

  2. Yule is also called Midwinter, Cuidle, Alban Arthan, Winter Rite, Mother's Night, and Gŵyl Galan Gaeaf.

  3. Imbolc is also called Candlemas, Oimelc, Brigit, Brigid's Day, Bride's Day, Brigantia, and Gŵyl y Canhwyllau.

  4. Ostara is also called Vernal Equinox, Lady Day, Earrach, Alban Eilir, Festival of Trees, and Gŵyl Canol y Gwanwyn.

  5. Beltane is also called Beltaine, May Day and Gŵyl Galan Mai.

  6. Litha is also known as Midsummer, Samrad, Alban Hefin, Aerra Litha, and Gŵyl Ganol yr Haf.

  7. Lammas is also known as Lughnasadh, First Harvest, Bread Harvest, Festival of First Fruits, and Gŵyl Galan Awst

  8. Mabon is also known as Autumnal Equinox, Foghar, Alban Elfed, Harvest Home, Second Harvest, Fruit Harvest, Wine Harvest, and Gŵyl Ganol yr Hydref

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What is Paganism, exactly?

Paganism, according to the dictionary, is any religion non-Abrahamic in faith. In other words, if you're not an atheist, Christian, Muslim, Jew or Satanist then you would fall under the Paganism category.

It was in the first few hundred years of Christianity that the term "pagan" was first used. While the emperors, monarchs and nobility converted to Christianity the commoners remained loyal to the religion of their ancestors. It was first coined in the Roman empire as the Latin word "paganus", which literally meant country-dweller. It wasn't long until those in power began to vilify the old religions and paganus became a slur. Even the Jews, who Christianity came from, were labeled as evil.

Now, even though it's still vilified by the Christians, people are returning to the ways of their ancestors. This is where things get really confusing. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of faiths that can identify as pagan. In later posts, I will go into some of the religions I have done research on as well as the one I follow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Types of religious stories

There are several kinds of religious (a.k.a. mythological) stories. Because of the amount of time between when the stories began, and when they were written down, many will overlap. Some may even have elements of all four.

  1. Fantasy
    These stories were invented purely for entertainment purposes. There is as much reality in them as there is in the Harry Potter series.

  2. Fable
    These stories were invented to teach children, and older newcomers to the society, how to live peacefully with the group

  3. History
    These stories have a basis in something that really did happen long ago. But, like a giant rumor mill, these stories changed. Some things were added, and others forgotten. It is a challenge to find the truth among the fiction.

  4. Science
    Now, I do realize that these stories are rarely scientifically accurate. I do, however, understand what our ancestors might have thought. They saw things happening around them, and created a story to explain the why and how. It is no longer science, because we have (for the most part) discovered what's really going on. But they do give insight into how people thought thousands of years ago.

Label Cloud

101 2011 2012 44 days of witchery ability activism agnosticism air alberta altar ancestor anubis apatheism apocalypse apollo aquarius arachne arts athame atheism athena autotheism autumn banner beliefs bigotry bottle burning times calendar canada candle celtic child children's christian christmas cleaning coexist common man correspondences crafts creation cryptozoology cycle dalai lama deism deity deity of the month demeter deucalion E3 egypt electronic entertainment expo electronics elements end of the world endymion equality equinox extinction feast festival festivus fires flood food fur g4 gaea gaming germany glass god goddess great flood great spirit greek green griffin halloween hanukkah health henotheism herbalism history holiday holidays hospitality instructions international internet irish italian jack o'lantern kathenotheism kwanzaa lakota lavender leather life luna magic magical place makoshika meatless monday microsoft minerva mjöllnir monolatrism monotheism mothers mythology native american nature norse oil oisin ostara pagan pagan values month paganism pandeism panentheism pantheism pelops pepitas persephone philosophy pipa pirate politics poll polydeism polytheism prayer prayer chain preternatural prophecy pumpkin pyrrha rant Recipes religion religious roman rules sabbat sacred element samhain saturnalia seasons seeds selene shrine sioux sol invictus solstice sopa spider spiritual element spiritualism spring stories sun sign sword of truth symbol tantalus thor three tir na nog tools triad trials trio triskele values vegan vegetarian veneration viking vinegar warlock water wax wheel wheel of the year wicca winter witch witchcraft wizard xenia year yule

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