Monthly Archives: September 2011

Mabon Thoughts

For any of us who write, we all are quite familiar with the truth that we can find a million reasons not to sit down and write. There’s a house that needs cleaning, kids and spouses that need attention, things around the house that need to be repaired, homework assignments, and a myriad other things that pull us in a hundred different directions. The hardest part is to consistently make our way to that place and time where we can just let the words flow.

Writing, as far as I am concerned, is a magical act. It is an act of Will and attention and focus. To reach in deep inside or out to other places while maintaining a center is a powerful thing indeed. For far too long I have been out of the center, allowing myself to be tugged by distractions both great and small until the sanctuary lies neglected and cluttered, covered with a thin film of dust from disuse. Still, it takes so very little to sweep away the dust, light a candle and make a small offering, a libation or a bit of hand crafted incense that you manage to have on hand just for moments such as this.

Last weekend, the year turned again to the Mabon. In the Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) religion, this date marks the departure of the Eye of Ra – Hathor or Sekhmet to the South, where She wanders. It corresponds with the departure of most Goddess cultures where the idea that the beneficence of the Goddess departs for a time. Persephone descends into the Underworld of Hades and the rest of the world is left to lament Her absence. It is a time of desolation and death. These things, too, are a fact of life. They bring us to the knowledge of the Circles of life, Death and Rebirth over and over again. We come to expect them, we prepare for them, but every single rotation of the Circle is different from the last or the ones before it. Now, we enter the Opet Festival, when Amun, Mut and Khonsu are celebrated. Like that festival in antiquity, we are reminded that life’s cycles will always continue.

When I started down my Path, I imagined that it was Egypt alone that called to me. When I was Wiccan, I inserted for the Goddess and the God, Isis and Osiris. Then, as I believed that I had arrived at the destination that I had asked for – to find the Source of Ancient Kemet’s religion, it was Sekhmet that filled up ever single nook and cranny and part of my awareness to the exclusion of all else. It was profound, but it was a limiting world view. There is a greater whole that cannot be claimed by any one culture, by any one spiritual Tradition or an unwavering adherence to a set dogma. I am grateful for the lesson, and now, as the Path goes toward a more wholeistic one, I find my brothers and sisters in many places, both Pagan and Monotheist of one kind or another – or neither. Spirituality is a lot like musical taste; we all have differing opinions as far as to what works for each of us and what doesn’t. I am convinced that it is a different answer for every one of us.

So far, no developer on Facebook or anywhere else has ever been able to figure out what each of us is about simply based on a set of algorithms. I sincerely doubt that they ever will. However, that doesn’t prevent them from endlessly trying to figure each of us out in order to more effectively market to us and get them to follow a set of behaviours they want us to go in. Usually it is of a commercial benefit for some corporation or political entity or media company that wants us to purchase whatever it is that they are selling – be it a product or an idea. Historically, however, religions try the same sort of tactic. That sort of struggle has been going on for centuries, and no doubt, there will be those who will always try to crack the code and find that one magic formula that will make us all go in the same direction. Sometimes the threat of pain, death and eternal damnation is used. Fortunately, however, that sort of tactic in the name of whatever God seems to work less and less these days. The Circle of Life, however, can go both Sunwise and Widdershins as the situation calls for and sometimes it wavers back and forth a bit. Like the cycles we are all a part of, we do the same thing. We change over time. If we didn’t, we’d simply fall into a pattern of stagnation. In that type of scenario, nothing grows. And witout that, we really can’t call it living, can we?

It is a time of cutting back and harvest. It is a time of preparing for winter, setting up stores and lighting the hearth. Pulling in our families and keeping off the chill as we descend into the Darkness of Winter. In the Norse and the Indigenous American cultures, communities would pull into their longhouses and lodges and share warmth food and stories to pass the winter months. Have we really evolved so much since then? The Holidays, which seem to come sooner and sooner every year, are punctuated by gatherings of friends and family, with the ideal being of shared warmth, food, stories, camaraderie and yes, sometimes gifts. One listen to the news and it is clear that we seem as if we are currently descending into an underworld on a global scale. We need to share the warmth, the food, the stories, and the many gifts that we each have. None of us individually knows nearly as much or can do nearly as much as all of us collectively and therein lies our strength. Why then do we insist on trying to do it all ourselves or refusing to help others where but for the grace of the God/dess, there we would also be?

The harvest is a time of shared efforts and celebrating the bounty of collective effort. For now, that’s just enough to keep thoughts of the winter chill away.

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Book Review: “Plants of Love: The History of Aphrodisiacs, and A Guide to Their Identification and Uses

NON-FICTION :Plants of Love: The History of Aphrodisiacs, and A Guide to Their Identification and Use“, by Christian Ratsch, 1997 10 Speed Press, ISBN 089815-928-8 $19.95 (US)

CONTENT: Christian Ratsch has done it again with his wonderfully illustrated guide to yet another aspect of all things herbal. He pulls together the appropriate amounts of history, monographs including pictures that would help someone identify the plant in the wild. There are over a thousand plants that through history have been or are still being used as aphrodisiacs, and Ratsch rarely shies away from the frank discussion of any of them. He presents the information both interesting and shares enough knowledge to be of interest to the layperson, the Witch, as well as the scholar or the practising herbalist.

As far as books on the topic of Aphrodisiacs and their uses, Ratsch does the best job of any that I have seen. Far too many either get into debunking as to why these plants have been or are still useful, or they throw alot of urban legend into the mix without qualifying the information. Such practices cause plants (and even some animals) to be used in the process of trying to induce an erotic state or increase virility or fertility; some to the point of endangerment. Thankfully Ratsch is very conscious of this problem.

There are recipes for infusions, ointments, incenses and brews that are sure to entice. I was disappointed that Nymphaea caerulea or Blue “Lotus” (which is actually a blue water lily) was not included. I have tinctured and worked with this plant extensively and was very surprised, especially with its symbology and history that there was no discussion of it. There is a small bit of information about Nelumbo nucifera or ‘true’ Lotus, which is native to India and Asia that was very inclusive – as were most of all of the other entries.

RATING: B+ My only disappointment is that there is not even more in this book. There is a frank and extended discussion of even more plants in his latest book, including the ones that I was disappointed not seeing in this one, “Psychoactive Plants” which I am currently reading and will most probably be reviewing next. I definitely recommend “Plants of Love” as a great addition to any herbal library, however.

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Excavating Our Souls from the Ruins

Every spiritual path or religion has the need for sacred sites for the people of that faith to tap in and feel connected with the ancestors and worshipers of days long gone. Jason Pitzl-Waters has put together a wonderful article, ‘What’s the Best Way to Protect Our Pagan Past?’

My response is that one of the greatest problems that we face in preserving historical Pagan sites is the fact that Pagans themselves have been known to be “bad guests”. By that I mean swiping souvenirs from sites, like a piece of the Great Pyramid, or feel the need to fondle fragile artifacts because they just don’t have the common sense that part of preserving these antiquities and sites is to at least educate themselves about what to do and not to do. Coming from a background of scholarship and having an egyptologist in the family, I can tell you those things are extremely important. Few within Paganism’s ranks, however, avail themselves of them.

One of the biggest drawbacks is the hostility that the archaeological and scholarly community has toward Pagans in general is because of the ignorance on preservation, or matters of grave reparations, etc. Another reason is of course because of the (quite frankly) sloppy scholarship and the use of out of date, public domain materials in lieu of serious, more current information in the books that the Pagan community sees fit to publish. How many care enough about this archaeological heritage to get the degree, or to really write the professors and researchers that have done or are doing current research? How many are willing to shell out in some cases several hundred dollars for one book on an area of interest that they are researching? How many know how to actually read the ancient languages and regularly study them so that they can rely on their OWN translations, rather than relying on those of others? The numbers of those Pagans who are that dedicated to their faith are precious few – and those that are professionals or scholars and also Pagan, keep very quiet about it. They do so mainly to avoid being ridiculed by their professional peers and/or have their funding cut, or passed over for projects, etc. It’s sad but it’s true. There are those Pagans who are conscious and who are not scholars but know in their gut the rightness and the wrongness as it relates to our ancestral past. Those who don’t listen to the voices of one’s ancestors are in fact ignoring the better part of themselves as well. That to me, is sad.

Pagans and Pagan sites will be taken seriously when we no longer have to worry about Pagan worshipers taking it seriously themselves. There are the very few that make it rough on the rest of us for their blatant ignorance. Those are the idiots that make the news and by default, make professional historians more than a little nervous. Being able to interact on that level, in a manner which the areas of science and scholarship demand – and speaking in that language are key to making this happen. Some within the Pagan community have been taken aback by my saying such things. Some adamantly deny that scholarship is hostile in any way shape or form toward Paganism.

I personally think that is a very niave belief on their part.

I have seen the hostility and scholarly circles, and it can be quite ruthless. I am speaking from personal experience of having observed the behaviour for over 15 years within the Kemetic / egyptological arena. I know for a fact that there are several scholars and/or professors who keep their own personal spiritual practices very private and sometimes will even deny it. Not to do so is viewed as having an unprofessional interest and bias.The attitude is, ‘of course we have evolved so much since antiquity!’ To cite an example; a luncheon was held with scholars and a noted author and a Priestess of my acquaintance. Someone made the rather flippant remark: “…and would you believe it, some people actually BELIEVE IN all of these silly things that the ancients did and try to do them, too!” To which the response around the table was a resounding, “Eww!” (Yes. Real professional, I know. But you get the gist) These practicing scholars, professors and authors are very legitimately in some cases, afraid of losing tenure, of losing funding and not being taken seriously on their projects or books. To cite another example, in spite of the very good reception of Dr. Alison Roberts’ wonderful work, “Hathor Rising” (Inner Traditions) which was but a small portion from her doctoral papers, “Cult Objects of Hathor”: Vol I & II); her work gets more than a few sneers from scholars because Roberts has what is described in egyptological circles as: an “Hermetic bent”. Unfortunately, in the realm of “serious” scholarship, that is not at all seen as a positive thing. It is viewed as a detriment and in fact Erik Hornung spends a great deal of time and 228 pages disassembling one modern Pagan belief after another in one of his more recent books.

Bigotry is alive and well in scholarship to be sure. No one is denying that. We can also take the necessity of scholarly study too far and it can completely disconnect a person from the intensity of spiritual experience to the point where it all is hollow. My favourite quote, by symbolist and mathemetician R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, who has to date THE most intensive and accurate documentation and inventory of the Luxor Temple of Amun in or outside of Egyptology:

“Tradition is a surrender, a betrayal. What is handed down in a traditional way is a betrayal of the recipient, not of the content of transmission. The tradition is presented as truth, and therefore is psychologically disabling to the inquiring mind. A collection of hand-me-down beliefs against the search for a metaphysical truth that proves its justice in practice.” (“Al-khemi: a Memoir” by Andre VandenBroeck)

It’s a very fine line to walk – whether that person is a layman, a scholar, a Priest/ess or someone who cares deeply enough about connecting with our collective human akhu (ancestors) via sacred sites and what went on before. However, there will always be some among us for whom preserving those sites, traditions and doing so in a thorough manner is important.

The term ‘Pagan Scholar’ should not be an oxymoron. Certainly, afrocentrist scholars have learned that they need to play by the rules of professional scholarship in order to be taken seriously. In Maulana Karenga’s book, “Maat: The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt,” ( University of Sankore Press, 2006) the author rose to the occasion, cited his sources, all of them scholarly in a work which was hailed even in egyptological circles as being ‘excellent’. There is absolutely no reason why more Pagan authors cannot be equally as focused and professional in their works. They have just as much passion and a desire for legitimacy as do scholars of African studies. Ronald Hutton’s book, “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Pagan Witchcraft” (Oxford University Press, 1999) and Celtic scholars, John and Caitlin Matthews have met the task repeatedly in their numerous books. We need to continue to demand those types of standards in books written by Pagan authors as well. UPG and ‘drawwing down the God/dess’ or (worse) ‘channeling it’ is usually met with a well deserved doses of skepticism and / or eye-rolling. Honestly, how many times have we read the long-perpetuated, extremely inaccurate information with regard to “The Burning Times” with it’s claim of nine-million Witches being killed for Witchcraft and the claim that “Wicca” is an ancient religion? Unfortunately, we all know such claims have been made and repeated far too many times, so that the hype and victim mentality is perpetuated through the community and in turn makes Pagans look absurd.

It will be only when Pagans can become more professional, adhere closer to scholarly standards as well as to the callings of their souls and spiritual aspirations that they will more freely gain entrance into the dialogue with non-Pagan researchers and help make decisions about how to best preserve these sites that are sacred to human cultural and spiritual history.

© Ma’at Publishing, 2011

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The Politics of Blogging

Being a blogger and a woman should not include death threats as part of either job description. A friend of mine over on Google+ pointed me toward a very interesting yet very chilling article yesterday. The author talked about how being a woman, being gay and being popular online can get you into all kinds of trouble. This was mainly due to the bad behaviours of the jealous, the bored and socially inept that are mostly threatened by tech-savvy women bloggers. This is particularly true if that woman blogger is successful. Some of these wonderful voices are in fact being permanently driven offline.

The following is an article that you should pass along to all that you know who write a blog. We need to get the word out, of course. But more than this, I would love to start a dialogue about it the issue.

Death Threats and Hate Crimes, Attacks On Women Bloggers Escalating

READ IT!

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