As I’ve explored various European traditions over the years- Irish, Scottish, Greek, Norse/Germanic- I’ve found aspects of each that are familiar to my cultural world-view, background and upbringing, as well as aspects that I struggle with as they feel too foreign & alien. But I can’t deny who I am- and while I was raised to think of myself as proudly Irish/Scottish, my culture is mostly English and German in origin.
I’m starting to experiment with the idea looking at possible pagan roots behind English folk culture- fairy tales, ballads and legends. One that comes to mind is there are seemingly countless stories, songs and nursery rhymes with characters named Jack in them. They are not necessarily the same figure- Jack being a nickname for John is a kind of “everyman” archetypal young Englishman- even their flag is called the Union Jack. But what they generally have in common is that Jack is a trickster, a thief, and a fool. The series of graphic novels- Fables features various characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, including Jack, who is a composite of many of these tricksters.
Jack & the Beanstalk, Giant-Killer are the most well-known fairy tales. There are many that are traditionally told in the Appalachian Mountain region of the U.S. and some of these likely have roots in England and Scotland. Here is a web page of Jack Tales, and another specifically for the Appalachian stories.
Jack of all trades, but master of none- a saying, once again referring to Jack’s foolishness.
In cards the Joker is sometimes called Jack, corresponding to the Fool in a Tarot deck.
Jack-in-the-box- a wind-up toy, when Jack pops out, he usually depicted as a jester.
Jack in the Green- figure in May Day parades & pageants- a person (or effigy) covered in garlands & greenery, and pulls pranks. He is sometimes identified with the Green Man, Puck/Robin Goodfellow, and the Green Knight in Arthurian legend. He also appeared in other spring celebrations: Easter Monday, St. George’s Day (April 23) and Whitsuntide (Pentecost)
Jack Frost- a spirit of winter, who paints the leaves red, orange and yellow in the fall, and patterns of frost on windows.
Jack o’ Kent- wizard/magician who often beats the Devil in bets & games. (this is another common folk theme) Stingy Jack also fools the Devil- this is an Irish legend said to be the origin of the Jack o’ Lantern
I’m not sure where this is going, but like Jack I’ll have fun wandering off exploring it. I’m curious what other people have done, spiritually and/or magically with English folklore.
This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project
The Spring Equinox was yesterday, and I still haven’t figure out what to do for it. I’ve been sick for the past week, missed Paganicon and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations this past weekend. I was disappointed but felt lousy enough that I didn’t care that much! On top of that it is definitely not spring here yet, it snowed last Monday and the temperature is hovering from the 10s to the 20s.
Frankly, of the 8 standard Pagan holidays, the 2 equinoxes, so-called Ostara & Mabon, are the ones I have the most trouble with.There is not much folklore associated with it in Northern Europe beyond bunny rabbits & eggs. The Anglo-Saxon goddess “Eostre” is only mentioned by the Venerable Bede, which doesn’t give us much to go on. But perhaps us Northerners should quit grumbling and look out our windows. Even if there’s not much green yet, the sun is shining and the days are longer. Many of the birds have returned, I’m not sure what they are finding to eat, but that’s a good reason to go out and feed them. Go buy your annuals, and plan your garden (or even just a flowerpot) And be thankful- we survived another winter!
This fall I began giving tours of the State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. It was built in 1921 and it is truly a historic treasure, from its ornate foyer to the spectacular house (main room where seats & stage are) There are some interesting parallels between the history of the theatre and polytheistic revival. At one time, when it was no longer being used as a theatre, it was used by the Jesus People church, and they covered up nude artwork. The theatre was almost torn down in the late 80′s, but a group of people managed to save it, starting the Hennepin Theatre Trust, which also maintains the Pantages and Orpheum theatres. Uncovering what was hidden and taboo, and saving something from destruction.
Like many theatres it is decorated with a Greco-Roman theme, and while this is generally common with older buildings it is particularly apt since Western theater originates in Greece. In ancient Greece, plays were put on to honor Dionysos, the God of Wine. Dionysos himself is not depicted in the theater (from what I’ve noticed) but there are grapes and other kinds of fruit draping from chandeliers and wall sconces and decorating walls symbolizing abundance.
Why him? It seems he is not just the god of wine, but of celebration of the pleasures of life: beauty, the arts, sexuality, great food and drink.
Another commonality with Dionysos and theater is that they both attract controversy. He was a later god to appear on the scene, and to begin with, many kings tried to suppress his worship because of the wild behavior of his followers, the Maenads, often joined by their daughters! They would get smashing drunk, scantily dress in animal skins, and run wild through the hills. Especially scandalous in a culture that had a very conservative view of women’s roles. There are many stories of this in Greek myth, always ending with the king in question being punished by Dionysos, and/or his father, Zeus. Likewise, theatre has often been subversive, satirizing authority, events and cultural mores, often laced with ribald humor.
The word “satire” comes from satyr- a mischievous and well, horny half-man, half-goat spirit of the woods depicted as companions to Dionysos and the Maenads. (Note: the Romans called him Bacchus, and the satyrs fauns) You may remember good ol’ Mr. Tumnus from the Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.
This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project- the idea is you write a blog post every 2 weeks about a topic starting with a particular letter. I’m starting a little late (not as bad as last year when I started with P!)
I saw that a couple other PBP bloggers wrote about Dionysos as well-
On the morning of Feb. 2nd Dan & I awoke and as we were making breakfast we noticed that the thermostat hadn’t kicked in as it normally would a little before we get up.
Yes, on the day of Brighid, goddess of the hearth, our boiler stopped working. On one of the coldest days of the year. Also we’d recently had a tenant move into the finished basement room. So much for hospitality! We did provide him with a space heater, so I brought that upstairs, and another to the bedroom, which was even colder! So I spent the day huddling in front of the space heater, waiting for the fix-it guy to come. I tried not to complain too much, though. It reminds me how much I take something as basic as a heated home for granted, that I should be very thankful. This winter has been nasty enough that the Salvation Army is raising money to help people with their heating bills. The counties (at least Hennepin & Ramsey) do provide emergency assistance but more help is always needed. That and with the recession the homeless shelters are packed to capacity- various churches around the metro (including Unity) have been taking in the people who are turned away at night. I know with all the struggles my family has gone thru homelessness doesn’t seem so distant.
Now it has been getting warmer this week, here and there. Freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw. Last year we had a mild winter with not much snow and an early spring. On the surface it was nice, but in the long run a bad thing- the freezing & thawing cycle causes the running of the maple sap, so that it just going straight to thawing, much less syrup could be tapped. Also the lack of snow (typically early in the winter, and early spring) and not much spring rain contributed greatly to the terrible drought last summer. It just shows you how necessary winter is. (though I’m never sure what a “typical” MN winter is)
Kwanzaa is a Pan-African cultural holiday- that is including people of African descent around the world. It was created in the 1970′s by Maulana Karenga- a professor of African Studies and leader in the Black Power movement. It’s a 7 day holiday that begins on Dec. 26 and goes thru Jan. 1st.
I’ve always thought it was a neat holiday and I’ve lately been joking that I celebrate Kwanzaa to take advantage of after-Christmas sales. But setting aside my irreverent sense of humor, there is a parallel between the creation and observance of Kwanzaa and aspects of Neo-Paganism. Both are new traditions which draw on roots from the past & the “mother country”. Kwanzaa is actually a harvest holiday, despite the fact that many folks in the African Diaspora live in climates where the harvest is much earlier than late December. If Mr. Karenga wanted an African alternative or cultural supplement to Christmas, I’m not sure why he didn’t choose a midwinter holiday (or midsummer for those in the Southern Hemisphere). I know very little of African religions, but I’m sure some of them celebrate either, or both solstices in some way. Anyhow this is also parallel to Neo-Pagans who live in climates that differ from the cultural origins of their religions.
Each day of Kwanzaa is focused on one of the Nguzo Saba- Seven Principles, and a candle is lit on the kinara- a candle holder much like the menorah used in Jewish tradition. I feel there is much we can learn from these values, and I’ve decided to reflect on each one (even if I am a day behind!) , as well as try to connect it with my own beliefs. I’d be interested in seeing other Neo-Pagan views on this, particularly Neo-Pagans who celebrate Kwanzaa.
I have been struggling with depression & anxiety off & on throughout this difficult period in my life. And along with those issues often comes spiritual doubts. Hence the sparseness of this blog. During the summer my grove put their rituals on hiatus (more on that later) and I didn’t attend services at Unity.
Last Saturday, I attended a Humanist event in the morning, and a Druid ritual in the evening. I learned a lot from the talk the Humanists had on Global Hunger and I found the attendees to be interesting to talk to. There is a lot I can agree with them on- and I consider myself a humanist (lowercase)- but I still believe in the possibility of the Divine and “super”natural things.
I don’t think the world would necessarily be a better place without religion. Atheists argue that religion creates more bad than good- wars, oppression of women, gay people, poor people, suppression of science and freethinking. But like any human creation, we can use it for good or for evil much like science its supposed opposing cultural force. We still would probably be doing many of the good and bad things that religion can inspire, or using it to justify our actions- even if religions never developed in human culture. It’s another example of the “butterfly effect” we don’t know what would happen.
I agree there’s really no proof that God(s) exist- but there’s no proof that he/she/they don’t exist. I also believe atheists, humanists, skeptics etc. can be irrational and dogmatic as well. Some of the more militant atheists do give others crap for calling themselves humanists or agnostics- implying that they’re not true, well unbelievers.
I’m not exactly sure what I believe- but really is anyone? I think very few people are 100% sure about matters of faith. What I can say though, is that spiritual practice feels right. So I choose to be religious. And in spite of all the goofiness and disorganization of Pagans, they are still my community. Much like my own eccentric family.
I was curious to see what other people had to say about Outsiders, here are some things I found:
An essay on the ADF website- he also discusses the idea of outsiders as emotions, and talks about the social/anthropological aspects as well as cosmological.
Earrach of Pittsburgh- Senior Druid of the Sassafras Grove- gives some explanations and instructions on this part of ADF ritual. Similar to the above, pretty standard ADF viewpoints. He makes a good point of recommending calling it “acknowledgement” of the outsiders rather than invocation or offering. He affirms that we are trying not to draw their attention.
Outsiders: What, Like It’s Hard or Something? Goofy post- but makes a good point that who the outsiders are depends on the focus of the ritual. Amusingly, she calls herself the “Elle Woods of the Occult” (from Legally Blonde)
Adapting the ADF Ritual Format for Families- Tressa Belle thinks the Outsider step is unnecessary, and suggests instead a blessing of the space for protection. She says simpler rituals are best for families, and I must agree. Long, complex rituals = not kid-friendly, which makes typical ADF rites a problem. Nice blog overall. Though I don’t have kids currently, I often find family-oriented Pagan resources to be useful- I am kind of a big kid myself!
From the Celtic Reconstructionist FAQ “Some CRs strive to make “treaty” with such beings, usually at the boundaries of their property or some distance from a ritual site. This is done to make an agreement that if the Spirits take the offering, They are promising to not disrupt the home or ritual.”
So, it’s not just an ADF thing. This section also describes Outsider as an ancient & modern social role. To differentiate from this, some folks in ADF use the term “Outdweller” for these spirits. It looks like others are having some of the same feelings/thoughts as I am on this.