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Pagan Mythology

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Pagan Mythology[credits]

by Summer Woodsong

 

Is the traditional story presented as an historical event that serves to illustrate part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.

The mythological beliefs a culture shares gives shape to its actions and choices. These myths define whether people are considered inherently good and trustworthy, or predisposed toward violence and perfidy.

Most cultures have holidays and myths that are similar across cultures. These are based on common values of those cultures: Motherhood, heroes, warriors, natural disaster, weather, etc.

Our modern world is in the precarious position of being without a contemporary mythology to shape our worlds. Many people have bemoaned the failure of our society to uphold values and morals. These are not signs of individual failure, but rather, signs that our world has changed to the extent that older values, ethics and morals do not apply - and we have not yet devised or discovered mythology - illustrated cultural norms - that apply successfully.

Our world was pretty much free of absolutist extremist religions and was turning to rational humanism, until the war in mid-century. As we became more fearful as a nation, concerning the Communist regime, the government picked up the pace of religion as an antidote to Communism. This was sparked by the Communist dismantling of the churches and religions in their areas of control. Americans were led to believe that this was the primary distinction between the two countries, and once again fear led the nation into Christianity.

Until that time, the old Christian absolutists had begun to fade from view and were eventually supplanted with a dual religious view. We were not aware of what we had done, though, so it went unnoticed. Although many people still espoused the Christian point of view, when the Christian beliefs were held up to the new God - Rational Science - they proved to be unsubstantiated. Again and again, as the common knowledge's were assessed through the eyes of science, those beliefs slipped out of common acceptance and there was nothing to replace them.

This lack was both because we did not understand the function of myths, religion and science and because it did not occur to most people that we needed them. In particular we did not understand that our new hero, the Scientific Method, was operating in our culture much as a religion would. It provided a new way to assess events, emotions and psychological responses, it provided a demand that our knowledge be measurable, replicable and verifiable. This pattern of perception and the rules which govern it act as a paradigm. From that point forward there has been an inexorable trend, even considering the brief Communist panic, toward the concepts that comprise most of our contemporary philosophies - both Pagan and those of the wider culture. The popular media refer to those of non-Pagan - but tolerant - intellectual inquiry as secular humanists. The phrase secular refers to the concept that the belief structure and practices are in no way a religion, but separate from it. I disagree.

These belief structures, assembled as a whole, provide a complete definition of how to interpret, predict and reliably interact with the members of the entire society. There is both implicit and implied the belief structures that are common among all the societal makeup - whether designated Pagan, Humanist, Liberal Christian or Fundamentalist. These common rules include the right to existence and individual beliefs - even in the face of complete personal abhorrence of such differing beliefs. And these values and ethics are reflected in the cultural legal structures as absolutes, enforced, and inviolable. I see little difference between the definition here of secular humanism as a philosophy, and a religion which espouses the same values and etiquette.

The Neo-Pagan movement has called back into play a natural and intricate interactive role for each individual with our world.

As we look at the complexity and the fragmented control we have over our lives, we begin to understand how far we have come from our beginnings. No longer are we aware and subject to the vagaries of weather. Disease and physical pain are almost completely under control of easily available medicines, that we choose and apply, by our will. We work in environments that are largely safe, and improving over time. It is rare in the Western World that hunger is a constant menace to existence. Thus, we have lost the understanding of older myths, because the world view of our ancestors is not comprehensible on an internal level. Gods were created and placated to supply a comfort and the illusion of design to random disasters, diseases and deaths. We have arrived at a place where we are what our gods were. We control life, destiny, environment. What we need now is a way to define what is important, who we are and why we are here.

We begin anew. The Gods are as much a mirror of us, as we are a reflection of them. Gaia - the Earth Mother and all that comprise the organic structure of this planet - is one of the most important structures for us to define. We need to begin understanding our part in the global sacred play - so that we may develop and define our roles within it. Never before in the history of our world have we had so much opportunity to create our lives, free of expectation and demands. Now, we must relink to the planet, to our people, to all that share this eco-system, and design our art. Our mythology. The lens through which we will perceive our world.

So, in some ways, the myths that we are using to define the Wheel of the Year and our sacred celebrations are reclaimed from the past. In very significant ways, they are completely different. We would not understand the world view of our ancestors of 3,000 and 4,000 years ago. So, we are both reconstructing and inventing anew our world, our Gods and our lives.

The dates for these Holy Days are based on seasonal placement, influenced by historical changes. The primary holidays are at the two Solstice and the Equinox, but the harvest is the main emphasis with three spring and then three harvest festivals. In our worldwide agricultural access, it is no longer of major importance when the crops are first ready, and finally complete - but, it was of major importance to any village whose life was totally dependent on those crops. And still important to any area whose livelihood is still dependent on the agricultural rhythms.

In addition to simple relationships with the Harvest, deep meaning was assigned to spiritual journeys and learning's. Many of these were related to dates, and assigned importance based on their place in the Wheel of the Year.

These Holy Days have regained much of their power as the Neo-pagan movement re-established those traditions, explained them, and then wove them into the emerging culture, tying us back to the more basic rhythms of our world. Our Holy Days fall about every six weeks and we also celebrate moonthly Sabbats at the full moons, the new moons, etc. Generally the celebration of these natural rhythms include references to the season or major Holy Day coming up.

Sometimes holidays from one religion or pantheon seem not in synch with others. This occurs when seasonal differences are not concurrent. Much like when it is winter in North America, Australia is having a nice warm Summer. Because we tend to think of ourselves as being part of the Celtic-based emerging religions, however, we will start with a look at the Celtic New Year - Samhain. (Celtic words often have no resemblance to their apparent component letters. This is pronounced like SOW een).

Samhain/November Eve/Hallows Eve/Halloween

1. Celtic New Year. Feast of the Dead. The dead crossed over the veil into the afterlife. This is belief that the dead linger until the veils between the world thin between the new and old year. At this time of year many Pagan or Wiccan groups hold ritual to assist and guide in the Crossing of these persons from one world to the next.

2. Ancestors day. Revere family members and dress in their costume. On a very similar note, many practicing Witches may be found dressed up in a costume representing one of their ancestors.

3. The last of the three harvest festivals. Final harvest. Here was a time to store foods, to prepare for the coming Winter. There was less celebration in this activity, as people took stock of their situation and began to assess whether or not they could last through the Winter to come.

4. On the Celtic eve of Samhain, Summer's End, this night and the first week of November - the Celts had ritual bonfires to symbolically burn all the frustration and anxieties of the preceding year. It was organized by the Druids. They also drove their cattle through the fires for luck. This was the time when they decided how many of these cattle they could afford to feed through the Winter. With only what they had on hand, those cattle they could not feed would be butchered now, and the meat smoke and dried for soups and stews over the Winter.

Yule

1. Return of the Sun God. As the solstice approaches, the return of Spring and Nature's bounty cannot be too far off. It is difficult to belief that earlier people's were uncertain about continued cycles, but there was not the scientific basis we have today. This was the height of Mid-Winter, and it was evident that there would be sufficient food, or that they would have to do with less until the Spring brought hunting and agriculture.

2. The longest night was also a mystical event. There is a strong tradition for staying awake all through Solstice night and holding vigil that the dawn might arrive. These can be powerful rituals. This was a time when the Goddess Hecate was considered strong, and her magickal world controlled the lives of those caught in heavy winter, and putting all their hopes and energies into surviving until the next season. Deaths were common, and the Lord of the Underworld was seen as real and near.

3. In contemporary culture, we are not at risk from the lack of Harvest and we focus on this solstice as the Day the Great Mother gives birth to the Sun. This is the culmination of the cycle of life and sexuality that began last May at the Beltaine festivities, and now the young God comes forth to begin the cycle anew.

4. Celtic Festival of Alban Arthan. Druidic festival. When the chief druid cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak. (ABC of Witchcraft).

5. The Romans celebrated the Solstice with the Festival of Saturnalia, giving presents and social distinctions were erased. Masters served servants a feast. Riotous fun and merriment. This event celebrates an inversion of tradition. 6. Saxons celebrated the feast of Yule with blazing fires in the form of a Yule Log, one of the only remnants passed down to present day. They saved a piece of the Yule log from the current year to kindle the next Yule blaze.

Candlemas/Imbolc

1. Feast of Brigid (Irish) - The Goddess Brigid was worshipped by the Celts as a triple goddess. This idea of three deities in one is a very ancient concept, going back maybe as far as the Ice Age. Brigid, or the Three Mothers, or the Three Blessed Ladies of Britain seemed to have a lot to do with poetry, arts, crafts, smithcraft, agriculture and women. She is the patroness of bards, inventions, good harvests, and healthy babies. Brigid was worshipped by groups of women, and her priestesses kept an eternal healing fire going at her shrine in Kildare, just like the vestal virgins of Rome. Brigid was a great healer. Her sacred wells appear all over British Isles and are reported to give sight to the blind and heal hopeless wounds.

2. Candlemas - The first Spring festival. Those who have studied for at least a year-and-a-day and are thought to be ready, gather in earlier months to request coven membership and initiation. If they are ready, then Imbolc is the traditional time for initiation and dedication. This rite was considered a form of being "born again" into the membership of the Crafte. It is common for the new initiate to be brought into the Circle by being pulled through the spread legs of the women of the coven (using a blanket, or a bit of rug) into the ritual circle where they will make their vows and take up membership.

Ostara/Vernal Equinox

1. Persephone and Demeter(Greek) or Kore and Ceres (Roman). Demeter/Ceres mourned the loss of her daughter - Persephone/Kore - until her return on this day, which represents the return of Spring. There are two versions of this myth. Persephone was a young and lovely maid. She was quite curious and explored the whole world. Her mother, Demeter, was proud of her daughter and the two were very close. Like all mothers Demeter was concerned that Persephone not get into more than she could handle, but she respected her daughter's judgment and would never restrict her explorations. One day Persephone came to the gates to the Underworld. She had never been there, and so was intrigued. As she made her way through the underground passages, she found a world of beauty, peace and rebirth. She also found Hades, the God of the Underworld. It was not often that other Gods came to Hades realm, and he fell in love with the beautiful Persephone and she with him. Through Demeter's sorrow, the world began to grow cool, and the plants to sleep. Demeter was pleased at the happiness of her daughter, but over time, Demeter missed Persephone so much that she begged her to visit. For the first time, crystalline flakes of moisture began to fall. And Persephone, who had not realized how much time had passed, also missed her mother, even as much as she loved Hades. Over time, a compromise was reached - since Hades could not leave his underground realm, Persephone would stay half the year on the Earth with her Mother, and half the year with her husband in the Underworld. Each Winter we see the depth of Demeter's loneliness and each Spring we see the anticipation Demeter exhibits for Persephone's return. Summer is the height of their time together, and Fall of course shows Demeter's sadness as she knows that Persephone will be leaving once again. The second is a patriarchal story of how Persephone was led to the underworld, raped and then tricked into eating of the Pomegranate seeds so that she would have to stay. Since she ate only six seeds, she would have to stay six months of the year. In this version Demeter had to threaten the world with extinction before the head God intervened and forced Persephone's release for six months. Not politically correct, or even a nice story. I like the first one better.

2. The second Spring festival. In the Caledonii Tradition this holiday is known as Alban Eiler and represents the warrior aspect of the god. It is a celebration of balance - not really Winter, but not yet Spring. Women should treat themselves to a new broom, men should make a new staff. The festival is considered one of fertility and cleansing for the coming year. Seeds are blessed, twisted bread and sweet cakes are prepared to be served at dusk - or prepare a family breakfast with the sunrise.

3. Eostre - is the Greek Goddess of Spring and fertility. Her symbols are the hare, eggs and flowers. There is little doubt where Easter came from. But I have always been baffled at how the Christian myth became entwined with the Greek Holy Day.

4. New beginnings and plans for the coming year are being made. Time to hold ritual to banish misfortune and doubt, and to promote success and new growth.

Beltaine

1. The third Spring Festival.

2. People, plants and animals prepare for the warm months ahead. Plants are emerging, the nourishing rains are about to begin. New beginnings and plans for the future are confirmed. This holiday celebrates love, union and the traditional May Day celebrations such as the Maypole as the representation of the God and the flowing ribbons the symbol of the Lady - a traditional joining.

3. Traditionally for the Wiccan community, this represents the coming together of the Goddess and God to create the next cycle of life.

The Wheel of the Year
A Story of the Lady and Her Love

There was once a Lady, beautiful and true. In the bloom of her first womanhood, she had lain with the Lover of her youth at the Balefires. In the same way as the flames were extinguished and relit, so too was the spark of life lit within her. She carries His child. The Lady looks back on earlier days she shared with her Lover. His cherubic golden curls tumbling as the two of them learned to walk, and fall, and then to run with grace. His golden beauty, so entrancing in a toddler, deepened into the rich mahogany of strength and the power of manhood - the gift of the years, the forest and the sun.

When He came to Her at Beltaine, she scarcely knew her friend, so different did he seem from childhood now ebbing. And for the first time, she tasted desire and anticipation with his tentative exploration and touch. And they learned together the gift of the Beltaine Fires as fires of delight and passion brought them into maturity. Within her, life quickened. Her Lover, one of the best and brightest was honored by the Village Crone. His beauty and life force a gift to the village, he ran with the Stag in the Fall, and was not seen again. But his legacy thrives.

The Lady caresses the fullness of her womb, and feels the brilliant force within her. She hopes for a son to echo the beauty of her Lover. She smiles. In time she comes to term and delivers a beautiful child, a boychild. And she names him for her Lover. As the child suckles at her breast, it brings to mind the sensuous exploration of her youth, and again she smiles. As the child begins to walk, curls shining golden in the early spring, She laughs with delight.

And the child grow quickly, fierce with beauty and joy of life. By Candlemas, he comes to his feet. Unsteady, but willing. And so independent. By Ostara, he is delighted with the colored eggs and the flowers, and he begins to tell her wonderful tales. Tales of life and living, tales of the woods and the world, and the Lady is amazed. He is so like the Lover of her youth. She tells the boy many stores of his father. They explore the village and their people. And still the child grows quickly. She now can see that there is much about her in his ways. And much of his father. And the people in the village love the child. And honor him as the product of a union which gave such grace and beauty to the health and livelihood of the village.

People smile when he comes through the village commons, and thank him as he assists in chores that old and withered hands no longer find easy. And still he grows taller. In April he is inquisitive, and handsome. His skin begins to darken from long days in the sun, gathering, hunting and growing strong. He talks with the elders and learns much. And one day he returns home.

As he crosses the threshold, she is suddenly struck by memory. This is her home, and her son, yet there is more. This manchild, so tall, is no longer a child. And though he is the child of her womb, brought by the seed of her Lover, He is also her Lover reborn. The cycle begins anew. And the child knows too.

He comes to her and proclaims, Behold! I am returned to you. And the seasons turn, I to have changed. As the grasses and forests are reborn and come to fruition, so too shall I. For I am he who gave his life as the Lord of the Forest. I am he who battled the Lord of Winter and was vanquished. Yet I was not gone. That which was my essence is now present in the fruits returning here in the summer. And know that truly I shall never die. For I am ever with you.

And she was amazed. Yet, she knew all he had said was truth. She could see in him the child of she and her Lover, all the aspects that were herself and Her Lover. There was nothing lost. And she too was again the woman and the woman child. There was never a time when she did not know love and rebirth. Each year as she joined in the cycle, she knew herself as maiden, mother and crone. And each year she experience her Lover as youth, father and sage. And the those years when he was chosen to run with the Stag, she treasured the gift of his loins, the sacrifice of his life essence so the world and all of nature would continue.

For every Lover is the God and every Lover is the Goddess. Both are a part of the whole, and the joy of the cycle of life. Every child will come to experience sensual and true love. No matter where or what the circumstance, with or without children of our flesh, we are all part of the ongoing rebirth of our world. And the Lord and the Lady remember, and smile.

Litha/Summer solstice

1. The height of Summer. The longest day. And of course, the longest night. This is the height of the Goddess' power. Her bounty is evident in all the crops growing, and in the abundance of green plants, flowers and growth all around us. Drawing on the power readily available, this is the most traditional time to do magick for healing, love magick, and protection.

2. Caledonii Tradition calls it Alban Hefin, celebrating the Kingly aspect of the God. Of course, from the tradition focusing on the Sun as a representation of the male energies, this is also the most powerful time for God energies. Success, growth, overcoming barriers - these would all be good magickal workings to focus on.

3. Midsummer Night's Eve. A traditional time to speak with the fairies, sprites and little people.

Lammas, Lughnasad

1. Dionysis, god of the vine, was torn apart by the Titans every year (by Hera's orders). As the vine is pruned, every branch is cut away, leaving a stock to survive the winter, that seems incapable of bearing fruit, but puts forth great bounty every spring. Dionysus dies and rises joyfully every year. In one of our favorite celebratory rituals, a God is fashioned from bread dough, and cooked to be a God-shaped loaf of bread (or obviously male in some way) which is to be torn apart and devoured by worshippers. A cup of wine to honor the dying God also should be passed. In this way each year the God makes the ultimate sacrifice, and becomes the God of the Harvest. And through his sacrifice, he becomes the seeds and the fertilizer for the coming year. Only through this continuous cycle of life, death and rebirth, can we survive.

2. The first of the three harvest Festivals, this feast represents the first fruits of the harvest. Now is the time to work magick for continued success. For goals to be furthered. For one's dedication to their goals to be strengthened.

Mabon/Alfan Elfed and Winter Finding

1. The full harvest is begun, the first loaf baked of the new grain was broken and eaten with thanks to Demeter. In ritual, a drink of barley water flavored with mint (the sacred Eleusian beverage) is an excellent cup. The altar should be decorated with sheaves of wheat (symbolizing the harvest) and poppies (for when Demeter's daughter returns.)

2. The second of the three Harvest Festivals - the original Thanksgiving Day - with the fruits of the harvest emphasized in the feast. When the pilgrims came to the new world, their harvest was very later - one of the reasons for so much emphasis on it - and they were fortunate enough to have harvest in November. If the season had not stayed mild, there is serious question on whether or not the first settlers would have survived the winter. Originally, Thanksgiving was celebrated at Mabon, and in some places still is.

3. Winter Finding stretches from the equinox in September until the Winter Night - October 15th - which is the Norse New Year.

4. The Caledonii festival is Alban Elfed and focuses on the Lord of the Mysteries

Creation Myth

In the infinite moment of the beginning of time the Goddess came together with her Lover, and they were blessed with laughter. As his hands danced over her form, the first element, earth, was shaped.

As they danced together, their movement created soft breezes to flow across the new lands, and the element air was born and did breath. I call the air of the east to bless this rite.

As they came together, the passion grew and there was great heat between them. And when the God and Goddess were joined, there was such brilliance that they shone forth as the sun. And the element fire was created

As they lay together, relaxed, they called the soft mist and rain to cool them from their exertions, and the streams and rivers provided drink for their thirst. And the element water did flow.

As their hearts grew together in joy, and they saw that which was and is and will be born of their sacred dance and cosmic delight and infinite joy, they laughed in delight, and created daughters and sons in their image to enjoy the wonders of the world and tend to the needs of that which they had created. And their children called them by many names.

"My father, you have made promises to me and to my children. If the promises had been made by a person of no standing, I should not be surprised to see his promises fail. But you, who are so great in riches and power; I am astonished that I do not see your promises fulfilled!

 

"I would have been better pleased if you had never made such promises than that you should have made them and not performed them. . ."

 

 

-Shinguaconse ("Little Pine")