Category: Pagan Blog Project


Bang Head Here!

I have finally accepted my defeat…something not easy for me to do.  I have to take a break from the Pagan Blog Project for now as my husband has been away with the Army and will be for quite some time; I’ve started 2 online college courses that are royally kicking my butt right now and I’m trying to keep my house together with 2 toddlers running amuck.  I’ve tried for 2 weeks to get my initial “E” post finished (which is only half finished at this point) and don’t see myself being able to work on it anytime soon.  My current personal research project/dedication is extremely important to me as I learn about different Goddesses everyday and I am just barely making it through Spiritual Nomads.  So, I hope within the next 2 months or so, I’ll be able to pick back up and jump back in.

Dark Moon Dreamin’

"New Moon Goddess" by Montserrat

During the Dark Moon is the time to commune and heal with the Dark Mother or the Crone.  It is a time to dive down deep into the dark abyss within ourselves and deal with that which has wounded us. It’s all part of the great cycle of birth, death and rebirth – it’s how we heal ourselves.  “As a culture and a society, we have been taught to fear the darkness, the unknown and death.  We have forgotten the purpose of the Dark Phase and have no idea how to navigate its terrain.  We are consumed with fear, panic and anxiety  when we think about physical death of the body, our planet, a relationship, a way of life, an addiction, an identity or even a belief system.  Because of our  lack of understanding of such times and lacking the proper guidance in order to deal with them as they arise, we end up more dependent on chemical addictions or engage in self abusive behaviors to deal with the feelings of grief, depression, anxiety, and anger” (George, Demetra, Mysteries of the Dark Moon, p. 266).

As the Goddess stirs and awakens from Her long slumber, we are finally being given the opportunity to reclaim all of Her, both light and dark aspects and everything in-between.  The Dark Goddess is not to be rejected, denied or feared.  She is to be acknowledged, respected and listened to – for its Her knowledge and wisdom that guided our ancestors through the dark times and it is Her wisdom and guidance that will guide us through ours to come, as individuals, societies and as a species.

Only within the last century as the Goddess has slowly stirred from Her Dark Phase have we had incredible breakthroughs in realizing the power of the mind.  As Demetra George has pointed out, it is thanks to people like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (a personal favorite of mine) that we have been able to comprehend the workings of the unconscious and our Shadow Selves (p. 276).  Many therapeutic techniques have been “discovered” in Eastern philosophy and medicine as well as Aboriginal shamanic teachings.  Techniques, such as dream analysis, allows people to explore the depths of the unconscious and understand  the workings and wisdom of the Shadow Self and the Dark Mother, especially when dealing with nigthmares.

"Behold, The Night Mare" by Zephyri

“Nightmares represent our innermost fears.  They suggest that we have emotional fears and issues that need to be confronted.  The monsters and other terrifying and disturbing images that haunt these disturbing dreams are thought to come from a universally shared mythology recognized by all cultures.  The word ‘nightmare’ itself comes from Gaelic mythology – the night ‘mare’ is the horse Goddess Rhiannon, and connected with the Underworld, dreams and the moon.

Nightmares occur very frequently in childhood as children struggle more than adults to deal with powerful emotions, such as rage and other strong emotions.  During the night, children’s vivid imaginations recreate these feelings as forceful dream images.  Children have difficulty coping with nightmares because they have trouble differentiating between dreams and reality.  A child’s mind has limited reasoning capacity as it is still developing.  This affects their perception of the world and can cause inner conflict.  If left unresolved, these childhood fears can cause very muddled thoughts and feelings that linger into adulthood.  At any time, an incident could trigger this old memory, reeling the psyche of the adult into a nightmare scenario.

"Sleep-walking" by Leah Praytor

It is important to note that bad dreams can have physical causes as well as mental ones.  If your body comes under stress, due to high temperature for example, it can give rise to hallucinations as you sleep.  Nightmares can even induce sleepwalking by increasing the flow of adrenaline and producing the “fight or flight” response in the sleeper (I suffered chronic sleepwalking during Basic Training and through my early years while on Active Duty).  Hormonal fluctuations too can have an effect on our dreams.

Hormonal changes upset the balance of the body’s chemistry and in a dream, this upheaval is encoded through disturbing scenes.

Some psychologists believe that people who have nightmares have not fully integrated or understood physical sensations in relation to real-life situations.  Teenagers often have intense dreams reflective of the emerging sexual drives they have difficulty translating when awake.

Anyone at anytime could experience an inexplicable trauma which can resurface without warning.  These could be forgotten childhood traumas reawakened in adulthood.  They could be experiences of going to war. Recurring nightmares are caused by unresolved emotional issues that are deeply entrenched in the sleeper’s mind.  An entire dream can recur, which is identical each time or disguised using different dream symbols.  Its purpose is to get our attention…” (Enhancing Your Mind, Body and Soul, Interpreting Your Dreams).

Through journeying to the Underworld to the Dark Mother, we can uncover the meaning of such dreams.  There are methods you can use to confront and gain insight from your nightmares.  As Demetra George states, “You need to cross the logical threshold of the consciousness and travel across a terrain of your psyche that is normally hidden from your conscious awareness and one which we cannot comprehend with our conscious mind.  The dark sphere of the human psyche contains all that lies beneath the surface of consciousness” (p. 279).

"Nightmare 1" by eliXile

The following is summary, found in Enhancing Your Mind, Body and Soul – “Interpreting Your Dreams”.  These are questions to ask yourself to assist you in decoding your dreams.  First, look at the imagery of the dream.  The imagery of dreams can be interpreted in two different ways: Literal – information found in your dreams is seen to have a direct parallel to your everyday life; and Symbolic – information in dreams is “coded” in an unusual way. What was the theme and time?  The time you had the dream indicates how relevant  it is to the everyday world.  The nearer to the waking hour, the more accurately the events reflect problems in your waking life.

Was it light and spacious or dark and claustrophobic?  Where did the dream take place?  On land? At sea? Water represents emotions, land represents money and self-worth.  Air relates to the intellect.  To find yourself underground suggests a search for lost treasure.

What happened?  Where did it happen?  Is it a place you know from the past or is it unknown?  This can give you clues about personal insecurity or issues about your childhood or present circumstances.  Were you a participant in the dream or were you viewing form afar?  This will tell you how intimately you are involved in the situation in the real world.

What was the form you took in this dream?  Were you someone who exhibited unwanted or underdeveloped traits?  This would be your Shadow Personality manifesting.  What stage of life where you at in your dream?  Were you male or female?  Dreaming of being the opposite sex may indicate an imbalance of the opposite sex’s qualities. Did you take the form of an animal?  Perhaps you you’re struggling with your so-called “animal instincts” or baser instincts.

Who was in your dream?  Were they people you recognized or were they strangers? Family, friends and acquaintances may highlight a particular deficiency within your own character, mirroring back and making you aware of an unfavorable trait.  Were there any animals?  Did they remind you of anyone you know?  Often animals stand in as representatives for a situation or a person.  In this way, our subconscious can explore our true feelings about a person or event without interference form everyday prejudices.

"Is This a Nightmare?" by XxshadowxphobiaxX

What were the colors of certain objects in your dream?  What was the mood of the dream?  Dream situations in which you feel scared, tense or fearful are often reflections of a dangerous or overwhelming situation that is brewing around you.  Such sinister moods can be revealing of great anxieties you are experiencing in real life.  Threatening moods in your dream can be illustrated in the dreamscape as nighttime scenes or overcast skies.  Alternatively, there may be just be an underlying feeling of impending doom.  Blurred or hidden details in a dream suggest that you have confused feelings which, if unheeded, could lead to many troubles and worries in business.  If the truth is hidden in your dream, this may be indicated by a cloudy atmosphere in your mind.

Look at the symbols in your dreams and try to examine what, if any, are linked with a childhood situation or just a sense of helplessness.  Your dream could also be caused by a sense of guilt or disgust of being in a situation in which you did not want to participate.  Ask yourself, were you physically, mentally or emotionally terrorized?

If you’re not already keeping a dream diary, start one NOW! A dream diary is like any other collection of information that is gathered and put into order.  It builds up into a reference of information about your personal responses to your own life experiences.  Keeping a dream diary helps you understand yourself, enabling you to make informed decisions about how to fulfill life’s journey.  By keeping a dream diary, you are putting snippets of the jigsaw puzzle that represents your life into a book so that you can piece them together in order to help you heal.

Note the date, time of awaking, main theme, characters and objects, action, atmosphere, special comments, previous history and real-life connections.  Note connections between the main characters in the dream; the significance of characters and previous history with the characters; dream atmosphere and the message if one was given. (Enhancing Your Mind, Body and Soul, Interpreting Your Dreams)

"Ereshkigal" by kundrys-inner-world

As Demetra George makes it quite clear, “the home of the soul, the Dark Phase  is the place where we hold the residual memories of the sum or our past, in this and previous lifetimes. Here, we find the wounds of the soul that are crying out to be healed.  It is here where we hold our repressed traumatic memories and rejected aspects of our selves.” (p. 279).  Nightmares have a constructive purpose and may point the way towards resolving a difficult situation from our past. Our passage through the Dark Phase offers us the opportunity to heal these wounds, and in the process we can discover the hidden wealth of the unconscious.  It is only going into the Dark Phase of inner space and coming to peace with our memories and resolving our issues that a way opens towards healing and the nightmares stop. During this essential healing process, we can discover who we truly are and come to know the Dark Mother and the lessons She has to teach us.

Sources:

Enhancing Your Mind, Body and Spirit, “Interpreting Your Dreams”. International Masters Publishers

George, Demetra. Mysteries of the Dark Moon: The Healing Power of the Dark Goddess.  HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.

You Are So Divine

From Lisa Iris’s “Sacred Space” gallery

“You are Divine.  You Are Divine.  You are excellent and you are perfection because of the Divine within you.  You are everything that you have attributed to God.  You are powerful.  You are loving.  You can create.  You can perform miracles.  But until you believe that, until you acknowledge that within yourself, then you are preventing Divine from walking within you.  You may be denying that bright light that is trying to burst out from you, trying to contain it because you don’t want to be too showy or have someone think that you are too good for them.  We recommend you let go of that restrictive thinking.  It is not serving you.  It is preventing you from living the life your Soul intended.  And isn’t that what we all want?  We all want Divine to be unrestrained; radiating out from within this amazing body that you have, that is so capable of so much! ” This was a part of a message that was channelled through Jill Renee Feeler from a Goddess called Lenore (you can read the full entry by clicking here).

A person’s view of the Divine can have a profound impact on their view of themselves, life and the world around them.  Whatever understanding one finds of the Divine is a tool that one carries with them as they journey on their spiritual path.  The Divine spark is who you really are and shines with a radiance for all to see when we recognize it, love and nurture it and let it shine.

We may feel hindered or blocked at times in letting that Divine spark shine.  After we are born, we forget who we really are as society has indoctrinated us to hate ourselves, to think that we are born flawed.  We have been brainwashed into thinking that it’s wrong to feel this or it’s wrong to do that; it’s full of “thou shalt not’s” with dire consequences for those that dare “act out of line”.  We are cultivated to be ashamed of who we are, to be ashamed of our bodies and our bodily functions and to act upon what comes natural to us.   We are taught to subdue our thoughts, that to expand our minds and seek knowledge is evil.  We are taught who we can and cannot love, even to hate in extreme circumstances.  Is it any wonder the world is in the state that it’s in today?  Is it any wonder why we see so much violence and bloodshed?  Who’s to blame? Let me give you a hint, it’s not some lurking evil demi-god waiting to ensnare some poor wary wandering soul…

 

So, what do we do?  Some of us go along willing, led by unquestioning faith into bondage. We follow the herd; it seems safer that way.  We live in a state of deep self loathing (sometimes conscious and well aware of it, sometimes not), punishing and beating ourselves down for natural feelings that we may have or actions that we may have acted on and then taking it out on others around us.  We live in a state of  fear of going to some place in the afterlife where we’ll be tortured and burned for eternity.  We learn to hate and abuse those who are not like us, who don’t follow our rules or are considered “inferior” to us. We continue the vicious cycle of cultivating hate in others, just as it was cultivated within us.  Others take on the “survival consciousness” of the physical world and get lost in the world of form while secretly practicing what feels right to them behind closed doors.  It becomes a tremendous struggle to find meaning and satisfaction.

And still others go out there feeling their connection to the Divine and proclaim proudly to the world, “This is me!  This is who I am and if you don’t like it – shove it!”  “When we look beyond that outer self, we find a divine purpose—how we are meant to impact society and the world around us. For each person that is an entirely unique mission—and that is the Divine spark within us.” (chabad.org, Individuality and the Divine Spark)

A person realizes their Divine spark when they’re ready to recognize and release  that which no longer serves them or their higher selves.  There are no rules or set times as to when one’s awakening or  ascension is to happen. Not everyone is ready at the same time as it is not an age related rite of passage. Everyone has different experiences. Some people are never ready for whatever reason and will not see it or experience it in this lifetime, for some it’s too uncomfortable and/or painful to let go of those false ideas they were taught since childhood and to kindle their Divine spark into a brightly burning Divine flame…and that’s OK.  It can’t be forced on them like their present beliefs were forced on them since infancy – they must come to love and understanding themselves at their own time…or not at all.  It’s their choice.

What we can do for ourselves is to focus on loving ourselves and tending our own Divine spark; for a healer cannot heal others if they themselves are broken.  “The reason self-love is so important is because until you can accept and recognize the Divine that is within you, your journey is limited.  Without that truth, you are restraining your magnificence.  It is important to understand that you are Divine, that God is within you and is also within everything within your awareness. When your journey includes a perception that God is outside of you, you are automatically limited, and thereby limiting Spirit’s ability to walk within you, to be within you, to glorify you and everything within your awareness” (Goddess Lenore through Jill Renee Feeler). Even Jesus supported this. He was once asked when the kingdom of God would come. The kingdom of God, Jesus replied, is not something people will be able to see and point to. Then came these striking words: “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).

These are turbulent times right now as energies around us are shifting and people are awakening. Those who would oppose this paradigm shift are afraid of losing their power and control and are fighting very very hard to keep things the same.  By opening our minds and letting our hearts guide us though, we allow that spark to grow and radiantly light up the world and experience. When our flame is strong enough, it can ignite the Divine sparks in others and to help elevate humanity to a higher level and love and understanding.

There is no separation between the Divine and us.  We are all unique expressions of the Divine on this level of existence, here on this plane in the here and now.  We contain the potential for everything within us. Our unique differences and diversity is the spice of life. We must be true to and love ourselves. By doing this, we also love and worship the Divine from our hearts and with our hearts in a way that sings to our soul. We should not try to change people by force or bully them into fitting into a “one size fits all” mold. We need to love, respect and cherish our fellow brothers and sisters for the beautiful people they are and the spark of the Divine that each one of carries within us.

Yet, we are all the same you know, cause we’re all affected by The Way; we are all the same you know, cause we’re all attracted to The Flame…

 

Welcome back dear readers!  I present to you the second half of my little journey into exploring the ancient Celts and their way of life.

A Taste for Luxury

ART AND APPRECIATION The Celtic penchant for finely worked metal is evident in a harness plaque.

“Rich Celtic tombs filled with luxurious goods and fine Greek pottery and bronzes show the importance of trade in the Iron Age. Celts settled along trade routes, trading their own metals and metalwork, salt and salted meat, cloth, furs and animal skins and grain. They also acted as middlemen in the trade across Europe.

Trade Routes

The Celts depended on Europe’s river system for conducting trade, but archaeological remains also indicate the use of roadways. Wooden trackways were constructed across bogs in Ireland and Germany, and archaeologists believe the Celts made them as part of a roadway system for their wheeled wagons to carry trade goods across the continent.

The wagons could cover 18 miles a day and traders could halt for the night at regular stopping places.

Ships at Sea

A replica of an ancient Celtic long ship on the Clyde in Glasgow. Photograph: Murdo Macleod.

The sea offered another route for Celts, especially those trading in the gold from Wales and Ireland, and tin, hunting dogs and slaves from Britain. Celtic ships, built of oak able to withstand the Atlantic Ocean, were so sturdily constructed that Roman ships had trouble sinking them through their usual tactic of ramming.

Wine for the Feast

An Attic black-figure amphora with Dionysus, circa 6th century BCE. This is attributed to the Priam Painter, active in Athens at that time.

Vast numbers of amphorae, or wine storage jars, found in the ruins of Celtic settlements display the Celts’ love for Italian and Greek wines, which they served at feasts. Greek amphorae and Italian barrels holding wine were transported by road and sea. Wine was so important and valuable that it was even buried with the wealthy so they could enjoy it at feast in the afterlife – the residue of wine was found in a bronze krater at the burial of the princess of Vix.

GREEK TRADE The Hallstatt Celts traded widely with Ancient Greece. Pottery, such as this amphora, was particularly desired. Greek historians were the first to write about the Keltoi. Roman historians later called them Gauls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stater coin of the Parisii tribe, 100-50 BCE.

MAKING MONEY

Coins were created in Lydia possibly as early as 640 BCE, and coinage spread quickly to Greece and into Europe, as it made trading so much simpler. Many Celtic tribes minted coins in their regional centers, mostly in gold and silver. Celts began by copying Macedonian and Greek coins, including the Greek inscriptions. Their coins showed riders on horseback and wild-haired charioteers. Gradually the Celts reduced these images to a series of dots and squiggles, so that the horse was only just recognizable in this typically Celtic abstract style.

The Metalsmith’s Art

A horse on an ornamental bronze axe (hatchet), from Hallstatt, Austria. Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

The Celts were masters of metalwork – their skills far exceeded those of the Greeks and Romans. Metalsmiths decorated nearly everything, from the simplest cloak pin to swords. In the Hallstatt period, life-like images of people and animals were feature, but during the La Tène period decoration became increasingly abstracted.

 

Iron Age, 50 BCE - AD 50 From Desborough, Northamptonshire, England

A Hidden Face

Several beautifully decorated bronze Celtic mirrors have survived. One surface is polished to a high sheen, and the mirror was suspended by a hole in the handle when not in use. When the mirror found at Holcombe in England is turned upside down, a scary little face appears that cannot be seen when the mirror is held right way up – hidden faces were a favorite trick of the Celtic artists.

The decoration on the back of the mirror and pattern is very complex: a clover-leaf pattern is symmetrically repeated on the left- and right-hand side of the mirror. The pattern may have been laid out using a compass.

Recent archaeologists have suggested that mirrors should be seen as symbols of female status and power, making as significant a statement for women as swords did for men. [1]

 

 

 

The Basse Yütz flagons, which are very similar but not quite identical, are dated to around 500 BCE and demonstrate many metalsmithing techniques. The body of each flagon was hammered into shape from a flat sheet of bronze. The ducks and the animals were made by casting. The animals’ bodies are decorated with incising and punching. Coral and enamel inlay and color to the neck and base.

A Metalsmith’s Hoard

Gold torcs (neck rings) represent some of the finest work of Celtic artists. The magnificent Snettisham torc was plowed up in a field in Norfolk, England in 1950. It weighs 38 ounces and was made of eight twisted wires, each with eight stands, soldered into two hollow, decorated rings. A metalsmith buried the torc for safety with the rest of his stock – finished pieces, broken pieces and some scrap metal – but never retrieved.

The Great Torque, from Snettisham, Norfolk. Made of eight 'ropes' twisted together, each 'rope' has eight strands of gold

The Snettisham torc was made from electrum, an alloy of three parts gold to two parts silver.  Silver was more valuable than gold because it was rarer, and was thus used more sparingly.

 GOLDEN TREASURES

Vix torc

Many artifacts have survived in excellent condition because they were found buried in graves or tombs: gold torcs from Ireland and Hallstatt (above) and a horned helmet (below) are examples.

This Celtic horned helmet was found in the River Thames (near Waterloo Bridge), and dates from 150-50 BCE, during which time this area may have fallen within Cantii territory.

Journey to the Next Life

Careful preparation of burials for everyone from the most humble to the wealthiest Celtic is testimony to the belief in a life after death. Bronze funerary carts found in some Celtic graves show a Goddess directing the process leading the soul of the person into the next life.

“Poulnabrone Portal Tomb (dolmen) in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland ” (Photo credit: Jason Sturner 72)

HERE TO ETERNITY The portal tomb (above) with its large slab roof was especially prevalent in Ireland. Most people were buried with their prized belongings, such as this ceramic urn (above).

 

A ceramic urn found in the funeral mound of Lann-Tinikei at Plomeur, Morbihan, on the south coast of Brittany. Musee de Antiquities Nationales, Germain-en-Laye, France. Located in: Musee des Antiquites Nationales.

Ceramic urn discovered in a funeral mound at Plomeur, Morbihan, in Brittany. Decorated with juxtaposed stamped geometric shapes based on metal originals the pottery typifies the transitional period during the fifth century B.C. from the Hallstatt to the La Tene. Used as cremation urns they have been found in tumulus burial places, but mainly in flat grave cemeteries which often also hold standing stones carved into geometric shapes.

The Feast of Samhain Held in Ireland around November 1 each year, at the beginning of winter, the feast of Samhain celebrated the summer’s end. The Irish Celts believed that this was a time of chaos, when the division between the gods and mortals, and between the living and the dead broke down – those in the spirit world could then interfere with the living. This ancient Celtic feast is the origin of celebrating Halloween.

Horses and Wagons

Wagons were placed in graves to provide transport to the next life, although the horses were too valuable to be buried. Three sets of elaborate bronze horse-trappings could be put into a grave – one set for the owner’s riding horse and two for the draft horses that would pull the wagon

One of the most important and best documented excavations of a Celtic burial mound belongs to "The Prince of Hochdorf." At some time around 550 BC, a Celtic noble was buried under a mound in what is now Eberdingen-Hochdorf (Baden-Württemberg) Deutschland/Germany.

Rich burials, like those of the Hochdorf prince and the Mont Lassois (Vix) princess show the elaborate preparation of the burial of high-ranking Celts. Both include all the elaborate preparation of the burial of high-ranking Celts. Both include all the equipment for the feasts the Celts loved and must have looked forward to in the next life.

The Afterlife

Classical writers and the Irish poets recorded many ideas about the afterlife, including the concept of soul passing from one body to another, or of the soul continuing to control a person’s body after death. Celts thought they could enjoy a land of peace and harmony after death, though warriors could still enjoy the combat they loved on earth. Ancient records also make mention of a dangerous place where the dead might have to defeat terrifying monsters.

Phiale (offering plate) found at the princess of Vix tomb

ROYAL ACCESSORIES Found in the tomb of a princess, who lived in Vix, France, in the late 6th century BCE, were a phiale (left) made from silver and gold and a chariot (reconstruction below), in which the princess was laid for burial. At Himlingoje, Denmark, a woman was buried with precious possessions (click here).

Reconstruction of a Chariot Found at the Tomb of a Princess of Vix


Gifts to the Gods

Celtic God Cernunnos, holding and wearing torcs

Celtic religion is something of a mystery, but it is known that Celts worshipped both Gods and Goddesses and that their religion was based on nature. The Celts rarely built stone temples for their gods, as the Greeks and Romans did. Instead, they visited simple shrines in remote places, such as in clearings in the woods, and near lakes, rivers and springs, for worship and to make offerings.

Three Mothers

The Morrigan: Badb, Macha and Anu

Celts worshipped three mother Goddesses who are associated with war – Morrigan, Macha and Badb, who were known The Morrigna (the great queens). They were also Goddesses of the earth and fertility. The number three represented strength, and is common in art and beliefs.  The Goddess Brighid was another Triple Goddess worshipped by the Celts.

from "Celtic Gods Celtic Goddesses" by R.J.Stewart, artwork Miranda Gray.

GODDESS OF THE RIVER SEINE A bronze figurine of the Goddess Sequana in flowing robes on a boat with its prow shaped like the head of a duck.

GODDESS OF THE RIVER SEINE A bronze figurine of the Goddess Sequana in flowing robes on a boat with its prow shaped like the head of a duck.

At the Source of the Seine

The Goddess Sequana presided over a healing shrine at the source of the Seine in France. Pilgrims made offerings to the Goddess and stayed to be healed. Their gifts, or votives, often represented the part of the body to be healed – such as limbs, eyes, breasts and models or carvings of internal organs.

Discovered in 1937, this bronze figure of the goddess Sequana, riding a duck-shaped barge, may have graced a temple built in Roman times at the source of the Seine River, where sick pilgrims journeyed in search of cures. The statue is some eighteen inches high.

Into the Water

Celts saw water as a transition between this world and the next. In the 1st century BCE, Celtic people at Llyn Cerrig Bach in Wales threw swords, spears, shields, chariot and horse harness fittings, trumpets, cauldrons and ironworkers’ tools into the water as an offering to the Gods. Some items had never been used.

The people might have been seeking protection against the advance of the Roman armies, or giving the Gods their spoils of war.

 

Janus Stone, Boa Island, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

The Janus Stone is regarded as one of the most enigmatic and remarkable stone figures in Ireland.  It is called a Janus-figure because it has two faces, reminding some of the Roman two-headed deity Janus, however, it is not a representation of Janus. It is thought to represent a Celtic deity and could represent a Celtic goddess as readily as a god, especially given the name of the island.

In Celtic culture, heads were very important because they were thought to contain a person’s spirit after their death. Severed heads were taken in triumph after battles. [2]

Cult of the Skulls Celts cut off the heads of enemies they had slain in battle and attached them to the necks of their horses. They believed the soul resided in the head and that the head of the enemy had magical powers – taking the head gave the warrior control over their enemy. They also nailed heads to their houses and gave them to temples as part of the spoils of war.

Celts Against Rome

By the 1st century BCE the Romans had most of Gaul under control. But in 58 BCE the Celtic Helvetii tribe attempted to migrate out of Switzerland, under pressure from the tribes of the north. As the Helvetii confronted Caesar’s forces, some Celts started to rebel under the leadership of Vercingetorix.

Although the Roman army was far more sophisticated, its Celtic opponents, such as the heroic Vercingetorix, had a reputation for fierceness on the battlefield.

"Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar", 1899, by Lionel Noel Royer

Vercingetorix’s rebellion ended in defeat because, despite the number and skill of his warriors, he couldn’t outdo battle-hardened Caesar. This young chief of the Averni was chosen to lead a confederation of Celtic tribes against Rome. Forced by Caesar to retreat into the town of Alesia, he eventually surrendered in 52 BCE, ans was taken back to Rome and executed six years later. Celtic culture gradually disappeared, and Europe – but not the British Isles – was gradually Romanized.

In 58 BCE Julius Caesar was appointed to the governorship of Gaul. He had six strong Roman legions under his command, and he saw an opportunity to achieve great glory and acquire more power in Rome. Caesar was known for his speed and decisiveness in war and strategic brilliance as a general.

MILITARY TRIUMPHS Julius Caesar inspired his soldiers in battle. Here he leads his army into Great Britain (55-54 BCE).

Caesar’s Books To publicize his victories and glorify himself, Caesar wrote about his campaigns of 58 to 51 BCE. His book – de bello gallico or The Gallic War – recorded many details of Celtic society, not just war, in Gaul at the time. Caesar admired the strength and abilities of the Celtic warriors and said that “A united Gaul forming a single nation animated by the same spirit can defy the universe.”

Celts in Battle

The physical appearance of the Celtic warriors was intimidating for the Ancient Greeks who whose average height was shorter comparing to the Celts.

The ancient Greek writer Strabo said the Celts had noting on their side in war except their own strength and courage, and that they were easily outwitted. The tribes were evenly matched fighting each other and often contained combat to avoid a full-scale war. In battle their main tactic was to create fear and pandemonium among their opponents. However, the Celts were no match for the disciplined Roman army of experienced and strategic generals like Caesar.

The Noise of Battle

Celtic warrior weapons were the usual: swords spears hammers and axes as well as bow and arrows, long bows and booby traps.

Celtic warriors not only looked frightening; they also made a tremendous noise on the battlefield, yelling and beating their wooden shields to intimidate the enemies. Celts used the carnyx to add to the racket. Dozens of these trumpets – twice the height of the man carrying it, and with an animals’ head on top – made terrifying blasts.

Still to this day people with Celtic heritage are a very proud people as a whole and attempt to incorporate that what little information we have available into their daily spiritual lives. Various Neopagan groups claim association with Celtic polytheism. These groups range from the Reconstructionists, who work to practice ancient Celtic religion with as much accuracy as possible; to new age, eclectic groups who take some of their inspiration from Celtic mythology and iconography, the most notable of which is Neo-druidry.

And with that, this concludes our journey.  This was a very broad overview on a very large and in depth subject.  I hope that you’ve found some interesting information in this two part blog that would spark further research and investigation on your own.  At the bottom of this blog, I’ve included some links to some very good pages (in my opinion) that are packed full of detailed information.” (Excerpt from “The Celts – How the Barbarians Tamed Europe ” – Ancient Civilizations, by International Masters Publishers, pp. 10-19)

Suggested Links:

The Ancient Celts
Celtic Art
Celtic Culture
Celtic History: The Ancient Celtic Warriors of Europe
History of the Goddess Worshipers
The Lives of Ancient Celtic Women
The Power of Women in Celtic Society: Female Druids
The Religion of the Celts
Why Wicca Is Not Celtic 


Who were the Celts?  Where did they come from?  How did they live?  What did they believe?  Well, no one knows for sure what exactly happened in the beginning or what our ancient ancestors believed.  All we can do is attempt to reconstruct a lineage using similarities in art, what writing remains, and archeological artifacts.  Little would the ancient Celts know, that eventually their influences would have a major impact on the world, the Neo-Pagan and Wiccan religious movements.  This 2 part journey is to discover what we may of the Celts as a people, how they lived and how they tamed the West, Western Europe, that is.

Who Were the Celts?

“The ancient Celts lived in tribal societies throughout Europe for about eight centuries before the birth of Christ.  Ancient Greek and Roman writers described the Celts as ferocious warriors, but there was more to the Celtic civilization than warfare.  The Celtic people were also farmers, miners, traders and seafarers.  They produced vibrant works of art and exquisite jewelry, and at feasts their bards recited from memory the tales of their gods and heroes.

The Celts were an Indo-European and ethno-linguistically diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.  The earliest archaeological culture that may justifiably be considered as Proto-Celtic is the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture of central Europe from the last quarter of the second millennium BCE.  Their fully Celtic descendants in central Europe were the people of the Iron Age Hallstatt culture (c. 800-450 BCE) named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria.  By the later La Tène period (c. 450 BCE up to the Roman conquest), this Celtic culture had expanded over a wide range of regions, whether by diffusion or migration: to the British Isles (Insular Celts), France and The Low Countries (Gauls), much of Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula (CeltiberiansCeltici and Gallaeci) and northern Italy (Golaseccans and Cisalpine Gauls) and following the Gallic invasion of the Balkans in 279 BCE as far east as central Anatolia (Galatians). [1]

Click on this link, Timeline of the Celts: The Celts as a Proto-Historic People, to view the “resume” of the involvement of the Celtic peoples in Europe and with the Romans in Britain.

The core Hallstatt territory (HaC, 800 BCE) is shown in solid yellow, The eventual area of Hallstatt influence (by 500 BCE, HaD) in light yellow. The core territory of the La Tène culture (450 BCE) is shown in solid green, The eventual area of La Tène influence (by 250 BCE) in light green. The territories of some major of the late La Tène period are labeled.

Human head with ornamental hairdo on the face of a gold stater from the first coinings of the Parisii in Gaul.

The ancient Greeks named the Iron Age people of Europe the Keltoi.  The Celtic tribes were diverse but spoke Celtic languages and had a similar approach to social organization.

Understanding the Celts

Information about the Celts comes from archaeological finds and from the comments of ancient Greek and Roman writers, who were fascinated by their barbarian neighbors and recorded details of Celtic social customs. Celts did not record their own history so the names of towns or leaders are often unknown.

Men wore tunics and trousers of wool or linen, unlike the draped clothing of the Greeks and Romans.

Heroic Society

A warrior aristocracy, headed by kings and chieftains, led the Celtic tribes. Archaeologist have found spectacular tombs belonging to unknown Celtic aristocrats, including ‘the Hochdorf prince’ and the ‘princess of Vix.’ Within the Celtic tribe, the majority of members were farmers.  Between the aristocrats and the farmers was another class, consisting of craftsmen, bards and priests – the Druids.

Celtic Warriors

The ancient writers describe Celts as boastful, argumentative, fierce and quick to wage war.  The Celtic tribes were often on the move, shifting into new lands, and fighting each other frequently.  Chiefs led cattle raids against neighboring tribes to acquire their land, capture their cattle and take control of the population.

 

Reconstruction drawing of a Celtic feast in full flight in Iron Age Britain, by Chris Evans (English Heritage Graphics Team).

Feasts and Fables

The head of the tribe entertained his followers lavishly.  Men sat in a circle on the floor in a specific order, their shield bearers standing behind them, and their spearmen seated opposite.  Food was prepared in huge cauldrons or on spits and served with imported wines or local beer.  The tribe’s bards recited the legends of the tribe and its warriors to entrain the guests.

 

 

 

 

Boudica addresses her troops

Women in Society

The classical writers tell us that Celtic women were not only as tall as their menfolk, but rivaled them in strength as well.  Celtic women could enjoy high status and even act as ambassadors to prevent war; equally, they could incite war and lead their tribe into battle.  One of the most famous Celtic women is Bouddica, who led the Iceni and other British tribes against the Romans.

Fearsome Heroine

In around 60 AD, Boudicca led an uprising of the Iceni and Trinovantes tribes against the Roman occupation of Britain.  Although the Britons recognized women as heirs, the Romans did not.

The statue of the dying Gaul shows how some Celtic warriors went into battle – naked, wearing only a torc (neck ring), which they believed protected the wearer, and body paint.  In Britain, the Celtic warriors used woad to paint their bodies blue.  Warriors washed their hair in limewater to make it white and also stand on end – contributing to their frightening appearance.

The Dying Gaul is a Roman marble copy of a Hellenistic work of the late third century BCE. Capitoline Museums, Rome.

Villages, Fort and Town

Most Celts lived on farms or in small villages.  In the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, Celtic leaders in different parts of Europe built vast hillforts.  Later Celts often lived in an oppidum, or fortified town, while in coastal Scotland they built defensive stone towers.

DEFENSIVE – Living in an oppidum did not guarantee security.  However, the Celts were usually well prepeared for any situation, with an array of strong weapons of bronze and iron – including daggers, long swords, spears, javelins and bows and arrows – and a simpler weapon, the slingshot.

 

An artists impression of Maiden Castle during late Iron Age occupation, viewed from the western entrance, looking east.

Strong Defenses

The Heuneburg in Germany, Mont Lassois in France and Maiden Castle in England are all Celtic hillforts.  At Maiden Castle, walls and ditches that were 66 feet deep enclosed an area of 45 acres.  Hillforts were built in troubled times when Celts needed protection from other tribes shifting across Europe, as they often controlled the trade routes.  Nearby, burial mounds concealed rich funeral treasures.

 

 

 

Even the most practical items were made beautiful by Celtic craftspeople. This bronze-mounted wooden bucket is one example.

Life in an Oppidum

From the 2nd century BCE many Celts built fortified towns like wealthy Manching in Germany.  Manching’s 4.5 miles long walls enclosed 939 acres of land.  Five to ten thousand people lived here in single-story houses set on a neat grid of streets.  In the town’s manufacturing area the industries included iron-working, metal recycling and coin making, as well as jewelry, pottery, textile and glass making.  There were even some farming inside the town walls.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mousa Broch, one of Scotland's best preserved brochs. Courtesy of the Shetland Museum, Lerwick, UK.

Approximately 500 broches (stone-walled towers) have been found in northern Scotland and the northern islands.  These massive towers could be 50 feet wide, inside double walls that were 10 feet thick.  Mousa Broch in Shetland, the best-preserved example, is 44 feet tall.  Brochs housed a single family.

Miners at Work

Salt, silver, gold, iron, tin and copper – these essential Iron Age resources were all found in Celtic lands across Europe and the British Isles.  Valued minerals were essential to Celtic trade with the lands fringing the Mediterranean Sea.  The miners who collected and extracted them had a hard life, but their work has also resulted in some fascinating archaeological remains.

In the Salt Mines

The early Iron Age Celts were the first to mine the salt in Germany’s Salzburg Mountains.  Slaves dug tunnels reaching 980 feet underground, and the remains of their pine twig torches can still be seen in the mines today.  Salt gave the local rulers great wealth, but life underground was unpleasant and dangerous.  In 1734, the preserved body of one of the ancient Celtic miners was found; it had been well preserved by the surrounding salt.

Salzburg Mountains (Austria) seen from Bavaria (Germany)

Examples of fine Celtic metalworking include the bronze Witham Shield.

Collecting Iron

Collecting and working iron to make tools and weapons defines the Iron Age in Europe.  Iron is strong, much more easily found than the materials needed to make bronze, and easier to work.  It was often collected as lumps from bogs, for instance, and towns like Manching probably grew rich from collecting and working the local bog iron.

Fire and Water

Bronze, made from copper and tin, was used throughout the Iron Age. Copper was often found in extraordinarily hard rocks.  To extract the ore, the Celts used fire-setting: a fire was lit against the ore-bearing rock and, when the rock was hot, they threw water at it – the sudden change in temperature cracked the rock, making it break up.

Mines and Metal

The mountains above Hallstatt, were rich in salt, which the Celts exploited. In addition to mining, they mastered the art of bronze and iron metalworking.  A typical item was the spear tip often used by both men and women.

 

A very precious metal, tin, was essential for bronze making, is very rare in Europe.  It was thought to be so precious that it was even used to make beads for jewelry.

Tin from Cornwall, in southwest England, was probably already being traded across Europe in the Bronze Age, and the Celts continued to sail there to collect tin until the 1st century BCE.  Later, the Romans also mined tin in Cornwall.” (Excerpt from “The Celts – How the Barbarians Tamed Europe ” – Ancient Civilizations, by International Masters Publishers. pp. 1-9)

Next week, I’ll post the other half of this blog for the Pagan Blog Project focusing on the letter C. So… “C ” you next week!

Sources:

“The Celts – How the Barbarians Tamed Europe ” by Ancient Civilizations.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celts

Brighid Turns the Wheel

As it has always done, and will continue to do, the Wheel turns. Yule is over, the old year is dead and gone. Though you can’t see it, new life stirs. Of course, it may not feel like it in Upstate New York right now as I look out my window at all the snow coming down. But the days are growing noticeably longer and we know that change is taking place all around us, no matter how small. The Bright One is with us. You can’t help but feel Her presence and Her warmth – Her spark urging and drawing us to awaken from our midwinter slumber.

“Spring” by by Ruth Sanderson

Traditionally, Brighid presides over Imbolc and for good reason. She is the Maiden in which new life rejoices. We invite Brighid into our homes and lives to help us purify and clear out that which no serves us or is needed from the year prior with Her fire and watery aspects. We ask Her to assist us in divination at the crossroads so that we may know which direction or path to take in the hopes that our efforts will yield a successful and bountiful harvest in the year to come. We call upon Her as midwife to help us take the steps we need to take, no matter how small, to transform our hopes and that which we dreamed of during our long winter’s slumber into reality. As She did so delicately with me, She calls us to come forth and to seek healing if we need it; to guide us to those with warm hearts and strong hands to help us emerge from the winter within our souls and face the challenges and lessons that lie ahead.

“Luna Meets Brigid at Imbolc” by Wendy Andrew

Ostara is a very powerful time to take the steps, whether physically, mentally or magically, to attune to the earth’s balancing energies and rebalance what needs balancing in your life. It is time to clean out (if we haven’t already started doing so) to make room for new growth and facilitate creativity. Also take this time to make ready your “tools” (magical and mundane) you’ll need and prepare the “seeds” (spiritual and physical) you plan sew so that they may have enough time to grow and properly come into bloom. I believe it wouldn’t be at all inappropriate to call upon Brighid during this time to lend Her assistance in our efforts as creativity and blacksmithing are both included in Her many fortes.

“Brighid’s Walk” by Helen Nelson-Reed

Beltane is a time to revel in the creative heat of the Bel-fires that act as a catalyst for all kinds of sacred fertility and growth. The fires revitalize and renew us. The Goddess Brighid being a Goddess of forge-fires and the fire of inspiration was no stranger, I’m sure, to the fever-fire of passion. As such, Bel, Lugh or Oghma would make appropriate Consorts for Her if She so chooses. This sacred union between the God and Goddess is sacred to us because fertility is sacred. Without the sacred act of the union, there would be no fertility; there would be no life.

“The Beltane season is a time of fertility, not only for people but for the land as well. In the early spring, many of us who follow earth-based spiritual paths begin planning our gardens for the coming season. The very act of planting, of beginning new life from seed, is a ritual and a magical act in itself. To cultivate something in the black soil, see it sprout and then bloom, is to watch a magical working unfold before our very eyes. The plant cycle is intrinsically tied to so many earth-based belief systems that it should come as no surprise that the magic of the garden is one well worth looking into.” (Wigington, Patti, Magical Gardening Around the World)

Next, the Wheel turns to Litha, or Midsummer. Like Ostara, it has been questioned as to whether or not Midsummer has always been celebrated by our ancient ancestors or whether the solar festivals (the solstices and equinoxes) were actually added later and imported from the Middle East. Regardless of the origins, many Neo-Pagans do choose to celebrate Litha every year in June. “This is a time of year of brightness and warmth. The power of the sun at Midsummer is at its most potent, and the earth is fertile with the bounty of growing life. Flowers surround us with bright colors and seductive fragrances drawing the bees in to ensure fertility and reproduction of the species; which in turn provides us with sweet honey. All the seeds have been planted and the crops are growing in their fields with the heat of the sun, but may require water to keep them alive.” (Wigington, Patti, Litha History – Celebrating the Summer Solstice)

I draw associations here between Brighid’s fiery and watery aspects and the need for balance between the hot, blazing and fiery sun and the need for cool, replenishing and healing water. We also observe the balance between light and the darkness, both in the physical world and within ourselves. Take the time to appreciate and love all the beauty and blessings that have blossomed in your life over the course of the year thus far. There is so much beauty not only in the world and in nature, but also within ourselves. Find it, find your confidence and love. Celebrate it, dance joyously in the sun’s warm and healing rays as this is one of the most cherished duties we have as children of the Goddess.

“Brigid” by Lisa Iris

What does that mean for us? No such great festivals bind us together today as they did thousands of years ago to promote survival. However, we can learn from them that connection is vital for a happy and complete life. Coming together for ritual confirms, builds and strengthens Community. This is also a good time to focus on preparing one’s family and home with some magic around the hearth and home.

“Decide which events, goals or relationships no longer serve your highest and best, make preparations to remove them from your life.” [1] Throw symbols of them into Brighid’s fire. Now is also the time to finish long-standing projects by the fall. It would also be a good time to bless the tools of your trade in order to bring a richer harvest next year. Again, Brighid being a Hearth Goddess and Goddess of blacksmithing would be more than willing to lend Her assistance if asked in both of these tasks.

“Brigid” by Nefaeria

The autumn is the season of death; it is a time of transformation. When things are stripped away from us or we feel the need to clean out that which is no longer needed, giving up old habits and attitudes that no longer fit us, we ask Brighid to help us understand the wisdom of transformation. She helps us when we seem to have nothing left or are in pain of loss. She helps us understand that when something is truly finished and no longer useful to our soul’s purpose, we can find ourselves happy at the change. We are renewed. This is the hope hidden within the apparent darkness of transformation.

“Brigid: Bardic Spirit” by Lindowyn

The veil between the worlds is at it’s thinnest, as it was at Beltane. This is a time to remember and honor all who have crossed over and all that has died. We recall with a sharp pang of memory, the loves so full of promise, the ideas that seemed to gleam, the plans that called to us. We move on, eventually past broken hearts and shattered dreams, stronger for the losses we have endured. But to live most fully, we must make time to grieve the pain of these losses, to give time to the sorrows as well as the joys of life. This is a time that we turn to Brighid to light our way through the darkness to receive warmth and healing at Her hearth. We become still and quiet to acquire or gain any wisdom and knowledge that She has to bestow. We watch as she works and hammers away deep in Her forges, shaping and tempering strong tools from crude metal, transformed by fire and water.

“Brigid of the Forge” by Lindowyn

The Wheel turns to Yule. The cold and darkness of winter has been long and hard. The daylight does not seem to diminish or grow as though at a standstill. We seem to be holding our breath, waiting for change. The soul holds still like this, just before great change occurs. It is a silence so profound that it seems as though time has stopped. In this magical moment, we have the chance to set in motion great changes, great happenings. This is the moment when the seeds of new life, new growth, must be planted.

“Promise of Imbolc” by Adrian Welch

The Winter Solstice, or Yule, was an incredibly sacred time to our ancestors. They recognized and celebrated the “rebirth” of the sun, for they knew that they had made it and the sun was returning. They knew that the worst was over. “Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were “wassailed” with toasts of spiced cider. Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges which were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun. The boughs were symbolic of immortality (evergreens were sacred to the Celts because they did not “die” thereby representing the eternal aspect of the Divine). The wheat stalks portrayed the harvest, and the flour was accomplishment of triumph, light, and life. Holly and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes, in hopes Nature Sprites would come and join the celebration. The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the Solstice festival. The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days after before being ceremonially put out. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil. An herb of the Sun, Ash brings light into the hearth at the Solstice.” (Akasha, The Winter Solstice – Yule Lore)

How we yearn for the light in the dark times of winter. Even knowing how important rest is to ourselves and to our planet, how happily we greet the dawn and the spring! Brighid’s flame shines like the flame of a new light and it pierces the darkness and shines into our spirits. Even to this day, we celebrate, laugh and tell stories and seek out companionship during the darkness of winter. Mythically, our role in the cosmic drama is important, for without laughter the sun will not return. So in this dark time, let us all laugh as loudly and as long as possible. For as the ancients knew, the worst is over and we will survive…just to do it all again next year!

“Maiden Goddess” by Wendy Andrew

Brighid Bright 

by Autumn Sky

Brighid my Mother
nurture me
so that I may nurture and nourish
Brighid my Maiden
make me fertile, sensuous, feminine
so that I may know the power of my female form
Brighid my Crone
make me quiet
so that I may know the patience
to grow wise with time
Brighid my Blacksmith
forge me strong and true
so that I may stand tall and solid
Brighid my Poet
give me eloquence and a moon-graced tongue
so that my words may find their way
to open eyes, hearts, and minds
Brighid my Healer
wash me clean in health
so that I may touch and heal
myself, my land, my people
Brighid my Warrior
imbue me with courage and dignity
so that I may fight an honest fight
for respect, equality, and freedom
for all minds, hearts, souls, and bodies

Brighid my multifaceted star
no matter how cloudy the night sky
a spot of clarity
all sides combine
one bright one shines
to give me what I need
one woman, one heart, one soul, one mind
but with her on my side
I am so much more
every step a new door
to who I can be
because she makes it so
I can be free to be
who deep down I know
is the woman i have always been


Breath

“Your life may change every day and in each moment, but the breath is a tool to anchor you.  Allow it to be the constant thread around which you weave your life.” ~ Gaye Abbott, RYT, CMT

Here is some music to listen to while reading this post…it’ll add to the “experience” I’m sure

How often do we think about our breath, the sacred act of breathing?  It’s the first thing we did when we were born and its the last thing we’ll do before we die. “Breathing is one of those few acts which, within limits, can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously. Unconsciously, breathing is controlled by specialized centers in the brainstem, which automatically regulate the rate and depth of breathing depending on the body’s needs at any time. Conscious control of breathing is common in many forms of meditation, specifically forms of yoga forexample pranayama unlike anapana which is only awareness of breath. In swimming, cardio fitness, speech or vocal training, one learns to discipline one’s breathing, initially consciously but later sub-consciously, for purposes other than life support. Human speech is also dependent on conscious breath control. Also breathing control is used in Buteyko method.” (Wikipedia, Breathing)

"Luna" by Amy Swagman

“Look at the Lamaze and Natural Birthing Techniques.  When allowed and encouraged to, a woman will naturally move, moan, sway, change her breathing pattern, and rock to cope with contractions, eventually finding the right rhythm for her unique needs. As her contractions get stronger, her body releases endorphins—nature’s narcotic—to ease her pain.  Breathing plays a key role in this process.  Conscious breathing (especially slow breathing) reduces heart rate, anxiety, and pain perception. It works in part because when breathing becomes a focus, other sensations (such as labor pain) move to the edge of your awareness. Conscious breathing is an especially useful labor tool because it  keeps the woman and her baby well oxygenated.  It’s naturally rhythmic and easy to incorporate into a ritual.

And best of all, breathing is the one coping strategy that can’t be taken away from you—even if you’re stuck in bed attached to an electronic fetal monitor and intravenous fluids.  Movements become rhythmic as she “finds her rhythm” or “gets into the groove.”  She’s living in the moment, doing without thinking.  To others, she appears to be in another world.  She relaxes between contractions; she responds to contractions in the same way over and over again, rolling her head, breathing slowly, chanting, or praying.” (Lamaze International, Lamaze Breathing – What You Need To Know) I know I did – oh boy did I….

“We take our breathing for granted, usually breathing 12-16 times every minute without being aware of it. This is because whether it is fast or slow, whether we hold it or not, whether it is shallow or deep, the breath keeps going. Most of us don’t pay attention to the breath – the in-breath, the out-breath, how shallow or deep it is, it’s rhythm, how and when we hold our breath, the connection between our emotional state and breathing patterns, and interestingly how hard it is just to pay attention to such a simple thing. The only two times we usually start noticing it are when something happens to prevent us from breathing normally or when we start meditating or being mindful.” (Limpman, Franklin, Ph.D., Becoming Aware of Your Breath)

"Deep Breath" by Melanie Weidner

Think about the way you breathe.  Do you breathe fully and freely?  Does it come effortlessly? Do you fill your belly like a balloon, letting your chest rise and fall?  With each breath you take in, you’re receiving from the universe and giving back to it.  The common air we all breathe; that those before us have breathed and those after us will breathe, contain prana/energy/Chi.  We absorb that into our bodies when we inhale in. “When you breathe deeply and fully, you are breathing the breath that feeds the Soul.  This energy is part of the spiritual force of the universal energy, and it enters your body with every breath.  The breath contains the vital energy of who you are.” (King, Jennifer Grace, Awaken Breath and Nurture You)

“We touch the sacred with each breath.  With each breath, we just keep dipping into the sacred…Breath is the vehicle to return to God (the Sacred).  This is the ground of all being.  Breath is the vehicle that takes us beyond thought, form and into direct experience.  The breath takes us beyond words, beyond our ideas, into our deepest truest nature.” (Frank Ostaseski, Founder of Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco and Metta Institute)

“As we grow older, unfortunately, we lose the freedom and expansiveness that were ours at birth. We become institutionalized, afraid of disapproval, punishment or abandonment. We experience unpleasant feelings that we don’t know how to handle. As a result, we begin to shut down. We learn to “control” ourselves, to “be good.” We sacrifice our desires for the approval of others. To control ourselves in this way, we unconsciously tighten our muscles and restrict our breathing. We discover that the less we breathe, the less we feel — and the easier it is to get along and ‘do the right thing.’

As adults, we tend to breathe small and shallow, mostly in the chest, with little visible movement. To make matters worse, most of us literally stop breathing for short periods 50 to 100 times a day. When we constrict or stop our breath, we lose touch with what is happening in the present moment — with how magical and wonderful it is just to be alive. Instead, we focus on the past and the future. Our minds race with thoughts — worrying, figuring and planning. We lose the freedom, joy and expansiveness that was ours at birth.

"Being" by Mario Duguay

Miraculously, by directing your consciousness back to your breathing and learning to work with it, you can regain what has been lost. You can learn to let go of patterns of worry and tension which hold you back and return to natural, oceanic, full-body breathing. Like a baby, you experience the full feeling, possibility and connection of each moment. As you become aware of your breath and work with it consciously, you make a direct link into your autonomic nervous system, gaining access to a part of yourself that usually functions outside of conscious awareness. It is no accident that all meditation techniques in all religions are based on breathing. (Chanting, of course, is breathing with sound.) As our breathing gets fuller and deeper, we can feel ourselves softening, opening, getting more spacious inside. The breath takes us into our very core. It is no coincidence that in many languages and many sacred texts, the word for breath also means soul or spirit — psyche in Greek, anima in Latin, Ruach in Hebrew.”  (Lyon, Bret, Ph.D., The Power of Breathing)

“Indigenous people globally accept the sacredness of the breath and the interconnection with the natural world. Some traditions, such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong have studied it for thousands of years, and in fact have created a science of breath.  In the Native American Medicine tradition ‘Divine Breath’ is a noun. It means the manifestation of the divine spirit in all living beings.  It is also called ‘life breath'”. (Abbott, Gaye, RYT, Sacred Breath)

“As the breath goes in and out, we feel a connection between the inside and the outside. Through breath, we are connected with all living beings. Breathing is restorative. It can cleanse us of toxins that have built up in the body and the mind. It can help rid us of worries and tensions and bring us back to our true nature and our true place in the timeless universe. This most basic and essential of all our activities can also be the most transformative.” (Lyon, Bret, Ph.D., The Power of Breathing)

I leave you with this wonderful guided meditation, entitled “The Full Awareness of Breathing”.  Anne Naylor instructs us how to prepare for meditation in an article from the Huffington Post entitled 12 Simples Steps To Meditate for Relaxation. Go get into something comfy, find a nice cozy place and turn on some relaxing music.  Place a “Do Not Disturb” sign outside the door.  Light a candle and pay attention to your breathing. Watch your breath as it enters your body, and again as it leaves. Experiment with this technique. Breathe in to a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 4. Breathe out to a count of 4. Hold for a count of 4. Repeat this at your own rhythm. After doing the counting, you might watch your breathing, allowing yourself to breathe more deeply than perhaps you do normally. Slow deep breaths will help you to relax and let go; to become more peaceful.  And off you go…

“1) Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath.

Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.

2) Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath.

Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.

3) Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body.

Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.

4) Breathing in, I am making my whole body calm and at peace.

Breathing out, I am making my whole body calm and at peace.

5) I am breathing in and feeling joyful.

I am breathing out and feeling joyful.

6) I am breathing in and feeling happy.

I am breathing out and feeling happy.

7) I am breathing in and am aware of my feelings.

I am breathing out and am aware of my feelings.

8) I am breathing in and making my feelings calm and at peace.

I am breathing out and making my feelings calm and at peace.

9) I am breathing in and am aware of my mind.

I am breathing out and am aware of my mind.

10) I am breathing in and making my mind happy and at peace.

I am breathing out and making my mind happy and at peace.

11) I am breathing in and concentrating my mind.

I am breathing out and concentrating my mind.

12) I am breathing in and liberating my mind.

I am breathing out and liberating my mind.

13) Breathing in, I am observing the impermanent nature of all things.

Breathing out, I am observing the impermanent nature of all things.

14) Breathing in, I am observing the fading of the notion of the separateness of all things.

Breathing out, I am observing the fading of the notion of the separateness of all things.

15) Breathing in, I am contemplating letting go. (of the concepts of permanence and separate self.)

Breathing out, I am contemplating letting go. (of the concepts of permanence and separate self.)

16) Breathing in, I am contemplating liberation. (from the concepts of permanence and separate self.)

Breathing out, I am contemplating liberation. (from the concepts of permanence and separate self.)”  (Louisville Community of Mindful Living, The Awareness of Breathing.)

Again, this is a guided meditation.  I would find it more practical to record this a device and play it back for full effect.  Or, you could incorporate this into a group meditation with someone reading it aloud.

At the end of your meditation, make sure to ground and center.  Stretch and drink water.  This will help you re-enter into the everyday mundane life.

              

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Asceticism

  1. n. The principles and practices of an ascetic; extreme self-denial and austerity.
  2. n. The doctrine that the ascetic life releases the soul from bondage to the body and permits union with the divine.

Aestheticism

  1. n. Devotion to and pursuit of the beautiful; sensitivity to artistic beauty and refined taste.
  2. n. The doctrine that beauty is the basic principle from which all other principles, especially moral ones, are derived.
I recently found myself thinking about these two terms last week as my husband and I started the Master Cleanse, a.k.a “Lemonade Diet”.  He decided that he needed to detox after the holidays and me, being the supportive wife, agreed to support him in his endeavor by also partaking in this diet (although I admit, I did cheat a little during the day when he was at work).  It made me really appreciate the small meals I “indulged” in – a bowl of rice and beans here, a handful of tortilla chips with sour cream and salsa there…
I actually started to think differently, more clearly.  My thoughts then turned to spirituality in relationship to my daily life.  I thought to myself, if physically fasting made you appreciate food more, what else could one do to “fast” in order to appreciate their spirituality more or build a stronger bond/relationship with their God(s) and/or Goddess(s) (who I will refer to as the Goddes from here on out)?
First, I’d like to examine the words ascetic and aesthetic more closely and what they mean to me.  When I think of the word ascetic, I can’t help but think of the Hindu sadhvis and sadhus layered in their traditional paint – those so devoted to the spiritual life who own few possessions and typically depend on donations to survive.  I also think of Catholic priests, monks and nuns living in monasteries who feel the need to repress their “animal nature” abstaining from things like sex and spending their day in prayer and reading the scriptures; or members of the Opus Dei who practice corporal mortificatio (the idea that inflicting pain on yourself or deprivation, as in a fast is a way to “scourge yourself,” to help achieve a state of grace).  I think of Siddhartha Gautama eating a single grain of rice and drinking a single drop of water a day during his search for enlightenment. The idea that we have to suffer or live in poverty in order to be spiritual is indeed an old one and can be found in the belief systems of many philosophies.
Most of us carry this idea around subconsciously, which could be holding us back from financial or emotional well-being, believing that this is what we must do in order to be virtuous, spiritually awake, or feel less guilty for the suffering of others.

One the original reasons for practicing austere self-denial was man’s desire to be able to give birth. Oriental myths said the first creator-gods acquire their ability to produce living things by “practicing fierce asceticism for ten thousand years.” Although men were never able to acquire the female ability to give birth, they have claimed the abilities to fly, walk on water, heal the lame and blind, and perform other miracles. Asceticism in its broadest sense is man’s practice of renunciation of his physical self and world in order to attain a higher ideal or spiritual good; in summary, it’s the renunciation of the physical, which has been deemed of lesser worth, for the spiritual. This has been the teaching of most cultural and almost explicitly all religious training. It is true almost every society from the primitive to the most sophisticated teach some type of asceticism to teach self-control that is expected from its members without which the society could not exist. [1]

The word aesthetic brings to mind images of indulgence, glamor and the creative pursuit of beauty.  When taken to the extreme, it becomes a cult-like following; we become slaves to beauty, remaining ageless and the desire to have all of the latest goods and technology.  This can lead to a whole host of problems; working longer hours to buy more things to have a “better life”, debt, never satisfied with what we have, feelings of depression and lack of self-worth because we may have had to be “lazy” and “settle for less”.  People suffering from the pursuit of the aesthetic lifestyle are usually chronically tired and when they do have some free time, they veg out in front of the TV or computer.  Where is there time for the Goddes? It is a lifestyle that is inhospitable to developing any type of social, family or spiritual bonding.  It is the polar opposite of asceticism; where asceticism is devoting oneself to the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment through sacrifice of earthly pleasures, aestheticism is the pursuit of earthly beauty and pleasure through sacrifice of spiritual enlightenment.  What does this mean to the modern Pagan?  How and can we find balance?

"Contemplation" by Pino

Think about what you do in your daily life.  Do you feel satisfied, content and fulfilled? Or does it feel imbalanced, like that there’s something amiss? Where does your spiritual practice fit into your myriad of events that must fit into your daily life? Do you take your spirituality seriously and actually live it using it to filter your thoughts and actions?  Are you a “Play-gan”, one who likes the idea of being Pagan or different just to piss people off?  Are you a Festival Pagan, only coming out to partake in Sabbat celebrations?  If it sounds like I’m making stereotypes or judgements, believe me, I’m not.  I understand that everyone is at different points on their own path.  These are just some very serious and hard questions one must ask themselves if they are serious about their spirituality.  If you find that you are experiencing suffering in some area of your physical life, perhaps your spirit is asking you to look deeper in your search for what you want. If you find yourself suffering or lacking in your spiritual life and in establishing a relationship with the Goddes, perhaps its time to take a closer look at asceticism.

As many Pagans consider pleasure to be sacred, asceticism is often seen as unfriendly to Pagan practice. However, as many Pagans view life as a cycle of birth, death and rebirth and follow the Wheel of the Year, perhaps it is appropriate to have times of fasting and times of feasting. Certainly many Pagans fast before rituals (in order to make the connection with the Goddes more effective) and feast afterwards (to ground themselves).  Sacrifices must be made somewhere in order to gain something in return.  We can’t expect things to just be handed or given to us.  One cannot gain knowledge from a book just by placing it on their head by osmosis.  You have to sacrifice and dedicate time to sit down and read that book.  Sometimes you have to roll your sleeves up, dig your hands down into Mama Earth and get dirty sometimes.  You have to venture out into the deep woods to gain hands on knowledge of how the trees, rocks and earth look and feel or how the river sounds and feel how strong the current is.

While I’m not advocating in any way extreme forms of asceticism such as wearing a cilice, developing an eating disorder, keeping your arm raised above your head for a year, or selling off all of you and your family’s worldly possessions, I am saying that a balance must be found.  I believe that a temporary retreat, fast or sacrifice is good for the soul. A time of deficiency can truly be a spirituality awakening experience. Many Pagans are now finding attractive the idea of temporary or even permanent retreat from the world in order to practice contemplation and find renewal. There is even a newly formed Pagan monastic order, the Order of the Horea (currently in it’s infancy) that intends to focus on living together in spiritual community and observing an immersive routine of meditative work, ritual and prayer.

I believe that once one has recognized the realm of spirit, had that “Aha!” moment, learned an important lesson that the Universe has been trying to teach you, or made that connection with the Goddes, we remember to hold onto it and celebrate it. There is no reason to dwell in poverty or emotional isolation once an important connection has been made.  We then may start to see the beauty in all things and develop a healthy sense of aestheticism.  We gain a greater appreciation and thankfulness for what we do have instead of dwelling in sorrow and jealousy for the things that we don’t have. We see the beauty in nature, we see the beauty in connectedness, we see the beauty of humanity…we see beauty in all things, whether simple or complex. We gain a greater understanding of balance and meeting in the middle.

“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches.
If suffering alone taught,
all the world would be wise,
since everyone suffers.
To suffering must be added
mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness
and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“Archetypes are inner images that embody universal characteristics and experiences. They are responsible for the persistent themes we see surfacing in our own lives. Myths and fairy tales, many artistic images, and many of the characters we encounter in our dreams are expressions of these archetypes. As inner guides that exist in your personality, the goddess archetypes influence how you behave, how you think and feel, and how you relate to others. Since the goddess stories that are passed on in the mythology of human cultures embody the expression of female character, they provide us with a rich and fascinating way to gain access to the personal archetypes that are active in our lives.” (Sharon Turnbull, Ph.D.)

“Ancient Inanna” by Wendy Andrew

This was the first paragraph of the results of a Goddess Quiz that I took back in mid December 2011 out of curiosity and a search for who I was; to somehow understand who I was “right now”, in that very moment – to give me some sort of direction in which to proceed out of my feeling of depression, self loathing, loneliness, and emptiness. After reading the 23 page results describing the Inanna archetype that I had, I felt a mixed bag of emotions – happiness, pain, acceptance, isolation and relief. This document describing my Goddess archetype has led me onto a journey, a journey with Inanna as my guide. I felt Her, in every fiber of my being, I knew I was Her and She was me. I felt as we were one in the same. Shortly thereafter, I started seeing Her 8 pointed star all over the place – in patterns, on plates, on TV. The number 7 has also recently showing up in various places. I started coming across Her name in articles I was reading, pictures and depictions of Her popping up when I was online, even receiving emails from women who had Inanna quotes in their signature blocks. Could it be these symbols were all around me all the time and that I just never paid attention to them? Probably. But, She had definitely had my attention now.

 So, I did what every good Pagan does when they are tapped on the shoulder or hear the whisperings of the Goddess calling them forth. I hopped on the Internet finding all I could on Her and Her stories and myths. I came upon probably one of Her most famous stories, Her descent into the underworld to meet Her sister Ereshkigal. There are many myths and fairy tales that describe the descent to the underworld by different Goddesses, many of which that have common themes and such. Stories about being lost in the forest, or falling asleep often for 7 years, Persephone being dragged into the underworld, but this, The Descent of Inanna is the oldest. This Sumerian myth was written on clay tablets in the third millennium B.C.E. and there are a number of different versions of the story. I went to Amazon, Half.com and Paperbackswap.com to find books on Her stories and myths. The first book that really called to me was “Descent to the Goddess” by Sylvia Brinton Perera. It’s only just about 100 pages long, so I thought I’d finish it in a few days. No, it took me about a week. I had to take my time with it because 1.) the language (I had to look words up every now and again to grasp the full meaning of what Perera was trying to portray) and 2.) There was some really intense information to really soak in and think about.

With each passing chapter, I felt myself waking up, having so many of those great “Aha!” moments. But what surprised me was not only was I getting to know Inanna, but also Her sister Ereshkigal. This was a total unexpected surprise. It was just before New Years in finishing this book that the Dark Goddess was revealed to me in all her primordial greatness and femininity. It was truly the first time in my life that I came to know and really internalize what She was all about and the type of wisdom she possessed to impart to those who were brave enough to enter Her realm and withstand ALL she has to provide.

As I read through the pages, I could see and feel Her raging, hair everywhere, wild with Her grief and pain. She slaps Her thigh and bites Her lip. Her perimeter had been breached, Her defenses defeated. She eyes the intruder, Inanna, with the eye of death. She is all that is primal of the body: giving birth, howling with grief or rage. But most importantly for me She is in and of Her body not separate from it, which is how all too often many of us live our lives. She’s a cold hard raging bitch not to be taken lightly or disrespected and she offers no apologies. She represents pure Yin energy – that dark, cold, isolated, primal, earthy, static, grounded energy – everything that is uniquely feminine. She is the embodiment of Deep Feminine Wisdom; that deep wisdom that understands destruction and renewal, decay and gestation, the balance and interconnectedness of life and death.

“Ereshkigal” by ~Fenrizulf

She seems uncaring, irrational, greedy and all devouring. Indeed, She is all that…and more. You see, Ereshkigal does not want to be worshipped in the usual way, on hands and knees groveling before Her. No, She demands something entirely different. She demands sacrifice, destruction and death. She welcomes it – and She reminds us that all that lives dies and that suffering and sacrifice is part of the primal feminine way; less we forget how intimately childbirth and death are interconnected. She represents everything that the patriarchy fears. She demands that we show strength before Her in order to learn and accept these things or it will be a long and agonizing stay in Her realm.

 

 

Most of us do not choose to voluntarily enter the underworld territory as Inanna had. Most of us resist as hard as we can. For some of us it is a depression that takes us there, a relationship ending, illness, a death of someone close. I came to realize that I have made many visits to the underworld myself; early in childhood, adolescence, spending my 21st Birthday at Ground Zero during 9/11 with my National Guard unit and the PTSD that followed, a miscarriage, going through 2 deployments back here while my husband was in Iraq, and the latest and longest descent involving a long move from my “chosen family” in Texas to the great unknown in Alaska with 2 back to back pregnancies. The later being the most life altering and hardest to ascend from for me.

When we descend into Ereshkigal’s realm of the Underworld, we meet all the grief of our lives that we have buried or ignored. Here we face into our suffering, the pain of betrayal, loss, death of someone or parts of ourselves, our childish naiveté, our insecurities. Here we are like Inanna, nailed to the wall. There is no escape from this pain. In this territory we have the chance to face and reconnect with shadow parts of ourselves that we were told by the patriarchy were unacceptable. Like our rage and our capacity to hate, our deep grief about all our woundedness. But also with those strengths we have that have also been relegated to the shadow, pushed back into the unconscious because to be strong or assertive, or clever or creative in our families was for some reason unacceptable. It is here, stuck in the Underworld that the healing begins to take place, of being able to name and acknowledge what we are truly feeling, to ourselves. So instead of sitting on feelings of being hurt, for example, or angry or whatever, and telling ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling this, just to name it as anger or hurt or jealousy or whatever it is that we are truly feeling, can be enormously freeing and lets us ascend back up to the world above; but only if we truly learn and internalize these lessons that Ereshkigal demands we learn.

“Ereshkigal” by ~kometani

Like Inanna, we have to shed our layers at each of the 7 gates in order to reach Ereshkigal. We have to shed our will, our ego, our mind, or sex role, our “illumination”, our “magic” and our “godhood”. Then, and only then, when we are stripped bare naked of all barriers, defenses and are at our most vulnerable can we enter into Erishkigal’s realm to face the rage, to sacrifice what must be sacrificed, become that rotting piece of flesh impaled on the wall to be healed, reborn stronger than what we were before and made whole.

Once we’ve come to terms with and taken ownership of all of those “bad” feelings and empathize with Ereshkigal, and realize it’s OK to feel these feelings can begin our journey of ascent.

I’ve tried in the past to come to know The Dark Goddess. I’ve tried to connect with Her energies (well, to be honest, just once…the ritual seemed empty to me though, not like my Full Moon rituals). Now that I think back, I can say with certainty that I had some fear and reservations about the wisdom She had to share and connecting to the feminine – the good, the bad and the ugly. Sadly, I like many women, had at some level accepted the patriarchy’s verdict on all things feminine and our bodies, that it is unacceptable, worthless, something to be ashamed of, that feeling is not as valuable as thinking, being logical etc. For women so much of the stuff of our lives is determined by our bodies: our menstruating, our hormonal ups and downs, our gestating and giving birth and our dealing with the chaotic rhythms of the body, our own and our children’s and often our parents’ as we deal with their aging and dying. In coming to really know the Dark Goddess, we reconnect with our bodies and our instinctual ways of knowing and our full power as women. In coming to know and understand Ereshkigal, I came to realize that Inanna and Ereshkigal represent the bi-polar nature of women. Perera broke down Inanna’s and Ereshkigal’s myth in such a way that I could see that I (and every woman for that matter) could reclaim my power and understanding of the Deep Feminine that resides deep in the womb of the Underworld. The first step was understanding my “dark” emotions – acknowledging them, respecting them and transforming them, not hating or demonizing them as the patriarchy has taught us to do.

“The Wait” by Luis Royo

When a woman emerges from this kind of experience those around her may not welcome her return. She is not as nice as she used to be, not as amenable as we see in Inanna’s ascent and her showdown with Dumuzi. But she is more textured and complex and interesting. She says ‘No’ when she means no, and ‘Yes’ when she means yes. She may appear cold or uncaring as she struggles to integrate what she has learned about what she needs to do to look after her true self. And almost always when we are practicing new ways of being we can be clumsy. We need to be patient and compassionate with ourselves. No more apologizing or making excuses, just simply “No, can’t do that.” No more apologizing for being alive. We learn it’s OK to speak our truth, to trust our feelings and to really see what’s there. We no longer see putting ourselves first as being ‘selfish’; we learn to value ourselves – become our real selves, and realize that that’s more important than being “likeable”. In becoming conscious of our feminine, we become whole, we realize, “This is who I am. I am not asking for your approval, I do not have to justify my existence. I want to know and be known for who I am.”

Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who died at Auschwitz aged 25, said the following, “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”

I believe one of the ways to a peaceful heart is to make the journey to try to uncover who we truly are and to try and live from that place. To make peace with all our own warring parts: the inner critic that keeps telling us we’re not good enough and the wise kind part that can say, yes you are good enough. A journey I believe that takes a lifetime. And if we can come to some kind of peaceful acceptance of ourselves, however intermittently that might be, then hopefully we are not then projecting our ‘stuff’ onto others. Then there is more space for empathy and compassion for those around us and for our poor beleaguered planet. We’ve known suffering and we can feel for the suffering of others. These are the lessons of the Dark Goddess. So look out world, the bitch is coming back!

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