Category Archives: Folklore

The Sorceress – Film Review

ImageThis subtitled French film is about a “forest woman” in a remote rural medieval village. She uses her knowledge of plants to act as a healer. Villagers come to her for her knowledge of herbs to heal sickness.  She also has some “tricks” up her sleeve in terms of cures that are more for placebo affect.  So of course, when the Catholic Church sends a new priest to the village, he accuses her of witchcraft.

The priest is depicted fairly in this film. Rather than a purely evil figure, he does try to wrap his head around what’s going on. He’s from a more urban, and his mind a more forward thinking, town.  So these rural villagers and their folkways appear backwards and superstitious.  But, the priest sees practices that just do not jive with Church teachings and the forest woman finds herself in a prison cell.

The film is interesting because theories about pagan superstitions are explored through the dialogue between the accused witch and the priest. Also, many occurrences that are known to have happened are depicted, such as the priest ordering a sacred tree to be chopped down and destroyed (this is documented to have happened all over Europe, and even in Mediterranean areas).

I really enjoyed this film and highly recommend it. Anyone interested in Medieval history and pre-Christian folkways will enjoy this film. The entire film can be viewed online for free on YouTube!  We’ve also added the DVD to our shop 🙂

~ Aelfwynne ~

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Comments on “Ten Things You Might Not Know About Christmas” by Addicting Info

All in all this article is pretty good. I support all efforts to resurrect Olde Yule, and get to the roots of many of our holiday traditions.  There are just a couple of items mentioned here, though, that I would like to address.

Influences that preceded Santa:

409px-Georg_von_Rosen_-_Oden_som_vandringsman,_1886_(Odin,_the_Wanderer)One great point in the article is something I have been saying right along, that Santa is an amalgam of many influences – BUT he is not simply Odin repackaged like a lot of Asatru bloggers keep saying.  There seems little doubt that the white bearded Odin/Woden/Wotin who flew through the air on his magical horse to participate in the Wild Hunt at Yuletide was certainly a major influence. However, there are many other influences to consider. The archetype of the wise man, magician, sorcerer was prevalent in Northern European society from Britain to Russia. Certainly Odin is a part of this tradition, as he is known as the Wanderer in pointed wide-brimmed hat, tattered robes, often carrying a staff or walking stick. He is associated with magic, bringing us the Runes and he is said to have learned the Norse magical tradition called “Seidr” from Freyja.

ded_moroz_by_brzoza77-d35np1hHowever, the image of the mage, the wise sage who is a wielder of magic is seen elsewhere in Europe.  Think Merlin, Taliesin, and Finnish sorcerers/wizards which are so common in old Finnish folklore.

Shamanic influences are also strongly theorized to be an influence on Santa. The Finnish wizards were affiliated with Finno-Ugric shamanic tradition.  Another FInno-Ugric group with a strong shamanic tradition are the Saami.  Their shamans were known to eat the red and white fly agaric costume and then journey to the spirit world aided by the beating of their drums. These drums were often adorned with jingle bells.

Other figures across Europe follow this same pattern of being influenced by “the wandering sorcerer” archetype. Ded Moroz is one such Christmas figure from Russia (pictured above). And the English Father Christmas is another (pictured below).  I do understand that other internet writers aren’t as well versed in European folklore, so they don’t mean to be dismissive of other cultures. But, I personally feel it is disrespectful to other Northern European cultures whose traditions have  a legitimate influence on Santa Claus to leave them out.

father-christmas

Saints were usually made up by monks to dissolve cults to local deities:

Another point of contention I have with the “influences” of Santa mentioned in the article, and this is no fault of the author as it is the common theory espoused about the “history” of Santa, is Saint Nicholas.

Now, a bit of nerdy Medieval explanation is necessary. When one is a student of Medieval Studies, one becomes familiar with a genre of writing not well known by the general public: hagiography.  Hagiography is a genre of literature dealing specifically with saints’ lives. However, it differs from biography because hagiographies were written with an agenda to spread the Catholic cult of saints. They were very popular during periods of conversion, when the church targeted locally venerated deities and attempted to replace them with Christian saints.  One such swap out is very well known – goddess Brigid to Saint Brigid.

StbrigidIn their campaign to build up the saint while diminishing the god, hagiographers literally made shit up.  Straight up inventions based on nothing but the imagination of the writer.  They bullshitted their way through it. Sometimes a real figure could be used as a model, and then merged with the god they were trying to erase.  But the lives were typically completely contrived, and all manner of miracles and benevolent acts were ascribed to the newly invented saint.

Therefore, it is my strong opinion that the Saint Nicolas theory is but more bunk that was put round by the Church to distract people from their traditional Christmas figures.  Many local Yuletide characters were unsavory to the church.  Italy’s Befana is a witch, and Germany’s Krampus is a creepy goat-man with likely roots as a Pan-like agrarian deity, just to give two examples! There may well have been one or more real life men who the story of Saint Nick was based on. But, more than likely, the story was purposefully devised to replace and distract people from Odin and the other figures mentioned above.

** Edit – Someone made a comment on Facebook that “the author is downplaying the real Saint Nicholas.”   Ahem. In helping a friend find scholarly sources for Valentines Day, I was reminded that it was yet another holiday rooted in a pagan past; the old Roman Lupercalia.  Saint Valentine was grafted on to the holiday in the SAME way as St. Brigid became the patron saint of Candlemas, which was formerly Goddess Brigid’s Imbolc.  If you don’t see a pattern here and want to continue to believe the tale of “real” Saint Nicholas, you go right ahead.**

Santa’s reindeer are not based on a horse. They are based on, erm, reindeer:

Corrected_Sapmi_in_Europe (1)Another point of contention is the assertion that Santa’s reindeer are based on Odin’s magical horse Sleipnir.  As explained above, the bearded magic man flying through the air at Yule does have connections to Odin and his flying horse.  However, the reindeer are more than likely inspired by the Saami reindeer herders.

Although the Saami are largely unknown by the general American public today, they were referenced quite often in writings of the 19th century when the American version of Christmas as we know it today was formed.  Back then they were referred to as Lapps, and they were of great interest to folklorists and travel writers to whom “Lapland” was an exotic and fascinating foreign location.

Reindeer herding has been a traditional livelihood of the Saami for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  The Saami live at the tippy top of Scandinavia reaching from Norway and Sweden to Finland and over to Russia. Most of this area is considered Arctic, and it is virtually undeniable that the Saami in Lapland (Sapmi is the politically correct term for this region today) were a huge influence on our image of “The North Pole.”

shoe17

The Saami tie to Santa’s reindeer goes beyond simply the coincidence of them being affiliated with reindeer in the North Pole. As mentioned above, Saami shaman used the fly agaric mushroom to spirit travel.  Well, as we would have it, the Saami reindeer herders did as well. According to folklore and historical sources, the Saami herders would watch when their reindeer rooted out the mushrooms from beneath the snow. After the reindeer ate the shrooms, the herders would collect their urine and drink it to “fly” themselves.  And there you have it: flying reindeer. This is pretty straightforward and difficult to debate. Sorry, Sleipnir! Not that I don’t love you and your eight legs or anything, but I’m not going to make up a tenuous connection just to pander to what people want to read! Especially when the truth is equally cool! If you don’t believe me, maybe BBC can explain it to you:

Fly agaric was a super uber common motif in German, Norse, and Finnish Christmas, which in all likelihood is a hold over from old Yule  All you have to do is Google it and you will find numerous images like the one below which clearly demonstrate how Santa got his red and white suit (Sorry, Odin! No rags for Santa!):

fly_agaric_childrens_holiday_card_lg

** Quick edit with massive EYE ROLL and condescending sigh.  Yes, Coca-Cola made today’s image of Santa famous. Duh. We all know that. But this article is more about addressing the information given by the other article referenced at the top than an exhaustive meticulous history of American Christmas. However to address some comments made on Facebook… ahem, do you think the artists working for Coke lived in a vacuum?  Obviously they lived in the same culture as everyone else and were exposed to the same culturally pervasive motifs and imagery that were common to the time. As I said above, the fly agaric mushroom was a popular Christmas symbol and that pre-dated modern images of Santa.  Coke’s artists, just like everyone else at the time would have seen these everywhere. So when they were choosing colors for his outfit, there could be little question as to whether these images played a large role in their inspiration.**

Christmas Caroling began in Pagan Europe, not in the Christian 15th Century:

One last thing to mention. The article mentions Christmas “songs” going back to the 4th century in a Christian context, and that carols originated in the 15th century.  Again, no blame on the author as this information is very hidden and not well known. But Christmas caroling is a VERY pagan tradition!  It is yet another indigenous European pre-Christian custom that the Church literally rallied and launched campaigns against.  They finally decided to try to wipe out the pagan custom by replacing it with a Christian one, the same tactic mentioned above with the saints. Please read this article which explains it in detail: The Hidden History of Christmas Carols. 

winter solsticeAnd there we have it. ~ Aelfie

Please check out our section for Pagan roots of modern holidays in our shop. I will be developing and adding more great resources and recommendations to it 🙂

A new book, and why I love being a pagan

This arrived today for the research project I’m working on. I just love what’s highlighted on the cover, had to share!

Image

Amulets
Beltane
Curses
Dragons
Elfs
Fairies
Ghosts
Giants
Gypsies
Halloween
Kelpies
Legends
Mermaids
Ogres
Sorcery
Superstitions
Treasure
Witches
Wizards

YEP. That pretty much sums it up!!!

Ok, this is what I LOVE about contemporary paganism: Not only are we digging through our own individual heritages and reviving old traditions, keeping our histories alive… but it’s also FUN! What other “religion” reminds you to honor your grandparents and their grandparents and remember their legacy in your life, encourages you to READ HISTORY, but also… lets you geek out to dragons and play with elves and fairies?! Ha! I love being a pagan!!!

😀 Aelfie

Image: Scottish Folklore by Raymond Lamont-Brown

This book has been added to our  shop

Cultural Appropriation, Ishtar, Eostre, and Easter

this post is by Aelfwynne

Cultural Appropriation is defined by Wikipedia as follows:

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It describes acculturation or assimilation, but can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture.It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and artreligionlanguage, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held.

This has been in the news a lot lately in both pagan and mainstream media. Groups ranging from fashion designers to practicing pagans have been scolded for handpicking bits and pieces from other cultures to use for things from aesthetics in fashion to neo-pagan ceremony.

(See this article from Jezebel)

In the US, this typically happens between the dominant culture and Native American culture. Native Americans then speak up and say “HEY! Give us our stuff back!” And more power to them. They have every right to do so. After having their culture nearly wiped out, I praise their efforts to safeguard their traditions and preserve their original meaning within their cultural context.

Most people aren’t fully versed in the history of the conversion of Northern Europe to Christianity. I delineate Northern from Southern because Southern Europe, being integrated into the Roman Empire and with more frequent interaction with the Middle Eastern and North African countries on the other side of the Mediterranean, has a completely different history and relationship with Christianity than does Northern Europe. My personal delineation between Northern and Southern Europe draws the line between Romance speaking and non-Romance speaking countries in the West, so I include countries often considered “Central Europe” in my definition, as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland. Granted England was under Roman rule, but for a much shorter time comparatively, and the pagan Germanic tribes took over after Rome left. So they have more in common with Scandinavia and continental Germans for our purposes here.

I can’t spare the space to give you a run down on the conversion process, but stay tuned for future blogs on that. If you aren’t well versed in it, please Google the following: The Northern Crusades, Charlemagne and Widukind or Charlemagne and the Saxons, and the Wendish Crusade. That’ll be enough to whet your whistle.

To get back to the point, much of the conversion of Northern Europe happened with armies and much bloodshed. In some cases, it led to the virtual genocide of entire ethnic groups (Google the Teutonic Knights and Prussian genocide). When these people were conquered, they were forced to give up their ancestral ways. From religion, to festivals, and folk traditions. They were oppressed by the new dominant culture; Christianity and the new systems of social control and governance. When caught practicing their ancestral ways, the penalties could be severe. Many victims of the witch hunts were, in fact, people caught practicing their traditional folk practices which were now outlawed.

Destruction of the Baltic Pagan Temples During the Northern Crusades

Destruction of the Baltic Pagan Temples During the Northern Crusades

Fast forward to today, and we find the descendants of these people making great strides in reviving their ancestral ways. Through scholarly research and archaeology  we’re piecing together the puzzle of what our own indigenous faith looked like. Personally, I think this has great potential beyond the realm of our own self identity. For the first time in recent history, so called “white people” are connecting to a tribal past. By understanding our own indigenous roots, and that we too were victims of oppression and assimilation, we can better understand issues faced by indigenous people who have gone through this more recently, or are experiencing it now.

Incidentally, there are, in fact, still indigenous groups of Caucasian people today living very close to their ancient tribal ways and facing persecution of the same kind that other indigenous people around the world are facing. But we’ll explore that in another post.

Now what does all this have to do with cultural appropriation?

Well, by now, pretty much everyone is fully aware that holidays like Christmas and Easter were originally pagan and commandeered/re-purposed by Christians. This was clear cut cultural appropriation the first time around, but it was so many hundreds of years ago that most of us don’t consider it that way. However, in the case of Easter, it seems to be happening all over again.

Again, I don’t have the time and space to give you a run down on the historical evidence for the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. But before you jump in with the nauseatingly cliche comments like “there is little evidence for her,” please take a look at the rundown of the available evidence in our Facebook post, which I hope to expand and blog at some point.

The Goddess Eostre by by Jan Fibinger

The Goddess Eostre by by Jan Fibinger

 

So, we have established that there IS evidence for Eostre, and that she is the namesake of the Spring festival we know as Easter. Yet, there has been a recent movement to associate Easter with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar.

Ishtar is a goddess completely removed from the the linguistic and geographic region where Eostre reigned. Ishtar is related to Astarte and Inanna, all found in the Middle East area. 

For those who don’t know much about mythology, let me explain something. There are people who attempt to force connections where there are none. This goes back to the Romans who forced connections between their own gods and the gods of the North. These connections are often tenuous at best and completely erroneous at worst. In the old pagan world, mythologies were heavily influenced by geography, climate, society, and culture. So a society in a desert climate for example will have very different mythologies than people in a fertile green area. Defined seasons with harsh winters will develop different mythologies than temperate climes where seasons aren’t as extreme. Agrarian farming societies will place higher emphasis on fertility and Earth mother goddesses, and in hunting/nomadic societies masculine sky gods will dominate. So for cultures who are removed from each other both geographically and linguistically, it doesn’t make sense to force connections between their gods. 

I could go into a breakdown of Ishtar/Astarte/Inanna and why she is very different from Eostre/Ostara, but by all means, please look at each for yourself if you don’t take my word for it. They each have very well cited Wikipedia entries. Ishtar’s entry connects her to the goddesses I’ve mentioned, but make NO connection between her and Easter. Conversely, both entries for Eostre and Easter mention the connection to the other.

Yeah, it’s Wikipedia, I know. Again, see my post on the historical evidence on Eostre for more links.

But back to cultural appropriation. The idea that we are a cultural minority may come off as laughable to some. Sure, we’re part of the Caucasian majority who has gone around oppressing all the other minorities in the world, right? Well, not so fast. We are a religious minority. And we are a people making a legitimate attempt to reclaim and revive the part of our culture that was oppressed by an invading dominating foreign culture. And as such, it is important to recognize our holidays and the deities represented by them.

Now, Ishtar probably did have a fertility festival. I am in no way denying that. But it wasn’t called Easter. If you think this is a petty splitting of hairs, then consider this. Would you approach a Hindu and say, “well I like that holiday of yours, but I prefer St. Peter as my patron. So I’m going to use your holiday but insert my patron saint and parade around telling people the holiday is in honor of him.” That would be terribly rude and offensive. Similarly, would you approach a Hindu and say, “oh Ganesh is so cool! Well I’m going to make him the center of my Christmas celebration.” The Hindu person would probably find that offensive as well and would explain that Ganesh has nothing to do with Christmas.

The Goddess Inanna by The Goddess Inanna, related to Ishtar, by pearlwhitecrow.deviantart.com

The Goddess Inanna related to Ishtar, by pearlwhitecrow.deviantart.com

So why is it acceptable, when European pagans are only now reclaiming their indigenous religions, to pluck the patron deity of a particular holiday out and insert an unrelated foreign deity from a completely different culture, in a completely different part of the world?

It’s NOT ok. Eostre has been buried for centuries. People today are still denying that she was ever worshiped. Thankfully new research is coming to light showing that she, in fact, did have a wide following through continental German speaking areas over to England. When we are finally reclaiming this goddess it is offensive to our culture to disregard her.

And, hello? It’s offensive to the culture Ishtar came from to take her out of her own cultural context and insert her into a foreign one! So please, pagans, wise up! Do your research. Stop spreading false information.

I must also assert that what’s good for the geese is good for the gander. If stealing, perverting, and twisting other people’s cultures is offensive and wrong, well I’m here to say that I’m of Germanic and Anglo-Saxon descent, I practice a form of paganism that honors my ancestral heritage, and just as anyone else would be, I’m offended when the goddess that we only recently “resurrected” from the depths of hidden history is pushed out again. And just like anyone else in this world, I am within my rights to want to protect the integrity of my ancestral culture.

** Please see the FOLLOW UP to this post **