Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Pagan Reclamation of St. George's Day

The tale of George slaying the Dragon and saving the maiden encompasses many folklore motifs, and creates a wonderful medieval ideal of the dashing hero overcoming insurmountable odds.
However, St George seems a strange patron saint for England as he was not born and never even set foot in England. Most sources suggest that he was born in Cappadocia, Turkey sometime in the 3rd Century, was brought up as a Christian and joined the Roman army in Palestine, eventually attaining the rank of Tribune.
When the Christian faith came under one of its many Roman purges under the Emperor Diocletian, George is reputed to have torn up the persecution order from the Emperor. For this act of treason George was imprisoned, tortured and eventually beheaded after refusing to deny his faith. He was created as a Saint around 4 CE by the Catholic Church, who created many saints around this time. The legend involving the Dragon and his heroic exploits was a later addition developed by the English Kings which they popularised during the crusades in the East. 

The Dragon, sometimes employed symbolicaly as an emblem of winter with its dark, fierce cold, in spring did battle with summer. This conflict at first sight would seem to be between two gods of opposing forces, but actually winter and spring are twin aspects of the one circle of the sacred year. This battle has been enacted by various characters in different areas, but the significant aspect is that in defeating winter, the lord of spring frees the fertile forces of nature and the farming season ensues with many festivities and celebrations to mark the ocassion.

The Christian Church has appropriated quite a few Pagan festivals and activities over its history in Europe, as in this case where it took over the traditional symbols of the Season but realligned them to new ends. The Dragon was subsequently borne in the Rogationtide processions which took place in the middle of spring to intercede for fine weather for ploughing. At the spring equinox, March 21st, the sun completed its victory over winter. The reason that St George became so strongly associated with the Dragon may be because his feast fell in the middle of Rogationtide, the season of prayer for the crops. His victory over religious evil was taken as a sign that his intercession would also be effective against natural misfortune. ( more here )

Fraser in his 'The Golden Bough' suggests that St George’s Day replaced the pagan festival of Parilia, and many of the customs still practiced abroad are related to welcoming the spring and ceremonies to fertilise the fields for the coming harvest. In ancient Roman religion, the Parilia is a festival of rural character performed annually on April 21, aimed at cleansing both sheep and shepherd. It is carried out in acknowledgment to the Roman deity Pales, who was a patron of shepherds and sheep. (source)

As a Saint, St. George was created in the 4th century CE, as were most other Catholic saints, from a Pagan origin. Estonian folklorist Mall Hiiemäe has written of St. George;
“Perhaps the richness of the tradition accumulated on St. George’s Day should rather be viewed in the light of the fact that the Greek form Georgius means a ploughman, a cultivator of land. And when trying to divine the ancient predecessor of the holiday, one should better consider such tradition that is connected with spring-time vegetation as well as the concentration of special customs on certain pre-Christian dates to mark the awakening of nature and the arrival of spring.”

St. George’s Day has been celebrated all over Europe and Britain and has figured prominently in the various rituals of spring.
Strangely, St. George has also been called Green George, the Spirit of Spring. Barbara Walker directly links St. George as Green George, to the Green Man. She says, “his image was common in old church carvings, a human head surrounded by leaves or looking out of a tree trunk.” ( see here).

Lichfield Cathedral north choir capital Green Man
The ancient and pre christian origin of the Day is indicated by the many Estonian customs associated with it. According to Hiiemäe, “more than one tenth of the reports concerning St. George’s Day customs in Estonia, have something to do with snakes. One would think that the image of George slaying the dragon would render snakes as the counterpart of evil. However, it is to the contrary in Estonian lore. The snakes, according to Hiiemäe, are “used in repelling and preventive magic to help the cattle thrive and people fare well and also to cure people’s diseases…” It would appear that snakes are not indicative of evil but of good—as long as the snake used in ritual was killed before St. George’s Day.

The St. George's flag, a red cross on a white field, was adopted by England in 1190.
Various other traditional rituals of Estonia and Eastern Europe have played some part in the creation of St. George’s Day. Hiiemäe notes, “interesting reports come from North-East Estonia where the cattle-magic practiced on St. George’s Day has merged with some traits of a woman’s holiday dating back to the tribal era”.  Other pagan holidays/festivals that have merged with St. George’s Day include Ploughing Day and the Shedding of Yellow Leaves.

Copper dragon for Rogation days (religious processions during sowing), Italy, 18th century

Even though St. George continues to be an important folk-hero, appearing throughout the Old World in various festivals to mark important dates, the Church began to refer to him as “the imaginary saint” because he “was so shamelessly involved in fertility rites.” (source Gary R Varner )

Perhaps not quite who we had thought then, but for all that - George's Day seems all the more of and for the people, and the symbolic slaying of the Dragon can now be seen as less of a Christian subjegation of nature and her forces but rather a Pagan celebration marking the changing times of the year.

May the Dragon of dark Wintertide pass away with grace then, and the joyful abundance of a fertile Summertide now flow ~

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Flying Mystics of Tibet & The Art Of Flying

The urge to fly has transfixed human imagination with an irresistible charm for millennia.
In Buddhist thought, flight is within our potential as human beings, with advanced spiritual development come supernatural powers such as flying, levitation, or the ability to walk through the sky as some walk on a mountain path. Traditional Tibetan literature tells of many Buddhist mystics who have taken off in joyful flight.

Origin of Language by Alex Gray

Witches Flying to Sabbath, by Bernard Zuber

By contrast, both Shamanic and Witches flight is traditionally, although by no means always, facilitated by use of diverse herbs, ointments or potions, to bring about a trance-gateway with access into other psycho-spiritual realms for discourse with deities or archeiving control of some aspect as its objective.

The key differentiating factor between these modes of meditative and magical flying would appear to be the intentional use of mind in the magical to acheive the stated aims of mind, whilst target of mind is absent from the meditational because the participant has moved outside the dualities of cause and effect, of being and becoming, there is no objective.

Flying is a metaphor for being grounded in the present and not occluded behind layers of obfuscation and mental distractions; freedom is just another word ~

We hope you enjoy your flight with Celestial Elf Skyways ~

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Merry Eosturmonath!

This Easter some may celebrate the resurrection of a god that was born of a virgin, was sacrificed on a Friday, rose three days later and brought the promise of eternal life. Not Jesus (who resurrected after only two days) but Attis, an older Phrygian god and consort of the goddess Cybele. Attis was God of vegetation and it was the burgeoning Spring that he represented,  the fruits of the earth which die in winter only to rise again in the spring.. Attis' spring festival - dying and rising on March 24th and 25th, began as a day of blood on Black Friday (so called because it was the day he died) and rose to a crescendo after three days, in rejoicing over his resurrection.

Wheat - the sacred symbol of Attis' resurection
The march dates of Attis' spring celebration were later applied to the resurrection of Christ according to Sir Frazer, "the tradition which placed the death of Christ on the twenty-fifth of March was ancient and deeply rooted ...(as a spring resurrecting god theme)". That Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon immediately following the Equinox demonstrates the festivals very Pagan precedent. 

There was aparently violent conflict on Vatican Hill in Rome in the early days of Christianity as the worshippers of Jesus and Pagans quarrelled over whose resurected god was true or greatest. Even then, neither were unique as virtually every civilisation has an equivalent resurrected deity: Tammuz, Adonis, Baal, Osiris, and Dionysus are a few...

The rites of the 'crucified Adonis' demonstrate another dying and resurecting god, celebrated in Syria at 'Easter' and Frazer states: "When we reflect how often the Church has skillfully contrived to plant the seeds of the new faith on the old stock of paganism, we may surmise that the Easter celebration of the dead and risen Christ was grafted upon a similar celebration of the dead and risen Adonis..."... ( source ). Not so much a  pragmatic acceptance of ancient pagan practises by the Christian church then but a wholesale repurposing of existing festivals to new ends.

My point in mentioning the Attis and similar festivals is to provide counterpoint to the Christian Easter and show that the various festivals of this time in fact all stem from an ancient celebration of Spring.

"The Gardens of Adonis" by John Reinhard Weguelin (1888)
According to the Venerable Bede
Be that as it may, according to the Venerable Bede - an English Monk of the 6thC Common Era - an author and scholar known as 'The Father of English History', the Anglo-Saxons called the entire month of April 'Eosturmonath' after their Earth Goddess, Eostre. He also recorded that the ancient Pagan festival had by the beginning of the Eighth Century, been entirely replaced by the Christian custom, which is clearly a propaganda fabulation because the festival of Eostre - also known as Ostara, after the Norse Goddess of fertility, flourishes to this day.

Stories have grown around the goddess' Eostre and her symbols, the cosmic egg and the mad march hare, here's one about the ''Easter Bunny''..
The story goes that after a particularly cold winter, Eostre was late to usher in the Spring. Unfortunately, this meant that a bird succumbed to the cold and died. Feeling responsible, Eostre revived the bird and changed it into a hare, whom she called Lepus. Since Lepus had once been a bird, every year as the Spring returned, he laid eggs. He gave one to Eostre to thank her for saving his life and Eostre, thinking that everyone would appreciate a similar gift, encouraged Lepus to go round the world distributing eggs. Hence, or so this tale would tell, the custom of the 'Easter Bunny' bringing us eggs...

Of course we know better, Eostre as Goddess of fertility and Spring was represented by her two symbols,  the cosmic egg - most basic symbol of rebirth and the mad march hare which also represents fertility and the rebirth of Spring. Whilst the hare was latterly abducted and repurposed into the 'Easter Bunny', the tradition of sharing eggs  sprung from Pagan offerings of colored eggs made in honour of Eostre at the Vernal Equinox, which they placed in fields and also at gravesides as a charm of rebirth. (Egyptians and Greeks were also known to place eggs at gravesites).

Eostre by Thorskegga

The Pagan Eostre then dosen't require articles of faith or complex beliefs to enter into a sacred relationship with nature, but simply celebrates life and gives thanks for the blessings of Spring.

Welcome Eostre ~

Sumer is Icumen In ~
One of the oldest known songs in celebration of Spring, a round or canon called 'Sumer is Icumen In’ celebrates the arrival of the cuckoo. It was written for unaccompanied voices in the Wessex dialect in the 13th century. Although the only part that doesn’t need translating is the phrase “sing cuckoo”, one listen is enough to dispel any doubt that life could be full of exquisite joy, even in the 'Dark Ages'.

Svmer is icumen in                   Spring has arrived,
Lhude sing cuccu                      Loudly sing, cuckoo!
Groweþ sed                              The seed is growing
and bloweþ med                       And the meadow is blooming,
and springþ þe wde nu              And the wood is coming into leaf now,        
Sing cuccu                                 Sing, cuckoo!

Awe bleteþ after lomb               The ewe is bleating after lamb,
lhouþ after calue cu                   The cow is lowing after her calf;
Bulluc sterteþ                            The bullock is prancing,
bucke uerteþ                             The billy-goat farting,
murie sing cuccu                        Sing merrily - cuckoo!
Cuccu cuccu                              Cuckoo, cuckoo,
Wel singes þu cuccu                   You sing well, cuckoo,
ne swik þu nauer nu                   Never stop now,
Sing cuccu nu • Sing cuccu.        Sing cuckoo, now; sing, cuckoo,
Sing cuccu • Sing cuccu nu         Sing cuckoo, sing, cuckoo, now!

Merry Eosturmonath to You ~

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Dark Dragons - Bright Eclipse

Friday March 20th sees a new-moon ‘supermoon’, total solar eclipse and the spring equinox all falling on the same day, which is a very rare astronomical event and has the potential to stir up some powerful energetic shifts for our personal and collective transformations.

For as long as humans have existed, solar eclipses have always caused wonder and sometimes fear as the sun is enveloped in darkness. In many ancient cultures it was believed that the sun was being attacked by a dragon or mythological creature. People made as much noise as they could to scare the dragon away. It wasn’t all bad though, in Tahiti it was believed that the sun was making love with the moon and in Italy it is believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse are brighter and more colorful than flowers planted any other time of the year.

Some people also fear dragons, particularly in the West where they have been represented as evil creatures intent on selfish ends and wanton destruction. Yet dragons - even those seen in the dark, are in fact physical manifestations of the multi dimensional aspects of our higher selves...

The origin of the word dragon has been traced to the greek word 'derkein' which means sharp sighted one. Dragons have always been a source of wonder and are often employed as a symbol of hope and purity. Notorious riddle masters, they are known to be wise, they are also sentinels of sacred shrines and guardians of treasures beyond understanding - I hasten to add that these are not material treasures but metaphysicial, psychological and spiritual treasures to be given when the time is right. Such influence of the dragons can be seen way back in history as in Babylonian myth a dragon was believed to have aided the creation of the world and the gods.

Dragons are messengers of magic and mystery, encouraging us to tap into our psychic nature and see the world through our inner eyes. They are guides who help us cross realms the betwen worlds, never making an appearance - figuratively, symbolically or spiritually -without serving a higher purpose, dragons as an emanation of our higher self are one of the most powerful of nature spirits and offer humans the opportunity for transformation, psychic development and protection. Setting Jung, Freud and the christian perspectives aside for a moment, counter to their advice that we defeat our dragons to acheive liberation from the unconscious, or to tear freedom from the mother archetype, or to be deemed good by a patriarchal god, I suggest that we listen to the dargons, that we learn what they have to tell us.

This eclipse is particularly auspicious as it falls on the vernal equinox, long been celebrated by nearly all world cultures as a time of rebirth, fertility and new opportunities, known by many pagans now as was Ostara' the early Pagan Germanic Goddess of the spring. This festival was also celebrated by the Mayans, ancient Romans, and by the ancient Egyptians as the festival of Isis. It is believed that this Pagan fertility holiday eventually transitioned to become the Passover ceremony in Judaism and the Easter ceremony in Christianity. Modern Pagans and peoples of many different faiths and denominations still celebrate the spring equinox as a time of fertility, growth, and the returning of the creative energies of the divine feminine.

In the Eclipse then as the dragon devours the sun, symbolic of our consciousness - our day dies a death - and in descent into darkness, symbolic of unconsciousness - there is peace. Do not fight the unconsciousness and do not fear it - accept the vastness beyond measure and be still in the heart of yourself. The birds fall silent,  the world pauses as it opens to wonder for a moment, taken outside of ourselves we consider the greater cycles of the Earth we share. This is a perfect time to examine our hearts and lives, to lay aside old behaviours that no longer serve our higher selves and old associations whose time is passed. This is the time to let our dragons, be they metaphysical, invisible or otherwise, to grant a natural death to the ways whose time is over, time to accept the power to live with greater awareness and with joy.

If we choose to move out of the old, fear based paradigms based on the missunderstandings of the past, we can begin the shift into a brighter consciousness, follow our dragon guides toward a higher awareness - realise that we are all connnected, that all of life is sacred, the earth irreplaceable and that everything matters even when it dosent.

So, on this auspicious day of the vernal equinox eclipse, take yourself to a sacred place or enter into your inner space and commune with your dragons, your other self and with all the dragons that can only be seen through the eyes of the heart and the mind inbetween. Then awaken and rise as the Sun returns you to your bright blessed Now, to the gift of your life full of wonder...

nb the practice of dragon awareness and empowerment can be carried out at other times than Equinox, Solstice or Eclipses, i'd recommend twilight when the paths between realms are within reach ~

Our bodies are made from the Earth, Our spirits are spun from the Stars,
After the Darkness of knowing, the Light of new growing is ours ~