Blessed Beltane to all my pagan followers, of whatever tradition you follow. Beltane/Beltaine is also known as Walpurgis Night, or Walpurgisnacht, and it’s one of the four big fire festivals of the pagan year.
UPDATED: I changed the video, this is a better version, especially for those who won’t be joining a circle around the fire tonight.
As some of you know, I’ve had a long-standing love affair with all things ‘occult.’ This is an interest that blossomed in me back in the Mesozoic Era (yanno, when I was kid). Actually, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in anything that fell under the umbrella heading of “supernatural” or “occult.” Where did this interest come from? Who the hell knows? I think it’s somehow encoded in my DNA.
When I was growing up, the racks by the checkout stands in just about any store were full of little 3”x4” books on all manner of things: numerology, palmistry, astrology, ESP, etc., as well as other non-occult subjects. I must have had quite a collection, but they are long since gone. I read books like “The Occult Explosion” by Nat Freedland that were surveys of the entire metaphysical movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. What a revelation, I wasn’t alone, there were lots of other people feeling the same way. I got my first Tarot deck, a 1971 Rider-Waite, which I still have. I discovered Alexandrian Witchcraft through the writing of Stewart Farrar in “What Witches Do”. For years after that book was the gold standard to me in building my own practice.
I was absolutely mad for anything about the Salem Witch trials, which is silly since none of those people were witches (with the possible exception of the slave Tituba, but that’s conjecture). Also, please note, no one was burned at the stake in Salem. Nineteen people were hanged, and one man was pressed to death. This was a horrific death, with a board being placed on the victim’s chest, and stone after stone placed on top of it, causing the chest to be crushed. It was an attempt to extract a confession, but Giles Corey was mum and so went to his death without confessing to try to save himself. Don’t feel too bad for him, though. He’d been a witness against his own wife Martha Corey at her trial. She was one of the ones hanged on September 22, 1692. Others died in prison awaiting their trials, but the exact number is not known.
Laurie Cabot, dubbed “The official witch of Salem” and profiled on “In Search Of…” and written up in National Geographic Magazine was another source of inspiration. Sneer at her if you must, but she was an inspiration to me, and paved the way for many of the witches who came after her. She did a lot to raise the profile of Wiccans and made it easier for us to practice without persecution. Laurie long ago vowed to the Goddess that she would wear her ritual robes every day, so that’s why she dresses the way she does. I can hear the eye-rolling from here, but it’s her thing and I say bravo for being that brave. Society has never been kind to non-conformists. I can only imagine what she and her daughters went through.
The famous psychic and witch Sybil Leek, with her jackdaw familiar, Mr. Hotfoot Jackson, was another high profile witch of those days and another role model for me. She faced a lot of persecution, including having leases cancelled, and being hounded by the media. Even the tv show “Bewitched” got some good stuff in, like the Halloween episode when Samantha related how Endora used to take her out of the country every Halloween so she wouldn’t be subjected to the hideous hook-nosed warty hag stereotypes of witches for the season. The show didn’t have much truth in it, but there were a couple of episodes at least that painted witches in a much better light than any other show or movie had at that time.
I feel lucky to have been introduced to the Old Religion in those days. It was a heady time for the magickal and neo-pagan community as things became more open and information became readily available, occult shops sprang up to cater to the needs of practitioners. Just the sight of the full moon inspired feelings of excitement, like an electrical circuit switched on and I could feel the current surge through me. Ok, so I’m weird. So sue me.
What’s the point of all this? The point is, I’ve been trying to create that sense of wonder, mysticism, ‘otherness’ about the whole scene from those early days in my writing, and I’m not having a lot of success. Having been a part of the pagan community for so long and it being part and parcel of my daily life, seeing up close and first-hand the reality of life as a pagan . Not entirely, to be sure, or I wouldn’t still be in it. I suppose this is the root of my general gothiness. I like the aura of mystery, the sense of magick, the feeling of connection to the Otherworld. There is a wonder and beauty to it, but trying to work that into my stories is proving to be an amazing challenge. Without falling back on stereotypes it’s a difficult atmosphere to create. Maybe not all stereotypes are bad or to be avoided. It may be partly the new convert zeal that someone experiences when they stumble onto a path that speaks to them, but it’s more than that.
I wonder if being there in the early days of the neo-pagan movement was the same as being in on the early days of any endeavor. I can imagine those who participated in the early days of the space program at NASA felt much the same way about that. I think there’s a special excitement to something that’s new and groundbreaking, something that will affect the course of future events. Ok, so being a witch isn’t putting anyone on the moon or colonizing Mars, but it was a seismic shift in my world view. I’m not a very ‘out’ witch. I’m still largely ‘in the broom closet’ as we say. Most of the time I could more easily pass for a Sunday school teacher than a witch, and maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’ve suppressed it to the point where even I can’t find it.
I have no idea what this song is about, but it always sounded to me like it was describing a bunch of witches out dancing around the esbat fire in the moonlight.
P.S. The spelling of ‘magick’ throughout is deliberate. Aleister Crowley is said to have added the ‘k’ on the end to distinguish esoteric practices from sleight-of-hand stage tricks. Since then, it’s gone into general use in the pagan world.
I gotta tell ya, I just groan when I see these people. Honestly, girlfriend, get a stylist. But then, maybe this is what people expect (want) a witch to look like? Would you trust someone to cast out the evil vibes if they showed up wearing Jimmy Choos and a Burberry coat? Seriously, I know a number of practicing witches, and I promise you, none of them look this over-the-top. I’m sure this lady is just a delightful person and knows her stuff, but what’s with the Mr. T jewelry? Carrying 30 pounds of metal around your neck does not make your spells anymore effective. Anyway, I thought it was interesting that at least in Salem witches are now welcomed and sought after.
December 21, 2009 at 17:47 UTC (9:47AM PST) marks the Winter Solstice. We arrive at what in northern latitudes is the shortest day of the year, a time that has been celebrated and observed by many cultures, as far back as 10,000 years ago. The word itself comes from Latin sol meaning sun and sistere, to stand still, giving us what translates as “sun standing still.” For an instant in time the sun seems to stop and then begins reversing the process of long nights and short days, leading us back to the long days when the sun hardly seems to set at night, and in northern Scandinavia it doesn’t. But for now, we are savoring the longest night of the year, in preparation for the coming spring and the rebirth of the sun.
Scientifically speaking, the earth is closer to the sun by about 3 million miles now than in the the Northern Hemisphere summer. However, due to the tilt of the axis the Northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, and the Southern hemisphere is tilted towards it. While we in the North are in the grips of winter, our planet-mates in the south are enjoying Midsummer.
Our ancestors built monuments and observatories that would align with the light on this day, the most famous of these being Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in England which is aligned to the setting sun of the winter solstice. There are many others: Newgrange in Ireland, which admits the light of midwinter sunrise, is approximately 5,000 years old making it older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids; In North America, the ancient Anasazi built the Chaco Canyon Sun Dagger which was designed to not only mark the solstices, but the equinoxes as well.
The Romans celebrated Deus Sol Invictus (or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the “birth of the undefeated sun god”) on December 25. The ancient Norse burned Jul (Yule) logs in honor of Thor, the god of thunder. In days past these would be entire tree trunks, which could burn for a day to a week. Today, modern pagans of many traditions – Norse, Wiccan, Druid, etc., have reinvented the religions of their ancestors and celebrate with song and magic, feasting and merrymaking. For some of them it marks their New Year. We decorate our homes with holly, ivy, mistletoe and evergreens, all symbols of eternal life. Holly is also used to deflect negativity, and mistletoe, growing in trees between heaven and earth, was sacred to the Druids. It was cut on the sixth day past the full moon closest to Yule-time. This year that means the new Celtic year, with the first month of Beth (birch) in the Celtic tree calendar begins December 21/22. For Wiccans, Yule is a sun festival, and a lesser sabbat. While there is a great deal of mixing of mythology and traditions among the neo-pagans, most groups view this as the rebirth of the sun god. One of the more popular myths is that of the Oak King and the Holly King, who battle for supremacy throughout the year, with the Oak King at his strongest in the summer, and the Holly King defeating him and ruling for the winter. Candlegrove has a very nice page on the origins of solstice traditions from around the world, and there’s a lovely Wiccan Solstice ritual at Deaf Pagan Crossroads.
I am very torn in my story about whether to inject what I know to be true about modern practicing Wiccans and Wicca, or just take off on flights of fancy and jazz it up, Hollywood style.
On one hand, I would like the story to reflect elements of what Wicca really is, and what practicing witches/Wiccans really do, but I fear it will be too dull. The real thing is nothing like Hollywood portrays it, nobody flies around on broomsticks or has the power to freeze time or blow up demons with a hand flick (or going back further, twitch their nose to make things happen).
On the other hand, if I stick too close to reality, the Craft almost has to become secondary, or backstory, rather than a crucial element. But do I want to perpetuate the hype and the nonsense? I suppose it will have to have some elements of the fantastic, or who will want to read it? I’ll have to find a balance between reality and the glitz. How much reality is too much, though? How much do people really want to know? I guess all I can do is write the story as I’d like to read it, and if someone else likes it, all the better.