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Pagan Mythology

Author: Summer Woodsong

SWoodsong@aol.com
Connections Journal

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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



Samhain/November Eve/Hallows Eve/Halloween size="4">



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



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



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



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



Yule



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



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



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



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



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



Candlemas/Imbolc



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



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



Ostara/Vernal Equinox



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



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



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



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



Beltaine



1. The third Spring Festival.



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



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



The Wheel of the Year

A Story of the Lady and Her Love



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



Litha/Summer solstice size="4">



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



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



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



Lammas, Lughnasad



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



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



Mabon/Alfan Elfed and Winter Finding



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



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



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



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



Creation Myth



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



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



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



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



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

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