Archive for the ‘The Gods’ Category
Have you ever walked into the other room and forgotten why you went in? Or been in the middle of a presentation for work or school and forgotten your next line? Though modern science has investigated and standardized the human information processing system that encompasses remembrance and recall, the concept of Memory and its importance was recognized very early on in human culture.
Without memory, much of everyday human interaction is meaningless. We operate within a system of recognized social queues and norms, and we cooperate best with those people and sub-systems which are most familiar to us. We all recognize that green means go and red means stop. And we know to trust our family and friends rather than the random stranger lurking on the street. We know these things, because they are embedded as part of our memories. We build up our knowledge base cumulatively utilizing memory. And thus, any new creations and inspirations can be tied into our ability to do this. The anthropologists of the past several decades have worked to formalize our understanding of this concept (Tomasello, etc). But it was recognized long ago, most famously by the ancient Greeks who cast memory into the personified form of the goddess Mnemosyne, and the bright ideas built off of memory became her inspirational daughters, the Muses.
Mnemosyne was a Titaness, one of the many deities representative of the earlier pantheon of the Indo-European Greek mainland which was supplanted by the more famous Olympians. Legend has it that for nine passionate nights, Zeus was allowed to forget about his troubles and stress as new divine ruler of the world by remaining in the arms of Mnemosyne. And from their union, nine months later, the nine Muses were born at the oracular springs of Pieria. These sacred waters were probably a prophetic pilgrimage site for those seeking to gain the favor of Mnemosyne and the ability to either remember or to forget. Mnemosyne holds sway over both of these qualities. She is said to control the River Lethe and subsidiary waters in the Underworld which grant forgetfulness of one’s previous life or continued remembrance of it into the next.
But she was not just honored for otherworldly role, but for the power she could imbue in her adherents in the mainstream world. Kings and politicians particularly sought her favor. And as the mother of the nine Muses, she was constantly evoked alongside her daughters. Indeed, it is likely that the Muses themselves were all initially aspects of Mnemosyne herself, which over time, became divisible and separated out as distinct deities of their own. When Homer so evocatively calls upon The Muse at the start of his Odyssey (“Sing to me of the man, Muse, that man of twists and turns drive time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy…Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus, start from where you will –sing for our time too”) it is likely early versions referenced Mnemosyne as a conglomeration of all the innnovative aspects which later became attributed out to her children. The oral nature of Homer’s work entails additions and alterations along the way. The singular general term ‘Muse’ as opposed to naming one of the specific deities, most likely Clio, Muse of History, implies higher levels of generalization or else a different entity than that which classical audiences would have assumed. The phrase ‘daughter of Zeus,’ though included in modern translations, is representative of a later alteration or addition to the text from periods whereby the relationship between Zeus and the Muses is more formalized. It may initially have said nothing of Zeus whatsoever, or else specified a different relationship to him.
The cosmology of Mnemosyne and her creative kiddies is most explicitly outlined in Hesoid’s Theogony or ‘Birth of the Gods:’
“(ll. 36-52) Come thou, let us begin with the Muses who gladden
the great spirit of their father Zeus in Olympus with their
songs, telling of things that are and that shall be and that were
aforetime with consenting voice. Unwearying flows the sweet
sound from their lips, and the house of their father Zeus the
loud-thunderer is glad at the lily-like voice of the goddesses as
it spread abroad, and the peaks of snowy Olympus resound, and the
homes of the immortals. And they uttering their immortal voice,
celebrate in song first of all the reverend race of the gods from
the beginning, those whom Earth and wide Heaven begot, and the
gods sprung of these, givers of good things. Then, next, the
goddesses sing of Zeus, the father of gods and men, as they begin
and end their strain, how much he is the most excellent among the
gods and supreme in power. And again, they chant the race of men
and strong giants, and gladden the heart of Zeus within Olympus,
– the Olympian Muses, daughters of Zeus the aegis-holder.
(ll. 53-74) Them in Pieria did Mnemosyne (Memory), who reigns
over the hills of Eleuther, bear of union with the father, the
son of Cronos, a forgetting of ills and a rest from sorrow. For
nine nights did wise Zeus lie with her, entering her holy bed
remote from the immortals. And when a year was passed and the
seasons came round as the months waned, and many days were
accomplished, she bare nine daughters, all of one mind, whose
hearts are set upon song and their spirit free from care, a
little way from the topmost peak of snowy Olympus. There are
their bright dancing-places and beautiful homes, and beside them
the Graces and Himerus (Desire) live in delight. And they,
uttering through their lips a lovely voice, sing the laws of all
and the goodly ways of the immortals, uttering their lovely
voice. Then went they to Olympus, delighting in their sweet
voice, with heavenly song, and the dark earth resounded about
them as they chanted, and a lovely sound rose up beneath their
feet as they went to their father. And he was reigning in
heaven, himself holding the lightning and glowing thunderbolt,
when he had overcome by might his father Cronos; and he
distributed fairly to the immortals their portions and declared
(ll. 75-103) These things, then, the Muses sang who dwell on
Olympus, nine daughters begotten by great Zeus, Cleio and
Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene and Terpsichore, and Erato and
Polyhymnia and Urania and Calliope (3), who is the chiefest of
them all, for she attends on worshipful princes: whomsoever of
heaven-nourished princes the daughters of great Zeus honour, and
behold him at his birth, they pour sweet dew upon his tongue, and
from his lips flow gracious words. All the people look towards
him while he settles causes with true judgements: and he,
speaking surely, would soon make wise end even of a great
quarrel; for therefore are there princes wise in heart, because
when the people are being misguided in their assembly, they set
right the matter again with ease, persuading them with gentle
words. And when he passes through a gathering, they greet him as
a god with gentle reverence, and he is conspicuous amongst the
assembled: such is the holy gift of the Muses to men. For it is
through the Muses and far-shooting Apollo that there are singers
and harpers upon the earth; but princes are of Zeus, and happy is
he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his mouth. For
though a man have sorrow and grief in his newly-troubled soul and
live in dread because his heart is distressed, yet, when a
singer, the servant of the Muses, chants the glorious deeds of
men of old and the blessed gods who inhabit Olympus, at once he
forgets his heaviness and remembers not his sorrows at all; but
the gifts of the goddesses soon turn him away from these.
(ll. 104-115) Hail, children of Zeus! Grant lovely song and
celebrate the holy race of the deathless gods who are for ever,
those that were born of Earth and starry Heaven and gloomy Night
and them that briny Sea did rear. Tell how at the first gods and
earth came to be, and rivers, and the boundless sea with its
raging swell, and the gleaming stars, and the wide heaven above,
and the gods who were born of them, givers of good things, and
how they divided their wealth, and how they shared their honours
amongst them, and also how at the first they took many-folded
Olympus. These things declare to me from the beginning, ye Muses
who dwell in the house of Olympus, and tell me which of them
first came to be.”
Though Mnemosyne’s magickal powers were not preserved, her divinatory nature and her control over knowledge, remembrance, and the transitioning soul entitle her a role as a goddess for witches. Knowledge is power. And knowledge is created by Memory, which is ruled over by Mnemosyne.
As the United States collectively pauses to celebrate the memory of those we have lost in times of battle, it is fitting that we also celebrate our own ability to remember them. And perhaps wonder what lives they have moved on to now, and what memories they will retain of their former glory.
If you want to learn more about mythical and historical figures like Mnemosyne and delve into the deeper more fabulously magickal realms of the Witches of Antiquity, now is your chance! The Sacred Mists newest class, History of Witches in the Western World , is now open for enrollment. Created and taught by yours truly, the class utilizes the mythical, literary, and historical biographies of witch-figures to explore the history and anthropology of magick from prehistory through to the last century. I hope to see you around its digital hallowed halls!
Initial Image is Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Lamp of Memory or Mnemosyne. Completed in 1877, the canvas’ frame is inscribed with the phrase “Thou fill’st from the winged chalice of the soul/ Thy lamp, O Memory, fire-winged to its goal.”
Is your city a god or goddess?
One of my favorite things about the socio-political phrase ‘the separation of church and state’ is that it does not include pagan concepts when it separates out ‘church.’ Organized monotheistic religion is automatically cast as a bias for political motivations, while the more spiritual ethos like those practiced here are allowed a place at the table. Political iconography is full of pagan and esoteric occult elements which subtly play on the psyche of the masses to promote ideas of community and nationalism.
Just take a look at the statue of Liberty. She’s not just a pretty lady wearing a tiara and holding up a torch. She is a sculpture of the Roman goddess of Liberty. And yet she is not a museum statue, or a remnant of a bygone age. She is actively worshipped as a symbol of welcome for the huddled masses searching for the promised land of the American Dream. And for those already in the United States she is a perpetual guarding symbol of the democratic spirit she so poignantly embodies. Overall, she was an entirely apropos gift from the republic of France to the United States: the first government of the modern era to successfully practice democracy (the only previous working variant having been in 5th century BCE Athens).
The Statue of Liberty wears a stylized toga comparable to those of Republican Rome (an antique civilization the France of the past three centuries has actively idealized). She carries a tablet of laws (the political variant of the moral Ten Commandmants) and a torch of enlightenment. But most intriguing of all ~ is her crown. Her crown hearkens back to ancient traditions of city-goddesses, where the deity most associated with the city (or the personification of the city itself) would wear a divine mural crown symbolic of the city’s walls or battlements. From the creation of the first cities there has been an implicit identification of the city as an anthropomorphic divine figure ~ a protector of man analogous to the city battlements she wears on her crown. The most prominent iconographic depiction of this centers on the ancient Near East, where the Tyche city- of the Phoenician coast reigned supreme. She was a symbol of the town’s prosperity and linked to the well-being of their inhabitants, the various Tyches could be counted on to guard the fortune of her denizens.
Anthropomorphization, or the transformation of a concept or inanimate object into something human, is something man and womankind intrinsically does to make these concepts or objects relatable. We do it in a myriad of different ways, both in ancient times and modern, often without even thinking anything of it. We name our cars. We treat our domesticated pets as human children. We even cast the gods in our own image, and then justify this by saying that we were cast in his or her image and that thus it is an infinite playback loop. By granting the space we live in, i.e. the nation, the city, the street, the house, etc a personhood, we make it easier for us to relate and understand the understandable.
Why does it rain? Because the weather god is sad. Humanity, even perceived humanity, implies an understanding of culture and emotion. In casting human forms on the divine, we cast them into a society which parallels and interacts with our own and therefore can be understood as a grand godly soap opera. It makes the big scary unknowable things about the universe fathomable while still retaining some elements of their mystical mysteries.
Creating these humanistic symbols also builds a community, who, if they have nothing else in common, at the very least possess this shared iconography. Just as sports teams has associated colors, team jerseys, and a mascot ~ so too can this team building psychology be applied at wider levels of society. The personified nation, be it in the form of the statue of Liberty or the likes of the Roman Empire’s Roma, acts as a visible totem for people to follow and share.
Gradients of civic divinity can be seen throughout modern society. From the goddesses on state seals to the magickal spells implicit in state, government, and even school models. The deification of space and of concepts is happening all around you.
And so, this week I ask you to look around your world and inquire into how many wonderful gods and goddesses may be going overlooked and in need of a bit of your attention. Is your city a god? Does your school have a patron goddess? What do you anthropomorphize and why? Why is it so important that humankind does this?
Next in out series of interviews is the very prolific author, Judika Illes! In today’s interview, Judika talks about her love of magic, her many books and her diverse background.
We would love to hear a little bit about your background Judika! Many of your books deal with magic from many different backgrounds and cultures, so I’d love to hear about your background and influences!
Well, I’m from Queens, one of New York City’s outer boroughs, which partially explains my comfort and familiarity with different cultures. Queens is reputedly the most ethnically-diverse place on Earth. I come from a fairly international family—I have relatives all over the place. I was the first person in my family to be born in the United States. I grew up with people from lots of different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and spiritual traditions, so I was raised to be tolerant and not make assumptions about people.
I think that personally I am a fairly good example of an urban magical practitioner. Magical practitioners from major urban centers like New York are constantly learning from each other, trading and sharing information, and evolving new traditions. The traditions I learned at home were mainly Central and Eastern European, but I was also heavily influenced by people who taught me African-American, Latin-American, Caribbean, North African, and East Asian traditions. Other influences on me include the great occult stores that flourished in New York City during my youth, before rising rents drove them out of business—great stores like Samuel Weiser’s Books and Magickal Childe, and all the botanicas and wonderful herb stores like Aphrodisia, which just closed recently. Growing up, there was also an unofficial but strong and distinct local New York style of magic, mainly an amalgamation of Western occultism and Puerto Rican traditions, especially Espiritismo—I’m very much a product of my background.
Tell us about what inspires you to write Judika. Your books are great sources of information for anyone interested in metaphysics. How do you go about compiling and researching all information that needed to complete the books that you write?
What inspires me to write is my love for my topics. I am so blessed and privileged to be able to write about subjects I love, like spells and witchcraft, saints and spirits. I enjoy the researching process- that part is fun and I would do it for myself, whether I was published or not.
Writing itself is difficult, but I feel an obligation to my material, to preserve it and also to present it in the clearest possible way, so that readers can share in my passions. I love divination, for instance, and I want other people to love it, too. My motivations aren’t entirely unselfish—I think that there’s greater safety for my community of magical practitioners and fortune-tellers if the greater public really understands what it is that we do. Historically, it has been dangerous to practice these arts, as it still is in some places today. I hope that my writing helps dispel fear and misinformation.
My research derives from a combination of personal exploration, learning from books and learning from other people. By nature, I’m a fairly shy person, but I’m a fearless researcher. I contact perfect strangers, if I perceive that they have information needed for one of my books or if I need someone to teach me something or explain something to me—I’ve made some wonderful friends this way.
Do you have “other” interests or hobbies?
Oh, yeah, lots—although whether I have time to devote to them depends on my writing schedule. I love beading and cooking. I read a lot just for my own pleasure: history, mysteries, comic books, art books. I love music. I like to watch movies. I tend to accumulate stuff- I’m an avid collector, especially of witchcraft-themed items like postcards and dolls. I love traveling. Given the opportunity, I’d do all my own field research, if I could.
What’s in the future for Judika? What projects do you have coming up?
My next book, The Encyclopedia of Mystics, Saint, and Sages will be published in November 2011. It’s another thousand-page encyclopedia, this one exploring saints, holy people, and miracle-workers from many spiritual traditions. It’s a practical work, similar to my Encyclopedia of Spirits, containing information regarding how to venerate and communicate with a wide variety of saints, as well as information on how to determine which saints are most compatible with you and helpful for your own particular problems and issues. I’m also in the process of updating my website and, hopefully, doing some more teaching. Having spent much of the last ten years alone in a room writing, I really appreciate opportunities for personal contact. I have some new classes in the works that I’m very excited about.
Is there a book that you would like to write, but haven’t done so yet?
I would actually like to write some fiction someday—I have a few novels turning around in my head that haven’t made it onto paper yet. I also have several half-completed books. The Encyclopedia of Spirits was initially going to incorporate saints and angels alongside Pagan spirits but the manuscript grew too big. The easiest way to trim it was to delete these categories with the hope that someday they would have their own books. The Encyclopedia of Mystics, Saints, and Sages will be published in November and hopefully the angels will one day have their own encyclopedia, too.
I began my writing career with a large work on fertility that remains unpublished. That manuscript contains a chapter of magic spells. A publisher rejected the book, but liked that chapter, which evolved into my first published work, Pure Magic: A Complete Course in Spellcasting. I would very much like to eventually publish my fertility book.
I wanted to let people know about your musical background..can you tell us a little about that?
I know that’s something we share, Bernadette! My first true loves were music, magic spells, and divination and they remain so today. Some of my earliest memories involve listening to music on the radio and eventually I became a disc jockey. I started off hosting a blues show, but also did standard rock programs and would sometimes fill in for the country and jazz hosts. My taste is eclectic. As with the magical arts, I love and appreciate many styles of music. I was the first female music director of WRSU-FM, the radio station affiliated with Rutgers University. In terms of the craft of writing, the writers who have influenced me the most are the music journalists of the ‘70s, who wrote with clarity and humor and were not afraid to wear their passions on their respective sleeves. When I was eighteen, my career plans involved these musically-oriented paths, but free-form radio was in its death-throes, as was that sort of music journalism, so I ended up on different paths, although, who knows? Radio has evolved and I may return to it someday. The urge to share music with other people spills out of me on facebook, where I’m constantly posting music news and sharing youtube videos.
How do you feel about the pagan community today?
I try to approach people as individuals, regardless of their background. I think that we are blessed to live in a spiritual renaissance and that we should be ever-vigilant to preserve hard-won liberties. I think that it’s crucial that we cultivate tolerance for each other.
Any advice for aspiring pagan writers?
People are constantly writing to me, telling me what book they think I should write next—sometimes describing these books in great detail. And what I always tell them is that if you can “see” a book that doesn’t yet exist, then maybe you’re meant to be the one that writes it. That’s how I began my career—I perceived a need for a book and I could “see” the book that would fulfill that need. If you can see it, then you can write it. This is a good time for spiritual publishing, so don’t wait. If you have a book in your head, put it down on paper. Just write it— it’s easier to fix or embellish something that already exists, rather than agonize over words in your head. My other word of advice is to consider the format in which you would like to present your work. If you hope to actually publish something in book form—whether in a traditional book or an e-book—then don’t post too much of the actual work on the internet: save it for the book itself.
This interview was such a pleasure to do! Judika’s books have become the”mainstay” of anyone who is interested in the study of spells and magic. I refer to her books on a daily basis!
Here are just some of her many books:
Many of the celebrations of the Wheel of the Year were originally created and celebrated by a culture that were no longer a hunter-gatherer society but were an agricultural society.
Many of us today are not following an agricultural lifestyle, though we receive the benefits of such.
Does this cultural change of today’s times warrant today’s pagans to reassess our magical celebrations?
While we’re not involved in an agricultural lifestyle, one could argue in terms of food, we still an agricultural society. Even when you don’t live on a farm, the markers of the season are important touchstones to the cycle of life in the course of a single year. The outer signs, such as the first flowers, the changing of the leaves or the rise and fall in sunlight indicate tides of life force that flow in our world, and its important as magickal people to be in touch with those tides. They influence our health, mood and magick. I think they are particularly important for those of us who are not living on a farm, to keep in touch with the lifetides that feed and support us.
What inspired you to write The Chronicles of Kernow?
I think it was Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, though I have always loved fantasy and have played around with the idea of writing one for many years. I actually started on “Kernow” around 1980 but had to keep shelving it as other books became more necessary.
Tell us more about the characters in your latest book The Torque of Kernow. Are Shyre, Sannungor, Keyran, Ozal, Yost, Lemal and Tage based on specific people? What is the basis of the story?
You may have made your New Year’s resolutions and started to pack away your Christmas tree; but the holidays aren’t quite over yet! There’s still Epiphany on January 6th, and more intriguingly Epiphany Eve, tonight on January 5th: a night of celebration and offering to an ancient goddess of magick in disguise.
Epiphany, seemingly a very Christian holiday, is generally celebrated as the anniversary of the night the Three Wise Men, a.k.a. the Magi, reached the end of their long journey following the Christmas star and arrived to meet the baby Jesus; infamous presents in hand. In and of itself, the holiday has more ancient precedents. For the story of the Magi did not originally belong to Christianity, but is a re-telling of a far older Persian myth regarding the birth of the god Mithras. Epiphany is therefore essentially a pagan holiday. But the Italians have made it even more magickal, adding on their own little witchy twist: Befana.
Befana is to January 5th what Santa Claus is to Christmas Eve: a well-wishing elemental spirit who delivers goodies and blessings to children and households who put out small offerings to her. But where Santa Claus likes his milk and cookies; Befana has more grown up tastes. She prefers a midnight snack of a little cup of wine and perhaps some appetizers: though I’m sure cookies would do in a pinch. She’s considered quite a wild figure and is meant to have a rather wicked sense of humor, so I’m sure she’d be happy to go with the flow. In return, Befana traditionally gifts her celebrants with candy, figs, dates, honey, and sometimes small gifts; often hiding them away in your socks rather like the Dutch Father Christmas. She also might give your house a quick sweep in her role as a sort of archetypal grandmother to all. Read the rest of this entry »