Posts Tagged ‘history’
Fairy Tales should not be swiftly discounted for their seemingly fictional and innocent purposes as children’s stories. The tales thus preserved are, in fact, windows into other times, ancient peoples’ thoughts, and older magicks. They are just as valuable a tool in anthropological study as traditional religious mythology, and to a certain extent, observational science and archaeology. They provide insight into the psychology and perception of their contemporary societies by both the people living in those societies and those transmitting the stories since. Furthermore, their archetypal nature speaks to something deeper in all man and womankind; regardless of the story’s origins or original temporal setting. This archetypal voice is why these stories still resonate with audiences today. And it is research into understanding this archetypal psychology which has dominated the anthropology of the fairy tale and been the focus of work for famous names such as J.R.R. Tolkein, Joseph Campbell, Claude Levi-Strauss, Georges Frazer, and Carl Jung, etc.
The witches of the traditional canon of fairy tales, i.e. of Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, and the rest of their late 17th through to early 19th century peers provide particularly remarkable insight into two periods of time: the time of the authors themselves; as well as the earlier pre-Industrial Revolution era their stories are typically set in.
Growing discontent with the pervading religious system and local government, coupled with rampant diseases (like the Black Plague), led to a rise in fear on the European continent. With the advent of writing and a stronger infrastructure of roads and trade, this fear was not an isolated incident, but was communicated between groups of people: between villages on a smaller level and between countries -for indeed, now we have come to the period where countries are starting to define themselves as separate states with distinct borders rather than cultural alliances and princely empires as before. Though this new, unprecedented opportunity would later prove to be the cure for the darkness of the period, it was at first but a promoter of the miasma of fear which hung over the late medieval world. In need of a scapegoat, the western world, and in particular the Catholic Church, looked around for something ‘other’ to blame all of their fears and woes upon. And they found what they sought in the form of the witch. A female with power, an outsider to the community, a link to the devil or the pagan communities that had ruled Europe prior to Christian domination ~ the figure of the witch was a multi-purpose target. An easy mark, the witch was vilified, both in person and in the resultant stories of her.
If you want to learn more about the witches of fairy tale and take a deeper look at the residual layers of fairy tale and symbolism of the new characters and archetypes attached to the myth of the witch, then join the Sacred Mists’ newest class: The History of Witches in the Western World ~ taught by yours truly. Using an anthropological perspective, this class explores the changing forms of magick and the evolution of the ‘Witch’ through the biographies of mythological witches of the antiquity through to the historical magickal figures.
Above image courtesy of fanpop
Get outside this Tuesday and witness one of the most marvelous, magickal astronomical events of your lifetime!
Every eighty or so years, the orbits of the earth, the sun, and the planet Venus line up so that those of us here can view Venus sailing across the fiery depths of our central star. It happens as a paired event, so eight years ago you had a chance to watch the first half and over the 5th and 6th of June this week(depending on your location) you have a chance to watch this second, final half. Sadly, given the length of time between the sets, it is unlikely that the majority of the current world population alive to see the event today will live to see the next one in 2117 CE.
But why is this magickally significant? As a major, visible alignment of some very unlikely celestial orbits: transits are remarkable for the beauty of their phenomena and for the implications of the movement of their solar dance, both culturally and astrologically. And in this case, where it is a confluence between the sun, Venus, and the earth, there are a plethora of positive magickal symbolisms which can be extracted from their opportune meeting. And in 2012, the so-called year of the apocalypse: the more positive meanings that can be extruded to counterbalance the negative, the better!
‘Men are from Mars, Woman are from Venus.’
Popularized as a book title in the late twentieth century, this phrase already explicitly explained something most people inherently recognized about Venus: its femininity. From time immemorial, man and womankind has looked up at the planet Venus, burning brightly as the morning ‘star’ and associated it with womanhood and with love. The ancient Mesopotamians associated it with Inanna and Ishtar, their queenly goddesses of fertility and feminine wiles. The Greeks and Romans associated it with their goddesses Aphrodite and Venus, the latter of whom it gets its name directly of. The planet Venus is, indeed, the only feminine planet in our solar system ~ the rest of the planets are named after male mythological figures. Other than the singular stunning exception of Venus, only the moons of our planets reference female figures. Later associations between the morning ‘star’, a.k.a Venus rising and the association with dark forces like the Christian devil, were later attempts to villanize the sanctity of the brightly lit planet for earlier pagan cultures.
As a representative of feminine ideas of fertility and growth, its transit across the sun, as viewable from earth, has widespread implications of abundance and innovation for those on earth. Indeed, many of the previous known transits of Venus have occurred at peak times during the late Renaissance and Enlightenment. The last series of transits occurred just around the time various marvelous things were being invented, like the telephone. Unfortunately, the phenomena has only been seriously noted for its last four transits (i.e. since the invention of the telescope), though it has been passing us by all along and would have been potentially noticeable under certain circumstances. Any earlier mentions of it have yet to be reconciled with the historic event. However a lack of a historic record does not mean that the superstition and mythical meaning of the event went unremarked upon. It merely means that the modern world has not been able to hold on to this information.
It may also signal a high point in lovability. And may represent the need for mankind to focus in on preserving the own environment and womb of our friendly mother earth.
Whether you watch to support its myriad of magickal messages, or merely just to witness this most astounding of natural events (carefully though! Don’t ever look directly at the sun!): do try to catch a glimpse of this rare celestial phenomena!
For more general information, as well as where and when to try to catch the transit, and how best to watch it, check out the Transit of Venus website devoted to the event.
For more information on the astrological meaning of the transit and its historical confluences, check astrologist Alison Chester-Lambert’s excellent blog out on the topic.
For more information on the science of the transit, including an explanation of the orbits which results in its rarity, check out the BBC’s video on the topic and look forward to the eventual digital premiere of their documentary Horizon: The Transit of Venus.
Caption for top photo: Botticelli’s 1486 painting The Birth of Venus depicts Venus rising fully grown from the sea, just as the morning star, the planet Venus, rises from the sea at the distant horizon.
In 1692, the sleepy town of Salem Massachusetts was swept with fear as the most infamous witch trials of colonial America rocked burgeoning province. While not impervious to the witch trials which had been sweeping Europe over the course of the preceding centuries, America had managed to avoid the wild, superstitious fear until the 1640s. Several trials occurred in the 1640s, but only in 1647 did New England have its first execution of a witch. A smattering of accusations and trials occurred over the next several decades, but the peak of the witch-hunt in the early Americas ultimately took place in Salem and its nearby villages.
The most well-documented of the early American cases, the trials of Salem spiraled from cases of childish magick to a socio-political nightmare that took the lives of a significant number of the female population of the township and its surrounding areas. The witch trials encompassed both purported actual witches, like the confessed enchantress Tituba, to the young girls whose immature attempts at divination were tied together with later seizures, speculatively from the eating of or exposure to psychotropic grain or other natural products. As the American lowlight of the Burning Times, the Salem Witch Trials represent an important, although tragic key point in the the anthropology of magick.
As I happened to be in Massachusetts this past weekend for an archaeology and heritage conference, I was able to make a pilgrimage to the pleasant New England town of Salem. Be it out of respect for the witches and innocents persecuted by the infamous trial or a morbid curiosity about gothic matters, Salem has become a tourist Mecca. And while many things in Salem have an element of kitsch about them, there is still much respect for the town’s solemn role in the history of witchcraft, both with regards to honoring the dark events that brought it notoriety and valuing the role it has for the modern Wiccan, Witch, and Neo-pagan communities because of its occult connotations.
My tour through Salem started off with a green bang. As we drove into Salem proper, my co-tourist and I discovered that Salem Commons was featuring an ecological rally for a green Salem (good cause!). We began our official tour with a brief visit to the National Park Service’s Visitors center for Salem, mostly to collect the relevant maps and brochures that were necessary to navigate the town. A meandering stroll around town led us past such amusing things as a local Pirate museum and some of the Witch museums of wax figures, none of which took our fancy enough to actually go in. Though these museums probably certainly have their charm, I was more keen to skip such secondary and third resources and go straight to the primary. And thus my principal goal for my Saturday afternoon in Salem was visiting the actual historical points of interest.
This kicked off with a visit the Burying Point, the oldest graveyard in Salem. Somberly perched on high ground in the city center, the Burying Point contains several of the dignitaries associated with the witch trials, many relatives of famous colonial personages, and my particular favorite concept (from my warped archaeological perspective) an exciting array of tombstone iconography representative of the seriation of styles prominent during the late 17th and early 18th centuries (super dorky reference, but I am quite a fan: Remember Me as you Pass By, Chapter 4 of James Deetz’ seminal book on historical archaeology and the cultural implications of gravestone iconography In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life). I had been planning on taking some pastel rubbings of some of the iconography, but sadly, very prominent signs forbade against this artistic endeavor. I did , however, manage a respectful rubbing of Emily Dickinson’s grave marker (“Called Back”) earlier in my trip.
The Burying Point is also the home of the Witch Trials Memorial, an artistic series of granite benches and inscribed paving stones which memorialize “the events of 1692 … as a yardstick to measure the depth of civility and due process in our society” (per the Salem City website).
Following a quick trip to A&J King’s fabulous bakery (walnut cinnamon buns to die for!) and brief tours past some of the more architecturally exciting bits of downtown Salem, we headed for the most pop culturally iconic monument in the town: the Bewitched Statue. As pictured at the start of this article, the statue is a bronze casting of Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stevens astride her broomstick and against a crescent moon. Placed in Salem by TVLand, it is a fitting memorial to one of television’s greatest and most respectful representations of witchcraft in the modern world, as well as a testament to the role Salem holds as a place of magic, forever associated with the witches (and falsely accused magicians) of the New World. As a bright spot in the history of witchcraft, the show Bewitched, and its commemoration in Salem, provides a perfect counterpoint to the dark history Salem is typically associated with.
More meanders through town ensued, including trips into several of the touristy cum magickal shops, which although great, could not compare to the Sacred Mists Shoppe (if you haven’t been to the bricks and mortar version of Shoppe in Napa, it is well worth a trip of its own! Go!). And finally, after some fabulous frozen custard, my co-tourist and I headed over to the Maritime Museum and House of Seven Gables. Though the pirates obviously held strong appeal, it was the House of Seven Gables I was more excited to see. For one reason or another, it seems most American high school curriculums include Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter, but I believe his House of Seven Gables to be the far superior and more engaging text. The story of a lingering superstition, the politics of the witch trials, and a cursed set of families, the dynastic saga peaks at the invasion of a distant cousin who manic-pixie-dream-girls the lineages out of their various plights. Hawthorne’s cousin’s house that inspired the tale still perches along the waterfront in Salem. The house is a stunning piece of period architecture which serves as a historical testament both to the book, and the family’s own actual connections to the Salem witch trials that inspired the initial cursed events of the classic tale.
Though Salem’s place in the history of witchcraft is a dark legacy, the town of Salem remains an important focal point for magick. The idea of ‘The Witch’ has come a long long way from the hysterical fear it once elicited. Modern role models for the wiccan and neo-pagan communities like Bewitched or even Harry Potterhave done much to move away from the evil stereotypes once associated with being a witch. But in order to appreciate how far society has come out of the broom closet, we must fully understand how deep the fear of the ‘other’ represented by magick has come. We must memorialize the dark times in order to fully appreciate the light.
Garlic and superstition have gone hand in hand for millennia. A tasty, natural curative –garlic’s power as a magickal protective charm and as a potent remedy has remained strong from ancient times through to the present day.
Worried about vampires? No problem. Carry some garlic and decorate your doors and windows with it. The use of garlic to protect against these pop culture prevalent denizens of the night is perhaps the most ubiquitous use of the aromatic bulb known today.
But its usage as a form of apotropaic or warding magick is far more ancient. The ancient Egyptians would utilize it to protect the sanctity of contracts and oaths. Medieval miners would carry it down to the mines with them to ward against evil spirits like the invisible and mischevious German kobolds. The pungent odor and easily portable bulb and cloves of the garlic plant ( allium sativum) made and, indeed, still make it, an ideal charm against evil in all of its multiple forms. Its Sanskrit name Rasona or Lasuona actually means ‘Slayer of Monsters.’ But not all of the monsters it protected against were of the fiendish variety. More often then not, it was the monstrous interior medical ills that garlic was utilized to protect against.
The second century AD Roman physician Galen of Pergamon labeled garlic as a ‘theriac’ or antidote which eventually translated into its widespread usage in imperial Roman medicine as a universal panacea or curative. In Ayurvedic medicine, one of the earliest ongoing systems of homeopathic curatives, garlic was utilized as an aphrodisiac, stimulant, and charm against virulent diseases like smallpox. Indeed, the sulfur and selenium components within the garlic bulb which presumably originated as a defense mechanism against hungry predatory animals result in garlic’s scientifically recognized properties as a valuable antiseptic, which does indeed aid in protecting against bacteria, inflammation, and viruses. Recent studies indicate that the consumption of garlic may help prevent against certain types of cancer. Garlic was recognized early on for its curative powers, but we are only just exploring the tip of the iceberg of what its wonderful biological magick can do for our own biological systems.
Biomagick aside, my particular favorite fact in the litany of garlic’s history (some of which is included above and others of which you will encounter in Sacred Mists fabulous Herbalist Course ) relates to its ritual usage. Garlic was once the primary offering to the great Greek goddess of magick herself: the mighty Hekate. The third century BCE philosopher Theophrastus recorded in his botanical texts Enquiry into Plants and On the Causes of Plants how garlic would be offered at crossroads and in front of the three-faced statues dedicated to Hekate found at such places.
SO the next time you throw a bit of delicious garlic into your cooking, take a second to speculate about the long legacy of interaction between garlic and humankind. For at least five thousand years men and women have consumed this tasty plant and utilized it in their magico-medicine practices. It is a tradition of tastiness and superstition predating biological scientific fact, one which you are continuing by adding it into your daily diet.
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?
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1842 poem, The Lady of Shalott creatively manufactured one of the most influential witch figures of the second half of the last millennium. A combination of the witches of Avalon from the medieval Arthurian sagas and Edmund Spencer’s Faerie Queen, the unnamed Lady of Shalott is both and she is neither. She is a powerful seer separate from society, yet one who sorrows. She has seemingly sacrificed human interaction in exchange for her mystical powers, and yet she regrets this sacrifice: longing to love and be loved in return. And this is perhaps her most notable contribution to the witch-lore of the centuries that were to follow: the myth that the witch cannot or should not love a mortal without sacrificing her power or some other element of self or magickal community.
Obviously, this is not a true concept. A witch, like any other human or even mammal, is capable of love and of being loved. However, in casting the Lady of Shalott as a tragic victim of her own power, Tennyson unwittingly launched a pop culture campaign exploring this idea of love vs. magickal power, and the combination thereof. It was a particularly popular notion in witch-films and television of the middle twentieth century, notably the classic films So I Married a Witch and Bell, Book, and Candle as well as the magickal sitcom Betwitched.
The power disparity between the witch and her lover (and indeed Bell, Book, and Candle’s insistence that she sacrifice her power if she is to be in love) descends from The Lady of Shalott’s dark focus on the ethics of its witch-faerie star falling in love. It begs the question of whether she can love without magickally influencing the object of her love to love her back? It also debates whether a relationship between a magickal being and a non-magickal being is a balanced relationship. These related questions are vital to two anthropological discussions: the influence societal, or in this case, otherworldly power, has in any relationship (i.e. Does the Queen or the Royal Mistress really love the King or did she marry him for the throne?) and the modern magickal nix on the use of love magick for ethical reasons.
Where Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, the boat of the Lady of Shalott launched a series of ethical questions integral to both the anthropology of magick and the psychology of relationships.
For a more in-depth look at the Lady of Shalott, her fellow literary witches, and other historical and mythical witches: keep your eye out for the upcoming class: History of Witches in the Western World! NEW from yours truly and exclusively offered at the fabulous Sacred Mists!!
Pictured above is John William Waterhouse’s famous version of The Lady of Shalott.