Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Happy Solstice!"

One thing I noticed over the holy-days was that a surprising number of people, on twitter and elsewhere, wishing one another a happy Solstice. I'm not even talking about Pagans - Buddhists, agnostics, the non-religious, and those whose affiliations I do not know. Some suggested to one another activities like lighting a fire or going out to dance in the snow.

It was strange, and for some reason quite gratifying. This of course is a religious festival for me, and for many of us, and it's very pleasing to see people for whom it is not a religious festival still getting into, shall we say, the spirit of the season, and feeling moved to do something, to say "Happy Solstice", even if it's not, for them, a religious holiday.

The great George Carlin once said that if he was going to worship anything, it would be the sun. You can see it, it gives you food, warmth and light, and without it you would die. (Sounds good to me.) But in a way he has a point... whether or not you consider this a religious celebration, the Solstice exists regardless. It's an astronomical time that you don't need to be religious to mark and celebrate if you feel like it; the sun exists for atheists as much as it does for people who worship sun deities, or whose religious festivals are linked to the movement of the sun through the sky.

Seeing so many different people taking note of the Solstice and pointing it out - along with good wishes and salutations! - to others of myriad different religions and lack thereof really gives me hope that in the future, we can all celebrate the Solstice as a secular holiday as well as a religious one.

How cool would that be?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This is the holiday post, I suppose. And it's also nearly a year since I started this blog - the first post was way back in January 2011. Well, OK, to be honest it's nearly 11 months since I started the blog, as I started it at the end of January, but nevertheless as 2011 comes to a close one becomes contemplative about the past year.

It does feel like it has been a long time. I'd never blogged regularly before when I started, though I'd tried, so I'm glad it's come this far. I think I owe the "30 Days of Paganism" meme a debt of gratitude for giving me something to post on those occasions when I couldn't think of much of anything to write.

And I'd especially like to thank all of you for not only reading but linking to the blog on StumbleUpon, Twitter and Tumblr. It's because of all of you guys that Hagstone reached 3000 views this month, and I really, really appreciate it.

The Solstice is tomorrow. Summer for me, Winter for many of you, so many happy returns to those who are celebrating religiously at this time of year, and many happy returns for any secular holidays you all may be celebrating as well. I, for my part, will be picking some flowers tomorrow for my altar and celebrating the longest day with some nice fruits, some nice wine, and a ritual I will probably make up as I go along. My secular Eksmas will be celebrated with family and good food, and my Nordic Midsummer I will stretch out to a few days, with a formal blót, oh, probably on the 22nd, but perhaps a day or two later. It is a busy time of year after all.

Joyous Holidays!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reader Question: Greek Paganism

"I love your blog (Seriously, I should be writing an essay but I've been scrolling through your blog, whoops.)
As I was scrolling, I was thinking about my pantheon, as a brand-spankin' new pagan, I've already become comfortable with the pantheon I know the most about and what feels right with me. Which would be Greek Paganism. And I was wondering if you had any information to share with me, or have any reading materials you would recommend?
Also, on a side note...  it's been a family rule that I'm not allowed to burn anything in my room. I have a few electric candles and I was wondering if those had the same principal,  I've seen on the internet that some pagans use them, I was just wondering what your thoughts were.
- Alex"
Hi there! Thanks so much! I love knowing people are enjoying the blog =D and I'm happy to help.

I do have some sources for you! As a Greek Pagan, you are very lucky as there is a wealth of information available in the form of primary texts, art and archaeology. On the down side, religion was practised a bit differently from area to area, city-state to city-state, which can confuse matters.

But anyway, here are some links for you:
Theoi.com - MANY primary and secondary sources, organised by God, hero, spirit or entity.
Temenos Theon - the best site I've found so far for basic info on Hellenic recon. It's straightforward but has great info, and a lot of links to further reading.
This book was recommended by a Hellenic friend of mine and the website also has some recommended reading, links and an Athenian festival calendar. I haven't read the book myself but I do trust my friend's judgement, so it should be a good read.

And of course the main primary texts are Homer (Iliad, Odyssey) and Hesiod (Theogeny, Works and Days). You can read them here if you don't mind an older translation.

I'm not a big fan of electric candles myself. The act of lighting a candle, the way the flame responds and so on, and the presence of the fire itself can't be replicated by an electric alternative. But, on the other hand, part of the reason for lighting candles is atmosphere. If they provide the right atmosphere for you, then go right ahead and use them. It all depends on the reasons you want to light candles.


My friend added her advice:
"My first book introduction (because Kharis wasn't out yet, and Old Stones New Temples was out of print) was actually Walter Burkert's Greek Religion. It's dense, dry, a history book...and utterly important to read.

At some point. It doesn't have to be everyone's first resource, but I think it's an important work to read.

My biggest recommendation is to learn the ritual pattern and then just do ritual. It doesn't need to be very big and fancy, and as you learn, you can incorperate your beliefs and practices into your daily life."
 Thanks hun! Everyone go check out her blog.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Day Twelve: Pantheon (Thor)

I feel I should point out, before going further, that these "30 Days", particularly on deities, do involve quite a bit of my UPG. There's lore-referenced stuff as well, but quite a bit involves my personal experiences with these deities. Sorry for not pointing that out before. As always, click on the "30 Days" tag for other entries.

So. Thor.

Thor, or Þórr if you like, is a big god. Not in the sense that Oðinn is big, but physically very large and tall and broad across the shoulders. He's also good for hugging. Not that he's really a big teddy bear. He's fierce and strong and so on. He just happens to be also good for hugging. Like a real bear, I suppose.

I have this theory that no one can actually dislike Thor. Thor is too nice a chap to dislike. He is Protector of the Small, and we're all small, at least to Thor. He guards our fields and a rolling of thunder is exciting and reassuring and familiar. When I need something against to rest my back, something to keep me upright and ongoing, I think of Thor. I think, "Thor wouldn't let this shit get the better of him" and I keep going. When I need strength and reach for him for reassurance, he is the iron bar supporting my spine.

Compared to Oðinn and Loki he's very straight-forward, and I like that. I'm fond of Thor not because we share things in common but because I can't help myself, because his presence is always so warm and comforting. He is a god of the people, where his father is a god of chieftans and warriors. He's not as perspicacious as his father or uncle, he's not as cunning or wise. But he's not stupid either. He's not simple. He's straightforward.

I asked Thor for his protection when I was overseas. Before I left, really. I asked Oðinn as well, as a Wanderer, and Loki to keep me safe from those who would trick me. I had an uneasy feeling when I was over in England and on my way to London, so I spoke up to ask again for their protection and felt safe instantly. The request didn't need to be made, because the deal had already been struck. That in itself was reassuring and the experience taught me something I theoretically knew but hadn't really grokked about the Aesir.

Thor's Hammer is a, perhaps the, primary symbol of Heathenry. I always feel particularly safe and beloved, and indeed somehow proud, when I wear mine. My Hammer on my altar is one of my favourite ritual tools, and I've mentioned previously on this blog how much I love the "Hammer Rite" at the beginning of a ritual.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Summer and Eksmas

In the Southern Hemisphere, as you doubtless know (unless you are the victim of an unfortunate education system), the seasons are the opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere. I am a Colonial, insofar as I live in a post-colonial country that was once a part of the British Empire and is now a part of the Commonwealth. As such, my ancestors brought their cultural traditions with them from Britain and Ireland to the new Promised Land of New Zealand.

Meaning? Well, it means religious and cultural secular holidays that are associated with particular dates - Easter and Christmas primarily, but Halloween also - are no longer matched up with the seasons. Traditional decorations remain largely the same: holly and snow around Christmas (although, pleasingly, the sun and the pohutukawa are gaining ground here), pumpkins around Halloween, pastel colours around Easter. People sing "Jingle Bells" as if it had a damn thing to do with Christmas. It's annoying, and frustrating, and sometimes I dream of moving somewhere nice like Scotland where the sun doesn't spend four months of the year trying to kill you and cultural holidays are more in line with my religious ones. It's weird celebrating the Summer Solstice when everyone is pissing around saying "Happy Yule!"

I actually love celebrating secular Eksmas* in summer. It's a unique sort of thing. Everybody gets about four weeks off, and spends the whole time lying around wearing very little and drinking gin and tonics or sparkling wine with strawberries in it. People play beach cricket, the entire world seems to relax the fuck out, and the world is pleasant. I even feel this way despite not particularly liking summer. It is fucking awesome, and everyone in the Northern Hemisphere should come down and try it at least once in their lives.

So where does that leave me? Yule on one end of the year, Midsummer on the other, and here I am with my major religious focus at the opposite end to everyone else's major family focus holiday. The eating and drinking and giving of gifts happens in December, not June the way I feel it should, and I celebrate my Yuletide essentially alone. In the future, if I find myself a nice little Kindred or a partner with similar religious leanings, this may change. But for now, well, I am going to respond to my family and community. Midsummer was, for our Heathen ancestors, still a big holiday. There were Things, and Maypoles, and happy enjoyment. There's no reason really I can't marry that with the secular Eksmas of my country.

Too long have I vaguely overlooked Midsummer in my Heathen practice. I've held blót every year, of course, usually to Tyr and sometimes Sunna also. This year, I plan to incorporate more of how summer is celebrated (consciously or not) in my country into my own religious summer celebrations. I'm going to extend my Midsummer for a few days, and incorporate Eksmas into it. It will be strange, but to many people how Eksmas works here would be strange anyway, so there we are. I am a bit of a come-as-you-are Pagan, so this little experiment will develop as I go along, and of course in no way will Midsummer become as important to me as Yule has always been, but nevertheless I am excited to incorporate things a little more each way.

Now, back to Eksmas shopping.

*My reason for "Eksmas" is twofold. Firstly, I watch too much Futurama, and have acquired their pronunciation of Xmas. I am well aware that "X" stands in for the Greek "Chi" and is an initial of Christ, hence Xmas, Xian and so on. Second, I am aware also that the secular holiday of Christmas and the religious holiday of Christmas, while occurring at the same time of year and sharing many symbols, are nevertheless not the same holiday. Out of respect therefore for our Christian friends, I would not want to call this holiday "Christmas" or "Xmas", and so, Eksmas. I hope my reasoning for this is clear and offends as few people as possible.