What trad am I, anyway?
Nowadays, the movement in magick is away from the label “Wicca”, since apparently, Gerald Gardner only used the term once; and the connotation is of fluffy bunnies, little girls on Tic-Toc trying to curse the moon, and authors such as StarHawk and Scott Cunningham, who had beautiful liturgy but were a bit short on historic facts.
The Wicca label is useful since it’s now federally recognized. The US Army uses it – Dave was one of the first to have it put on his “dog tag” identification prior to Desert Storm. It was helpful in that the chaplain would have to look up appropriate prayers and rituals instead of just mumbling the Lord’s Prayer over a wounded soldier, and calling it good. We got our holidays recognized, which doesn’t get us any federal days off, but at least kids in school might get a nod for Beltane. So thank you, Wiccans, for helping to gain federal recognition for soldiers’ tombstones, hospital and prison visits by chaplains, and a minimal recognition by local governments when it comes to holiday celebrations and gatherings.
The current trend is toward using the word “Witch” and “WitchCraft”, which many people like, but I have a few issues with. For one thing, some magick-users are trying to be ooky-spooky as part of their mystique, and I am hustling away from that stereotype – I’m scary enough without openly calling myself a Witch. The appellation “Swamp Witch” is true, but mainly used humorously. For another reason, “Witch” comes from the Anglo-Saxon-Germanic languages, and those folks were the historic enemies / colonizers of we Cymric people. The Dobunni tribe, who were Celtic, once dwelled on the eastern side of the Severn River in what used to be Cymru, and is now England. The Dobunni were wiped out by the Hwicce tribe of Saxons. So I don’t want to use my enemies’ name for myself – Witch, Welsh, none of that.
Many people have rejected the term “Pagan”, since it meant “people of the country” in Latin. Urban magick-users don’t really want to call themselves Pagan, or Earth Religions, or Nature Spirituality. However that moniker TOTALLY applies to me, since I AM, in fact, a hick from the country who goes barefoot and eats venison and can identify every local species of bird. I do realize that term does not fit everyone. “Polytheist” means people who worship multiple deities, entities, and spirit beings. That also applies to me, but I realize there are non-theistic magick-users. And even with the “K”, magick-user sounds like someone engaged in a tabletop role-playing game that involves wizards, monsters, and polyhedral dice. (Nothing wrong with that, but it ain’t a religion.)
I have some Cymraeg words for use in my file about “Witchy Words” on my “Works” page on this website. For example, a dyn hysbys is a male wizard, and a gwrach is a female magick-user. Although it sounds like a cat vomiting. So yeah, gwrach gors would translate at swamp witch. At least I can communicate with the raccoons and frogs.
So let’s see. I’m Earth Religious, and a practitioner of Nature Spirituality. I am an animist, believing that everything has a soul. Even cars. Especially cars. I am a polytheist, which includes deities, ancestors, spirits, land wights, the Fae, and other beings. I am of Cymric heritage, but purists keep arguing that I was not born there – to which I reply that African-Americans were not born in Africa, either, yet the hyphenated term is a good one to signify African or Cymric or any other ancestry. My tradition is part hereditary, partly achieved by study and research, and partly I made it up or swiped it from others, because it works. I can blend in reasonably well with Wiccans and Heathens at their events, so that makes me a bit eclectic. I refuse any initiations, degrees, or other gate-keeping measures – they are useful for many practitioners, since they welcome the discipline and recognition of achievement. I practice folk magick but it’s not all from Cymru – there are elements from around the British Isles. My ancestors did a lot of that form of magick, but I also learned by observing and just trying out stuff for myself.
All of this is too darn complicated, so I’ll just keep calling myself a PAGAN. So there.
Ace & Dave in their natural environment.
At ConVocation this year, Feb. 22-25, there were a plethora of programs – rituals, drumming, a masked ball, drumming, ceremonies, drumming, vendors, drumming, a raffle, and a panel discussion. It was a well-organized, friendly, open event. We performed the Mari Lwyd, gave a workshop on making talismans, and had a discussion about the differences and similarities between British Isles Folkloric Traditions, Gardnerian Witchcraft / Wicca, and Traditional British Witchcraft with up-and-coming Crossed Crow author, Nathan King. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of British Witchcraft History.
https://mec.convocation.org/ The event is sponsored by the Magickal Education Council of Ann Arbor MI, a tireless board of organizers who put on this 4 day event, as well as Pagan picnics and educational programs.
Thanks to Rhiannon and Shad and Dave, my offspring, grandson, and my long-suffering husband, respectively, for all of their assistance.
Here’s some highlights:
Nathan King is holding the Stang on the right. Watch for his book coming this summer from Crossed Crow, entitled Awakening the Witch Blood.
What do I have in common with the sophisticated, cultured, ancient Roman and Grecian / Hellenic societies? An appreciation for D*ck!
The ancient Greeks had a profound homo-erotic culture, including their art and tools (get the pun?!) The Romans used phalli -- which just a $5 academic word for d8cks) -- for good luck charms, for curses, for sexual enhancement, and also for graffiti, because then as now, d*cks are hilarious.
This penile rock carving was done by soldiers on Hadrian's Wall between England and Scotland. It was likely a kind of middle-finger aimed at the Picts, whom the Romans were fighting.
The whanger on the left is believed to be a dildo, again Roman, found in the British Isles. My theory is the Romans were rather sub-par in the endowment area, so to match up with the Celtic men whom they were replacing as husbands, , they had to build something a little bigger, to satisfy their British wives...
The Dong on the right is from the Roman collection in our own University of Michigan Archeology Dept. in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That's right, an authentic Roman D*ck is only a short drive away. Get it? A "short drive"? hahaha
Yuletide Yowling and New Year’s Notes:
This is gonna contain some history and some religio-political rantings, so maybe just read a bit, then look at the pretty photos. If you’re into history, by all means, proceed!
As mentioned previously, we’ve had a really good Alban Arthan / Yule / Winter Solstice season. We did the obligatory tree harvest and decoration, baby Willow visiting Santa, parade of lights with Scouts, Lions’ Club Toys for Tots Fundraiser (4K toys just from little towns here in Van Buren County! Yay, us!), and the Stag Hunt, our family’s pre-Christian folkloric tradition. We did gift-a-palooza on the solstice, along with “Christmas Crackers” which are purely silly.
We also went to New Year’s Fest in Kalamazoo, which entails going to a bunch of churches (I did not melt!) and public buildings to see and hear various performers – magicians, singers, ventriloquists, dancers, instrumental musicians, lecturers, etc. A fun way to start the calendar new year – and it only costs $7.
During some discussions online, a debate arose about the Yuletide season, New Year’s Day, Epiphany (when the wise men supposedly gave the Christ Child incense and gold instead of diapers) which is celebrated on January 6th. Specifically, when to celebrate what. And why.
I maintain that the Winter Solstice takes place at a very specific time, according to astronomical events. The sun enters the constellation of Capricorn. Its position in the sky makes it appear to stand still for three days. Solstice: Sol = sun, Stice = static or still, from Latin. It lines up with a certain node – and I’m not proficient in astrology OR astronomy, so I know not what. The earth’s axis is at or close to its furthest tilt toward the sun. Perihelion is when the sun seems to be closest to earth. It’s considered the first day of winter. All the other mythology stems from these visible, tangible, calculable events.
Many Mesolithic stone monuments, such as “Newgrange” in Ireland, have features where the sun shines through an aperture, or lines up with a particular menhir, on the Winter Solstice. In fact, there are monuments like that worldwide. In Britain and Wales, the pre-Christian people still used many of them to calculate time – when to move herds to a new pasture, when to plant, when to harvest. The ones for Winter Solstice were sometimes used for food rationing reasons. Google “winter solstice” + “monuments”, and you will find dozens. Add “British Isles”, “England”, “Wales”, and “Ireland” and you’ll find those specific to our British Isles Folkloric Tradition.
The evidence that Christ was NOT born on Christmas / Winter Solstice is that:
1.) Shepherds were watching their flocks by night. This is only necessary during lambing season, which is February / March.
2.) Jesus’s mother and father were coming to Bethlehem to be taxed. Roman tax assessors / census-takers made the citizens come to them once every 5-10 years or so. We know that Jewish people were taxed, because there were written objections and records of physical protests. For one thing, they were taxed without representation. For another, Roman coins had images of a deified Caesar, which Jews believed to be idol worship. For yet another, taxation is theft!
3.) The inn was booked full, which means some big event was happening – Jewish people don’t do much to observe the Winter Solstice – but they were obliged to be there.
4.) The magi, which is a term for Zoroastrian priests, were visiting and giving gifts. That prolly means it was Nouruz, their Spring Equinox festival. That’s also the Persian New Year. A guy called Amu Nouruz brings kids presents. Elders go visiting.
The Council of Nicea deliberately and intentionally moved the celebration of Christmas to the Winter Solstice, in order to convert European and Eurasian people to the new religion. When the Gregorian calendar was implemented in 1582, it added a few days, thus the celebration ensued on December 25th. When Europe finally adopted the calendar, in the eighteenth century, 11 days went missing in October, which set back celebrations of Epiphany from January 6 to Dec. 25. That’s where the date of Christ’s birth on Dec. 25th comes from.
The man called Augustine had a bug up his rear about converting us “Heathens” to Christianity – he wrote about it extensively in the 3rd century CE – including outlawing our customs such as the Mari Lwyd which were performed around this time. “Dressing in animal skins and skulls” at the “calends of January” was proclaimed “devilish”. These traditions were and are performed on or around the Winter Solstice.
There are other “died and reborn” gods from other religious traditions. Zoroastrians believe that Mithras, whom they equate with the sun, was sacrificed and reborn at the Winter Solstice. There’s the Isis / Osirus / Horus legend, where Osirus died and was resurrected after 12 days. That might be where the “Twelve Days of Christmas” derives from. Asatrur / Northern Way traditions also have twelve days & nights of celebrations.
Our new year (Celtic / British Isles) was Nos Calan Gaeaf (see previous post). Why do we believe that was the new year? It was an Ysbrednos, a spirit night, when ancestors could communicate with their descendants. It was the day when rents were due – end of the year; and when all debts must be made good – end of the year. It was traditionally when slaughtering could begin – colder weather, so the meat doesn’t spoil – and when the harvest ended. The last grain crops and vegetables were left out for spirits (or the poor). There are many, MANY stories of ghosts, demons, and spirits who appear at this time. There are many customs related to communication with them, and traditional methods of divination performed at this time. The song “Nos Calan” meaning “New Year” – was performed at this time. That song later became “Deck the Halls,” sung at Christmas.
I kinda got in trouble for asking why Pagans, Witches, and Wiccans would want to observe Christmas. We, as a group, seem to put more effort into Christmas than our own holidays. Is it because we’re hiding our religion from relatives? Is it because we want to get presents? OK, I can understand, celebrating holidays with family, sharing their joyful traditions, visiting with relatives you don’t see often. I still do Channukah with blood relations and do some Christmas with my in-law family – just as an observer, not as a participant. Yet why do neo-Pagans actually celebrate the holy day of the Christians – then complain about how Christianity persecutes us, and women, and PoC, and LGBTQ+, and so on? It might have to do with the post I made earlier about Play-gans. However, there is plenty to celebrate during our own holy days in our own traditions.
Many of our European Pagan traditions were culturally appropriated by Christian people. Decorating with greenery, a genuinely older Celtic tradition – holly, ivy, mistletoe, evergreen boughs. There is a version of the song “Holly and the Ivy” that is pre-Christian. Santa Claus may have come from the aforementioned Amu Nouruz, Saint Nicholas, or Odin, or even the various Christmas Witches from multiple locations. The decorated tree may have derived from the Beltane custom of decorating a tree outside the home’s doorway, or the Clootie Tree / Raggy Bush / Wishing Tree tradition. The reindeer came from the Sami people, and may have origins with various Stag Hunt traditions (see previous entry). Gift-giving was done by Zoroastrians during Nouruz and the Romans during Saturnalia. Wassailing came from Celts and Anglo-Saxons. Likewise, caroling came from numerous house-to-house mumming and folkplay traditions. Lighting things – candles, house and tree decoration lights – came from alighting bonfires and candles to commemorate the days lengthening after the Winter Solstice. So did the Yule Log. Traditional foods came from our British Isles culture – figgy pudding, glog, wassail, egg nog, the boar’s head, and so on.
Yule / Alban Arthan also has lost traditions, or ones that transferred to Nos Galan Gaeaf / Samhain. Divination and spirit communication. Looking for footprints in the fireplace ashes. Baking trinkets into a cake or figgy pudding, with various predictive meanings: coins for wealth, rings for marriage, etc. Our Stag Hunt. Mumming, folkplays, house-to-house processions. Bonfires – although this is still done on New Year’s in Scotland, for Up Helly Ah and Hogmanay. The Lord of Misrule. Swapping places with hired people. Playing games of chance and sports at Yuletide. Setting out food for ancestors. We have a plethora of beautiful traditions for Yuletide and the new year.
We had a fantastic Yuletide / Alban Arthan season with family and friends. This was Baby Willow's first Christmas / Yule. This was also the first time our grandson, Shad, portrayed the Stag in the Stag Hunt.
The Stag Hunt was a folkplay I did as a child, and I passed it on to my family, since my offspring, Rhiannon, was age two. It is performed in various British Isles communities and in places British / Cornish / Welsh people settled. Other folkplays are similar, all over the world -- sacred hunts, deer dances, deer images too. It is likely a commemoration of a sacred Hunt and possibly a fertility ceremony. There are images of Stag Hunts in prehistoric art. The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance might be a similar custom.
The image, above, is my grandson Shad, his cousins and friends, and his puppydawg, doing the stag hunt. Shad is the stag.
The legend goes: Llew, the Sun God, and Donia, the Earth Goddess, had a quarrel. Llew stormed off, leaving the earth cold and dark. Their daughter, the goddess Mawb (Mab, Madrone, Mabh, Maeva, Mab Queen of the Fae) -- Mawb means "mother" and "all" in old Cymraeg language -- anyway, Mawb turned her husband into a deer and led the sacred Hunt to capture him. We just called him Herne or the Bucca. Although he gave consent for his children to kill and eat him, as a deer, he lost human consciousness, the Bucca ran away. The "hunters", usually small children, hunt the deer and drag him back to be symbolically eaten -- by eating gingerbread cookies in the shape of a deer, and venison stew.
Below is a mesolithic deer headress (L) found in Starr Car, UK; a stag mummer from a mummer's play in the 16th century, and a modern stag "beastie" from a Morris Dance. These are all examples of FolkPlays.
Samhain / Nos Calan Gaeaf / Halloween
This year we were supposed to go to “Mother Moon” Holly’s beautiful Goddess Grotto, but she had Covid. Get better soon, Holly! Silver Phoenix of Arcanum Shoppe filled in the Wiccan ritual part – but we were unable to go. ☹ However we celebrated with Scouts and at home with family and at our obligatory trip to a corn maze. Sooo I thought I’d post some Hallow’s Tide customs from the British Isles.
Nos Calan Gaeaf – Simply means “night before the new year.” The popular Yuletide song, “Deck the Halls” was formerly in the Cymraeg (Welsh) language and entitled “Nos Calan” and was sung to commemorate the new year. When New Year’s Day was changed to Jan. 1st, the song became a Christmas staple.
Carving pumpkins – formerly rutabegas or turnips – the scary face frightens away baleful spirits, while the happy face with a light welcomes relatives who’ve passed, yet come to visit.
Speaking of whom, we often do a “dumb supper” type thing, only we put food & alcohol & cider outside for our ancestors, then welcome them to a bonfire when the “veils are thinnest”. Here in Bangor, MI, you can really see that – the fog will rise over the swamp, and there is a distinct pathway from there to our house with no mist in the midst. It’s cool lookin’. We call it a Spirit Vigil and it can last all night long.
Funny story – not to disparage Wiccans, for their cast Circles and shields are wonderful in many other instances – but... My Dad could not come into the area when we’d done a celebratory rite w/ Wiccans, and they’d cast a circle. I was like, “Dad, why didn’t you show up?” And he replied, “There was this wall in my way, so I turned back around!” We rely on personal shielding, amulets and talismans to prevent hauntings from not-so-nice beings. They’re apparently semi-permeable, so we can still talk to Uncle Bob and Aunt Zelda.
Likewise, wearing costumes foils unfriendly beings. They can’t recognize you to attack. They think you’re a Power Ranger or Rocket Raccoon, and go to haunt elsewhere.
One example of a spirit loose on Nos Calan Gaeaf is called “Teapot Jack” in Ireland, “Stingy Jack” in Britain, and Diogenes by the Greeks. He thwarted the Devil so he didn’t go to hell, but he was not nice enough to go to heaven (you can tell this is a story from after the Christianization). So poor Jack had to wander the earth with a flame in a root-vegetable lantern, searching for an honest person. This eventually became Jack o’ the Lantern. Poor guy is prolly still looking. Don’t go to Washington DC, Jack.
Like the Kore / Persephone and Hades story, Rhiannon goes to the Underworld to dwell w/ Arawn, thus the Earth becomes cold. The Calleach / Caeleag, the old woman of winter, draws her snowy mantle across the land. However, since Arawn was doing what honeymooners do, he forgot to mind the spirits, which is how they all get loose on Nos Calan night, and return to visit their kinfolks. Then Arawn has to round them all up with his Wild Hunt.
Meanwhile, King Arthur comes to the Other Realm and steals all of Arawn’s pigs. One of these is the Hwch Ddu Gwta, pronounced hooch Thu goota, the “cutty black sow” or enormous female pig who eats tardy trick-or-treaters. Kids, don’t be late home!
We also always go Leaf Peeping, cuz we live in the most beautiful place in the world.
Braw Nos Calan Gaeaf!
We attended the 22nd annual Grand Rapids Pagan Pride Day on Saturday, 16 Sept. 2023.
The event is wonderful. It takes place in beautiful, spacious Richmond Park in Grand Rapids, which has bathrooms, beautiful oak trees, room for numerous rituals, vendors, and classes, good security, and a nice atmosphere. GR-PPD is coordinated by Shell of Sanctuary of the Winds, who is infinitely patient and friendly. It's well organized. Funds are raised and food is collected for a local food bank. There were over 20 vendors, about 15 classes, performances by belly dancers, bands, and others. The ultimate goal is to educate about Paganism.
I mentioned earlier that I was taking a break from Pagan events due to "playgans". This festival was a good comeback for me.
We did a folkplay about the Abbot's Bromley Horn Dance with about 10 attendees and an open drum circle. Friends sold some goods from our booth. Saw lots of old friends and met a couple nice new people. It was a very pleasant day.
Abbots Bromley Horn Dance
has been going on since the 11th Century CE, however this photo is from the 1970s.
So, as I mentioned previously, I am taking a break from Pagan Spirituality for a while. Instead, me, Dave, and our grandson Shad, along with a slew of contractors, have been working on our 1911 Sears kit home. We have moved door frames, fixed both bathrooms, painted much of the exterior, insulated, and set up Dave's office. Here are photos of the bathroom remodel, which took way longer than it should have.
This is a rather serious post, and may feel rather negative. At the end, I'm ranting. Feel free to skip it.
Lately, I have a pretty baleful outlook on my fellow Pagans and Witches. Many of them seem awfully dysfunctional -- unable to maintain healthy relationships, support themselves, and to make the attempt to "coexist" with anyone unlike themselves. Com'on, people, you have the gift of powerful magick -- your life should not be a perpetual trainwreck.
A caveat -- I am a Libertarian, I believe in second amendment rights, and personal responsibility. I believe rioting and looting is wrong. I believe I have the right to defend my property. Thus, I was "outcast" from a couple of large Pagan groups for voicing my opinions. I was accused of racism -- untrue -- your ancestors' physical adaptive traits have no bearing on your success. Effort and hard work DOES. But people don't wanna hear they've failed -- they want to attribute their personal foibles to someone else....
Meanwhile, I see people accepted into the "community" who break the law, act sexually inappropriate at festivals / gatherings / conventions, and who blatantly steal from others. (Note- it's not a community unless it has a volunteer fire department.)
I see many individuals whose relationships are always a mess, whose children have a variety of behavioral problems, who lack discipline, and who are constantly broke -- while buying every book, all the silver jewelry, and who have no inkling what they're gonna do after retirement. I realize there are temporary setbacks. I know these problems exist in other "communities". But Pagans seem to have a disproportionally high instance of screw-up tendencies. Not just mal-adaption to a bad environment -- they just seem to be continually in trouble -- and wanting others to come to their rescue. Usually the very people they're disparaging...
It's quite disturbing for me.
A friend calls Pagans who are just dabbling in the traditions "PLAYGANS" meaning they just play around, or that they're like the Plague.
As may of you are aware, I think doing curse-work is a bad idea. It can spread to others than the target -- which is like a psychopath shooting into a crowd. It rebounds. It's just plain irresponsible. Yet I see a lot of Witches justifying curses and hexes for the smallest, most trivial reasons. It's just wrong.
The final straw came when a person who runs a large MI Pagan festival told me that my husband, Dave, is "not a hero -- he just went to Iraq to shoot 'little brown people'." First of all, Dave has been nothing but supporting of various Pagan groups. Financially, physically emotionally. And financially. AND FINANCIALLY. Second, do you know what Dave was doing in the Persian Gulf? Cleaning up a dictators' mess. I give you "the Highway of Death", Route 80 in Kuwait, pictured above and to the left. Saddam Hussein bombed this road as nice, ordinary people were driving to work, school, and the market. Many women and children were killed. See the school bus in the photo? Their corpses lay there for 3 months in the hot sun. Dave recovered their bodies in a manner respectful to Muslims, so the victims could be identified and buried properly.
So just shut up, people who are so "woke" they're a joke.
I'm sure I'll return to the Pagan "community" after a while -- but first I gotta wash the bad taste of PLAYGANS out of my mouth.
A.C. Fisher Aldag
Chronicler of Cymric Folklore, Granmother and grouch. Enjoyer of good food.
Common Magick from Llewellyn Worldwide
Witches & Pagans # 38 & # 39 from BBI
Llewellyn's Witches' Companion 2022 & 2023 from Llewellyn Worldwide