Saturday, December 30, 2006

Book Review - Seasons of the Witch

Patricia Monaghan /Seasons of the Witch: Poetry and Songs for the Goddess. /St. Paul (MN): Llewellyn Worldwide, 2002. 200 pp, $19.95.

Monaghan is a well-known priestess and author of several books, and she teaches at DePaul University in Chicago. Dedicated to the Great Goddess, in her many forms, these poems are a warm and lovely evocation of feminist spirituality. Four major sections, each with some forty poems, lead us through the seasons, providing material for meditation, and for celebration of the Goddess. Perhaps the best introduction to this collection is a sample, selected from more than a hundred poems:

Venus of Laussel
You rise in my dreams
like the power of stone,
breaking the glass door
between wind and the body.
You are the measurer;
blood of my moons,
lines of my years,.
A thread of breath
connects me to time,
wind in my blood,
a thread to your womb,
Thirteen short lines --
You rise, then are gone.

Reviewed by
John M. Morris, PhD

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Book Review - Witches & Neighbors

Robin Briggs /Witches & Neighbours/ London:Fontana-HarperCollins, 1997. 457 pp.

Until quite recently, histories of witchcraft were fanciful works, in which many of the horror stories they contained -- such as the claims that millions of accused witches were executed by the inquisitors -- were all that we had to rely on for our knowledge of the past. Such writers as Margart Murray were regularly attacked by academic historians without many serious attempts to reconstruct our history on firmer foundations.

Robin Briggs, in this historical study, is one of the many more recent historians to have attempted a serious look at what really happened in the past, particularly during the "burning times," when many hundreds of people were accused of black magic and dragged off to the stake. This study, by an English historian, attempts to set the record straight.

He confines his study to the hysteria of the late Middle Ages in Europe, which may provide too narrow a view of the history of witchcraft, but it permits him to pay more attention to details of the rise and fall of the attacks on village witches. The brief treament of witchcraft in America is confined to the witch trials in Salem, asking why the histeria led to witch executions in Salem, but with little interest in most of the country.

With many new studies in the history of the craft, we are living in a time in which many of the old stroies of witch trials and executions are much better documented than in the past.

John M. Morris PhD

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Yule 2006

At Yule, the light has receded to its lowest ebb. The Sun rises far to the south, transits low in the sky, and sets far to the south. This is the moment at which the light of the god is diminished, present only as spirit, and the goddess as crone reigns supreme.

Yule is the annual commemoration of darkness and the spark of returning light. As the season gets colder from here, we know by the increasing light that hope is returning. The seed of the god has been held safe in the heart of the crone, to be imparted to the maiden at the proper time.

Yule is the centre-point of the season of the Crone. This season begins at Samhain and ends at Imbolg, when the Crone passes the light she has protected on to the maiden, so that the process of rebirth can begin anew.

Fire and Air are the dominion of the god, Water and Earth the dominion of the goddess. Where these four combine, Spirit is brought to life. In a single seed, Spirit’s unlimited potential is stored in stasis, waiting for the right combination of elements to unlock its mysteries and fulfil its design.

The moist, sheltering womb of the Earth speaks to us of the Goddess. The warm heat of the Sun and the freshness of the breeze speak to us of the God.

Yule marks the turning of the wheel for the god in the same way that Samhain marks its turning for the goddess. At Samhain the Goddess becomes crone, the keeper of the light, the one whose gentle nurture keeps the light of Spirit safe while the God diminishes as he must. She goes from bearer of life (maiden and mother) to keeper of light. At Yule the God has completed his job as sage, and has died as he must, to remain in Spirit only, to be kept by the crone until the day of the maiden.

The God transcends mortality in life and death. The Goddess transcends mortality in quiet nurture. She turns her back to winter’s chill and protects the seed that is in her care.

The Goddess and the God depend on each other. Without the warmth of the sun and the freshness of the breeze, Earth is barren and cold. Without the womb of the Earth and the water which gives it life, the Sun and the air are without effect.

Where the goddess and god are set at enmity with each other, the fire of an angry god seeks to destroy the fertility of the goddess, and likewise the wiles of an embittered crone exploit the vulnerability of the god, despising the spark she is charged with nurturing. Strife is mounted on strife, each is set to consume the other, earth is ravaged, life is spent in vain and chaos ensues.

Where the god and goddess are brought into harmony with each other, the cycles of life, nurture, and endeavour, of contribution, wisdom, and abundance, and of death, regeneration, and cultivation, earth is enriched, life is spent productively, and order ensues.

It is most important for each of us to keep our goddess and our god in balance, and direct them each on the same path. It is no coincidence that families traditionally come together at this time, representing the eternal principle of nurture, which keeps the “light” of the family alive. All to often, however, it is the old rules and traditions of family, those cold hard, unyielding, unchanging patterns that quench the spark they would otherwise nurture. For such families, winter’s longest night is made all the more bitter.

As a personal meditation here today, Yule is about the seed of a new idea, not yet ready for planting, but waiting for the right time. Yule is a time for making new plans, for receiving new insights, and for setting new directions. The season from Yule to Imbolg, is the time for these plans to develop.

In a sentence, Yule is time to “shut up and listen”. Listen to the voice of your own emptiness, and have compassion for the emptiness of others: lend a hand where you can Listen to your physical ancestors, find ways to apply their wisdom, even if you walk a different path. Listen to your elders, those whom you look up to for any reason.

Time to act is Imbolg, now is the time to listen, to plan, to ponder.

So come, let us celebrate together the return of the light. Winter’s darkest night is now behind us.

Yule 2006 R. B. Smith

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Joy to the World

Joy to the World

Our town is full of illuminated displays, bright colors for the holiday season. On my daily inspection of the decorations, in the morning before the sun is up, I surveyed my neighbors' bright-colored response to the coming holidays.

It surprised me to recall the number of different traditions that celebrate this as a season to be jolly, each in its own way. A few years ago, Kwanzaa was introduced as an African tradition, with candles and many gifts. The Jewish holidays have long been celebrated as a Festival of Lights. I was told that the Chinese workers, back where I was born in Montana, celebrated the New Year at the time of my birth. And there are many other traditions, including of course the Christians, that celebrate at this time. The eight Pagan celebrations don't include Christmas, but Pagans can celebrate anyway.

In any case, as I was inspecting our neighbors' bright-colored decorations early this morning, I was surprised to notice how few of them were specifically Christian. There were a couple of miniature mangers, with shepherds and wise men, but other theme were much more evident. Many, many reindeer. Big, inflatable Santa Claus or Elves, including a Grinch, with a green face in a Santa Suit. Only one of our city's churches had a full-scale display!

The message I got, from the dozens of bright and shining lights, on this mildly chilly morning, was that we want to celebrate these holidays with bright colors and joyful gatherings, in which we can join with our neighbors in singing "Joy to the World."

John M Morris