Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland – The Milesian Invasion

The Milesians were the Celts. These people had long established a presence in Central Europe, and soon moved on to England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. They were the fifth group of invaders to conquer Ireland, and were often referred to as the Sons of Mil. It was the Milesians who put an end to the supreme reign of the Tuatha De Danann.

The Sons of Mil and Landing in Ireland

Miled (sometimes called Milesius) and his wife, Scota (who was the daughter of a Pharaoh), were the leaders of the Milesians. In their search for a new homeland, Miled and Scota sent Miled’s uncle, Ith to Ireland to report upon its suitability. However, the Tuatha De Danann, suspecting his purpose, killed him before he could complete his mission.

Undaunted, Miled and Scota, with their eight sons, set out to take their people to Ireland. Miled died on the long and arduous voyage, and when his sons attempted to land in Ireland, the De Danann called up a great storm against them. Five of the eight sons of Mil were killed, along with many of their followers. The three surviving sons were:
  • Emer
  • Eremon
  • Eber
Though it seemed as if they might never reach Ireland, the three sons did eventually find their way to land, along with what was left of their followers. Their mother, Scota, found herself with her eldest son, Eber.

The Milesians and the Tuatha De Danann

The three sons had been separated, but they were not alone. They each had with them a selection of followers, though their numbers had been depleted by the storm of magick sent by the Tuatha De Danann.

Eber, along with his mother and their followers, landed at Inver Sceni, in Bantry Bay. Though they did manage to make their way into Ireland, Eber and Scota were soon confronted by the Tuatha De Danann. They did defeat the group under Queen Eire of the De Danann, but in the process, they lost their own Queen Scota. Eber, however, survived.

Eremon and his people landed at Inver Colpa, and soon located his brother Emer. Together, they joined forces with Eber in Meath, and they challenged the Tuatha De Danann at Taillte. The Milesians seemed to have the upper hand, for the three kings and three queens of the Tuatha De Danann were killed, many others were slain, and the rest withdrew to consider their options. They did not believe themselves to be defeated.

Some legends state that the Milesian poet and judge, Amergin, was given the right to divide Ireland between the two races. In his wisdom, he gave all the lands above the ground to his own people, and assigned the lands beneath the ground to the Tuatha De Danann.

However, other myths indicate that the De Danann, under the guidance of Manannan mac Lir, agreed that they should take themselves into the realm of the spirit, underground, and begin to fade from common reality.

Perhaps both of these occurred simultaneously. Regardless, the Tuatha De Danann went into the hills and down into the faery regions (sidbrugaib), which were already full of magick and wizardry, making it a perfect place for the De Danann. This made the faeries (sida) already there subject to the will of the Tuatha De Danann.

The Tuatha De Danann faded into legend to become worshipped as the gods of the Irish Pantheon. The Milesians became the people of Ireland. Of all the waves of invasion, they are the only wave that remained rulers of Ireland for any length of time. Today, the descendants of the Milesians in Ireland tend to have O or Mac before their surname.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland – The Tuatha De Danann Invasion

Of all the characters of the Mythological Cycle, the Tuatha De Danann are arguably the most important, and they are considered the fourth wave of invaders. They were a people of wonder and magick, considered to be well versed in every art.

Where Did the Tuatha De Danann Come From?

The details of the Tuatha De Danann’s origins are shrouded in great mystery. Immediately before coming to Ireland, they were thought to have dwelled in the northern isles of the world, though it is not clear which isles these might be. Wherever they were, they acquired unparalleled knowledge of magick and wizardry. The Tuatha De Danann also found four great talismans, which they brought with them to Ireland. These talismans are:
  • The Great Fal;
  • The Spear of Lugh;
  • The Sword of Nuada; and
  • The Cauldron of Dagda.
When they did arrive in Ireland, the Tuatha De Danann were said to have arrived on dark clouds through the air, then alighted on the mountain of Conmaicne Rein. Stories claim that the Tuatha De Danann cast a darkness over the sun that lasted for three days.
The First Battle of Mag Tuired
When the Tuatha De Danann first arrived in Ireland, it was already occupied by the Fir Bolg. During this battle, the king of the Tuatha De Danann, Nuada, lost his hand, and was no longer a suitable king according to the laws of the De Danann. The kingship was handed over to his adopted son, Bres. The Tuatha De Danann did eventually prevail, and the Fir Bolg were expelled from Ireland.
The Tuatha De Danann and the Fomorians
The Fomorians show up several times in Irish mythology, and were masters of magick and strategy. They harassed both the Partholans and the Neimheahdians, and returned to challenge the Tuatha De Danann after they defeated the Fir Bolg. When the Fomorians arrived to battle the De Danann on the shores of Ireland, they came in four ships, each one carrying fifty men and approximately three times that many women.
The battles between the De Danann and the Fomorians were fierce, and their rivalry lasted many long years. The Second Battle of Mag Tuired was one of the greatest battles fought between these two mystical races, but there were a great many others. Finally, the De Danann won when Lugh, a warrior of the Tuatha De Danann, cut off the head of the king of the Fomorians, Balor. The Fomorians were never allowed to settle in Ireland.
The Tuatha De Danann are one of the most important pieces in Irish mythology,. From them come the Irish Pantheon of goddesses and gods and the Faery Lineage. Of all the fives waves of invasion, the Tuatha De Danann made the strongest mark on Irish mythology, and eventually became worshipped by those who followed the Irish Faery Faith. They were soon challenged by the Milesians.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland – The Fir Bolg Invasion

The Fir Bolg were the third group of invaders to arrive in Ireland. There are many accounts of these people, both before they entered Ireland and after. However, like the Partholans and Neimheahdians before them, there is much myth and mystery surrounding this wave of invaders, and little fact.

Where Did the Fir Bolg Come From?

When the Neimheahdians fled Ireland, they are said to have split into three distinct groups. One of these groups made its way to Greece, where they were enslaved. After many years of this treatment, they escaped and fled Greece. These slaves arrived in Ireland approximately two hundred and seventeen years after the Neimheahdians left.

The term ‘Fir Bolg’ is thought to have originated from the Irish word for bag (bolg). The escaped slaves may have carried with them leather bags full of earth, and were so named after this practice. This is considered to be pure legend, as there is little historical evidence to support this entomology of the word bolg.

The Fir Bolg and Their Contribution to Ireland

The Fir Bolg and their invasion mark the very beginning of Ireland’s recorded history. They brought agriculture with them, and are sometimes said to have ‘civilized’ Ireland. They were a pastoral people, and very spiritual.

They created raths in Ireland, which were circular enclosures surrounded by earthen walls. They used these as both dwellings and fortifications during their time in Ireland. Occasionally, they would use these raths to bury their dead without cremation. More commonly, however, the dead were put to rest in large earthen mounds.

Rule of law was very important to the Fir Bolg. They established a monarchical government, which was seated at the Hill of Tara, and had respected social institutions. Their three leaders divided Ireland into the five provinces for the first time. The followers of these leaders became known as the three tribes. These tribes were:
  • Fir Domhnann;
  • Fir Gaileon; and
  • Fir Bolg.
What Happened to the Fir Bolg?

The Fir Bolg spent thirty-six years in Ireland before they were challenged by the Tuatha De Danann. The battles between these two groups were fierce, and many were killed on both sides. Eventually, the Fir Bolg were defeated by the De Danann in the First Battle of Mag Tuired.

After their defeat, the Fir Bolg fled to the islands of Arran, Isley, Man, and Rathlin. They did return to Ireland near the beginning of the Common Era, but as a subordinate people. However, there are some tales which indicate that the First Battle of Mag Tuired was fought, but then ended in a pact of goodwill and friendship.

The Fir Bolg are an important people for many reasons, but mainly because of their involvement in the great battles with the Tuatha De Danann. Of the five waves of invasion, this wave is the one in which we see the very beginnings of true civilization in Ireland.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Wheel of the Year — Yule and Its Lore

The Winter Solstice takes place on or around December 21st. This holiday is often called Yule by many Wiccan practitioners, and it is often marked on calendars as the ‘first day of winter.’ It is the shortest day of the year.

The Winter Solstice is, in part, significant to Wiccans because it suggests that even in the depths of winter, there is a promise of the return of spring, and of light and warmth.

The Themes and Practices of the Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice celebrates the rebirth of the sun. The simplest way to celebrate Yule is to rise before dawn to greet the sun as it rises. It is traditional to call upon the Goddess and the God, asking for their presence and their guidance. As the sun rises above the horizon, thanks should be given for the return of the light and warmth that it brings.

This is the very beginning of the return of new life to the land. It is a time of new beginnings. The Winter Solstice is the point at which the daylight hours begin to increase. At this time the Lord of Holly, who presides over the darker half of the year, gives way to the Lord of Oak who presides over the lighter days.

As a part of the Wheel of the Year, the Winter Solstice is the time when the God is reborn in Wiccan lore. The Goddess, exhausted from her labors, needs time to rest. This is not an interpretation of the Christian idea of the birth of Christ, for the celebration of the Winter Solstice is much older.

Some symbols associated with the Winter Solstice include:
  • Yule tree
  • Yule log
  • Holly
  • Mistletoe
The Feast of the Winter Solstice
The coming of winter brings an emphasis on preserved foods, foods that were laid down at the end of harvest season. Traditional European feasts would not have included turkey, but more likely boar, salted beef or game birds, with winter vegetables, as well as dried nuts.
As Christmas comes immediately after the Winter Solstice, it is a good idea to try not to emulate the foods served at Christmas, but rather to provide something different. Honey-glazed roast pork and beef and ale pie are both very traditional. Roast goose is a popular choice for a large gathering.
Foods with a sunny theme are an excellent reminder of the rebirth of the sun. Breads baked in a shape of the Sun, sunflower and other seeds roasted with spices, and golden cheeses are all good examples. Fruit pies or puddings are appropriate, as they often use the preserved fruit from the fall. Plum pudding is especially popular during the Winter Solstice.
Beverages for the Winter Solstice
Mulled ale or wine is very traditional and helps to keep the winter’s chill at bay, and when blended with a little brandy forms the Wassail Cup. Mulled cider is also very tasty.
Less traditional, but still appropriate, is hot chocolate with a big pinch of ground cinnamon or a teaspoon of a favorite liqueur. For ritual purposes, mead makes an excellent drink to welcome the return of the sun.
Celebrating the Winter Solstice
It is easy to get into the spirit of this holiday. Decorate the house with evergreens, especially holly, with its red berries, which celebrates both the Goddess and the God.Mistletoe is considered sacred, as it has long been considered sacred as it grows between earth and sky.
The lighting of the Yule log often forms a part of the Winter Solstice ritual, or can be incorporated into a family event. A piece of sturdy wood is needed, part of a cut branch or log, with the base leveled to make it stable. Securely fix a candle for each participant on top. Each person lights their candle and makes a wish for the coming season.
Plays can be a fun part of this season. Dark is giving way to light at this time and the battle of the Oak and Holly King, with the Oak King winning, can be reenacted. This battle is of particular significance to most Wiccans. The two are immortal brothers, the victory is temporary and the battle is replayed at the Summer Solstice, with the Holly King being victorious.
It used to be traditional to appoint a Lord of Misrule to oversee the Winter Solstice festivities. This would be a person selected at random whose role was to ensure that much fun and laughter took place at the festival. They could set tasks, play pranks and jokes, or demand that each member of the assembly took turns to provide the amusement for all. This is still an entertaining practice for many.
Alternatively, a King and Queen for the day might be appointed, whose roles are much the same. Originally they would be ‘chosen’ by the finding of a dried bean and pea located within a cake made especially for the purpose. This is the origin of the silver tokens often added to the more modern Christmas pudding.
Many Wiccans and Pagans celebrate this season with a powerful ritual. As Sabbats are celebratory in nature, magick is generally not worked at these rituals.
Dressing for the Winter Solstice
Fancy dress is an excellent way to get everyone into the spirit of the Winter Solstice. Some Wiccans feel most comfortable in their ritual robes. Others prefer simpler clothing. There is no firm rule here, but it should be something special. Traditional colors for the Winter Solstice include gold, white, red, and green. These can, of course, be incorporated into dress or celebration.
The Winter Solstice is a wonderful time of celebration for Wiccans around the world. It is a time of merriment and feasting, and a time to rejoice in the return of the light.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ashling Wicca, Book One

If you're interested in exploring the vastness of Ashling Wicca, take a look at the first book in the Ashling Wiccan Series. You'll learn the very basics of this tradition and come to understand its mysteries. You also have the option of purchasing the accompanying workbook. Ashling Wicca, Book Two, is soon to be released, so your study of Ashling Wicca can continue without interruption.

From the back of the book:

Now you can study the wisdom and beauty of Ashling Wicca in the first book to ever publish its teachings. The Ashling Wiccan series reveals the mysteries and origins of this unique tradition and presents information useful for both the beginner and the seasoned practitioner. Lessons presented here include history, philosophy, and living the essence of Ashling Wicca.

Because initiation into this tradition can only be acquired under the direction of an initiated High Priestess of Ashling Wicca, this guide is presented by an expert on Ashling Wicca, a woman who has been traditionally initiated into Ashling Wicca. Here you will find the basic information necessary to begin following the Ashling path. Within this book you will find spells and the beginnings of ceremonies and the details of magick in Ashling Wicca. Everything in this book is designed to enhance your experience of Ashling Wicca.

From the back of the workbook:

Learning a tradition of Wicca requires more than simply reading a book. It requires study, reflection, and absorbing the material. This workbook is designed to help the student of Ashling Wicca to do these things. Designed as a companion to "Ashling Wicca, Book One," the workbook provides tests, exercises, journal entries, and reflections all intended to further your understanding of Ashling Wicca.

This book should be used in conjunction with "Ashling Wicca, Book One." The units in each book are identical, allowing you to easily line up the written information from the master book with the tests and other material from the workbook. Use both to get a thorough introduction to Ashling Wicca.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Philosophy of Wicca

Wicca is a beautiful religion full of love and joy. In its purest form, Wicca lacks the idea of original sin, and the very notion of happiness and salvation being possible only in the afterlife is anathema. The music of Wicca is joyous, expressing love and companionship. This love and joy comes primarily from Wicca’s close link with nature, a link which is reminiscent of what the people of ancient times experienced.

Nature and Ancient Man in Europe

Ancient people lived in harmony with the land. Out of necessity, they were a part of nature, not separate from it. They took only what they needed, and gave what they could. The respected both plants and animals. The natural order of things included ancient man, and they knew this.

This is not to say that the ancients were vegetarians, for they did indeed kill to eat. However, they had an innate respect for what they killed, they used as much of the animal as possible, and they didn’t kill more than they needed. The animal was honored for its sacrifice, not simply killed and consumed. Ancient man had a powerful and unique link with nature.

Wicca and Its Link With Nature

Most modern men and women have lost this link with nature, mostly because they are no longer directly dependent upon nature for their survival. Food is purchased at supermarkets, shelter is obtained though the purchasing of a house or the renting of an apartment, and clothing can be found at the nearest department store. Modern man doesn’t always realize how necessary nature is to everyday survival.

Wiccans see nature in a different light. Even in a world full of technology and mechanics, Wiccans find a connection to nature. A Wiccan understands that everything is alive and connected. A Wiccan might take a walk through the woods and stop to touch a delicate flower or hug a tree, knowing that in some way, this love and joy is transmitted and understood, and that it will be reciprocated.

Creating Your Own Link With Nature

If you wish to experience this link for yourself, take a walk through a wooded area. Find a large tree, preferably oak or pine, and sit with your back pressed firmly against the trunk. Close your eyes, relax your body, and open your mind. Gradually, you will feel exhaustion, anger, and tension disappear as it is absorbed into the tree and dispersed into the earth. Allow yourself to absorb a sense of comfort and stability from the tree. When you feel ready, thank the tree and continue on your way.

A simpler approach is to take the time to appreciate nature as it exists all around you. Acknowledge the trees, the plants, and the animals that share your environment. If you can, go barefoot through the grass, making contact with the earth below your feet. Respect nature and all it represents. This also means caring for nature, as nature cares for you.

People are a part of nature, whether they acknowledge this consciously or not. Connect with people, be among people, and offer assistance when you can. But do not seek to rule another’s life; let them live their own life. And you should live as you will, but with harm to none, as the Wiccan Rede specifies.

Wicca is a religion full of magick and love, as is reflected in its rituals. Its philosophy is no complex than the deep and abiding respect for nature that this religion engenders, and this respect is revealed by the care most Wiccans show all that exists in the natural world.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The History of Wicca: Wicca in the 20th Century

Following the Witch Trials of the 15th and 16th centuries, any surviving pagans went so deeply underground, figuratively speaking, that they seemed to have disappeared entirely. However, a set of beliefs doesn’t die that easily. The 20th century saw a renewed interest in witchcraft and paganism. But the birth of modern Wicca was due purely to the efforts of a dedicated few.

Margaret Murray and Her Contribution to Modern Wicca

Dr. Margaret Alice Murray was a British anthropologist and Egyptologist in the first half of the 20th century. She is most famous for her work The Witch Cult in Western Europe, which she published in 1921. This was the first time in centuries that anyone had looked at witchcraft or paganism with anything resembling an unbiased light.

She proposed the idea that there was a massive and organized resistance to the Christian Church during the Middle Ages in Europe. Murray’s research had led her to believe that the pagan religions, rather than simply being a hoax perpetrated by the Church, were indeed ancient beliefs, beliefs that some had kept alive. She felt very strongly that, in ancient times, before the coming of Christianity, the pagans were an organized religion.

While some of her theories (such as the secret conspiracy of pagans amongst the English kings) proved to be a little far-fetched, and sometimes completely mistaken, she did shine a light onto pagan practice. While it was probably not an organized religion, many forms of paganism, some of which can be called witchcraft, were practiced in ancient Europe.

Though often criticized for her work, Dr. Murray remained very convinced of her position. She later expanded upon her views in her second book, The God of the Witches, in 1931.

Gerald Gardner’s Contribution to Modern Wicca

When the final laws against witchcraft were repealed in England in 1951, those who practiced pagan religions were free to speak for themselves. One of the people who did so was Dr. Gerald Brousseau Gardner. This man, who sometimes operated under the Craft name Scire, was a British anthropologist, archaeologist, writer, occult expert, and he described himself as both a Witch and a Wiccan.

Gardner had spent much of his life in Asia, where he developed a strong interest in native peoples and their magical practices. After he retired and returned to England, he was initiated into the Wiccan faith by the New Forest Coven in 1939. Gardner believed that this faith was, if not a direct continuance, at least related to the beliefs of ancient Europe. Fearing that these beliefs were in danger of being lost forever, he set about making sure that didn’t happen.

In 1954, Gardner published the first truly influential book on Wicca, Witchcraft Today. Five years later, he authored The Meaning of Witchcraft. He devoted himself to Wicca and its beliefs, and initiated many notable High Priestesses into Wicca, among them:
  • Doreen Valiente;
  • Patricia Crowther;
  • Eleanor Bone; and
  • Lois Bourne.
Later in life, Gardner would found his own tradition of Wicca, rewriting and reworking many of the rituals he had been taught. Gardnerian Wicca combined the teachings of the New Forest Coven with Freemasonry, Ceremonial Magic, and the writings of occult expert Aleister Crowley.
His work has faced some criticism. There have been some who claimed that Gardner made up Wicca entirely, and still others say he took credit for the work done by Aleister Crowley. These charges are probably not true, but even if there were, Gardner’s impact on modern Wicca cannot be denied.
Often referred to as the “Father of Wicca”, Gerald Gardner is respected within most Wiccan circles today.
Raymond Buckland and Wicca in North America
In North America, the first person to publically admit to being Wiccan was Raymond Buckland. Initiated by High Priestess Monique Wilson in Scotland in 1963, Buckland returned home to the United States shortly after. He brought Gardnerian Wicca with him, founding the first lineaged Gardnerian coven in the US.
Buckland is an author of some repute. He first began publishing in 1969 with A Pocket Guide to the Supernatural. He published several more books in the following years, and has published a book in almost every year since this time. Though he is best known for Buckland’s Complete Guide to Witchcraft, first published in 1986, he is currently the author of more than forty books.
In 1973, Buckland founded his own Wiccan tradition. Seax-Wica (Seax Wicca) is based upon symbolism from Anglo-Saxon sources, but it does not claim to be a reconstruction of any religion practiced during that era. The entire tradition was published in his book The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft. Today, Seax-Wica has thousands of practitioners around the world.
There are many other people who have contributed to Wicca’s growth and expansion in the 20th century, such as Scott Cunningham, Sybil Leek, Gavin and Yvonne Frost, and Janet and Stewart Farrar. Modern Wicca survived the 20th century through the efforts of many people who are dedicated to its beliefs and practices.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The History of Wicca: The Malleus Maleficarum

In 1486, two German monks wrote a book that was soon to become infamous. Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich (Institor) Kramer created the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches’ Hammer) to give very definite instructions for the persecution of witchcraft during the Witch Trials. This book only ignited the already delicate situation in Europe, adding fuel to the raging persecution of innocents.

The Witches’ Hammer was divided very carefully into three separate parts.

The First Part of the Malleus Maleficarum

The first section of this book concludes that there are three things that must be present for witchcraft to be practiced. These are:
  • A witch;
  • The Devil; and
  • The permission of God.
The Malleus Maleficarum declares that to not believe in witchcraft must be heresy. It goes on to discuss several matters regarding what witches can and cannot do. Some items prominently discussed are:
  • A witch’s copulation with the Devil;
  • Whether witches can impede the ability to have children;
  • Whether children can be produced by Incubi and Succubi;
  • The various ways in which witches can kill children in the womb; and
  • Whether witches can sway the minds of men.
This first part of the infamous book has several chapters addressing the sexual aspects of witchcraft, revealing a certain obsession of the authors.
The Second Part of the Malleus Maleficarum
There is much detail concerning how witchcraft is worked, how it can be detected, and the ways in which it may be undone or warded against. This is the purview of the second section of the Malleus Maleficarum. Most of the items dealt with here are pulled simply from the imagination of the authors. For example, there is a chapter that focuses purely on how witches entice innocents to follow them, making a pact with evil. This, of course, is the purest nonsense.
There are many other interesting, yet completely incorrect details in this section of the Malleus Maleficarum. For example:
  • How witches transport from place to place in an instant;
  • The ways in which witches are able to prevent a woman from conceiving;
  • How witches, in the guise of midwives, kill children or offer them to devils; and
  • The various means of controlling the weather and animals.
Following these descriptions of the powers of witches are remedies for each.
The Third Part of the Malleus Maleficarum
This is by far the most famous section of the book. It is in the third section of the Malleus Maleficarum where you can find descriptions relating to the prosecution of witches, both in civil and clerical courts. Trials are explained in detail, beginning with an account of who the proper judges for a trial of this kind might be. From there, the book continues:
  • Beginning the trial process;
  • The examination of witnesses; and
  • Eliciting a confession.
It should be noted that the Malleus Maleficarum suggests that the testimony of anyone should be accepted. Even those who could give testimony in no other case were permitted to speak when it came to trials regarding witchcraft. Mortal enemies, criminals, and even children could testify, and their words would be taken as evidence against the accused.
The Malleus Maleficarum was submitted to the University of Cologne, the appointed censor of the time, for approval. However, the Theological Faculty refused to acknowledge the ridiculous work. Undaunted, Kramer and Sprenger simply forged the approbation of the entire faulty. Unfortunately, this forgery was not discovered until the year 1898. By then, the damage had been done, and the Witch Trials continued upon their timeline.
It would be hundreds of years before the persecutions would die down enough for some of the beliefs from early Europe to be resurrected. When they were, in the 20th century, one of the new adaptations was Wicca.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The History of Wicca — The Witch Trials

Far after the coming of Christianity, and with the introduction of the bull against witches by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484, the hysteria regarding witches and other pagans began to rise. The smear campaigns carried over from early Europe right into the Middle Ages. Then, in the 15th and 16th centuries, actions against the so-called ‘witches’ became truly violent.

Heinrich Insititoris Kramer and Jakob Sprenger

In 1486, two German monks who would later become infamous, produced an incredibly anti-witch book. Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger wrote the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches’ Hammer), which was a concoction full of ideas regarding the proper persecution of witches. This book, which was composed of three parts, covered such things as:
  • Various ways in which witches may kill children conceived in the womb;
  • Whether witches can sway the minds of men;
  • How witches prevent procreation; and
  • The proper way to persecute and punish witches.
This book was submitted to the appointed censor of the time, the University of Cologne. However, the majority of the professors refused to have anything to do with such a dubious work. They refused approbation for the Malleus Maleficarum. Undaunted, Kramer and Sprenger simply forged the approval of the entire faculty. Unfortunately, this forgery was not discovered until 1898. By then, the damage had been done.
The Impact of the Malleus Maleficarum
The publication of The Witches’ Hammer ignited hysteria across most of Europe. For nearly three hundred years, suspected pagans and witches were actively targeted; it didn’t seem to matter if anyone was actually guilty or not. Entire villages, suspected of being under the influence of witchcraft, were put to death.
As an example, in 1586, the archbishop of Treves concluded that witches were responsible for the severe winter in his region. After using torture to obtain ‘confessions’ from 120 men and women, he executed these alleged witches. They were all burned to death, as the law dictated. At the time, the laws in Scotland and Continental Europe enforced burning at the stake, while England and New England hung witches instead.
There are many estimates regarding the number of people actually killed during the Witch Trials. Numbers as high as 9 million have been suggested. Most likely, the number is approximately 500,000. Obviously, these could not all have been pagans or witches. In truth, there were probably only a very few pagans and witches actually killed during this time. Most people executed for witchcraft would have been God-fearing people.
Very often, the charge of witchcraft was used to get rid of someone who could not otherwise be targeted. There was virtually no defense against witchcraft. Once you were accused, you were almost certain to be found guilty. However, being accused of witchcraft wasn’t an automatic death sentence. Only 48%-50% of trials ended in execution. Others were given what were seen as ‘appropriate’ punishments, such as:
  • Flogging;
  • Stoning;
  • Public humiliation; or
  • Loss of all status and material wealth.
The timeline of the Witch Trials is somewhat difficult to pin down, as not everything was properly recorded. However, it is certain that as Europe was caught in the fires of persecution, many innocent people were killed.
In 1604 King James I passed the Witchcraft Act, which promised harsh sentences for anyone convicted of witchcraft. However, in 1736 this was repealed and replaced with an act that declared witchcraft did not exist, and to pretend to have occult powers was to face being charged with fraud. By this point, belief in witchcraft had faded into the background, but it never really disappeared.
For many years, it was thought that the beliefs of old Europe had been left in the past. However, belief doesn’t die that easily. The beliefs were dormant, passed on by a dedicated few, only to be revived and adapted in the 20th century. One of these adaptations was a ‘New Age’ religion known as Wicca.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Wiccan Sabbat Ritual Recipes — Harvest Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Pumpkins are plentiful in the fall and early winter. And with all the jack-o-lanterns being carved in late October, there is certainly no shortage of pumpkin flesh. In this creative recipe, either canned or homemade pumpkin purée can be used.

This recipe has been created specifically with Wiccans and Pagans in mind. It uses the spices of the season, in addition to the pumpkin that is so common in the fall. It is the perfect addition to either a Autumnal Equinox or Samhain feast.

Making the Crust and Decorations for the Pumpkin Pie

The following ingredients should be gathered close at hand:
  • 2 deep-dish unbaked pie shells; if frozen, they should be thawed; they must be deep-dish, with a 4-cup capacity, or additional shells will be needed
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Roll out one of the pie shells on a well-floured surface, or between two sheets of wax paper. Using a very sharp knife, cut out leaves and a large pumpkin, as shown in the picture. Feel free to get creative. Leaves and pumpkins are not the only designs that are possible. Perhaps ghouls and ghosts, and other symbols of the dead, for Samhain?
  2. Place all these cutouts on a baking sheet and brush with the egg yolk. Bake until browned. They brown fairly quickly, so watch carefully. Once finished, remove the decorations from the baking sheet and cool completely.
  3. Increase the heat of the oven to 400° F. Take the second pie shell and line the crust with foil after placing it in a pie plate. Fill the foil with dried beans to hold the foil in place. Bake for 8 minutes, then remove the beans and foil. Prick the dough in several places with a fork, and bake for 6 minutes longer. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Making the Filling for the Pumpkin Pie

The following ingredients should be gathered close at hand:
  • 16 oz pumpkin purée (homemade or canned)
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour, all-purpose
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  1. Combine pumpkin purée, brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a large bowl, mixing well. Add vanilla, milk, cream, and eggs and blend completely. Pour mixture into the cooled crust. Bake at 400° F until the filling is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, approximately 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
  2. Arrange the decorations on the top of the pie. In the case of the example shown, place the leaves around the edge of the pie, and the pumpkin in the center. The decorations can be pressed into the filling slightly, if necessary, to keep them in place. This pie is excellent when served with whipped cream.
Pumpkin pie is a favorite in the fall of most Wiccans and Pagans, especially around the time of the Autumnal Equinox and Samhain. Though it can be served all year round, in the fall it is especially appropriate, and makes a wonderful addition to the ritual feast table, especially when paired with Harvest Mead and stuffed potatoes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wiccan Sabbat Rituals — A Ritual for Samhain

Samhain, one of the most important days in the Wiccan calendar, is observed on October 31st. Many of those who practice Wicca celebrate this holiday with a ritual. Wiccan rituals are many and varied, and can and should be adapted to the personal tastes of the participants. It is best to see a written ritual as a suggestion, and not a firm rule. The ritual presented here can easily be adapted for either solitary or group practice.

Many Wiccans enjoy having each step of the ritual reflect the current season. In regards to Samhain, this means adapting each step to reflect a time of year that focuses on the dead and worships the Goddess in her guise as the Wise One.

Cleansing the Ritual Site for Samhain

The space used for the Samhain ritual should be physically clean. In addition, it should be cleansed ritually, so that negative energy can be eliminated. At Samhain, this can be done using a jack-o-lantern with a lit candle. Fire is believed to be as purifying as water, so carry the jack-o-lantern around the ritual site.

At the same time, feel the ritual space become charged with positive energy, expelling the negative. Some Wiccans like to chant, perhaps something like, "As the fire burns and purifies, so does it cleanse this place."

A Samhain Circle Casting

Most Wiccan rites use either the athame or the wand to cast the circle. In the case of this particular Samhain ritual, the athame will be used. It should be decorated before the ritual to reflect the season. Red, orange, and black ribbon will suffice.

The practice of casting a circle is more a visualization than anything. Take the athame and, starting in the east, slowly draw a clockwise circle along the outer edge of the ritual area, visualizing a soft blue light glowing at the edge of the circle. This forms the edge of the ritual space.

If one desires to chant while drawing the circle, the following can be used: "With this blade, sacred space is cut between the Realm of the Dead and the Realm of the Living."

Inviting the Goddess and the God at Samhain

Wicca focuses very strongly on a personal connection to the divine, so it makes sense that the divine, the God and the Goddess, would be called upon during rituals. At Samhain, the presence of the Goddess and the God is mostly ceremonial, though this isn’t always the case.

Invoking the God is done by allowing the presence of the God, in the aspect of the Lord of the Wild Hunt, to flow down from the sky and into oneself. This is sometimes accompanied by a chant, like: "Lord of the Wild Hunt, Master of Samhain, come down to this sacred space, and feel welcome."

Invoking the Goddess is done by allowing the presence of the Goddess, in the aspect of the Wise One, to flow up from the earth and into oneself. This is sometimes accompanied by a chant, such as this: "Wise One, Mistress of Samhain, come down to this sacred space, and feel welcome."

Samhain Ritual Work

There are many options available for those who wish to ritually celebrate Samhain. Some groups and individuals prefer to mark this part of their ritual with a story or reenactment. Others prefer a dance, such as the Ronde of the Dead. Perhaps this is a good time for the selection of a Winter King and Queen – the possibilities are endless.

Regardless of what method is chosen to celebrate Samhain, it is a good idea to share the meaning of Samhain with all participants. It serves as a lesson for those who are unfamiliar with the lore of Samhain, and a reminder for those who are familiar with Wiccan tradition.

The Feast of Samhain

All participants gather at a feast table that has been previously arranged. Each participant prepares a plate to be placed on the ancestral altar. This is the Dumb Supper, a tribute to the dead. All participants may then enjoy the feast.

Closing the Samhain Ritual

Even the most sacred of occasions must come to an end. The closing out of most Wiccan rituals is simply a reverse of what was done in the first place. One may bid farewell to the Goddess and the God simply by allowing Their essence to flow back to where it came. A chant may be used, like: "Wise One and Lord of the Wild Hunt, many thanks for Your presence"

The circle should be ritually closed. This is done with the athame, which is used to draw the energy (the energy that was used to cast the circle) back into the blade and grounding it in the earth. An example of a chant is as follows: "The Circle of Samhain is now open. Go in peace."

This is a very simple ritual for celebrating the Sabbat of Samhain. Rituals should be adapted and personalized to suit the individual or group using it, for Wicca is a religion of individuality.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Wheel of the Year — How to Celebrate Samhain

The season of Samhain, which takes place on October 31st, is a powerful time for many of the Wiccan faith. It can be said that there are as many ways to celebrate this holiday as there are Witches. A Samhain ritual is probably the most common way to mark this significant date, but there are other ways to mark this occasion.

Decorating and Crafting for Samhain

Decorating for Samhain is a fairly simple process. This is the Feast of the Dead, and in ancient times it was the final harvest of the year. Samhain lore speaks of the spirits of the departed returning to be with their loved ones, and this is said to be the time of the year best for communicating with the dead. So, decorations associated with the dead are most appropriate.

Since this day is also Halloween, decorations shouldn’t be difficult to come by. Spirits, ghouls, and ghosts are especially good choices. Black, a favorite color for this time of year, is most often used to decorate altars, temples, and shrines.

Crafts are equally easy to decide upon. Masks and costumes can be made to represent different aspects of the Goddess and the God, or the spirits of the dead. These masks can also be simply painted black, and can be used to decorate a ritual space.

Jack-o-lanterns are a great deal of fun for people of all ages. They can be carved in many different patterns, and when they are finished, they can be used in ritual. For example, one option is for all participants to lift the lanterns above their heads and slowly make their way to the ritual site. In times of old, folk could frighten away both spirits and other people by carrying their lanterns aloft. In those days, these lanterns were made of turnips.

During the ritual, these jack-o-lanterns become Spirits of Nature. In some groups, each participant takes a turn to speak for these Spirits, giving wise counsel to the group. The ritual continues with divination, scrying, and meditation. Then, the lanterns are once again raised to depart the ritual site.

Making Merry at Samhain

Some Wiccan groups enjoy the practice of selecting a Winter Queen and Winter King at Samhain. These two preside over the festivities, and hold a place of honor. Sometimes they are selected at random, other times they might be elected.

Relighting the Samhain fire is still occasionally practiced by some Wiccan covens. The ‘hearthfire’ of the home is extinguished first. This used to be the central fireplace of the home. In modern times, it can be symbolic, perhaps a large candle in the center of the ritual site. Whatever is used, it is relit from the Samhain fire or cauldron.

The reenactment of mystery plays is a wonderful way to celebrate Samhain. Tales such as the Descent of Inanna or the story of Persephone and Hades (not forgetting Persephone’s mother, Demeter) are perfect fits for Samhain.

Many solitary Wiccans enjoy creating an ancestral altar, to honor the spirits of those who have passed before. This altar is ceremonial in nature, and used only for meditation and communing with the spirits of the dead. It is usually decorated with black candles, and with the pictures of the departed.

Mundane Actions to Mark the Sabbat of Samhain

This is a good time of year to pay off debts and settle quarrels, since it is the Witches’ New Year. The idea is that these things not carry into the next cycle. Another common practice to is ensure that one has room in their schedule in the coming year for rest and reflection. For some, this might prove difficult to accomplish.

Writing a will, or updating an old will, seems particularly appropriate at this time of year. Most Wiccans prefer to have a Wiccan funeral or memorial service, and this preference should be put in writing. Samhain is the perfect time to ensure that this has been done.

There are many more activities that can be enjoyed during Samhain. This is a period of rest and reflection, a time to meditate more than usual and indulge in the quieter activities of life. Any activity that's associated with these qualities is a perfect activity for Samhain.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Wheel of the Year — Samhain and Its Lore

Samhain (pronounced SAH-win), also called All Hallows Eve, All Souls, and Halloween, takes place on October 31st and is one of the most important Sabbats in Wicca. It is both the beginning and end of the Witches’ calendar, similar to New Year’s Eve.

The Themes and Practices of Samhain

The Goddess takes on the role of Wise One at Samhain, and so it is a time to practice divination and seek wisdom. The God leads the Wild Hunt to collect the souls of the dead. It is the end of the old year, the beginning of the new, and a time when the veil between the worlds is thin.

Many Wiccans set aside some time after sunset on October 31st. They perform divination using Tarot cards, runes, or whatever tools they prefer. Black candles are lit, which represent the passing year, and give those celebrating this holiday a time to reflect on the last turn of the Wheel of the Year. Thanks is given to the Goddess and the God for the past year.

White candles are lit to represent the year which has yet to unfold. Celebrants are given the opportunity to think about what they hope to achieve. They then ask the Lady and the Lord for blessings in these matters. Often, divination will be used to attempt to see into the possible future of these hopes and dreams.

As a part of the Wheel of the Year, Samhain is the time when the God perishes in Wiccan lore. The Goddess morns Him, but knows that She carries His seed within Her, and that He will soon live again.

Some symbols associated with Samhain include:
  • Scythes
  • Bones
  • Jack-o-lanterns
  • Dark mirrors
The Feast of Samhain

Traditional foods at this time include many types of game, such as pheasant, partridge and hare. Seafood such as oysters and scallops are common also. While these things were wild and therefore inexpensive in the days of old, today they can be somewhat expensive.

Seasonal vegetables are often cheap and widely available, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, parsnips, peas and winter potatoes. Apples and pears are usually fresh as well.

Some feasting suggestions for this holiday are:
  • Potatoes cooked in their jackets, either plain or stuffed.
  • Lightly cooked vegetables, perhaps with cheese or herbs to add variety.
  • Sausages are traditional since they were a way or preserving meat though the winter.
  • Spare ribs, or pork belly strips served with chutneys.
  • Pumpkin soup or a pumpkin pie heavily laced with cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Baked apples.
  • Fortune cookies, while not Wiccan in origin, allow a type of uncomplicated divination.
Feasting With Children at Samhain
Children are notoriously hard to please when it comes do dinners and feasts. However, there are some foods that can be dressed up to help please the younger crowd and still fit in with the Samhain theme. Some of these are:
  • Zucchini cut lengthways with zigzags and painted with tomato purée. These can be roasted and used as monster mouths.
  • Mini pizzas can be decorated to make ghastly faces.
  • Black pasta can sometimes be found at this time of year, and often entertains the children.
Beverages For Samhain
There are many beverages suitable to Samhain that can come right off the shelves. Red wine is great and often used to honor the Goddess and the God. Brandy or sugar can be added for a little more flavor. Harvest Mead, a rich blend of fruit and honey, is another popular drink at this time of year.
For family events, non-alcoholic cocktails are a perfect substitute. Fruit juice and carbonated beverages are also a good idea. Food coloring can be added to entertain the little ones, even if these drinks are milk based. For those who like sweets that are a little ghastly, red dye can be added to milk and ice cream, making a vampire’s blood drink.
Celebrating Samhain
There are many ways to celebrate Samhain. There are celebrations, both religious and secular, that are celebrated around the world on this night; Halloween, Guy Fawkes’ Night and All Hallows’ Eve, are just a few examples. For the most part, they reflect some version of the feast of the dead.
One very contentious subject at this time of the year for some Wiccans is trick-or-treating. For those families that choose to participate in this practice, it can be highly entertaining for the children. A simpler idea for children and the young at heart is bobbing for apples, either in water or on strings suspended in the doorway.
This is also a traditional time for scrying or divination of all kind, and many different forms of divination are used. Some enjoy attempting to see the initial of their future partner by peeling an apple in one piece and throwing the peel over their shoulder to see what shape it lands in. Other prefer to use more traditional tools such as the Tarot.
Many Wiccans and Pagans celebrate this season with a powerful ritual. As Sabbats are celebratory in nature, magick is generally not worked at these rituals.
Dressing For Samhain
Fancy dress is an excellent way to get everyone into the spirit of Samhain. Some Wiccans feel most comfortable in their ritual robes. Costumes are also in keeping with the spirit of Samhain. The particular costumes used do not matter, though ghoulish and ghastly costumes are more traditional. Traditional colors for Samhain include red, orange, and black. These can, of course, be incorporated into dress or celebration.
Samhain is a wonderful time of celebration for Wiccans around the world. It is a time of merriment and feasting, and a time to remember those who have passed from this life and into the next.