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, September 28, 2012

The History of Wicca — The Coming of Christianity

When Christianity arrived in Europe, there was not the immediate mass conversion that is sometimes suggested. Christianity had not evolved naturally over thousands of years. Instead, it was a man-made religion, one that took a great deal of time to reach the masses. Sometimes, entire countries would be classified as Christian when, in fact, only the rulers had converted, and often only superficially. For the first thousand years of Christianity, the pagan religions of early Europe were still highly prominent.

Attempts at Mass Conversion in Europe

One attempt at mass conversion was made by Pope Gregory the Great. He ordered the building of Christian churches on the sites of older pagan temples and groves. He instructed that all idols were to be smashed, and the sites sprinkled with holy water prior to construction to purify them of ‘unholy’ energy. To a large extent, Pope Gregory appeared to have been successful in his attempt to convert most of Europe.

Appearances can be deceiving, however. When these early churches were being constructed, the best artisans were from pagan religions. These artisans incorporated much of their own symbolism into the holy sites, symbolism which can still be seen today in churches from that era. In this way, pagans could easily go to church and worship their own deities. It was the essence, not the form, that was important to the pagans.

Claims of Devil-Worshiping in Early Europe

Christianity was gaining in strength, but slowly. It still was in its infancy, and perceived the pagan religions as a threat. It’s only natural to want to eliminate a threat. The Church had an effective way to attempt to do that, as the gods of the old religion often become the demons of the new. In the case of paganism, the God of the Hunt served well enough as the Christian Devil. He had horns and to someone who knew no better, he could appear quite frightening.

By drawing this parallel, the Church was able to brand all pagans as devil worshipers. Eventually, this label was applied to anyone who worshiped a god or gods different than the Christian one. In this way, the Church was able to justify its attempt at converting innocent people. This old stereotype has endured, and today, practitioners of many pagan religions, including Wicca, are accused of devil worship.

As Christianity grew in strength, it slowly pushed the pagans to the brink. By the time of the Witch Trials, many pagans had moved out of polite society to take up residence in the country. Though the pagans of Europe presented no threat to the Church, it wasn’t long after the claims of devil worship that the beginnings of the Witch Trials started to emerge.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The History of Wicca — Religion in Early Europe

As ancient man developed, so did religion. While the people spread across Europe, they slowly developed a belief in the afterlife as they adapted and evolved. As they evolved, the Goddess and the God of ancient times also evolved. The God of the Hunt slowly became the God of Nature and Death. At the same time, the Goddess of Fertility also became the Goddess of Rebirth.

The Development of Burial Rituals

Evidence supporting the idea that ancient man believed in a life after death can be found in the burial customs of approximately 20,000 BCE and beyond. The Gravettians were the true innovators of burial customs, burying their dead with full clothing and ornaments. They would even sprinkle their dead with red ochre, giving the skin the appearance of life.

Family members were often buried under the hearth, keeping them close to their loved ones. A man would often be buried with his weapons and tools, perhaps even with his dog. A woman might be buried with cooking implements. Everyone was given what ancient man believed he or she would need in the afterlife.

The Connection Between Dreams and a Belief in the Afterlife

Dreams are much like death. To the outsider, you appear to be almost dead as you sleep, though you do breathe and even move slightly. And yet, upon waking, you can tell of many things. You meet people, some of whom might be truly dead, you see trees and grass and buildings, and you have a multitude of experiences, some of which are fantastical.

Others also experience dreams, as did the ancients. Ancient man would have seen dreams as evidence that another world must exist, a world that is both incorporeal and invisible. Since the dead could sometimes be encountered there, then it must be the land of the dead. And since the people here obviously had clothing and tools, then the departed must require these things in the afterlife.

The Priesthood in Early Europe

The people of early Europe practiced magick and developed a great many rituals. They had rituals for fertility, for hunting, for battle, and for ensuring the continuity of their own people. To administer these rituals, a priesthood developed. In some areas of Europe, these ritual leaders became known as the Wita.

As a group, the Wita would be known as the Witan, the Council of the Wise. In days of old, these respected people were doctors, magicians, lawyers, and priests. They were consulted by kings and emperors, and were the connection to the gods for their people.

Before the coming of Christianity, early Europe was a scattering of different pagan religions. There was no centralization of these religions, and so they evolved separately from each other. However, though these religions sometimes differed in form, they were the same in essence. And they are, in part, the inspiration for modern Wicca.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The History of Wicca — The Goddess and the God in Ancient Times

Early man was mostly concerned with survival. The people who existed twenty-five thousand years ago depended upon hunting. Only through a successful hunt could they gain food, skins for warmth, and bones for tools and weapons. Nature was the source of all they had, but it was also overwhelming. Each element of nature was ascribed a deity. There was a god of wind, a god of waters, a god of lightning, and many more. But, more important than any of these was the God of Hunting

The God of the Hunt in Paleolithic Religion

Most of the animals early man hunted for food were horned, so the God of Hunting was seen as horned. Early man also mixed magick with their basic belief in the Hunting God. Specifically, they used sympathetic magick. In simple terms, sympathetic magick is the idea that like attracts like. If clay was fashioned into the shape of a bison, and this model was ritually killed, it was believed that the hunt would be more successful.

True ritual began with the worship of the God of the Hunt. Early man would wear animal skins and antlers and play the part of the Hunting God. Cave painting of such rituals still exist. These paintings show a strong connection with the God of Hunting and his power over the hunt. This form of sympathetic magick is still performed in some areas of the world.

The Goddess of Fertility in Paleolithic Religion

Along with a Hunting God, there was also a Fertility Goddess. It is unclear which one was worshipped first, or whether they developed together. In the end, it doesn’t matter. If animals were to provide food and other necessities, those animals had to breed. If the tribes were to survive and even thrive, then the women had to have children. Fertility was an inherent part of life.

Sympathetic magick again was used to help ensure this fertility. Carvings and cave paintings have been found that resemble mating animals, and during ritual, various members of the tribe would copulate in an attempt to invoke the Goddess of Fertility. Early man was very concerned with the fertility aspect of the female form, as women were the bearers and nurturers of the children of the tribe.

The Division of the Year in Paleolithic Times

In time, the Goddess assumed an even more powerful role. With the rise of agriculture, the Goddess was said to watch over the fertility of the crops, in addition to the fertility of animals and of the tribe itself. In the summer, the Goddess was seen as the giver of life and sustenance, watching over the crops and domesticated animals. When winter came, the God took over, as hunting was absolutely necessary to survive the harsh winter months.

The year was divided into a light half and a dark half. During the light half of the year, through the summer months, the Goddess held sway. She was worshipped as the bringing of fertility, and the nurturer of the tribe. The winter was considered to be the dark half of the year. During this time, the God was all-powerful. He ruled over the animals that the tribe relied upon for food, and protected those who participated in the hunt.

The Goddess of Fertility and the God of the Hunt were the most important deities to ancient man, and continued to have some importance as religion developed in early Europe. While there were other gods and goddesses, they paled in comparison. The God and Goddess of ancient times are still honored by many people today, and these nature deities are the foundation of Wiccan worship.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Mythology of Ancient Ireland — The Neimheahdian Invasion

The Neimheahdians were the second group of invaders to truly occupy Ireland. As with the Partholans before them, the Neimheahdians and their origins are shrouded in mystery. These people were the followers of a man named Nemed (or Nemedh).

Where Did the Neimheahdians Come From?

It is unclear as to where the Neimheahdians might have come from. Some tales say that they were from Spain, or perhaps Scythia. There is also a legend that speaks of them coming from the mysterious region of the dead. Regardless of their origins, Nemed, son of Agnomon, sailed with his people to Ireland.

At this point, legend is not kind to the Neimheahdians. It is said that of the original 960 followers of Nemed, only nine survived. These nine people were able to quickly reestablish a population in Ireland, but once they had truly colonized Ireland, they were challenged by the Fomorians.

The Neimheahdians and the Fomorians

The five waves of invasion of the Mythological Cycle are littered with references to the Fomorians. They were said to be huge, misshapen creatures, truly terrifying in their cruelty. They take many forms, and were said, in some myths, to have attacked the followers of Nemed as they made their way to Ireland, in the guise of pirates out of Africa.

After the Neimheahdians settled themselves in Ireland and rebuilt their population, the Fomorians again attacked. Nemed and his followers fought against the Fomorians in four great battles, but during these battles, Nemed and many of his people were killed. The Fomorians were able to subdue the remaining Neimheahdians.

Eventually, the Neimheahdians rose in revolt, led by their three remaining chiefs. One of these chiefs, Fergus, kills Conann, who is one of the Fomorian kings. While this was a great victory, it wasn’t long before Morc, the second Fomorian king, routed the Neimheahdians. According to legend, only thirty survived to be sent from Ireland in exile.

What Happened to the Neimheahdians?

The thirty surviving Neimheahdians fled Ireland in despair. Some accounts claim that even these few perished before they found a new homeland. Common myth, however, indicates that they did survive, and even thrive. They are thought to have split into three groups after leaving Ireland.

The first group is thought to have wandered into the vastness of Northern Europe, to later return as a part of the Tuatha De Danann. The second group of refugees made their way to Greece, where they were enslaved. However, they later fled and returned to Ireland as the Fir Bolgs. The third group sought refuge in the north of England. It is sometimes said that ‘Briton’ was so named after the leader of this third group, who was called Briotan Maol.

The Neimheahdians are a powerful part of Irish mythology. Not necessarily because of their original impact on Ireland itself, but because they found the Fir Bolg and become part of the Tuatha De Danann. These two groups form the basis of the Irish Pantheon and are the foundation of the Irish Faery Faith.