Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners

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Cover Art by Carl Fairweather, Design by Armi Dee

(This is the Home page because we obviously want you to buy the book. However, there’s a blog with all sorts of posts like the Northumbrian Runes in context of The Old North, how the book helped a transwoman who survived rape in prison start her PTSD recovery process, little known Germanic deities, further information on Celtic deities and religious practices, and much more. The Menu has information about supporting incarcerated Pagans- especially donating books on (almost) any topic, Resources for Pagans in Prison, information about Gullveig Press, tips on writing incarcerated Pagans, and Contact. Please explore!)

The first release from Gullveig Press is now available! We’re proud to announce that the Celtic Paganism “all-in-one” book Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners has already become a well-loved treasure trove for Pagans on the outside and in prison alike. At 556 pages and 8.5″ x 11″ (21.59 x 27.94 cm) in size, you’ll be reading and rereading these essays, performing these rituals, and admiring the art for quite a long time. (Want to read some of the book just to make sure? Visit here for excerpts and check out our awesome contributors!)

Price for people in prison, Pagan Prison Ministries*, and prisoner rights organizations*: US $7.52 plus shipping and taxes. US $12 in continental USA. BULK RATE: 5 copies for only $46.50 in continental USA!

Buy a copy for an incarcerated Pagan and receive a free pdf of the book! $12!

Price for people neither in prison nor involved in Pagan Prison Ministries or Activism: $23.99 (and whatever shipping fees and taxes apply; $4 in the continental United States). To order, contact us. ALL PROFITS GO TOWARDS PROVIDING COPIES TO PAGANS IN PRISON. Note: This is a lower price than on Amazon because Amazon takes a large cut. 

If you are buying a copy for someone in prison, a Prison Ministry, or to donate to a “free books to prisoners” organization, please contact us. Let us know the address of where you want the book shipped so we can calculate shipping costs and taxes. We will respond by email with the price including shipping and our PayPal account information. Copies for incarcerated persons or established “free books to prisoners” organization will be mailed directly to them once we receive payment. (Either choose a program here or we can choose for you.)
If you would like to share information about ordering Steel Bars, Sacred Waters with people in prison, thank you! Please let them know that they can send a MoneyGram to Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819. Continental USA price plus shipping and taxes: $12. Remind them to include their full name, prison ID number, and address.

*For Prison Ministries (and other organizations helping prison in prison), we also need your mailing address for calculating shipping, along with the following information: who you are; what your organization is; what you do involving prisons; what prisons you serve; why you want a copy of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters; and a link to your website, so we can verify that you actually are working with Pagans in prison.

Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners

Authored by Heather Awen, Rev Donna DonovanViducus Brigantici filiusErynn Rowan Laurie, Hester Butler-Ehle, Eddie MarssonEmma Restall Orr, Armi Dee

An “all-in-one” pan-Celtic polytheist resource of cosmology, deities, virtues, history, rituals, meditations, magic and the future of Celtic Paganism, rooted in scholarly research.

One of only three full-size books for incarcerated Pagans, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters also fulfills the need for a historically accurate guide to ancient Celtic religions that many have sought.

Highlights include:

  • rituals for 11 traditional holy times and seasonal changes based on Gaelic, Gaulish, Welsh and Manx practices;
  • information about (and invocations for and prayers to) 160 Celtic deities;
  • the Other Life/Otherworld;
  • daily practices for the Celtic Pagan;
  • Celtic virtues and how they can be lived today;
  • exploration of different Celtic cultures through time and space;
  • Iberian Celtic deities never before included in a Pagan book;
  • neglected Gaulish deities;
  • how Celtic tribes adapted Roman religion to existing cults and created new ones;
  • the cultural intermixing between Celts and Greeks, Celts and Germans, Celts and Norse Heathens;
  • the “horse, head and hero” cult;
  • modern and traditional meditations;
  • documented Celtic magic;
  • known teachings of the Druids;
  • ogham divination guide;
  • Celtic mythology in context, with explanations of how political factors from the times they were written affected the versions we have today;
  • proto-Celto-Germanic-Finnish words used by some Indo-Europeans 4,000 years ago and the Gaelic, Germanic and Norse deities, rituals and magic that continued from them;
  • common practices among Celtic peoples worldwide;
  • sacrifice and hospitality;
  • maps of the Celtic world, with cities, tribes, temples, rivers and other places of interest mentioned in the essays on history and deities;
  • The Oran Mor (Song of the World);
  • moon rituals;
  • working with ancestors;
  • animism and land spirits, especially in lands new to Celtic Paganism;
  • the connection between Lugus and Woden;
  • Celts in a multicultural society of many polytheist cults;
  • land, sea and sky cosmology;
  • 5 directions of Ireland cosmology;
  • Gaelic and Welsh mantras;
  • the file (poet-prophet);
  • Celtic heroes and heroines;
  • the Fianna (hunter-warrior band);
  • saining (Scottish purification);
  • devotional polytheism, the community and the environment;
  • root meaning of Norse seidR and its ancient link to Celtic magical religious practices;
  • the king-making ritual;
  • the British Old North, a unique mixture of Britons, Angles, Gaels and Picts, home to “Merlin”, ancient poetry, and Hiberno-Saxon art;
  • pathworking (guided meditations) to different deities;
  • cloud scrying and other forms of divination;
  • the Neolithic roots of the swine cult;
  • instructions for making a St Brigid’s Cross;
  • why Anglo-Saxon and Brythonic magic is so similar;
  • making and working with prayer beads;
  • the role of ritual music and improvising ancient Celtic instruments;
  • Celtic funeral practices;
  • the importance of ecological issues in modern Celtic Paganism;
  • journaling questions about essays;
  • pronunciation of deities’ names and important terms;
  • shrines;
  • the political, legal structure of kingdoms;
  • Fairies;
  • Celtic openness about homosexuality;
  • Celtic astronomy;
  • explanations for why Celtic Paganism cannot be Folkish, racist, homophobic or limited to Ireland and the British Isles;
  • visions of Celtic Paganism’s future;
  • Celtic Paganism and the 12 step program and CBT, DBT and ACT therapies;
  • forming and maintaining a diverse Pagan group;
  • drawing and creative writing exercises;
  • recipes for “make do” crafts including papier mache, print making, and the 6th century paint glair used in medieval manuscripts;
  • around 100 drawings or photographs of archeological finds, depictions of Celtic deities both ancient and modern and Celtic culture;
  • crossword puzzles;
  • resources for incarcerated Pagans;
  • and much more.

Although written for Pagans in prison who are possibly alone with only paper, pencil and tap water, “outside” Pagans are provided with the background information to expand their own practices. A valuable tool for Pagan Prison Ministries, volunteers and penpals, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters was partially shaped by communication with Pagans in prison. Their needs were generally no different than those of frustrated Pagans on the outside seeking an accurate education about the Celts. The main difference was lack of access to books, services and especially the Internet, where so much research is scattered. Both communities needed that research organized, including the recent Iberian, Balkan, Gallo-Roman and Celto-Germanic discoveries. The result is a book that explores the ancient Celtic peoples and their religions from Ireland to Turkey, Portugal to Ukraine, and their role in over 1,000 years of European history. The Celts influenced the cultures with whom they interacted and were changed by those near them – including other Celts.

All profits go to supplying Pagans in prison with copies of the book. The U.S. incarcerates 1% of its population, more than any other nation. Most convictions are connected to addiction. The American prison population is 8-12% Pagan. This means that 1 in 1000 Americans are incarcerated Pagans! Providing low cost, high quality information to Pagans in prison is the goal of Gullveig Press.

Please note: The content by Laurie, Restall Orr and Butler-Ehle have been published elsewhere or are available online.

Steel Bars Sacred Waters
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Today Only! Donate for LGBTQ (and Pagan) Prisoners!

Thank you for your support today!!

Black&Pink is part of Omaha Gives. Today only, the money you donate, even $10, to Black&Pink could receive bonus funding. “Black and Pink’s mission is to abolish the criminal punishment system and to liberate LGBTQIA2S+ people/people living with HIV who are affected by that system, through advocacy, support, and organizing.”

In no way do I mean to downplay the importance of the hardships of the queer community in prison, such as transgender people having by far the highest rates of rape. In fact a recent study by B&P states that queer persons in prison experience rape 6x more than other prisonersSteel Bars, Sacred Waters made clear that the ancient, highly skilled, ferocious Gauls who controlled most of non-Mediterranean Europe considered homosexuality and bisexuality to be absolutely normal. The Irish Brehon Laws mention homosexuality as a reason for divorce, but has no condemnation of gay people or laws against them, even in its Christian version. 

But aside from all the good B&P does for thousands of queer prisoners, the organization also offers one of the only free penpal services for people who are incarcerated. Many straight or “heteroromantic, bisexual” prisoners who are not racist homophobes receive B&P’s free newsletter and learn about the struggles of the LGBTQ community on the outside and inside prison.

Black&Pink is one of the best places to find a Pagan penpal for that reason. On their potential penpal list, if you go to the little drop down menu and choose Wiccan or Pagan to narrow your penpal search, you’ll find the more open minded Pagan prisoners and avoid a white supremacist gang banger who firmly believes that Hitler was Heathen – even though Hitler put all occultists in Concentration Camps, made several strong anti-Heathenry statements and thought that Islam was a much better suited religion for Germans than any other. Yep, you’ll even find Norse Heathens at Black&Pink. 

You don’t have to be an anti-capitalist or for total prison abolition and punitive justice abolition to become a penpal through Black&Pink. You certainly don’t have to be queer – I’m a pretty vanilla monogamous straight woman. (Being a person with disabilities does make my sex life very non-heteronormative, however.) Most prisoners just want someone to acknowledge that they still exist to the outside world. If they exist out here, they have a much greater chance of hope for their futures. This reflects in behavior and can help them get parole sooner and stay out of prison. When on the outside, they’ll be at Pagan festivals, Pagan Pride Day, Pagan shops and other events where you will meet them, so why not start getting to know them now?

So now you have lots of reasons to donate! The link is at Omaha Gives

“What is Omaha Gives? 
A giant, 24-hour giving drive that happens once a year in Omaha, NE (where our national offices moved to in 2018). All day long donations are able to be made to various nonprofits, including Black and Pink, with opportunities for bonus funding drawings! No matter where you are in the world, YOU can give today. You do not have to live in Omaha.

“Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other. Our work toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex is rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. We are outraged by the specific violence of the prison industrial complex against LGBTQ people, and respond through advocacy, education, direct service, and organizing.

“Our organizing efforts are guided by a larger goal of collective liberation. We hold strong to a feminist, anti-racist, queer liberationist, anti-capitalist, radical analysis of social, ecological, and economic struggles. We understand the prison industrial complex to be part of a larger system that utilizes systems of oppression to divide people and exploit our individual and collective power. Through movement building and sustained direct action against these systems of violence we will create the world we dream of.

“We also celebrate in the beauty of what exists now including our love for each other, the strength of our planet, incredible human resiliency, and all of the power we have to continue existing. While dreaming and struggling for a better world we embody a deep commitment to living in the present.

“We root our work in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. To best maintain an accountable relationship to incarcerated people, half of those in the leadership circle are currently incarcerated. We also prioritize the voices of formerly incarcerated people as our “free-world” members of the leadership circle. We know that those most impacted by the violence of the prison industrial complex are best equipped with the knowledge of how to tear it down.

“As of today Black & Pink’s “free-world” membership is primarily Boston-based. We commit to supporting one another, sharing the work of our organizing efforts, and nurturing the growth of our family both inside and outside the walls. We intend to expand our national and international membership, creating chapters in other cities, towns, schools, neighborhoods, etc.”

(If you are wondering why liberal or conservative groups don’t offer anything to prisoners, ask them. It’s not my fault that only socialist and anarchist types are willing to do immerse unpaid work for the least fortunate.)

Gullveig Press in no way endorses any advertising by WordPress. Spend the money to make a difference and donate to Black&Pink!

 

Celtic Festival Calender: Mercuralia & Lugus

356px-Tricephale_Carnavalet
Lugus

As Celtic people conquered by the Romans adapted their religion to that of the Empire’s, I have begun honoring using the Roman calender as a guide for when to honor Celtic deities. There’s no real way to make direct correlation between the two pantheons; Celtic Gods tend to be tribal hero kings (and possibly first ancestors) who are great at everything, and Celtic Goddesses often hold power over the fertility and death of the tribe’s land, water, livestock, and human members, especially the king. However, to unify the Empire, other peoples’ deities were called by Roman names. It’s now thought that the Celts had more power in deciding what Roman deity to choose than formerly believed. The Celts transformed aspects of Roman religion to fit their own cosmology and over the course of a few generations new versions of Celtic religion appeared.

Whether or not any Celtic people worshiped their tribal deities on dates of Roman Festivals then, Celtic polytheism is still adapting. Most Celts would have known the deities of their tribe and (if in one) their larger federation. These were personal, connected to place and ancestry, and a large part of one’s identity. Today we don’t know a lot about the majority of Celtic deities (although we have over 400 names), but most modern Celtic polytheists have their own pantheons of a larger geographical region and period of time. Even a Gaelic polytheist worshiping the Tuatha De Danann is doing something quite modern, as tribes worshiped the deities of their part of Ireland. The Roman calendar is an easy way to plan rituals for those Gaulish, Iberian and Brythonic deities who were matched with a Roman deity. I began this with the most popular Celtic God most people have never heard of, Telesphorus; then Lenus, Neto, Rudianos, Cocidius, and Nemetona March 1st; and last month Ataegina and Erecura.

On May 15, or the full moon of May, Roman merchants honored the God Mercury with the Mercuralia festival. An interesting thing about Mercury is that the Gauls worshiped Him even more ardently than the Romans. He was easily one of the most popular, if not the most popular, deities in Gaul. He was sometimes associated with a Celtic God, but in general the Gauls embraced Him as Himself.

There are records of Gaulish merchants hiring Roman artisans to make large statues of Mercury. It may be that these merchants brought the cult to their own communities. How Mercury was understood and worshiped at this time would have probably been a very Gaulish way. Some knowledge of the God didn’t mean that the merchant had a great wealth of information about Roman religious practices or mythology. Mercury was most likely growing into a Gallic deity while around them the world of the Gauls grew more Roman. Gaul was thriving with import-export business, and tribes who controlled major rivers were in a powerful position. Trade with Britain was not new, as goods crossed the Channel to and from southeast England to the Rhine River. The Romans built cities like London and their famous roads which made markets and transportation to other parts on Britain (including troops stationed at Hadrian’s Wall) much easier. One reason why Julius Caesar was so eager to conquer Gaul was to get their precious metal mines. Celtic fabric quickly became popular in Rome. Mercury as the God of not only commerce but also transportation, was the backbone of the strength of Gaul. Still, to the Romans, He was generally viewed as primarily the messenger of the deities.

Most scholars associate Mercury with Lug/ Lugus, who was widely worshiped by many Celtic peoples: the Celtiberians, the Luggones of Spain, the Gauls, the Gaels, and the Britons. Lug and Odin seem to have an ancient connection, going back perhaps 4,000 years to a group of Indo-European people in or near the Czech Republic who would later become the Germans and the Celts. Linguistically the two Gods have quite a lot in common at this point from the spear to having or closing one eye. Also Lug’s mythology from Ireland and Wales (as Lugh and Lleu) has strong connections with myths about Odin. (Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has more in depth information.)

Starting with Lugus (pronounced “LOO-guss”), His companion Rosmerta and another Celtic deity associated with Mercury named Cissonius (pronounced: kiss-SOH-nee-us) the carriage driver are described. As we don’t have much information about the Mercuralia, use your imagination while working with knowledge of Celtic ritual.

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Lugus was worshiped by the Gauls but rarely by that name. When first describing the deities of the Gauls, Julius Caesar wrote in De Bello Gallico that the Roman God Mercury was their most important God. (When the Romans wrote about other peoples’ deities they used the names of the Roman ones that best matched the local deities. It helped hold a multicultural society together.) Important Lugus became so strongly associated with the Roman God Mercury that Mercury actually did become the most popular deity for the Roman Gaulish people! Mercury rules over trade, travel, communication and commerce, plus he invented the arts. The Southern Gauls actually had accepted Hermes, the earlier Greek version of Mercury, into their culture centuries before Caesar visited, so in a way Mercury was not really a new God to those Gauls.

“Some Gaulish Mercury statues showed him with three faces (which happens with other Gaulish Gods, signifying great strength) and three phalluses. Sometimes he is portrayed bearded and older than the Roman Mercury. Armed with a spear, he was often with the Celtic Goddess Rosmerta. His symbols are a herald’s staff and a money-bag; his animal familiars are goats, sheep and roosters, all of which became new popular animal sacrifices. He sometimes appears with the horned serpent, normally associated with Cernunnos.

“His name is found in Western European city names: Lugdunum (“fort of Lugus”), which was the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis (today Lyon, France); Carlisle, England, which was once Luguvalium; Loudoun in Scotland; Leiden in the Netherlands; Dinlleu in Wales; Lothian in Scotland; and Lugones in Spain. That was once in the territory of the Luggones, one of the 21 tribes of Asturians. There are many personal names linked to Lugus. One is Llewellyn. His own name, however, is rarely written down, even with Mercury. Some scholars believe that the many places with “his name” were really just “brilliant.” His name also may be connected to “oath,” such as putting an oath of destiny on someone. (“I swear you will….”)

“Lugus was also popular with the Celtiberians, especially in the mountains. Three inscriptions of a plural version of his name, the Lugoves, were found in Spain. One inscription, “L. L. Urcico dedicated this, sacred to the Lugoves, to the guild of shoemakers,” interests many scholars because the Brythonic God Lleu in the Mabinogi was a shoemaker. Lleu and the Gaelic Lugh, who has all the skills, are believed to be connected with Lugus.

“The Gaulish Mercury had mountain tops dedicated to him. They were called Mercurii Montes and included Montmartre, the Puy de Dôme, and the Mont de Sène.”

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Rosmerta (“the Great Provider”) is the Celtic companion of the Roman God Mercury. Celtic religion required the pairing of a God with a Goddess, but they did not have to be married. Rosmerta, being older, may have been considered Mercury’s mother. She is a mature Goddess who was worshiped in all the Celtic lands in the Roman Empire, being most popular in northern and eastern Gaul. She shared Mercury’s symbols – a winged staff with snakes, a purse, a winged diadem (instead of his winged hat), a rooster or ram – but she also held cornucopias and offering dishes. Her dress is modest and her face serious. She may have a connection to prophecy, but her worshipers knew her best as the provider of material well-being.”

(Viducus Brigantici filius has a beautiful monthly ritual honoring Rosmerta in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters.)

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Cissonius is a Gaulish God of trade and protecting travelers. Cissonius was the second most common name for the Gaulish Mercury. In Switzerland, southern Germany and France 17 inscriptions of his name have been found. Cissonius had two different forms. One was typical of Mercury: the young man with the winged helmet and staff. The other was as a man with a beard wearing a helmet who rode a ram while carrying a cup of wine.”

Senobessus Bolgon offers more on the role of Cissonius in Gaulish Reconstructionist Paganism, as well as another deity commonly associated with Mercury, Visucius.

I personally wonder about the influence of Hermes on the Gaulish understanding of Mercury. Early writing about the Celts said they were master magi, nearly obsessed with magic, and Hermes has a strong history as a God of magic. Sorcerer (and master of everything else worth doing) Lugh performs the one eye Crane Position. Lleu is the maternal nephew (or son) of the greatest sorcerer of Wales Gwydion, Himself the maternal nephew of Math, King of Gwynedd and another fabulous magician.

Selected Bibliography

Davies, Sioned, editor and translator, The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics (2007)

Ewing, John Thor, The Birth of Lugh – Óðinn and Loki among the Celts, Sinsear 8, University College Dublin (1995)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Haussler, Ralph, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul, Divinidades indigenas em analise, J. d’Encarnacao (ed), (2008)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Rhys, John, Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx. Oxford University Press (1901)

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise, translated by Myles Dillon, Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover (2000)

Viducus Brigantici filius, Deo Mercurio, http://www.deomercurio.be/en/

Slow Jams Oral Expressions (pen pal advice)

If you have a penpal in prison who has access to a radio, they probably know about Sunday Night Slow Jams DJed (and practically everything else done) by R Dub!. Slow Jams plays current and past R&B and hip hop love songs nationwide and in 13 other countries.

The show is famous for its Oral Expressions, where lovers’, family members’ and friends’ messages are played. There’s no “shout outs” – an Oral Expression has a clear format:

“This is (your full name) in (city and state). My oral expression is for (your pen pal’s name without the name of the prison). (Your message; example:) I hope you have a great Summer Solstice! Thanks for being my friend. Many blessings!”

You can re-record your oral expression up to 5 times. You can leave an oral expression every day in hopes that one will be chosen for the show Sunday Night. The toll free phone number in the US is 1-877-209-0631. 

Here are some hints on how to get your Oral Expressions on the air from R Dub!, and here’s my own guesses:

I think that being in a very low population area in the whitest state which also has the 2nd eldest population (ie people probably not aware of Slow Jams) gives me a slight edge. Naturally, Slow Jams wants to represent everywhere the show airs. Although they receive 10,000 Oral Expressions each week from which to choose, if most are from the West coast that week and you  live on the East coast, your odds of being chosen are probably higher. Every week is going to be different, so taking the 3 minutes to leave an Oral Expression each week is worth it.

You don’t have to worry that it will seem romantic if your pen pal knows up front that you don’t want romance and sexual content, and your message isn’t romantic. R Dub! commented on one woman’s oral expression to her male best friend, noting that you don’t hear a lot about men and women being friends. He seemed quite happy about their friendship, so he may want to air more of those. It is often very difficult for men who recently left prison to know how to speak to women and children. Your friendship teaches them how to be friends with women while in prison which is really helpful. 

Oral Expressions is a good way for your pen pal to hear your voice. Of course, it’s really reaffirming that they exist in the outside world, too, when they hear their names.

Remember that the Christian holidays are going to get more callers, while Pagan holy times will not. Wishing  your pen pal a happy Winter Nights, Beltain, Games of Apollo, Oshun’s Festival, or Imbolc is a nice way to let the many other Pagans know that Pagans do care about prisoners.

Make sure that you told your pen pal that you’re doing this, so they’ll be listening. I would first ask if they listen to Sunday Night Slow Jams. There’s not much in the way of national radio shows anymore so Slow Jams has a big following in prison. However, if they can’t hear the radio or modern hate R&B, it’s not worth doing.

Eostre: Anglo-Saxon Dawn Goddess of April Ritual

Eostre Shrine of Heather Awen 2019
2019 Eostre Shrine, all materials explained in essay. Heather Awen

 

 

Prologue

I have a deep relationship with Eostre from when I lived nowhere near wood stove smoke and could spend from 3 or 4am until 6 or 7am outside. The carbon monoxide poisoning every day was lessened by the low temperature at which I set the thermostat during the night, so at 3 or 4 am I was brighter eyed (but with no bushy tail), and the Babesia blood parasites and Lyme disease gave me some relief when I first woke up.

Sitting outside every dawn in all weather (under a tiny porch roof in cold rains) I because very familiar with Eostre. Animals are so active then that it was often thrilling: the possum who walked over my foot; the fawn so close I could have touched it; locking eyes with a red fox for what felt like an out of body (or fully IN body) experience; and my regular companion, a very trusting skunk who seemed to think the same of me. I heard returning birds sing, seeking mates, and watched their young learn to fly.

And every day, no matter what, Eostre decorated the sky any way She chose. Like sand paintings, Her art of indigo, purple, pinks, oranges, greenish blues or shades of grey disappeared into Sunna’s bright white-yellow. It inspired me as an artist: it doesn’t matter who sees it or how the final piece looks, it’s the process and commitment to daily creating that matters.

I don’t know how my ancestors thought of Eostre. Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Swedes, Frisians and other Germanic peoples settled Britain aside from Wales (Welsh is Old English for “strangers”) and Gaelic Dal Riada. They most certainly had their own pantheons and religious customs. Many deity names may have been similar, but coming from different ecosystems and separated by time, local variations would have existed. Who brought Eostre to their new island home?

(To learn about the Anglo-Saxon cosmology, I recommend the free pdf versions of Bob Trubshaw’s books, available at Heart of Albion Productions, https://hoap.co.uk/catalogue.htm#aswv)

It frustrates me when I see Norse Heathens try to force continental deities into their pantheon. How many times have I read that the Belgic Goddess Nehalennia of the Morini tribe (from the Celtic word for sea) whose temples have been uncovered under the beach sands in modern Zeeland, Holland, is Idun? Why the dwarf Goddess Who is the power of immortality found in the apples that keep the deities young and immortal? Merely because Nehalennia in many of the 160+ stone images of Her holds apples – like dozens of other Goddesses in Roman-made or Roman-influenced art. Different tribes had different deities and mythology based on their history and bioregion. Nehalennia exists where She is needed.

My father’s side has many recorded newcomers to England: Offa/Uffi the Gentle, King of the Angles whose grandfather Wihtlaeg is a grandson of Woden; the Iclingas dynasty of Mercia in the 7th and 8th centuries; Queen Osyth, sister of Mercia’s King Penda (famous as the last great Heathen king in Britain), who married King Nechtan of Alba (Dal Riada); Princess Elfrida of England born in Wessex 877; Athelred Mucil, Ealdorman of the Gaini in Mercia; Oslac Wihtgarsson, royal cupbearer of Wessex; and King Wihtgar of the Isle of Wight who married into the Irish royal family of Ossory. What might Eostre mean to them? The converted ones, what customs did they continue during Christian Holy Week without knowing why?

Eostre

The Anglo-Saxon Goddess for whom the month of April is named, Eostre, has Her linguistic roots in the word East. The most holy direction for Indo-European people, this is where the stars, moon, and, most importantly for life to continue, the Sun rises. All things in the Northern Heavens turn from the East to the South and around to the West. The farthest North is an area of constant darkness and mystery. The Order of the World, the Xartus, is for the Shining Ones (the meaning of the proto-Indo-European word from which we get “deities”) to come to us from the East. (Planets in retrograde are the common exception.)

Usas is the Vedic Goddess of the Dawn, a cousin perhaps to Eostre. The Rig Veda offers many hymns to Usas. It is important that you do not confuse Vedic religion with Hinduism. I have noticed that some Pagans, hoping to better understand their own pantheons, look to Hinduism. Hinduism replaced the Priesthood religion of the Vedic deities. Priests seem to have become corrupt and the Vedic deities were demonized, demoted or otherwise greatly changed in Hinduism. Once you move away from the Vedas, you’ve moved into Hinduism. The farther you move to modern times, the more any proto-Indo-European similarities have vanished.

We have no ancient prayers to Eostre, just a name and a month. As her name is the basis for Easter the only movable holy time in the Christian faith, and the Anglo-Saxon calendar is a solar-lunar combination, we can figure out Eostre’s time of celebration. The first Sunday after full moon after the spring equinox is Easter, so Eostre’s festival was probably the first full moon after the spring equinox.

There is an association with youth and renewal in some German Easter folk practices, like wearing white and bathing the face with dew early on Easter morning. The Indo-European East/Dawn Goddess is always young and it makes sense that She is renewal. Oftentimes we read about deities and other MoreWorldly persons using dew gathered from healing plants to treat the ill; some believe this may be an early form of homeopathy. According to certain old documents, some herbs are meant to be collected when coated in the mysterious dew, a water out of nowhere. (The Manx Sea God Manannan Mac Lir’s chief physician Libra Primliaig gathers healing herbs while they still are covered with dew. Learn more in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners.)

It may be that the white birch tree is a symbol of the proto-Indo-European dawn Goddess. Perhaps it is because She shines like the white birch, or it may be because birch are “pioneer trees.” In forest succession, after a prairie has brushes, birch trees are usually the first tree to populate the area. Although they live about only 70 years, their deaths are important: the birch restores much needed nutrients to the land so the next wave of trees can grow into a forest. I keep birth twigs and fallen bark on my Eostre shrine.

Many associate Eostre will eggs. Chicken living in natural light lay more eggs when there’s more sunlight. As She ushers in the lengthening days, people would be grateful for the eggs. (Remember how far north England is to understand why now would be the time of returning light.) Because of the recently created Easter Bunny, She is also associated with rabbits. However, the Easter Hare is from no earlier than 17th century Germany. Hares are often considered magical animals, perhaps because they are commonly seen in the grey markings on the surface of the full moon.

Still, the rabbit with its prolific breeding seems to fit the season of general fertility, and so it stays. Deities evolve, their symbols, offerings, and reason why mortals pray to Them change. They’re never static. A look at the long-recorded Kemetic, Greek, Roman or Hindu mythologies will show how the deities will always adapt with us. A study of the many changes in the Yorubaland Orishas as They were once worshipped in West Africa led by Priestesses and Priests, then worshipped by slaves informally and secretly in the Americas often associated with Catholic and Freemason societies, and now in formal neo-Yoruba religions with Priests and Priestesses often from the Iberian peninsula illustrates the way deities adapt to our circumstances.

I like to take lines from the hymns to Usas from the Rig Veda as my basis for my Eostre Hymn. Then I adapt the words to fit the spring as well. By then I’ve gotten that “holy feeling” and tap deeper into what my community and culture needs. They’re interwoven as more specific prayers, along with my praise and understanding of Eostre. I’ve included this year’s Eostre Hymn and some of the ancient Hymns to Usas. After Agni, the Vedic fire God whose flames consume the sacrifices to the deities, the next deity hailed by the Vedic Priests was Usas. She is generally considered benevolent, but there a mention of how each day basically brings us closer to death. Yet there’s also a mention of the ancestors long gone who saw the dawn as well. The cycle continues.

My ritual:

Food offering: organic local beef, organic local sheep milk yogurt, organic local goat cheese, loaf of heavy multigrain bread, organic cabbage, organic hard candies, a few organic animal crackers to represent animal sacrifice, fresh purified water

(Beef was a food for the wealthy in Anglo-Saxon society and loaves of bread were common, often with stew. The Romans brought wheat and cabbage to Britain centuries earlier. But it was the sheep’s milk yogurt that Eostre seemed to call for the most. I didn’t even know anyone made that, but when I mentioned it to my mother she said that she actually just found some. Fermented foods were very common in all cultures because they basically are the natural way to have probiotics. Sauerkraut, for example, helps digest heavy sausages. Fermented drinks made with diary were popular across all of Northern Europe until recently. Yogurt, if it’s real, will have cultures growing in it that balance the important intestinal bacteria. The most common non-meat sacrifice in the Vedic religion was clarified butter, ghee. As the proto-Indo-European people were pastoralists to whom cattle are wealth and that mindset continued into even the runes, a variety of dairy products are usually good offerings.)

Other biodegradable offerings: 3 amber beads (from 1970s necklace made with amber from Latvia, bought second hand from Latvian Etsy shop), 1 turquoise bead (from a friend; I do NOT endorse mining companies!), and a few glass or ceramic beads (recycled, made Fair Trade in India, or someone ‘s destash ie second hand)

Everything will be offered to the land. (Do not leave meat or dairy offerings in populated areas because they will attract animals most people consider pests that can be very disruptive. Someone will probably kill them.)

Heather Awen, out of the window
Out my window, rain and rising rivers

The snow has *just* melted here in northern Vermont. It rains, another river flood warning in effect. A couple weeks ago we saw robins. Mud season has been in full effect for a while and will continue.

Around 5:20am I start gathering Her food, singing Her name in what feels like an endless loop. I am not thinking anything. It feels good to be lost in movement and music. Myofascial Pain Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, herniated back discs and leg muscle – I don’t normally stand much.

The food and bead offerings are arranged with my Eostre shrine items: three eggs, a decade old, decorated by a neighbor and her children; the top of a ceramic bunny I’ve had since I was an infant, finally too broken to repair; found birch sticks and bark; feathers of pheasant from an amazing and beautiful autistic Roma poetess born in April; and the glass bead shrine I made Eostre. Starting with an original one of a kind rabbit pendant someone made and gave me, it has the colors from darkest night to sunrise, with a yellow songbird. By moving through them, I can remember the power of Eostre. (I make and sell customized bead shrines that are sturdy enough to take on your travels and hold in bed while sick. Prices are determined by the cost of materials; one with a donated earing as the pendant is going to cost much less than one with a $25 Taranus Wheel.)

Eostre Shrine close up, Heather Awen
Eostre Shrine close up, Heather Awen

Once everything is organized, I face east and say my Eostre Hymn. I can feel a friend of mine faraway standing next to me. I don’t know what he’s doing exactly but it adds a little necessary oomph with hand movements and heart energy.

Eostre Hymn

Arise and greet mighty Eostre, Goddess of Renewals, Maiden of Light and Life and Herald of Sunna’s Season!

The Fair, the Bright has come with her white offspring; now the dark winter returns to her dwelling. Akin, immortal, following each other, changing their colours both the heavens move onward.

Following the Wyrd laid before Them, alternately they travel. Fair-formed, of different hues and yet one-minded, Night and Dawn, Winter and Spring clash not, neither do they travel.

Eostre, harnessing her wagon with purple oxen, injuring none, returns with perpetual riches. Opening paths to happiness, the Goddess shines, praised by all, giver of every blessing.

With changing tints she gleams in double splendour while from the eastward she displays her body. She travels perfectly the path of Order, nor fails to reach, as one who knows, the quarters.

In the sky’s borders she has shone in splendour; now to our great joy the Goddess throwns off the veil of darkness. Awakening the world with purple horses, on her well-harnessed chariot Dawn approaches.

Bringing all life-sustaining blessings with her, showing herself she sends forth brilliant lustre. Breasts bare, Eostre fills our world with returning Life-giving light, and flowers are soon to follow.

It is Eostre who opens the portal to the birds, migrations ending, eggs laying, songs glorious as if to welcome the Mother of Sexuality, Fertility and Mortality. It is Eostre who opens the portal for Sunna to bring us warmth and well being.

Although we share only limited springs with you, Eostre, please think kindly of us. We offer food and gifts to the daughter of the Heavens; May You be pleased with our generosity, although Yours is so much greater.

From times prehistoric You have kept the cycles of the Sun moving in harmonic perfection. Today we remember all you offer, all you are, and where we fit in your turning seasons. Let us feel the change You bring and be healed, be whole, be wholesome.

May your light and fair blessings reach our collective and individual dungeons of despair, isolation, oppression and ignorance. Grant us all the creativity and will power to follow your path of freedom; let us be uplifted by your eternal chances to match the design of the Deities.

Please look down to us with eyes full of love and extend your glory deep into our bodies, strong, healthy, holy, blessed. Usher in the time of gentle rains, bright sun, and great growth. Bless our farmers and our eagerness for an honorable life.

May Eostre whose auspicious rays are seen resplendent round about, Grant us great riches, fair in form, of all good things, wealth which light labour may attain.

Life continues, cycles continue, each morning, each spring another chance to understand, to create, to design, to live in abundant joy with the Order of the Deities.

May They beckon to us the way of Xartus; May we gracefully embrace this holy union.

Thank you. I give to Eostre, I give to the goodness in myself, and I give to the love that still and always will exist within my species. Thank you, O Heavenly Mother.

At the end I pull a rune. I naturally use the Anglo-Saxon runes with the Northumbrian ones included. (I have removed the Cweard rune because no one knows what the word even means.)

I have to think about why I’m taking an omen. Am I asking if She’s pleased? The runes aren’t great for yes/no answers. She’s satisfied. I feel it. We’re good. So what’s the message from Eostre for which I need an omen? As it’s a seasonal festival, I ask for an omen about how the spring will be for me.

Rune of Spring, 2019, Heather Awen
Rune of Spring, 2019, Heather Awen

The answer is Wynn. Joy of having enough. Joy of a home, good health, prosperity and happiness. Troubles will be few. Gratitude will be important for my mental well being. Wish comes from the related “wunsch” and for the Goths “wunjo” (the rune’s Scandinavian name) meant “bliss.” The different meanings and the lines of the Rune Poem remind me of the power of oxytocin, the comfort, bonding hormone released during breast feeding, orgasms and grooming/ wanted, non-sexual touch. There’s a needed willingness to feel content in Wynn because my culture values struggling over satisfaction. Blame it on the intense mixture of Calvinist Christianity with capitalism, but happiness is scorned as laziness, and ghosts of Scottish Presbyterian and Dutch Reformist self-loathing is woven deeply in my recent family Wyrd.

I embrace joy.

 

Ancient Hymns to Usas

Here are some hymns to Usas directly copied from the e-book version The Complete Rig Veda (English), translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith, published by Classic Century Works. All… oddities are in the original.

HYMN XLVIII. Dawn.
1 DAWN on us with prosperity, O Usas, Daughter of the Sky, Dawn with great glory, Goddess, Lady of the Light, dawn thou with riches, Bounteous One.
2 They, bringing steeds and kine, boon-givers of all wealth, have oft sped forth to lighten us. O Usas, waken up for me the sounds of joy: send us the riches of the great.
3 Usas hath dawned, and now shall dawn, the Goddess, driver forth of cars Which, as she cometh nigh, have fixed their thought on her, like glory-seekers on the flood.
4 Here Kanva, chief of Kanva’s race, sings forth aloud the glories of the heroes’ names,— The. princes who, O Usas, as thou comest near, direct their thoughts to liberal gifts.
5 Like a good matron Usas comes carefully tending everything: Rousing all life she stirs all creatures that have feet, and makes the birds of air fly up.
6 She sends the busy forth, each man to his pursuit: delay she knows not as she springs. O rich in opulence, after thy dawning birds that have flown forth no longer rest.
7 This Dawn hath yoked her steeds afar, beyond the rising of the Sun: Borne on a hundred chariots she, auspicious Dawn, advances on her way to Men.
8 To meet her glance all living creatures bend them down: Excellent One, she makes the light. Usas, the Daughter of the Sky, the opulent, shines foes and enmities away.
9 Shine on us with thy radiant light, O Usas, Daughter of the Sky, Bringing to us great store of high felicity, and beaming on our solemn rites.
10 For in thee is each living creature’s breath and life, when, Excellent! thou dawnest forth. Borne on thy lofty car, O Lady of the Light, hear, thou of wondrous wealth, our call.
11 O Usas, win thyself the strength which among men is wonderful. Bring thou thereby the pious unto holy rites, those who as priests sing praise to thee.
12 Bring from the firmament, O Usas, all the Gods, that they may drink our Soma juice, And, being what thou art, vouchsafe us kine and steeds, strength meet for praise and hero might.
13 May Usas whose auspicious rays are seen resplendent round about, Grant us great riches, fair in form, of all good things, wealth which light labour may attain.
14 Mighty One, whom the rsis of old time invoked for their protection and their help, O Usas, graciously answer our songs of praise with bounty and with brilliant light.
15 Usas, as thou with light to day hast opened the twin doors of heaven, So grant thou us a dwelling wide and free from foes. O Goddess, give us food with kine.
16 Bring us to wealth abundant, sent in every shape, to plentiful refreshing food, To all-subduing splendour, Usas, Mighty One, to strength, thou rich in spoil and wealth.

HYMN XLIX. Dawn.
1 E’EN from above the sky’s bright realm come, Usas, by auspicious ways: Let red steeds bear thee to the house of him who pours the Soma, juice.
2 The chariot which thou mountest, fair of shape, O Usas light to move,— Therewith, O Daughter of the Sky, aid men of noble fame today.
3 Bright Usas, when thy times return, all quadrupeds and bipeds stir, And round about flock winged birds from all the boundaries of heaven.
4 Thou dawning with thy beams of light illumest all the radiant realm. Thee, as thou art, the Kanvas, fain for wealth, have called with sacred songs.

HYMN CXIII. Dawn.
1 This light is come, amid all lights the fairest; born is the brilliant, far-extending brightness. Night, sent away for Savitar’s uprising, hath yielded up a birth-place for the Morning.
2 The Fair, the Bright is come with her white offspring; to her the Dark One hath resigned her dwelling. Akin, immortal, following each other, changing their colours both the heavens move onward.
3 Common, unending is the Sisters’ pathway; taught by the Gods, alternately they travel. Fair-formed, of different hues and yet one-minded, Night and Dawn clash not, neither do they travel.
4 Bright leader of glad sounds, our eyes behold her; splendid in hue she hath unclosed the portals. She, stirring up the world, hath shown us riches: Dawn hath awakened every living creature.
5 Rich Dawn, she sets afoot the coiled-up sleeper, one for enjoyment, one for wealth or worship, Those who saw little for extended vision. All living creatures hath the Dawn awakened.
6 One to high sway, one to exalted glory, one to pursue his gain, and one his labour: All to regard their different vocations, all moving creatures hath the Dawn awakened.
7 We see her there, the Child of Heaven apparent, the young Maid, flushing in her shining raiment. Thou sovran Lady of all earthly treasure, flush on us here, auspicious Dawn, this morning.
8 She first of endless morns to come hereafter, follows the path of morns that have departed. Dawn, at her rising, urges forth the living him who is dead she wakes not from his slumber.
9 As thou, Dawn, hast caused Agni to be kindled, and with the Sun’s eye hast revealed creation. And hast awakened men to offer worship, thou hast performed, for Gods, a noble service.
10 How long a time, and they shall be together,—Dawns that have shone and Dawns to shine hereafter? She yearns for former Dawns with eager longing, and goes forth gladly shining with the others.
11 Gone are the men who in the days before us looked on the rising of the earlier Morning. We, we the living, now behold her brightness and they come nigh who shall hereafter see her.
12 Foe-chaser, born of Law, the Law’s protectress, joy-giver, waker of all pleasant voices, Auspicious, bringing food for Gods’ enjoyment, shine on us here, most bright, O Dawn, this morning.
13 From days eternal hath Dawn shone, the Goddess, and shows this light to-day, endowed with riches. So will she shine on days to come immortal she moves on in her own strength, undecaying.
14 In the sky’s borders hath she shone in splendour: the Goddess hath thrown off the veil of darkness. Awakening the world with purple horses, on her well-harnessed chariot Dawn approaches.
15 Bringing all life-sustaining blessings with her, showing herself she sends forth brilliant lustre. Last of the countless mornings that have vanished, first of bright morns to come hath Dawn arisen.
16 Arise! the breath, the life, again hath reached us: darkness hath passed away and light approacheth. She for the Sun hath left a path to travel we have arrived where men prolong existence.
17 Singing the praises of refulgent Mornings with his hymn’s web the priest, the poet rises. Shine then to-day, rich Maid, on him who lauds thee, shine down on us the gift of life and offspring.
18 Dawns giving sons all heroes, kine and horses, shining upon the man who brings oblations,— These let the Soma-presser gain when ending his glad songs louder than the voice of Vāyu.
19 Mother of Gods, Aditi’s form of glory, ensign of sacrifice, shine forth exalted. Rise up, bestowing praise on our devotion all-bounteous, make us chief among the people.
20 Whatever splendid wealth the Dawns bring with them to bless the man who offers praise and worship, Even that may Mitra, Varuna vouchsafe us, and Aditi and Sindhu, Earth and Heaven.

HYMN LXI. Usas.
1 O Usas, strong with strength, endowed witli knowledge, accept the singer’s praise, O wealthy Lady. Thou, Goddess, ancient, young, and full of wisdom, movest, all-bounteous! as the Law ordaineth.
2 Shine forth, O Morning, thou auspicious Goddess, on thy bright car awaking pleasant voices. Let docile horses of far-reaching splendour convey thee hitherward, the goldencoloured.
3 Thou, Morning, turning thee to every creature, standest on high as ensign of the Immortal, To one same goal ever and ever wending now, like a wheel, O newly-born, roll hi ther.
4 Letting her reins drop downward, Morning cometh, the wealthy Dame, the Lady of the dwelling; Bringing forth light, the Wonderful, the Blessed hath spread her from the bounds of earth and heaven.
5 Hither invoke the radiant Goddess Morning, and bring with reverence your hymn to praise her. She, dropping sweets, hath set in heaven her brightness, and, fair to look on, hath beamed forth her splendour.
6 From heaven, with hymns, the Holy One was wakened: brightly to both worlds came the wealthy Lady. To Morning, Agni, when she comes refulgent, thou goest forth soliciting fair riches.
7 On Law’s firm base the speeder of the Mornings, the Bull, hath entered mighty earth and heaven. Great is the power of Varuna and Mitra, which, bright, hath spread in every place its splendour.

HYMN LXXX. Dawn.
1 THE singers welcome with their hymns and praises the Goddess Dawn who bringeth in the sunlight, Sublime, by Law true to eternal Order, bright on her path, red-tinted, far-refulgent.
2 She comes in front, fair, rousing up the people, making the pathways easy to be travelled. High, on her lofty chariot, all-impelling, Dawn gives her splendour at the days’ beginning.
3 She, harnessing her car with purple oxen. injuring none, hath brought perpetual riches. Opening paths to happiness, the Goddess shines, praised by all, giver of every blessing.
4 With changing tints she gleams in double splendour while from the eastward she displays her body. She travels perfectly the path of Order, nor fails to reach, as one who knows, the quarters.
5 As conscious that her limbs are bright with bathing, she stands, as ’twere, erect that we may see her. Driving away malignity and darkness, Dawn, Child of Heaven, hath come to us with lustre.
6 The Daughter of the Sky, like some chaste woman, bends, opposite to men, her forehead downward. The Maid, disclosing boons to him who worships, hath brought again the daylight as aforetime.

HYMN LXIV. Dawn.
1. THE radiant Dawns have risen up for glory, in their white splendour like the waves of waters. She maketh paths all easy, fair to travel, and, rich, hath shown herself benign and friendly.
2 We see that thou art good: far shines thy lustre; thy beams, thy splendours have flown up to heaven. Decking thyself, thou makest bare thy bosom, shining in majesty, thou Goddess Morning.
3 Red are the kine and luminous that bear her the Blessed One who spreadeth through the distance. The foes she chaseth like a valiant archer, like a swift warrior she repelleth darkness.
4 Thy ways are easy on the hills: thou passest Invincible! Se1f-luminous! through waters. So lofty Goddess with thine ample pathway, Daughter of Heaven, bring wealth to give us comfort.
5 Dawn, bring me wealth: untroubled, with thine oxen thou bearest riches at thy will and pleasure; Thou who, a Goddess, Child of Heaven, hast shown thee lovely through bounty when we called thee early.
6 As the birds fly forth from their resting places, so men with store of food rise at thy dawning. Yea, to the liberal mortal who rernaineth at home, O Goddess Dawn, much good thou bringest.

 
Bibliography

Albertsson, Alaric, Travels Through Middle Earth: the Path of a Saxon Pagan. Llewellyn Publications (2009)

Albertsson, Alaric, Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer. Llewellyn Publications (2011)

Bloomfield, Maurice, The Religion of the Veda. (1907)

Hondius-Crone, Ada, The Temple of Nehalennia at Domburg, J.M. Meulenhoff, Amsterdam (1955), summarized by Maria Kvilhaug (Unknown where published)

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Paxson, Diana L., Taking Up the Runes: A Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic. Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC (2005)

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Trubshaw, Bob, Continuity of Worldviews in Anglo-Saxon England. (Heart of Albion Productions) FREE DOWNLOAD https://hoap.co.uk/catalogue.htm#aswv

Trubshaw, Bob, Souls, Spirits and Deities: Continuity from paganism in early Christianity. (Heart of Albion Productions) FREE DOWNLOAD https://hoap.co.uk/catalogue.htm#aswv

Vavrovský, Stanislav, Aspects of Indo-European Religion: The Supernatural World of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. (Unknown where published)

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Zimmer, Stefan, The Culture of the Speakers of Proto-IndoEuropean, Bereitgestellt von | De Gruyter / TCS Angemeldet Heruntergeladen am | 04.12.17 13:28

Zimmer, Stefan, Three Indo-European Moral Values, Studien zur historisch-vergleichenden Sprachwissenschaft Herausgegeben von Harald Bichlmeier und Velizar Sadovski (2017)

Celtic Festival Calendar: Ataegina & Erecura

Wolfgang Sauber, Isis-Persephone
Isis-Persephone at Archaeological Museum in Herakleion. Photograph by Wolfgang Sauber.

The idea that Romans consciously changed Celtic religion is losing popularity. (Aside from the slaughter of the powerful political Druid elite, of course.) Instead it’s being replaced with the more flexible premise that conquered indigenous peoples often chose how their religions fit into Rome’s:

“(T)he locals selected particular elements from in-coming cultures, endow these with religious meanings different from those they possessed in Graeco-Roman culture and then creatively merge these with indigenous traditions to create totally new forms….”
– Ralph Haussler, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul

My guess is that the Roman religious calender was used by Celts for festivals and rites about their own related deities. Even if they didn’t, doing so makes it easier for me to organize worship as I honor a very large pantheon. When a Celtic deity worshipped by Celts living in the Roman Empire neatly fits into the Roman religious calender, I include them. The incredibly popular Telesphorus was my first attempt, followed by Lenus, Neto, Nemotona, Rudianos, Cocidius, Sulis Minvera, and the Matres and Modron. Mercury/ Lug,  Taranus, and others are ready for their Festivals.

The Roman calender​ marks April 12-19 as the Cerialia, although it probably was originally held on the full moon of April (the 19th this year). During the Cerialia people celebrated the reunion of the grain Goddess Ceres and Her daughter Proserpina. (Persephone is Her Greek name.) Ceres comes from the word meaning “to grow” and during April the crops would have begun to fill the fields.

“Ceres delights in peace; and you farmer, pray for perpetual peace and a peaceful leader. You may give the goddess Ceres some spelt, and the compliment of spurting salt and grains of incense on old hearths; and if there is no incense kindle resin torches. Good Ceres is content with little, if that little be but pure.” (Ovid Fasti 4.395–415 LCL)

No one wore dark colors in April. Spring’s return was celebrated with offerings of milk, honey and wine given to Ceres. In ceremony, women in white carried lit torches, searching, like Ceres, for Proserpina. This was a festival of the common people, especially in the countryside, whose livelihoods depended on good harvests.

Two Celtic Goddesses stand out to me at this time. Both were associated with the Roman Proserpina: the Gaulish Erecura and the Iberian Ataegina. As Erecura is mentioned in the Steel Bars, Sacred Waters‘ three day rite of Trinoxtion Samoni written by Viducus Brigantici filius, bringing Her back in spring seems natural. As Aetagina‘s name means “rebirth” worshipping Her in spring also feels natural. I have strong, deep loving feelings for them both.

Below is information about these Goddesses, including my personal experiences with Them, and then ritual ideas. My own relationships with Them isn’t to tell you what you should feel. It’s not even UPG (unverified personal gnosis); it’s my experience. That makes it verified for me by me only. It’s not part of the religion, just my religion. I think it’s important that we acknowledge the mystical, private communion with forces greater than us. As wonderful as the Enlightenment was in many ways, it did swing the pendulum too far away from the embodied union with the ensouled planet and all Her spirits. Because of this, too many people are afraid to “admit” to having a moving religious experience in ANY religion.

Polytheism isn’t big on orthodoxy – what you believe and feel is accurate for you. It’ll possibly change, too. Polytheism is big on orthopraxy, however, which means researching the ways to do things correctly (and then doing them). It’s what makes a Celtic ceremony different from a Hopi ceremony. Celtic Paganism is performed in ways that are common to Celtic culture. Now, that’s a huge time and space, but some things are “pan-Celtic” and others are specific to a region during a certain period – and Indo-European cultures overlap a lot, especially when they’re neighbors. Luckily, Steel Bars, Sacred Waters provides that ritual and cultural information with which you can explore. Far more is known about Celtic polytheism than even most Pagans believe.

Erecura

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, written by me: “Erecura, Aerecura, Herecura, Pronounced: “Air-eh-cur-ah”

“(Eracura’s) images are mainly located around the Danube River in Southern Germany and Slovenia, but are also found in Switzerland, Italy, Britain and France. Her name is inscribed many times along the Rhine River. Erecura often appears in statues with the Underworld God Dis Pater. (Once she was depicted as a companion of Ogmios.) She’s also mentioned in several magical texts from Austria.

“Monuments dedicated to her have been found in ancient cemeteries. Although connected to the Underworld, Erecura also holds baskets of apples and the cornucopia. Considered an earth Goddess of fertility, in two statues she sits wearing a full robe bearing trays of fruit. “On a monument from Salzbach, Dispater is accompanied by a goddess called Aeracura, holding a basket of fruit, and on another monument from Ober-Seebach, the companion of Dispater holds a cornucopia. In the latter instance Dispater holds a hammer and cup, and the goddess may be Aeracura. She may thus represent the old Earth-goddess,” according to J.A. MacCulloch in “The Religion of the Celts.”

“There may be a connection between Dis Pater and Erecura and the couple Sucellus and Nantosuelta.”

I envision Erecura as a short (for our times, not Her’s) woman around age 30 (when that was at least half your life lived), with long dark curly hair in a burgundy dress with gold on her shoes. Purple and gold or bronze come through very strongly. Her face is rounded with a small mouth and chin.

My one meaningful experience of Her was when praying for polytheists, especially Celtic, to be kinder and get along. The war between two popular angry bloggers was disrupting other discussions we all could have been having. Debate (clear win/ lose) mattered more than dialogue. I was deep in trance and felt deep in soil, far below in the roots. My question to Erecura was to understand this need for cliques and separation. The Celtic polytheism scene isn’t that big – there’s about six groups, not including those within ADF – and bad blood flows between many of them.

She said, “Yours is a very young religion and everyone is terrified that their research may be swept away by others who are not able to research and rely on poor publishers.” I cringed, remembering the time I read that Olwen was a sun Goddess, and seeing books on Celtic shamanism. Anything with “Celtic” thrown in front of it sold, from Robert Grave’s modern ogham calendar to Celtic Wicca.

“All of you care so much, so passionately about your deities, you guard any actual facts with your lives and are vigilant in tearing down scholars who have been disproven.” I know that a lot of books on which some Celtic polytheists base their research are partly obsolete now. That includes much of my own early reading list. There’s so much new information as physical material is reviewed with fresh eyes, linguistics brings us more information about our deities, and outdated assumptions about Roman control over religion are tossed away, in favor for ones that fit what we know today.

Erecura said, “You’re all determined to make sure that the core truths and spectacular details you discover are staked like young plants. You’re all trying to keep the weeds of greed from selling lies, standing in watch, ready to tear down anything that will block the light of the unromantic and unrealistic realities so many crave instead of the truth. It’s good. Things are growing. The garden finally has some reasonable entryways for those young to the religions/ cultures. Of course it has to be different in different places, because it always was just the oldest religion: place and people. Change the place and how people connect with it and each other, and it changes. Just like it always did, does, will.”

I don’t feel Erecura very strongly as a spring Goddess, but more as an agricultural earth Goddess: “the tomb, the womb” cliche of eternal renewal. She’s the criss-cross between the world of Ancestors dead and here, world of Ancestors living, to the point where they blur. Which “side” is dead, who is alive? She’s so deeply rooted, Erecura is in each realm, and they blend and merge in the sheer ancient powers She holds. If we honor Her at the season of death, She needs Her place in the growing spring.

Ataegina

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, written by me: “Ataegina, Ataecina, Pronounced: “ah-TIE-gee-nah”

“A popular Goddess whose name probably means “reborn,” she is associated with the Roman Goddess Proserpina (Greek Persephone). She seems to be a Goddess of springtime. Ataegina had sanctuaries in Spain and Portugal. The goat was her sacred animal and could be on your shrine to honor her.

Invocation to Ataegina by Heather Awen

Hail, Ataegina!
During winter we weep for missing you;
In the spring we rejoice.
With you returns the flowers, the nectar and honey,
The sweetness of life.
Come autumn you retreat below,
Like the falling leaves and roots growing plump.
In the Underworld you give the dead your blessings;
Above, it is us you bless.
Beautiful young Goddess,
You hold the family, those living and
Those passed over,
Together in your giant heart.

Prayer to Ataegina for Rebirth by Heather Awen

Beautiful Ataegina, the one who releases spring, the one who spring releases,
Greetings Goddess as I inhale
Something new in my lungs
Something new in my blood.
I know there is more to you than flowers
And under that maiden’s face
I know there’s the skull of death,
Which makes me move to you even closer.
For what I need, you see, dear Goddess,
Is a new identity, a new self in my life,
Because this one keeps leading me to dead ends,
Leading me to death.
If I am meant to let my old self die, let it be so I can better live this life.
So please, take my life and reanimate it,
Take my spirit and give it new spark,
Let me step out of this tainted persona, and
Into one authentic and close to your heart.”

I LOVE Ataegina. I can’t tell you anything about Her other than She is Life giving us a second, third, 53rd chance. I think She wears white linen, embroidered edges, dark cloak, and has straight or wavy light brown hair. She’s innocent, fun laughter; she’s the small forest flowers that fall from her nimble young body like a blurry aura trail of new growth dropping behind Her. Yet, always the haunt of a skeleton is in Her arsenal of jokes and surprises. Like how one day Her giggling, playful face finally turns to greet you in the sun-dappled wooded bliss you found following Her, and then your heart stops. You’re dead and it’s abrupt but not frightening. The last sight seen with living eyes was Her smile.

I’m quite willing to give myself over to Her hands and there’s not many deities with whom I feel that unconditionally comfortable and safe. She’s pure love whether She’s ruling the Realm of the Dead, or skipping through barren land tossing seeds that hit the ground already in green growth. I feel that Ataegina might have played a deep transformative role in Her devotees’ lives. Because She always makes me light hearted or at peace when my body grabs a new diagnosis or throws out a new scary symptom, I would say that She probably had healing sanctuaries.The Romans really liked turning any temple on a river into a healing dream incubation spa, so maybe that became a later regional part of Her cultus. However, I see Her healing as the abundance of real food shared among a community. As Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/ Chemical Intolerance requires truly fresh air, really clean water and very pure food and wholesome fabric, I think She’s understanding of anyone who feels like they’re dying from toxins and sensory overload, like chronic fatigue syndrome or after chemotherapy.

The Ritual

Reading the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone and their ancient Mystery Tradition for a happy Afterlife should be required, because it’s quite possible that the Celts themselves chose Proserpina as the Roman Goddess most like Ataegina and Erecura. Odds are that eastern Gauls participated in the Greek Mystery Tradition. Some Celts in the Roman Empire almost certainly must have. It would be odd if they hadn’t.

Southern Gauls chose to add Apollo and Hermes to their pantheon. I often wonder if having already known Hermes, the Gauls gave Mercury more importance than the Romans because they understood Mercury to be the powerful magician’s God Hermes. In Eastern Europe the curving and winding La Tene abstract art style developed unique animal designs based on Greek influences. It was not like Greeks and Gauls never hung out or lived in the same places.

As for Portugal and Spain, skillful Phoenician sailors navigated the Atlantic coast and Mediterranean, transporting precious Celtic metals to the Greeks. Ideas, slaves, merchants and explorers joined those travelers on the Sea.

Erecura and Ataegina are great Goddesses for interfaith Pagan ritual. Hellenistic, Roman and Celtic polytheists can all worship together quite easily. (They did it before!) Because orthodoxy is not very important, you need not be alone even if you only know duotheist Wiccans. In the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, these are perfect Celtic Goddesses for a spring equinox ritual. Perhaps you can also have a solitary rite focusing more on the Celtic polytheist aspects.

Spelt grain is easy to find at health food stores. Ovid wrote pure offerings were desired even if small, so organic would be best even if it’s very little. Homemade incense with salt (if no one has asthma, etc), milk, wine and honey – we know these are traditional Roman offerings for the rite. Flowers and early spring fruit (like strawberries) I personally believe would be appreciated but only if in season. It never has made sense to me to pretend that there’s flowers and seeds outside at a spring equinox ritual and then leave the building to find 2 feet of snow. (Please never buy flowers unless from a source you know, as the pesticides sprayed on them are at extremely high levels. Pesticides used on nonedibles like flowers and cotton for fabric are responsible for more dangerous endocrine disruptors than food cultivation because so many more toxic chemicals are allowed to be used.)

I quite enjoy ritual theater, something missing from much of today’s ceremonies. If you have a chance to reenact the return of the spring Goddess from the Underworld (even if the person “being Her” is not possessed or able to aspect), giving your offerings to someone in Her mask and garb can be very powerful. Watching a group of women in white dramatically search for Her with sounds, lights, and props can become engrossing. The Romans had theaters at many sanctuaries and many Celts would not be unfamiliar with plays about mythology.

(Steel Bars, Sacred Waters has a lot of information about the drinks, foods, ways of sitting at a feast, instruments, clothing, decor, language, fabrics, shrines and more used in traditional Celtic rituals in different places and times. If starting with the circular procession, I would enter from the southwest to face a shrine in the northeast, especially if you are basing your tradition on Brythonic culture or a culture near Britain. You could dance around a wooden pole carved into a female shape with glass eyes wearing a torc if you want a more northern Gaulish experience. The book provides more.)

If you are alone, you can still use any ritual structure in the book and make your offerings. If you want to visualize being at the ancient ceremonies described, go for it! Depending on the weather you may want to practice mindfulness meditation outside with the changes in the season.

I’ve often thought it was a good time for healing rituals involving rape, as Persephone was kidnapped and raped by Hades. She returns not as Kore the child girl, but as Queen of the Underworld with Her compassion for the dead. Rape recovery often involves “dead” parts of us returning to life, many terrified or enraged, and we need that compassion of the Queen of the Underworld. And as Persephone reemerges to Her old life, She’s changed but has great power and wisdom. Our lives may stop during recovery from trauma, but we will rejoin the world, just in a healthier, more whole way.

Your only ritual obstacle might be (if like me) you also have a strong relationship with the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Eostre, also honored on the full moon of April after the spring equinox!

 

Selected Bibliography

Alfayé, Silvia, Contexts of Cult in Hispania Celtica, Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology, Barrowclough, D.A., & Malone, C. (eds), Oxbow, Oxford (2007)

Arenas, Jesús Alberto, Celtic divine names in the Iberian Peninsula: towards a territorial analysis, Celtic Religion Across Time and Space, Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (2010)

Bernstein, Francis, Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome. Harper Collins e-books (2000)

Cunliffe, Barry, The Ancient Celts. Oxford University Press (1997)

Haussler, Ralph, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul, Divinidades indigenas em analise, J. d’Encarnacao (ed), (2008)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

MacCulloch, J. A., The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Public Domain (1911)

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Pedreño, Juan Carlos Olivares, Celtic Gods of the Iberian Peninsula, Guimarães, Portugal: E-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies (2005)

Prosper, Blanca Maria, Celtic and non-Celtic Divinities from Hispania, The Journal of Indo-European Studies, Vol. 43, #1&2 (2015)

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise, translated by Myles Dillon, Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover (2000)

Viducus Brigantici filius, Deo Mercurio, http://www.deomercurio.be/en/

Autism Awareness Day: Self-Care for Activists (and its Effects on Prisoners)

I’m not going to try to explain the huge world of spectrum living. There’s others who do it much better, like Amethyst’s vlog “Ask an Autistic.” I’m going to speak about the vast variety in how Aspies and other NeuroDiverse folks are as people and something to keep in mind with your ND loved ones, co-workers, etc.

Then we’ll look at self-care and boundaries for anyone with a disability, explaining it to prisoner pen pals, and resources for Actionists who could easily burn out and resources for spectrum women, whom everyone should know something about. (I believe we need to have some knowledge of all types of people, being aware of how privilege and oppression intersect in everyone, and generalizations are dangerous to cling to. We need enough education from diverse populations to know that we need to listen and some reasons why.)

Actionist burn out is why nothing changes much. It’s the same young, idealistic, no-experience beyond Evergreen College types with theories and not much learning from mistakes because they haven’t had enough mistakes or the wisdom and hopefully humility age gives. It’s square one with most groups, because the elders (35 years old?) couldn’t find an emotionally and physically sustainable way to continue.  If you are living with a disability or in prison you have to constantly be advocating just to survive. We can’t drop out. So….

Yes. 1. There’s very little we in this spectrum world have in common. Oh, the general concepts take wide range. Sensory Processing Disorder – yes, we all have it but what’s annoyingly understimulated normally and what’s painfully overstimulated easily are really different with all of us. You can’t really assume. Our special interests that we hyperfocus into, submerged in joyfully, the pressure of “the outside world” removed from our minds – all different. Our ways of communicating whether with or without using mouth parts again are very different. The scripts we memorize to deal with other humans in certain situations are cobbled together from very different sources. How well we’ve learned to take care of ourselves with alone time, sensing the fine line between interest and overwhelmed, allowing meltdowns that don’t harm us more than horrendous, inconsolable pain and then massive exhaustion, and finding our stims that reset our brains like fiddle toys, hand flapping, rocking, twirling, and all the other “odd behaviors” that block out the blasting stimuli that hurts and helps us get a handle on balancing our inner equilibrium for living in a world not made for us because we’re a minority (1 in 66 kids are ND according to the TV commercials, so we’re a large minority). How much we understand about autism and in what context, who taught us and why, the resulting feelings about it and the core self which experiences the world differently – it’s all different. The amount of socializing, physical energy, ability to fake and pass as NeuroTypical, help needed, emotional awareness about ourselves and others, our stubbornness, our irrational -looking lashing out against a totally overwhelming world, our hiding in our own imaginations and dark rooms, openness to new things, the physical disabilities like our feet and gait issues that often wreck our backs and a million other things – we’re all completely different.

2. It’s different every day for someone autistic. NeuroDiverse folks already have less energy. It takes a lot out of us physically to navigate the NT world. We’re worn down by assaults to our nervous system and social demands. How close someone is to a meltdown or shut down changes constantly. Our levels of “proper social skills” and ability to read malice in others drastically can change. How well we can communicate how NTs want changes.

It’s not regressing; it’s usually too much NT demands and not enough self care time like 6 hours with model trains or stacking boxes “correctly” or sleep or food with the tight texture and the right lighting and sounds and clothing and turning away from other people, unless it’s factual information about a special interest.

Peer counseling where one person talks (and the other passes no judgement, gives no advice, offers no “Me too” interrupting and derailing stories, or telling us what “our problems” are based on the peer’s own work projected on others) has been great for me. A friend in North Hollywood (Toronto at the time) with a typical crazy industry schedule and I were doing peer counseling without knowing it. Naturally, we both were best at sharing the last month’s events, insights, and emotions in an hour long monologue. Somehow we’d naturally know how to switch roles. We didn’t share a lot in common yet she was one of my best friends who I really miss. She might make blunt statements based on her experiences for success in the film industry – my wearing make up was good, losing weight is important for business, stuff I didn’t care about, but really is part of the demands of the incredibly sexist film industry. You don’t look hot, you don’t work (unless an important male gave the job to you).

To others, these probably didn’t look like conversations. We barely commented on what the other said. She smuggled herself into Iraq during the war and shoot footage. In Kuwait she recorded drug deals in mosques. She interviewed older women in Jordan who fondly remembered wearing miniskirts and education before economic help was given by a conversative Muslim agency and their freedoms and comforts were greatly limited and the younger women had no idea what living with those freedoms was like. She talked about how heavy the black fabric was in the desert, how high the temperature was for women suffering underneath. The way Kuwaiti kids decked out in designer clothing (their parents owned the companies) would drop bags to the sidewalk and have “the workers” ( Indian immigrants) quickly pick them up and usher the teenagers to Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, the scorning of Egyptian kids for being from a poor nation, and the hatred of Palestinians for helping Saddam Hussein because he was the only Muslim leader to extend any help to the displaced of Palestine. Her trips to Israel where every conversation seemed to start with “I’m not racist, but I hate Jews,” ” I’m not prejudiced but I hate Christians,” and “I’m not racist but I hate Arabs.” The home of hate, she called it. Her reason for living in the Middle East was perfectly autistic: sick of the prejudice of the media, her family, she wanted first hand knowledge on both a deep and broad level.

You’d think I’d have something to say, but like a lot of spectrum people, if I don’t have firsthand experience with something or a very broad, deep “special interest” investigation into a topic, I will be silent. It’s not my experience. I can’t have an opinion. I don’t know what it was like for her emotionally or how it changed her politics unless she tells me. Give people enough time, they’ll tell you almost anything. I never had any comments except when she went from blonde to redhead, gold jewelry to silver. A sign that she’d become less mainstream. What prompted it, I wondered.

It was a really important relationship. Clear boundaries because of her work schedule. No surprises. Her typical Aspie rather blunt and rude sounding comments of total honesty that didn’t apply to my value system, I knew was her way of caring.

Peer counseling is basically the same thing, but without any suggestions. Give me 45 minutes to talk it out and I’ll have things sorted. It won’t be how someone else might do it, but I’ll know what I want, what’s upsetting me, how to deal with it, what’s good but confusing, let my developmentally delayed aspects and super advanced aspects get on the same page. I don’t want approval, just validation that my experience in life matters enough to be witnessed.

Writing letters is a lot like this. I don’t know what is “diary” information or “letter” information or “public blog” information because it’s all relevant to living. It’s information and sometimes something clicks and helps someone else, usually the “diary” level information . My letters help me clear my brain about topics I think about as if writing is a giant etch-a-sketch that afterwards I can shake clear. Because being being isolated 24/7 due to the world being put into quarantine due to the choices to poison the air that everyone makes as they wash their hair with basically dish detergent, put on highly chemical fragranced lotion and clothing with Febreeze, it’s really nice to think about someone else’s world. To research how checking accounts work in depth, including information about credit unions and prepaid cards and check cashing scam places and organize it is kinda my autistic joy. Organize information! Teach it! Discuss it! My life has meaning! My experience with the world taught me helpful things! I’m not a problem I’m trying to solve.

My pen pals know about Aspie women – they get handouts. Why? They want to understand, not accidentally upset me. Same with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. That’s a hugely popular topic in prison because it’s so scary and obvious that the government doesn’t care about its citizens, only money. A one page handout of the proven diseases causes by synthetic fragrance has them mesmerized.

Most people in prison have a disability although it’s often overlooked, so they often tell me about going through a car windshield at age 8 and the seizures ever since, or the two strokes causes by tear gas guards used on someone else and teaching themselves to walk and talk alone in prison, or cleaning up the remaining brains and blood after their father killed himself with a gun. (That’s all one pen pal.)

As I write about my struggles with self care, they start thinking about self care. What is it? What are boundaries? I have a lot due to being an Aspie which I’m learning and ones from Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, the most probable cause for MCS. As I process that in letters, it gives ideas to people in prison who have very little right to boundaries. If a guard of the opposite gender takes you alone for a shower – something unheard of with the short staffing and against the rules – because that prisoner filed a complaint against that guard who states at them naked and alone – you can’t say no. So boundaries? What are they? Needs – how do you get to meet then when everything is out of your control?

Well, having a chronic illness like MCAS, MCS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myofascial Pain Syndrome, hypothyroidism, reactive hypoglycemia, extreme skin sensitivity, a zillion food and medication intolerances, anxiety, and major depression, or being an Aspie who is often at the whim of how stress takes its toll – it’s a lot like prison in how little our needs are met or taken seriously, the way we don’t control flares and “getting better” (ie like someone able bodied or NT with a ton of emotional issues they don’t address making them high special needs). We’re even morally judged for it in the Calvinist capitalism of the USA. We have to pretend to be perky and well when calling a pharmacy or medical supply center or doctor’s office because people are immediately hostile towards people who sound like they’re exhausted and sick. Trust me. The useless mazes of social services and health insurance – It’s a lot like the futility of doing things by the book with correct paperwork etc in prison.

It’s why I don’t understand why more chronically ill people don’t have a prison penpal. They’ll be concerned about you long after everyone else forgot that you being sick or exhausted or whatever is a forever thing. Compassion fatigue is something both prisoners and chronically ill and spectrum folks face in others who are tried of our problems but the problems still come and come and –

Anyway, I hope you learned a little something about autistic spectrum folks, maybe understand something better, or are thinking about chronic illness, prison, or Calvinist capitalism differently. Maybe your behavior will change knowing more. Maybe you’re thinking about self care.

The only decent activist self care book I know is: Sustaining Spirit: Self-Care for Social Justice, by Naomi Ortez, ReClamation Press, who publishes “Wisdom from Disability Communities.” If you advocate for yourself, you’re an activist. If you write someone in prison you’re an activist. And you need ways to take care of yourself. “The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self -Love” by Sonya Renee Taylor, published by Berrett-Koehler is far more radical than the title suggests, but it’s not as hands on. It’s more supportive of difference in bodies including brains which means every single reason for prejudice – all prejudice is against some physical bodies – Brown bodies, older bodies, certain gendered bodies, neurological differences in bodies, the sex bodies have, etc – so massive radical love of bodies and stopping the shame would solve it all, and of course you start with yourself. Sustaining Spirit is much more a meditative book. It’s filled with a lot of things I know but forget to do. Why I have to do them. Have to. No option. It’s by a Disability Justice activist, too, so she “gets it” if you have disabilities.

To better understand spectrum women I highly recommend “Women from Another Planet: Our Lives in the Universe of Autism” edited by Jean Kearns Miller and published by AuthorHouse, and “Nerdy, Shy and Socially Inappropriate: S User Guide to an Asperger Life” by Cynthia Kim, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Good Money: Harm Reduction & Porn in Prison Politics (penpal info)

(Trigger Alert: Sex work, pornography, sexual abuses of power.)

If you are writing someone in prison, odds are that they can’t afford paper and stamps to write you very often. (It is illegal to send stamps or blank paper.) Western Union and other ways of putting money into your friend’s trust fund (or “on the books”) take a percentage of your money. There’s also normally a fee, and spending $8 so a penpal gets $5 is ridiculous. Plus, if your penpal is in higher security, they’ll often have strict limitations about how much they can spend of their own money. They probably can buy stamps and paper, but possibly not any food which is really necessary due to the tiny meals in prison.

There’s always “good money” and ” bad money”. Bad money is drugs and cell phones, which need to be smuggled into prison by guards or visitors with the help of staff on the payroll of gangs. I am not suggesting doing that.

Good money is totally legal sexy photographs of women in microbikinis, transparent fabrics (not clear latex), mesh and thongs. The women can hold their naked breasts or have a bare bottom if there’s other clothing. As long as the inner lips, vagina, anus and nipples are covered, the photos are fine. The mail room goes through them, taking out any that show too much. Wives and girlfriends often send similar pictures.

The pictures are not any more revealing than what you see in most R rated movies or the Hollywood red carpet. Some are kinda artsy. However, there’s more to it than seeing some flesh. The woman has to look like she actually wants to have sex. The blank model face actually works because fantasies can be projected, while a big smile staring at the camera usually does not. (People usually don’t grin during sex. A come hither smile sometimes works.)

There are two things that you want to keep in mind when choosing photographs: 1. Is the position one that invites sexual activity or is common for sex (penetration or pleasuring a woman orally)? 2. Is the model dressed so it is like she is naked? By this, I mean looking for the following: her vulva’s shape can be seen through transparent underwear; her bottom is naked; the darkness of her nipples shows through the fabric/mesh?

These are the same clothes that celebrities wear to the beach, and those tabloid pictures (if the position is right) should be included. Good microbikini and mesh swimsuit photo shoots often come from topless beaches in the Mediterranean, but rarely include Black women and have no Latinas or Asian women. Bony white women aren’t that attractive to prisoners, but those pictures show everything possible. Suicide Girls (in prison-approved level nakedness) do not sell, and neither will Playboy or Penthouse models in lacey bras and panties. Meanwhile, Etsy can have some good photos from stores making stripper gear or lingerie. As far as actual porn sites, ones with Bikini or XL in the name are quite popular.

Prisoners (like everyone) have fantasy lovers and “types”. There’s quite a large demand for mature amateur BBW (big beautiful women). Mature models are often the same age of the prisoners. The men want to be with “real women” with whom they’d actually be dating or married, so make sure to search “BBW” and “mature” with “mesh” and “lingerie.” There’s often a few men into pregnant bellies. (They usually have a child and can remember a happier time in their lives this way.) Asian and Latina models are just as popular as the mostly white women who will come up on a search for “microbikinis” but you need to specify “Asian microbikinis” (or whatever ethnicity your multicultural assortment needs).

Black women are the hardest to find due to Internet search engines. “Black women mesh” gets you photos of white women in black mesh. If you search “ebony pornstars” you’ll get close to what you want (although you’ll see hardcore porn in trying to find the rare Black pin up girls). That’s something that bothers me; I don’t want to see hardcore sex presented with all the degrading words about the woman. It really upsets me, and it’s only when trying to find Black women that I have to do that.  See, the photos on their own are actually often great as an artist to study. Put in the context of degrading headlines and misogynistic comments, I feel threatened, like all men see me and other women this way.

Again, it is like context that makes it clear that this woman exists to sexually please men that upsets me. The “softcore” photos themselves are usually interesting to examine for artistic reasons. Also I  can see each woman’s appeal, from the 65 year old women with old tattoos on cellulite dimples on thick thighs to the almost bursting belly surrounded in black lace of a pregnant woman. Normally I don’t see lots of naked women of all shapes, ages and colors. The labia shape or nipple color of different women even seen in these “pin up girl” pictures is new to me. It seems strange that I don’t know all these varieties of women’s bodies, like as a woman I should recognize my sisters, not go “What is that?”

Black women pop up if you search “phat thong” etc. Really, any ethnicity in a thong, pulling down her undies, or bent over with her skirt raised is a big hit. The big butt “close up” in a barely noticeable thong is popular, just like twerking in music videos. I was worried that I didn’t have many Black women in positions not butt-centric, but was told “most of the Brothers want that.” No one has asked for a skinny, light skinned Black woman like Beyonce and the few pix I sent didn’t sell. There certainly is a bias against Black women with their natural hair, which is depressing. That “Brothers” think white hair is better than Black hair hints at the internalized racism many prisoners struggle with. (“I didn’t know there could be Black intellectuals. Teachers assume we are stupid.”)

I learned a lot about the diversity of who is considered sexy doing this. The “jailbait” stuff doesn’t go over well. Fat does. Yes, there’s still a preference for the hourglass shape, but a large belly fanbase, too. Images of regular looking women, women to whom the media tries to sell shame and billions of dollars worth of diets, cosmetic surgery and toxic products, are worth food, books, tattoos and ways to write letters in prison. Women who may have no idea of their beauty and sexual power are vied for, bidding wars commence over, and yet at home they probably feel “less than”: 50 years old, 200 lbs, sagging and wrinkled – everything women “should not” be. The media is lying. When men can only see models and actresses on TV and in magazines, with their factory -produced sameness, the desire for stretch marks and waist length breasts is still there.

With the search words “women mooning” I found lots of pictures of “regular looking” women size 8 to 18 pulling down their jeans or PJ bottoms outside. They were a surprising hit. I think that because these photos are usually taken by spouses (wedding band) and there’s a sense of playfulness and intimacy, the men really responded. One said, “I can imagine my future girlfriend being cute on holiday morning like that.” Personalities shrine through and dreams of real love are kept alive.

I did, in the beginning, have a sudden panic. “I’m a porn … something! Ack ack!” There’s so many conflicting opinions about sex work not from a Puritan POV, but a gender equality and safety of women POV. (I am aware that men are sold into sex slavery and face similar threats as women from sex work. Because I’m writing about photos of women or women I knew, though, I use the pronoun “she.”)

All my Riot Grrl friends who were call girls or strippers talking about female empowerment (almost always after being raped by someone they knew like an exboyfriend or talked into it by a boyfriend) today regret being sex workers, have buried it deep in their pasts, and want it to be stopped. And yes, all sex worker clients I’ve had as a psychic were drug addicts so I had to drop them as meth and my psyche don’t mix well.

But I know that for many women with disabilities, sex for 1 hour is much less painful than 9 hours keyboarding. I personally don’t see the difference between what part of the person is used for money, as all jobs involve renting yourself out. 85% of Americans hate their jobs, which means there is psychological damage from the majority of jobs. What specific negative psychological effects are caused by sex work? In the women I knew, the core psychological problems existed before any sex work. However, I don’t know if some women go into sex work perfectly healthy and are traumatized by the sex work. It would be easy to say sex workers are helping the patriarchy, but almost every job helps the status quo. It’s not like making money for IBM or Exxon is helping women. Men own the strip clubs and many agencies – Suicide Girls used to lie about being feminist and female owned but it was a man using his girlfriend’s name, to subvert feminism for his income. But men own all the major companies that rule the world in general, so again, what’s the difference?

I worry most about two things: the safety of sex workers, whose rapes, beatings and murders are generally ignored by the police and an uncaring “she deserved it” Puritan population. Also, the consent of the models – Are their eyes blood shot? Glassy? I avoid anyone who looks high. As I teach Intersectional Feminism to prisoners so they’ll have social skills for today, one man asked “Are we just replacing using women with using pictures? How do I know that she gave consent?” As the photos are part of harm reduction (to reduce infractions from masturbating looking at female COs who sometimes respond in a similar way and other times delay them receiving parole), I remind them that this is to prevent infractions, not a new forever way of life.

The other concern is about how pornography affects young people who might think porn is the same as sex. That positions the camera likes are ones people enjoy. That as a man, you have to make a woman scream in delight and as a woman, you have to say and do things that you don’t want to because pornography makes it seem as if it’s normal. There’s hundreds of versions of bad lessons that are being taught about sex on the Internet.

Which goes to my next concern – the general worldwide understanding that women exist to help men. Free emotional labor, sex we don’t really want, doing most of the house and family care, the 55¢ a Latina makes compared to her white male co-worker’s $1, postmenopausal women kept in concentration camps as Witches, removing a pubescent girl’s clitoris, how we dress whether it is mostly naked or totally covered, safety going out of the home, the amount of children a woman is forced to give birth to regardless of her health, income, goals, needs and desires, and about a million more glaring inequalities – Yes, these pictures do reinforce that belief that women in all ways are secondary to men.

Still, I believe in the sacredness of expressing one’s sexuality. I want a world where that’s safe for everyone. I want “sacred prostitution” ie a sexual deity devoted Priesthood trained in psychology especially trauma, somatics, disability, safe awakening of Kundalini, energy and body work, who consult with the seeker’s medical or psychological healer if necessary, so this incredible energy provides its fullest, healthiest power to everyone. Sexuality in all its wild to relaxed forms, where sensuality and emotional awareness is consciously connected to the body again. I want floods of oxytocin, created by breastfeeding, orgasm and grooming each other (safe touch by the people you know well), to provide the contentment which could easily dismantle our culture’s dopamine addiction.

(Dopamine addiction is a large part of video game and online pornography addiction. The brain “on  dopamine” focuses on the hunt, the win. Dopamine does this so we won’t starve and we’ll have a pleasant, restless ambition to do something meaningful. But when the “win” (killed the enemy in a video game, found a photo to get you off) happens so fast and you can just get that high, the body’s natural cocaine, again and again by clicking buttoms, a dependence on dopamine occurs. “Retail therapy” and gambling are other versions of getting dopamine “hits.” This is one way technology is controlling its creators and new psychiatric diagnosis are created.)

You want to destroy capitalism? Cultivate contentment, which is what oxytocin does. You see it in other primates grooming each other. It is probably why people pay for having their hair washed and to receive massages. If we followed evolutionary psychological needs and did these things for free from birth in communities, buying that useless stuff or addiction wouldn’t be very attractive. (Having taken doctor prescribed oxytocin and reading studies on it I can agree that it doesn’t make you feel any closer to people with whom you don’t already have a good, close relationship. It is NOT natural MDMA.)

In the end, the many ways these pictures provide harm reduction (soon to be explained) combined with how many men (and a lot of feminist women) I’ve met watch hardcore porn helped me decide if I should send the pictures. If everyone else has the right to get off, why not prisoners? It’s just more psychological torture. Plus, these could be 1980s record covers! Access to bikini girl pictures wouldn’t cause more world problems than not having access to them does. (Yes, I think a lot about my choices.) 

I call these issues, where I have a foot in the wonderful world we are trying to create and a foot in the world that has purposefully created barriers to that future world, and no choice is really the “right one” “Sophie’s Choices” like the film. The Nazis allow a woman named Sophie to save only one of her children from the camps. The rules of the game aren’t made by the billions of Sophies trying to do the best thing in a society that doesn’t care about what Sophie really wants.

Back to the world of photos in prison!

Photos are worth stamps, which is a unit of currency in prison. A 10¢ picture can equal a 50¢ stamp. Sometimes prison is almost Marxist in that the same picture costs less for prisoners who are not allowed access to much of their own money compared to prisoners who can buy much more on the day the Commissary is open. It is often a sliding scale depending on income. Other times it’s a bidding war, which is why you can send the same, “best selling” photos every month – other people who wanted a specific photo get their chance.

The mail room will review each picture, looking for anything contraband. Some workers are more strict about it than others. I always expect 10 pictures to not make it into my penpals, especially when trying something new, like semi-transparent latex (a mailroom no go) or pantyhose (popular in the UK; you’ll learn about different cultures doing this).

To carry the photographs to buyers who have more goods available for exchange are prisoners who have good behavior and spend their days sweeping floors or emptying trash throughout the prison. These men are known as “legs” and a smart prisoner gives them gifts on top of payment.

I don’t know of any women in prison using good money, although it is not easy to find a girlfriend like many assume. Also, if two queer people meet in prison and fall in love, the prison will transfer one. Meanwhile, people who have tried to kill each other are kept on the same unit. Prison really wants to cause as much suffering – and as few skills for a better life – as possible. In fact, prison often destroys the few skills many people incarcerated have for a better life.

A collection of 300 pictures that you rotate in groups of 100 is a great monthly gift. It costs less than $10 at online shops if you wait for free shipping or a 3¢ print code once you’ve already used their service for free prints. Ask your penpal which ones are most popular in general, and keep those as your core. The 6th month the picture arrives, the 6th man who wanted to buy it finally can. New inmates are constantly arriving. Rotate the “special items” that have less buyers but definitely a few “collectors.” Sometimes one prisoner will buy all 100 pictures flat out in a mix of stamps, paper, envelopes, soap, snacks or OTC medication. 

Good money can provide a role for your penpal in the prison ecosystem. By having an incredibly rare commodity, they are valued in “the user” mentality so on display. If your friend is in a vulnerable population or situation, this may prevent them from being harmed or murdered. The only competition is South Beach Singles whose photos cost 50¢, catalogs cost $5, and the photos haven’t changed in years. If guys want your brand new photos from somebody’s Pininterest collection of “sheer clothes on hotties” – and they do – they probably will not mess with your penpal. Without him, there’s no you sending pictures.

Good money can also provide harm reduction for male inmates having dangerous sexual relationships with the worst female guards who randomly write infractions that punish the men for engaging in sexual behavior the same female guard encourages the next day. This is very frightening because after several years of this, the prisoners can’t stop because it’s the only intimacy they have. Sometimes COs have “boyfriends” who are very territorial. This leads to a lot of violence. He gets more food, a snuck in cell phone, drugs on top of sex. Meanwhile, for the rest of the prisoners, the punishment keeps them from leaving prison and the sexual relationships keep them hooked. Often it’s a version of Stockholm Syndrome. I can’t imagine what the psychological damage must be like when these men finally are released and trying to interact with any women. (Hence, Intersectional Feminism for Prisoners.)

Our culture often thinks women aren’t sexual abusive or part of “power over” dynamics. For this reason it’s a more confusing situation for the male prisoners affected, who have learned that very same sexism. With discussions about consent everywhere, a prisoner asked “Is this consensual sex? I’m not told if she will give me an infraction afterwards or just randomly on a day nothing happened. There’s almost never any talking so there’s no yes or no. They have great power over us. Our showers, our food, our mail, and our sexuality. But we’re unable to say no when it’s the only time we make eye contact with someone who can be kind, the only time we feel a connection to someone and the only sexual release. There are guards I’ve masturbated for, for over a decade. I like to think that they feel something special for me.” The Stockholm Syndrome is well in place. These same women will suddenly write an infraction for behaviors they encouraged other days.

“We have to read their moods by asking how the day is. Also, guys will yell to the rest of us ‘Ms. Jones is a beast! Ms. Davies is ready to go!’ so we know who wants it. But it would be so much easier if women just told us. How can I learn about consent? A new CO told me twice that she’s very strict except for masturbation. Is it a trap or invitation?”

It is illegal to masturbate in American prisons, a law passed by Bush after he was Born Again. The law also bans the “Satanic” role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons and consensual homosexuality. As so many have explained in detail, it is clearly specific Christian faith sin-based beliefs pushed on people not of that religion. (What factual harm comes from playing D&D that playing chess or cards won’t?)

Other nations have found different solutions for safe masturbation (no infractions, no other prisoners in the room which could lead to rape, nudity is in newspapers), but other nations also don’t imprison 1 in 100 of their citizens.

None of them.

Celtic Festival Calender: the Complex Goddess Sulis Minvera

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“To the Goddess Sulis, for the welfare and safety of Aufidius Maximus, Centurion of the Sixth Legion Victrix, Marcus Aufidius Lemnus, his freedman, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.” From the Temple Courtyard. Roman baths, Bath, UK. photograph copyright Mike Peel http://www.mikepeel.net

As part of a way to coordinate a Celtic polytheism festival calendar, I have been researching festivals in the Roman Empire. The Celtic people conquered by Rome merged their own local religious practices with what they learned of Roman religion. At the same time, the Roman Empire had a policy of interpreting the deities of other cultures by comparing them to their own. I suspect some Celtic people adapted the Roman Festival Calender to their own tribal ceremonies. There have been three Festivals already posted since the start of 2019, so be sure to check those out. More have been already researched, written, posted and scheduled, so please follow if you are interested.

Sulis Minvera is a great example of how a Roman deity and magico-religious practice were changed by local Britons to fit their cultural needs. But first let’s learn about the Greater Quinquatrus held between March 19 and 23.

The Greater Quinquatrus was a festival dedicated to the Goddess Minerva, who ruled over all the arts. Like with the Celtic people, arts meant more than painting, music and poetry. Arts included all the important skills needed for a people, like medicine, weaving and education. (Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners delves into the arts more deeply and you can buy it here for less than at Amazon. All profits go to sending free copies to incarcerated Pagans!)

“Let girls learn how to card the wool and work the distaffs. Minerva also teaches us how to weave on the upright loom warp with a shuttle. She tightens the loose threads with a comb. Worship her, you who want to remove stains from your clothes. Worship her, you who dye the wool in large bronze kettles. Cherish her, you who carve and sculpt in stone, or you who paint brightly colored pictures. Minerva is the Goddess of a thousand works. Surely, she is the Goddess of poetry as well.” (Ovid Fasti 3.811-34)

The first day of the Greater Quinquatrus was called an artificium dies, meaning “day of the arts.” Teachers, students and doctors made sacrifices to Minerva.

In the opinion of Julius Caesar, Minvera was the Goddess most popular with the Gauls. Celtic deities tend to be great at everything. The Gaelic Brig is a great example of a Celtic Goddess of the arts, celebrated on Imblog, and the Sovereignty Goddess of Leinster, its wartime protector, and honored for Her fertility around August 1st. Minvera has a powerful connection with the Greek Athena who rules over the city of Athens the way Brig protects Leincester. To learn how Brig became associated with Leincester and why Her followers made Her a Saint, read this post.

Sulis Herself is an enigma. In Britain the Romans built a temple over the thermal spring at Bath (now Somerset) dedicated to Sulis Minerva. Sulis may have been a Goddess native to the Britons or their name for the Goddess of the thermal spring may have been different. The name Sulis may also have associations with a Celtic word for the sun or the eye, but scholars can’t be sure. There’s a possibility that Sulis could have been created by Romans for Minvera at this sanctuary. The name Sulis Minvera may mean “the eye of Minvera” which would probably be a reference to Athena.

Other scholars believe Sulis comes from The Suleviae, the protective Goddesses “the good guides” brought by Gaulish soldiers. The native British Celtic sanctuaries rarely had inscriptions for the deities worshiped. Most of the names of deities honored in Britain actually come from the Gaulish, German, and Roman soldiers stationed in Britain. Whatever the case, the hot springs would have had a local deity name even if it was not Sulis.

Fresh water had always received offerings in the British Isles – large, grand ones for the good of the entire tribe. Things changed in the Roman era. Offerings were mass produced, cheaper and sacrificed by individuals.

Another change is the constrution of the temple. In Bath the Sulis Minerva sanctuary does not have the usual Celtic procession circle around it for ritual walking or perhaps dancing. Instead Bath was a very traditional Roman-style bathing sanctuary.

Although it was a healing temple, around a hundred and thirty curse tablets were also found in the sacred spring. Curse tablets were something brought from Rome. Romans usually had professional scribes write their curse on lead*, sometimes with magical words, and then fold the curse and hold it closed with a nail. The curse tablets often were put in cemetaries, which did not happen in Britain. The tablets of Romans were about a broad range of topics such as love or lawsuits.

What the Britons did differently is that they wrote their own curses and signed their names. They seem to have felt it was best to directly talk with Sulis themselves. Another change is that almost every tablet describes an item that was stolen, nothing about love or law. Sulis is usually asked to make the thief suffer physically until he or she returns the object missing to its owner or offers it to Sulis Minvera Herself. It seems that the point is not necessarily to get the stolen item back, but for the justice of the thief to physically hurt until they do  the right thing.

The actual Roman members of the community did not make these curses, indicating that the Britons probably did not go to the local law for theft. Evidently to the Britons theft was a divine issue. Theft breaks the Celtic virtues of honesty and hospitality which hold tribal cultures together. People wrote the curses for thefts of all types of belongings, both inexpensive to expensive, showing that any theft was considered a violation and deserving of divine punishment. Many of the thefts were of clothes and shoes as people bathed. If bathing in the sacred hot springs was a traditional Celtic religious activity, these thefts would have broken more Celtic virtues, making the thief even more accountable to Sulis.

Britain may had its native political structure of independent tribes torn apart, but at Bath people continued to appeal to the Goddess of the thermal waters when old community values were broken. They adapted a new Roman way to their tribal beliefs.

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Invocation to Sulis by Heather Awen

“Sulis, praise be to you, Grand Goddess of the hot spring spa
Where many were healed
And many were helped.
Your strength is like the eye of the sky
Rolling across the heavens,
Watchful of any wrongdoing
In the body or in the community.
Many are the reasons I praise you,
May you hear them all.”

Sulis may have been considered an aspect of Minerva or Athena to the Romans, but She appears to be a Goddess of healing the individual and the community to the local Britons. I say the community because She maintained the right rules of tribal living. Tribal deities were treated like tribal chieftains, and a chieftain or King often heard the complaints of the people and made legal decisions. Whatever Her name before the Romans, Sulis is a Queen to the Britons. Although She may no longer be able to defend Her devotees from invasion and war, She still protects their health and maintains some old ways to care for the community.

For your own festival of Sulis Minerva, you could focus on the Roman attention to the arts. The Celts did expect their deities to have mastery of all the arts. Weaving was a skill greatly valued, and anyone especially interested in fiber arts might want to make an offering. Healers should honor Sulis Minvera on March 19, along with students and teachers, including students and teachers of Celtic polytheism.

Along with gratitude for the skills the deities have shared with mortals, you could focus on the obvious healing aspect of Sulis Minerva. A hot bath, steam room or sauna can be turned into a holy experience. You can also make an appeal to Her for safety and honesty in your community. This could be where you live, extended family or an online organization. If you have been the victim of theft, you can ask for Her to replace the stolen goods and that the thieves are healed from whatever it is that made them steal, whether addiction, poverty or compulsive behavior. Their healing will make your community better and improve your life.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to make your offerings, preferably biodegradable materials into a river.

(Much of the information in this post is from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners.)

* Lead is incredibly toxic, even in trace amounts. It is proven to cause severe health issues for children and according to the New York Times is linked to gang violence in the years before unleaded gasoline. It actually does make people enraged and very ill. As there is so much lead in our water and land already from lead paint chips left in yards to factory pollution, NEVER use lead in ritual especially throwing it in water! You can write the alchemist’s symbol for lead or the planet Saturn’s symbol, the planet associated with lead on blank recycled paper for the same effect.

Selected Bibliography

Adams, J. N., ‘British Latin: The text, Interpretation and Language of the Bath Curse Tablets’, Britannia 23 (1992): p.1-26

Bernstein, Francis, Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome. Harper Collins e-books (2007)

Byrne, Francis J., Irish Kings and High-Kings. Four Courts Press (2001)

Cunliffe, Barry, Britain Begins. Oxford University Press (2013)

Cunliffe, Barry, The Ancient Celts. Oxford University Press (1997)

Cunliffe, Barry, ed. The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath, vol. 1 & 2. Oxford University Press (1988)

Gager, J., ed. Curse Tablets and Binding Spells in the Ancient World (Oxford: 1992)

Grömer, Karina, “Textile Materials and Techniques in Central Europe in the 2nd and 1st Millennia BC” (2014). Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings.

Haussler, Ralph, How to identify Celtic religion(s) in Roman Britain and Gaul, Divinidades indigenas em analise, J. d’Encarnacao (ed), (2008)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

Huth, Christoph and Monika Kondziella, Textile symbolism in Early Iron Age burials, CONNECTING ELITES AND REGIONS: Perspectives on contacts, relations and differentiation during the Early Iron Age Hallstatt C period in Northwest and Central Europe, Robert Schumann & Sasja van der Vaart-Verschoof (ed.) Sidestone Press (2017)

Meyer, Kuno trans., Hail Brigit: An Old-Irish Poem on the Hill of Alenn. Dublin: Hodges, Figgs, and Co. (1912)

NÉMETH, GYÖRGY, Voodoo dolls in the classical world, (publication unknown)

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Rankin, David & d’Este, Sorita, The Isles of Many Gods: An A-Z of the Pagan Gods & Goddesses worshipped in Ancient Britain during the first Millennium CE through the Middle Ages. Avalonia (2007)

Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain. Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago (1967)

Smyth, Alfred P., Celtic Leinster. Mount Salus Press Ltd. (1982)

Wolf, Casey June, The Mythical Pairing of Brig and Bres – Its Origins and Meaning in Cath Maige Tuired, 34 SFU (Surrey) HUM 332 Celtic Mythology with Antone Minard (2015)

Celtic Festival Calender: Neto, Lenus, Cocidius, Rudianos and Nemetona

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Sketch of statue of Lenus Mars by Heather Awen

As the Celts conquered by the Romans adapted their religion to that of the Empire’s, I imagine that Celtic deities associated with Roman ones would be celebrated on the days of their Roman counterparts. I’ve already discussed Telesphorus and the Matres, and more will explored in upcoming posts already scheduled. Even if no Celts did this (which is hard to believe) at least it gives those who worship the ancient deities of the Celtic tribes ritual dates with which to work.

March originally was the first month of the Roman year, in honor of the God of war Mars, the protector of Rome. His Priests were the Salii or “leapers,” twenty four young patrician men whose parents were living. The Salii led processions throughout Rome, wearing archaic military armor, carrying a copy of a shield that was said to have fallen from the sky. On March 1st (probably the new moon originally) the Salii would beat their shields and sing hymns to Mars Gradivus about fertility, while performing a leaping dance. The dance was probably meant to scare off evil spirits during this liminal time of beginnings. Some believe that the dance was to show the crops how high to grow.

Mars was associated with several Celtic deities, including ones associated with Mercury in other places. This is common, because many Celtic people chose which Roman God fit with their own, as opposed to the Romans deciding. Roman deities usually had a special “function” or aspect of life they ruled, while Celtic deities were more about the welfare of the tribe and served in whatever way was needed. Making a direct correlation between the two pantheons is rarely easy, but within a few generations, both Celts and Romans probably began to understand these Romano-Celtic deities in a new way.

The protector of the tribe fit well into Celtic thinking about the deities. Lenus of the Belgic tribe Treveri became Lenus Mars and a very large and important temple complex was built in Trier. Being on a river, it was considered a healing sanctuary where pilgrims could sleep and pray for a message from the God. Many other deities were also worshiped there, and theater taught the myths and values of Rome. (See this post to learn more about the Treveri, Lenus and photographs of Trier including a Roman bridge and bath.)

Another God associated with Mars is described in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners:

Rudianos is a Gaulish warrior God who became associated with Mars. His name means the color red, which is typically connected to battle. A stone from the 6th century BCE at Saint-Michelde-Valbonne, a place where Rudianos was later worshipped, depicts a warrior God on horseback. The Celtic cult of the head is shown by the God’s giant head and the five severed heads being trampled under his horse. Rudianos also has inscriptions at Saint-Andéol-en-Quint and Rochefort Samson (Drôme).”

For British Celtic Pagans, Cocidius (koh-KEED-ee-us) was worshiped in England. However, it’s important to remember that these temples were for the deities that Gauls in the Roman military honored and probably not native to the Britons. (Native shrines left no writing.) Steel Bars, Sacred Waters tells us more:

“A God of soldiers, Cocidius was popular at the dangerous Roman frontier in northern England, Hadrian’s Wall. His major center of worship was Fanum Cocidii (the Temple of Cocidius) located near the Solway Estuary. He was associated with Roman war God Mars.

“23 stone altars and 2 silver plaques have been discovered dedicated to Cocidius. Most are military altars. The plaques show him with a spear and shield and wearing a short cape. A carving depicts him with arms opened wide, a sword in the right hand, and a shield in the left, with his feet stable on the ground. Some believe his statues were painted red. He is called sanctus (holy) six times. One inscription is to Cocidius Vernostonus (”Cocidius of the alder tree”). Many images are of him hunting the traditional Celtic animals of boars, hares and stags found in later legends.”

The alder tree, which makes a red color, is later associated with the Brythonic crow king God Bran the Blessed who we know mostly from the Mabinogi. Roman artisans usually depicted Celtic Gods with a spear and shield, based on their knowledge of what Celtic warriors and kings wore, and their simplistic view of Celtic deities.

From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

Invocation to Cocidius by Heather Awen

“Friend of soldiers, red of alder,
Hunting the boar and defending the land,
Cocidius, welcome to you,
Crimson warrior!
Holder of spear, your temple
Where salt water meets fresh,
Cocidius, companion in battle,
I call to you, to you, holy God, I call.”

Prayer to Cocidius for Safety by Heather Awen

“Red warrior, friend of those in battle,
Cocidius, I speak to you,
Guardian to guardian.
In this fight, please keep my back,
Please make sure I get out of here alive and unscathed.
Whatever battles rage around or within me,
Guard me with your wisdom and loyalty.
Fight the fights I cannot
For my freedom, for my safety, for my humanity.
Wisely lead me through every battle I cannot prevent,
Guide my movements, my decisions,
And keep me out of trouble.
Thank you, defender, for with you on my side
I promise to not start the trouble, *
Only to leave it.
*You actually have to keep your vow.”

I have a great fondness for the Iberian Celtic deities, perhaps because modern scholars are revealing the huge importance of the Atlantic coast in the creation of the Celtic languages. New evidence suggests that Iberia actually had more Celtic settlements than France or the insular Celts living in Britain and Ireland. To see 6th century BCE Celtic language written in Phoenician script found in the most southwest region of Portugal visually fills in once missing gaps of history.

The deities of these Iberian Celtic tribes are discussed in recent academic journals but rarely mentioned in pop culture Celtic Paganism books. In writing Steel Bars, Sacred Waters I worked hard to make these once well known deities well known again. They deserve the same devotion as other deities.

Associated with Mars is Neto, pronounced “NET-oh” and “NAY-toe.” From Steel Bars, Sacred Waters:

“In his Saturnalia writing Macrobius says Neto is like Mars and Apollo, the Roman God of war and the Greek/Roman God of the Sun. His name, like that of so many Celtic Gods, may be connected to passion. He is generally accepted to be a warrior God. However, Celtic war Gods tend to be defenders of tribes, which includes defending them from illness. Apollo is also a God of healing, which makes the connection to protecting the tribe’s health as much as their homes and livestock even stronger. Neto, like so many Celtic Gods of passion, is probably an all-round guardian.

Invocation to Neto by Heather Awen

“Hail, Neto! A warrior of blood and light,
You fight with passion, champion of most terrifying tribes.
Leading the way, you guard against every possible attack
On livelihood and lives, on cattle and castros*.
The heat of the sun boils every edge of you,
Purifying your troops of all hidden treachery,
For you are the honorable warrior,
Guided by great desire to protect what is innocent and must not be corrupted.
I honor you, Neto, guardian who keeps the people free,
I honor you.
* A castro is an Iberian hill-fort.”

Research suggests that the Celts in general believed that for a God to have power, He must be paired with a Goddess. One example is Mercury and Rosmerta (discussed in a few months on the Merculia). Another is how Jupiter is almost always seated by Juno Regina, Juno in her aspect as Queen, on Gaulish Jupiter columns. (This will be discussed more in the August post about the September 1st Festival of Taranus.) And another is Mars and Nemetona, “Goddess of the Sacred Grove” pronounced “nem-eh-TONE-ah.”

Nemetona was paired with the Roman God Mars by the Gauls. This is one way Gallo-Roman religion differed from Roman religion: Gods needed to be in couples with Goddesses. She was also worshiped at Bath in Britain. There an image depicts her seated holding a scepter by a ram and three little hooded figures. Those hooded figures are called genii, and considered to be land spirits.

“It is difficult to know exactly how wide her worship spread. Many place names in Gaul may be connected directly to the Goddess – or to the groves where Druids led some rituals and taught, called nemetons. (The leaders of the Galatians in Turkey gathered at Drunemeton.) This word is perhaps 4,000 years old. Nemetona may have been considered the Goddess of all sacred groves, or just the ones near Bath. Two tribes are recorded whose names come from nemeton – the Nemetati, a Celtic tribe in Iberia, and the Germanic tribe of Nemetes living by the River Rhine, not far from where Mars and Nemetona were most popular. The northern and Atlantic regions of Iberia where Celtic tribes settled were not warm Mediterranean climates, but temperate regions with forests. In continental Europe the sacred grove was normally oak trees.

“Some modern Druids visualize a sacred grove or nemeton within themselves. After grounding and centering they will journey in their minds to their own private nemeton. There they can focus on the sacred center within and retreat from the busy world.”

In a paper by Hyllested, exciting new linguistic evidence shows a change in Indo-European language probably in the Czech Republic about 4,000 years that directly impacted the religion of both the Celts and Germans – before their own languages existed! The name of Macha‘s husband Nemed (and Macha Herself) is believed to come from this time. Nemed is God of the nemeton, the sacred grove with the sacred mare (Macha) which are crucial aspects of both early Germanic and Celtic ritual. That a German tribe in Belgae and Celtic tribe in Iberia also come from nemeton adds to the idea that nematon is a Celto-Germanic word. Hyllested doesn’t mention Nemetona, but that Her name is directly from nemeton, a Celto-Germanic word, would suggest She is an ancient Goddess.

To learn more about the other ancient words that directly impact Celtic and Germanic religion, buy Steel Bars, Sacred Waters, offered for a less expensive price here than on Amazon, and support sending copies to prisons!

Selected Bibliography

Alfayé, Silvia, Contexts of Cult in Hispania Celtica, Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology, Barrowclough, D.A., & Malone, C. (eds), Oxbow, Oxford (2007)

Arenas, Jesús Alberto, Celtic divine names in the Iberian Peninsula: towards a territorial analysis, Celtic Religion Across Time and Space, Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (2010)

Bernstein, Francis, Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome. Harper Collins e-books (2000)

Cunliffe, Barry, The Ancient Celts. Oxford University Press (1997)

de Milio Carrín, Cristobo, The Widower And The Goddess Or The Closed Door: On the connection between northern and southern Celts (March 2011)

Gregory, Lady, Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danann and of the Fianna of Ireland. Public Domain (1905)

Haussler, Ralph, Interpretatatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults in a Global World, Mediterraneo Antico, xv, 1-2 (2012)

Hyllested, Adam, The Precursors of Celtic and Germanic, Proceedings of the 21st Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2010)

Jones, Prudence & Pennick, Nigel, A History of Pagan Europe. Routledge (1995)

Nicholson, Francine, Religious Ritual among the Celts, Land, Sea and Sky, http://homepage.eircom.net/~shae/chapter13.html

Nova Roma, http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Roman_religion

Pedreño, Juan Carlos Olivares, Celtic Gods of the Iberian Peninsula, Guimarães, Portugal: E-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies (2005)

Prosper, Blanca Maria, Celtic and non-Celtic Divinities from Hispania, The Journal of Indo-European Studies, Vol. 43, #1&2 (2015)

Rankin, David & d’Este, Sorita, The Isles of Many Gods: An A-Z of the Pagan Gods & Goddesses worshipped in Ancient Britain during the first Millennium CE through the Middle Ages. Avalonia (2007)

Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain. Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago (1967)

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise, translated by Myles Dillon, Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover (2000)

Vitellius Triarius, L., Meditations on the Roman Deities: A Guide for the Modern Practitioner. Self published (2013)

Woodard, Roger D., Indo-European sacred space: Vedic and Roman cult. University of Illinois Press (2006)

Resource for Prisoners: Writer’s Handbook FREE, *plus* Writing for Justice Fellowship

If you want to order a free copy of the PEN America’s Handbook for Writers in Prison by emailing PEN and save your pen pal a precious stamp, visit their website. One of my penpals has been writing essays using the outline I forgot we learn somewhere in school. Actually, I forgot about how it even worked. He’s an amazzzzing writer with a crazy huge vocabulary, but had no idea that he is such a fantastic writer. My mother trances out on his words, “He’s a true poet. He’s such an intellect, vocabulary.”

The vocabulary is because he reads nonstop, which reminds us why donating books is so important. The average education level of someone in prison is 8th grade. When I told him how impressed my mother was with his regular writing style, he was shocked. “Black people don’t believe that we’re intellectual. Or smart.” That’s the legacy of the American school system. I couldn’t understand how he couldn’t know he’s a brilliant mind and writer. He’s masterful.

(If you wonder how this relates to Paganism, poetry, storytelling and drama are at the roots of many traditions – especially Indo-European cultures.)

From PEN website: 

PEN America’s Handbook for Writers in Prison features detailed guides on the art of writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenplays as well as information on punctuation, cover letters, and a list of recommended magazines and journals that consider work for publication. This is an invaluable resource to any incarcerated writer. To date, PEN America has distributed over 20,000 copies of the Handbook, and continues to receive requests.

Please consider making a donation to the Prison Writing Program. Your support will not only help us publish future editions of the Handbook, but will also help provide hundreds of inmates across the country with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work.

Make a Donation

BUY THE HANDBOOK

Workshop instructors who would like to use the Handbook for Writers in Prison for classes are encouraged to purchase copiesPlease note, our orders are submitted monthly. We ask for patience when waiting for your handbook to arrive.

Purchase a Copy

FREE FOR WRITERS IN PRISON

If you or someone you know is currently incarcerated, you are eligible to order a FREE copy of the Handbook for Writers in Prison.Please note, our orders are submitted monthly. We ask for patience when waiting for your handbook to arrive.”

Do You Want to Write about Prison Justice?

WRITING FOR JUSTICE FELLOWSHIP

PEN America’s Writing for Justice Fellowship commissions writers—emerging or established—to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate.

The Fellowship aims to harness the power of writers and writing in bearing witness to the societal consequences of mass incarceration by capturing and sharing the stories of incarcerated individuals, their families, communities, and the wider impact of the criminal justice system. Our goal is to ignite a broad, sustained conversation about the dangers of over-incarceration and the imperative to mobilize behind rational and humane policies. As an organization of writers dedicated to promoting free expression and informed discourse, PEN America is honored to have been entrusted by the Art for Justice Fund to engage the literary community in addressing this pressing societal issue.

What is PEN?

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Founded in 1922, PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers worldwide that make up the PEN International network. PEN America works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others. Our strength is our Membership—a nationwide community of more than 7,200 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN America’s mission.

PEN America, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, is headquartered in New York City, with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Since 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across diverse genres, including fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, and drama. With the help of our partners, PEN America confers over 20 distinct awards, fellowships, grants and prizes each year, awarding nearly $350,000 to writers and translators.

To stay up to date on Literary Awards news, sign up here.