Luisha Teish! Lost Yoruban Women’s Ogun Snake Rites, Marie LaVeau & Religion in Dahomey

Heather Awen original T shirt turned into art
T Shirt my mother brought me from Haiti which I later framed – Heather Awen VIVE LA LIBERTE

April 20th is the birthday of activist and Priestess of Oshun Luisha Teish. Her book Jambalaya was the first title I ever bought hard cover because I was too excited for the cheaper paper back to be released. I had studied what little was available on Haitian Vodou because my mother was there in the 1986 revolution. Teish made me aware of other African Diaspora Religions including the Orisha and Marie LaVeau. She’s also the only person I have ever paid to attend a spiritual workshop. Happy Birthday, Great One!

There’s a lot of African traditional religious practices that didn’t carry over into the modern neo-Yoruban religions like Lucumi. However, here’s one that is found in Marie LaVeau’s Congo Square dances. First a little African religious history for context.

“According to myth, there were no voduns in Dahomey until Agaja demanded that they be brought into the kingdom. Until that time, women of Dahomey gave birth to goats, and goats gave birth to humans. In order to alleviate this imbalance in nature, eleven voduns were carried en masse from the Fon heartland in Adja to Abomey. Among these were Hevioso, Gu, , Fa, and Legba. Only upon summoning the voduns and showing them devotion were natural reproductive capacities restored, humans giving birth to humans, goats to goats. Thus, regional history was rewritten, attributing the birth and regeneration of a new people to Agaja’s embrace of a pan-Dahomean cast of divinities. Contrary to the myth, the term “vodun” was in wide circulation in the region from as early as 1658, when Capuchin missionaries in Allada equated “vodun” with “god.” Hevioso, the vodun of thunder, originated in the small village of Hevie, halfway between Abomey and Ouidah. Other voduns had originated in Yorubaland before spreading across the region, some even to Abomey.

“Until the rise of the empire of Dahomey, there was no formal, centralized acknowledgment of the deities diffused throughout the region. Only when Dahomeans began co-opting the local deities of the peoples they conquered did the official pantheon of vodun actually emerge. Reproduction and regeneration were at stake as the nascent empire teetered. In response, Agaja instituted a policy of appropriating the deities of conquered peoples, importing their shrines and priests to Abomey, where they were integrated into the official royal pantheon.”

Domingos Álvares, African healing, and the intellectual history of the Atlantic world James H. Sweet. 2011 The University of North Carolina Press

However, in the roots of Voodoo and Hoodoo, enslaved Africans shared what they could of their various religions.

“The primary African components from which Hoodoo would be constituted were drawn from a range of different African ethnic cultures that stretched from the area now known as Senegal down the West African coast to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Because it concerned the transformation of a variety of traditional African religions into one spiritual tradition, Hoodoo must have involved a major confrontation of spiritual forces. The early disintegration process included a great reduction in ability not only to ritualize across the life cycle, but also to engage openly in significant events, which would help to stabilize and enrich the psychocultural continuity in the slave community. The most sacred of Christian symbols, the cross, resonated both with African notions of the crossroads as a supernatural site and with the sacred cross of the Kongo Yowa cosmogram. The symbol represents the Bakongo people’s view of the universe and the place of humankind in that universe. Among other qualities, it symbolizes the movement from the otherworld of the ancestors as they travel in a dynamic cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

“Southwest Hoodoo region, was centered in the Gulf Coast/New Orleans/Mobile area; this area would include the western Florida panhandle, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi and extend westward into eastern Texas and northward to Missouri and Tennessee. In this region, the Senegambian, Mande speakers, particularly the Bambara in Louisiana, would leave a fortified cultural legacy that recognizably contributed directly to Hoodoo development. The Bambara in particular were concentrated in such numbers there, that a Bambara interpreter was installed in the New Orleans court system. Their best-known and documented contribution to Hoodoo may be in the fabrication of protective amulets known by a variety of Mande labels, including gerregery (gris-gris), wanga, and zinzin. Other groups in area one include those from the Yoruba, Fon, and Ewe cultural complex as well as from Central West Africa or the Kongo-Angola-Zaire area.”

Mojo Workin’: the old African American Hoodoo System by Katrina Hazzard-Donald, University of Illinois 2013

I share these to provide historical context of how a 19th century Yoruban Ogun tradition may have had a similar practice in 19th century New Orleans. Here’s the Yoruban history:

“For an instance of female devotion to Ogun, there was the female butcher noted by E. M. Lijadu far away at Ondo in 1892. As she went into her stall in the market, she gathered up her iron implements, split kola and threw the pieces several times over them, and offered some incantations. To Lijadu’s question, she said she was “consulting Aje the goddess of money through Ogun the god of iron [and that] Aje promises to send me many customers with much money to carry home after the market.” This OgunAje linkage is attested from elsewhere; and as a woman’s ritual directed at personal wealth, it may perhaps be seen as practically analogous to the cult of Ori, which was popular among wealthy women in central and southwestern Yorubaland but apparently absent from the East. As described here by Lijadu, such elements of the ritual as breaking kola over iron tools seem identical to those practiced by male workers with iron.

“But the main way in which Ogun appears in the CMS journals as an object of women’s worship is quite different: not as iron but as a snake. It was not exclusively a women’s cult, though women were most active in it (as indeed in most forms of orisha worship). The most dramatic account of the cult of Ogun as snake comes from Ijaye in 1855: “It was the annual Ifa festival of the Ar Kurunmi, despotic ruler of the town, and large crowds had gathered before the gate of his compound. Most of them were said to be “worshippers of the orisa called Ogun or snake,” for Kurunmi’s late mother had been one of its principal devotees, and this was in remembrance of her. Lots of snakes of different sizes from different parts of the town were brought to “play” with Kurunmi, but he wouldn’t allow them inside his house since (says the African catechist Charles Phillips) he was afraid of them.” The cult was most publicly manifest when its members went about the town with their Ogun snakes, offering blessings in the god’s name and receiving gifts (in essence, sacrices) of cowries in return. A traveling Methodist missionary was visited by a female “snake charmer” at Oyo in the early 1890s. Our last glimpse of the cult is again in lbadan, when a European woman missionary encounters “sitting by the roadside an old woman, an Ogun worshipper with a huge snake coiled round the body, and she asking alms of the people. ”

From Christianity, Islam, and Orisa Religion: Three Traditions in Comparison and Interaction by J. D. Y. Peel, available for FREE here at University of California, Luminosoa.

On to Marie LaVeau!

“The drummer started a slow beat; a trumpet made from an animal’s horn sounded four long notes. The gathering had begun. As Marie Laveau crossed Rampart Street and neared Congo Square, the multi-leveled roofs of the French Quarter and the spires of St. Louis Cathedral rose behind her. At the entrance to the dance plaza, she passed market women selling their wares—pecan pies, spruce beer, Louisiana rum, and pralines filled with peanuts, coconut, or popcorn. Marie had left the corsets, petticoats, and heavy undergarments she wore to church that Sunday morning at home. In their stead, she chose a loose, low-necked cotton dress that permitted easy movement in the subtropical humidity and allowed the Great Serpent Spirit to enter and use her body. Her gold earrings and bracelets flashed in the sun, and her tignon—a vividly colored madras handkerchief wound as a turban—stood high in seven points. The policemen stationed at each of the four gates to Congo Square watched the crowd part as Marie Laveau passed. They were waiting for her.

“When Marie Laveau’s magical spells, commanding presence, or strategic bribery had taken hold, the police relented and joined the crowds to watch her perform. Marie slipped off her shoes and walked to the center where magical lines from the four corners and the four gates intersected. As was her custom, she knelt on the ground and rapped three times. The crowd loved the one-two-three rhythm and shouted it with her—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Faith, Hope, and Charity. Then from a box near her feet, she lifted a fat snake. The earth-toned creature—probably a Louisiana Coluber—was not poisonous, but it stretched twelve to twenty feet and entwined itself in undulating coils about the body of the priestess.

“Marie signaled the band and began to move with slow, sinuous grace. Bare soles flat on the packed earth of Congo Square, she shifted her weight from one ankle to another, then to her knees, thighs, hips, torso, and up to her shoulders. Her feet never lifted from the ground; she swayed in waves like the movement of snakes. Other women joined her and danced within their own tight circles or rings, some no larger than ten feet in diameter. Many waved white handkerchiefs “extended by the corners in their hands.” Men with bracelets of bells on their calves danced in circles around the women. Sometimes they balanced bottles of rum or other spirits on their heads. They mimicked fighting and leaped into the air in displays of gymnastic ferocity.

“On the Sunday afternoons when Marie Laveau herself danced, Congo Square was spirit theater. Marie devoured drumbeat, song, and motion. They drove her from her body, out of her social identity, and into the climax of spirit possession. As the snake curled about her, she called to its soul in song—“Come Great Serpent Spirit. Join us, Le Grand Zombi.” The serpent spirit entered her, became who she was; they whirled as one in ecstasy and awe. “He comes, the Great Serpent. Comes to make things happen. Comes to face down death.”

“Marguerite Darcantel, mother to the first queen and grandmother to the second, was—the gumbo ya-ya says—a fever nurse, hoodoo doctor, and Voodoo practitioner. People said she was a descendant of a Christian slave from the Kingdom of Kongo, a long line of Native American herbalists and healers, and several French and Spanish aristocrats. The gumbo ya-ya says that Marie’s mother’s mother came directly to Louisiana from the Central African kingdom and passed on spiritual customs to her daughter and granddaughter that resemble those of the ngangas or mediums, priestesses, or shamans of widespread religious movements in Kongo.”

Voodoo Queen: the spirited lives of Marie Laveau Martha Ward. University Press of Mississippi (2004)

Who is Le Grand Zombi?

“Marie Laveau drew upon the teachings and practices of Saint-Domingue and Africa for her work. In naming her famous snake “Li Grand Zombi,” Laveau paid homage not to shambling animated corpses but to a powerful spirit—the Kongo creator Nzambi. According to Kongo legend, Nzambi created the heavens, the earth, and the animals. Then, after creating man and woman, he taught them how to survive in his world and how to harness the magical power of his creation. By using those teachings they could break the blazing droughts and bring down the summer rain; they could heal sickness and ensure fertile crops. They could also communicate with the mpungas, deceased ancestors and nature spirits who assisted Nzambi in maintaining his creation.

“In Haiti, Vodouisants honor the Simbi family of lwa. Like the basimbi, snake spirits living in the rivers and streams of southern Africa, the Simbis are known to be shy but powerful magicians. Those who approach them with due patience and respect and gain their trust find they are powerful allies who can act as intermediaries between the worlds of flesh and spirit and life and death. Within New Orleans, believers and practitioners considered Li Grand Zombi a benevolent protector and wise teacher. In New Orleans the snake served simultaneously to advertise to one’s clientele and to set them apart as outsiders. This is similar to Simbi’s liminal position in Haiti. As a traveler between worlds, Simbi is tough to pin down. One of the most popular Simbis, Simbi Andezo, literally resides “in two waters” (an de zo), occupying the space where freshwater meets the salty ocean. Li Grand Zombi is similarly placed between public Voodoo rituals for tourists and private devotions, between religion and entertainment, between African roots and American money-making spectacles. In this, he is a fitting patron for the city of New Orleans and its religion.”

– The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook by Kenaz Filan. Destiny Books (2011)

I know that Hoodoo and conjure are popular topics for Witches. If you are really committed to understanding the various African Diaspora Religions, read more than spells and dig into the fascinating history of West and Central Africa, horrors of European style slavery of Africans, and the spiritual legacy the two created. Things will make sense on many levels of interconnectedness. Try these books!

Marie Laveau: First Pagan Prison Ministry

Onje Keon Pierce
Voodoo Tarot Death Card (Middle Passage) by Onje Keon Pierce

There’s always been a lot of interest in Marie Laveau the 1st and her daughter, Marie Laveau the 2nd, in Pagan circles. Voodoo and hoodoo practices have been misappropriated, changed, and sold by white people who didn’t believe in hoodoo since African-Americans have fled the violent repercussions of the Civil War’s losers, the children and grandchildren and great-grandchilden and great-great-grandchildren of the Confederate Army. Those crappy products often end up in Pagan boutiques – I know because I’ve briefly worked in such terrible places. For one, I visited the Los Angeles warehouse for Indio, a popular Voodoo-hoodoo-“whatever” product producer and distributor. Picture a decaying cement floor K-Mart with many blown out lights, covered in dust and cobwebs, with shelves of the most stale herbs and bottles of cheapest synthetic detergents, dye and “fragrance” claiming supernatural powers, where near the register like “impulse items” are plastic baggies of chicken bones labeled exoticly as Black Cat bones. Not terribly spiritual. Many years earlier a friend in Brooklyn, after I took her to my neighborhood botanica in 1991, said, “All the love oils in plastic bottles smelled like love: stale and toxic.” Modern hoodoo staples like War Water and Peace Water are inventions made by Northern white Jewish non-believers, and never known in the African-American supportive spiritual community of hoodoo. For more on the history of the religious survival of Africans in the United States and its misappropriation, please read the amazing Mojo Workin’: the Old African American Hoodoo System by Lucumi initiated daughter of Ogun Katrina Hazzard-Donald. A white, educated Pagan American friend’s daughter wrote about it for a college class and was shocked by how little of the brutal racist policies in post-Civil War U.S. were taught in American history.

I am happy that the Widow Paris (as Marie Laveau the 1st chose to be called and I feel it’s more respectful to use that name) is still remembered. However, I tire of seeing her name adopted as white Witches’ Craft names and white Pagans who want to steal her Magickal legacy and ignore her sociological and political legacy. Where once the daughter of the Widow Paris Philomène had to constantly remind reporters of her mother’s tireless work as a home trained nurse for victims of Yellow Fever epidemics and soldiers on any side of an army, her friends in high political places, and her many charitable deeds for the community, and ask them to stop focusing on Voodoo, today it’s like the same thing has to be said. The Widow Paris was a front lines activist for her community, risking her life for them. To remove the social context of her Magickal work is frankly sacrilegious to me.

Yet in this blog post I’m exploiting the Widow Paris for my own purposes. The Widow Paris is the first known Pagan Prison ministry.

In the 1830s or 1840s she started visiting men on death row at Parish Prison. It was not a pretty sight or smell: “The jail, finished in 1834 and located on the site of an old soap factory, cast its shadow across Congo Square. Tremé, Orleans, and St. Ann streets bounded it on three sides; the fourth side is named Marais—French for “swamp.” Built to hold four hundred, it was overcrowded with underfed, unwashed inmates; serious offenders mingled with those awaiting trial for minor offences.” – Voodoo Queen: the Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau by Martha Ward.

She even brought ART SUPPLIES. I’ve asked prisoners what they think of that. The reply is best summed up by incarcerated artist Onje Keon Pierce. “She was a Saint ahead of her time. She is an ancestor of social justice.” Accordingly, Pierce includes her in his Yoruba -style ancestral prayers.

There was a lot of gossip about her helping men commit suicide by poisoning them in their last meal. Supposedly hidden in the gumbo and fried fish she brought to these men, soon to be publicly and painfully hanged, were deadly Voodoo herbs. The Widow Paris often visited Antoine Cambre at Parish Prison to talk and pray with him. Although he was terrified of being hanged and his friends and family encouraged him to commit suicide to avoid the public humiliation, Cambre refused. He held on the hope that the Governor would pardon him. After all, Cambre’s job gave him close ties to the notoriously corrupt police force.

The day before his scheduled execution, Cambre was found dead in his cell. The Widow Paris, according to a prison official, had insisted that he eat and had brought what she promised was the gumbo of a lifetime. An attorney who was friends with the Cambre family heard this and told people that the man’s autopsy showed poison in his stomach and intestines. Thus, the untrue legend began which is still told by tour guides today.

In reality, there was no autopsy. Creole newspaper the Bee had reported that an inquest into Cambre’s death was attended by the physician who had examined Cambre a week before his death, the city coroner, a deputy coroner, an ex-coroner, a police captain, the warden, an official from the police force, and “four prominent citizens”. Several reporters were also present. The physician described the fever symptoms of Cambre, how it progressed, and what medications were used. It was the usual time for death from fevers from malaria, and that is what the panel agreed had killed Cambre.

The doctor recalled “At breakfast time he got up and walked across the cell to take a glass of water. At half past twelve o’clock he arose and walked across the cell, drank a glass of water and laid down again, when he was seized with a burning fever. A colored woman (the Widow Paris), who was much attached to Cambre and frequently visited him in prison, remained with him until he had breathed his last.”

During the 18th and 19th centuries both white and Black people went to the “hoodoo doctor” for medical treatment. A few slaves were even freed by the U.S. government because of their cures for diseases, something never taught in American history. The “hoodoo doctor” often combined African and Native American herbalism with what slaves working for pharmacists or the rare physician had learned. With this were prayers and spiritual rites to stop the disease on the spiritual level. (Any Pagan who has glanced at early Medieval Saxon, Scandinavian or Gaelic healing magic and later folk lore knows that spoken or sung charms/ prayers were as important as the herbs and other medical treatments for the cure to work.)

This power of herbal remedies was also considered quite threatening to the white slave owners who benefited from the aid of “hoodoo doctors” and their female counterparts, midwives. As any decent herbalist knows, the amount of the same herb is often what determines if it will cure or kill. Nutmeg is lethal, but in very small amounts it helps the body digest the heavy, rich foods usually served over the Christmas holidays. Eat enough apple seeds and you’ll die. This fear of poisoning is one of the reasons that the Black folk medical practitioners (often the same people with knowledge of African religions) were targets of the growing power of white, male physicians. Black midwives, often Mothers in the church, counselors to women, and providers of hoodoo remedies for the economic survival and physical protection of African-American women and their children, were especially targeted for arrest. Of course, economically very disadvantaged people could not afford the white, male physicians who until 120 years ago held cake and roasts up to women’s vaginas to lure their “wandering uterus” back into place as a cure for “hysteria” (nervous breakdowns from being literal physical property of men?).

So of course the Widow Paris, who had worked in makeshift hospitals and risked her life since her teenage years treating countless victims of disease and state violence, would be accused of poisoning. And that’s what people remember, not how many lives she saved and how many dying people she comforted until their last breath.

What did the Widow Paris actually do in Parish Prison? She brought food, she emotionally supported men soon to die, she heard confessions and prayed with them throughout the night before they were killed. Her altars were often build in the filthy cells: a stepped box like a pyramid about three feet by three feet at the base covered with white muslim and silver lace. At the top she always placed a beautiful statue of the woman/Goddess she was named after, the Virgin Mary, sometimes with offerings of pink and white camellias at Her feet. Even in 1871 the Widow Paris built such an altar with the help of her grandchildren at Parish Prison.

Then she stayed with the condemned men when they died. In many ways, she appears to have fulfilled much of the role of a psychopomp Priestess, helping those most likely to become dangerous restless dead to cross over to the important realm of the ancestors. Ancestor reverence is one of the most important aspects of West and Central African traditional religion, and funeral rites were taken very seriously. James H. Sweet documents Kongo women, possessed by their recent ancestors buried in Africa, leading secret slave rituals in Brazil in the 17th century. (I cannot recommend his books enough! For the role of transgender Priests in Kongo funeral ceremonies, read this.)

Philomène told a Picayune reporter in 1886 “Whenever a prisoner excited her pity, Marie would labor incessantly to obtain his pardon, or at least a commutation of sentence, and she generally succeeded.”

It’s true that the Widow Paris knew how to form relationships with the incredibly corrupt politicians and police officers in New Orleans. An interviewer from the WPA Federal Writers’ Project recorded this from Nathan Hobley, a Voodoo practitioner who had known the Widow Paris and her successor daughter: “Marie was smart, the cleverest person I ever knew. People in trouble consulted her. She went to court for them and never was known to lose a case. She had a good lawyer.*” The interviewer added the asterisk with a note “*Hobley then mentioned Lucien Adams and Judge Moise of Section B. To Be Censored.”

Lucien Adams was white, so his (bad) name had to be protected. He intimated and beat citizens, was accused of a murder, proudly fixed elections and used violence against abolitionists. This powerful man regularly had breakfasts at the home of the Widow Paris. Thomas Adams was another white guest at breakfast, a policeman who, once he began working with the Widow Paris, quickly worked his way to the chief of police and a member of state legislature.

Although I doubt she in any way liked Lucien Adams, men like these were probably indispensable for her ability to help her community. The Widow Paris did, in fact, have a good deal of success getting people out of prison. Her association with Thomas Adams is supposed to be why the police did not bother her or her daughter, while many other Black Voodoo Priestesses in the 1850s were intimidated, robbed of necklaces brought from Africa by grandmothers, beaten, their ritual items confiscated, and eventually arrested.

Their crime? Racial integration, female freedom and African religion. Female Black slaves, free women of color, and the white wives and daughters of New Orleans mixed together in ritual, often hoping for messages from those loved ones killed in the Civil War or by fevers. Rituals where reporters wrote that the wealthy white women, usually properly behaved, were “almost naked” (probably dressed in camisoles, bloomers and petticoats – then an exposed elbow was scandelous), corrupted by the “Negro diabolical leader” and in need of white “male supervision”. Rituals of ecstatic dances where crushed spirits rose and entered the healing presence of ancestors, Voodoo (Fon word for deities), spirits, God – whatever that woman knew as the Divine; dances that always included a snake.

The snake: the living embodiment of Ogun in parts of Yorubaland; the beloved pythons who kept mice out of grain storage who still have a temple in Benin; the animist spirits worshiped in the homes of many Fon people (before the soldiers of Dahomey ate them during their conquest); the Dahomey serpent who holds up Africa, later known in Haitian Vodou as Danballa; the swimming spirits carrying messages to God in Kongo cosmology, to become Simbi in Haitian Vodou; the whisperers of ancestors’ words, carried in gourds by African Priests turned into Portuguese slaves in Brazil; the animal witness of Voodoo initiations by the Voodoo Queen who probably trained Marie; the animal wrapped around the Widow Paris in the illegal, public trance dances in Congo Square that mocked her oppressors; the rattlesnake with whom her daughter danced at the racially diverse ceremonies on St. John the Baptist Eve on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, a snake said to have died when Marie Lavaeu the 2nd killed herself like many other “free people of color” who lost everything after the Civil War.

Please, if you are going to take the Craft name Laveau or romantically aspire to her level of Voodoo skill, get to work healing your community in the corrupt prisons and volunteer at needle exchanges, hurricanes, homeless shelters and with Hospice. Then you might understand some of the deepest secrets in Voodoo. Otherwise, knock it off. It’s incredibly offensive and delusional. The Widow Paris dedicated her life to serving those even less fortunate than herself and is a great role model if remembered in context of all the good she was able to accomplish in a place filled with injustice.

 

Thank you to Onje Keon Pierce who told me about the wonderful Christianity, Islam, and Orisa Religion: Three Traditions in Comparison and Interaction. Its reports of the women-only Ogun snake cult is fantastic and adds a totally new layer to my understanding of Ogun.

 

Bibliography

Hazzard-Donald, Katrina, Mojo Workin’: the Old African American Hoodoo system by Hazzard-Donald. University of Illinois Press. (2013)

Peel, J. D. Y., Christianity, Islam, and Orisa Religion: Three Traditions in Comparison and Interaction. University of California Press Lumimos (2016)

Sweet, James H., Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World. University of North Carolina Press

Ward, Martha, Voodoo Queen: the Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau. University Press of Mississippi (2004)

Pagan Holy Days April

garnet_watermark Alexandra Rena
Garnet card (Babylonia) from the highly anticipated, well researched, in-process Stone Oracle by Alexandra Rena

About a week before the end of the month, I post the monthly calendar so you have time to copy and mail it to your pen pals in prison. Remember that they need the Guide to the Athens, Julian and other calendars, plus the new moon (not dark moon) and full moon dates found here and here, where the Yoruban, Anglo-Saxon and Athens weekly and monthly calender are. If you want a pen pal, I suggest looking at Black & Pink‘s list for Pagans. For pointers on writing someone in prison, check out here. It’s the new Guide to Writing Pagan Prisoners!

If you don’t have a penpal but want to help, we’ll happily send free copies of Steel Bars Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners to prisoners and books to prisoners organizations if you donate the money! Pagan books are in the Top Five Requested Books and hardest to fill. If you have used paperback books that you don’t need, please consider donating them. There’s a books to prisoners organizations within 200 miles of most people and they’d love those books! Check out your closest one! Literacy rates are low in prison and the average book is read by seven people! Prison, as one man told me, “can be college, if you treat the time that way. You just have to keep getting books, because there’s no classes or training in state prison.”

On with the show!

April Pagan Holy Days

The Anglo-Saxon name for April was Eostre, whose name links Her to the east and dawn. Her name became Easter. As Easter is held on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, it is believed that Eostre was worshiped on the full moon after the spring equinox.

Akitu, the Sumerian festival of barley and Babylonian celebration of Marduk‘s victory over Tiamat, started the new year. The new moon of the 1st Babylonian month Nisannu (April-May) began the 12 day holy time. Marduk and the other deities renew their covenant with Babylon now and promise another cycle of seasons.

Fortuna Virilis, Roman Goddess with power over women’s relationships with men, was honored April 1.

April 1 was also the Veneralia, Festival of Venus Verticordia (“Heart Turner”). Venus Verticordia turned the hearts of Roman women to be faithful wives and chaste maidens. Men and women, married or single, poor or wealthy – everyone prayed to Venus Verticordia for help involving love, sex and marriage. She maintained the gender roles and morality that Roman society expected from all women.

The Megalesia held April 4 to 6 celebrated the Goddess the Romans called Magna Mater, but originally was Cybele, the great mother from Phrygia in the Near East. The rituals began with an offering of herbs at Her temple. People held big parties, visited friends and went to the theater.

8 days before the new moon in April, Venus of Eryx was worshiped by courtesans and prostitutes. Her main temple was on the western point of Sicily in Eryx.

The 6th day of the April-May lunar cycle Athens held a purification ceremony. One woman and one man were picked to represent the adult population. Wearing garlands of figs, the couple was sacrificed on the seashore. Their burnt to ashes were scattered on the sea. In later times they were banished from Athens, symbolically taking away all evil in the city’s residents. They also were a sacrifice to Apollon, so He would not burn the crops.

The same day started the 2 day long harvest festival the Thargelia. The first day is for purification, such as fasting, bathing and abstaining from sex. The next day is Apollon‘s birthday feast of the first fruits. Artemis and the Horae (Greek Goddesses of the seasons) also received offerings from the first harvest.

During the Cerialia, April 12-19, Romans celebrated the reunion of grain Goddess Ceres (similar to Demeter) and Her daughter Proserpina. (Persephone is Her Greek name). Ovid instructs: “Ceres delights in peace; and you farmer, pray for perpetual peace and a peaceful leader. Good Ceres is content with little, if that little be but pure.” Women in white carried lit torches, like Ceres in search of Proserpina.

Fordicidia, April 15 or the full moon, is an ancient Roman fertility rite. A pregnant cow (“forda”) was sacrificed to Terra Mater, or Mother Earth. The Vestal Virgins sacrificed the unborn calf and used its ashes at the Parilia. The fields received the fertility of the cow.

On the 19th the New Orleans Saint Expedite who grants fast solutions especially in law and business and helps with overcoming obstacles to financial success is honored.

Held on April 21, the Parilia honors Pales who purifies the flocks. Ovid instructs: “Shepherd, do purify your well-fed sheep at twilight; first sprinkle the ground with water and sweep it with a broom. Deck the sheepfold with leaves and branches fastened to it; adorn the door and cover it with a long garland. Make blue smoke with pure sulphur ….when the (cakes of millet are) cut up, pray to rustic Pales, offering warm milk to her.”

On the 23rd Ogun is honored by those involved with Spiritualist Voodoo.

The ancient Roman Robigalia on April 25 honors Robiga, the spirit of mold, to protect the crops.

Walpurga’s night, April 30, is celebrated in Germany much like Halloween. Witches were said to meet on the tops of the moist remote mountains. Historically Walpurga was an Anglo-Saxon nun but She became synchronized with earlier Pagan practices. Some images of the Saint, especially in Sweden, show her holding shafts of wheat, because Walpurga is the fertility of the fields. For the last 9 days of April She runs through the forest hiding from a man who is chasing her. He may ask farmers if they have seen Walpurga. If a farmer replies no, he will be rewarded with gold by Walpurga. On May 1 Walpurga is free and brings summer to the land, much to the delight of the farmers.

On April 27, the Roman temple of Flora was dedicated, and her games and rituals lasted until May 3. “Perhaps you may think that I am queen only of dainty garlands; but my divinity has to do also with the tilled fields. Honey is my gift. ‘Tis I who call the winged creatures, which yield honey, to the violet, and the clover, and the grey thyme.” (Ovid) Flora was honored by the oldest college of Roman priests, the Arval Brethren, in their sacred grove. During a week of parties, hares and goats (animals who breed frequently) were released. Beans were scattered in the crowd as symbols of fertility. Everyone wore crowns of flowers. “When white robes are worn for Ceres’ festival, Why brightly colored clothes suitable for Flora? That is because the harvest whitens when the grain is ripe, But flowers come in a variety of colors.” (Ovid )

Pagan Holy Days March

Onje Keon Pierce
Tarot Card Oshun’s World by Onje Keon Pierce

About a week before the end of the month, I post the monthly calendar so you have time to copy and mail it to your pen pals in prison. Remember that they need the Guide to the Athens, Julian and other calendars, plus the new moon (not dark moon) and full moon dates found here and here, where the Yoruban, Anglo-Saxon and Athens weekly and monthly calender are. If you want a pen pal, I suggest looking at Black & Pink‘s list for Pagans. For pointers on writing someone in prison, check out here.

If you don’t have a penpal but want to help, we’ll happily send free copies of Steel Bars Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners to prisoners and books to prisoners organizations if you donate the money! Pagan books are in the Top Five Requested Books and hardest to fill. If you have used paperback books that you don’t need, please consider donating them. There’s a books to prisoners organizations within 200 miles of most people and they’d love those books! Check out your closest one! Literacy rates are low in prison and the average book is read by seven people! Prison, as one man told me, “can be college, if you treat the time that way. You just have to keep getting books, because there’s no classes or training in state prison.”

On with the show!

March Pagan Holy Days

The Anglo-Saxon name for March is Hrethe, a Goddess about whom we know little. Her name may mean “glorious.”

Very ancient Roman rites began on March 1, the birthday of God of war Mars, and lasted the entire month. His priests, the Salii (“leapers”), had many noisy processions in the streets of Rome, beating on 8-sided shields. Performing elaborate dances, they sang a hymn. The few lines we know celebrate the fertilizing power of Mars Gradivus, pointing to a possible early agricultural function.

March 1 is also the Roman Matronalia, Festival to Women, honoring Juno Lucina (Juno “light”). The rites at Her temple were strictly for women. In Juno Lucina’s sacred grove, Vestal Virgins hung offerings of their hair on the eldest tree. In the temple, a sacrifice was made followed by a public banquet. Husbands prayed for their wives’ health and gave them gifts. Women wore their best clothing, later hosted banquets for loved ones. Female friends exchanged gifts, while everyone gave their mothers and daughters presents.

The Roman Festival of Anna Perenna is on March 15 (or the full moon). Depicted as an old woman, Anna Perenna is Goddess of the new year. Her festival was a fertility rite, with people building tents by Her sacred grove, drinking wine, flirting, dancing and singing lewd songs. Couples retired to their tents. Many experienced sex for the first time.

Also on that day was the Mamuralia, more horse races for Mars. Plus the day was also sacred to sky father Jupiter, head of the Roman pantheon.

On the day after the March-April full moon, Athens honored Artemis as protectress of the female bear. Round cakes with a lit candle in the center were offered as symbols of the moon.

The Liberalia on March 17 was the rural fertility festival of Liber who presided over male semen. Throughout Italian farmlands, a cart carried a phallus while a procession sang explicitly sexual songs. The phallus was placed on display for the rest of March.

The same day, Roman young men received the togas that signified that they were now adults. Loved ones cheered.

On the 19th the Orisha of herbalism and the forest Osanyin (Ossain) is celebrated in New Orleans Voodoo.

Held during March 19 to 23, the Roman Greater Quinquatrus was a festival dedicated to Goddess Minerva, who ruled over all the arts. Arts included all the important skills, like medicine, weaving and education. On the first day teachers, students and doctors made sacrifices to Minerva. Ovid instructs: “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.”

March 25 is Lady’s Day, which in parts of Scotland is the day that the Cailleach (“veiled one”), a giantess and hag of winter, renews Herself and becomes young again. In another story, She loses Her battle with Her son Aengus and His true love, spring Goddess Brid, and so winter ends.

On the 25th the Orisha Oshun is honored for Her gifts of love, charity, creativity and abundance.

On March 30 Salus Publica Populi Romani (“Goddess of the public welfare of the Roman people”) was honored. Sacrifices to healers Apollo and Aesculapius were also made. Like Greek Hygieia, Salus held a snake.

 

 

Pagan Holy Days February

Onje Keon Pierce "Oya"
Oya depicted by Onje Keon Pierce

It’s that time again, and February has a lot of festivals, so copy this list and mail it to your pen pal in prison! What? You don’t have a Pagan pen pal in prison who needs someone on the outside with whom to share information, friendship and humor? Why not? It’s so easy and does so much! The right fit may take a few pen pals, but with my guidance, you’ll be safe and prepared! Just start here and then use the category search for blog posts on Resources and Be an Ally to learn more. I get letters asking me about getting a Pagan volunteer in their prison like Buddhists do, and I have to say “I’m sorry; Pagans suck.” I literally write that. (I explain why, just like I do later in this post. Oddly, the most involved and generous Pagans are economically poor ones with disabilities and/or chronic diseases who have experienced loss and being a second class citizen.)

But you don’t have to go to a prison and do all that training – Any book, blog posts or photocopied articles will be shared with ALL the Pagans. You’re going to need to send $5 for them to buy stamps and paper especially if they’re in state prison, but I covered a better way here. (I’ve learned one important thing about prison: If you are going to do crime, make sure it is a federal offense. “Club Fed” offers more than other prisons. Meaning: Federal prison offers crumbs; state prisons offer nothing and private prisons don’t follow the U.S. Constitution! Yikes!)

Remember that your pen pal needs the Guide to the Athens, Julian and other calendars, plus the new moon (not dark moon) and full moon dates found here and here, where the Yoruban, Anglo-Saxon and Athens weekly and monthly calender are.

If you don’t have a penpal but want to help, we’ll happily send free copies of Steel Bars Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners to prisoners and books to prisoners organizations if you donate the money! Pagan books are in the Top Five Requested Books and hardest to fill. I know us Pagans; half of us border on hoarders and we joke about it. But you know those books you bought that aren’t resources you need or have no new information about a tradition you follow or are from a tradition you found on the search to your actual Pagan religion? There’s a books to prisoners organizations within 200 miles of most people and they’d love those books! Check out your closest one! Call your friends, post on social media that you are doing a Pagan-y book drive, and have folks donate to you. Then you put the books in a box or two and drop them off or mail media rate. Dictionaries and blank journals are also need! Heck, ANY soft cover book almost is needed! Literacy rates are low in prison and the average book is read by seven people! Prison, as one man told me, “is college, if you treat the time that way. You just have to keep getting books, because there’s no classes or training in state prison.”

I think that those of us on the outside are outnumbered by incarcerated Pagans. If you do the math (1 in 100 Americans are in prison – more of the population than any other nation in the world – and 8-12% of them claim a Pagan religion), there’s 1 incarcerated Pagan for every 1,000 Americans! That’s one reason why I think we suck at prison outreach (we’re outnumbered) – The other being that most books, especially Wiccan or Ceremonial Magick, never mention giving to the deities or the world, just taking, and polytheists like Christians would rather donate money more than time to their deities or own “faith community”, so “community service ministry” never reaches the minds of most solitary Pagans, which most of us are. The last reason – the depressing one – is the pettiness of cliques and organizations who won’t work together. Even though tons of Pagans in theory want to do something for people who have nothing in their religion, they put human B.S. first. (That’s why it’s so easy to do it your way – who can say you’re wrong? It’s not the Internet – you’ll be respected and treated well and your opinions valued!) And, yeah, I explain all this after “Pagans suck.” Look, in all the Pagan books you’ve read, how many ever suggested service offerings or ministry to those who can’t pay? Almost none. And I ask these prisoners if they were doing anything positive for strangers when outside? Well, hey, then you know what people on the outside are like, dude.)

If you are scared that you don’t know enough about Paganism to be a resource or guide style pen pal, don’t worry. You have blogs you can copy and paste in narrow margins using the font that takes the least space to make cheap “newsletters.” You can send 4¢ photos of deities, altars and shrines found online. Prison is very visually boring and people study photos together. Art pix are also really popular.

You have access to so much! And you might change someone’s life by caring. A lot of people want someone to care about and my severe illnesses bring that out in the pen pals that want to be allies and get over self pity – i.e. the types of people I value.

On with February!

The Anglo-Saxon month that roughly corresponds with February was called “Sun month” although another source has it called “kale month.” Kale is a very nutritious green which grows successfully in cold climates. “Sun month” obviously refers to the lengthening of the days.

February is named for God Februus of purification. In the earliest Roman calendar, the new year began on March 1, so February originally was for cleansing away the impurities of the last year.

On February 1 the sacred grove of Helernus, Roman God of vegetables, was filled with devotees. As Priests made sacrifices, the public prayed for a good vegetable crop.

Juno Sospita, Goddess of Protection and Fertility, wore goat skin with the head and horns as a helmet. Accompanied by a crow or raven (scavenger birds of the battlefield) or snake, Juno Sospita held a spear and sword. In Her home town Lanuvium on February 1 virgins were blindfolded and led out of town to Juno’s grove. The girls brought barley cakes to feed Juno’s sacred snake. When the snake ate, the town knew that the land and humans would be fertile.

Imbloc is the Gaelic day honoring hearth Goddess Brig. Being cold in Ireland and Scotland, it was a household ritual, focusing on gratitude for longer days and milk from ewes (female sheep) giving birth.

In medieval England ewes still gave birth in early February, celebrated as Ewemeole. Food reserves were low and harvests weren’t for many months, so the milk was vital for survival.

9 days after the full moon of the lunar month in January-February, the Diasi, the largest festival of sky father Zeus, was held in Athens. Pastries shaped like pigs and sheep were offered by the entire population.

Around this time, those people preparing for initiation in the Eleusinian Mysteries spent at least 3 days doing the Mysteries at Agrai, or the Lesser Mysteries.

February 5 is the Roman Februalia, honoring Februus. The home was thoroughly cleaned, then a Priest or member of the household banished anything that might bring harm. Salt and grain were sprinkled around the home. As the mixture was swept outside with a pine bough, the bad spirits were also swept away.

From February 5 to 17 Romans honored Fornax, Goddess of the Ovens, with the Fornacalia. The communal feast was simple, with Her wine offering given from ceramic jugs, not expensive metals. Fornax protected the home from oven fires and the bread from burning. In the past families shared a communal oven, which is the root of the Fornacalia celebration.

The old Swedish month Goe was in our February and March. For one week in Goe, Sweden had its annual Thing of All Swedes (like a parliamentary meeting but all free men were allowed to attend). Along with political and legal affairs, the Thing hosted a great market called The Disting and a Disirblot to honor female ancestors and other powerful women/Goddesses. Offerings for peace were made at the Great Temple in Uppsala.

The 9th is sacred to the Orisha Oya.

February 13 (or the full moon) is the Roman Festival for Faunus, rural God of the wild woodlands. His name means “Kindly One” and He looked after the lonely shepherd. Hunters and farmers also honored Him.

On February 13 the city of Rome was purified by the Amburbium. Chanting and making sacrifices, a procession of solemn worshipers circled the city’s boundaries.

The 6th day of the February-March month of Athens is dedicated to Artemis Elaphebolios (“Shooter of the Deer”).

2 days later Asklepios, the demi-God of healing, was honored in Athens. The Dionysia also began and continued for 6 days. Singing boys and a wooden statue of Dionysus, God of vines, were part of a procession, celebrating His liberation from winter. People went to the theatres for 3 days, enjoying comedies and tragedies.

February 17 was the Quirinalia, a Roman festival celebrating the ancient Sabine (an Italian people) God Quirinus. The Sabines had a fortified settlement near Rome, the Quirinal, named after Quirinus. The settlement was absorbed by Rome and Quirinus joined Jupiter and Mars as Gods of the Roman state. Depicted as a bearded man in the clothes of a Priest and soldier, His wife is Hora and His plant is myrtle.

Parentalia, Rome’s private rites to appease the dead, was held from February 13 to 21. Temples were closed, marriage was not allowed and no altar fires burned. A Vestal Virgin started the Parentalia by pouring a libation to the dead. Families gathered at the family tomb to perform private rituals of offerings. Ovid guides us: “The Dark Shades seek little, they prefer devotion over a costly gift.”
The Feralia was the public end of the Parentalia, held February 21. The dead (“manes”) wandered around the cemetery, enjoying offerings left for them. Temples were still closed so people gave the manes all their attention.

The Feralia also honored God Jupiter Feretrius, the aspect of Jupiter that made certain oaths were kept. He witnessed the signing of contracts and marriages, with those involved asking that He strike them down should they break their vows.
A women’s ritual in honor of Tacita, the Roman Goddess of Silence, was lead by an older woman. The main part involved sewing the mouth of a small, dead fish closed, as the woman said, “We have bound tight hostile tongues and unfriendly mouths.”

After honoring the ancestors, the Cara Cognatio (Roman Festival of Caring Kin) honored the living family and household deities on February 22. Household deities received offerings and the family members made peace and prayed for harmonious relationships.

February 23 is the Roman Festival of Terminus, God of land boundaries.

On the 27th Rome held horse-racing festivals for was God Mars called the Equirria.

January Pagan Holy Days Resource

Onje Keon Pierce Gullveig Press logo
Gullveig Press logo design by Onje Keon Pierce

Gullveig Press sends an 18 page detailed polytheist calendar with dates of new (NOT dark) and full moons, Mercury Retrograde and lots of information about other Pagan cultures’ division of the year, month and week to incarcerated prisons for $2.25. But if you are pen pals with a Pagan in prison, you can copy each month’s calendar from this blog, print and mail! It’s usually posted on the 23rd so you have a time to send it.

Make sure that you included the Introduction to the Calendar so they can understand the Athens calendar, the Julian calendar and have the dates for the new and full moon. As the mail is slower this time of year, try to send it at least a week in advance. Thank you for doing this work for your pen pal!!

Gullveig Press Pagan Festival Calendar by Heather Awen, author of “Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners” Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St Johnsbury, VT 05819, 556 pages, $12 includes shipping.

January is named for Roman God Janus, who rules over beginnings and the transitional space of doorways. He’s depicted with a face of both sides of His head. January became the 1st month of the year later in Roman history. Originally it was March.
January 1 is Janus Agonalia, when Romans gave sweets like jars of honey, dates and figs to Janus and their loved ones so their year would be sweet. Ovid instructs: “Now must good words be spoken…. banish mad disputes straightaway!” They believed that you must only say positive, kind words when beginning anything.
Vediovus, a Roman God of the manes (the dead), was active in the barren month of January. He’s depicted as a young man carrying arrows with a goat.
During the 1st two weeks of January Greek healing deities Aesculapius, His mother Coronis and His daughter Salus (Hygeia is her Greek name) received offerings in the Roman Empire. Aesculapius had a staff with a snake coiled around it, still the symbol for doctors today.
January 3 is the Roman Festival of Pax, Goddess of peace. Her symbols are an olive branch, cornucopia and scepter.
Crossroads are places of transition that attract spirits. The Roman countryside held the Compitalia from January 3 to 5 to please the crossroad spirits. By hanging a head of garlic for every household member, their real bodies and minds would stay safe. In towns, families on the same block brought honey cakes to a festival.
The 8th is sacred to the tough Haitian lwa of the Revolution, abandoned children and lesbians, Erzuli Dantor.
The Carmentalia is January 11 or 13 (or full moon), when the nymph Carmentis was invoked as Postvorta and Antevorta, names that refer to Her power of looking into the past and the future. The festival was mostly held by women. No leather or blood sacrifices are allowed in a grove or temple of Carmentis. Instead of wine, She wants milk as a libation (drink).
The 17th is dedicated to Ogun in New Orleans Voodoo, focusing on work opportunities and protection.
During the waning moon of January rural Romans celebrated the Sementivae and Paganalia. While sowing of seeds, sacrifices of baked goods were made to Tellus (Mother Earth) on one day and Ceres (grain Goddess; similar to Greek Demeter) on another. The community prayed for a good harvest, peace and prosperity.
2 days before the dark moon of the lunar cycle of December-January, Hera, Greek Goddess of marriage, was honored with Her husband and the leader of the deities, bright sky father Zeus, at the Gamelia.
The day after the new moon was sighted in the lunar month of January-February began the Anthesterion (Older Dionysia) in Athens. Focus was on the flowers of spring. (The climate was similar to Southern California.) After sunset clay jars of wine were broken as a libation for Dionysus, God of wine. The next day featured drinking competitions as the dead wandered amongst the living, receiving water and wheat flour mixed with honey. The day ended by banishing the dead, yelling, “Get out, Keres (spirits that work harm), the Anthesteria is over!” The next day people ate pottage (boiled grains with honey) and offered it to Hermes in His role as psychopomp (guide to the dead).
The 27th Romans celebrated the birth of Castor and Pollox, horse riding sons of Zeus. Gauls also worshiped Them.

If we’ve missed a traditional Pagan festival please let us know! Include information about the festival and the source of the information. 

December Pagan Holy Days Resource

Onje Keon Pierce Gullveig Press logo
Gullveig Press logo design by Onje Keon Pierce

Gullveig Press sends an 18 page detailed polytheist calendar with dates of new (NOT dark) and full moons, Mercury Retrograde and lots of information about other Pagan cultures’ division of the year, month and week to incarcerated prisons for $2.25. But if you are pen pals with a Pagan in prison, you can copy each month’s calendar from this blog, print and mail! Make sure that you included the Introduction to the Calendar so they can understand the Athens calendar, the Julian calendar and have the dates for the new and full moon. Thank you for doing this work for your pen pal!!

Gullveig Press Pagan Festival Calendar by Heather Awen, author of “Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners” Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St Johnsbury, VT 05819, 556 pages, $12 includes shipping.

The Anglo-Saxons called December and January Yule.
In one Yoruban region of Nigeria, Ogun, the Orisha who literally is iron, traditionally had an annual December Festival.
The Romans held a ritual for Neptune on December 1.
On the 3rd Roman women held a private rite for Bona Dea (“Good Goddess”), the earth fertility Goddess. Her priestess was called Damiatrix. There was a play, music, wine called “mother’s milk” and an offering of a pig. In this Mystery rite, sacred objects were shown to women only.
The 4th is dedicated to the Orisha of thunder, justice and courage Chango who repels all enemies and negativity.
Rural Romans asked Faunus, God of wilderness, on December 5 to bless the countryside and farmland. Worshipers built altars of sod where incense burned, made wine and other sacrifices and then joyfully danced in the fields. The Hymn to Faunus: “Guarantee me a fertile and bountiful year, and I will not fail in pouring a libation of wine to you… The valley resonates with the beat of music and dancing feet in your honor.”
On December 8th the Geledé Iyamí Oxorongá & Eshu Agbo festival is held in Brazil. An ancient mask ritual from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, it celebrates the power of sexuality. The Iyamí are the female Orishas and mothers, often called birds, while phallic Eshu represents male sexuality. Later under the influence of Christianity, the Iyamí became associated with evil witchcraft.
During the waning moon of the November-December lunar month was the Haloa, a fertility celebration of Demeter, Kore (a young Goddess similar to Persephone) and Dionysos in Athens. The new wine was tasted and a vegetarian feast (with fish) was served. Women brought models of female and male genitals and had raunchy, erotic discussions.
The lunar cycle of December-January was a very popular time for weddings in Greece.
On December 13 (or full moon) the Roman Senate honored the earth Goddess Tellus. Ceres, Goddess of grains, also received a banquet.
The 15th (or full moon) was dedicated to Roman God of the storage bin of harvested grain, Consus. His sacred animal the mule had races, while other mules, horses and donkeys rested with garlands around their necks.
On the 17th the Orisha Babalu-Aye is honored, for He grants healing especially of skin conditions, looks over those with smallpox and HIV/AIDS and brings us the abundance of the earth.
Rome’s Saturnalia, held from December 17 to 23, reminded people of the Golden Age of Saturn, a time of peace and prosperity. The statue of Saturn in His temple normally was bound, but He was freed now. After sacrifices held at Saturn’s temple, Romans changed into comfortable clothing for the banquet. For the next week official business stopped and stores closed, while parties and feasting took their place. As a misrule festival that allowed the oppressed some release, role reversals occurred: masters waited on children and slaves, while children and slaves led the rituals and attended the festivities. Pine boughs and wreaths hung over doorways and windows, with ornaments of stars, sun symbols and the 2 faces of Janus. Gifts were given, especially on Sigillaria, the last day of the Saturnalia. Saturn’s wife Ops (“plenty”) was honored on the 19th.
A couple days before the December-January full moon and continuing for 4 to 9 days was the Greek Lenaia (“feast of vats”). Statues of Dionysus Leneus were dressed in ivy and He received sacrifices. Attending the theatre was a large part of the holiday.
Roman festival for Epona was honored by the military horsemen on December 18. Epona is a Gaulish horse Goddess whose image was kept in stables and barns. Not only the protector of horses, She led people to the Afterlife.
December 21 is the Roman Angeronalia, a day of sacrifices to Angerona, Goddess of disease angina. Angerona also causes and stops anguish and anxiety. Her mouth is bound, because Jupiter covered it when Angerona told Juno of His infidelity. Jupiter ordered Mercury to take Angerona to Hades. Mercury seduced Angerona, and in the Underworld She gave birth to the Lares (household protectors). The Divalia was the secret rite of Angerona.
On the 23rd funeral rites were performed before the tomb of Roman Goddess Larentina, who may be connected with the Lares (household protectors). Offerings to Di Manes (the dead) were made by Priests.
The same day Dea Tacita (“silent Goddess”), an earth Goddess, received offerings in Her grove.
Yule is a Norse 12 day celebration of returning sunlight that starts on the night of the Winter Solstice or the evening of December 24. In Germany Frau Holle demands that all spinning be put away for the 12 days of Yule. Some Heathens interpret this to mean that there should be no work done during Yule. It probably has to do with the weaving of the new year’s fate by the Norns in this transitional time. The Yule log was as big as a tree, decorated with garlands of greenery and carried to the house in a happy procession. (Some Scandinavians lived in “long houses” which held a couple dozen people or more.) The log burned for 12 days. Pork, Frey‘s sacred animal, is eaten, with the belief that wishes said over it will be carried to the Gods.
The Anglo-Saxons called December 24 “Mothers Night.” Some Pagans speculate that it was to honor the Disir, the female ancestors; others think that it continues the worship of the popular Celtic-German Matres (“Mothers”), and others connect them with the three Norns, the Norse Goddesses of destiny. Each family is said to have their own Norns, who may be the Disir.
On December 25th ancient Romans celebrated Bruma, the winter solstice. In 273 CE it became the sacred day of Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”), patron of soldiers. Emperor Constantine decreed Sunday a day of rest: “On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.” Sol Invictus probably was imported from Syria. He is associated with the popular military God imported from Persia Mithras and the date may have become His birthday.
December 31st is commonly the Festival of the Yoruban Orixa Yemaya in Brazil. As the sun sets, people release little boats to the Pacific Ocean. The boats hold flowers, pastries, jewellery, white candles and other gifts to Yemaya.

 

If we’ve missed a traditional Pagan festival please let us know! Include information about the festival and the source of the information.

November Pagan Holy Days Resources

Onje Keon Pierce Gullveig Press logo
Gullveig Press logo design by Onje Keon Pierce

Gullveig Press sends an 18 page detailed polytheist calendar with dates of new (NOT dark) and full moons, Mercury Retrograde and lots of information about other Pagan cultures’ division of the year, month and week to incarcerated prisons for $2.25. But if you are pen pals with a Pagan in prison, you can copy each month’s calendar from this blog, print and mail! It’s usually posted on the 23rd.

Make sure that you included the Introduction to the Calendar so they can understand the Athens calendar, the Julian calendar and have the dates for the new and full moon. Thank you for doing this work for your pen pal!!

Gullveig Press Pagan Festival Calendar by Heather Awen, author of “Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners” Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St Johnsbury, VT 05819, 556 pages, $12 includes shipping.

The Anglo-Saxons called November “blot month.” Blot means “blood” particularly sacrifices, given the deities to thank Them for the harvest season. All of the livestock that would not survive winter were slaughtered and their meat preserved. (In Indo-European cultures, as in West and Central Africa, most deities usually desire the blood “life force” of animals and share the meat with humans in a communal meal.)
The last 10 days of the October-November lunar month, as the moon waned smaller, the region of Greece named Attica held the Pompaia. A procession honored Zeus Meilichios (“Zeus the Kindly”) with a sheep sacrifice. The sheep’s fleece became the Sheepskin of Zeus, highly valued in Magickal purification rites.
The 1st is sacred to the lwas of the Ghede (the dead) and the graveyard: Baron Samedi and Manman Brigitte.
The Fet Ghede (Feast of the Dead) is a Vodou celebration of the ancestors on the 2nd. The Ghede (the dead) are lewd, funny, healing male lwaa. When they possess someone, they rub themselves with burning hot peppers, smoke cigars and wear sunglasses with one lens missing.
On the 11th the Orisha Ellegua is honored in New Orleans Voodoo, especially by business owners and gamblers.
November 13 (or the full moon) is the day of offerings to the central Italian Goddess of freed slaves, Feronia, who also had a temple in Rome. “The Goddess of Freedom” was originally an agricultural Goddess.
That same day Romans worshiped Pietas, Goddess of duty to the deities, Rome and one’s parents. Depicted as a young woman, Pietas was accompanied by a stork.
On November 15 the last powerful Heathen Anglo-Saxon King, Penda, died in battle. Although he worshiped the old deities, Penda believed in the freedom of religion and allowed Christianity in his kingdom.
In Rome on November 15 (or the full moon) was a ritual to Jupiter followed by a banquet.
In Germany when the first snows arrive it is said to be Frau Holle shaking her featherbed.
In New Orleans Voodoo the 22nd is dedicated to the Orisha Oshun, especially Her relationship with musicians.
There may be a connection between the ancient Norse hunting and oath God UllR and Saint Hulbert, whose feast day is November 22.
The 30th is the feast date for the Haitian watersnake lwa Simbi, a powerful but shy magician and herbalist.

 

If we’ve missed a traditional Pagan festival please let us know! Include information about the festival and the source of the information.

October Pagan Holy Days Resource

Onje Keon Pierce Gullveig Press logo
Gullveig Press logo design by Onje Keon Pierce

Gullveig Press sends an 18 page detailed polytheist calendar with dates of new (NOT dark) and full moons, Mercury Retrograde and lots of information about other Pagan cultures’ division of the year, month and week to incarcerated prisons for $2.25. But if you are pen pals with a Pagan in prison, you can copy each month’s calendar from this blog, print and mail! It’s usually posted on the 23rd so it arrives in time sent by snail mail.

Make sure that you included the Introduction to the Calendar so they can understand the Athens calendar, the Julian calendar and have the dates for the new and full moon. Thank you for doing this work for your pen pal!!

Gullveig Press Pagan Festival Calendar by Heather Awen, author of “Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners” Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St Johnsbury, VT 05819, 556 pages, $12 includes shipping.

The Anglo-Saxon name for October translates into “Winter Nights.”
October comes from octo-, meaning 8. When the Roman year started in March, October was the 8th month. This also explains September (7), November (9) and December (10).
Roman Goddess Fides (“Good Faith”) was honored on October 1st (or the new moon). Fides was concerned with faithful relationships between deities and mortals.
The 1st is dedicated to the Orisha Oya in New Orleans Voodoo.
The dark moon of the September-October lunar cycle was the Chalkeia in Athens. Artisans offered baskets of grain to Greek smith God Hephaestus and the patroness of artisans Athene Ergane (“workwoman”). Weaving Athene’s robe for next year’s Panathenaia began.
October 4 is a day of fasting in honor of Roman grain Goddess Ceres. The next day the Pit of Ceres was opened for the second time of the year. The manes (the dead) could leave the Underworld. Businesses closed and weddings and battles were forbidden.
On the 7th Jupiter Fulgur (“Jupiter of daytime lightning”) and Juno Curitis were honored by Romans.
October 9th is the birthday of the Heathen Queen Sigrid the Proud. She refused to convert to Christianity to marry a powerful king, saying others may choose Christianity, but she would continue the religion of her ancestors. He called her a Heathen bitch and tried to kidnap and rape her, but her soldiers defeated him. She swore revenge. She married another king who later would be involved with her former suitor’s death. Heathens honor her commitment to her religion; women honor her for not changing just to get married. She may have been Polish royalty.
The Meditrinalia (“to heal”) on October 11 celebrates the end of Roman grape harvests. The God receiving offerings was probably Jupiter. Ill people made a libation of new and old wine, hoping that tasting it would cure them.
The 15th is dedicated to the Orisha Oya in New Orleans Voodoo.
On October 15 two-horse chariot races were held to honor Mars.
Winter Nights was an important holiday in Iceland, held in October, perhaps on a Thursday near the full moon after the autumn equinox. A blot was held for the Disir (female ancestors and perhaps Valkyries and Goddesses).
Rome held the Armilustrium on October 19 as the war campaign season ended. Mars was honored and the soldiers and their weapons, polluted by having killed other humans, were purified.
In 1st century CE Rome, initiation into the Mystery Religion of Isis took place during October 28-November 3. A beautiful procession was lead by initiates in fancy clothing. A female chorus in white spread flowers on the path. Next came the people carrying torches, then musicians, followed by a youth choir dressed in white. “Make way for the goddess,” Priests and Priestesses yelled. More people already initiated came next, wearing white linen. Men were shaved bald and women wore white silk veils. They rattled a sistrum (a ritual instrument kind of like a metal tambourine). The rituals of the Isia were secret. The devotees probably reenacted Isis’s grief as She searched for Her murdered husband, the green Underworld God of barley Osiris, and then Her joy when She recovered His severed body. With Her Magick Isis put Osiris back together and had sex, conceiving the important God Horus. Like the other Mystery Religions, it guaranteed a deity’s help and a great Afterlife. At an older time Romans prepared a model ship for Isis, Goddess of the life-giving Nile River. Devotees purified the boat with flame, egg, sulfur and chanting. After the boat was filled with gifts, people poured libations of milk and grain into the water. Finally the little ship was put in the water, sailing its gifts to Isis.
Samhain is the Old Irish name for the the New Year, celebrated at the first frost or the evening of October 31 and day of November 1 with much feasting and divination. Samhain may come from the word “assembly” or “summer’s end.” Cattle and their young male protectors returned. Animals that could not be kept over winter were slaughtered and preserved. The dark half of the year began. Remains discovered at ancient British Celtic temples show that animals were sacrificed around Samhain and Beltain. The Gauls acknowledged this time as the new year, too. Called Trinoxtion Samoni (“three nights of Samhain”), it probably became involved with the rebirth festival of Isis of the Roman Empire. Samhain is a transitional time when communication with the spirits is easiest.

 

If we’ve missed a traditional Pagan festival please let us know! Include information about the festival and the source of the information.

Weekly & Lunar Pagan Holy Days Resource

Onje Keon Pierce Gullveig Press logo
Gullveig Press logo design by Onje Keon Pierce

Gullveig Press sends an 18 page detailed polytheist calendar with dates of new (NOT dark) and full moons, Mercury Retrograde and lots of information about other Pagan cultures’ division of the year, month and week, to incarcerated prisons for $2.25. But if you are pen pals with a Pagan in prison, you can copy each month’s calendar from this blog, print and mail! It is posted on the 22nd or 23rd usually.

This is our “Weekly and Lunar Calendar” with new and full moon dates.

Make sure that you included the Introduction to the Calendar so they can understand the Athens calendar, the Julian calendar and other important information. Thank you for doing this work for your pen pal!!

Gullveig Press Pagan Festival Calendar by Heather Awen, author of “Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners” Gullveig Press, PO Box 126, St Johnsbury, VT 05819, 556 pages, $12 includes shipping.

In some of West and Central Africa the week is five days long, with six weeks forming a month. The names of the days of the Yoruban week are: 1. Ako-ojo. (First day.) 2. Ojo-awo. (Day of the Secret, sacred to Ifa). 3. Ojo-Ogun. (Ogun‘s Day.) 4. Ojo-Shango. (Shango‘s Day.) 5. Ojo-Obatala. (Obatala‘s Day.) To use this religious calendar, start at the new (not dark) moon. Then divide the 30 day lunar month into six weeks of five days.
Most days of the week are named after Roman deities or Their corresponding deities in Germanic Paganism. Sunday is for Sol Invictus or Norse Goddess Sunna who drives the sun’s chariot. Monday is for Roman moon Goddess Luna or the moon’s chariot driver, Norse God Mani. Tuesday is dedicated to Mars, war God who originally defended the boundaries the farm and the young city of Rome, or Tyr, Norse God associated with the laws that preserve society including duels. Wednesday is named for the messenger of the Gods Mercury, who rules over travel, commerce, communication, trickery, leading the dead and (through His association with Greek God Hermes) Magick, and Anglo-Saxon Woden (Odin), God of Magick, trickery, communication and death. (The most important day in Saxon Pagan England was Wednesday. Germans just call this Middle Day because Woden’s worship continued in Christian times.) Thursday (the most important day in Heathen Iceland) is devoted to Roman sky father Jupiter and Norse Thor, thunder God and friend of farmers. Friday is named after the Roman love and fertility Goddess Venus and the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of marriage (which meant managing a huge household) and spinning the yarn of fate, Frigga. Saturday is dedicated to Saturn, the God of right agricultural timing, limitations and structure. It became the Jewish and early Christian church’s Sabbath (day of rest), so in Heathen Iceland it was known as the day for doing laundry!
The Yoruban Orisha Eshu Ellegua and Haitian Vodou lwa Legba (originally from Kingdom of Dahomey) are always the first spirits to be honored in ceremonies, for They allow offerings to reach the other Orishas or lwas. When West Africans were forced into European culture, Their worship became Monday, 1st day of the week. (In many Catholic nations the last day of the week is Sunday, because in their mythology God rested on the last day on the week.)
Obatala/ Oxala is the Yoruban “white Orisha” of purity, divine order, wisdom and the sky often honored on Friday in Brazil, where Orisha is spelled Orixa.
Nana is a Vodoun (“deity”) from Dahomey often included in Brazilian Orixa religions. Mother of Dahomey’s deities, She is a grandmotherly, dignified, patient water Orixa often honored on Tuesday.
Omula, also known as Sopaka, Babalu-Aiye and other names, is Orixa of the earth, healing and smallpox. He’s also associated with HIV/AIDS and honored on Monday by many in Brazil.
Yemaya/ Iamanja (originally a Nigerian river Goddess) is the Yoruban Orixa of the ocean, sometimes considered the mother of the Orixas, honored in much of Brazil on Saturday.
Ogun, the Yoruban Orixa who is iron and all the farming tools and weapons it makes, is associated with soldiers, surgery, liberation, employment and clearing paths. He’s honored by many Brazilians on Tuesday. He is the ex-husband of Oya and also worshiped in Dahomey and Haitian Vodoun.
Chango/ Xango is the Orixa of thunder, law, justice, courage and was once king of the Yoruban city-state Oyo, honored on Wednesday by many Brazilians. He is married to Oya, Oshun and Oba.
Oshun/ Oxun is the Osun River in Nigeria. Yoruban Orixa of love, diplomacy, the arts, beauty and fertility, seductive Oshun is associated with fresh water, especially rivers, and often honored on Saturday by Brazilians.
Oya/ Yansa (originally the long Niger River, important for trade) is the Yoruban Orixa of the marketplace, cemetery, tornado, lightning and guide of the dead, honored on Wednesday in much of Brazil.
Ochossi/ Oxossi, the protective Yoruban Orixa of hunting and justice, is often honored in Brazil on Thursday.
Ossain is Orixa of magical and medicinal herbalism who lives in the woods, honored by some Brazilians on Saturday.
The loving rainbow serpent who changes genders is known as Oxumare in Brazil and often honored on Tuesday.
Pomba Gira spirits of Brazilian Umbanda are usually given offerings on Monday. Exu spirits of Umbanda are usually given offerings at midnight on Fridays.
The New Orleans Voodoo Saint Expedite is usually petitioned for help on Wednesdays.
Some occultists time their spells on days that are associated with different planets or spirits that support their Magickal intention.

In Roman tradition Juno is worshipped on the 1st of each month, originally the new crescent moon.
In the Scottish Highlands, people turned over silver coins in their pockets and praised the new moon when they first saw Her. The new moon was considered the most fortunate day and people often received hair cuts then.
A Celtic tribe in Portugal famous for its ferocity and hospitality worshiped a God whose name is lost to us. On the full moon an animal sacrifice was made at the front door of each home in His honor.

The only full Greek calendar we have is for the city-state Athens. The new year started on the new moon after the summer solstice. Start keeping track of the Greek lunar months from then. The first day of the month is Noumenia, when the crescent moon is first spotted. It was the holiest of days, when all deities received offerings. The deities prefer simple offerings like bread. On the next day offerings were made to Agathos Daimon (“Good Spirit”). He is a protective, generous household snake spirit. Day 3 was dedicated to the Goddess of all skills including military strategy Athene, Goddess of Athens.
Day 4 honored one hero, Herakles, and 3 deities: God of commerce, communication and Magick Hermes; imported romantic love Goddess Aphrodite, from a long tradition of Middle Eastern Goddesses of the planet Venus (the Morning Star and Evening Star) like Astarte, Ishtar and the ancient original, the Sumerian Inanna. (Hebrew followers of jealous Yahweh destroyed their version of this Goddess’s sacred groves); and Eros, love God who later because associated with homosexual relationships between older and younger men.
Day 5 was a break. Day 6 was dedicated to the worship of the virgin Goddess of midwives, Artemis, who hunts in the wild woodlands with Her band of nymphs. On day 7 Her bisexual twin brother Apollon, God of music, healing and prophecy, received His sacrifices. On day 8 the river, sea, earthquake and horse God Poseidon and the hero who founded Athens, Theseus, were honored. On the 30th day (dark moon) the imported Goddess of witchcraft Hekate was left food offerings at Y-shaped crossroads. Poor people took the food home after the ritual.

After Sunday Mass, Marie LaVeau the elder led dances in New Orleans’ Congo Square that mocked racism and politicians. She swayed in one place, moving with the snake wrapped around her, entering a deep trance. Slaves and free people of color danced to the drums and left offerings of food, drink and 3 coins for the spirits and the poor.

2019-2020 New & Full Moons The Dark Moon is the day before the New Moon. Remember that the new moon was determined by when it was first sighted. The new moon dates here obviously have not yet been seen by anyone because they are in the future. However, they should be a good prediction of when a Priest would see the first crescent moon if the sky was clear. During the full moon police and hospitals report more crime and accidents.

New Sat August 3 2019, Full August 15
New Sun September 1 2019, Full September 14
New Mon September 30 2019, Full October 13
New Wed October 30 2019, Full November 12
New Thu November 28 2019, Full December 12
New Sat December 28 2019, Full Jan 10 2020
New January 25 2020, Full February 9 2020
New February 24, Full March 9 2020
New March 25, Full April 8 2020
New April 24, Full May 7 2020
New May 23, Full June 5 2020
New June 22, Full July 5 2020
New July 21, Full August 3 2020
New August 20, Full September 2 2020
New September 18, Full October 1 2020
New October 17, Full October 31 2020
New November 16, Full November 30 2020
New December 15, Full December 30 2020

 

If we’ve missed a traditional Pagan festival please let us know! Include information about the festival and the source of the information.

 

Steel Bars, Sacred Water is available directly from Gullveig Press at a lower price than at Amazon. All proceeds go to sending free copies to incarcerated Pagans. We have special bulk order and prison clergy/ volunteer prices and Australian discounts, as Amazon Australia does not carry the book. We will happily buy a prisoner a copy if you donate $12 U.S.! And remember to donate used paperbacks on almost any topic to your nearest books-to-prisoners organization. Many prisoners are functionally illiterate, so your donation will improve on average seven prisoners ability to read per book!