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!

September 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 week for sending 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 is pretty swamped with projects – we just found an inmate with perfect spelling and grammar who has never used a computer to be our copy editor! While he’s in training and snail mail carries our work back and forth, it’s great that other individuals and groups are helping those in prison who can neither find nor afford decent Pagan resources. You rock!

The Anglo-Saxon name for September translates into “holy month,” possibly due to the many harvests.
The full moon started the very popular Greek Great Mysteries of Eleusis, a secretive initiation of rebirth that guaranteed a good Afterlife. It was based on Greek grain Goddess Demeter’s search for Her daughter Persephone.
On the 7th the Orisha Yemaya is celebrated for easing of sorrow, fertility, nurturing and protection of the home.
During September 6th to the 19th, Jupiter Optimus Maximus was celebrated with the Ludi Romani, the famous games of Rome. On the 13th (or full moon) a sacrifice was made to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, whose statues were dressed for the occasion. Tables of food were set before Them. The event was attended by every Senator.
A couple days before the dark moon, one neighborhood of Athens made sacrifices to Gaia, Greek Earth Mother, Hermes, and the nymphs (female nature spirits who are the daughters of Gaia or Zeus).
The 8th is sacred to Orisha Oshun as Our Lady of Charity.
Around the 6th day of the September-October lunar month, Athens may have offered some of the last year’s grain to Demeter before ploughing and sowing again.
Also around this time was a race held for Dionysos, Greek God of grapes and wine.
The 15th is sacred to Haitian lwa of romance and beauty Erzuli Freda.
On the 1st quarter moon of the September-October lunar cycle in Eleusis, Apollon was given sheep, male goat meat and other foods. A new eiresione (a sacred fertility symbol) was made and kept by the front door. An eiresione is an olive branch wound with wool yarn with hanging models of figs, cakes and jars of honey.
The next day Athens made offerings to the legendary Amazons.
After the September rye harvest, Lithuanian women would braid some grain tufts and lay the braid over an offering of bread and salt, saying, “Davei manei, Žemele, duodame ir tau.” (You gave for us, Mother Earth, we are giving for you, too.)

During the days before the full moon in the September-October lunar cycle, Greeks honored Demeter at the Thesmophoria, one of the rare times women could leave home without a male escort. Piglets, pine boughs and bread shaped like snakes and phalluses were offered on the first day. The next day women fasted, then feasted on the third and last day, drinking pomegranate juice. Goddess of a beautiful birth, Kalligeneia, was also worshiped.
Thesmophoria was celebrated throughout the Mediterranean for a long time. In Sicily its Priestesses were older, respectable women from noble families. A month before the rite they offered pigs to Ceres. On the first day of Thesmophoria a procession of women walked to the ritual huts where they stayed during the ritual. A Priestess had gathered the rotting remains of the pigs, which were put on the altar. The women mourned for Persephone. Reenacting Ceres searching for Persephone, the next night they wandered with torches, calling out at crossroads. On the last day they danced and sang and had feast which included phallic-shaped cakes, but forbid pomegranates.
On September 25th the Orisha Obatala of wisdom and purity is often honored in Lucumi.
According to Roman records, a Germanic tribe held a ritual on September 29 dedicated to a Goddess named Zisa in gratitude for victory. Popular theory thinks Zisa is wife of Tyr, who then was the sky father of the Germanic deities.
On the 29th the lwa Damballa Wedo is honored by those involved with Spiritualist Voodoo.
From September 29 to November 10, Latvian dead called Veļi were invited home for a feast. A male elder called the names of all the ancestors who had lived in the house that the living remembered. The spirits were scolded for not having helped the household enough and asked to do better this coming year. Together, the living and dead shared a meal. The dead were then rushed out, the house cleaned and, to protect the living, dirt was thrown in water.

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

Pagan Holy Days Calendar (Prisoner Resource)

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

Hi! Gullveig Press sends an 18 page polytheist calendar to incarcerated Pagans for $2.25. However, if you have a Pagan pen pal in prison, we’d love for you to copy each month’s holidays and send them to your friend! Just tell them it’s from Heather Awen at Gullveig Press, please, and mention Steel Bars, Sacred Waters. (I even put that information at the beginning of the Introduction!) Each month’s calendar will be posted at least a week before the month begins. Snail mail can really sometimes be very slow.

Who needs an introduction to a calendar? Pagans! We’re working with lunar months, the Julian calendar and lots of stuff that doesn’t fit into our Gregorian calendar easily. Someone working with this calendar will need the new and full moon dates, which are at the end of this post.

I got the idea for this large project when someone in prison asked me about some very made-up holidays of Mabinogi deities. Evidently a group of Pagans were sending out a free calendar zine but not explaining that they invented it. It’s great to see other Pagans looking out for our incarcerated members of our community! But I hear the same complaints: Why can’t we get researched, high quality Pagan information? When you send information to people in prison tell them if it’s just your personal way or something your tradition does. If you researched using academic peer -reviewed papers, well-regarded modern polytheists’ blogs and books and history books from several decades, please tell them that the information is subject to change or it’s one theory. Help them understand that scholars constantly find new information and interpret old information in new ways.

The education system utterly failed many of these people which is why donating fiction and graphic novels along with non-fiction serious reading materials gives them a chance. Many are functionally illiterate which means that they can’t get a job that requires filling out an application or read well enough to be promoted to supervisors and other better paying positions.

(Dictionaries are the most requested books in prison. If your pen pal has some trouble writing and reading, consider buying them the inexpensive, new paperback Merriam-Webster Dictionary from Amazon. If mailing to Ohio state prisons, check from where prisoners can receive books since Amazon was banned recently. For all facilities it’s best to check anyway! Prisoners don’t have spell check or Wikipedia so a dictionary is helpful in general.)

If you send books and essays, discuss them in letters. Encourage their opinions and show your critical thinking skills. Ask them questions and show interest in their answers. Most have been convinced that they’re stupid when they just haven’t had anyone pay attention to how they learn and teach more about how to learn.

Introduction

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.

There is a Pagan zine listing holy days for deities based on nothing historical. Frankly, the days are made up. The truth is that most ancient Pagan cultures used a lunar calendar AND a solar one. This means that the dates won’t match our calendar.

Ever notice that Jewish and Muslim holy times start on different solar days each year? They still follow traditional lunar calenders. Hinduism does the same. So does Easter. Our ancient Pagan calendars also had lunar festivals that happened at different times each solar year. Plus, each tribe, city or kingdom had their own variations and regional deities. Not all German tribes worshipped Hariasa, but we know She defended the city of Cologne. Each city in Egypt and Greece had their own mythology from before the cities were unified into Empires. In the huge Roman Empire, people often honored the deities of where they were born, the deities of where they had moved and the Imperial deities that everyone celebrated. Multicultural diversity in polytheism is normal.

The lunar year and solar cycle don’t match. It takes about 29 and 1/2 days for the moon to circle the Earth. It takes the Earth about 364 and 1/4 days to circle the Sun. A year of 12 lunar months leaves many days of the solar year not included in a calendar. This was solved kind of like how we fix the difference between our solar calendar and the real amount of time it takes for the Earth to circle the sun: we add an extra day to February each Leap Year. Ancients had their own versions of “Leap Year” usually by adding an extra month. Celtic Gauls in modern France had a five solar year calendar with 29 and 30 day long months. Periodically, an extra month was added so the lunar and solar calendars matched. The only complete Greek calendar we have is from the city-state Athens, which includes an extra month every 3rd, 6th and 8th year.

As in Islam, the Pagan month usually started at the first sighting of the new moon. New moons aren’t dark moons. The new moon is a slight crescent in the sky. The dark moon is the day before that when the moon never appears. Most astrological sources for the new moon actually are dates of the dark moon. The first Roman calendar was lunar and months began at the first sighting of the crescent moon. The first day of the Roman month is sacred to Juno, the Queen Goddess married to Jupiter. Roman holy days originally occurred from the new moon to full moon, never during the waning moon.

This calendar developed into a solar year a lot like the one we currently use. Today’s it’s called the Julian calendar. Juno’s new moon rites were moved to the first day of each solar month. Full moon sacred days were held on the 13th or 15th. Waxing moon rites were held on the 5th or 7th. We know the dates for many Roman festivals on the Julian calendar from the 1st to 3rd centuries CE.

But the Julian calendar was still not a perfect match with the actual solar year. By the late medieval era European nations were off by around 11 days. So, the modern Gregorian calendar with its Leap Year was created. The 2 calendars were 11 days apart. Different places began using the Gregorian calender at different times, causing a bit of chaos. Today we still use the Gregorian calender.

For modern Pagans seeking to worship on the same days as our spiritual ancestors, it can be tricky. Irish manuscripts stating Beltain is May 1st were written by Christian monks using the old, Julian calendar. On our Gregorian calendar Beltain is May 12th. The Anglo-Saxons first used a lunar calendar, but when they converted to Christianity they changed to the Julian calendar. The Germanic names of the Pagan months tell us what cultural events happened when in the year, but the Anglo-Saxon months also don’t exactly match with the months of our calendar.

As if this wasn’t confusing enough, until recently few Europeans other than Christian clergy were able to read. Rural people often relied on natural signs to guide them in timing rituals. The climate is different in different parts of Britain and Ireland, so agricultural events like Beltain probably happened at different times, like when the first hawthrown bush flowered. Other places looked to the stars. In Egypt when Sirius rose, people knew that the life-giving Nile River ruled by Isis would flood. Farmers in Iceland started sowing seeds when the Pleiades rose.

During a solstice the sun appears to stop moving for 3 days. This probably made people very anxious. Solstices were usually celebrated when people actually saw the sun began moving again. On December 25 and June 24 we can see that the sun’s journey has resumed. Evenings of December 24 and June 23 began many solstice celebrations.

Ancient Pagan religions were mostly communal and based on ancient traditions that almost no one questioned. Festivals in rural societies often included political and legal events. Instead of focusing on the individual, originally rites were more concerned with what kept people alive: the community and ecosystem. If Ares blessed His Greek city-state Sparta and you lived in Sparta, you were also blessed. Religion was woven into culture. Removing religion from culture unravels the ancient ways. Due to this, there’s no real way to reenact truly authentic cultural rites.

Many uprooted people in the highly mobile Roman Empire faced the same problem. One popular solution was to be initiated in secretive Mystery Religions. Replacing the old tribal community were the other initiated “brothers and sisters.” Likewise, modern people have created new initiation-based religions like Wicca and Lucumi. Others research and worship old deities, alone and sometimes in rather rare groups. Ancient rites are adapted for today’s culture. Keeping the traditional parts that work for our situation, we continue ancient religions in new variations.

What follows is a calendar based on “around when” ceremonies were held with brief explanations. Even in prison you can usually find ways to participate. Religion, for all its focus on tradition, has always been ever-changing. To stay relevant, religion must adapt to changing cultural norms, ecosystems, governments, trade partners, scientific discoveries, etc, while maintaining its cosmology (worldview).

It’s normal for polytheists to adopt deities from other cultures. The multicultural Roman Empire spread across Europe, the Mediterranean, the Near East and North Africa. Celts, Syrians, Egyptians, German mercenaries, Greeks and other peoples celebrated many Roman festivals and Romans flocked to many imported religions from other lands.

In the 1980s translation began on a 4th century CE Greek collection of Magick from the Greek-Egyptian city of Alexandria. It shocked scholars. Names of Jewish angels, secret titles for Jesus, Greek and Egyptian sacred words, symbols and deities plus parts of the Mystery Religions popular were combined in the spells. Magicians were obviously trading information, creating something new. Today Chaos Magick is similar.

As long as someone fulfills their vows to one religion, they are free to practice another. Ethnicity does not matter! The deities choose us. (New Orleans has a white Jewish vegan Voodoo Queen initiated in Haiti also trained in Western Ceremonial Magick.) Unless a rite is just for the initiated or for only men or women, worship Whomever calls you on the calendar.

The exception is the traditional religions of Native Americans. If you are invited to participate by a respected member of a tribe, that’s fine, but these ancient cultures have been raped and plundered for the benefit of white people for hundreds of years. To take more from people still literally struggling to stay alive and unassimilated into European -American culture is incredibly offensive. Cultural misappropriation pretends to value a culture while ignoring the struggles and values of the culture to make a commodity for money. Other examples include the predominantly white music industry’s treatment of African American artists, yoga classes taught as mere physical exercise without Hindu religious context and books on fictions like “Celtic Shamanism.” People in the dominant culture exploit other cultures for money without even providing financial and other practical support to those whom they’ve ripped off. Don’t be a culture vulture. If you have a traditional healing session or divination consultation with a trained African, Caribbean or Native American, pay the expected fee or what you pay a doctor.

(Today, the issue of men’s and women’s mysteries is being challenged by people born intersex (having or developing male and female genitals) or who identify as non-binary (neither male nor female). Gender was understood differently in other cultures. The Kongo Kingdoms had people Portuguese slavers called male but who demanded they were women. They had been clergy involved with funeral rites. Dahomey sold slaves who the Portuguese considered men who also insisted that they were women and wore women’s clothing. On the southern shores of the Baltic Sea 1st century CE Germanic Priests dressed in women’s clothes. Priests of the Near Eastern Goddess Cybele, in a devotional frenzy, cut off their testicles and penises as a sacrifice to their Goddess and then were dressed as women. The incredibly popular Greek God Apollon has many mythological lovers male and female. Images of people with both breasts and penises are found in Central European Celtic art. Greeks, Celts and other warrior cultures openly celebrated their gay lovers. A Roman Emperor even started a cult for his young, dead male lover that continues to have followers today. The participation of the LGBTQIA community is firmly established in ancient Paganism. However you gender or sexually identify, you’re welcomed by the majority of Pagans on the outside.)

The dates dedicated to the Orishas/ Orixas and lwas may differ from house to house. The dates honor Catholic Saints with whom West African spirits were secretly associated, but not everyone used the same Saints.

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

Celtic Festival Calender: Abnoba & the Celtic Artemis/Diana

abnoba
Abnoba by Alexandra Rena

Celtic and Roman Deity Differences in the Roman Empire

This is part of my series where Festivals for Roman deities are linked with the Celtic deities associated with those Roman deities. For example, a Roman Festival for Minerva is a Brythonic Festival of Sulis, or the 2 week Festival of Aesculapius includes possibly the most popular, longest-worshipped Gaulish deity Telesphorus. Once the Celtic tribes and cities were conquered by Rome and made part of the Empire, the Celtic leaders and merchants would have learned the Roman year, which was filled with religious festivals. Even if Celtic people at that time ignored the festivals (highly unlikely for the cities of Gaul and Iberia, Celtic men in the Roman military and Celtic slaves) it gives modern Celtic polytheists a calendar for honoring many deities. We’re rarely lucky enough to know the date of a Celtic deity’s festival from an ancient Celtic culture – Erudinus may be our only one.

Many people believe that the Romans forced the names of their deities onto the Celtic deities, but scholars have shown that the Celtic people made the association between the deities on their own. This would explain why so many Celtic Gods are associated with Mars in one place and with Mercury in another. Even where Celtic people eventually forgot the Celtic titles of their deities, worship often continued under a Roman name. This is explored more in depth in the upcoming post on the “native” Vulcan and “native” Venus.

Celtic deities don’t have a lot of specialization, aside from smiths and healers. They provide everything a member of the tribe could need. There’s no ancient Gaulish, Gaelic, Celtiberian, Brythonic or other type of Celtic pantheon. Tribes were affected by place and shared history, which is reflected in the hundreds of Celtic deities whose names we know. There’s no God of only war, Goddess of only love, etc. Usually Celtic deities are in a couple: the tribal chieftain good at everything and the river/land Goddess of the bioregion. The Roman artisans mixed Celtic, Greek and Roman symbols together, providing us with an understanding of how the Celtic person who paid for the sculpture described the deity.

Usually the Goddess in the couple might have crows and ravens symbolizing scavengers who eat the dead on the battlefield or the funeral platform, or a horse associated with leading the dead to the Realm of the Ancestors. The God often holds a spear and shield, a hammer or club. He is sometimes accompanied by a hunting hound, although a few Goddesses are depicted with dogs. (The lap dog who sometimes sits on the lap of one of the Matres is possibly a way women warmed an abdomen with painful menstrual cramps.) Goddesses might be depicted with a cornucopia of fruits and grains of abundance and also have the crow of death in war; as the land, She’s Who provides and Who the people fight for keeping. This makes it difficult to say “Oh, She’s the Goddess of health (or the hearth or the harvest).”

At first neither the Romans nor the Celts probably knew very much (if anything) about the other culture’s deity. It would have taken a few generations before the cults became uniquely, regionally syncretic. Hymns and myths about the Roman deities would be taught by the poets and in theaters and Roman naturalist statues of their deities taught Roman and Greek symbolism. When depicted by a Roman sculptor, Celtic Gods often wore a cape and held a spear in one hand, shield in the other, much like a Celtic chieftain.

(When a large mitigating Gaulish warband attacked the Oracle of Delphi it was recorded that the men laughed at the statues of the Gods, unable to image deities in human form. As it was a brutal journey there and about to become much worst, and because we don’t know what Greek person present would have understood why the Gauls were laughing, and because the only the Greeks left a written record of this attack, this may be inaccurate. Archeology has recovered ancient Celtic statues of deities in northern Gaul and Scotland. The Celtic deity statue was made from a large pole and had a roughly cut faces and large genitalia. Their eyes were glass and some wore torcs. In northern Gaul the wood statues seem to have stood in the center of a square or rectangular open sacred space outside. The ground was packed by people walking or dancing around the pole.)

Celtic sacred groves by rivers were considered healing sites to the Romans, who built their healing spas by fresh water. Were deities with Roman healing temples like Nodens (the earliest form of the name of the Mabinogi Gods Nudd and Llud and the Old Irish God Nuada) originally healing deities or did They gain that function from the Romans? The huge healing sanctuary at Trier dedicated to Lenus Mars (a Belgae tribe’s primary God) was by a river probably because rivers and valleys (the same word in Gaulish) tended to be an important Goddess. Lenus Mars defended His people in that land, including from plagues, but the Romans added the dorms for sick pilgrims. Even though Lenus was associated with Mars, His battles were now focused on disease. This should remind us that how the Celts understood Roman deities like Mars was not the same as how the Romans understood their deities. (This is somewhat similar to a Dahomey native in Haiti worshipping python lwa Damballa with symbols of St. Patrick. That St. Patrick is nothing like what the Catholic church would recognise.)

“(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

It took a few generations to build the Romano-Celtic cults and I imagine that when they did, many Celtic people made offerings to their own deities during the festival of the related Roman deity. Even if they didn’t, for people who are resurrecting the worship of Gaulish, Iberian Celtic and/or Brythonic deities and seeking a calendar for rituals, this provides a lot of structure to adapt as desired. The Celts, typical for polytheists, brought in worship of “foreign” deities, like the Roman Mercury and Hercules. A Celtic Pagan need not worry about honoring only deities of one culture, as the Celtic tribes seem to have had varied pantheons based on the bioregion and tribal history. Many Southern Gauls adopted Apollon and Hermes from the Greeks in the 5th century BCE, so the lunar calendar from Athens may also have appropriate days for worship.

A Gaelic Reconstructionist worshipping Brig and Aine would seem very strange to ancient Gaelic tribes, when Brig was the Goddess of Leinster and Aine was the Goddess for Munster. No matter how we try, we won’t be able to recreate the pantheons ancient Celts knew; so many deities are lost to us in spite of knowing over 200 names. Also, those in Belgae had strong relationships with the North Sea Germanic tribes (the People of Ingvi-Frey), while those in Gaul adopted Venus, Goddess of gardens. How this would have continued if Christianity never appeared is impossible to guess except that some deities of new trade partners would have been become part of a Celtic people’s lives. Inclusive polytheism would have continued, especially as people traveled, married and had new bioregions to survive. Different cults would have formed around labor guild unions, river valleys, heroes and heroines, and a diverse understandings of past cults melded into rituals for modern needs. (Kinda like today’s well researched reconstruction -based polytheism!)

The Nemoralia and “Native” Diana

On August 13 (originally the full moon) Romans celebrated the Nemoralia. “‘Twas the season when the vault of heaven bends its most scorching heat upon the earth … and now the day had come when the torch smoke rises from Trivia’s [Diana’s] grove … and the [torch] lights twinkle on her lake” (Statius Silvae 3.1.55-57 LCL). This ritual for Diana was also known as the Festival of Torches, held at at Lake Nemi. Diana was know by many titles including Mistress of the Beasts, Grand Midwife, Goddess of the Moon, Lady of the Wilds, Guardian of the Oak, Friend of the Nymph, and the Protector of Maidens, many of which come from Her merging with attributes of the Greek Artemis.

On Diana‘s Festival, slaves and women were allowed to attend the ritual instead of working. All who participated washed their and decorated it with flowers. Diana’s sacred hunting hounds were also given garlands of flowers. All hunting was forbidden. The people walked in a religious procession to Her grove and lake (which most Celtic peoples would have understood from their own rituals). Diana received offerings of clay stags, ripe fruits and statuettes of mother and child. Her worshippers wrote their prayers on tablets or ribbons which were tied to trees. Later the popular festival was held on August 15, which possibly is why August 15 became the Christian Feast of the Assumption, the main holiday honoring Mary.

In his recent paper A Landscape of Resistance?, Ralph Haussler discusses the possibility of a Celtic interpretation of Diana in northern Italy: 

“The goddess Diana is often associated with a villa context, as goddess of hunting. But we should not forget that Artemis/Diana has more profound meanings which we might need to consider when trying to understand her distribution pattern in the Transpadana and Liguria: besides a cluster in Novarese and Lombardy, we also find her between Turin and Ben. Can she have been an interpretatio of an indigenous deity? In this respect, there is a dedication from Casalino (Novara) where Diana is associated with the Matronae. But we also find a sanctuary for Diana at Savigliano (Cuneo). It was organised by priestesses of the local pagus, magistrae pagi, suggesting that this was an extra-urban sanctuary, a civic cult of the local ciuitas.  Unlike many of our previous example, this sanctuary is not in a more marginal, hilly location, but it is situated in the plain, at the centre of a heavily centuriated area. Does this mean that
we are dealing with a Greco-Roman style Diana? Perhaps not since Diana seems to be a local phenomenon: nearby at Fossano, for example, we find a dedication to the ‘august’ Diana, but with the interesting formula sub asci, – a Celtic formula that is well attested in Transalpine Gaul and might therefore support the goddess’s more ‘native’ perception. And just north at Chieri / Carreum-Potentia, we find Diana again in a votive dedication Fonti Dianae Victoriae (‘to Fons, Diana, Victoria’ or ‘to the sacred spring of Diana and Victoria’?)….”

Another “native” Celtic Diana/Artemis Goddess was worshipped in Galatia, both in Camma where Her Priestess resided and further west. In Camma Her ritual focused on the hunt. Money was paid for every animal killed in the hunt, which was used for the Goddess’s Feast. The money also paid for Her sacrifice in gratitude for Her generosity. The ritual was similar to the Nemoralia in that dogs wore crowns made of flowers. Again we learn of a Celtic Goddess whose name was forgotten but who kept Her own identity.

Abnoba: Goddess of Mountain, the Danube and the Black Forest

Abnoba is a wonderful example of a Celtic Goddess of place. She is the mountain where the Danube River begins with the the Breg river, the Abnobaei montes are in the Baar foothills of the Swabian Alb near Furtwangen im Schwarzwald. Her name appears to have a connection with water, which would very likely be the Danube. The Danube was an incredibly important Celtic source of transportation, trade, food and life itself. Many deities are thought to be named for the Danube, including the Gaelic Danu. Abnoba was primarily worshipped in the Black Forest region.

As the source of the Danube, Abnoba had to be very important. In some ways She could have been viewed as the source of life. She may have served as the typical Celtic Sovereignty Goddess, with Her domain once associated with a tribe we don’t know. To the people in the area Abnoba must have had some maternal, royal and protective qualities much like Goddesses of other rivers. Her association (to the Romans) with Diana was probably because of Abnoba‘s importance in the Black Forest and Diana‘s home in the woodlands.

While many Romans honored Diana while far from home on August 13th, the Gauls in the Imperial military probably joined in the rite, while focusing on Abnoba. The Roman soldiers probably focused on Diana‘s powers over the hunt or the health of pregnant wives in Rome. The Celts don’t seem to have any deities related to the moon, so that aspect of Diana was probably not important to them. The roles of Guardian of the Oak, Mistress of the Beasts and Lady of the Wilds seem to fit Abnoba the best, while She would have been still much more. The forest, the river and the mountains – all of these and their benefits to humans are the gifts that are Abnoba.

Why Worship Deities of Distant Bioregions

For those of us not living in the Black Forest, how can we honor Abnoba? Maybe more important to others is why would we? Celtic religion is very place-based. However, so is Greek religion and Pagans outside of Athens worship Athena. The Orishas from different parts of Yorubaland have become a neo-Yoruban pantheon where the river Orishas Oba, Oshun, Oya and Yemaya have changed to meet the needs of their worshipers. We worship the deities Who care for us and there is no reason why Abnoba would not care for you any less than Athena or Ogun care for other people an ocean away from Their original home.

There are many ways Abnoba cares for us. Abnoba is present in the pure spring water of mountaintops, something incredibly valuable if we look at how much money people pay for it. Of course, clean water is worth much more important than a dollar amount, but people sometimes forget how much they are interacting with the deities. When you buy mountain spring water, you’re paying for the goodness that is Abnoba. (It would be much better for the all life if no one used plastic and instead properly filtered their own water and carried it in a metal bottle, or better yet water sanitation was done with Living Machines and tap water was clean and safe.) I don’t walk 5 miles to get safe drinking water and carry it back another 5 miles; do you? But we would, like many people affected by Climate Chaos, if we had to because water is that valuable.

For hunters, Abnoba could be an important Goddess of the hunt. Anyone against mountaintop removal mining could pray to Abnoba as She probably is offended by the dangerous harm caused by greed and fossil fuel addiction. People living deep in a forested area fed by a powerful river and those who live in high elevations where large rivers begin may develop a natural relationship with Abnoba just because they live where She’s used to being called. (Bear Mountain in California comes to mind.)

Isis had a temple in Britain where Her sacred Nile is nowhere to be found. Obviously deities are carried by their worshipers wherever they go. We don’t know the different myths about Abnoba which definitely would have changed over the generations, but She must have qualities that transcend place. Her devotees may make a pilgrimage to Her place of origin, and I hope that people do learn about the bioregional and cultural homes of the deities they worship. It’s the greatest way to understand the deity who has no mythology (along with linguistics and archeology).

But you may have a connection to Abnoba simply because She chose you.

Ritual Suggestions

Your Festival of Abnoba should feature clean drinking water. I would wash my hair in a way that won’t posion the water. A very small amount of baking soda massaged in the roots for the oil, rinsed clean, and an apple cider vinegar after rinse for the acidic shrine really works. A castile soap like Dr Bronners and a lemon juice rinse for blonde squeaky clean hair or a rosemary infusion for a healthy scalp and lush darker hair also works wonders. Shampoo is basically dish detergent. Real soap does not make bubbles of lather. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put in the water supply or on your skin, especially when honoring nature deities. It’s hypocritical. Deities are impressed by what we do. To moisturize hair, leave in light-weight jojoba oil on the ends or use coconut oil to turn frizzy into ringlets.

Dogs should definitely be honored, as the Celts valued their hunting hounds greatly. If you have any canine companions whom you want to include, get them a treat. (If you have many dogs or Pagan friends with dogs, you might schedule a quick rite at a dog park.)

As for flowers: the flower industry uses a few dozen times more pesticides than the agricultural sector! I wouldn’t let that near my altars (or my planet if I had that power). Try the farmers market, your or a friend’s flower garden or a wild field, careful to not take more than 10% of any species or kill any endangered species.

For those who are able, a hike or ski lift to the top of a mountain might be the best place to make an offering to Abnoba. (In Vermont ski lifts often run in summer.) Woodlands are also good places. (Remember to stay covered and check for ticks! Lyme disease and other tickbourne diseases are horrible! I speak from horrible experience!)

If inside, build an Abnoba altar with something to represent a mountain (photograph, pile of peddles, etc) and a bowl or cup of fresh, purified water. (Rain water might be fine, but check about the water quality of any local streams or rivers – if it’s bad, a very Celtic service offering would be to volunteer in river clean up work).

Have a bowl for your libations that you can pour outside later and a plate, tray, bowl or basket with your offerings. Ritually broken metal or glass bead jewelry (good sacrifices for Celtic Goddesses in general) and organic fruit are fine offerings. Carved wooden or ceramic stags add another Celtic layer to the offering, as Celtic people probably would not know the myth about Actaeon and may have thought about the deer Her forest gave the hungry. (Please don’t use the plastic-y “oven bake” modeling “clay” as it’s really toxic.) As deities change, maybe Abnoba likes Black Forest cake for all I know!

The traditional “circle the holy” procession three times sunwise is a good start for most Celtic rites. You may want to use traditional Celtic percussion of rattles and little bells (probably sewn onto clothing). Try chanting Abnoba to become more receptive to Her.

Next praise Her, say what you know about Her, and thank Her for the gifts She’s always provided human beings. Water is fundamental for life. We know that intellectually but don’t always act like it. We are made of water. Transportation along rivers meant information, trade goods, contact with new people. Trees hold the top soil of fertile soil, are the “lungs of the Earth” (with bluegreen algae), prevent heat waves, talk to other trees through their roots in the “wood wide web”, feed their children saplings through their roots and are home to an incredible amount of life, even when dead.

Tell Abnoba the offerings are for Her. Write your wishes in pencil on a strip of organic linen (or cotton) and thank Her again, knowing that She’ll be working on them if they fit Her needs, too, and will be best for you. Put the cloth with your offerings.

Circle your altar again clockwise, and gather the offerings, libations and cloth for a trip outside. You may want to go to a nearby river for this. Otherwise bury the jewellery and pour the libation into the soil. Then loosely tie your wishes to an oak or the tree that feels right to you.

Of course a financial offering to a dog rescue organization or shelter is highly appropriate! Adopting a dog if your housing, schedule and finances will allow you to be a good caretaker could be another modern offering. Planting native trees that you will protect or donating to an organization working successfully to end deforestation is a logical sacrifice for Abnoba and Diana, too.

 

Selected Bibliography

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

Butler-Ehle, Hester, Fieldstones New Shoots from Stony Soil, 2nd Edition by Hester Butler-Ehle

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

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

Ellis, A. B., The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa. 1894.

Filan, Kenaz, The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa. Destiny Books (2

Haussler, Ralph, A Landscape of Resistance? Cults and Sacred Landscapes in Western Cisalpine Gaul, STUDI E RICERCHE SULLA GALLIA CISALPINA
26, Roma tra il Po e le Alpi: dalla romanizzazione alla romanità ATTI DEL CONVEGNO, Venezia 13-15 maggio 2014, Giovannella Cresci Marrone

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, Edinburgh: T. & T. CLARK (1911)

Mierzwick, Tony, Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today. Llewellyn (2018)

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)

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

Sweet, James H., Domingos Álvares: African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World. The University of North Carolina Press (2011)

Sweet, James H., Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770. The University of North Carolina Press (2003)

 

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West and Central Africa’s Gay & Transgender History: the jinbandaa

First, I apologize for using the word “Africa” like it is a nation, when I mean the Kongo, Angola, Fon, Gbe and Ewe peoples of the West coast and Central Africa. Second, I apologize for saying “gay and transgender” just because gender in those cultures did not match with 16th century European binary genders. We unfortunately don’t know exactly how these members of society were understood, just that they existed and were accepted, so I choose sexual and gender identity words closest to the descriptions we have. I just wanted a title that might grab more search engines to educate more people.

There’s quite a lot of homophobia in many African Diaspora Religions. I actually saw a Palo website say that no gay people could join the religion because the Kongo people had no knowledge of homosexuality. Frankly, that is bullshit. The person actually wrote that because the Kongo didn’t understand what the Portuguese meant by homosexual (which would have been said in a derogatory way), the Kongo didn’t have any queer people. In reality, the Kongo understanding of a jinbandaa and their Priest function would not have matched that of a Catholic Portuguese “sinful sodomite.”

There are a lot of people interested in Lucumi, Palo, Vodou, “African” Umbanda, obeh, hoodoo and other African Diaspora Religions in prison. Many learn about them from incarcerated Cuban initiates and by sharing books. I buy high quality books and print academic papers for a book club and we have moved deeper into the African roots of these religions. (There’s only so many times one can read the same descriptions of the neo-Yoruban pantheon!)

One truly amazing find are the two books by James H. Sweet, published by the University of North Carolina Press. Both are unlike anything I’ve read, focusing on specific tribal peoples’ contributions to forming a new “African” culture before the much studied Yoruba latecomers to Brazil.

His book Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World details the life of a Mina Priest of Sakpata, the vodun of the earth and smallpox, from modern-day Mahi in Benin. The Priests were captured by King Agaja of Dahomey and sold into slavery because they were a threat to his bloody reign of terror. The young man who would become known as Domingos Álvares was the child of two Priests of Sakpata and inherited their role during a time of warfare and culturally diverse overflow of refugees. As part of that war he was sold to Portuguese slavers and began a life of attempting to recreate that religious and social community in Brazil. Before being sent to the Inquisition in Lisbon, Portugal, his (and other African diviners and Priests and Priestesses from the Mina region and the Kongo) ways of ritual were recorded. It’s an amazing book for people interested in the origins of the African Diaspora Religions of Brazil or the regional Traditional African Religions destroyed and later reconstructed by the royal family of Dahomey (who used Yoruba Orishas as their primary new pantheon). It’s the biography of a spiritual ancestor.

But here I want to focus on the lie of a heterosexual-only African norm. The paragraphs below are from Sweet’s remarkable Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770. It’s another book I highly recommend although it has less actual ritual detail.

“One noteworthy case occurred in the middle of the sixteenth century in the Azores and in Lisbon. Antônio, slave of Paulo Manriques, arrived on Ilha Terceira from his homeland of Benin some time in 1556. Upon his arrival, he immediately assumed the uncertain gender identity that he maintained in Benin. Refusing to wear the clothes that his master gave him, Antônio instead chose to dress in a white waist jacket buttoned down the front, with a vest made from an old woolen cloth that he found in his master’s stables. On his head, he wore a tightly wrapped white linen, topped off by a hat. To all who saw him, he appeared to be a woman.

“By profession, Antônio worked as a prostitute who went by the name Vitória. In order to lure men, Vitória made a variety of winks and gestures “like a woman.” But he was also observed removing his hat and bowing “like a man.” He apparently had a thriving business, since seven or eight men could sometimes be seen waiting outside of the little house where he worked. But within a year of his arrival in the Azores, Antônio’s ambiguous gender identity became widely known, and the scandal of his transvestism gained the attention of the Inquisition.

“During his interrogation before the Inquisitors in Lisbon, an interpreter was needed to translate, since Antônio/Vitória had not yet mastered Portuguese. He admitted to “sinning” with five men, three in Lisbon and two in the Azores. When the Inquisitors asked him whether many people believed that he was a woman, he responded that he was a woman and that men gave him money for his services. Antônio also claimed that he had the orifice (buraco) of a woman. The Inquisitors asked him if he created this orifice or if it was the result of some sickness, but Antônio claimed that he was born with it. Indeed, he stated that “there were many in his country who had the same buracos who were born with them.” Antônio ultimately was subjected to a medical inspection to determine whether he was “man or woman or hermaphrodite.” The examination showed clearly that Antônio “had the physical character of a man, without having any buraco nor other physical characteristic of woman.” For committing the “abominable sin of sodomy against nature,” Antônio was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the king’s galleys.

“Antônio’s admission that there were many in his country who were anatomically endowed with buracos is an indication that there were others who also took on the dress and mannerisms of women. The role of these transvested individuals in sixteenth-century Benin is difficult to discern from the records, but they seemingly constituted a third gender category that was completely unfamiliar to the Portuguese. Antônio’s gender and sexual choices were apparently an accepted part of Benin society, an integral part of Antônio’s identity which the Portuguese sought to erase because he was a “sodomite.” Acts of sodomy had long been punishable by death in Portugal, but the Portuguese reserved their greatest contempt for passive partners like Antônio, the rationale being that male penetration was a “natural” act, while male reception was not. These social and cultural vacuums in the Western mentality affected Africans and their descendants in profound ways, confining them to sexual, gender, and family categories that were, in many cases, completely alien to them.

“The narrowness of Western gender constructions is brought into even sharper focus when we examine another third-gender category, this one from Central Africa. In the same 1591 denunciation of Joane de Guiné in Bahia, Matias Moreira also denounced a man named Francisco Manicongo to the Portuguese Holy Office. Moreira stated that he had seen Francisco walking the streets of Bahia dressed as a woman and that Francisco was renowned among blacks as a “sodomite.” Moreira went on to claim that he had traveled for a long period of time in the lands of Angola and Congo. During these travels, he had witnessed some of the “pagan Negroes” dressing like women. According to Moreira, these cross-dressing men performed the role of the woman in acts of sodomy. In fact, these cross-dressers were so prevalent in Central African society that there was even a word for them in the “language of Angola and Congo,” jinbandaa.

“Unbeknownst to Moreira, the term jinbandaa in Central Africa did not carry the same negative moral connotations that the terms “sodomite” or “nefarious sinner” carried in Christian Europe. Instead, the significance of jinbandaa was to be found in Central African religious beliefs. According to Malcolm Guthrie, the word stem mbándá means “medicine man,” and throughout Central Africa words similar to jinbandaa implied religious power. In fact, several revealing descriptions from the Angolan coast in the seventeenth century suggest that quimbanda sodomites were a discrete and powerful caste in Angolan society. As early as 1606, the Jesuits in Angola described “chibados,” who were “extremely great fetishers, and being men went around dressed as women and they had by great offense called themselves men; they had husbands like the other women, and in the sin of sodomy they are just like devils.” Writing in 1681, Captain Antônio de Oliveira Cadornega commented at length on the status of “sodomites” along the Angolan coast:

There is also among the Angolan pagan much sodomy, sharing one with the other their dirtiness and filth, dressing as women. And they call them by the name of the land, quimbandas, [and] in the district or lands where they are, they have communication with each other. And some of these are fine feiticeiros (sorcerers), for they beget everything bad. And all of the pagans respect them and they are not offended by them and these sodomites happen to live together in bands, meeting most often to give burial services. . . . This caste of people is who dresses the body for burial and performs the burial ceremony.

“Cadornega reveals three important points regarding the Angolan quimbandas. First, he suggests that they were a discrete social group that lived together in “bands.” Second, the quimbandas were respected by others in the community. In fact, the Capuchin priest, Antônio Cavazzi, who was a resident of Angola from 1654 to 1667, wrote that “there is not a Jaga [Imbangala], whether captain in war, or peaceful aldeia [village] chief, who does not try to keep some of them [the quimbandas] to watch over him, without the counsel and approval of such, he will not dare to exercise any act of jurisdiction, nor take any resolution.” The quimbandas were apparently the final spiritual arbiters in political and military decisions. Finally, the quimbandas were not only considered “fine feiticeiros,” but they performed traditional burial ceremonies, thereby exercising a wide range of spiritual roles. Taken together, these three points produce a compelling argument for the religious power and respectability of Angola’s transvested “homosexual” community, a community that clearly set itself apart from the rest of society, apparently as one of the many kinlike divining and healing societies that were prevalent in seventeenth-century Central Africa.

How transvested homosexuals became powerful religious figures in Central Africa is an interesting question, but that is not our primary concern here. More important for us is the question of the jinbandaa’s transition to slave life in the Americas. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sources suggest that in Central Africa the jinbandaas were a group of religious leaders who carved out their own “third-sex” (gender defined) living space in the society. But the spiritual capacity of the transvested homosexual was so universally known that they were referred to not by their patterns of dress or by their sexual behavior, but by their roles as religious leaders. Only when these Africans encounter the Western world do we begin to see the breakdown of the gender-defined organization of this kinlike, transvestite, religious society. This disjuncture between the gendered, religious space in Central Africa and the lack of such a space in the diaspora indicates several sobering things.

“First, those transvested homosexuals who were brought to Europe and its colonies as slaves were isolated not only according to race, but also according to their gender and their sexuality. Given the evidently small numbers of jinbandaas in the diaspora, there was no way for them to replicate their gender-defined communities in their new surroundings. Second, Western/Christian prejudice and repression against the feminine and against the passive homosexual contributed to the attrition of a seemingly well-defined African gender category that defied Western norms. And finally, the institutional foundation that gave this collection of transvested homosexuals religious power all but disappeared. Because they could no longer meet collectively to share knowledge and affirm their religious power, their powers were effectively diluted. Indeed, in Brazil, the very meaning of the term jinbandaa was transformed, at least within the white community. Rather than referring to an individual with religious power, the term jinbandaa became synonymous with the passive “sodomite.”

“Despite the powerful forces of Western cultural hegemony, we should still recognize the lens through which someone like Francisco Manicongo, or Antônio from Benin, addressed their individual gender and sexual identities. Even against the riptides of Western gender, sexual, and religious norms, Francisco and Antônio continued to see themselves in much the same ways that they had seen themselves in their homelands. Just as most Westerners could not conceive of identifying themselves as anything other than either man or woman, Francisco could not conceive of identifying himself as anything other than the transvested jinbandaa. And Antônio could not conceive of himself as anything other than one of the many from Benin who had buracos like his. Thus, they each shed the clothing given to them by their masters and continued to dress and act as women, seeking out male partners with little, if any, regard for the fact that they were committing mortal sins. Though their individual identities may have endured for some time, the kinlike groupings that sustained and affirmed them in their ethnic homelands were obliterated, leaving them as isolated and alone as those who left behind their natal kin.”

If you are African American, African Caribbean or African Brazilian (and other South American countries), some of your ancestors are probably from these cultures. If you are Black and gay or transgender and have yet to find a connection between the two identities, or are of any ethnicity and denied initiation into an African Diaspora Religion, I sincerely hope that this helps. The discrimination against the queer community was absorbed from Christianity and Islam, not these indigenous peoples.

Happy Gay Pride Month!

 

Bibliography

Sweet, James H., Domingos Álvares: African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World. The University of North Carolina Press (2011)

Sweet, James H., Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770. The University of North Carolina Press (2003)