Resource Center for Pagans in Prison

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

Gullveig Press is the only national Resource Center for Pagans in Prison. We network with the few Pagan Prison Ministries in the U.S. and independently search for resources that may improve the quality of life for Pagans in prison. We work directly with prison Chaplains, volunteers, and incarcerated Pagans.

Gullveig Press is a non-profit organization dedicated to locating, creating and distributing high quality materials for spiritual and psychological growth to Pagan residents, Chaplains, volunteers and others involved with the prison system. Created and led by Heather Awen, author, editor and publisher of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners, Gullveig Press has a small volunteer staff of Pagans both in and out of prison as well as occasional paid assistants. Awen’s personal money and all profits from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters sold to the general public via Amazon or this website are used to send free copies to books-to-prisoners organizations and prison Chaplains or libraries. Over 100 copies are now in American prisons.

If you would like to purchase a copy for someone in prison or work with incarcerated Pagans, a copy costs $12. For those not involved with Pagan Prison Ministries, the cost is $24 if ordered directly from Gullveig Press. Chaplains and Pagan Prison Ministries may receive a free PDF copy by contacting us.

The creator of the ALL Religions Prison Chaplain Resource List, Awen maintains the largest collection of free resources available to prison Chaplains and residents. The Resource List includes Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Native American Traditional, Jewish, Christian, Islam, and General Spirituality. If you are a prison Chaplain, volunteer, librarian, or otherwise work with prisoners and would like a list of the ALL Religions Prison Chaplain Resource List, please contact Gullveig Press.

Awen has sent around 35 free written materials about Wicca, Heathenry, African Diaspora Religions, and other Pagan religions directly to the Chief Chaplain of Illinois DOC, Chief Chaplain of New Hampshire DOC, and all prisons in Vermont as email attachments. She also works with Chaplains in Idaho and California state prisons. These Chaplains and Volunteer Coordinators also receive Awen’s Prison Rites, as described below.

Most Pagans in state prisons cannot meet unless they have a volunteer present, which is sadly rare. Pagans generally do not volunteer and so a Buddhist volunteer may double as volunteer for the Pagan groups. For this reason, Awen was asked to write solitary rites for important Pagan holy days. These may be performed with only tap water, pencil, paper and the body. Eight times a year Awen emails three 2-page rituals: one for Wiccans about the Sabbat, one for those involved with Orisha Religions, and one for Heathens. They provide historical background information on the holy day and easy to do rites to celebrate them. To be included on the Gullveig Press Prison Rites mailing list, please contact us.

Gullveig Press produces the Pagans in Prison Resource List. Copies are made for residents in prison and mailed to Pagans in prison looking for pen pals. Via word of mouth, Gullveig Press receives requests for the Pagans in Prison Resource List. If you would like a copy, please contact us or give our mailing address to any incarcerated Pagan: P.O. Box 126, St Johnsbury, VT 05819 (A self addressed stamped envelope is appreciated.)

Awen coordinates the Pagans in Prison Marketplace. She also helps loved ones of Pagans in prison find resources on other topics about incarceration.

Gullveig Press gratefully accepts donations of postage stamps and money. To help, please contact us.

 

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The End

So we’re at the end.

No, Gullveig Press isn’t going anywhere. We’re still going in debt sending Pagan prisoners the Pagans in Prison Resources List. We’re searching prison pen pal ads and connecting with people who care about the people living in barbaric conditions – actually, violating human rights if you care about what the international laws say – to make sure that at least those who are Pagan can get affordable information on over a dozen Pagan religions. It’s not the least we can do; the next stage is a guide to evidence-based psychological skills.

Yep. PTSD breathing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mindfulness, radical acceptance, value based living, and some tools from DBT – The tools for managing the painful mental illnesses many prisoners learn they have, as they are given dangerous drugs erratically and receive absolutely no therapy in prison. No one else is doing it and that’s the spirit of Gullveig Press. What needs to be done and how can we have a direct impact? Most of the time we don’t need an authority figure to solve our problems, because as a species we are designed to work together. Just do something, one step, and then another. It’s how we change the world.

But we’re stopping the blog. Oh, the information on resources will stay updated. There’s the guide to provide advice for those of you who want to write an incarcerated Pagan. You probably interact online with people who have committed felonies in your online community. I personally know that many of our Pagan elders are felons – they just weren’t caught growing that weed.

The blog was merely to bring attention to the needs of Pagan prisoners. To give pen pals and loved ones of Pagan prisoners some ideas about how to help. To get you to buy a great book so others with no resources could read it. To lure you to the Solutions that are working to improve the functional literacy rate of prisoners and expand their minds with your donated used books. To teach you about the 1 in 100 Americans in prison – that’s the parents of 1 in 27 children. No other nation in the world imprisons more of its population – and 1 in 1000 Americans are now incarcerated Pagans, usually because they learned about the religions in prison. From really crappy overstock books.

(OK, the blog also met my passionate desire to share information about deities that most people would have never heard of, or heard of, but had misinformation. It’s been an honor and I especially hope that the recently recovered Celtic deities of the Iberian peninsula get some loving!)

But in 2 years, not one visitor to the blog ever even clicked the link to find out where to donate used books. A couple did go to Kroger website to choose Athens Books to Prisoners. Maybe some of you made Providence Books Behind Bars your Amazon Smile charity; there’s no way to know. And one miraculous Aussie sent $36, which turned into surprise copies of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners to prisoners writing Gullveig Press for Pagan resources.

Not one post about prisoners was been viewed. Not one.

Which means that the blog failed.

Instead of wasting precious spoons on trying to get the Pagan “community” to be inclusive and involved in service to the less fortunate, we’re going straight to the people who care about Gullveig Press: prisoners. You have the Internet, so you can research papers on academia.edu. You appreciate that privilege, right? Others don’t have it.

We’re staying committed to transformative justice that focuses on the actual needs of victims, demands accountability from those who harm, and heals a shattered society that breeds suffering, so one day it will be a society where everyone recovers. A society of support and accountability, that matches our values of truth, knowledge and nature.

It’s never too late to donate some books.

 

Suggested Reading:

Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Ejeris Dixon, AK Press, 2020

We Keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just, and Inclusive Communities by Zach Harris, Beacon Press, 2020

 

Jessica Caponigro
activist- artist- Witch Jessica Caponigro

Marie Laveau: First Pagan Prison Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

Belinos or Belenos? Pagans Respond to COVID-19

I’m happy with how fast word of mouth spreads. Now I send complete a Pagans in Prison Resource List along with ways to creatively practice in prison to folks who write “I found Gullveig Press scribbled on a paper, do you know of anything that or anyone who can help educate Pagans in prison?” As the only clearinghouse of Pagan prisoner information, I send letters with the list if they have specific Pagan questions. I’ll check what their facility is supposed to allow if they don’t know. Mostly I wish them good luck.

The COVID-19 virus is terrifying inmates. They can’t quarantine and buses are moving prisoners from facility to facility as if there’s no State of Emergency. Hand sanitizer has alcohol in it, so it’s not allowed, and for prisoners who have no income, the one bar of lye soap to wash body, hair and clothing doesn’t last long. I’m sure that you have all been very worried, especially because so many people in prison are HIV+ or live with Hep C, diabetes/heart disease and respiratory diseases. I’m sure that you are praying for them, writing letters to the editor of your paper, and donating money to help inmates with compromised immune systems have their medication, food, etc. (Black & Pink, the nation’s LGBTQIA 25+ prisoner advocacy group is currently requesting donations to help people living with HIV during this dangerous time.)

From the many copies of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters I’ve paid to donate to books-to-prisoners organizations, TWO have ended up in the same facility where there’s 130 Pagans! I know this from a letter from Jay Glenewinkel. He wrote to tell me that the Ostara ritual at Seogoville, Texas, on March 19th included a prayer I wrote in SBSW. It can actually be used as a Magickal chant to raise power, which never occurred to me. I’m sharing it here in case others are looking for a prayer or chant during this stressful time.

Seriously, I really would like to know that Pagans on the outside who have the luxury of hand sanitizer and quarantine are praying for those who don’t. Please. This is one out of one hundred Americans. It’s the parents of 27 American children. No other country even comes close to these numbers! In other nations many of these people would never even have been in prison or would have been released far sooner. Who is a prisoner is a political decision. It’s a reflection of the nation’s fear and hatred, not the people in prison.

If you were in the UK, Canada, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Finland, Japan, Spain, Brazil, Ireland, etc., they’d be probably be your neighbors and co-workers, not prisoners.

They’d be considered human beings.

Belinos

(from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners)

Belinos was a widely popular God in Gaul, northern Italy, the Alps, and Slovakia. Belinos was possibly worshiped by more Celtic peoples than any other deity. Sometimes he is shown with a female figure thought to be the Goddess Belisama. In Slovakia there was still a cult to a God named Belin in the 19th century. An ancient stone carving depicted two human forms with lines radiating from their heads. The Slavic people called it Belin, “the rock,” or “triple faced,” showing that some version of the much-loved Celtic deity, probably merged with other influences, survived that long.

Belinos was especially popular in northeastern Gaul, Austria, and farther east. Worship of him has not been found in Britian, but “the King of the Britons” was Cynobellini, a name that contains beli and appears on coins. Belinos‘ name is also found in some place and personal names, like the second half of Llewellyn (probably “Lugus-Belinos“). Belinos appears to be a solar God, but Celtic Gods are usually wise, generous, brave defenders and healers, skilled in every art, and all-round perfect chieftains. They are whatever is needed to help their tribe/worshipers: warriors are poets; kings are shoe-makers.

It’s currently believed that Belinos became confused by scholars with a Celtic name for the Greek/Roman God Apollo, Belenos. We only know Belenos from the northestern Italian city of Aquileia. Belinos was also worshipped there, but like everywhere in the Celtic world, Belinos was never named with Apollo in any inscription or shrine. In modern times scholars began “correcting” Belinos to the wrong name Belenos. Reviews of the original evidence very recently found the mistake. We can expect more accurate information about deities as Celtic studies continue. If someone has a strong relationship with Belenos, they may be worshiping Apollo by his Celtic name. Apollo‘s cult began in southern Gaul during the 5th century BCE, making him a regional Celtic deity.

Prayer to Belinos to Stop Contagious Disease from Spreading in the Prison

by Heather Awen

Body to body, blood to blood,
No longer does the infection spread,
For Belinos is our protector and guards us from disease.
The fear is gone, the people relax,
No longer does the infection spread,
For Belinos is our protector and guards us from disease.
Blessed by the fire in the sky,
No longer does the infection spread,
For Belinos is our protector and guards us from disease.
Federal prisons often allow Pagans a lot more than state prisons because Native Americans have made great legal strides in being allowed to practice their religions outside. Most state prisons don’t offer the very expensive email available in many Federal prisons. Women’s prisons usually have more receptive Chaplains and fewer restrictions for Pagans, but they still need Pagans on the outside for guidance.

 

Gullveig Press does not support any advertisers to whom WordPress sold space. We probably have very different values than these companies.

Make a Tarot Deck for Someone in Prison! Fun fun!

Even though Odinists are usually allowed to have runes in their cells, Tarot cards are often forbidden in state prisons. The belief is that people will use them to gamble, um, like you can’t gamble with chess, the weather, sports scores, “which rune will I pick?” and any other number of things. Now, IF the Pagan group had an outside volunteer, that person could bring in Tarot cards for the class or ritual. But there’s .01% of the Pagan volunteers needed.

As luck would have it, it’s really easy to make a Tarot deck for about $8.

First, go online and search for images of each card. You want to choose from the sample cards of decks being advertised or no longer have copyright. If I can see something for free online, then so can my friend who can’t go online. That’s MY rule. I don’t know what the law is, but no one makes any money from this and it actually promotes those 50+ decks, not anything I do. Prison is incredibly understimulating visually with no access to visual arts. I send photos of shrines, deity art, and cool stuff on DeviantArt.

So make your deck very diverse. I worked my ass off to find cards that weren’t just Caucasians. Also, mix art styles. Digital collage amazed my bestie because he’s never once used a computer. And he found new things in the symbolism of other cards. I have Yoruba Orisha religion, steampunk, Celtic, psychedelic, Greek, Marvel superheroes, Buddhist, pop culture, you name it, there’s variety in the deck I made my friend.

Scan the card for female nipples and any genitalia. Artists love topless women and they can be difficult to notice with a brief glance.

Second, you’ll probably need to crop most cards because they are much longer than a photograph. When you cut off the name of the card, make sure that you add big, clear text stating which card it is. I always assume that the photo place will do more cropping to make it fit exactly and stay away from the borders.

Third, upload the images to a reliable, cheap photo website. I like York. The first 20 pix are free and there’s always sales. With something this large, the free shipping deal is best. The one day pop up sale of 3¢ prints is also helpful. I’d wait for one of those deals. York can usually send the photos straight to your friend or family member. There’s no receipt with any personal information about the buyer. (The receipt is emailed to you.) If you write using jmail, which keeps your address secret, you’ll be glad to know that your address won’t be included with the photos.

The mail room is looking for nipples and labia, maybe gang symbols, so a bunch of artsy pictures should be approved. The cards all look so different that it doesn’t look like a Tarot deck. As with anything involving prison, the rules fluctuate depending on the moods of staff. Predicting what gets to a prisoner is impossible as far as I know, even with Tarot cards.

There’s probably simple short guides to Tarot online. Just copy, paste, make narrow margins, use a space saving font, print and mail.

I wrote my friend my own Tarot guide. I wrote my first guide 25 years ago (feeling old!) and read professionally for a long time. The Lovers card always meant sex, pure and simple, while 2 of Cups was a loving romantic relationship. I wrote that, and explained that’s just how it worked for me. My friend has studied Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and a lot of cards suggest that you need to “CBT it!”, such as the 4 of Cups and 9 of Swords. Because he’s studied Observer Mind in mindfulness meditation, I am lucky and can note which cards need that ability to notice that emotions, thoughts and physical urges aren’t who we are. And he’s studied value-based living, so cards that indicate “You’re reacting, not choosing” have advice to re-read his values. I know his religious beliefs and practices very well, so I can add prayers and rituals.

(You can play creative games together like “Pick 3 Cards, Write a Poem” now!)

This is all added to the usual meanings I’ve memorized or discovered while reading for clients or teaching apprentices. By including a lot of “what you can do” to the Tarot guide, I reinforce what I believe is the most important use of Tarot: empowerment. The present, right now, is where the future is created. Nine times out of ten, the future will be more of the past if you don’t change. By giving examples of ways to work with the cards, he has freedom in a place that is extremely controlled and erratic. It’s not enough to tell people that they can develop a new, adaptable freedom that will serve them for their entire lives – You have to teach how. And remember that in prison, there’s no therapy, nothing to provide skills for anger management or realizing that feelings are not facts. (I suggest sending the Happiness Trap by Russ Harris and the Dummies Guide to CBT. Of course, my awesome pen pal asked for psych skills help because he’s so freaking awesome!)

This fits nicely with our discussions about Wyrd. The momentum of similar behavior joins with the path of least resistance and you’ll get a future that isn’t very different than where you’ve been. But, change your behavior repeatedly and the path of least resistance changes; the present creates a past that is a foundation for the future. This is really important for everyone to understand but especially people in prison. The brain will actually “rewire” itself to think in a more helpful way. My pen pal and I love that Ireland’s Lora O’Brien teaches that before trying for “second sight” you learn CBT and get your “first sight” clear.

Wyrd also fights any New Age “You create your reality” victim blaming or Western ideas about karma as sin being tallied by God. There’s much bigger Wyrd at work than his. There’s the horrifying history of how the United States has always treated African Americans – It’s got so much momentum, he can’t choose to escape it. The U.S. has a massive prison industrial complex and incarcerates the largest percentage of its citizens of ANY nation. The U.S. is still working with the failed 1980s “War on Drugs” mentality and gives extremely long sentences. In the 1980s, anything that would teach prisoners ways to succeed without crime and addiction was cancelled. Punishment was all that mattered and rehabilitation is no longer the goal. Prisons rely on recidivism to keep the industry strong. Parole officers no longer need social work skills; a large number of them are “tough guys” who failed the police entrance exam. The Wyrd of fatherless children, the life long poverty usually experienced by single mothers, people historically afraid for good reason of social services, the punishment of poor people who have mental illnesses and self medicated, the Puritan nonsense that the individual can do anything if his morality is “good” and bad things happen to bad people so don’t interfere with “God’s plan” by helping anyone – That’s the Wyrd he was born into, just like the Wyrd of his family and community. The question of how much free will do we get is largely based on the randomness of invisible privilege.

Aside from self awareness, artistic inspiration and broadening occult knowledge, Tarot could be a legal way to make some money when released. I worked at everything from Lords of Acid concerts to Planned Parenthood fund raisers. It’s a chance to offer something as a volunteer and meet decent people. As long as prison is hoping for your pen pal to fail in life, any useful skill is greatly appreciated. In many ways, prisoners who were good hustlers have an edge in the “gig economy” – as long as we demand “Ban the Box”* on job applications.

* “Ban the Box” seeks to eliminate the box on job applications asking if you ever were convicted of a felony. If someone has (in some Sadistic way) “paid their debt to society” by eating hi-fructose corn syrup sandwiches trying not to be raped or beaten for 10 years because they were charged with possession of crack cocaine without intent to sell and kicked cold turkey, then why the constant penalties to prevent them from getting a job at Old Navy or Wendy’s?

O’Brien, Lora, A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality (Sli Aon Dhraoi). Wolfpack Publishers (2012)

Thank you for sharing about Ohio! Celebrate the 3 Pagans volunteering in prisons!

Some of you made my month by sharing the information about how incarcerated Pagans in Ohio cannot receive any of the books specifically for incarcerated Pagans OR receive books from Amazon, which means that they are dependant on the Athens Books To Prisoners volunteer organization. Although no one went to the Athens Books To Prisoners website, at least you spread awareness of the situation.

I have been depressed and filled with dread when I get letters from prisoners asking how to find Pagan volunteers, pen pals, free information for their bigoted Chaplain, discounted or free Pagan resources, or legal help to be able to practice their religion. What can I say besides “Sorry, you don’t matter to other Pagans”? Honestly, I really don’t know what else to say. Sometimes I ask them who they helped when they were on the outside, and write that whatever excuses they had for not being involved are the same ones as Pagans on the outside have. There’s no difference.

I just am so disappointed in the Pagans who blog about activism, social justice and changing society, especially if they’ve complained about how there’s so little for incarcerated Pagans. How did I become point person for everything? Pagan Prison Ministries come and go, without exploring more cost effective and less time consuming ways to serve as teachers.

I applaud the three people who are still serving as Pagan Prison Ministries: CrowMoon who visits about 6 South Carolina prisons, which means she’s driving hours, paying for gas, preparing Wiccan lessons and rituals while staying active in her local Pagan community and writing a 1 sheet newsletter for each Sabbat that is sent for free to prisoners in North Carolina. Shoot, I may have mixed up my Carolinas, but she doesn’t even have a website for donations. Also there’s Alexandria Temple of Universal Metaphysics, one man in Colorado to whom I believe I donated about 75 books about 9 years ago. If that’s him, he’s really shown endurance! And Mother Earth Ministries-ATC, who have consistently been focused on the Pagans in one Tuscan prison. That’s smart: doing what is manageable. Too much activists don’t have sustainable, achievable goals and so they burn out. The more likely that you will have success, the more likely you will enjoy it. It also brings enthusiastic support, because as my long time activist Mom taught me, “Go where the energy is.” (The fastest way for a young organization to crash is by focusing on getting a physical building. Stay manageable and you stay successful.)

These three people deserve a lot of support on all levels. They make me feel less alone and are probably the folks who could give you advice on volunteering. Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners has a few pages for potential volunteers which I can share. Dixie Deerman has a rather adversarial, vague Pagan Prisoner Advocate’s Guide that may unnecessarily scare you and heavily promotes her book, but is still a free reference to download at smashwords and more than anyone has provided!

I notice that people seem to feel like there’s nothing they can do to “change the world” but forget that it’s not all on their shoulders. It’s easy to do one action that improves life for your greater community, however you define that, than to despair or call people Hitler on social media. You don’t know what all the other people may be doing, but trust me, there’s lots of us doing. It adds up. Even if it didn’t, it still feels much better to just be creative and find ways to live your values than it does to be angry, afraid or depressed. You’re responsible for what you have contributed and that’s very empowering. In a time of so many feeling helpless, whenever you make a difference, you take back power. It may not be the aspect of oppression you want to transform, but bloom where you are planted. We often don’t know how the deities, ancestors or land spirits need our experiences and skills to be their hands and voices here and now, so please stay open to the call. You’re needed and valued.

I still wish that all the people hanging out at Occupy rallies (a tactic that is outdated) had planted a tree. There are some things you need to consider when choosing what action you will do. First, what’s your goal? Second, what ways can you actually meet that goal? I can’t attend an important governmental meeting about an issue that affects my health because I have severe Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. It would benefit both this cause and further education about the hidden people with disabilities of someone put a poster board torso and head in a seat with my name on it and why I cannot participate in democracy. So that’s what I’m asking the organizers to do, because I don’t want to stay invisible. You can find creative tactics to change the world. Working with allies who share common goals is one important way.

Peace and power,

Heather

 

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. 

The Cailleach Yule Protection Magick

Carn_na_h-Easgainn_from_Beinn_nan_Cailleach_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1132864
Sarah McGuire / Carn na h-Easgainn from Beinn nan Cailleach / CC BY-SA 2.0

There’s a Scottish Yule tradition that combines Gaelic myth and Norse Heathenry with Magick. As the well-known legand of the Cailleach Bheur (pronounced KAL-lyukh VYEYR) says She came from Norway, dropping boulders carried in Her apron, we get a glimpse of the Norse influence from the Norwegian nobles fleeing the newly united Norway for Scotland. In the Irish Story of Mongan the Cailleach Dubh only She has the red-eared white cow (Otherworld colors) who is needed to save the King of Lochlann (Scandinavia). There is a legendary old witch with a name similar to the Cailleach known in Norway and Sweden.

The Cailleach is firmly rooted and thriving in Gaelic myth, legend and place names. The Cailleach is a title given to many Goddesses in Scotland, the Isle of Man and Ireland who are land-shapers, shapeshifters, giantesses, guardians of animals (especially deer and magical cattle), and associated with winter, storms, and wells that could overflow and destroy the world. Aside from Cailleach Bheur, Her other northern Scottish names are Gyre Carling (“biting old woman”) who is the Queen of the Fairies, Nicneven (“daughter of Nevis”) with Her water nymphs (Ben Nevis the tallest mountain in Scotland and the Cailleach Bheur’s home) and “Gentle Annie” which is a name used by sailors to placate Her when sailing by the dangerous Corryvreckan Whirlpool (“Cauldron of Plaid”) where She washes her clothing. The Cailleach Beinn Na Bric (“of the Speckled Mountain”) and the Cailleach Mhor Nam Fiadh (“Great Cailleach of the Deer”) tell hunters when to hunt and how many to kill. Those who do not listen meet terrible fates. In the Lowlands She is often called Carlin and many stones are named for her. On the land traditionally controlled by my ancestors, the infamous cattle raider clan Tweedie, there’s a rock called “the Carlin’s Tooth.”

Her blue skin is like dark storm clouds, Her white hair is like leafless trees in the snow, and Her one eye is like the glaring winter sun. In the spring She renews Her youth by bathing in a pool at dawn, before a dog can bark.

The Isle of Man has the famous prophetess Cailleach ny Gueshag (“of the Spells”) and the Caillag ny Gyoamagh, “Lady of Gloominess,” with a mood like storm clouds and rain. Her husband is the Sea God Manannan Beg Mac y Leirr, and She is sometimes seen as a heron gathering sticks. (The Scottish Cailleach of Loch a-na-Cailleach rides a heron in the moonlight.)

In Ireland the Cailleach Bearra is famous for a boulder throwing contest with another Cailleach that shaped the land around Poll Mountain. The Cailleach in County Kerry (southeast Munster) lives in a cave under a rock and is said to have lived there since the time of the Fir Bolg. Corca Duidhna is the Cailleach of the Dingle Peninsula, also in southeast Munster. In County Mayo (northern Connaught), the Cailleach Bhearthach lives at Neifinn Mountain. Two live near the Cliffs of Moher in Western Ireland: the Cailleach Bronach (“the Cailleach of Sorrow”) and Cailleach Mal at Hag’s Head. In western Connaught the Cailleach Bearra’s great age is the focus. A Christian Priest asks Her how many years She’s lived and She replies that there is a bone in her attic for each one. The Priest keeps trying to count the bones, but never can.

The Cailleach is associated with many Neolithic passage tombs similar to Newgrange, but smaller. Loughcrew is home to many, including the large stone Sliabh na Caillíghe which faces north known as the “Chair of the Hag”. The over 25 tombs were built on three hilltops now called “the Old Woman’s Mountains”. Many of the passage tombs are aligned with sunrise on the equinoxes, where a beam of sunlight illuminates the patterned spiral, lozenge and circle decorated back walls, above a stone bowl that would have held ashes from cremations. Over half of Ireland’s counties can be viewed from the hills, and the tombs, covered in white quartz stones, would have glistened from far away. What makes these pre-Celtic tombs relevant to Celtic Paganism is that La Tene style art on pieces of bone and Celtic glass beads, bronze rings and bone pins were discovered in one. The tomb was still considered a sacred site 3,000 years after its construction, receiving offerings usually associated with women.

The tomb’s link to the equinoxes is intriguing. In what is probably a rather modern tale, the Cailleach Bheur holds prisoner the Goddess of Summer (Brid, the Scottish Bridget, pronounced “breedj”) until either just after the spring equinox (March 25th, Lady’s Day) or Beltane. Sometimes She has a son Angus Ever-Young (much like the Irish Aengus Mac Og) who stays at the Emerald Isle of the West (Ireland) during winter. He falls in love with Brid and fights His mother all spring, causing the erratic weather patterns. Other times Brid frees Herself, using her wand to bring the land back to life.

The Cailleach is a title meaning “veiled one”, which is thought refer to nuns. Historically, many older noble widows often became nuns. Their time bearing and raising children over, they were politically obsolete for their families. For many, the peaceful company of nuns and monks, time spent spinning wool, baking bread for the poor, tending medicinal herb gardens and teaching children to read and write would have been a good “retirement”. Today Cailleach‘s used as an insult similar to “hag.” (The Irish fella I’ve been with for 4 years was a housemate when we were teenagers in Galway and still lives in Ireland. When I was writing Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners, he thought that Cailleach was a very odd name for a Goddess, since he himself even uses Cailleach to describe a mean, bitter, rude older woman.)

The Ritual

In some parts of northern Scotland the Cailleach is blamed for the illnesses and deaths that happen during winter. The Norse tradition of the Yule log was part of the Christmas season, but with a different meaning. A Norse Yule log should be so large and long that several men are needed to carry it into the long house, for it must burn for 12 nights and days.

The regional change to the Norse Yule log is to find a gnarled, twisted log that is considered ugly as the winter death-dealing Cailleach. The log is officially named the Cailleach, with all the diseases and injuries She brings. Set on fire, Her destructive power is destroyed in the purifying flames.

There are ways for those of us who don’t or can’t have access to fire can use this spell. All ritual items in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters had to be things Pagans could make with only paper, pencil and tap water. That’s really the only reason it’s for prisoners – Remove that and people say it’s the pan-Celtic Reconstruction based book they’ve always wanted. It’s honestly the book I always wanted. A prisoner wrote thanking me for going beyond the “standard manufactured Celtic deities” and asked why other Pagan books don’t offer new information so both beginner and intermediate Pagans can continue to grow. A free world Pagan Group in Alaska asked me the same thing: Where’s the resources for the intermediate Pagans? How can we grow in soil of 101 books? Since no one else even mentions the incredibly important Iberian Celtic deities and cultures, I’m very pleased that I have made those deities accessible after 1600 years without worship. And we actually DO have a lot of information about Celtic rituals; it’s just not the same from Ireland to the Ukraine.

If you have a fireplace, you can find your own smaller version of the Cailleach log. If you have a candle, you can write all the deadly problems that come with winter on a piece of paper twisted into a log and burned in the candle flame. I suggest doing all fire magic in a sink. Keep a bowl of water in case the Cailleach needs to be drowned to prevent a dangerous fire.

The ritual for prisoners and people like me who physically are made ill by any flame uses paper. Draw a gnarled, twisted log while focusing on the life-threatening aspects of the Cailleach. With all versions of the Cailleach log, your ability to focus on the Cailleach or visualize Her dangers and will the log to become what you think is the most important part. Know that it is the winter Cailleach who would bring illness, injury and death to your door.

Next draw flames over the Cailleach log. Concentrate on the log burning, being consumed by the life-giving, protective fire. If you have a deep Gaelic cosmology, you may want to think of the fire as the Goddess Brid. The flames drawn over the Cailleach log should be drawn faster and faster, messier and messier, as your passion builds to eradicate Her. Drone hum or shake little rattles or bells tied to your clothing. You can chant a rhyme that states the goal as having happened such as “The Cailleach is gone/ and with Her all that’s wrong!” or “Alive I am, healthy I stay/ For the Cailleach has been burned away!” (These insular Celtic additions from ancient ceremony and folk Magick can of course be used if you have fire.)

When the Cailleach log is totally covered with lines and can no longer be seen (or the paper has turned to ashes), the rite is done. Focus on releasing the last built up energy into the paper or ashes with your palms and breath, careful not to scatter the ashes. “By the forces of land, sea and sky, so it is done.” Toss the totally cool ashes out the back door if you have one or scatter by a cemetery with which you have a good relationship. (Picking up trash, making offerings to the first woman and first man buried there, and practicing good psychic hygiene like the ancient Greeks after they were exposed to miasma by bathing and/or burning sulfur immediately after leaving – these are some ways to safely earn the respect of the cemetery and its guardian spirits. Sulfur smells like rotten eggs.) If you cannot go outside, forcefully tear or crumble up the paper and put in the trash.

 

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 and prisoners share books, so your donation will improve on average seven prisoners’ ability to read per book!

 

Bibliography

Bane, Teresa, Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology. McFarland & Company, Inc (2013)

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

Daimler, Morgan, Pagan Portals: Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism. Moon Books (2015)

Dashu, Max, The Cailleach in Irish Megalithic Traditions, http://www.sourcememory.net/veleda/?p=792

d’Este, Sorita & David Rankine, VISIONS OF THE CAILLEACH: Exploring the Myths, Folklore and Legends of the pre-eminent Celtic Hag Goddess, Avalonia (2009)

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

Henderson, George, The Norse Influence on Celtic Scotland. AlbaCraft Publishers (1910, 2013)

Hutton, Ronald, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford University Press (1996)

McCaffrey, Carmel & Eaton, Leo, In Search of Ancient Ireland. New Amsterdam Books (2002)

McNeill, Florence Marian, The Silver Bough Vol 1: Scottish Folklore & Folk Belief. William Maclellan (1957)

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

Nicholson, Francine, Deities, Natural Forces, and Ancestors, Land, Sea and Sky, http://homepage.eircom.net/~shae/chapter12.htm

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

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.