Thursday, 4 February 2016

Janus - Gateway God

18th century herm of Janus. Source:
Janus is the God of the doorway and the gateway. He is the holder of the keys to auspicious beginnings and provides access to the divine. He is invariably depicted as the perceptive two-headed God, looking backwards and forwards, both into and outside the home, both eastwards and westwards, and from a state of lawless savagery towards peaceful civilisation. He is a God strongly associated with social order and harmony; he “is said to have lifted human life out of its bestial and savage state. For this reason he is represented with two faces, implying that he brought men's lives out of one sort of condition into another” (Plutarch). He is thus a God of transitions and a God of high importance in the Roman tradition; a fact well demonstrated by the custom of making the first ritual offering to Janus. Cicero cites the reason as follows:
“In all matters, beginnings and ends are the vital features. This is why they cite Janus first in sacrifices, for his name is derived from the verb ire, to go; hence the word iani for archways, and ianuae for the gates of secular buildings [Cicero, The Nature of the Gods at 71].”

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Tutelary Gods of Sydney

"Sydney" by
The founding of Sydney by Europeans theoretically began on the 26th of January 1788 when a flag was first flown on Sydney’s shore, courtesy of a small number of British officers who had disembarked from the first fleet; it took up to eleven days for the remainder of the men to make their way to shore, at which point the women arrived:
“On February 6 their disembarkation began … Those who had decent clothes had put on all their finery … The last of them landed by six in the evening … as dusk fell the weather burst. Tents blew away; within minutes the whole encampment was a rain-lashed bog. The women floundered to and fro … pursued by male convicts … One lightning bolt split a tree in the middle of the camp and killed several sheep and a pig beneath it. Meanwhile … sailors … asked for an extra ration of rum ‘to make merry with upon the women quitting the ship.’ … Bowes [a doctor who travelled with the first fleet] remarked, ‘it is beyond my abilities to give a just description of the scene of debauchery and riot that ensued during the night.’ … with ‘some swearing, others quarrelling, others singing – not in the least regarding the tempest, tho’ so violent that the thunder shook the ship exceeding anything I ever before had a conception of’ [Hughes, The Fatal Shore, Random House at 89].”
This event marked the true date upon which Sydney was founded and the circumstances were both dramatic and remarkable – it is as if Jupiter took an offering of “several sheep and a pig” for himself by the action of his lightning, while the settlers drank and f—ked in a wild Bacchanalian rite as the storm roared around them.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Speaking Out - Sexual Assault and Cultural Predispositions

Today it has emerged that a large number of sexual assaults took place during NYE celebrations in Cologne by around "1,000 drunk and aggressive young men ... of Arab or North African appearance". One particular story to emerge from this series of incidences is as follows: 
One man described how his partner and 15-year-old daughter were surrounded by an enormous crowd outside the station and he was unable to help. "The attackers grabbed her and my partner's breasts and groped them between their legs" [].
The first time I was ever sexually assaulted was by north Africans
I feel keenly for this 15 year old girl because when I was the same age I was also assaulted by a group of males in central Cairo - although it was clear what was happening (running up to me in an almost childish game and trying to grab at my genital region), not one local Egyptian came to my aid. During the same trip I was also groped on the genitals by an old man while he spoke to my mother - I was too stunned to say anything at the time but I was so distressed afterwards that my mother cut short our trip (and so I never got to see Alexandria). These two incidences constitute the first time a man ever touched me intimately - not ideal. A year later I got talking to a German exchange student at my school and she told me she had had a similar experience when she went to Egypt.

A barrier between men and women is created after a large number of women were sexually assaulted during protests in Cairo

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Prayer to Sol / Apollo

Sol is the deity that is the sun. In the Roman tradition Sol is identified with Apollo, God of healing (and illness), light, music, poetry and prophecy. He is traditionally conceived of as a beautiful youth with long, golden hair. Alternate names for Apollo include Phoebus, the Greek Helios and Sol Invictus, the invincible sun. In the Germanic tradition Sol is a beautiful Goddess, also known as Sunna, who will give birth to a new sun before she is destroyed at Ragnarok. Like Apollo, she is associated with hope, light and divine protection. I do not know if I regard Sol as a God or Goddess. Excepting northern Europe, Indo-European religions generally conceive of Sol as male, but were we to sail to Japan every devout citizen there would swear that Sol (Amaterasu) is female, and it is the same amongst Indigenous Australians (Yhi), and no doubt among many other peoples. Nonetheless, wherever you go Sol is the embodiment of the sun, warmth, light and life. It is in consideration of these fundamental aspects that the following prayers are put forth.

For more on Apollo see Apollo - God of Healing, Music and the SunFor more on Sol Invictus see The Invincible Sun - Sol InvictusFor more on the Germanic Sol see The Germanic Sun (scroll half way down the post).

Prayer I
Sol rises and fills the air with warming rays,
Gazing on high, supreme healer, creator of days.
Your salubrious beams are dear to all our kind.
Without which to darkness we’d be confined.
Light bringer, heat bringer, soother of the mind.
Downward Sol sends heat: so downward go malaise.
Witness the centre of this sacred universe, all ablaze.
Let Sol bring a remedy, shine forth, banish our maladies
Protect our bodies and our spirits from disease.
Send us good health and good hearts, without pretense,
And may it please you, this offering of wine and incense.
[inspired by various Vedic hymns to Surya, as translated by Griffith]

Sunday, 22 November 2015

How Many Polytheists / Pagans Are There?

Actor Jeremy Irons lights a huge effigy of the "Borgia Bull"
in a Pagan inspired celebration in season two of The Borgias
One thing seems certain – there are not too many people in Western nations who identify as polytheists … or are there? If social media, such as Facebook and reddit, is anything to go by there are perhaps only a few thousand people in the English speaking world who practice Roman polytheism. The number of Germanic polytheists in English language dominant countries seems to be higher, but even then it seems the numbers are only in the tens of thousands at most.Statistical information only gets us so far, because meaningful data is limited, with the United Kingdom giving us perhaps the best hint of the true numbers. In the 2011 UK census the following written answers were given to “what is your religion”:**
  • Pagan = 56,620
  • Wicca = 11,766
  • Druid = 4,189
  • Heathen = 1,958
  • Witchcraft = 1,276
  • Shamanism = 650
  • Animism = 541
  • Reconstructionist = 251
  • Total of the above listed categories = 77,251

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Incense – Offerings to the Gods

Smoke from incense arises around a Shiva devotee
When prayers are made to the Gods it is traditional for them to be accompanied by offerings, which may be quite humble. This is the case in both Roman and Germanic polytheism. For example, amongst Vikings we know that offerings of bread, meat, onions, milk and either mead or ale could be included alongside prayers.* Likewise, amongst the early Romans offerings were often without ostentation. In keeping with the traditions instituted by Numa, an early Roman king renowned for his piety, the most traditional offerings were made of “flour, drink-offerings, and the least costly gifts” (Plutarch, The Life of Numa), thus spelt, bread, specially prepared sacrificial cakes (often sweetened with honey), wine, milk, flowers and local herbs. Of these latter ingredients early forms of incense would have been made, simply by placing them on burning charcoal, as was the usual practice for burning incense in the ancient world. By the imperial age Rome’s trading ties stretched far and wide and exotic goods from the east were added to the list of popular offerings (Ovid, Fasti, Jan 9), but by far the most popular of all was frankincense, the burning of which became synonymous with Pagan worship.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Pagan Funeral Rites

I’ve heard it said that there is a spiritual lesson to be learnt in contemplating death, so, although it is discomfiting to think so carefully about a world in which I will be dead, I have written an account of what I wish should happen to me as I lay dying and after my death (at the end of this post). In composing it I was mostly influenced by Roman, Celtic and Germanic Pagan funerary practices, which I attempt to summarise below. Note that I do not hold a strong view regarding the afterlife, though I tend towards a belief in some kind of reincarnation (mostly due to exposure to Buddhism, though note that there is evidence for belief in reincarnation, amongst an array of other beliefs, amongst early Indo-European societies, including pre-Christian Celtic, Germanic and Greco-Roman peoples).

Roman funerary customs
Much of what we know about ancient Roman funerary customs relate to the aristocratic dead. Lying in state, elaborate funeral processions – complete with chariots, hired musicians and professional mourners, the making of death masks, being laid to rest in a mausoleum, etc are more than most of us can expect. For ordinary Romans we know that their bodies would typically be either buried or cremated outside the walls of the city, alongside personal items such as jewellery, eating and drinking vessels, pottery, dice, toys, etc. Where they were wealthy enough to have tombstones it was not uncommon for the information inscribed thereon to include information about the deceased that would be offbeat by today's standards. A husband might praise his wife's virtues and list them, or a child's personality would be described, or the reader might be encouraged to live life to the full (“do not refrain from the pleasures of love”), or the deceased might proclaim his or her belief in the philosophical teachings of Epicurus (“I didn't exist, I did exist, I don't exist, I have no cares”). It was important to many Romans that they be afforded proper funeral rites, and we know that even people of modest wealth, including slaves, joined funeral clubs to ensure a decent funeral (yet many others died impecunious and were either buried in a mass grave or burnt at a public crematorium). This was not just about ensuring dignity after death, appropriate funeral rites were thought to improve one's prospects in the afterlife, including minimising the chance of departed spirits becoming lemures – malevolent spirits of the dead.