Saturday, 23 August 2014

Paganism for Children

Goddess of wild animals, forests, the hunt and the moon -
Diana / Artemis, by
This post is devoted to helping older children to understand what Paganism is. Pagans have a wide range of views and not all Pagans will agree with everything written on this page – which is fine. Paganism  embraces an open, not a closed, view of the world and can incorporate a wide range of different beliefs and practices – which makes it both very wonderful and very hard to describe. I have attempted to not use too many complex words, so that everyone can easily understand it – and disagree with it, if they want to.

What Paganism is
Paganism means different things to different people, but the one thing that almost all Pagans agree on is that the natural world includes sacred, or divine, forces and that it is good to show respect for the sacred forces, or spirits, that exist in nature – because as humans we are part of nature. When we show respect for the natural world we show respect for ourselves and the entire universe in which we live. Many Pagans understand that the most powerful divine forces of nature are Gods – which includes Goddesses. By tapping into the power of the Gods we can improve our own daily lives. As the Gods are powerful they can help us achieve the things we want.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Messenger Animals as Omens

"Sulphur Crested Cockatoo" by lithas-alterego
For me, being open minded about the potentiality of omens is part of polytheistic practice – omens being signs from the Gods indicating their will, favour or disfavour, as well as being divine signals indicating present or near future auspiciousness or inauspiciousness. In ancient Rome divination of omens could take any number of forms but the most common methods included observing the manner of the flight of birds; observing the way that birds ate; studying the state of the internal organs of sacrificial animals (haruspicy); analysing one’s dreams, and being alert to the import of unusual natural phenomena (Shelton at 375; Turcan at 15; Kamm at 83-84). Tacitus records  that as well as the casting of lots, which appears to an early form of reading the runes, the following means of divination were common amongst the ancient Germanic tribes:
“The widespread practice [in the Roman world] of seeking an answer from the call or flight of birds, is, to be sure, known here too, but it is a specialty of this people to test horses as well for omens and warnings. The horses are maintained at public expense in … sacred woods and groves; they are pure white and undefiled by any kind of work for humans. They are yoked to a sacred chariot and the priest or king or chief of the state walks beside them, taking note of their whinnies and neighing. No kind of omen inspires greater confidence, not only among the common people but even among the nobles and priests, who regard themselves as but the servants of the Gods, the horses as the Gods’ messengers [Tacitus at 42].” 
Thus it seems that signs communicated through what we might call messenger animals were key means of divination in the ancient world. Even before I consciously embraced polytheism I considered the behaviour of certain birds as capable of indicating auspiciousness, and since then it has seemed to me that certain animals may be associated with certain deities. Divination of omens through the observation of animals, or their presence in our dreams, is often an inexact art. In an effort to make sense of these potential omens I have put together the following alphabetical list, which records which animals are associated with which Gods, usually via myths. I note that Roman augury, as practiced by priests, involved very specific methods, some of which are described in my earlier post, Jupiter - Lord of the Heavens. Regarding unanticipated omens, it is the unusual behaviour of animals, their sudden and unexpected appearance, or their presence in dreams which tends towards indicating an omen, and one should take care not to become hyper-vigilant or superstitious, by imagining that there are signs in essentially mundane occurrences.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Salus – Goddess of Health and Well Being

"Hygieia" (the Hellenic Salus) by Klimt (1900)
Salus is the Goddess of safety, health, well being and, according to some translations, salvation. If we think of the English word deriving from her name – salubrious – we get an idea of who she is. The Arval Brothers, priests in charge of public sacrifices made for the well being of Rome, prayed and made offerings to her not just for the safety of the city of Rome but also for the health and fertility of the entire Roman community, including its animals and farms (Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 1 at 52). The Nones/fifth of August was the day on which she was honoured most, with circus games and the public sacrifice of a cow (Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 2 at 73). She was revered from at least as early as the 4th century BCE, with her temple on the Quirinal Hill being founded in 302 BCE (Rüpke, Religion of the Romans at 55). In the 4th century CE her temple in Rome still stood – despite being twice hit by lightning, in 276 and 206 BCE, and damaged by fire in the 1st century CE (and then restored) – and she appeared on Roman coinage up until the reign of the Christian emperor Constantine I (Rüpke, A Companion to Roman Religion at 162; Platner, 
A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome). In her public aspect she was known as Salus Publica and even Salus Augusti – for during the imperial era the well being of the emperor was equated with the well being of Rome as a whole (Lipka, Roman Gods at 95). Another title was Salus Romana – Ovid briefly mentions that an offering should be made to her, alongside Janus, Concordia (Goddess of peaceful agreement) and Pax (Goddess of peace), on 30 March (Ovid, Fasti, Book 3). It may be that the three Goddesses shared a temple founded on that date (Boyle and Woodard’s notes to the Penguin edition of Ovid, Fasti at 229); at the very least we know there were statues of these Goddesses in Rome, erected by Augustus (Wiseman’s notes to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Ovid, Fasti at 136).