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
Source: news.yahoo.com
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

Source: www.hbo.com/game-of-thrones
I’ve heard it said that there is a spiritual lesson to be learnt in contemplating death, thus I attempt to summarise traditional Germanic, Celtic and Roman funerary practices below. 

Germanic funerary customs
The numerous Germanic burial mounds scattered across Europe appear to be connected to the worship of Vanir Deities (associated with fertility); they are the kinds of Gods that farmers and fishermen would have particularly revered, or indeed anyone to whom fertility was important. It seems that those inhumed in burial mounds were thought to live after death as spirits connected with the land. Davidson notes that there “seems to be some link between elves and the dead within the earth” (Scandinavian Mythology at 117). 

Another reasonably common feature of pre-Christian Germanic funeral practices involved the use of a wagon or a ship as a sort of coffin. This was the case for both men and women – it could be buried in the earth or burnt, and might, in the case of ship burials, be first pushed out into water. Both the wagon and the ship are Vanir symbols, and hence may represent life after death.

As with Celtic and Roman funeral rites, it seems to have been normal practice to burn or bury the dead with personal items, food and a fermented drink (presumably mead or ale), and animal sacrifice accompanied many funerals.