To Three Oaks Dying Old

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Recently the Condo Association cut down three dying oaks, each over 300 years old, had that surrounded my garden condo.

I sing of thee
Thou stouthearted survivors
Of ancient forests
Silent witnesses of when the world was green

I sing of thee
Thou providers of substance
Of homes and food
Ancient mothers and fathers
To birds on the wing and squirrels ever restless

I sing of thee
Formable guardians
Of house and family
Shaders from worry
Life-giving wisdom given on the songs of leaves

I sing of thee
Now lying lumps
Of dead wood
Unripen acorns for mournful squirrels to bury

I sing of thee
Old friends
Of comfort
Now shadows, thy stumps ever silent tombs

Note: This was inspired by “To An Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Houseman

Not All War Gods Are the Same

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Modern Pagans tend to regard the Gods as an aspect of a singular entity. For example, the Goddess religions treat the Goddesses of various pantheons as traits of the Great Goddess. Meanwhile, Nigel Pennick in “Pagan Book of Days” writes “The month of March is sacred to the Roman God Mars, whose equivalents are the Greek Ares and the old sky God of central and northern Europe, Tiu or Tiwaz. In northern and western Europe, this deity is known as the Celtic God Teutates and as the Norse God Tyr.” Pennick considers these disparate Gods to be the same “God of War.”

Lumping different Gods together is a long ingrained habit of modern thought. Living in today’s monotheistic culture indoctrinates people into thinking that only one God has ever existed.

Also, people have separated from the natural world through first Christianity and then by science. They now live in their minds, which is a monoculture in itself.

By divorcing people from their Ancestors (and later the natural world), Christianity forced Pagans to give up everything in order to be dependent on the church. It was a concerted effort by the early Church Fathers to flip the perception of how the natural order of life should be. They established arbitrary structures of how humans and the universe should be.

Eventually, the forced perception of nature being dependent on humans created cracks within Christianity. With the Protestant Reformation came the rigid dependence on the written “Word of God.” This was first formulated by Martin Luther as the sola scriptura (by scripture alone). Religious authority should come only from the Bible, which is God’s Word. Now among many Pagans, the written word is now the final arbitrator of truth.

Since the only thing that mattered became the written word, oral traditions were neglected,. This further extracted people from their world, with the Dead becoming figments of the imagination. This resulted in absolute reliance on the “lore” being evident among today’s Pagans. However, religion grows and changes through interaction with the natural world.

Meanwhile, Gnostic Christianity introduced the idea that humans with their own divine spark are trapped in physical bodies. Once gnosis (personal knowledge) is awakened, the divine spark will go free. Gnostics uphold that the material world is suspect and polluted. This theology evolved into the modern belief of the New Age religions: “We are spiritual beings in human bodies.” This detaches the person from the material world completely.

However, the idea that all “War Gods are the same” runs counter to nature. Consider English, which is used as a world-wide language. There are differences in dialects among native English speakers. For example, in the United States, “soda” and “pop” can mean the same thing – i.e. a “soft drink.” But “soda” can also mean “tonic water.” Asking for a “soda” could either get one a “soft” or a “hard” drink, depending on the region.

In my experience, the less people know or want to know, the more they tend to lump things together. Take snakes for example. There are nineteen families of these reptiles. However, most people think that all snakes are the same i.e. “a snake is a snake is a snake.” Not knowing the differences between snakes can kill you. The king and coral snakes resemble each other with yellow, black, and red stripes. The bands of the two species are in a different order. One is a venomous snake, while the other is a constrictor. Expounding on that further, it is critical to be able to identify the species of venomous snakes. The anti-venom serum (venom antiserum) used to treat snake bites is unique to each species. A cobra’s venom differs from a coral snake’s venom. Since time is critical in stopping the spread of the venom, a prompt identification is crucial.

Returning to the notion that “War Gods are the same,” it now makes little sense to think that. Even within a particular pantheon, the War Gods are all different. For example, the Babylonians have Inanna, the Goddess of Love, riding into battle leading the armies. Ningirsu (Ninurta), Lord Plough, is a God of War and also a God of Farmers. Nergal, whose symbol is the fly, brings death, pestilence and war.

The modern world has rendered humans from nature. Once people expected to encounter dragons and fairies when they went out their front door. Now divorced from nature, humans have forgotten their place in the web of life. The ecosystem of the cosmos includes humans as well as Ancestors, Gods, and Others. To reenter the ecosystem is to see the Gods as disparate Beings.

Further Reading:
Claude Lecouteux, “The Return of the Dead”
Nigel Pennick, “The Pagan Book of Days”
Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince, “When God Had a Wife”

Death and Rebirth In Myths and Nature

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Many cultures have stories of death and rebirth. In Japan, Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, has to be coaxed from her cave to bring back the light. Meanwhile, the Hittite God, Telepinus, has to be coaxed from his mountains to bring back the rains. Among various Native American nations, Corn Mother has to be sacrificed to be reborn as corn for the people. The Inuit of the Arctic tell stories about Sedna, from whose broken body comes the bounty of their land.

Why do these disparate cultures have myths of death and rebirth? One could argue that they explain the cycles of life on earth. Daily, the sun rises and sets, and then rises again. In Ancient Egypt, Tawerat of Egypt acted as midwife to the daily rebirth of the sun.

However, these myths go beyond simply explaining the daily or seasonal cycles. They make explicit the delicate balance between the needs of people and nature. To keep the balance of life, deep harmony has to exist between the two. Lest they upset it, people need to be reminded of their relationship with nature. Myths are more than stories; they are theology.

Snakes and Egyptian Gods

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The most venomous of the naja cobras, the Egyptian cobra (Naja haje) is not afraid of people. She enters their houses and gardens at will. Hunting at night, the Egyptian cobra looks for a tasty rat or toad for her meal.

One of the largest cobras in Africa, the Egyptian cobra has a wide hood and a full-bodied build. Unlike other cobras, She has neither the distinctive eye spots nor does She spit. Said to be relatively docile, the Egyptian cobra is often the choice of snake charmers and pet owners.

Ranging from North Africa to the Congo River Basin, the Egyptian cobra prefers to be near water. She can be found in water ditches near fields, where She hunt for vermin. In fact, people have reported seeing the Egyptian cobra swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.

The snake whose bite is supposed to have killed Cleopatra was called the “asp.” (Venomous snakes in antiquity were usually referred to as “asp,” regardless of their species.) Since asps do not live in North Africa, the snake is believed to be the Egyptian cobra. Nobody really knows for sure. Adding to the mystery is that the venom of this cobra is deadly but slow acting.

In ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh’s crown featured the Uraeus, which was a striking cobra. This particular cobra is thought to be the Eye of Ra. As the Eye, this Goddess is Ra’s Daughter and Protector. With her fiery glance, the Eye of Ra destroys the enemies of Ra (and hence the Pharaoh, who is Ra’s representative). Meanwhile, her tears create life.

In addition, the Egyptians have other important Cobra Goddesses. Wadjet of the Marshes is the Protector and Guardian of Lower Egypt. As one of the “Two Ladies,” Wadjet, with Nekhbet, the White Vulture of Upper Egypt, are the joint protectors of United Egypt. Wadjet is also thought to be represented by the Uraeus, which is also the crown of Lower Egypt.

Meanwhile, Renenutet of the Cornfields is the “Nourishing Snake.” She guards the fields and granaries to ensure a good harvest. As the Lady of the Granaries, Renenutet protects the crops and is the mother of the Corn God, Neper. In the Underworld, She feeds and watches over the Pharaoh.

Meretseger of the Desert Hills watches over the tombs of the Pharaohs. Her mountain in Thebes is one of the entrances to the Egyptian Underworld. She and her cobras guard the Twelve Gates of the Underworld. Spitting fire, They punish evil souls.

The Egyptian cobra imbues power. As She defended the Pharaoh and Egypt, She did so with her own power. Like all snakes, the Egyptian cobra is to be respected instead of feared.

Cait Sith (Kellas Cat):Understanding Nonduality

 

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The Cait Sith of Scotland is a large black cat with dark green eyes, long ears and a white spot on her chest. If a person encountered the Cait Sith, they would hear a prophecy from Her. As a being from the Otherworld, She watches humans and reports on what She sees. In addition, the Cait Sith guards the secrets of the Otherworld.

People should be wary of the Cait Sith for a number of reasons. First and foremost, She steals people’s souls from their bodies. In Scotland when a person died, the family would guard the body in a Feille Fadalach (late wake). The first thing, they did was to douse all the fires. Afterwards, they lit a fire far away from the body to entice the Cait Sith to its warmth. Catnip was also spread around there as well. To distract the Cait Sith, people played music, held wrestling matches, and told riddles.

On Samhain (Halloween), the Cait Sith goes from house to house looking for milk to drink. If She found a full saucer, the Cait Sith blesses the family. Otherwise the Cait Sith curses their luck and their milk cows.

The idea that a cat has nine lives comes from stories about the Cait Sith. A witch could transform into a Cait Sith eight times. On the ninth time, they would remain in cat form forever.

Various people have suggested that the Cait Sith is the Kellas cat. This hybrid animal is the result of a mating between the Scottish wildcat and a domestic cat. The Kellas cat is pure black with a white a spot on his chest. This large cat also has powerful hind legs. The Kellas cat was once believed to be a hoax, until a specimen was shot and killed in 1984. (This animal is named for Kellas, Moray, where they was first seen.)

The Cait Sith helps people to understand “nonduality.” Is She the Kellas cat or is the Kellas cat, the Cait Sith? They are neither and both, going beyond human constructs. The Cait Sith and the Kellas Cat are from this world and the Otherworld. At liminal places, the two worlds bleed into each other, making them nondual. This can be one way to grasp nonduality.

Note:
Nonduality has been defined as “the philosophical, spiritual, and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental intrinsic oneness.” To grasp what nonduality is has been elusive. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Neo-Platonism all have their own understandings of this concept.