Tuesday, March 3, 2015

History of Neopaganism and Druidry - Part 3



Describe several examples of authentic folk customs absorbed into Neopaganism, and describe how they have been adapted.

Sacred Flame in Sacrificial Offerings

                In many Neopagan traditions today, we use fire as a sacred source for offering, sacrificing, and reaching out to the gods. Many of these modern traditions also focus on the fire being the sacred center of the hearth, while also being associated with goddesses of the home. In Greek culture, fire was seen as a power only held by the gods until the titan born god Prometheus stole fire from the Olympians and gave it to humanity. Fire was also the gateway for sacrifices to the gods by mortals. This can be seen as a central focal point in the Hellenic tradition through the goddess Hestia and her place within their religion. She is known as both the Oldest and Youngest born. This was because she was the first child born to Kronos and Rhea, but when Kronos swallowed his children to prevent his demise, she was the last to be disgorged. Because of her status, Hestia received the first and last portions of all meals and offerings. This can be seen in the Homeric Hymn to Hestia “… in the high dwellings of all, both deathless gods and men who walk on earth, you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honour: glorious is your portion and your right…. pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last” (Atsma). Anne Hatzakis showed the importance of fire in the ancient culture in her article Hestia: the Overlooked Olympian ,“Robert Graves in his book The Greek Myths even goes so far as to point out that the center of Greek life, even in the city of Sparta where the family was subordinate to the state, was the hearth-fire.  When settlers went out to establish new colony cities, they would bring fire from the central hearth of their home city with them” (Hatzakis).  When we look at modern traditions such as ADF and Hellenion, we see fire as the embodiment of Hestia that links humanity to the gods. It is through the use of fire that offerings of the people are transmuted to the gods.


Purification through Water

                Another very common idea in Neopaganism is the purification through the use of water. Many Pagans today will sprinkle water on altars, tools, and individuals to purify them and take them from the profane to the sacred. It is also common to take showers or baths to help with purification by removing dirt and negative energies from the body. We can see this in traditional rites within the Hellenic culture. First is the use of khernips or “lustral water.” The khernips were used to wash the hands and face at the beginning of every rite. “This is absolutely necessary, as the ancient Hellenes believed that pollution (or miasma) can be brought into the sanctuary. This may not only contaminate the people and things inside, but also it is a great offense to the gods…” (Neokoroi). The second place we see this type of purification is in the Lesser Mystery Initiation within the Eleusinian Mysteries tradition. On the second day of the Lesser Mystery Initiation “… initiates were heralded early in the morning with the call, Alabe! Mystai! ‘To the Sea, Initiates!’ (Mara Lynn Keller). This was a call for the initiates to follow the teachers down to the sea where they were to purify themselves. This day was also known as “… Elasis, a day for banishment or letting go” (Mara Lynn Keller). Once at the sea, initiates would submerge themselves in the water for “… The sea can wash clean all the foulness of mankind” (Mara Lynn Keller).

Offerings and Purification through Fumigation

                One of the most notable traditions we see in modern Paganism is the use of incense, herbs, and minerals to help purify sacred spaces, items, or individuals; as well as for the use as offerings to the gods in religious and magical rites. This can be seen stretching back into distant ancient Greek.

As an offering we see this action in the term “epithyma, epithymiama (to) ‘fumigation, incense offering’ (during religious or magical rituals)” (Luck 498). Luck goes on further to explain that the use of “… pungent [] and aromatic ingredients…” such as Frankincense and myrrh were in common use. These two specific incense are very common for use today as offerings.

Luck also talks about how the ‘magi’, a term in ancient Greek for those working magic, would make preparations to ready himself for magical rituals by “… purification by ablutions and fumigations…” (Luck 75). Gerald Kutney talks about the use of sulfur in the act of purification by saying “… the largest market for sulfur in the ancient world remained for fumigation and temple purification of real and supernatural pests” (Gerald Kutney 5).
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