A PAGAN WOMAN

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Last summer my past came back to haunt me.  It  may have been either a past life memory or it was a re-awakening. But from that moment on there was no going back. Back, that is, in terms of where I was before that moment at the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

 Back in the early 1990’s, I had visited the Salem Witch Museum where they have stage sets – thirteen in all – depicting the events leading up to and including the nineteen innocent people who were hung because they were believed to be witches. So, last summer, my family and I were vacationing in the area and stopped in for a visit. My daughter had just studied Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible”, in school that year and learned how the story was based partly on the Salem Witch Trials, and she wanted to find out more about this tragic event. There is also something newer at the museum since I was last there in the ‘90’s, and that is an exhibit called, “Witches: Evolving Perceptions”. It was here that I came face to face with my past. Literally.

The first scene of this exhibit shows a mannequin that is dressed up as a Pagan woman. The tour guide pressed the button for the audio and a disembodied voice told us how she was an ancient Celtic woman, that she and other Pagan women were actually midwives, they used herbs and were respected healers in their community. Then the tour guide moves on and everyone follows her except me. I cannot take my eyes off the the ancient Celtic woman mannequin’s face. It was as if I was staring into my past and my past self was looking at my future self. A real “Back to the Future” moment.

 The transition from Pagan woman to Witch,  was no doubt brought on by fear – and fear is at the root of everything. According to the Salem Witch Museum’s website,  salemwitchmuseum.com on the “Witches: Evolving Perceptions” exhibit, “…the strong Celtic woman, diminished and demonized by the church fathers in the middle ages. She speaks of her role as the troublemaker in society on whom all evil things are blamed.”  The remainder of the exhibit shows how Witches were Hollywood -ized; other witch hunts in history such as the McCarthy hearings on Communism and what became known as the Red Scare, and the persecution of the gay community at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. The museum uses this formula for a witch hunt: Fear + Trigger = Scapegoat. And finally, the exhibit ends with two more figures, a man and a woman, practitioners of Wicca, or witchcraft. “…descendants of the Celtic midwife, looking to the earth mother for healing and spirituality.”

Back in my hotel room, I thought over the exhibit and could not shake off the hold this Pagan midwife had over me.  The transition to evil wrongdoer, to Hollywood’s Wicked Witch of the West was unfair. I felt the Pagan woman or Celtic midwife was seriously maligned. As always, when I feel this strongly about something, I become passionate to the point of obsession and wanted to educate myself and understand not what was done to the Pagan woman, but rather who she really was and my connection to her.

 At the outset, I explored what Paganism is.  Before modern Europe, before Judaism and Christianity, there was Paganism, a religion that worshipped nature.  Now, I want to say that I do not now believe in organized religion. However, I was brought up Christian. I learned from that period in my life that Pagans were heathens, ungodly, basically Satan worshippers. Naturally, as a young child I was taught to fear them. There’s that word “fear” again. Hmmm.

 I took out books from the library, read articles on the Internet, and educated myself.  According to the website  paganfederation.org, the definition of a Pagan is :   “…  a follower of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion.”  Pagans respect nature; a religion that “pervades the whole of everyday life…Pagans usually believe that the divine world will answer a genuine request for information….healers are common throughout Pagan societies…Pagans pursue their own vision of the Divine as a direct and personal experience.”  Paganism, they say, “is the ancestral religion of the whole of humanity.”

All religions descended from Paganism, so why do Pagans and Paganism get such a bad rap? As I read this, I thought to myself I love nature, I believe that the universe, God force, or divine helps me when I  put the intention out into the universe.  I’m a Pagan. Maybe we are all pagans – we just don’t remember our divinity.

 Statues that we see or use in gardens and in our homes originated with Pagans. Wedding rings and the wedding service, funeral services, and the holidays that come at the winter solstice and vernal equinox – Yule ( pronounced U-elle) which is commonly known as Christmas (Remember the Yule log burning on a TV channel at Christmas?  That’s a pagan ritual.) and Ostara (or Easter) are all traditions that come from the Pagans. All of these traditions originated with the Celtic Pagans  and have been passed down through the centuries.

In October, Samhain (pronounced Sow-inn) is the Pagan New Year. It is at this time that the veil between the physical world and the spiritual world is the thinnest . While the veil is thin, we will be able to connect to our loved ones who have crossed over.  We can, of course, hear our loved ones and angels anytime, but  the frequencies may make it easier  to hear them at this time. Listen and watch for their messages.

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CHANNELING MY INNER GODDESS

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In the eighth grade, circa 1977, I learned about Greek Mythology, a unit in the English curriculum. I was fascinated by the Gods and Goddesses and what their powers were. I was awestruck by the ancient ruins. I always wondered if  the Gods and Goddesses really existed. Were they real?  When did they live? Were they just a myth? Something resonated with me. I couldn’t explain it, but I started to become obsessed with the myth.

At the end of the unit there would be a party and all of the eighth grade students had to choose a project to complete: a written paper, a diorama, an ancient ruin re-created from papier mache, or dress up as an ancient Greek God or Goddess. Anyone dressing up would automatically get an “A” for the project. About a half dozen or so other students and I opted for the latter and dressed up as famous or infamous Greek mythological figures. I chose to dress up for the automatic ‘A’ as I had no artistic talent and I didn’t like writing.  In the cafeteria, where the party was held, there was Ambrosia salad, displays of projects and a parade by a few of the students dressed as Ancient Greek Gods or Goddesses.

I recall someone who came as Atlas, the legendary Titan of astronomy –  holding up an unusually large globe from the social studies room. Another student who walked in with a bow and arrow, and donned wings taped to his back – cut out from poster board – was Cupid, the God of desire, erotic love and attraction. I was more down to earth. I came as the “Earth Mother”, Demeter. I was drawn to her during our studies of Greek mythology. I wore a rather large piece of material – that I borrowed from my mother’s sewing room – around me for my dress and a Christmas wreath on my head. ( A few years ago on Halloween, I reprised my role as the Goddess of harvest and agriculture – with a grape vine wreath.)

I couldn’t put into words then the hold that the story of  Demeter had over me. When her daughter, Persephone, was taken by Hades to the Underworld, Demeter, heartbroken, ceased taking care of the earth. The crops stopped growing, trees lost their leaves, flowers no longer bloomed. Until six months later, when Persephone was allowed to visit her mother for the next six months, and the crops began to grow again, the leaves grew back on the trees and flowers were in bloom once more. But the deal was that Hades would take her back at the end of six months.  Demeter would become depressed and once more the plants on the earth would die. And so it would go, every six months – Demeter would have to share her daughter with Hades.  And that, according to Greek Mythology, is why we have the seasons: fall and winter, spring and summer.  Maybe I was gullible, but this story made sense to me, more than any other story of a Greek God or Goddess. Is it possible that it was more than just a myth?

Anyway, the week after the party when I went into my Earth Science class, my teacher, Mr. Witter, told me he always thought I looked like a Greek Goddess. I took it as a compliment, even if it might have sounded a bit creepy. I felt a connection with Demeter. Maybe we all feel a connection with the Earth Mother. We plant our gardens, take shade under a tree, decorate our homes with vases of flowers and in the summer enjoy the fruits of her labor at the farmers market. I have always loved the fall: the crisp air, colorful foliage, the crunch of fallen leaves under my footsteps and baking zucchini bread and apple bread. Still, I’m sorry to see the long, warm summer days go away.  Perhaps it is empathy for Demeter that we feel when summer comes to an end.

And so it is at the autumnal equinox, that I channel my inner Demeter and pay homage to the Greek Goddess of harvest and agriculture, the Earth Mother, who gives up her daughter to the  Underworld and the plants, trees, flowers and crops die or hibernate, until once again Demeter is reunited with Persephone in the spring.