January 22, 2019
(Image: "The Creation of Summer" by Josephine Wall)
“May the Goddess bless you…” It’s a phrase commonly heard in Wiccan and New Age practice. But when you hear the word ‘Goddess’, who - or what - are you thinking of? What does the concept of the Goddess mean to you?
Wiccan and Neo-Pagan practices are largely derived from polytheistic religions, such as Ancient Greek, Roman, Norse, Celtic, Indigenous and more. Unlike religions like Christianity and Islam, these belief systems aren't focused on one all-empowering god, but rather multiple gods, goddesses, spirits, creatures and deities. So it’s no wonder that it’s hard to pin down who exactly the ‘Goddess’ is.
We’re not going to attempt to do that in this post. The Goddess means so many different things to different people. She is Mother Earth, she is the Great Witch, she is the moon, she is femininity, she is love, she is the Maiden, the Mother, the Crone...She is a multitude of concepts and energies, each of them personal and powerful.
Instead, we’re going to take a look at some of the well-known Goddess figures from a variety of cultures and belief systems. Depending on your personal practice, you might choose to focus on one of these deities, multiple, or combine them into one central concept to guide your practice. Either way, their origins make for interesting reading and inspiration.
The Triple Goddess
The Triple Goddess is more a concept than an individual figure. She is believed to represent many of the mysterious three-fold aspects of life. For example, she embodies the three stages of the female life cycle - the Maiden (youth), the Mother (middle age) and the Crone (old age). She can also personify the three different layers of the world - the underworld, earth and the heavens - as well as the three main phases of the moon - waxing, full and waning. Looking inwards, the Triple Goddess can bring together the three components of the human psyche - the ego, the id and the super-ego. One of the most commonly worshipped figures in Neo-Pagan religions, the Triple Goddess is a figure of empowerment, transformation and wholeness.
Hecate is the Goddess of magick and witchcraft from the time of the Ancient Greeks. In some stories, she appears with animal familiars, like the dog and the polecat, which has inspired the concept of animal familiars in modern-day witchcraft. Hecate is also associated with the moon, the night, the wilderness, and the world of the dead. She is sometimes considered a necromancer, able to communicate with and raise the spirits of the afterlife. If you’re interested in the world of Wicca, the chances that you’ll come across Hecate are very likely.
Morrigan - also known as The Morrigan or Morrigu - is a fierce figure from Irish mythology. Considered a shape-shifter, she’s often depicted in the form of a crow, or having the ability to transform into a crow. She’s commonly associated with war and battle, with the old legends telling that she would fly over battlefields in her crow form, deciding who would live and who would die. Other stories depict Morrigan as a trio of three sisters or goddesses, as opposed to one entity...linking to the concept of the Triple Goddess.
Isis is a well-known Goddess from the Ancient Egyptian era. Partnered with her husband Osiris, she was one of the most commonly worshipped deities of the time. Like many Goddesses, she is considered a divine Mother and maternal figure, even protecting and nurturing the great kings and Pharoahs of the ancient kingdom. Isis is also linked to the underworld, helping to transport the souls of the dead to the next realm. Her connection to magic and healing make her a commonly called upon figure in modern magical practices.
Diana is the Roman Goddess of animals and the hunt, the counterpart of the Greek Artemis. She’s also strongly associated with nature and wilderness, in both primitive and domestic senses. Some stories give Diana the ability to speak with, and even control, animals. Like many Goddesses, Diana is also associated with the moon and nighttime. ‘Dianic Witchcraft’ is a branch of modern witchcraft that’s focused on womanhood and feminine spirituality.
Gaia is the personification of Mother Earth in Greek religion. She is considered the great Mother of all life and the world itself. She personifies motherhood in its ultimate form, as well as nurturing, fertility and nature. Gaia can also be considered a ‘creator’ deity, a type of deity that's commonly found in a number of religions from Judaism and Christianity to the animistic religions of Indigenous cultures. She’s a powerful figure, with a legend that stretches back to the dawn of time.
Kali is the Hindu Goddess of time, transformation and death. While she’s a formidable figure commonly associated with destruction, she’s in fact a destroyer of evil and a liberator of souls. Kali helps her worshippers come to terms with the passage of time, from birth to death and the turmoil in between. In her darkest depiction, Kali is a fearsome violent conqueror; while in her lightest, she’s a strong mother figure. To many, she’s a symbol of active female empowerment
Freya is the Norse Goddess of love, beauty and fertility. In the Norse legends, Freya was a pursuer of passion and pleasure, with an affinity for the finer things in life. But Freya’s love of beauty is more than simply materialistic - she embodies the beauty in all things, from nature to the internal self. Despite her soft romantic associations, Freya is far from dainty. She also rules over Fólkvangr, the meadow of the afterlife that works in conjunction with Odin's famed hall Valhalla to house soldiers who have fallen in battle.
These are just a few of the many powerful Goddess figures from cultures around the world and throughout time. Many of them have certain traits in common, particularly their connection to magic, motherhood, the moon, the afterlife and wilderness. Is it possible that some of these Goddesses are one and the same, interpreted with different names and stories depending on the culture? Is there one Goddess that you feel a particularly strong connection to, or do you draw from each of their energies in different ways? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and keep an eye out for a follow-up post in future where we take a look at more fascinating Goddesses from around the world.
October 30, 2018 1 Comment
Samhain is nearly here again, that sacred time of the year when the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest and magic and mischief fill the air. Also known as Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve, this Gaelic festival has ancient origins and traditions that still persist today.
One of the most intriguing Halloween traditions is the idea of fancy dress, whether it’s children donning cute costumes to go trick-or-treating, or adults stepping into disguise for Halloween parties. This time of year is when the souls and spirits of those that have passed into the Otherworld are able to cross over more easily into ours, and the idea of dressing up for Halloween is connected to this.
Dressing up as the dead was traditionally a way to imitate or impersonate the spirits of the Otherworld. There were two reasons for this: the first was to pay respect or tribute to the dead. The other was to disguise oneself from the more sinister spirits by hiding among them.
While Halloween costumes are definitely becoming more creative and contemporary, there are a few classic costumes that will always stand the test of time. Let's have a look at some of them, and the histories behind them.
Pointed black hat, black dress, warty nose...no matter where you are for Halloween, you'll probably see a witch or two hanging - or flying - around. Wearing a witch costume at Halloween is a tribute to the Pagan origins of Samhain. Witchcraft as a practice is deeply influenced by Paganism, combining nature, ritual and magic. But what are the origins of this stereotypical image of a witch?
The origins of the pointed witch's hat are a bit murky. There's historical evidence that pointed hats were worn in religious rituals and ceremonies as early as the 12th century, which is why they might have come to be associated with spell-casting witches. Points were also related to devil's horns, and as witchcraft was often wrongfully associated with devil worship, this may have led to the depiction of witches with pointed hats.
As for the warty witch nose...this probably comes from the mythology of the 'crone', the archetypal figure of the wise woman with supernatural abilities who can either help or hinder a hero's journey. Crones are often imagined as being grotesque in appearance, leading to the warty nose and off-colour skin. But this is just one of many 'witchy' images. If you really delve deeply into the history of witchcraft, you'll discover there are a number of ways to get creative with your witch costume this Halloween.
Animal costumes are always popular at Halloween, but the classic black cat might be the most recognisable. Black cats and witch costumes actually go hand-in-hand, as the idea of the black cat probably comes from the mythology of the 'familiar'. Familiars are animal companions - normally domestic - who help you with your magical practice, whatever that may be. If you're interested in the history of familiars, you should have a read of our previous blog post, 'Of Feathers and Fur'.
Cats are popular familiars as they have been associated with the magical world since Ancient Egypt, when they were worshipped as manifestations of the goddess Bast and Sekhmet. They're also closely linked to the world of superstition, whether you believe that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck, or that cats can predict when a human is sick or close to death. As Halloween is a time when the veil between two worlds flutters open, dressing up as a cat is all too appropriate.
Pumpkins aren't traditionally spooky, yet they're everywhere at Halloween. And dressing up as a pumpkin can be a fun light-hearted alternative to some of the darker dress-ups out there. But what's the connection between pumpkins and Samhain?
Samhain happens in October in the Northern hemisphere, a time when pumpkins and other root vegetables like squash and turnips are plentiful. It's said that the tradition of carving goofy or scary faces into pumpkins came about as a way of scaring off evil spirits, or simply giving a fright to travelers or wayfarers passing through town. So that's why you see so many ghoulishly grinning jack-o-lanterns at this time of year, and why you might end up choosing one as your more palatable Halloween costume.
It's not hard to guess why ghosts are a classic Halloween costume choice. As Samhain is a time to celebrate the spirits of the dead and their visits from the Otherworld, dressing up as a ghost is a direct interpretation of this. But why, when people dress up as ghosts, do they often choose to wear a sheet with holes cut in the eyes?
The simple explanation is that this is an easy and budget costume choice. Most people have an old set of bedsheets and a pair of scissors they can spare if they don't have the time or money for a more extravagant costume, and being an ethereal shapeless white figure is a simple way to represent an elusive spirit of the dead.
But the truth might be a bit more interesting. It's been said that the bedsheet ghost might actually come from the idea of a burial shroud. In older times, when people died they were often wrapped in a white burial shroud. So when their spirits returned to our world during Samhain, perhaps they'd still be wearing the shroud they were buried in - leading to the bedsheet ghost. Either way, it's an easy choice if you're still trying to figure out what to dress up as last-minute.
If we're talking about spirits that cross over between the worlds of the living and the dead, then vampires are all too appropriate. These popular mythic figures are sometimes known as 'the living dead' or the 'undead' - shadowy human-like creatures that feed on the blood of the living in order to retain immortal life.
The hallmark of a vampire costume is definitely fangs, all the better to suck the blood of your victims. But vampire costumes also commonly involve a classic tuxedo and cape with a dramatic collar. This fashion come from cultural depictions of vampires, such as Bram Stokers Dracula, the 1922 horror film Nosferatu, or even Sesame Street's 'The Count'. In these depictions, the titular vampire is posing as a human count, so wears European aristocratic garb with a dramatic flair. This has now come to be known as one of the most recognisable images of the classic vampire, and is commonly seen at Halloween.
So as you can see, classic Halloween costumes are more than just a chance to become someone - or something - else for an evening. They're entrenched in history and mythology, and are a way of imitating and connecting with the lost spirits of the Otherworld. Whatever you choose to become this Samhain, we wish you a sacred and plentiful festival!
July 08, 2018 1 Comment
Image: "Mermaid Song" by Josephine Wall
It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere right now, which means you've probably spent time lately by the water. Maybe you headed to a sunny beach or a quiet lake. And maybe, just maybe, you saw a flicker of a mermaid’s tail while you were at it.
The legend of a mythical water creature with the upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish has been around since the Ancient Assyrian empire. She goes by many names—mermaid, siren, undine. She was the star of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairytale, later turned into a Disney classic. And she continues to captivate our imaginations with her ethereal—and sometimes frightening—beauty.
So where did the mythology of the magical mermaid come from? Is the folklore grounded in reality? And how can you harness the elemental power of the undines in your spiritual practice? Read on to find out:
The first mermaid: Atargatis
According to the tales of Classic antiquity, there was a Syrian deity called Atargatis who was sometimes called the ‘mermaid-goddess’. Atargatis was the chief goddess of northern Syria, and was associated with fertility and protection. Legend tells that Atargatis fell in love with a human, and transformed herself into a fish out of shame for accidentally killing him. Atargatis is often depicted as having the upper body of a beautiful goddess, and the tail of a fish...like a mermaid. And thus the first of the mermaid legends was born, though it certainly wasn't the last.
The sirens of Greek mythology
The sea is a common character in Greek mythology. Grecian heroes were often embarking on daring voyages across the sea, and coming across all kinds of mythical friends and foes in their travels. One such figure was that of the enchanting siren. Sirens were sea-bound creatures who lured sailors to their deaths by singing haunting songs. Traditionally, they appeared as part-bird part-woman, but due to their link to the sea, they’ve come to be associated with mermaid mythology. Like the sirens of Greek lore, mermaids are also often depicted as having beautiful singing voices that can hook even the most wily of sailors.
Mermaid or manatee?
But it wasn’t just in mythical tales that mermaids appeared. Throughout the Age of Discovery, there were many real-life sightings of mermaids at sea. Even Christopher Columbus claimed to have sighted these half-fish half-human creatures while exploring the Caribbean. However, scientists point out that life at sea can often cause men to lose their wits and even hallucinate. And fleshy aquatic animals like the manatee—which would have been an unfamiliar sight to European explorers— could have easily been mistaken for a mermaid.
The Little Mermaid
One of the most famous literary depictions of the mermaid is the titular character from Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairytale. The Little Mermaid from Andersen’s story fits many of the mermaid myths from throughout history. Part-human and part-fish, the Little Mermaid lives in the ocean has a beautiful enchanting singing voice, which she chooses to exchange for two human legs and a chance to win a handsome prince’s heart. Like many mermaid stories, The Little Mermaid deals with the conflict between the ocean and the land. Mermaids are often torn between the two, belonging in both and in neither at the same time. When romance with a human is involved—as is often the case—the conflict grows all the more stronger.
The Scottish selkies
Selkies are figures from Scottish folklore that have the ability to change between human and seal form. Tales of selkies also normally involve a doomed romance with a human lover. Sometimes, the selkie will seduce the human; in other stories, the human steals the selkie’s seal skin and compels her to stay on land and become his wife. Like The Little Mermaid and other mermaid tales, the selkie is never quite satisfied with life on land and longs for the sea, either escaping human life to return to the waves, or dragging her human lover down with her.
A more cheerful version of the mermaid is that of the undine. Undines are one of the four elemental beings (gnomes = earth elementals, sylphs = air elementals, salamanders = fire elementals), representing the element of water. Undines often appear as female in form, and can be found in all kinds of water bodies, from wells to lakes, and from waterfalls to the ocean. Undines are associated with femininity, fertility, beauty, and music. If you practice elemental magic, you can call on undine energy in your practice when you need to harness any of these forces. As water elementals, undines can help with purification, cleansing and healing.
Whether you find them beautiful or alarming, there's no doubt that mermaids have a fascinating allure. Halfway between human and fish, land and sea, they represent the thresholds of the universe and the powerful energy of water as an element. Take a look at all our mermaid merchandise below, and let us know your favourite mermaid "tails" in the comments.