Thursday, 26 March 2015

Croning and Sagehood by our Hellenic Witch Starlitenergies...

Croning and Sagehood by our Hellenic Witch Starlitenergies...

Croning and Saging are rites of passage for women and men, respectively, who are entering into their older years. Generally speaking, a woman enters her crone stage around the time when she begins menopause. Saging for men would also occur sometime around the mid-50’s or retirement. This rite marks the time when one can enjoy the fruit’s of one’s labour, and perhaps be considered an honoured elder of their community, passing on knowledge to others. Croning and saging sit in the North West of the Wheel of the Year, and correspond to Samhain.

People very rarely made it to what we consider old age therefore women rarely made it to menopause in ancient times. But the woman was fairly regularly made a widow at quite a young age. If you think about they married in their teens, while the men have to wait until their thirties. Aristotle seemed to think menopause happened around the age of 40. Uh-oh! There is very little written about it and in reality more value was placed on the younger woman having babies in ancient times.

In Ancient Greece, taking up the role of priest was fairly easy, but to be a priestess women needed to be infertile, a virgin or beyond the menopause.

Some think that the elder women renewed their virginity (this usually meant remaining abstinent from sex for a few weeks) and were therefore able to reach a level of purity within ritual which was hugely important to the ancients. Elder women would have a bigger role to play in some festivals especially the Chthonia – a festival of the dead; in fact a lot of older women were given roles of assisting the dead to the afterlife. They were even the chance to become a ritual slaughterer typically a male thing. In fact it’s generally agreed that these wise women were freed from the constraints their gender put on them in their youth and mother phases all together because the men no longer saw them as a threat… little did they know eh?!

The males continued on, no one really paid attention to them when their hair started greying and things started to make their way south, but the women who didn’t become priestesses were suddenly “cold and dry”, “weak and wretched” and usually cast out of the community. This I believe is where some people get the notion that Hekate is a crone and it’s only bent over crinkled old women who are witches. Hekate is a guardian of witches; witches in ancient times were mostly these cast out older women… makes sense to me! And all the while the males were celebrated as leaders, priests, heads of households, and military heroes right up until they died.

OK let’s face it, the girls in Ancient Greece were treated pretty badly they were seen as inferior and at child bearing age they were simply vessels of procreation. It seems that it was only when they were seen as “useless” to the male driven world that they got a little bit of power and notoriety.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Handfasting...and handparting by our Hellenic Witch Starlitenergies

Handfasting...and handparting by our Hellenic Witch Starlitenergies

Handfasting (wedding)

The oldest symbol of unity, the handfasting ceremony is a deeply spiritual representation of the lifelong bond between lovers.

From the Mayans of South America to the Hindu Vedic community of the Middle east to the Celtic culture of Scotland, tying of the hands is one of the oldest matrimonial traditions. The modern expressions, “tying the knot”, “bonds of matrimony” and “hand in marriage” all hail from these ancient traditions of twisting the bride’s and groom’s clothing together or wrapping their wrists with braided cords, grasses or vines.

Despite its primeval origins, the knot tying ceremony continues to be a central part of weddings, especially among Scottish, Greek Orthodox, Wiccan/Pagan, and most recently, same-sex couples since the versatility of the ritual is easily adapted to ceremonies of any faith.

Although there are countless variations on the practice, the symbolic act typically involves fastening a couple’s hands together with cording, ribbon, twine, or a silk sash while prayers are recited and vows are exchanged. Couples can opt to use a single string or braid three strings together to represent the intertwining of the two individual lives into one. Generally four to six feet in length, the threads can consist of any colour or material and may contain specific gemstones or charms to bless the marriage.

Traditionally, the marriage knot is secured at the end of the ceremony to symbolise the couple’s final pledge to blend their lives together. There seems to be five common knots used in a handfasting ritual.

Fisherman’s knot – forms one of the most durable bonds. The binding consists of two interlocking, overhand knots that create a symmetrical figure of eight. The simple knot strengthens under pressure and becomes sturdier when it gets wet.
God’s knot – the God’s knot consists of three cords to represent the spiritual union of a husband and wife and their covenant relationship with God. During the ceremony, the couple work together to braid the three cords – purple for the groom, white for the bride and gold for God.
Infinity knot – According to, Wiccan couples form the infinity symbol by crossing their arms and joining their hands, creating a figure of eight. The official then wraps a ribbon around the couple’s hands three times. While most couples choose to release the binding before the ceremony ends, some opt to wear it throughout the reception until they are able to consummate the marriage. 

Mystic knot – Among feng shui practitioners, the infinity-shaped mystic knot is believed to bless a marriage with good luck, harmony and longevity. Considered an auspicious object, the ribbon is wrapped around the couple’s hands six times creating a seamless, never-ending binding to symbolise the endless cycles of birth and rebirth.
Trinity knot – The triquetra is most commonly seen in Irish wedding ceremonies. Historians estimate that the ancient Celtic symbol dates back to 600 AD. Among pagan followers, the three points represent the mother, maiden and crone, while Christians use the well known symbol to signify the father, son and the holy spirit.

In ancient Greece brides-to-be spent the night before the wedding away from their husband-to-be, it’s a time of looking backwards as well as forwards. Remember the childhood items that were dedicated to Artemis at the bear festival? These are burned in sacrifice recognising the protection of Artemis during childhood and preparing the girl for sexual intercourse and pregnancy.

It’s also thought that the bride-to-be spends the night bedded with a boy, in magical anticipation of childbirth. Healthy himself, with two healthy living parents, the boy represents the hoped-for outcome. It is the magic of the contact and simulation (they don’t actually engage in anything) which makes the difference.

Evidence from Athens shows that marriage had two parts: the engue (pledge), which was a pubic contract between the two families, and the ekdosis, the transfer of the bride from her parents’ house to that of her new husband. The engue dealt primarily with financial matters, such as the specifics of the bride’s dowry, and could take place even before the girl reached puberty.

The traditional time for the ekdosis ceremony was in the month of Gamelion (January/February), the month of the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. The first element of the ceremony was the progameia, a sacrifice at which the bride cut off a lock of her hair and dedicated it to Artemis. The programeia was followed by a ritual bath in water drawn from a sacred spring. The bride would then be dressed in a white dress with a crown. She would also carry pomegranate or other seeded fruit to represent fertility. A feast in the bride’s house followed; the bride remained veiled and sat apart from the men and her husband to be with the women. At this point she was blessed by her family and the finals of the dowry were accepted by the husband and his family. The father of the bride also offered sacrifices at the family altar, rigorously announcing that he was giving his daughter away.

At nightfall, the groom fetched the bride in a nuptial cart and transported her to his house. The groom sat between the bride and his groomsman, usually his best friend! A torchlight procession and wedding hymns accompanied them. At the groom’s house he would sweep the bride off her feet as if to abduct her and carry her over the threshold. At the groom’s home, the bride was met by her mother-in-law, and was taken to the hearth, given a piece of sesame and honey cake along with fruit such as dates and quinces and led to the hearth. Some was thrown into the fire and a blessing was said to Hestia as acceptance by all as a member of the household. Although the bride didn’t actually become a member of the family until she gave birth to her first child. The couple was then showered with nuts and dried fruit and given a basket of bread, symbolising wealth and fertility. At the height of this ceremony, the bride removed her veil and was led to the wedding chamber by her new husband, presumably to consummate the marriage. Hymns were sung outside the door. On the following day, gifts were sent to the newlyweds, and the two families gathered together. The bride’s possessions would later be brought to her new home.

Handparting (divorce)

It seems that a handparting ideally needs the couple of have come to the decision that the relationship is over but also that they want to remain friends and part peacefully. Although not 100% necessary this seems to be the ideal. This is a ceremony where the symbolic ties of marriage which were tied at handfasting are cut and the relationship is ended, the cords are often burnt in sacrifice during the ceremony.

It appears to be a ceremony where the couples can share the lessons they have learnt from their time together. One particular ceremony I found took place on a bridge over water at the end of the ceremony the couple parted ways and went in opposite directions away from each other and their martial home and did not look back this can be done within a circle where the couple part at different sides of the circle. There also seems to be time for silence and like ritual mourning. This isn’t a happy time, and the feast that follows so many of the “celebrations” is often water and crackers rather then cake and wine.

There are no religious prohibitions against divorce on the Hellenic path or in ancient Greece as far as I can tell. A separation can be initiated by either partner. But if th woman was seeking it she would need permission from her father or male guardian. In ancient times the dowry and any land was returned to her family (father or closest male relative) and in Athens, responsibility for her welfare reverted to her guardian but she would have been shunned by the community. Women seldom sort divorce but the men did, and it wasn’t known as divorce or handparting it was known as dismissing and would be done in a very public way. The ex husband would usually retain custody of any children. There are no traditional rituals that I can find in relation to divorce. However I have spoken to another Hellenic witch who suggested that in they may have prayed to Zeus and Hera before parting ways as it was frowned upon. They would have dismantled any altars and burnt offerings of bread and fruit and nuts to appease Hera and Hestia (goddesses of hearth, home and marriage) who would have been pretty annoyed. Once the dowry was returned to her family, they would seek to marry her off again as soon as possible… women were treated pretty badly in Ancient Greece – good job I’m a modern Hellenic witch then eh?! J

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Coming of age (male) by our Hellenic Witch Starlitenergies...

Coming of age (male) by our Hellenic Witch Starlitenergies...

The elders of the tribe stood in front of the hut and beckoned for the young man to come out and begin the festivities of the special day. The young man had barely slept the night before, anxiously anticipating the tests he would soon be called to endure. As he rose to meet the elder, he was aware of the great gnawing in his stomach; he had nothing to eat for the last three days as he purged his body of impurities.

The ceremony soon began. The elders of the tribe pierced his chest, shoulder and back muscles with large wooden splints. Ropes which extended from the roof of the hut were then attached to the splints, and the young man was winched up into the air, his whole body weight suspended from the ropes. Agonising pain course through his body, but he gritted his teeth and tried not to cry out. While hanging in the air, more splints were hammered through his arms and legs. Skulls of his dead grandfather and other ancestors were placed on the ends of some of the splints. All the while, the young man cried aloud to the Great Spirit for courage to endure. Eventually, the young man fainted from loss of blood and the sheer pain of the torture. When the elders were sure he was unconscious, he was lowered down and the ropes were removed. Yet the splints were left in place. When the young man recovered his consciousness, he offered his left pinky to the tribal elders to be sacrificed. He placed his finer on a block and had it swiftly chopped off. This was a gift to the gods and would enable the young man to become a powerful hunter. Finally, the young man ran inside a ring where his fellow villagers had gathered. As he ran, the villagers reaches out and grabbed the still embedded splints, ripping them free. The splints weren’t allowed to the pulled out the way they were hammered in, but had to be torn out in the opposite direction, causing the young man even greater pain and worse wounds. This concluded the day’s ceremony.

The young man was exhausted and bloodied but euphoric. He had been beyond glad to participate in the ritual. This was the greatest day of his life; today he was a man.

While the coming of age ceremony of the Mandan tribe is a particularly gruesome example, peoples and cultures from prehistoric times onward created rites of passage to initiate boys into manhood. Today, such rites of passage are almost extinct. Boys lack clear markers on their journey to becoming a man. If you ask them when the transition occurs, you will get a variety of answers: “when you get a car,” “when you graduate,” “when you get a real job,” “when you lose your virginity,” “when you get married,” “when you have children” and so on. The problem with many of these traditional rites of passage is that they have been put off further ad further in a young mans life. 50 years ago the average age a man started a family was 22. Today, men (for ill or good) are getting married and having children later in life.

Sociologists have identified three phases that constitute a proper rite of passage: separation, transition and re-incorporation.

Separation: during this phase an initiate is separated in some way from his former life. During the separation phase, part of the old self is extinguished as the initiate prepared to create a new identity.

Transition: during this phase, the initiate is between worlds, no longer part of his old life but not yet fully inducted into his new one. He is taught the knowledge needed to become a full-fledged member of the group, he is called upon to pass tests that show he is ready for the leap.

Re-incorporation: in this phase, the initiate, having passed the tests necessary and proving himself worthy, is reintroduced into his community, which recognises and honours his new status within the group. He is now able to participate in activities and responsibilities that this status confers.

The life of a young boy in Greece was very different to the girls, it seems his legitimacy was questioned not once but twice, we mentioned Apatouria above but the rite happens again at the age of sixteen. If one of the kin contested the legitimacy of the child they would take away the fathers animal, it would have been a really serious act and quite distressing for the young men. But when the kin ruled in the fathers favour the animal was returned and the son could become a full member.

At sixteen, a boy was considered a young man, and he entered one or two years of public service, either to mature, or to show he had matured enough to take part. This was called his ‘ephebeia’, which literally means ‘young man’. On completion of this public service, a young man could enter the military and become a voting member of the city, he became a citizen! Although young men were now considered adults, he only truly became an adult at the age of thirty, when he could serve in the boule (council) and get married. Young men swore an oath upon completion of their ephebia which unsurprisingly has largely been preserved.

"I will not bring shame upon these sacred weapons nor will I abandon my comrade-in-arms wherever I stand in the ranks. I will defend both the holy and profane things. I will not hand on the fatherland smaller than I received it, but larger and better, so far as it lies in my power with the assistance of all the other citizens. I will obey the officials who govern wisely and the laws, both those which are already established and those which are wisely established in the future. If anyone attempts to destroy them, I will not allow it, so far as it lies in my power with the assistance of all the other citizens. I will hold in honor the ancestral sanctuaries. The following gods are witnesses: Aglauros, Hestia, Enyo, Enyalios, Ares and Athena Areia, Zeus, Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone, Heracles, the territory of the fatherland, the wheat, barley, vines, olive trees, and fig trees."

With this oath the world opened up for young men’ they would now be held divinely accountable for any trespassing upon the law and common sense. Political life would become important for men, as well as military service. They had roughly ten year to dedicate to these before he took a wife, so young men tended to fulfil much of their obligation to the city in these ten year. After his marriage, he became the one who presented sons to the kin, and he got to experience the entire proceedings from the spot his father once held. This – most likely – created strong familial ties that continued through family lines for centuries.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Menarche by Starlitenergies

Menarche (females) by our Hellenic Witch Starlitenergies...

The stage of menarche comes from the Greek word menus which means both “moon” and “power”. The way the menarche and menstruation are dealt with in our culture, our families and our community clearly influences how a young woman understands what it ‘means’ to be a woman.

I’ve heard that Apache Native Americans held ceremonies for days with the whole tribe present to celebrate girls entering their womanhood. The Nootka tribe had a party to honour a girls menarche after which she was taken far out to sea and left to swim back to land. Once se had done this she was recognised by her community as a woman, strong and brave, and red the responsibilities of womanhood.

In modern times, some families acknowledge the menarche with a gift, a dinner, even party. Sometimes this happens within a circle of women who welcome the newly fertile woman, to their sisterhood. They share stories and make wishes and blessings for the woman’s future life… and for others the menarche is not acknowledged at all.

In ancient Greece this was a particularly special time in a girl’s life, according to medical texts of the time (yes they still exist) this happened between 13 and 14, and marked the point where the girl was ready for marriage and therefore ready to bare children which to be fair was of more interest then the actual bleeding. Although some spring festivals call for menstrual blood to be mixed with corn and spread on the earth to bring fertility to the land.

If marriage and child birth didn’t happen quickly after the first bleed, the woman was thought to have a “wandering womb” and would therefore suffer hallucinations, severe headaches, vomiting, and pains. It was also thought that if girls’ bleeds lasted longer then 4 days and she did not release at least a pint of blood she was weak and delicate and her children would also be weak and delicate.

Even before menarche a girls life is said to be dedicated to Artemis in her “Protectress of children, marriage and childbirth” form, young girls would dedicate the toys of their childhood to the goddess and have a “period of ritual wildness” before puberty – they would wear bear masks to rituals and dress in a yellow robe to represent the bear skin. At menarche there was the chance for selected girls to leave the home and attend Artemis’ sacred temple in Bauron, they would dress as a bear or a fawn, dance in solemn steps to flute music and make offerings of blood and corn, and figs to her for the right to move on to marriage, where the girl would briefly worship Aphrodite (lust and sex) until returning to Artemis’ worship at child birth, some now included a more involved worship of Demeter as they’re mothers while their children would take up the main worship to Artemis. As a virgin goddess Artemis needed to be soothed and appeased before she would give permission for young girls to loose their virginity. The risk of revenge of the Goddess was ever present right up until the girl survived childbirth.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Wiccaning/Naming Ceremony by Starlitenergies

From our lovely Hellenic witch Starlitenergies...the first in a series of essays about pagan Rites of Passage, starting with...

Wiccaning/Naming ceremony

A wiccaning is sometimes called a Paganing, and from everything I’ve read it is a time to dedicate a son or daughter to the God and Goddess and also to name him or her. Wiccans called it Wiccaning, Pagans call it Paganing, it’s sometimes known as Witching! And it seems to be very similar to baptising/christening. 

Many ancient cultures waited anywhere from three days to three months to be certain the child lived before undertaking a ceremony. Since we are blessed to have medical science decreasing the likelihood of infant mortality, choosing a moment which has a special significance to the parents is possible and can make the occasion seem much more sacred. I note that some people choose a year and a day after conception. Some suggest remembering the date to use with a passage rite when the child becomes an adult as well. 

Historically speaking naming ceremonies as far as we can tell go back to ancient Greece and Roman days, I remember reading one scholar say that until an infants naming ceremony, they were not consider a part of the family, it was/is like an official welcome to the family. The ceremonies of ancient times took place at the home, as a meaningful expression of nurturing, love and togetherness. The ceremony was most often followed by a great feast, drinking and much merriment! 

The Amphidromia in ancient Greece was a ceremonial feast celebrated on the fifth or seventh day after the birth of a child. It’s a family festival derived from the Athenians, at which a newly born child was introduced into the family, and in ancient times it was when the children of poorer families and girls received their names. Wealthier families held a naming ceremony for their boys on the tenth day called Dekate. This ceremony, unlike the Amphidromia, is open to the public by invitation. I say tenth but no particular day was fixed but it did take place soon after the child was born. 

Before the sun set on the day of the Amphidromia the women who had lent their assistance to the birth (always women, no men allowed) washed their hands as a purification rite and brought the sacred waters to the celebration if it went ahead for before anything else could happen they examined the child for disease/deformity and then presented it to the head of the household (usually the man) and sometimes the child was rejected, this was based on gender, size of the child, the size of the family already, economic considerations, whether or not the child was born of a slave, legitimacy and the reports of the women on health and deformity. If the child was rejected it was left outside, exposed to the elements and would die. Obviously this isn’t part of modern worship and may seem harsh to our modern sensitivities. 

So the child has been accepted by the head of the household. Now the mother presents her child to Artemis, the mother offers sacrifice to Artemis in thanks for the birth of her child in hopes of enlisting divine protection from the Goddess. Offerings of pomegranates, apples, honey cakes and grapes are made and the dad sacrifices a goat. The friends and relations of the parents were invited to the festival of the Amphidromia, which was held in the evening, and they generally brought presents – there’s evidence that cuttlefish and a marine polyp (a reef dwelling squid or octopus type thing) were brought as gifts. It’s thought the infant is presented with a gold necklace from his/her father with a depiction of a meaningful family symbol. The house was decorated on the outside with olive branches if the child were a boy or garlands of wool if the child were a girl; and like I’ve said before a great banquet was prepared using the squid/octopus and the offerings to Artemis. 

The child was carried around the central fire of the home (hearth) by the nurse, this was the presentation of the child to the gods of the house and to the family, and at the same time it received its name, to which the guests were witnesses and danced or walked around it. The naming system of the Athenians seems to be made up of three parts. The first being an indication of family values i.e. Philia meaning friendship. The second was always the fathers name and the third or surname as we could call it was the name of the district the family lived within. 

Introductions of the infant to the public world took place at a festival called the Apatouria, held annually in October/November time. All male citizens assembled and their dad or male legal guardian was required to swear before a ceremonial altar of the phratry (kin/tribe) with his hands on sacrificial offerings (usually barley and meat) dedicated to Zeus and Athena to the legitimacy of the infant. A lock of hair from the child was also offered to the family’s patron deity and to Hercules (although I’m not sure why Hercules) the father would offer a live animal . Whether or not girls were also “registered” in this way is unknown.