Just who’s in charge of the cattle anyway?!

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“Uruz (Strength)” – 4″x6″ mixed media collage by Patricia Robin Woodruff

The prehistoric auroch was a symbol of wild strength and is tied to the symbology of the Norse rune Uruz which means strength and virility. The auroch was almost as tall as an elephant, had huge horns that could span four feet across and roamed wild. Amazingly enough, this animal existed until 1627, when the last one died in Poland. I believe this to be the reason there’s a bit of confusion on which Slavic god is associated with cattle, since both Veles (Lord of the Underworld and the Wild Wood) and Perun (Lord of Thunder and Sky) have them as sacred animals.

Part of the problem lies in the association of Perun with Jehovah and the thought of him as a “supreme god” ruler over the others. This is a mistake. Perun is simply the god of lightning, holding no more supremacy than any other deity of the Slavic pantheon. He is the balance of Veles, like the right and left brain, logic and emotion, summer and winter, yin and yang.

Perun’s animal is usually listed as an “ox,” which is a domesticated, castrated bull, as opposed to the wild auroch that lived roaming in the woods and was the symbol of primitive instinct. I believe Veles’ animal was the wild auroch. When that animal became extinct, the domesticated cattle were substituted. So Veles is the Lord of the Wild Wood, but also is appealed to to watch over the domesticated herds.

In researching this I came across an article that talks about bringing back the huge auroch. Since they have the DNA sequence, they can back-breed the traces that have been left in modern cattle to reconstruct this extinct animal. Is that cool or what?!

The work continues on the three-volume set of Slavic Magic, which will cover The Gods & Spirits, The Wheel of the Year, & The Tools of Magic.  Aiming for a release date of Spring 2018.

  • Patricia Robin Woodruff
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Slavic Holidays in The Wheel of the Year

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“Spring Equinox” – 11″x14″ pastel on velour paper by Patricia Robin Woodruff

“Pagan religions revere the natural forces and cycles of life, and it is from observation of and interaction with these forces and cycles that their beliefs developed.” – Rev. Donald Lewis-Highcorrell
One of the reasons the Orthodox religion couldn’t entirely obliterate the Slavic Pagan religion is that the rural people were so intimately tied to the land and the seasons. Christianity tends to be more linear, starting out from the creation of the Earth, prophets predicting Christ’s birth, the year of the birth of Christ and then continuing onward toward an eventual end of creation. A person’s spirit is considered linear as well, it is born into a body, lives, gets judged and then eternally goes to an end result of heaven or hell. Like most Pagan religions, the early Slav’s concept of time was very cyclical. The chariot of the sun comes up in the East, goes across the sky and then down under the ground and back up again. The Spring turns to Summer, preparations for the cold in the Fall and the quiet, introspective time of Winter, going round and round the seasons perpetually. The early Slavs believed in the continuation of the soul. A person’s body was buried with its head in the West, the direction of the setting sun (or cremated), but both included objects for the next world where they would emerge again. Hence the term, Wheel of the Year, with its cycles of seasonal holidays.
Victorian chronicler, Charles Leland, noted the sacred times: “In Eastern Europe witches and their kin, or kind, assemble on the eve of Saint John and of Saint George, Christmas and Easter, at cross-roads on the broad pustas, or prairies, and there brew their magic potions.” Those would correspond to May Day Eve/ Walpurgisnacht, Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. These reflect the agrarian culture of the time. The holidays are focused on “when will the sun start getting stronger” and then “how can we get the plants to grow.” Once the harvest is coming in, there’s not much time for a major celebration until it’s done.
In current times, slovenski staroverci or “Old-believers” in Slovenia, annually celebrate holidays associated with the four seasons: Jarilo (spring equinox), Mara (autumnal equinox), Kresnik (summer solstice) and Božič Svarožič (winter solstice), with the addition of Veles’ day (February 12th) and Perun’s day (August 2.) Looking at the names you can see where they reflect the change to male-centric concepts that coincided with the Eastern Orthodox church. (Only one holiday having a female name and that being Mara who tends to be vilified because she brings winter.) The “Old Believers” for all that they are adopting the pagan ways, they are living in a modern world and thus their holidays tend to be more mechanical: an equal division between Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter (with the two “main” male gods thrown in there.)
In this new millennia of burgeoning equality and enlightenment, we have the choice to reexamine these ancient traditions and have them work for us today. And indeed, if we re-examine the lore, you will find that it was the “priestesses of prehistoric times” that performed the ceremonies, and to honor the deities the “wise women bore certain kinds of boughs and adorned animals with flowers and wreaths.” It was when the “new religion” of Eastern Orthodoxy came it that they declared the rites sorcery and devil-work and the priestesses became witches (or even confused with the fairy folk, the Vilas.) So looking back to the influences “before the common era,” (BCE) we see a harmony of male and female energies, with the women taking a nurturing role as spiritual caretakers of the earth, and men generally protecting the herds and hunting. In the current time, we are struggling to get back to a more balanced spiritual place, even to the point of finding the balance of male and female within ourselves. We can be our own protectors and caretakers, and it is vital we *all* take responsibility for being the spiritual caretakers of the earth…

  •      Patricia Robin Woodruff – copyright 2017

An excerpt from my upcoming book on Slavic Magic to be released early 2018 (and yes, you can share this for personal use, just not reprint it without permission.)

“The Crowning” – A Slavic Pagan Handfasting or Wedding

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Pink Kiss – 11″x14″ watercolor by Patricia Robin Woodruff

A study of genetic diversity throughout the world shows that polygyny was the typical sexual relationship in Europe and Asia, until the shift to settled farming communities around 10,000 to 5,000 years ago. However, it can be seen in archeological evidence that in some Slavic countries, like the Ukraine, the lifestyle was still semi-nomadic until the 5th and 6th centuries and even then, the land ownership was semi-communal. It was the ownership of land that necessitated the type of relationship that ensured a genetic line of succession. This consequently developed the traditions of a marriage that essentially meant that the woman was the sole property of the man to ensure the paternity of the offspring. And marriage ceremonies weren’t even written down until the Orthodox church came into prominence around 1,000 CE.

I have worked to reconstruct a partnership ritual based on the ancient Pagan and magical elements that are seen shining through the patriarchal structure that was imposed on marriage. Remember that during the Middle Ages marriages mainly represented familial alliances and had nothing to do with love; their spouse was chosen for them. And in ancient pagan rites, we see that sex didn’t necessarily go with love, as ritual sex (for the fertility of the land) was practiced at the Summer Solstice and other times. Many ancient Pagans didn’t have a concept of marriage. People partnered up as they desired on a temporary basis, sometimes men carried off the women they wanted (willing or no,) and someone who was rich might be able to support several partners.

A common Slavic tradition nowadays is that of “buying” the bride, but as that seems to be a holdover from the Dark Ages, I have not included it. Nor have I included the traditions of braiding and tying up the bride’s hair, since this also seems to be taking away her power and handing it over to her husband. The goddess Dejanna has her hair unbound as a symbol that she has control over her own life, whether she is married or not. With a Pagan handfasting, you can decide how tightly you wish your lives to be bound. Certainly promising to walk alongside a beloved friend for a period of your life is deserving of the recognition of a community and their support.

It would be best to time it during the New Moon, so that your love is acknowledged in the energy of the increasing moon. New clothing is preferable, as superstition warns against borrowed clothing for a wedding because it can bring trouble to married life. (Although if you want to wear something borrowed, you could smudge it ahead of time to remove any unwanted energies.)

The embroidered cloth known as a rushnyk is an important symbol that shows up in Slavic marriage ceremonies through the ages. Embroidered on white linen with red thread, symbols of love (bird pairs symbolize a happy marriage, flowers especially periwinkle which represent eternal love, flower or herb wreath symbolizing no beginning or end) and the Mother goddess (usually Rozhanitsa) should be represented. The most important rushnyk would be a longer, thinner cloth used to bind the couple’s hands together in the ceremony. (This can be worn as a stole by the celebrant, then taken off and used to tied their hands together.) A simpler and larger rushnyk can be placed on the ground where the couple is to stand. A “guest rushnyk” in which a loaf of blessed bread is wrapped and presented to the married couple by the parents. And a nabozhnyk (which means “on god”) cloth is used for decorating your chur (the carving of a god or goddess that you select to place on your altar and watch over your marriage.)

The bread is a beautiful pre-wedding magical ritual all on its own. It is called korovai, which means “cow”, the horns of which mean fertility. It is often made in the home of the bride by female friends and family (preferably an odd number of women.) Songs are sung during its making and joyful energy is put into it. It should include salt in the recipe since salt is an ageless symbol of preservation and longevity. A simple korovai can be a large round circle, or a braided circle. A more complex one is made in graduated layers like a modern wedding cake and if it is shaped like that, the top (the moon) is given to the couple, the next layer is for the parents and the bottom layer is for the guests. Sometimes decorative shapes are made on the loaf out of dough, usually two birds that represent the couple, other birds represent family and friends, an owl is shaped for the fathers of the couple, a pair of shoes for the mothers (and these are given to them, when it is cut up.) The bread should be blessed before it is baked. After baking, the bread can be decorated with the fertility of nature: wheat stalks, herbs, nuts, flowers and fruit and with additional symbols of suns, moons (cow horns), birds, animals, pine cones (also symbolizing fertility.)

We know that early pagans worshipped in groves of trees and other natural spaces. So, if possible, find a natural space and lay it out in a circle with an altar in the very center. The witnesses should gather around the the sacred space in a circle.

While natural spaces are sacred by their very nature, people need reminded of this. So to call awareness to the sacredness of the place, you could have someone walk around the circle and smudge everyone with incense. Myrrh, frankincense, Siberian cedar, juniper berries and birch resin are all traditional incense in Slavic areas. Birch incense would be especially appropriate because it is sacred to the goddesses Vesna / Lelya / Jarila and their realm is Spring and Love. You could also symbolically sweep around the circle with a birch broom to cleanse it and create a “new” space. The broom can later be placed in the home to “guard” the door.

The couple should enter the sacred space together, to show that they are equal partners. To further define the sacred space when they are in the center, they should bow to the four directions starting with South (white, air), West (red, fire), North (black, water) and East (green, earth.) Remain facing the East since this is the direction of beginnings. The parents should greet them at the altar and present to them the bread and salt wrapped in the rushnyk. They can also hold the chur or it can stand on the altar. The wedding couple ask for their parents’ blessing and make three bows (sometimes also kissing their faces, hands and feet along with the bow.) The parents wish them love and affection and give them the chur which will later be put in the couple’s home in their “Red Corner” home altar.

Your wedding vows can be written to pledge your promises to each other based on your level of commitment. Before reciting the vows, the couple should step upon the rushnyk, which represents their fresh new life together. (Remember to be careful when stepping on it as the tradition is whoever steps on it first will be the one “in charge” of the relationship.) You may wish to place a chalice of red wine on the altar and share a drink with each other. Before drinking, a bit should be spilled upon the ground as a libation to the gods.

A Slavic wedding is actually called “The Crowning.” This has been adapted into the Orthodox rituals but it certainly goes back to pre-Christian origins. Crowns of flowers are a traditional symbol of love and eternity, as seen at the celebration of Kupala. You can tap into the symbology of flowers and colors when constructing your wreaths before the wedding, but often the crowns incorporate periwinkle and myrtle.

Even in Slavic marriage rituals today, the couple is not considered married at the exchange of rings, but rather, upon their crowning. I don’t believe the concept of wedding rings is a Slavic Pagan tradition, but it can certainly be worked into the ritual should you desire. The crowns are held above the couple’s head by the two witnesses (ie “best man” and “maid of honor”) while they exchange their vows. The officiant should tie their hands together with the rushnyk upon the completion of the vows. The officiant then leads them around the altar 3 times (to represent their path of life traveling together,) and then they can be crowned by their main witnesses.

To wrap up the ritual, it would be a symbol of completion to go back around and bow to the directions in farewell. If the rushnyk is tied properly, the couple should be able to slip their hands out and the cloth remains symbolically tied in a knot.

Since singing and dancing are very important parts of Slavic pagan rituals. If it is possible to have someone lead a traditional kolo around the wedded couple, that would be a great energetic ending to the ritual. Or even to have the wedding couple lead a spiral dance into the center and back out again, which would let the couple look at each of their guests in turn.

After the ritual, cut and divide the korovai bread. Food and drink are a good way to ground people after a magical ritual.

(This is an excerpt of my upcoming book on Slavic magic to be published early 2018 and I expect it will be added to before the book is done.  Please request permission to copy more than a brief segment.  [Unless it is for your own personal magical use, in which case, blessings on a wonderful “Crowning!”]  “Follow” my blog to receive updates on the book progress and other interesting thoughts and artwork.)

  • copyright 2017 Patricia Robin Woodruff

Dupanloup, Isabelle, et al. “A recent shift from polygyny to monogamy in humans is suggested by the analysis of worldwide Y-chromosome diversity”. Journal of Molecular Evolution. July 2003, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 85–97. Print.

Anonymous. “Ukrainian wedding ceremony: traditions and customs” Proud of Ukraine. Web. 22 April, 2017. <http://proudofukraine.com/ukrainian-wedding-ceremony-traditions-and-customs/&gt;

Cekanowska. Polish folk Music: Slavonic Heritage – Polish Tradition – Contemporary Trends. p. 15

Moon Days… Moon Power

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“Chalice of the Red Moon” – 11″x14″ pastel on velour paper

I once picked up a book to read entitled Red Man’s Religion. After I read a few pages, it hit me that I should have realized from the prejudicial title that I would get only a distorted view of Native American beliefs. As an example, the author, R. M. Underhill relates, “Fear of the menstruating woman is widespread throughout the world. Female catamenia, related to childbearing, indicated a power impossible to males. In time, there grew up a feeling that it was harmful to all male activity, including ceremony.” What the author fails to understand is that in many nature religions menstruation is considered a hugely powerful time for women.  The Native Americans refer to it as a woman’s “moon time” since just like the moon influences the tides, it tends to influence a woman’s period.

When the perspective is looked at by a Shaman trained in the native ways, such as Nicholas Noble Wolf it is recorded very differently. “We traditional people do not see it this way [harmful], as moon-time is a place of honor and beauty.” He goes on to explain, “… when a woman is embodying the moon, she is embodying a huge reservoir of power—all that is contained within her sister, Grandmother Moon. This means that lesser amounts of power around her will inherently flow into her. That would include power charged with negative emotion. This can make a woman sick… Those cramps are but the negative emotions that surround a woman through whomever she comes in contact with.” During her moon time a woman is prevented from touching sacred objects; not because she will “contaminate” the item, but because these medicine objects are seen are living, empowered beings and the woman holding so much energy could draw the life-force out of them. What a different perspective!

  • Patricia Robin Woodruff

Painting, Divination & Peace

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mountainaboveMountain Above; Water Below available on Etsy

This painting is of my childhood swimming hole, set deep in the mountains of Appalachia.  The title comes from the literal image of a mountain above and water below.  This reminded me of the iChing hexagram, “Meng,” which symbolizes “Mountain Above and Water Below.”

There are many different forms of divination; tarot cards, tea leaf reading, gazing in a crystal ball or shiny surface, etc.  In China, the method of iChing developed.  It uses a method of throwing yarrow stalks or 3 coins thrown six times to produce the hexagram.  There are different theories as to why this works, perhaps it is an effect of our subconscious mind communicating to us, some say it is an effect of quantum physics or that small things in the world can reflect the larger patterns that exist.  In any case, it has existed for at least 3,000 years probably longer and many people find it a useful tool.

Hexagram 4 – “Meng” is also known as “Youthful Folly.”  That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is an opportunity for learning.  It also reminds you of the pleasures of childhood and to embrace that.  We can use that in our learning too, because when learning is fun, we remember it better.  But it’s also good to think over that time and release bad habits from then and replace it with mature knowledge.

I see in this painting the peace and innocence of childhood; a time before adult concerns and worries.  Looking at it brings me back to a state of peace.  When I paint, I drop into a place of unconcern.  I let the images flow into me and out of my paint brush, producing a vision of tranquility.

A good affirmation for this day would be: “I breath in peace and it flows through me into the world.”

More peace is always needed.

  • Patricia Robin Woodruff

What is the difference between Believing & Knowing?

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“Open Heart, Open Hands” – 11″x14″ pastel on velour paper

I’ve been pondering the differences between believing and knowing.  Psycologist Carl Jung was asked whether he believed in God and he answered, “I don’t believe in God, I know.”  What he meant was a logical, inescapable conclusion he had reached.

I consider myself a mystic because I would answer this question the same way but for different reasons.   I have had two experiences in my life where I was filled with a deep, unshakable, merging and “knowing” of Deity.  (I used the words Deity, Universe or Spirit because when I use the word “God” I automatically have an image of the controlling, “old man in the sky” God of my childhood.  This is not what I “know.”)

I could tell you a bit about my spiritual experiences, but  its limited by language and it won’t manage to convey the “knowing,” and probably, like plenty of other mystics before me, it would just sound crazy.  But afterwards, I went seeking through many, many books to find out if others had experiences like this.  I could recognize the truth in the words of the ecstatic St. Teresa,

“The soul neither sees, hears, nor understands anything while this state lasts; but this is usually a very short time, and seems to the soul even shorter than it really is.  God visits the soul in a way that prevents it doubting when it comes to itself that it has been in God and God in it; and so firmly is it convinced of this truth that, though years may pass before this state reoccurs, the soul can never forget it nor doubt its reality.”

I identify with the mystical Sufi poet, Jalaluddin Rumi’s attempts to convey Deity thru his poetry.  I can see excitedly, “Yes!  He gets it!”  When I read:

“Plunge, plunge into the vast ocean of consciousness/ Let the drop of water that is you/ Become a hundred mighty seas/ But do not think that the drop alone/ Becomes the ocean/ The ocean too becomes the drop.”

One of the best descriptions came from an anonymous clergyman, taken from William B. Starbuck’s manuscript collection:

“I remember the night and almost the very spot on the hill-top, where my soul opened, out, as it were, into the Infinite, and there was a rushing together of the two worlds, the inner and the outer.  It was deep calling unto deep – the deep that my own struggle had opened up within, being answered by the unfathomable deep without, reaching beyond the stars.  I stood alone with Him who had made me, and all the beauty of the world, and love, and sorrow, and even temptation.  I did not seek Him, but felt the perfect unison of my spirit with His.  The ordinary sense of things around me faded.  For the moment nothing but an ineffable joy and exultation remained.  It is impossible fully to describe the experience.  It was like the effect of some great orchestra when all the separate notes have metered into one swelling harmony that leaves the listener conscious of nothing save that his soul is being wafted upwards, and almost bursting with its own emotion.”

So I’m left like I was in high school geometry class, where I could see what the answer was and then had to work backwards to understand the proof.  Now I’m still learning and exploring to try to understand Deity/Love/Spirit… how to convey this awesome beauty in my art and writing… learning how the energy of Spirit works in the world.

  • Patricia Robin Woodruff

Inspiration for the Day

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“Enlightenment” 11″x14″ pastel on velour paper

I always feel recharged after spending time at Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary in their beautiful Stone Circle.  This poem came to me after spending time there, but it doesn’t just  focus on that one spot.  All of Nature can be our cathedral!

Look! Look at the vaulted roof of my church.
Is it not awesome? Emerald and sapphire.
Beams of hickory, oak, maple and birch.
The glorious dome reaching ever higher.
Glimmering stained glass windows unmounted,
Ever-changing light with colors untold,
Lit in the night with candles uncounted,
Lit in the morning with lantern of gold.
Look! Look at my church’s huge, boundless walls,
With treasures untold and limitless worth.
With enough sacred space to fit us all,
A ring of Stones with endless halls of earth.
If you look for grander, give up your search,
Nowhere is there a more wondrous church.
– by Patricia Robin Woodruff