The Tool Box: Amulets

An amulet is a normally mundane object which is intended to protect it's owner or wearer from negative energy. The origin of the word amulet is debatable but seems to stem from either the Latin "amuletum" which means "an object of defense" or the Arabic "hamalet" which means "that which is suspended." Amulets are often made of gemstones, coins, pendants, rings or religious symbols and nearly every culture through history and religions have some form of amulet associated with their traditions.

The first person to record the existence of amulets was Pliny the Elder, who was a Roman naturalist and philosopher. His writings titled "Natural History," which dates back to 79 CE, he mentions three categories of amulets:
  1. Objects believed to offer protection against trouble
  2. Objects containing prophylactic substances
  3. Objects used as medicine
Often times we find it is even more ordinary objects which are viewed as having amulet-like properties. Sacred texts, such as holy books are often placed under or next to the bed of the ailing. Many women have a "lucky fragrance" they feel makes them powerful or lucky. Even Garlic has been said to ward off Vampires and other evil forces. What we tend to find is that the line separating amulets, talismans, charms and other blessed objects tends to become blurred after considering objects such as dream catchers and rabbit's-foot...

Eyes, in one form or another, are one of the most commonly found amulets from the ancient world. We see them in graves, portrayed in art and on the walls of tombs. Phallic symbols are also highly common as they represent power and regeneration and in many cultures were believed to promote fertility.  The Egyptian Ankh continues to be a commonly found amulet, featuring a staff topped with a loop, it represents the union of both male and female and was the symbol of life in general.  Amulets inscribed with the names of gods, magickal numbers or alphabets have been used all through history and were extremely popular even up until and through the 19th century.

Many times we see deities from a particular religion represented on or by an amulet. In Egypt for example, it was not uncommon to see people wearing an amulet inscribed with the Eye of Horus. In today's more modern belief systems Buddhists wear small Buddha figures, Christians wear crosses, Universalists wear a Chalice and Wiccans wear a Pentacle. So as you can see, the practice is not one of the ancient religious world, but one of our own.

 Throughout the first and second centuries, as the Christian religion grew and spread the leaders of the early church discouraged the use of more popular amulets, viewing them as superstitious, pagan objects.  However, because the majority of the new Christian converts were once Pagan, and because a great many of them were converting out of need and not choice, many clung to the old ways of doing things, this included the use of amulets. The early Church recognized this reality and made an effort to both provide new "sacred objects" meant to replace these amulets and push to outlaw old amulets. These new "sacred objects" took the form of images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary or Saints as well as the crucifix or cross. While Christian teachings no longer allow for these objects themselves to hold any inherent magickal powers they are seen as representing the power of God and Jesus.

Amulets can be bought, or made, or in the case of religious amulets, they are often passed from generation to generation. What matters less than their makeup or how you acquire one is the meaning you place on it.

What we can learn from the Westboro Baptist Church

For those of you who follow me on FaceBook or who know me from any number of websites have by now no doubt seen one of my rants about the Westboro Baptists... This morning I found out they are coming to a town near me, and frankly, I'm disgusted by it! And I have made it very clear that I will happily go counter-protest this... It should NOT be welcome here...

However, after my third or fourth rant this morning I decided to move on and get ready to go to the show tonight. While I was in the shower I started thinking...  "What makes these people do this? Why do they make themselves a target just to spread hate?" My first and gut answer (which still may not be so far off) was "They are a bunch of nutbags!" but then I thought about it, and I don't think that's really what's going on here.

I think this is a case of just the opposite... These people are doing something, which although hateful and disgusting, should in some ways be respected. - No, I didn't lose my mind, keep reading - These people are not doing this out of hate, out of disgust so much as they are standing up to do what they honestly, wholeheartedly believe is right.

Through the 60's and 70's it wasn't terribly uncommon to see sit-ins or picket groups for positive reasons, Peace, Love & Tolerance. However, today, we tend to ONLY see picket groups such as the WBC, and other hate groups. Groups which want to limit freedom, squash tolerance and abolish love have become the norm while those of us who have a firm belief in such things sit back and HOPE it happens and HOPE no one listens to these groups.

Which begs the question, what are we supposed to do? Well, I don't know that their is really a right answer. Obviously I would never support what the WBC is doing. On the other hand, the fact that these people are willing to make themselves a target simply because they choose to stand up for their beliefs (no matter how warped I find those beliefs to be) is admirable and something I have to have respect for.

I am very proud of who I am, of what I am and I am very secure in my beliefs, as you all know. However, I don't know that even I could muster the guts to travel the country, standing on a street corner with a sign boasting those beliefs... Does that make me bad? I sure hope not. Do I like what they are saying? NO! But I wish there were more groups who were willing to get out there and stand up for their beliefs - Of course I hope that there would be more people out there who would stand up for positive things rather than to spread hate and intolerance... 

Point is, for all their bigotry, all their hatred, all their intolerance - there is something to be learned here. The lesson may seem hidden, but it's clearly there, we should all be so proud of our beliefs and lifestyles to stand up for them, even if we have to stand alone!

Magickal Correspondences: Days of the Week

You can keep this information (as well as future correspondence information) in your Book of Shadows! As I always say, it's better to have and not need, than need and not have!

Sunday
  • Planet - Sun
  • Sign - Leo
  • Colors 
    • Gold
    • Yellow
    • Orange
    • White
  • Plant/Trees
    • Marigold
    • Heliotrope
    • Sunflower
    • Buttercup 
    • Cedar
    • Beech
    • Oak
  • Stones
    • Carnelian
    • Citrine
    • Tiger's Eye
    • Amber
    • Quartz Crystal
    • Red Agate
Monday
  • Planet - Moon
  • Sign - Cancer
  • Colors
    • Silver
    • White
    • Gray
  • Plant/Trees
    • Night Flowers
    • Willow Root
    • Orris Root
    • Birch
    • Motherwort
    • Vervain
    • White Rose
    • White Iris
  • Stones
    • Moonstone
    • Aquamarine
    • Pearl
    • Quartz
    • Crystal
    • Flourite
    • Geodes
Tuesday
  • Planet - Mars
  • Sign - Aries & Scorpio
  • Colors
    • Red
    • Orange
  • Plant/Trees
    • Red Rose
    • Cock's Comb
    • Pine
    • Daisy
    • Thyme
    • Pepper
  • Stones
    • Carnelian
    • Bloodstone
    • Ruby
    • Garnet
    • Pink
    • Tourmaline
Wednesday
  • Planet - Mercury
  • Sign - Virgo
  • Colors
    • Orange
    • Light Blue
    • Gray
    • Yellow
    • Violet
  • Plant/Trees
    • Fern
    • Lavender
    • Hazel
    • Cherry
    • Periwinkle
  • Stones
    • Aventureine
    • Bloodstone
    • Hematite
    • Moss Agate
    • Sodalite
Thursday
  • Planet - Jupiter
  • Sign - Sagittarius & Pisces
  • Color
    • Purple
    • Royal Blue
    • Indigo
  • Plant/Tree
    • Cinnamon
    • Beech
    • Buttercup
    • Coltsfoot
    • Oak
  • Stones
    • Sagilite
    • Amethyst
    • Turquoise
    • Lapis
    • Lazuli
    • Sapphire
Friday
  • Planet - Venus
  • Sign - Libra & Taurus
  • Color
    • Green
    • Pink
    • Aqua
  • Plants/Trees
    • Pink Rose
    • Ivy
    • Birch
    • Heather
    • Clematis
    • Sage
    • Violet
    • Water Lilly
  • Stones
    • Rose Quartz
    • Moonstone
    • Pink Tourmaline
    • Peridot
    • Emrald
    • Jade
Saturday
  • Planet - Saturn
  • Sign - Capricorn & Aquarius
  • Color
    • Black
    • Gray
    • Indigo
  • Plant/Tree
    • Myrrh
    • Moss
    • Hemlock
    • Wolfsbane
    • Coltsfoot
    • Nightshade
    • Fir
  • Stones
    • Jet
    • Smokey Quartz
    • Amethyst
    • Black Onyx
    • Snowflake Obsidian
    • Lava Pumice

Pagan Parenting: Awesome Poem!

I do not know who the author of this poem is but I couldn't help but share it...

Hush Little Pagan Baby
Hush little baby don't you squall,
Momma's gonna buy you a crystal ball.
And if you still can't see beyond,
Momma's gonna buy you a magic wand.
And if that wand don't change your fate,
Momma's gonna teach you to levitate.
And if that astral makes you sick,
Momma's gonna buy you an incense stick.
And if that patchouli smells rank,
Momma's gonna buy you a sensory deprivation tank.
And if that tank dont float your bones,
Momma's gonna buy you some precious stones.
And if those gems dont ease your heart,
Momma's gonna buy you a natal chart.
And if your planets go berserk,
Momma's gonna buy you some body work.
And if your aura still needs kneading,
Momma's gonna buy you a past life reading.
And if your destiny stays hid,
Momma's gonna buy you a pyramid.
And if your chakras still feel stressed,
Momma's gonna take you on a vision quest.
And if power animals don't come to charm ya,
Sorry kid, it's just your karma.

Pagan Children Stories: Just An Ordinary Child

An Earth Mother story by Elspeth Sapphire
from ecauldron.com


There was a child.

Just an ordinary child.

Yet in one way, he was not so ordinary. This child cared.

He cared about his mommy and daddy. He cared about his dog. He cared about Mrs. Sally, his next door neighbor. He even cared about grumpy Mr. Green who lived in the ugly house on the corner.

"Mommy, if I lived in such an ugly house, I might be grumpy, too!" Then he waited until Mr. Green left the house and went down to sweep his walk.

The child was always doing something helpful. His mother would get up in the morning to find the kitchen clean and shiny.

"Oh! Is it brownies?" his mother would exclaim.

The child would only smile and say, "No, just me!"

He helped because he cared.

Then came a day where people made fun of him for caring. "Why waste your time helping?" they asked.

When he tried to help, people either yelled at him for what he did or said that it wasn't enough. Slowly the caring turned from love to dislike to finally hate. He started doing things just because they hurt other people.

One day, his mother yelled at him. The child waited until she was out of the room, then picked up a ball and threw it at the vase that his mother had cherished since she was a child. As he stared at the shattered pieces, the child realized that he finally gone too far.

Without stopping to think, he ran out the door and down the walk. He ran until he was out of breath. Looking for somewhere to hide, the child noticed a small woods by the side of the road. He slipped into the cool shade and threw himself down on the grass and wept.

How could he have done such a thing? He loved his mother. How could she love him now? Why should she care?

As he laid, grass tickling his face, a breeze began to blow between the trees. The child ignored it, clenching his fists around clumps of grass. The breeze only blew harder. Then it began to whisper his name.
Amazed, the child sat up. "Who are you?" he whispered, looking all around the trees.

"I am a mother...just like your mother." The voice sounded gentle...like a sigh.

"But where are you?" The child was puzzled by this voice without a body.

"I am everywhere, my child, for I am the Earth. I heard your pain and answered your Call."

Tears began to fall down the cheek of the child. "I didn't call anyone! Besides, I am a bad person and no one likes me."

A laugh now echoed through the breeze. It ruffled his hair like a caress. "Silly child! Do you think that just because you were angry, your mother will love you less?" The voice grew sad. "My children are always doing hurting things...both to themselves and to me. They try to destroy me time after time. And I, too, sometimes get angry. Yet..."

The voice was silent for a long moment. "Yet, they are my children. And I love them. Perhaps, if I care enough, someday they will learn to love instead of hate...create instead of destroy. Someday..."

The boy sat silent. He thought about how he used to care about his fellow men. Then he let all that caring turn to angry and hate.

"Mother Earth? Maybe if I love enough people...if I care...it will teach them to love in return." "Perhaps..."
The child jumped up. "I will! And I will start with my mother!"

As he exited the woods, the child heard a whisper in the wind, "Never be ashamed to care!"

Hurrying home, the child was surprised to find his mother sitting weeping in front the broken pieces of the vase. *She must be more upset about the vase than I thought.* he thought as he stood in the doorway.

"Mother..."

To his shock, his mother jumped up and hugged him tight. "I was so worried about you." She brushed his hair out of his eyes. "Surely, you know that you are more important than a vase."

The love in his mother's eyes made the child feel strange. She was more concerned about him? In that moment, all the anger that he had created to keep him from caring melted away. Standing in his mother's arms, he vowed that he wouldn't let anything ever stop him from caring.

There was a child.

Just an ordinary child.

Yet, in one way he was not so ordinary. This child cared.

Freedom Of Religion

In the wake of all the drama surrounding the Muslim Community Center going up in New York I felt it was important to address the issue of Religious Freedom...  Many people in my experience are more than willing to spout off about the First Amendment and their Freedom of Religion when it fits their needs. Yet, in recent weeks, more than ever before, I have seen a HUGE outcry for discrimination based solely on Religion. I've seen it from every group imaginable and all in all it's both frightens and angers me...

The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees us the freedom of Religion. But what does that really mean? What is the first amendment?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
— The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The First Amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights. It prohibits the making of any law "respecting the establishment of religion," impeding the free exercise of religion, infringing on the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

 Originally, the First Amendment only applied to the Congress. However, starting with Gitlow v. New York, (1925), the Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies the First Amendment to each state, including any local government.

Okay, so what this all boils down to is that our first Amendment Guarantees us protection against any and all legal actions which limit out religious freedoms. However, it does not unfortunately guarantee us protection from the beliefs or misconceptions of others. What it DOES do though is allow all of us to opportunity to express our religious beliefs, enjoy our religious traditions and live the lifestyle we choose without threat of religious persecution by legal establishments or law makers.

In addition to this First Amendment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin. While this law too, has since been amended to include sexuality and disabilities the basics of this Act have never been altered. The original purpose of this act was to prohibit employment discrimination, however, this part to has been extended in order to stop discrimination in other aspects of our lives as well.

Because of the combination of both the First Amendment and the Civil Rights Act, we are living in a society today which gives us the right to equality, regardless of our religious alignment... And also because of these laws that no one else has the ability to refuses us employment, service, entrance, or provide us with unequal treatment based on those alignments.

But what does all this mean in real world terms? And who does it REALLY apply to? Well, simply put it applies to ALL of us - Every single American, regardless of the popularity of their beliefs. That means that be we Pagan, Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, NO ONE has the right to stop us from having the same rights as everyone else. It also means that WE do NOT have the right to stop others from having the same rights as we have simply because of their religious beliefs.

We don't HAVE to agree with everyone else, and we are free to believe they are wrong or that their religion in general is wrong. And thanks to the clause about Freedom of Speech we even have the right to make our standing known... However, what we are NOT free to do is to try and force our beliefs on others or try and force them to conform to what we believe they should believe or do - Even when we don't understand or agree with their beliefs!

Because the drama surrounding the Muslim Community Center is what inspired this post, and because it's currently on the minds of many, I am going to use this as my example. Because of the actions of a group of Terrorists and because of the general misunderstandings and propaganda people choose to believe surrounding Islam and those of the Muslim faith, the simple building of a Community Center has become headline news.

Thousands of Americans have come out against the building of this Center solely because of the religious affiliation of those creating it. A few of these Americans have even gone so far as to involve legal authorities and create legal red tape for the group in general. However, because of the laws in place today, these actions MUST be seen as discrimination and MUST be shot down! It would be unconstitutional and illegal to stop ANY religious group from building a Center - for worship or for other purposes - simply because of their religious beliefs.

Personally, I don't understand the drama around this issue, mostly because I am someone to does her best to find out the FACTS before I jump on to either end of an argument. But also because, even if I didn't do my best to find the facts before making judgment, I am a FIRM believer in FREEDOM! I understand that I don't have to like something or someone, but that my beliefs shouldn't in any way impede on anothers rights.

As a Pagan, religious freedom is a HUGE deal for me. Because it is this freedom which allows me to have the life I want, to educate others and myself, to have this blog, to build a website and openly state "I am a Pagan!" Without that freedom, my rights can be removed at ANY time, and if you simply take a moment to look around the world, look through our history books you'll notice that Pagan's rights tend to be the FIRST to go. And personally, I don't want to do anything that aids in the removal or revocation of my rights.

Now, how could standing up against something like a Muslim Community Center aid to the removal of our rights as Pagans? Simple. Every action taken against ANY religious community adds to the erosion of those rights in the public eye. And once we start to allow those lines in the sand to be drawn, once we allow ourselves to see other religions as less deserving we are opening the doors for others to do the same to us. Which opens the door for the majority rule to take over - once again. This is NOT something we can allow...

I want to end this post by asking each of you what you see as more important? The FREEDOM which we are lucky enough to be blessed with, or the removal of that freedom from another group...  In the end there can only be ONE answer - In order to preserve OUR freedom, we MUST stand firmly on the side of Freedom and Civil Rights, regardless of our feelings toward ANY religious group which may be involved! To take any other action not only shows our lack of gratefulness of those Freedoms which we all take for granted, but also erode our right to have them!

The Celtic Knot

The Celtic Knot is one of the most recognized and well known designs in Celtic jewelry & art. Knot designs are found throughout ancient stone art & tattoos, in manuscripts and just about anywhere the Celtic people left their mark throughout their travels. Knot designs are not limited to the Celtic peoples, in fact similar designs exist in Norse and even Chinese cultures. 

While many guides to Celtic art exist, all complete with meanings, the meanings of these designs have largely been lost to time. We currently know of NO authentic knots with meanings of love, loyalty, sisterhood or any of the other common things people attribute to the designs. The never ending, interweaving designs seem to suggest themes of eternity and interconnectedness, and knots may have been made at one time to trick evil spirits. However the actual spiritually connected meanings behind these works can only be guessed at today.

The many figures of interwoven people and animals could very well have represented the dependence of the worlds of nature and human life had on one another. Two or more knots laced together could easily have symbolized lovers, family, hunters & prey, God & man or any number of other meanings. Some knots no doubt were used as magickal talismans for protection or blessings. Today we tend to see the more decorative knots over those with purpose and reason behind them. Many knot designs are found in early Christian manuscripts as well as other written works, however, these would have been included out of beauty over a spiritual meaning.

We have almost nothing in the way of Celtic records, as they themselves lived by oral tradition and simply didn't have writings to leave. Because of this most symbols have been interpreted by archaeologists and other scientists or scholars who studied the symbols in context. Some of the ancient symbols of the Celts have had their meanings altered over time as the influence of Christianity influenced the cultures. As a general rule the shape of the design  often determines the "meaning" of the knotwork. Triskele & Trefoil shapes should generally been regarded as Triskeles.  Bird, fish or animal designs usually represent the attributes of the animals. Circles tend to represent unity or eternity. Spirals depict reincarnation or cycles of life, death and rebirth. Triangles and trefoils represent the dominions of earth, sea and sky. Squares or four-fold shapes are "Shield knots," symbols of protection.  None of the authentic Celtic Knot designs seem to be identifiable as Mother, Brother, Sister or Family, these instead have been altered knots to fit meanings or quickly assumed meanings rather than one based on knowledge or understanding, these however were simply not a part of the basic Celtic way of thought... 

Get Loose: The Benefits of Loose Tea

**This article is not specifically something of a Pagan nature. However, many of us in the Pagan community do our best to strive for a more natural and naturally healthy style of life. Because of this I felt this article and the links to follow it were of a great benefit. Please take the time to read though things and check out our Teaporia Shoppe  for yourself...**

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Article By: Bill Waddington

Similar to the debate of choosing pods vs. brewed coffee, the long-running discussion of loose-leaf tea vs. teabags rages on. Most vendors immediately choose teabags whether they believe they are cheaper or succumbing to the myth that they are more convenient. What many vendors don’t realize is that loose teas provide a premium quality, flavor, merchandising options, and a surprisingly lower priced product that can’t simply be found in teabags alone.

You should know right from the start that I don’t like teabags. I don’t make teabags. I don’t sell teabags. But as a tea seller I feel it is vital to look critically at the question of loose vs. bagged tea.

I refer to myself as a tea seller but that term also embraces coffee shop owners, tea growers, tea packers, tea brokers, tea wholesalers, tea retailers, restaurateurs, grocers - we all sell tea. And one of the most fundamental decisions every tea seller makes is whether to market and sell loose leaf tea or bagged tea. With all of the teabag tweaking and repackaging that has been going on in the last few years, many folks jump immediately onto the teabag band wagon, not realizing there is a whole range of other options to consider.

When considering this question of loose vs. bagged I believe there are two factors you should consider before all others, quality and cost (or profit margin). Of course there are additional issues to consider such as convenience, consumer trends, meeting quantity demands etc.

The Quality of Loose vs. Bagged

The upper range of loose leaf tea is of tremendously higher quality than any bagged tea. This is a fact that all great teas are loose leaf teas. There is no great tea in teabags. I realize there are some teabag manufacturers sputtering with indignation and getting red in the face right now. But I stand by my statement; there are no great teas in teabags. By great tea I mean competition level or world class tea. There are no teabags that equal the quality of the best loose leaf teas.

This is not to say that all teabags have poor quality tea in them, far from it. I personally have a fondness for Typhoo teabags. There are many teabags that have good tea in them. And of course not all loose leaf is great or even good tea. It should also be noted that at some point personal taste enters the equation. You may find that you may happen to like a particular inexpensive tea, and there is nothing wrong with that.

But the fact remains that the best quality teabag is nowhere near the best quality loose-leaf tea. Not even close.

The Cost (Profit Margin) of Loose vs. Bagged

When looking at the cost or profit margin issue, the gap between loose tea and bagged tea is even more dramatic. Simply put, there is a phenomenally higher profit margin in loose tea than in teabags. Looking at wholesale prices, you can easily purchase good to excellent loose leaf tea for between one - eight cents per cup. You can purchase great and competition level loose teas for 10 - 20¢ per cup.

Mass-market teabags (generally containing mediocre to average tea) seem to run between 10 - 20¢ per cup. Supposedly better quality teabags seem to run between 20 - 30¢ per cup.

The trendy super-premium teabags seem to run between 30 - 70¢ per cup. And these super-premium teabags are still not as good as the best loose-leaf teas, despite the fact that they are 5 to 10 times more costly.

At any price level you can always get a dramatically higher quality loose-leaf tea for the same price than a teabag. And when comparing loose and bagged teas of similar quality (a difficult task at best) bagged teas will always be dramatically higher priced.

Simply put loose-leaf tea is one of the few arenas in the world where you can get a much higher quality at a much lower cost.

So then the question changes from, “Why bother with loose-leaf tea?” to why would anyone want teabags (with their higher costs and lower quality).

The Myth of Teabag Convenience
The primary reason people choose teabags is “The Myth of Teabag Convenience.” This is the big gun of teabag advocates, that teabags are much more convenient than loose-leaf tea. This is just a myth but it has been around so long, that it has almost achieved the status of accepted wisdom. But it is simply not true.

We sell lots of loose-leaf tea to restaurants. Restaurant managers are some of the most practical hard-nosed individuals I know. Without exception they have a strongly held belief that teabags are less work than loose-leaf teas. So one of my jobs is shooting holes in the myth of teabag convenience.

I always ask if they are concerned that converting to loose-leaf tea will be extra work (i.e. less convenient) for the servers. Invariably the answer is yes. So I offer them a challenge. I will prepare loose leaf tea and one of their experienced servers will prepare teabags as they have always done. We almost always finish at the same time. And then I have them taste the two teas. The loose-leaf tea almost sells itself. There are so many clever ways to steep loose-leaf tea today (do-it-yourself disposable teabags, in-cup or in-pot brewing baskets etc.) that it doesn’t take any longer to prepare a two-cup (standard restaurant size) pot of tea, than it takes to prepare a two-cup pot of tea with teabags.

Reasons for Selling Teabags

Another rationale for marketing and selling teabags is that with teabags you can achieve a more consistent flavor profile over time and over large market areas. There is definitely some truth to this. Unfortunately this more consistent flavor profile is usually defined as a lowest common denominator of quality. But clearly there is a large and ongoing demand to address this need for consistency. Teabags may be best suited to fill this need.

Another rationale for marketing and selling teabags is that you can bring your costs, and thus the final retail price down. In fact there are many people who believe that teabags achieved a dominance in the industry because it gave growers/packers, and manufacturers an avenue to sell lower quality tea. While it is true that you can bring some of your costs down (by using cheaper tea), more importantly you will also be bringing your profit margin down. In the long run that is a very unhealthy business model.

The truth is there is a definite market and place for teabags, but not at the exclusion of loose-leaf tea. Loose-leaf tea will always offer an opportunity of higher quality with lower costs. It is certainly great to see the tweaking and redesigning of the teabag over the last few years. And although much of this redesign of the teabag is pure marketing and hype there seems to be a decided effort to figure out ways to help the teabag deliver a better quality cup.

There are some who would say that this argument, that loose-leaf tea delivers higher quality with lower costs, is all fine and good, but it is only applicable on a very small scale (like a specialty tea store) or just in a food-service setting. I disagree strongly. McDonalds would be much better served if they would convert to a decent quality loose-leaf tea. The tea they presently offer to their customers is really dreadful. They would be able to achieve lower costs while delivering a noticeably better tasting product. The principle of delivering higher quality with lower costs is valid for any business, large or small, food-service or retail.

Additional Benefits of Loose Tea

In addition to better quality and higher profit margins, there are some other good reasons to market and sell loose-leaf tea. First, there are many more flavor choices and blend options available with loose-leaf tea. In fact with loose-leaf teas it is very easy and affordable to create custom and proprietary blends, signature items that are absolutely unique to your customer’s business. With teabags there is a huge economy of scale necessary that makes it difficult and much more costly to create proprietary blends.

Also in retail settings (from coffee shop to tea store to traditional grocery store) there are the additional sales of other tea brewing/infusing devices, when you are selling loose-leaf teas.

Another reason to focus on loose-leaf tea is that is where the growth is. Teabag sales in the U.S. are flat, at best. Specialty loose-leaf teas are on a very healthy upward trend.

In addition, I believe there are many more merchandising opportunities using loose-leaf tea vs. teabag tea. Loose-leaf teas are much more eye appealing than another box teabags on the shelf.

But, I am not saying, “Don’t carry teabags.” No. A market has been created for them, and as a seller of tea you need to be attuned to that market.

But keep in mind this fundamental truth, loose-leaf tea is one of the few things in the world that delivers much higher quality at a much lower cost. Shouldn’t this be one of your primary goals in working with all of your customers?

About the Author: Bill Waddington is the founder of TeaSource, a Minnesota based specialty tea wholesale company. As such he imports and blends some of the finest teas from around the world. Bill has also served on the board of directors of the American Premium Tea Institute, was the chairman of the 2004 Specialty Tea Institute Symposium, and was a featured speaker at the China International Tea Expo, Beijing 2005.

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Asatuar Values

Generally the Asatruar are very principled people, but that doesn't mean their faith is without joy. If a life is well lived there should be plenty of time to gather with kin and celebrate, but there are also times to work hard and perhaps even to battle. The Asatuar Values are reflected in the Nine Noble Virtues, which offer a moral Compass. They also make consideration for their reputation and the honor of their families will remain after their death.

Nine Noble Virtues

The Nine Noble Virtues provide a guide for living a good, just life. These values are not recorded in ancient lore but were developed by modern Asartu organizations based on the working in the Havamal, which is a collection of poems in the Poetic Eddas. Most Asatru consider them to be ample moral guidance. The Virtues are not rules like the Ten Commandments, but are single words that embody important personality traits.

   1. Courage: This is nor merely the lack of fear in the face of danger. It's also the courage to stand up for the rights of others and yourself. It's the courage to live according to these moral values even when it seems all around you are in violation.
   2. Truth: Honesty, which is the key part of maintaining personal honor. It's also allegiance to your gods, your religious beliefs and your family.
   3. Honor:  What drives you to act according to the Virtues and what is right. Without honor, you are nothing. It precedes your arrival in new places and follows you after death.
   4. Fidelity:  Being faithful to your commitments, both to your friends and family as well as the world at large.
   5. Discipline: This is really self-discipline, working hard to keep yourself on the correct path. It's also getting yourself back to work if you're relaxed a little to long.
   6. Hospitality:  Welcoming people warmly in to your home and treating others with respect. It's also treating your house spirits with the dignity owed them.
   7. Industriousness:  Not just working hard at your chosen career, but working hard at your faith. It is forming a kindred if you can't find one to join.
   8. Self-Reliance:  Instead of or in addition to seeking help from other people or the gods, you do what is necessary to fulfill your own needs and desires.
   9. Perseverance: Continuing in the fact of difficulty, whether it's in your personal life or a challenge to your faith from the outside.


Oaths and Oath -Breaking

Oaths made by and between Asatruar are taken very seriously. An oath is much more than a casual promise - it's a pact and a solemn promise to preform some action. A popular type of oath is the oath of Frith, in which Asatruar promise to uphold the honor of a person or the group as a while. Oaths can be sworn during rituals called blots or sumbels. They can also be made outside of rituals. It isn't usually necessary to write them down, but witnesses may be present.

An oath should be broken only in dire circumstances. In cases where keeping an oath would directly harm either "oath-brother/sister" the oath may be broken, however you should do your best to uphold an oath at all costs. Because oaths are taken so seriously it's a good idea to consider your oaths very carefully prior to making them and to avoid making oaths until you get to know the other person well. You could view an oath similar to signing a contract, if you wouldn't sign a legally binding contract with this person for this propose, you shouldn't be taking the oath.

Are you a Real Pagan?

Okay, so this is coming out of the numerous posts and books I have read that seem to reinforce the idea that you have to follow a SET belief or live your life a SPECIFIC way in order to be a Real Pagan. I've seen some rather nasty comments lately on a few of my sites and in groups because they feel others aren't living a proper Pagan life. This idea seriously sickens me.

While there ARE set beliefs, teachings and traditions surrounding certain Pagan Traditions, Paganism as a whole is a very individualized belief system. Each of us has to follow our heart and there is no RIGHT or WRONG way to be a Pagan. In my opinion, that's what makes Paganism so wonderful.

IF you choose to belong to a specific tradition or to join a coven, it's important that you both agree with and follow their set beliefs and teachings, however, if you don't agree with them, you don't have to try and force yourself to believe that way, you can simply find a different path, or follow a solitary path. Solitary and Eclectic Pagans are by no means LESS of a Pagan or LESS than worthy of the title or Pagan than anyone in a coven, grove or group... They are simply on a different path.

I've heard some comments lately such as: "Real Pagans believe in One Goddess and One God," "Real Pagans don't eat meat" and "Real Pagans call the corners during ritual." Frankly, I would love to tell all those people "Real Pagans Don't Judge!" But then I would be right there with them...

Point is this... There is NO right or wrong, no black or white... Paganism is ALL about individualism and a relationship with the divine... Paganism is NOT a rule based organized religion or something which has to adhered to... You won't find any sacred texts or all powerful, rule setting hierarchy here, if that's what you want, you should rethink your religious choices!

Breaking Stereotypes

People from all walks of life, in all corners of the US tend to buy in to the same stereotypes when it comes to religious beliefs. We get them from watching TV & Movies, reading popular books and comics and from those around us. Many people grow up within strict religious beliefs, these people tend to have a stronger belief against others than those who do not grow up this way, which is easy to understand. However, because of the strong stereotypes and media propaganda which is spread throughout the US (and other similar countries) even those who do their best not to be involved with religious bigotry get sucked in to these same general beliefs. Now, what does that mean? Well, it means that when people hear words like "Christian" or "Church" the think normal, good but when they hear words like "Pagan," "Witch," "Coven" or "Wiccan" they think evil, demonic or weird.

Even many people who have or do know Pagans or Wiccans, easily buy in to the propaganda surrounding their traditions or beliefs. In the majority of these cases people simply believe what they hear or see on TV or in literature. In recent years there have been a few moives, tv shows and popular books which have shown Pagans, Witches and/or Wiccans in a better, more honest light - however these are still few and far between and are still the great minority. On the flip side of that since the early 80's popular movies like "The Witches of Eastwick" and "The Craft" have shown witches and Paganism in general in a negative, all be it entertaining, light. These movies tend not only to fall in line with what people already believe but help to reinforce old die hard stereotypes left over from more ignorant times in our history.

As a Pagan and a Witch, I strongly believe the ONLY way to counteract these beliefs is to act. We can all sit back and wine about being oppressed, abused and hated, but that does nothing to change how people perceive us. However, confronting and changing hard set beliefs is not an easy thing to do. No one of us can make so big of a difference that the world takes notice.

So what CAN we do? It's easy to look at the world and just say "it's too big, I can't make a difference!" But one thing we need to remember is that with any similar situations through history it takes a great many actions by a great many individuals to change the thinking of a generation. Lets take for example the civil rights movement in the 50's and 60's. While Martin Luther King and Malcom X were responsible for taking charge and motivating people, without those people to motivate their words and actions alone could not have made the impact they did. It took the thousands of people behind them, supporting them to make the changes which have lead to the general acceptance for African Americans which we have today... Although I will admit that the Civil Rights Fight is far from over and far from complete.

So what is the point to all this? It's easy to become involved with a movement when we have a Martin Luther King to follow behind, but what happens when you feel like you're alone in the crowd? What happens where there is no powerful speaker to back up? Is it still possible to make a change? Is it still possible to alter how people see Pagans? Witches? and other similar groups even without a big loud movement? YES - Without doubt, YES!

Now, I am in no way suggesting that you become that leader. I am in no way saying you should go out of your way to make yourself a target, as many of these Movement leaders have done...  However, as with any movement it takes millions of little nudges to move a mountain...  So even a small step once in a while can contribute to the bigger movement.

Starting small is easier than you may think! People tend to think change has to be hard, it has to take lots of time or money... In truth, it doesn't take either. The FIRST step is believing in what you are doing. As a Pagan, most of us do our best to live by our beliefs and love of nature...  So, why not make our first steps in that direction? Every little thing we do to further our natural lifestyle helps more than us - it helps the earth, and it helps the movement. HOW? Well, we are living in a world where "green" is in. Everyone is doing their best to be green...  So why not do our best to "fit in" to that movement, because it is already here and it is something that people will see! Make a point to use green products, reusable bags, recycle, re-purpose our belongings...  People WILL take notice!  Want to make them notice faster? Get some friends together & clean up a park or a road side. Have a study group or a coven? Why not adopt a highway? Raise money to clean up a park or playground?

The point to all this is that small steps DO make a difference and WILL make a point. People see Pagans as evil, demonic, uncaring people. The first step to proving them wrong is proving that Pagans are loving, caring and good natured. Helping our earth, helps us all... And IF you can get a group together to put their name on a project or rededicate a park to, it makes a HUGE statement to the surrounding community.

Want to make a bigger impact? Start a study group, or invite others to the one you already have. Join a local pagan group and get them involved... As with any movement, the biggest struggle is how people outside the movement see those who are in it. Give people no cause to see you as evil. Treat your beliefs as a way of life and be willing to be open to questions. DO NOT open yourself to hate, that's not what I am saying. However, acting secretive or refusing to answer questions only furthers the belief that Pagans have something to hide.

IF you're still in the closet, not a problem! You can still make a difference by supporting Pagan groups or causes. AND by doing your best to live a lifestyle which reflects your beliefs. Pagan charities are few and far between, however they DO exist, and there is a growing number of them. There are also a growing number of Pagan Civil Rights Groups which need support as well. If you aren't willing just yet to come out and be in the open with your beliefs or openly support things in public, it's not something to be ashamed of, and is completely up to you... The internet gives us access to hundreds of opportunities to make a change and support the cause without "coming out."

Change comes in small waves. FIRST we have to change how people see us an individuals. SECOND comes changing how others see us as a whole. ONLY then can there be true equality without overall prejudice.

Pagan Parenting: Sleepy Time Rhymes & Prayers

I found these on another site - or a few actually, and found them to be beautiful. So I wanted to pass them on. As I find more I will add them!


Bed Time Chant/Prayer
~Author Unknown

Conjure circle round the bed
Where I lay my weary head.
That in it's gold and silver light,
I will spend a peaceful night.


The Magick (a bedtime chant)
~Author Unknown

O golden light,
O silver light,
Please, weave your web around me
And protect me through the night.
My day is done, my night begun,
With dreams before me found.
I shall sleep in peace and light,
My protective circle bound.


Bedtime Prayer
~Author Unknown

Now I lay me down to sleep
Through the twilight, and dark so deep
Earth and Water, Fire and Air
Stay with me while Mom's not there
Elements guide me through the night
And leave with thanks at mornings light


Sh, Sh, Sh
~Author Unknown

Out come the stars
Sh sh sh
Bright shines the moon
Sh sh sh
Sweet sings the nightbird
Sh sh sh
"Go to bed
Sleepyhead"
Sandman said,
"Sh, sh, sh."


Bedtime Prayer
~Author Unknown
Now I lay me down to sleep, Please help me learn my world to keep. To guard the air and skies of blue, The oceans, lakes, and rivers, too. Save the mighty forest lands, The plains, the shores, and desert sands. Protect all creatures, wild and free, In air, on land, and in the sea.

Lullabye
~Author Unknown

Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top, When the wind blows, your cradle will rock. Birds will serenade you, Stars guard the night. Slumber in peace, 'til morning brings light.


Bedtime Prayer to Keep Nightmares Away
~Author Unknown

Mother Earth and Father Sky
Cradle me here where I lie.
Keep me safe the whole night long
As I rest in your arms so strong.
Mother Earth and Father Sky
Keep me safe here where I lie.


Bedtime Prayer
~ Author unknown

Day is done, it's time for bed
Goddess bless my sleepy head
Earth and Water, Air and Fire
Bring gentle dreams as I retire
When the morning sun does rise
The God will bless my open eyes


Child's Prayer
~Author unknown

Now I lay me down to rest.
I pray that all the world be blessed.
Lady Moon and Sister Star
Watch over me from afar.
Mother Earth is always there
And keeps me safe within her care.
The Lord of Dreams will dance and sing
And happy dreams will to me bring.
And when I wake to greet the day
Brother Sun will light my way.

Metaphysical Monster Hunt - "Merfolk"

Like with the majority of other "monstrous" beings Merfolk have been largely generalized by Hollywood and the Media, although unlike other creatures this actually tends to work WITH the sightings and reports rather than against them. And like most of the beings of this type, Merfolk, have been the subject of some very questionable claims on the part of would be de-bunkers...

For well over a century now, the standard scientific explanation for a mermaid sighting throughout the world in numerous books and articles has been that the manatee has been seen and mistaken for a mermaid... To this I say, there are few better explanations with explain nothing! Manatees, for those who don't know, have far more in common with a walrus than with a Mermaid. Anyone who could possibly mistake one of these blubbery, whiskered creatures for a Mermaid was either very drunk or very dead - possibly both. And this explanation doesn't come anywhere close to explaining the stories or sightings of a Mermaid climbing atop of rocks near the shore or singing - two of the most common things Mermaids are consistently reported to be doing...

The second major issue with this explanation is basic geography.  While Dugongs (one species of Manatee) are found in shallow waters along the coast of the Indian Ocean, and Manatees are generally found through the Gulf of Mexico and the Congo River, neither of these species are found in the waters of the North Atlantic, where the majority of Mermaid sightings come in from.

In addition, you may be surprised that mermaids, along with most other "imaginary" or "monserous" beings have been sighted through the years more than numerous times by credible and sober observers who are familiar with the sea and it's inhabitants! A simple review of the reports thoughout history brings up quite a few examples.

For example, on October 29, 1811, John McIssacs gave sworn testimony that he had seen a Mermaid while walking along the beach near Campbeltown, Scotland. He was able to give a detailed description of the mermaid, who had red hair, white skin above the waist and reddish-gray below the waist, and who was sitting on a rock above the water. Two separate clergymen testified that McIssac was considered to be a sober steady man and should be considered a "reliable witness." Three days after McIssac's testimony the Sheriff-Sub at the time also took testimony from another witness, Katherine Loynachan, who had also seen an identically described Mermaid sunning on the rocks in the same area just a week before.

Sightings such as these are repeated over and over through history. In 1809, William Munro, a school teacher from Thurso in Caithness, reported seeing a Mermaid on a rock near Sandside Head. In 1814, two fisherman off Port Gordon encountered two, merman and a mermaid. In 1949, fisherman off the coast of Cape More reported seeing merfolk several times... The list only goes on and on from there.

Mermaid Legends and Lore

By all accounts, merfolk live in the sea with no need to return to land, but they do seem to be able to spend short periods out of the water. The great majority of these accounts in modern sightings show the merfolk to have a standard fishtail with fins extending from side to side, like those of dolphins, whales and other marine mammals. However, there is a significant minority of these sightings which state that merfolk look exactly like humans, but live in the sea.

One theme common among the lore surrounding merfolk is the connection between them and storms. Many accounts credit them with either causing or predicting storms by singing. Through out the Middle Ages it seems there was quite the heated debate among scholars debating whether Mermaids actually had the power to raise storms or whether their singing before a storm was simply a result of their keen perception of the weather. Of course, this debate was never settled conclusively, but common belief of North Atlantic mariners was that if any member of the crew heard a mermaid singing, it was time to get in to port as soon as possible...

While there ARE legends which speak of sexual relations between humans and merfolk, the vast majority of human interactions with them tend to be brief and at a distance. As "monstrous" beings go, Mermaids are fairly harmless. But there are a few risks to dealing with the according to folklore. For example, in Hebrides, local mermen have a nasty reputation as ship-wreckers. This reputation, and similar accounts, seem to stem from a history of a soured relationship between humans and merfolk rather than to credible accounts.

One phenomenon that is found in SOME sources and not in others tends to come under some dispute. This is the belief that sailors, upon hearing a mermaid's song, would throw themselves in to the sea. While there is good reason to believe that this detail entered in to the lore by way of confusion over the myths surrounding merfolk and sirens, there does seem to be some reason to find credibility in this...  In 1973, after a number of cases like this, captains of the fishing fleet working seas south of Spitzbergen brought in an English exorcist to the area to banish the entities responsible. That stated, there is no reason to think these cases are linked to Mermaids over another unknown reason.

It also seems that trying to harm a Mermaid or Merman can be a very dangerous habit! Violence against Mermaids is said to bring on a storm of terrible intensity, strong enough to sink ships and seaside buildings.  Olaus Magnus, a Norwegian historian, speaking of Merfolk stated as follows:
Yea, this I adde from the faithful assertions of the Norway fishers, that when such [merfolk] are taken, if they be not presently let go again, there ariseth such a fierce tempest that a man would thinke the varie heavens were falling, and the vaulted roofe of the world running to ruine; in so much that the fisherman have much ado to escape with their lives; whereupon they confirmed it as a law amongst them that if any chanced to hang such a fish upon his hook he should suddenly cut the line and let him go (Benwell and Waugh, p98)
The Mermaid in History

In terms of their impact on human culture and life, Mermaids have never been the most important "monstrous" beings.  However, figures of the classic mermaid type can be found from very ancient times, often as Goddesses or other "divine" beings. In Syria the moon Goddess Derceto and the Greek tritons and tritonids are great examples of this. As with both of these examples the appearances in art tend to show with the classic mermaid fishtail. So does, Ea, Lord of Time and Measurer of the Great Deep, who is one of the mightiest Gods of Ancient Babylon.

By the Middle Ages, Merfolk have been knocked down a few pegs, but still had an important place in the bestiaries and natural histories of the time. Religious Authorities and Monkish writers tended to demonize them, as they did just about anything which was connected to women... They also managed to confuse Mermaids with the Greek Sirens.

Ireland tended to have a much more tolerant view of Mermaids. Irish annals record that in 558 a mermaid was drawn ashore in a fisherman's net, was baptized and then died. Afterward she was honored as a holy virgin and miracles were recorded at her shrine at Teo-da-Beoc.  Saint Patrick supposedly converted another member of the Irish Merfolk. Fintan, was supposedly of the tailless variety and is said to have later become an important saint in his own right.

Beyond the limits of Ireland, the mermaid seems to have dropped from divine status by Mid- Middle Ages. It seems that by the Thirteenth century the former goddess had become little more than an oddly shaped fish... Bartholomaeus Anglicus, a writer during this time, describes them as "sea beasts wonderfully shapen" and "fishes of the sea in likeness to women." During this same time however, is the period in history where detailed, circumstantial accounts of merfolk become most common.

Documented sightings continued through the Renaissance up to the early parts of the Modern day...  The North Atlantic in particular was the scene of great numbers of reports. Dispite the increasing ridicule heaped on those who claimed to see Merfolk and other "imaginary creatures," sightings continued without break in to the nineteenth century.  Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries it was Scotland in particular where the majority of these highly credible accounts come from.

So the question may come to mind of "Why did these sightings become so few and far between soon after the end of the 19th century if there were so many then?" And in fact the answer if fairly simple. During the end of the 19th century and early 20th a great many advances in technology came about. One of the greatest impacts on the world of the sea was the propeller driven ship. As the number of propeller driven ships grew, the number of Merfolk sightings dropped off drastically. With a basic level of thinking this makes more than perfect sense. Seeing how most other marine creatures do their best to avoid the noise, the pollution and the dangerously sharp, fast spinning propellers of modern vessels.

However, even with this advancement and the modern "knowledge" that merfolk are fictional these sightings have continued throughout the second half of the 20th century and in to present day. In addition to those people who do come forward, it makes sense that in today's world more people are simply not coming forward today than they did in the past given the current climate of opinion surrounding the belief in such things.

Mistaken Identity

It's worth noting that there are many mis-identifications and hoaxes when dealing with Merfolk. While it's unfortunate that people would choose to seek poblicity through lies, we all know it happens. Cases such as the "feegee" mermaid have become more famous than the more credible cases.  Not ALL of these mis-identifications are hoaxes however. There are two other basic sources of mis-identification. These are Seals and Other Aquatic Mammals and regular human swimmers.

While it's hard to credit the great many claims of Mermaids from Seamen and seaside inhabitants as being seals or other normal aquatic animals, as they obviously know what these animals look and sound like. That said, it's worth noting that it HAS happened, especially when a person is not familiar with seals or similar creatures, and when these sightings happen after dark.

Now, obviously the most likely source of mis-identifications is just that... People seeing actual human beings swimming in coastal waters. Because some merfolk are said to be identical to regular humans, it's not always possible to rule out humans over merfolk. On the other hand, when a tail is seen it's less likely to be a normal person and more likely that this sighting is credible. There are, however, cases where hoaxers and other actual swimmers are wearing tails similar to those credited to merfolk.

For crypto-zoologists there is little question of the reality of Merfolk as living creatures. But the general scientific belief is that these creatures are fictional and sightings are either hoaxes or mis-identification of known creatures. For the general population they are a beautiful part of children's stories and movies, but they are far from a reality, but for many of us, the hope and belief that they do exist and will be discovered at some point is a matter of faith.

And for at least one Israeli, town it's now become a matter of money!  A number of sightings of alleged Mermaids in Israel have forced at least one town's council to get involved, offering a $1m reward to anyone who can prove that the mythical nautical nymphs exist in its waters.

Sexuality and Paganism - Part 3: Sex Education and Children

Okay, when it comes to Children and sex, we all have our own way of doing things. And Pagans are no different... I want to first mention here that there is really no "Pagan Way" when it comes to teaching sex and sexuality to your kids. But I find this subject to be one of great, and I do mean GREAT importance. Over the last year or so sex education has become quite the hot topic among parents in general, both Pagan and Non-Pagan alike. It is because of this fact that I feel this subject needs to be addressed in this series.

As was stated in a previous "Pagan Sexuality" post most Pagans grew up in sexually restrictive environments, and due to this bring with them at least some religiously conservative ideas about sex and sexuality. However, as a rule Pagans strive to be accepting and tolerant of others and strive to pass this on to their children as well.

The largest issue confronting Pagan parents trying to balance the underlying sexuality in their traditions, beliefs and myths without teaching promiscuity or other potentially dangerous activities... In most Pagan traditions both natural healthy sexuality as well as fertility are both celebrated and embraced. And this can create a tricky situation for parents. If parents participate in, or permit their children to participate in skyclad rituals, teaching children that there is a time & place for nudity can become an issue, but one that needs to be addressed none the less!

As with any sensitive issue and children each parent needs to decide what their feelings on the major issues are and when they wish for their children to learn both the basics and the more "advanced" issues. After discussing this issue with a number of other Pagan moms, I have come to the conclusion that the general feeling among Pagans is that it's less important what and when you teach and more important that you simply teach rather than allowing your children to learn their "facts" from other children or the popular media.

As stated I can not, and will not, try to tell you how and what to teach your children about sexuality. However, I am going to do my best to at the very lseast give you some basics and "guidelines" that will hopefully give you some ideas and maybe open a line of communication. As with any subject of this delicasy it's generally best to be open and honest over creative and figurative. Way to many women throughout history have gone in to their wedding night not knowing that the stork doesn't bring babies... Which as I originally stated is as much a non-Pagan parenting issue as it is a Pagan Parenting issue, but either way the truth is that these things simply need to be taught - Pagan or not!

Only you can decide what your children need to hear and when, but I'm a firm believer that it's better to teach early and keep the lines of communication open than to wait and risk your your children learn any number of the common myths or secular opinions...

Some general information which I highly recommend covering with your children early is basic terminology. While many parents shy away from terms such as Vulva or Penis in favor of slang or "kiddy words" for these body parts, many others feel it's highly important for the proper terms to be taught from the start. I have heard from many a mom whose children learned these proper terms from other kids way before they did from the parents. Teaching the basic terminology not only aids in the basic anatomy education your child receives but it also helps them to identify with their own body and will help to establish a comfort within their own skin. Studies have shown that children who's parents discouraged the proper terms are more likely to feel uncomfortable when talking about their bodies or sexual issues later in life - even with their own teachers, parents or doctors.

other issues which need to be covered at an early age are what we used to call "Red Flag & Green Flag" touches when I was a kid. Teaching your child that his body is his body alone and that only he, a parent or doctor should ever touch his body is a HUGE thing in this day & age. More and more children are being exposed to unhealthy sexual relationships from both adults and other children, and it's important to stess to your children what is and isn't okay touching and from whom. It's also very important at the same time to stress the importance of having an open and honest relationship with you when it comes to issues about their body.

WHEN and HOW you choose to teach the mechanics of sex is completely up to you. However, again I stress the importance of teaching it before they are exposed to it by friends or their school health class. Some points you may wish to cover beyond the basic mechanics of sex are masturbation, the dangers of promiscuity, the importance of being ready both physically and mentally, the risks involved including STDs and Pregnancy, Birth control & Abortion (including your views of both and the dangers of both) and more than anything what YOU expect from your child when it comes to issues such as dating and sex. You should also make sure you personally understand the sexual fads of the day as well as the common teachings of both schools and society groups. And it's also a good idea to make sure to cover your feelings and beliefs surrounding alternative sexualities, marriage and issues such as pornography and the like. Again, it's most important that you explore your own beliefs and feelings about these issues prior to trying to cover them with your children.

For some parents it's easier to start this education early on and make it a part of day to day rather than wait until issues arise. For others it's important to allow the children to lead the conversation and ask questions. However you choose to address issues and sex education, it's important that you are able to do so in accordance with your own beliefs and your paths traditions as well as your comfort levels and theirs. Chances are teaching a 6 year old about sex toys and pornography isn't quite necessary or worthy of your stress. However covering STDs with a teen BEFORE they have their fist sexual experience is generally a good idea. In either case, I can NOT stress how important honesty is or how important it is to stress that good or bad, you are your child's best source of information and that they should always feel free to come to you without fear.

For myself and my children, I have learned it's best to teach sexuality as I do anything else. My husband and I make a point never to hide our physical attraction for one another, nor do we try to suppress our children's natural curiosity about their bodies. We have always made a point to simply teach openly and we refuse to sensor sexuality beyond anything which is overly inappropriate... For us, it's simply how we live our lives and we are raising our boys and our daughter to have a love for themselves and to understand that nature is sexual. As a Pagan I strive to teach that there is nothing dirty or shameful about the human body, that nudity and sexuality are completely natural and of course we stress an understanding and tolerance for even those things they may not agree with or understand. While this style of sex ed tends to place us in the "Alternative Parenting" category, so does having an interfaith family, so I tend not to allow it to bother me. For me it is more important to know that I am doing what is best for my family and my children over teaching what others feel I should.

As I stated in the beginning I can not, and will not tell you how to raise your children. However I hope that this has at least given you some things to ponder and discuss with your partner and possibly your children. There are plenty of resources available for parents who wish to teach these issues to their children and I stress that you seek them out and get to know them prior to hitting a point where you need to use them.

Sexuality and Paganism - Part 2: Marriage & Divorce

As with any aspect of Paganism you're going to come across any number of beliefs and traditions surrounding Marriage and Divorce. Some see Marriage as a simply legal contract while others consider it just as spiritual and emotional as most Christian Religions would teach it is... Marriage tends to be influenced not only by religious beliefs but also cultural and societal beliefs and traditions as well.

Pagans get married & divorced just like non-Pagans do. While there are no real Pagan vs Non-Pagan statistics about marriage and divorce rates, it's safe to say they are about average and just about equal to any other group.

And just as most other groups today's Pagans, and those of old, have developed their own ceremonies, traditions and customs to celebrate their unions... However, in addition they have also created ceremonies and traditions to recognize separations as well.

Marriage & the Pagan

When Pagans decide to form a permanent union they do so with just as much or as little celebration as anyone else. Some will choose to simply have a quickie marriage with a JP, jump a flight to Vegas, or have a "civil union" documented at their local courthouse (depending on local laws & allowances of course). Others will choose to have an all out Marriage celebration with all the flair, decoration and months of planning as you will see in any Bridal catalog... And of course, there are plenty who choose a middle road. The difference between Pagan and Non-Pagan Marriage celebrations isn't generally HOW it is done, but what is SAID at the ceremony.

Unlike most other major religions Paganism has no "standard" wedding ceremony. If you choose to purchase or borrow a "guide" book for a Pagan ceremony there are plenty available both on and off line, each of which is full of framework, great tips and lots of ideas. In addition you will find a great many books or sites devoted solely to the celebration of marriage within a specific Pagan tradition.

However, I believe you'll find that the majority of Pagans prefer something more personal to the couple than something which comes from the pages of a book or website. Many will write out their own vows, readings and any additional pieces themselves. And a great many will have friends or group/coven leaders officiate for them.

There ARE Pagan ministers licensed to preform ceremonies, but it's a legal designation and doesn't necessarily connote religious ordination. State laws govern over who can and can't officiate an official marriage, and these laws can vary greatly, so check with your local laws before making any final decisions on who will officiate. IF you can not find a Pagan minister or your area does not have laws which allow for them to preform a legal marriage ceremony, there is always the option of having a friend or other person officiate AT your ceremony and simply signing the legal paperwork before or after the ceremony itself.

Non-Legal Unions & Handfastings

Another difference you'll see when it comes to Pagans and marriage is the length of commitment... IF you and your partner decide that you don't wish to be legally married, or you can not legally be married due to laws forbidding same sex or other marriages, you have the option of having an informal marriage which could be set to last a year or more. On a religious level, these marriages are seen as just as legitimate a union as a legal Marriage would be. This option is purely spiritual or religious and is NOT a legal option, because of that should you wish to have your marriage recognized legally later you can always have that end of it done at the courthouse. Obviously, for those who have personal beliefs against marriage, those who choose to wait until everyone has the fair option to wed, or those who are in relationships outside the laws of marital fairness this is their only option. However, in no way does the legality or non-legality of the ceremony diminish the love or commitment of the couple, nor should it be treated as less worthy of respect from those outside the relationship, friends, family or guests...

For Wiccans and Druids, these "spiritual unions" are generally called Handfastings and the act of being married as being "Handfasted" because the hands of the couple are bound during the ceremony. This is believed to be an old Irish custom restored to modern day. You may also see a version of the "handfasting" at Irish Catholic weddings.

Divorcing in the Pagan World

As with marriages between Non-Pagans, some of these marriages simply don't work out for one reason or another. And Pagans have the same separation options as non-Pagans do... They also recognize that ending a marriage is as serious and undertaking as getting married. However, one aspect you will generally ONLY find within the Pagan belief systems is that some will choose to hold a "separation ceremony" in addition to a legal divorce.

Separation Ceremonies are generally written by the couple, however, unlike marriage ceremonies they do not need to be officiated even if they are also going through a legal divorce as well. These ceremonies are often done in front of the couple's coven, kindred or grove, or before families and friends, but they can be done in private if the couple chooses.

These ceremonies are designed to aid the couples amicably end their relationship and ease the emotional pain which accompanies the breakup. For couples who belong to a coven, grove, kindred or other group, or for those who simply share the same friends, the end of a union does not mean the end to the relationship. Many will continue to see each other through out religious or day to day life, others may have children or businesses in common...  These separation ceremonies help to enable the couple to come to terms with their separation without having any added stress on the day to day relationships or at the very least aid them to be civil when they happen to meet in the future.

For those who choose not to have a legal marriage, or who are handfasted, a "Handparting" or separation ceremony not only aids with this end, but also acts as the "ending point" to the relationship officially. These ceremonies are also a wonderful way to celebrate the good that this relationship has brought forth as well, to help children or other family members to deal with the change and to simply "restart" a basic friendship between the couple, if both parties are willing and able to do so.

Interfaith Marriage

Pagan/Non-Pagan marriages and relationships are becoming more and more common. It's unfortunate but there are still many more female Pagans than male. This simple fact means that the hunt for a partner within the Pagan community, especially if you have a small pagan community, may simply end badly. Because of this there is no reason to limit your search to those who share your beliefs. If you can't find someone who shares your beliefs, look for someone who will accept them. While you may not be able to completely share your spirituality, there is no reason you can not respect each others beliefs...  You can attend each others religious ceremonies, and even have a mixed religious wedding.

If you are already married when your spiritual path leads you to find Paganism there can be some added complications. Obviously if you are converting as a couple, there is little to no reason to see added issues in your marriage. However, if you are converting alone, and your partner does not share your new found path this could pose some challenges... Your first obstacle is yourself, before allowing your new spirituality to disrupt your marriage you should first decide if it is your path. Do some "soul searching" and ask yourself "Is this what I believe," "Is this my path," and "Is this what is in my heart?"  There is no point to causing issues in your relationship if you aren't 100% positive this is your path. Second, you will need to discuss with your partner what your new beliefs are and how you see them changing you and your life together. You will also need to make it very clear that your new beliefs will in no way change the love you share with your partner. Give your partner time to get used to the idea and offer to help them explore your new beliefs with you - be that going to a ritual or ceremony or simply reading a basic book about your beliefs. Just as each Pagan has different needs and wants when it comes to religious education, so will each partner of a Pagan. Thirdly, you will need to understand that this is not just a change for you, but a change for them. And for those who have grown up listening to the propaganda or myths surrounding Paganism there may be a good amount of fear associated with your new beliefs. It's up to you to both help them to understand the truth and to understand their feelings and fears at the same time.

Sometimes, however, non-Pagans simply can't accept that their partner or loved one has chosen to join a new religion that they don't understand. IF you have given your partner the time to warm up to this idea and they continue to refuse to respect your choice then you have to decide what is more important to you - your relationship or your faith. Again, time is key to making this choice, and no one but you can make it. Give yourself time to choose with your head and think through each option to avoid making an emotional and regrettable choice or giving an ultimatum... There is NO right or wrong choice here, only what is best for you, your relationship, your family and your faith.

Whether we are discussing marriage, non-legal unions, divorce or separation, these are NOT things which should be entered in to lightly. As within any other community you'll find that drunken trips to Vegas which end in a quickie marriage and just as quickie divorce are not seen in a generally good light. Take the time you need to make sure that this relationship is one based on love, trust, and mutual respect rather than on lust and sexual desire.

What is Asatru?

Paganism is made up of any number of individual paths, however, the majority of them are based in one of three major teachings... Wicca, is by far the most well known of these three paths, but it's not the one and only. Asatru and Druid Paths are quickly growing in followers. As with any Pagan religion there are those who are "hard core" followers and those who are more eclectic with their beliefs.

The religion of Asatru is based on the ancient practices and beliefs of the Vikings and of other Germanic Groups from Scandinavia, Denmark and Germany. Asatruar beliefs are re-constructionist, since they are drawn from surviving historical documents and archaeological evidence. The modern Asatruar acknowledge that their faith is not an exact replica of the ancient ways. It is generally recognized that the some of the old practices are not appropriate or applicable in modern life.

The Eddas

Most of the beliefs and practices of the Asatruar are based on a thirteenth-century collection of Norse poems known as the Eddas. These ancient poems provide both religious and magickal guidance. Some of the Eddas are stories while others are closer to proverbs.

The Eddas contain both wisdom and advice on how to live a good life and interpret the runes. The legends of the gods and heroes help the Asatruar to understand their deities and provide a framework for appropriate methods of worship. The Eddas also aid Asatruar in connecting with the ancient faith they are rebuilding by detailing the Norse worldvies from the creation to the destruction of the world.

The Eddas come in two styles, Poetic and Prose. The Poetic Edda recounts the myths surrounding the Norse gods and heroes. The Prose Edda also recounts myths but also provides instructions on writing Norse poetry. The Prose Edda dates to around 1220c.e. and is known to have been written by Snorri Sturluson. It is not currently known precisely when the poems within the Poetic Eddas were composed or by whom. However scholars believe that most were composed some time around the ninth century or as late as the twelfth. Norse traditions were originally oral. So we can not accurately gage the age or origin of most of the stories contained in the Eddas. However it is thought that most of them were composed in Iceland, if not originated there.

The Gods & Other Spirits

Basically there are two races of Gods in the Norse Pantheon. The  AEsir and the Vanir. The AEsir are related more strongly to battle and intellectual or spiritual pursuits while the Vanir are more closely connected to nature, prosperity and human emotion. According to the Eddas the two were once enemies, but have since made peace.

Asatruar worship the various deities, but do not bow to them as with more common religions. Instead, the gods are approached with love and respect in order that the Asatruar may learn to live and work with them. The relationship is closer to teacher and pupil than to master and servant.

Asatruar also work with and honor other spirits in addition to the gods. These spirits are neither divine not human. These figures are menitioned in the Eddas, and are also reflected in the myths of other cultures. They include the Norns, Valkyries, Disir and Land Spirits.

Prevalence of Astru

It's not known how many Asatruar there are. Like other Pagan Paths there has been much rapid growth. Asatru is especially popular in Iceland, Scandinavia and in some parts of Germany.  Asatruar are also scattered through the US and Canada, however due to the independent nature of the faith, most practice alone. By looking at the number of smaller groups that have registered, a good guess would be that there is at least a few thousand Asatru in the US and many more in Canada.

AsatruAlliance Website - http://www.asatru.org/

Beautiful Lammas Video!



I did not create this video, but it was so beautiful it had to be shared!
Blessed Lammas all!

Blessed Lammas

Lammas (celebrated August 1-2) marks the middle of summer and beginning of the harvest season. Lammas is considered a time of thanksgiving and is the first of the three Pagan harvest festivals. The Sun's strength begins to wane and the plants of spring begin to wither and drop their fruits or seeds for our use as well as to ensure future crops. At this time, we become conscious of the sacrifice the Sun God is preparing to make. We experience a sense of abundance at the same time we begin to feel an urgency to prepare for the death of winter. First grains and fruits of the Earth are cut and stored for the dark winter months.

Lammas also represents the culmination of the marriage between the Goddess and the God that took place on Beltane. The God now becomes the product of that blessed union - the bountiful fruits and grains - and must be sacrificed. He is the personification of the crops that must be harvested for the survival of the people.

Underneath the symbolism of sacrifice is the theme of rebirth. The Corn God must die, and He has to do so in order to return. Without the sacrifice, the cycle stops. Although His strength is waning, His essence is still palpable as His energies begin to merge with the harvested crops. It is at this time that the Sun King has reached the autumn of His years, and His rival (or dark self) has just reached puberty. The Sun God has reigned supreme over the ripening grain during the hot summer months. His dedication, perseverance, and action in tending the seeds sown in spring brings a ripe and fruitful bounty.

Although Lammas is the first of the harvest festivals, fertility imagery may still be found, as there are still crops in the field continuing to grow and livestock and game that have yet to be killed. As the God is honored for His harvest, so the Goddess is honored for bringing forth the first fruits, much as a new mother is honored.
Lammas is also known as Lughnasadh, Lammastide, and First Harvest Festival.

Correspondences

Symbolism: First harvest festival; aging of the Deities, honoring of Sun Gods

Symbols: Corn dollies, cornucopia, grains, the Sun

Foods: Breads, grains, potatoes, summer squash, cider, blackberry pies and jellies, berries, apples, roasted lamb, elderberry wine, meadowsweet tea

Plants & herbs: Ash, camphor, caraway, fern, geranium, juniper, mandrake, marjoram, thyme, sunflowers, wheat

Incense and oils: Allspice, carnation, rosemary, vanilla, sandalwood, aloe, rose

Colors: Red, gold, yellow, orange

Stones: Aventurine, citrine, peridot, sardonyx

Animals and mythical beasts: Roosters, calves, the Phoenix, griffins, basilisk, centaurs

Some appropriate Goddesses: all grain, agriculture, and mother Goddesses; Alphito (Greek), Ashnan (Sumerian), Bast (Egyptian), Bau (Assyro-Babylonian), Ceres (Roman), Demeter (Greek), Gaia (Greek), Ishtar (Assyro-Babylonian), Isis (Egyptian), Libera (Roman), Persephone (Greek), Rhiannon (Welsh), Robigo (Roman), Tailtiu (Irish)

Some appropriate Gods: all grain, agriculture, Sun, and father Gods; Cernunnos (Celtic), Dagon (Babylonian), Lahar (Sumerian), Liber (Roman), Llew (Welsh), Lugh (Irish), Neper (Egyptian), Ningirsu/Ninurta (Assyro-Babylonian), Odin (Norse), Osiris (Egyptian)
Decorations: Corn, hay, gourds, corn dollies, shafts of grain, sun wheels

Activities: games, country fairs, making corn dollies, baking bread, gathering fruits, visits to fields, orchards, lakes and wells.

Spell/ritual work: Offering thanks, honoring fathers, prosperity, abundance, generosity, continued success, connectedness

Lammas: The First Harvest
by Mike Nichols

It was upon a Lammas Night
When corn rigs are bonny,
Beneath the Moon's unclouded light,
I held awhile to Annie...

Although in the heat of a Mid-western summer it might be difficult to discern, the festival of Lammas (Aug 1st) marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall. The days now grow visibly shorter and by the time we've reached autumn's end (Oct 31st), we will have run the gammut of temperature from the heat of August to the cold and (sometimes) snow of November. And in the midst of it, a perfect Mid-western autumn.

The history of Lammas is as convoluted as all the rest of the old folk holidays. It is of course a cross-quarter day, one of the four High Holidays or Greater Sabbats of Witchcraft, occurring 1/4 of a year after Beltane. It's true astrological point is 15 degrees Leo, but tradition has set August 1st as the day Lammas is typically celebrated. The celebration proper would begin on sundown of the previous evening, our July 31st, since the Celts reckon their days from sundown to sundown.

However, British Witches often refer to the astrological date of Aug 6th as Old Lammas, and folklorists call it Lammas O.S. ('Old Style'). This date has long been considered a 'power point' of the Zodiac, and is symbolized by the Lion, one of the 'tetramorph' figures found on the Tarot cards, the World and the Wheel of Fortune (the other three figures being the Bull, the Eagle, and the Spirit). Astrologers know these four figures as the symbols of the four 'fixed' signs of the Zodiac, and these naturally align with the four Great Sabbats of Witchcraft. Christians have adopted the same iconography to represent the four gospel-writers.

'Lammas' was the medieval Christian name for the holiday and it means 'loaf-mass', for this was the day on which loaves of bread were baked from the first grain harvest and laid on the church altars as offerings. It was a day representative of 'first fruits' and early harvest.

In Irish Gaelic, the feast was referred to as 'Lugnasadh', a feast to commemorate the funeral games of the Irish sun-god Lugh. However, there is some confusion on this point. Although at first glance, it may seem that we are celebrating the death of Lugh, the god of light does not really die (mythically) until the autumnal equinox. And indeed, if we read the Irish myths closer, we discover that it is not Lugh's death that is being celebrated, but the funeral games which Lugh hosted to commemorate the death of his foster-mother, Taillte. That is why the Lugnasadh celebrations in Ireland are often called the 'Tailltean Games'.

The time went by with careless heed
Between the late and early,
With small persuasion she agreed
To see me through the barley...

One common feature of the Games were the 'Tailltean marriages', a rather informal marriage that lasted for only 'a year and a day' or until next Lammas. At that time, the couple could decide to continue the arrangement if it pleased them, or to stand back to back and walk away from one another, thus bringing the Tailltean marriage to a formal close. Such trial marriages (obviously related to the Wiccan 'Handfasting') were quite common even into the 1500's, although it was something one 'didn't bother the parish priest about'. Indeed, such ceremonies were usually solemnized by a poet, bard, or shanachie (or, it may be guessed, by a priest or priestess of the Old Religion).

Lammastide was also the traditional time of year for craft festivals. The medieval guilds would create elaborate displays of their wares, decorating their shops and themselves in bright colors and ribbons, marching in parades, and performing strange, ceremonial plays and dances for the entranced onlookers. The atmosphere must have been quite similar to our modern-day Renaissance Festivals, such as the one celebrated in near-by Bonner Springs, Kansas, each fall.

A ceremonial highlight of such festivals was the 'Catherine wheel'. Although the Roman Church moved St. Catherine's feast day all around the calender with bewildering frequency, it's most popular date was Lammas. (They also kept trying to expel this much-loved saint from the ranks of the blessed because she was mythical rather than historical, and because her worship gave rise to the heretical sect known as the Cathari.) At any rate, a large wagon wheel was taken to the top of a near-by hill, covered with tar, set aflame, and ceremoniously rolled down the hill. Some mythologists see in this ritual the remnants of a Pagan rite symbolizing the end of summer, the flaming disk representing the sun-god in his decline. And just as the sun king has now reached the autumn of his years, his rival or dark self has just reached puberty.

Many commentators have bewailed the fact that traditional Gardnerian and Alexandrian Books of Shadows say very little about the holiday of Lammas, stating only that poles should be ridden and a circle dance performed. This seems strange, for Lammas is a holiday of rich mythic and cultural associations, providing endless resources for liturgical celebration.
Corn rigs and barley rigs,
Corn rigs are bonny!
I'll not forget that happy night
Among the rigs with Annie!
[Verse quotations by Robert Burns, as handed down through several Books of Shadows.]

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