Unsacred • Ian Corrigan

September 19, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.


Photo Credit: (CC) Lee and Mary

The title of the rather edifying blog No Unsacred Place keeps bugging me. The phrase brings to my mind the little discussion that sometimes occurs inside Neopagan ritualism in which the idea of casting the circle or creating sacred space is questioned. The argument is that in a ‘nature religion’ all of existence must be the manifestation of the divine, and therefore human efforts to designate any particular space as sacred are at best redundant and at worst irreverent and presumptuous.

To me this notion contains misunderstandings both theological and linguistic. Let’s do the linguistic first.

“Sacred” is derived from Latinate roots that mean ‘to separate’ or ‘to cut off’. It refers especially to places or things that are made separate from common life and work, in order to be especially dedicated to the work of religion or magic or spirituality (as you like). The thing is, the essential point of ‘sacredness’ is its separation from the common. To use ‘sacred’ as a reference to unity is rather a contradiction in terms. To say that there is ‘No Unsacred Place’ – that everything is equally dedicated to the special work of religion, is essentially to say that nothing is, in fact, special. If nothing is unsacred, then nothing is sacred.

The complement to this is found in the word ‘holy’. Holy is from the same Germanic roots that give us our English ‘whole’, ‘heal’ ‘health’ etc. It is perfectly reasonable to say that the entire cosmos is holy – wholly whole, and wholly holy, as somebody famous once said. “No unholy place’ makes plenty of sense, if you like.

On another level, sacredness isn’t an intrinsic quality, it is an imparted one. In order for a thing or place to be sacred it has to be declared so, either by a spirit or by a human. My ritual robe is sacred not because of its cloth or its color, but because I have set it aside for the special work of spirituality Sometimes a god makes a mountain or river sacred, sometimes it is done by humans. In every case sacredness happens because some specific intelligence makes it so.

To me this isn’t really a theological matter so much as a technical one. Religious methods are intended to induce spiritual experience in the participants. The technique of designating a specific space as the sacred space – the space where we can expect the gods and spirits to manifest – is basic and undeniable. As always, I assume that spirituality works by most of the same rules as material nature. If you diffuse your work thinly over a vast area you’re unlikely to get a useful result. Concentrating effort in a specific zone is the way to have real impact. So when I want a god to be present I make an image of the god and bring the god to be present specifically in the image. Note I don’t try to ‘have the divine be present’. The divine is always present, but unless it is concentrated in some specific form and place it is mainly irrelevant.

Sacredness is about separateness, and without separateness there can be no sacredness.

Ian Corrigan is a Neopagan of the Druidic sort, interested in Celtic polytheism as it might manifest for modern people in North America. He is also an occultist, broadly interested in arcane and magical systems and ideas, from medieval grimoires through Hindu Tantra and Asian shamanism to Thelema and Chaos Magic. He’s a fan of the folk music of the British Isles and its modern inheritors as well as of fantasy and horror lit, especially the work and legacy of HP Lovecraft.

This article originally appeared on his blog Into The Mound.

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Natural Theology: Polytheism Beyond the Pale

September 14, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections, Science & Spirit.

Campsite AltarWhen exploring polytheism in an ecological context, we quickly find ourselves beyond the pale: out in the wilds shaped by natural forces of forest and river, sea and shoreline, wind and rain, the slow dance of erosion and the sudden violent shifting of tectonic plates. Where do the gods fit into this wilderness? How does our theology grapple with the realities of the natural world that transcend yet include human civilization and our familiar anthropocentric concerns? What does it mean to worship beyond the pale?

Deepen Your Relationship with the Gods

In theology, as in magic, words have a deep power. They define concepts and construct mental abstracts that we map onto the world, creating boundaries where once there was only the chaotic beauty of what is.

But certain words are particularly powerful. They invoke not only what they mean, but what they do not mean. Words like “fast” or “loud” have obvious opposites that jump to mind immediately. (Try your hand at the 30-second word test below for a great example.)

“Hard” is one of those words that is especially potent. When Pagans talk about “hard polytheism,” they invoke a theological framework which places hard polytheism in opposition to other forms of polytheism, usually referred to as “soft polytheism.” Soft polytheism might include anything from the duotheism of many Wiccans, to a Jungian theology of archetypes among humanist Pagans, from animism or pantheism, to panentheism, monism, henotheism or even syncretic monotheism. Most hard polytheists define their theology as “a belief in many individual deities as separate and distinct entities” and define soft polytheism as a belief that all gods are manifestations of a single Divine source or spirit.

But by choosing to draw this distinction using the language of a dichotomy between hard versus soft, they also evoke another pair of opposites: hard versus easy. There’s the unspoken suggestion (or sometimes directly stated opinion) that someone who is “soft” on polytheism (like a politician who is “soft” on crime) is somehow taking the easy way out, reducing a complex issue to an overly simplified solution.

In my post last month, I suggested that ecological or “natural polytheism” might provide an alternative to a theology of hard polytheism that struggles with complex questions of human and deity identity. Where hard polytheism draws hard and fast lines separating the gods from humans, from natural forces, and from each other, natural polytheism embraces a theology of interweaving and interpenetrating boundaries of identity. From a hard polytheistic perspective, this might sound a lot like “soft” polytheism: individual deities as expressions of the complex relationships and patterns of force and consciousness in the cosmic soup of existence.

But natural polytheism doesn’t have to be “soft” at all. In fact, you can be a hard polytheist and a natural polytheist — it’s just a matter of deepening your relationship with your gods and learning to ask the tough questions.

Start Asking the Tough Questions

In the introduction to his book, The Natural History of Puget Sound Country, Arthur Kruckeberg explores how a text on natural history differs from a guide book or reference book about plant and animal species in the region. His musings lay bare the revolutionary importance of ecology as a science of systems:

In probing the natural world, what kinds of questions do we ask? Easiest are the “what” and “how” questions. What is it? and How does it work? usually can be given direct answers. The unknown tree or insect gets a name and a place in its family tree to satisfy the What is it? question. Though more demanding of observation and thought, the How does it work? question also has ready answers. The literature of how things function in the world of life is the product of patient experiment and observation by plant and animal biologists. It is only when curiosity persists to the How come? stage that science reveals its tentative and ever-probing qualities. The answers to What for? questions asked of the color of a flower, the hair on an insect’s body, or the slime of a slippery slug, are within the domains of ecology and the study of adaptations.

For centuries, the hard sciences of physics, chemistry and biology have been absolutely essential tools in our exploration of the physical universe as we look for answers to questions like What is it? and How does it work? It’s only in the last few decades that ecology — the scientific study of the relationships living organisms have with each other and with their natural environment — has begun to bring these separate fields of investigation together into a more holistic understanding of the natural world. If we want to understand “how come” the propagation of palm trees affects the mineral and nutrient levels in the surrounding coastal waters of a tropical island, and why this in turn influences the fluctuating population of manta rays…. we need to understand not just biology, botany, chemistry and geology, but how all of these sciences work together as a single system.

Ecology does not reject the hard sciences that came before it, but brings together and expands upon them.

In this same way, natural polytheism draws on an ecological approach to theology to build upon the insights of hard polytheism, challenging us to deepen our relationships with the gods by asking more challenging questions about their relationships with us, with each other and with the natural world. Natural polytheism does not reject hard polytheism any more than natural history excludes hard sciences like biology, geology or chemistry by embracing ecology. But it does draw connections and invite us to think about the world holistically, as systems nested within systems, wholes nested within wholes. An ecological perspective can deepen our scientific understanding of the world by moving us beyond the questions “What is it?” and “How does it work?” to the more challenging questions, “How come?” and “What for?”

In the same way, natural polytheism isn’t content merely to name the gods and identify their associations, symbols and spheres of influence. It challenges us to ask: How did the gods come to be the way they are? How do the gods relate to each other, within cultures and across cultural boundaries? What is the cultural, physical or spiritual reason why this particular deity manifests in this way but not that way, embodies these associations or symbols but not those?

Why the Tough Questions Matter

During a conversation with a Pagan friend of mine recently, she mentioned in passing that Apollo wasn’t the Greek god of the sun as many people believe — the Greek sun god was actually Helios. For many reconstructionist or hard polytheists, this distinction is an important one and getting a fact like this wrong is a big faux-pas.

But from the perspective of natural polytheism, this kind of distinction is only part of the truth. It brings up many more fascinating questions that can deepen our understanding of deity far beyond just “Who is it?” and “How do they work?” For instance: What is the relationship between Apollo and Helios? Why is one a personification of a physical celestial body, while the other has associations not just with solar energy and light, but also with music and culture? How has the relationship between Apollo and Helios evolved and changed over time, and what might this tell us about changes in Greek culture (and aspects of our own culture today)? What might it tell us about our attitudes towards the sun as a physical object as well as a culture symbol? What does it tell us about our personal relationship with the sun, and with gods of the sun? And what are those relationships for?

From the natural polytheistic perspective, the question of whether or not Apollo is a “god of the sun” is not nearly as interesting as the question of how he is connected to the sun. After all, there is no plant, animal or ecosystem on earth that does not have some relationship with the sun as the planet’s primary source of energy — the real investigation begins when we start to wonder how an entity’s relationship with the sun expresses itself in ways that are unique to the local landscape, and how this relationship affects the ways that everything else in that landscape lives and works together as a whole. Accepting that beings in an ecosystem, and the ecosystem itself, have a relationship with the sun, or with global patterns of ocean currents or air circulation, does not make them any less unique or complex — quite the opposite! The same is true for natural polytheism.

Woods in FogNatural polytheism is polytheism beyond the pale: polytheism beyond the restrictions staked out by our grasp of human history alone, embracing instead the whole of natural history and the modern sciences that give us insights into our world in new and startling ways. Hard polytheism demarcates boundaries that separate the gods from each other and from the natural forces and patterns (human and more-than-human) that enrich our world. Natural polytheism does not reject or ignore these boundaries. Instead, it places polytheistic theology in a new, more challenging context and provokes our curiosity to discover more powerful ways of living out our relationships with the sacred. It forces us to ask not just “Who is this god that I have experienced in ritual?” and “How do I worship him?” but also: “Why did I experience this god in this way?” and “How does my practice itself shape my beliefs and my experiences of the gods?”

Natural polytheism embraces the science of ecology as a basic metaphor for theological inquiry. In other words, natural polytheism seeks to understand our relationship with the gods as an aspect of interrelated systems of being, consciousness and meaning. Its focus is, first and foremost, on the wildernesses that defy our carefully mapped boundary lines, that penetrate even the most civilized cultural centers and underlie our most cherished notions of what it means to be human.

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Warm Water

August 31, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Every year I spend a week at the ocean. The particular place I go in Maine is somewhere I’ve gone every summer for my entire life. To me it’s the place when I re-center after a year of spinning off-kilter. It’s a place that soothes my soul, calms my spirit, and eases my anxiety.

Over the four decades of my life I’ve watched the area change. Large houses have gone up, new roads have been built, tourist shops have come and gone, yet the one constant was the temperature of the water. Maine’s ocean is cold. As my mother used to say “You don’t go to Maine for the warm water.” Generally temps are in the 50s. I can only remember a few times when the temperature of the water got over 60*. But the week Wolf and I spent there the water was warm. And I mean WARM. It was between 65* and 67* the whole time we were there.

The warm water meant I was more likely to spend time in the water. But it was so disconcerting. My feet weren’t numb when I got out. My skin wasn’t blue. My teeth never chattered. Rather, it was like being in a bath. I went in the water a number of times and kept myself at about neck deep while rolling with the waves and swimming across the tide.

It made me realize just how warm Mother Earth is getting, how the ice caps are melting, how icebergs are breaking up. Being in Water, warm as he was, made me recommit to undoing climate change — or, at least not making it worse.

Rainbows: a love story

August 17, 2012 by Categorized: Restorying the Sacred.

You wouldn’t know it now, but time was, Light and Water didn’t get along at all. Light thought water was a show-off, racing through the air, messing with its matter-state, and splashing everything. Water thought Light was a wimp: it couldn’t decide if it was a wave or a particle; lots of things were too dense for it to shine through; and it was plain, boring white. Each understood the other’s importance in the life of Gaia, but they stayed away from each other’s as much as possible, especially during a rainfall. Light faded while Water painted Gaia’s surface with its droplets, and when Light came back, Water evaporated up to the clouds to avoid it.

One day, a steady rain had begun to fall when Light realized it had forgotten something dreadfully important on the ground. It turned itself on to see the spot and ran into Water in its tumble toward Gaia’s surface.

“Hey!” Water shouted as it fell, “what’s the big idea?”

“I’m sorry,” Light said, “but I desperately need something down here, and I must be able to see.”

“You’re in our way!” Water said.

“Maybe,” Light replied, peeved, “if you didn’t take up so much space, you wouldn’t be in everyone’s way, and we wouldn’t run into you.”

“I am part of almost everything,” Water said. “You’re in my way!” Water sent a big, round droplet careening into Light.

The collision pushed Light in a different direction, deeper into the raindrop! Light felt all broken up, no longer the strong, steady presence it prided itself on being. Now it was colors, bold, dazzling rays of color, racing toward the back of the droplet.

But it didn’t escape out the back. It bounced again and zoomed off in a different angle. I could end up bouncing around in here all day! Light thought. It concentrated all its might and pushed itself through the side of the raindrop it had come in through.
diagram of light refraction and dispersal inside water droplet
Light quivered in relief at its freedom. But it hadn’t come through its journey unscathed. On the way out, it had refracted further, pushing its colorful rays further apart. How embarrassing, to be seen in public this way! Light tried frantically to pull itself together.

“Light?” Water sounded confused. “Is that you? You look…different. Beautiful.”

“I’m beautiful all the time,” Light said.

Water considered this. “Yes,” it said, “I suppose you are. But I never truly noticed before. The colors are amazing. May I do that again?”

Now that the shock had worn off, Light had to admit it had enjoyed the adventure. And the colors were lovely. “All right,” it said.

They chased each other about, Light beaming into Water, Water splashing into Light. Light dazzled Water with its color. Water left Light breathless with every tumble.

Fern looked up to see what the fuss was about. “Light and Water,” it called, “look what you’ve made!”

They had made a giant arc of colors, stacked on top of each other, seeming to stretch from one horizon to the other. It was glorious.

Light and Water smiled at each other. “Look at that,” they said. “We make a pretty good team.”

rainbow in Brattleboro, VT

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The Dangers of Talking Plants

August 13, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections, Science & Spirit.

Recently, a study was published in the journal Trends in Plant Science that suggests that plants “talk” to each other. The researchers observed plants making clicking noises, and when the same clicks were artificially reproduced the roots of new seedlings grew towards them. (The article itself may be found here in PDF form, for those interested.)

This is all well and good. However, the researchers then proceeded to jump to conclusions about the significance of the correlation between the clicking and root growth, even using the term “talking” in reference to the clicking, as well as other anthropomorphic language. As anyone with even a basic understanding of research methodology knows, correlation does not equal causation, and one run of an experiment does not equal a sound theory. Note also that the paper did not publish the details of the study, such as the performance of the control group (if there was one), or any statistical analyses of the results. In short, the paper can be summed up as “We played some sounds, and the roots grew this way, so we assume that one caused the other, and what’s a confound anyway?”

Photo by Lupa, 2012.

Let me say that I am not ruling out the possibility that plants may very well have a physical method of communication that we don’t fully understand. We haven’t proven that they don’t communicate, at least. But we don’t have scientific evidence of plant communication beyond some pseudoscience and a couple of similar studies that show phenomena involving stimuli between plants, with no actual proof that this entails what we would think of as “communication”. Furthermore, I am far from the only person to look askance at the conclusions being reached through wishful thinking in the fringes of plant sciences.

Why is this important to nature-based spirituality? After all, spirituality isn’t supposed to be scientific, right? And yet you would be hard-pressed to find a pagan who believes evolution is a lie, or that we’re sticking to the Earth not because of gravity but because Gaia just wants to give us all a big, life-long hug. I’ve yet to meet a pagan creationist. To one degree or another, pagans generally subscribe to the sciences, and maybe nature-based pagans even more so on average.

Which is fine, so long as we remember that our spiritual beliefs are largely subjective, and not provable in the same objective, measurable way that the effectiveness of antibiotics or explorations of the Large Hadron Collider are. You can’t measure the existence of a god or spirit (collective gnosis doesn’t count as scientific evidence, as it’s group confirmation bias), and there are no peer-reviewed, well-constructed scientific studies that undeniably prove the objective effectiveness of magic. I believe that I can communicate with the spirits of plants, and perhaps on some level I’m communicating with the physical plant itself. But this doesn’t make for incontrovertible proof that I am communicating with plants instead of just a conversation with myself and an imaginary plant being in my head.

So why hang onto spirituality? That (imaginary?) conversation has benefits that I can feel personally, and there are studies that suggest spirituality can be beneficial on a psychological level. It appeals to my love and need of large-scale storytelling as a way of connecting to the world around me in personally meaningful ways. Ritual answers the need to imagine and play, what Joseph Camobell was referring to when he talked about Huizinga’s concept “Homo ludens” in myth and ceremony. Just because the stories and myths aren’t provable in any objective way doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. My continuing exploration into plant totemism and similar eco-spirituality is just one manifestation thereof. So I keep my plant totemism in its own compartment of “real or not”, and I don’t try to extend it as proof that plants are conscious in the same way that I am.

Photo by Lupa, 2012.

If there is someday scientific evidence that plants are physically aware despite their lack of a nervous system, I don’t want that knowledge to be muddied by conjecture, to include the subjective explorations of spirituality. One of the reasons I love the sciences so much is that they open up a world of wonder based on what we know, objectively, to be true. Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” wasn’t amazing to me because it talked about gods and spirits; it’s because it showed that, far from being dry and boring, science is full of some really incredible revelations. I feel the feeling of being a part of something bigger when I think of how vast and complex the universe is, from giant galaxies to the intricate structures of molecules. I don’t need an alternate spiritual reality to be able to plug into that everything-ness. To borrow from Douglas Adams, science is looking at the garden without needing fairies to spice it up.

And I think sometimes modern pagans are so focused on trying to find the fairies in the garden, and use questionable science to try to prove that those fairies are really, really real, that they ignore scientific protocol. It would be great if we could find ways to communicate with plants, just as we’re finding ways to communicate with some species of animals on their own terms. But we do ourselves no favors if we grasp at the straws of bad research and confirmation bias instead of being more patient and waiting for more incontrovertible evidence. Articles like the aforementioned are the equivalent of the Cottingley fairy photos–they do nothing but discredit the people and efforts associated with them, and make it more challenging to sort the wheat from the chaff.

So we can continue to have plant spirits and totems, and gods of the harvest and field. There’s nothing wrong with that. But let’s not use half-arsed studies about “talking plants” to try to prove that the spirits of nature paganism are more real than any other. Better to have no proof and only have our spirituality be true in our hearts, than to root our proof on a crumbling cliffside, only to have the tree fall over in the end.

(Note: if you’re interested, I wrote more about scientific methodology and its importance to spirituality on my own blog a while back)

Naming the Water: Human and Deity Identity from an Earth-Centered Perspective

August 8, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Burney Falls
Photo (CC) courtesy of Greg Harder via the PNC Image Archive

In a post yesterday, Teo pondered what it might be like if our descendants make a mistake in their own reconstruction and worship us mere mortals as gods:

What if between now and a thousand years from now all of the precious archiving we do of our daily lives, through our blogs, through Twitter, or through the old-fashioned paper medium is lost, and as people are looking back to uncover what we were like they make a profound mistake when they stumble across a tiny piece of information about my life (or yours), and misperceive me (or you) to have been, not a person, but a god of some sort?

Teo doesn’t want to be worshipped as a god, presumably out of a mixture of humility and not wanting to be bothered with the nagging requests of worshippers to find them a good parking space. I’m reminded of the public requests made by Jim Morrison’s widow that he not be worshipped as a god, seeing the tendency of well-meaning fans to claim that he was the incarnation of Dionysus as a kind of posthumous harassment that fails to respect and honor the life of the man himself. (I’m sure Elvis would feel the same way — but we all know the King isn’t dead, he’s just gone back to his own planet.)

Though Teo’s contemplations focus on the difficulties of god and ancestor worship in a Pagan context, questions of human and deity identity aren’t exclusive to hard polytheism. I know Christians who believe that Jesus was an ordinary mortal, a political rebel and spiritual leader who helped his followers discover the divinity within themselves. Growing up in a liberal Catholic community, I was taught that Jesus only ever called himself the Son of Man, his followers calling him the Son of God only after his death. I was taught that the empty tomb discovered on Easter was the ultimate mystery of human identity. In the earliest versions of the gospels, there is no miraculous resurrection, no triumphant rising into the heavens to join the Big Guy — there is only the empty tomb, dark and quiet and smelling of earth, and the wonder of the morning sunlight falling gently on the hair of the women grieving in the garden.

As a Pagan, my theology is rooted firmly in the earth. To me, the earth is sacred, and so the ecological truths that guide and shape life on this tiny blue marble are sacred truths. One of those truths is that identity is fluid. I can no more name the discrete entity that is “me” than I can name the water flowing in a river. From moment to moment, that identity changes. This was the insight of the Buddhists, too: we are not the same person from one second to the next, and reincarnation is less like viscous soul-substance getting sloshed from one meat-container into the next as it is like a flame passing from one wick to another. Is it the same flame? Yes… and then again, no.

Like a river is defined by its shore, my identity is defined by my limitations, by the extremities of my being. I learned this before I even had the words for it. The first time a wail escaped my infant throat and my mother’s breast was not there to soothe my hunger, I knew what it was to be me and not her. I discovered how to move fingers and toes, how odd it was that these unwieldy awkward bits of flesh and bone were somehow responsive to my will in ways that other bits and pieces of the material world weren’t. We all experienced this as infants, learning who we are by discovering who and what we are not.

As we grow up, we discover that technologies and material possessions can expand our sense of self-identity as they help us overcome our natural limitations. When we sit behind the wheel of a car and speed down a highway — no, of course we don’t believe that we are literally the car, but our ability to drive depends on us momentarily losing that distinction at a subconscious level, being able to respond with instinctual quickness to swerve as that deer darts out in front of us. When we play video games, our sense of identity expands and we know what it is like to be our avatars. Scientific studies confirm this, in everything from our emotional well-being and psychological state of mind, to how we form habits in our real lives. (Did you know playing a video game in which you watch an avatar of yourself lose weight as it exercises can encourage you to exercise more frequently “irl”? Did you know that gamers with obese or unattractive avatars experience bullying and emotional abuse from other gamers that is just as damaging to their health and well-being as real-life prejudice and fat-shaming?)

The fact that material possessions and technologies can help us expand our sense of self is part of the impetus behind the rampant consumerism of modern culture. Accumulating and hoarding wealth can make us feel powerful, less vulnerable to scarcity, less insecure about the uncertainties of the future. Our sense of self-identity is shaped by what clothes we wear, what car we drive, what kind of house we live in, what indie music we listen to, what soda we drink, what organic foods we eat, even who we vote for — all the ways that our limitations are expressed or obscured in the eyes of our fellow human beings. Our personal choices are also ways that we communicate our belonging to different overlapping communities: foodies, conservatives, cyclists, dog lovers, environmentalists, Pagans. Self-identity is a social as well as a physical construct.

There are also ways of engaging with self-identity that are grounded in our sense of the sacred. Spiritual practices and rituals can teach us about the fluidity of our identities through exercises that alter our states of consciousness. Meditative practices of stillness and silence open up an internal space within which we lose our sense of limitation, the discrete boundaries of our being. Without the constant friction and noise of our being rubbing up against the banks of self-consciousness, we forget for a moment where our physical bodies end and the rest of the world begins. Like a river entering an ocean, we flow one into the other. This, too, is confirmed by neurological research into the effects of meditation on the brain: increased activity and interconnectivity among different parts of the physical brain, and a gentle relaxation in the right parietal lobe that is responsible for, among other things, spatial relations. Practices like fasting, contemplative prayer, sweat lodge ceremonies, shamanic trancework, even time in a sensory deprivation tank can bring on similar effects, altering our sense of our physical bodies and their limitations, allowing us to rejoice in the power and energy that flows in and through us. It is not an accident of history that so many religions throughout the world have traditions of mystical union and ecstasy. The belief in the unity of being arises from the experiences of worshippers themselves as they explore the porousness of the boundaries of self-identity.

But self-identity is also a mystery of multiplicity. Intense, sustained physical activities like dance, martial arts, labyrinth-walking, and sometimes painful acts like scourging or other forms of ritualistic body mutilation — all these can bring the boundaries of our being into sharp relief as dynamic liminal spaces of exchange and communication. Through community rituals of dance and movement, we experience our boundaries not as rigid forms that keep us trapped within ourselves, but as coterminous places of contact with the vast diversity of being beyond ourselves. We experience our extremities, the limits of our being, moving in harmony and grace within the sacred variety of world-being. And like a serpentine river whose banks are worn away by the rushing waters, twisting and changing through the landscape over time — our engagement with our own boundaries allows us to shape those boundaries as well, to craft our self-identity as a vessel of the sacred life-force that flows through us and connects us to all other beings.

The multiplicity of human identity is not just a spiritual principle, it’s a biological fact — a basic ecological reality. The cells that make up your body are dying off all the time, replaced by new cells born of the food you eat and the water you drink. We shed skin cells more quickly than it takes for our fingernails to grow out, and we replace the cells of our stomach lining sometimes as quickly as every meal. Even with all this, only 10% of the cells in your body belong to you. The rest are the cells of bacteria and microorganisms that call your body home, and without these symbionts living on and within your physical self, you would be unable to digest and process the nutrients necessary to keep you alive. Your physical body is teeming with a microscopic diversity of life that rivals a rainforest. The insight of the Gaia Theory — that “the Earth system behaves as a single self-regulating system comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components” — is as much a statement about our own physical bodies as it is about the planet. If we imagine the Earth as the body of a goddess, we can also imagine our own bodies as a sacred home to an ecologically complex and diverse array of microscopic life.

These are the first glimmerings of an earth-centered theology of polytheism. If human identity is complex, both personal and social, physical and psychological, spiritual and ecological — why should we expect deity identity to be any simpler? If our sense of self-identity is fluid and changeable, interconnected, responsive to the teeming, dancing life that permeates and surrounds us — why should we expect the gods to be objective, discrete and separate beings? The experience of spiritual practice and the biology of physical life teach us otherwise — showing us both the astounding unity and the sacred, interconnected multiplicity of being.

In his post, Teo seems to suggest only two approaches to a theology of polytheism. There is hard polytheism, which believes that the gods have a definite sense of separate self-identity, and that humans would likewise retain such an identity even after death. And then there is the psychological approach, that sees the gods as archetypes, stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and that, as powerful or moving as they may be, remain little more than make-believe, a fiction. Neither of these approaches seems all that satisfying to me. Both are abstract doctrines, not articulations of our real experiences of the world which ground us in a bone-deep knowledge of identity as porous and complex.

Identity does not have to be simple in order to be meaningful. It does not have to be rigid in order to be real.

I suggest a third alternative, an ecological or natural polytheism. In this natural theology, identity is responsive and creative, and divinity, like everything else in the sacred cosmos, is interwoven, connecting us all to all other aspects of being. We move through a world rife with gods and spirits, and a multitude of gods dwell within each of us. We show up to liminal places of communication — whether they be small altars tucked away in our homes, or the banks of a raging river carving serpentine paths through the wide, rolling landscape — and we open ourselves to experiences of connection in which we discover the porous, flexible natures of our own boundaries. We practice our spirituality through ritual and prayer, and discover that boundaries are not rigid constructs that separate us from the gods, but sacred points of contact, created and destroyed and re-created with every holy act. We rub up against divine being with every turn in the sacred dance, feeling the warm friction of our extremities, the very limits that define our beauty and direct our power.

We show up to the banks of the sacred river. Here the shore curves in such a way that a small pool opens up among the eddies, spiraling and foaming, and we catch glimpses of a presence unique to this place, here and now. Tomorrow, a year from now, a decade, a millennium, the river’s banks may have changed. But for now, this place is familiar to us, this presence is a friend. We name this place with the name of deity. The banks of the river define its identity for us, as the unique personalities and limitations of the gods define their identities for us in our worship. They step into our lives as guides, givers of wisdom, inspiration and love, as familiar patterns in the spiraling energies that move the universe. But neither the river nor the gods are static, unchanging abstractions separate from the physical, natural world.

We can name this river, here and now — but we cannot name the water itself. We can name our gods and we can name ourselves, but we cannot name the essence of sacred identity that flows through both, that connects us and sanctifies us.

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The Witches Brew

August 6, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

This is the second part of a two-part paper on the relationship between beer brewing and witchcraft (or at least magick use) in Western pre-history.

The Magick Circle – John William Waterhouse (30)

In The Sources, following, I present and briefly discuss the reference information from which I derived the scene in Part 1 (The Cauldron Bubbles) (also noting where my artistic license came in to play). In The Land and the People,  I present the contribution of the land as it relates to brewing and beer, and add a bit of information on the known history of the origins of beer making. Finally, a Bibliography and Notes end this paper for your use in your own reading and research.

The Sources

What follows are sections lifted from The Cauldron Bubbles annotated with what information I can find that supports the narrative. Also noted are details for which I cannot find good support or where I just made things up to support the narrative.

Why do this? Well, some of you may find bits and pieces of the narrative of special interest, and the annotations may guide you to further your interests. And some of you may challenge my presentation and respond. In either case, it makes sense to note the sources, for your use.

The Roundhouse

Imagine if you will, a round-house with reed roof and daubed earth walls. It is the largest home in a lonely village, somewhere in what is now Western Europe, perhaps in Scandinavia or even the Russian forests.

Image from Ancient Technology Centre (28)

Why a round house and not a square one? Well, roundhouses were built in Britain and Europe since the start of the Iron Age, and are known from all continents.(21) So, there’s no reason not to use a roundhouse. Further, this paper is focused on the magick of brewing, so why not consider the roundhouse a magick circle? If the ritual of brewing beer was considered to be magick, then it also makes sense for the brewing to take place in a sacred space.

The Women

Women as Brewers

Our modern ideas regarding woman as brewers are mainly derived from Western European cultural values of the last few hundred years (14).

“In Europe, female brewers were the norm. In England during the 1700s, a survey found 78% of licensed brewers were women. Traditionally, it was a woman’s job to brew beer for the household. In fact, certain laws stated that the tools used in brewing were solely the woman’s property. Things changed in medieval times, when monasteries began brewing beer on a larger scale for passing travelers. Gradually, women became less and less involved in brewing. The industrial revolution transferred brewing from the home to the marketplace. Men began claiming local taverns as their domain, and women began drinking less beer. Alewives were replaced by male brewers, and brewers have tended to be male ever since.” (14)

There is ample evidence that women brewed beer in prehistory and have brewed beer as long or longer than men.

“My sister, your grain – its beer is tasty, my comfort…” – Song of Songs; Sumeria, 2100 B.C. (27)

The Epic of Gilgamesh (6) contains references to Siduri; an archetypical brewster and barmaid who gave beer, comfort and counsel to Gilgamesh, greatest of the Sumerian kings.

Egyptian women brewed their beer in an area of the kitchen called “the pure,” the lady of the house always supervising. Although royal brewers were sometimes men, most Egyptian beer was made and sold by women who developed scores of beer styles (10).

From the eighth through the tenth centuries A.D., Viking women were the exclusive brewers in Norse society and law dictated that all brewhouse equipment remained the property of women only (10).

Brewing as Witchcraft

Although I have been unable to find a specific reference that considers women brewing beer to be witchcraft, there’s a lot to be said for the idea. After all it includes a cauldron, a ritual (a series of steps designed to achieve a specific goal) and can be considered to be a form of kitchen magick.

Shakespeare used cooking imagery in his iconic scene of witches around a cauldron in Macbeth:

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.  (22)

Double Double is a double adjective – a fold or plait.

- fold in, Cookery . to mix in or add (an ingredient) by gently turning one part over another: Fold in the egg whites

Stephen Buhner, in his book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers (2) goes on at length about the special relationship of brewer with the brew in Chapter 3, Yeast: A Magical and Medicinal Plant:

All parts of the brewing process were attendant with a religious earnestness in every ancient culture (page 67).

For instance, one very old Norwegian brewer commented that she always took a little of the sweet wort and before adding yeast, went to the four corners of the brewing house, and poured a little in each corner “for the corner crones” (page 67).

The Ancestral Witch

…the oldest of the women, the one dressed in plaids and wearing a high cone-shaped black felt hat steps forward.

Sketch of Subashi female mummy (31)

When I first read about this and saw the sketches of the women, I was floored! Here in archeology was direct evidence suggesting that these ancestral Celtic women wearing tall, black pointy hats with wide brims were the basis for a cultural memory of magic users in Western European culture.

In the dry hills of the central Asian province, archeologists have unearthed more than 100 corpses that are as much as 4,000 years old, astonishingly well preserved–and caucasian. At a site near the town of Subashi, 310 miles west of Qizilchoqa, that dates to about the fifth century B.C., they unearthed a woman wearing a two-foot- long black felt peaked hat with a flat brim.

Three female mummies with flowing brown hair wearing 13-inch pointed felt hats of brown wool with wide brims was excavated, the reminiscent of the headgear has been described as similar to those seen in Persian bas-reliefs, to those of the Saka culture and to witches hats. The females wore sheepskin cloaks, beneath they wore long sleeved blouses and magnificent woolen skirts fastened to their waists with a cord of four colours; reminiscent of the braids found in Qizilchoqa. The skirts reached their ankles they also wore a pouch with herbs. Some scholars state that perhaps they were healers or witch doctors or that they were royalty or priestesses, nonetheless their hats represented their role and status of prestige within the community.

The plaid twills found in the region bear a resemblance to the Proto-Keltic cloth found from the salt mines at Hallstatt and Hallein in Europe, suggesting that both the eastern and western “Keltic” clothing derived from a region around the Caucasus. (9)

Maiden, Mother and Crone

There really is no evidence to suggest that the Maiden/Mother/Crone symbol is anything other than modern, but it resonates well with modern Pagans and makes sense that women brewers would keep their craft within the family.

The relationship between the neopagan Triple Goddess and ancient religion is disputed. Ronald Hutton, a scholar of neopaganism, argues that the concept of the triple moon goddess as Maiden, Mother, and Crone, each facet corresponding to a phase of the moon, is a modern creation of Robert Graves, drawing on the work of 19th and 20th century scholars such as especially Jane Harrison; and also Margaret Murray, James Frazer, the other members of the “myth and ritual” school or Cambridge Ritualists, and the occultist and writer Aleister Crowley. (10)

The Brewing

The following four steps present the basics of brewing beer (15):

1.        Malted barley is soaked in hot water to release the malt sugars.
2.       The malt sugar solution is boiled with Hops [or other amendment, such as juniper] for seasoning.
3.       The solution is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation.
4.       The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing CO2 and ethyl alcohol.

When the main fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit of added sugar to provide the carbonation.

Brewing in an Open Pot

The cauldron is placed over the fire, water is brought, measured and poured in, and the malted grain is added.

…a large metal pot, a beaten copper cauldron, family heirloom and worth all the rest of the village combined.


A Bronze Age sheet bronze cauldron and flesh-hook in the British Museum, 4 June 2010, JMiall

 Cauldrons have largely fallen out of use in the developed world as cooking vessels. While still used for practical purposes, a more common association in Western culture is the cauldron’s use in witchcraft—a cliché popularized by various works of fiction, such as Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. In fiction, witches often prepare their potions in a cauldron. Also, in Irish folklore, a cauldron is purported to be where leprechauns keep their gold and treasure.

In some forms of Wicca which incorporate aspects of Celtic mythology, the cauldron is associated with the goddess Cerridwen. Celtic legend also tells of a cauldron that was useful to warring armies: dead warriors could be put into the cauldron and would be returned to life, save that they lacked the power of speech. It was suspected that they lacked souls. These warriors could go back into battle until they were killed again. In Wicca and some other forms of neopagan or pagan belief systems the cauldron is still used in magical practices. (4)



Clean, clear water and snow are brought in bark containers, and set aside.

Together, the crone and the mother, having barred the way against evil spirits, begin the brew. The cauldron is placed over the fire, water is brought, measured and poured in, and the malted grain is added.

Over time the water and grain boils and cooks down and a rich earthy smell fills the room. The youngest uses a paddle to remove the spent grain to the hollowed out log. The grain is rich in nutrients and will be used to fatten hogs before the kill. Fresh clear snowmelt is added to dilute the thickened brew and the mother checks the temperature of the mix against the back of her hand. Once the brew is cooled sufficiently the ritual continues.

No thermometers were used (or are used now by any rural or indigenous culture); brewers learned the temperature the yeast liked best. The tradition of some Norwegian brewers is quite beautiful. They reach in and touch the back of the hand, gently, to the wort. This might not seem special until you understand that no one in Norway caresses lovers, family or children with the palm of the hand; only the back or “tender” side is used. The Palm is not “nice” enough for showing love.

When the wort was the right temperature, “just a little warmer than the lips”, the yeast log was added. … (page 66, 2)


It is clear that our ancestors and some modern-day indigenous peoples think of fermentation by yeast as the result of the action of good spirits.

Ancient peoples did not have microscopes, but they knew that there was a unique, special substance that came through the air, or sometimes on things, that caused the sugar water (the wort) to become ale. (page 64, 2)

The Juniper Branches

Leaning against the wall, next to the single door is a juniper branch, trimmed at one end for easy handling, the feathery branches and a few remaining berries crusted over with a clayey substance so that the branch appears to have been steeped in mud.

Juniper branches would be placed in the barrel with the fermenting wort. As the yeast ate and produced offspring, a thick layer of yeast built up in the bottom of the barrel or fermenter, covering the juniper branches. After the beer was drawn off and the barrel was emptied, the yeast-covered juniper branches were taken out and hung up to dry. At the next brewing, a branch was taken down and put into the bottom of the barrel with new juniper branches. The wort was added, and the yeasts awakened from their hibernation and ate, making new beer once again. (page 65, 2)

Barley and Malted Grain

Another vessel, hollowed from a log, is carried in and laid down near the fire. Handfuls of wet grain, just barely sprouted, fill the log.

Malting grain is the process of initiating partial germination, then halting the germination by ‘killing’ the grain. This results in the conversion of starch into simple sugars that can be fermented.

Two enzymes, α- and β-amylases, carry out the conversion. The latter is present in barley, but the former is made only during germination of the grain. (1)

The process of germinating the barley, followed by killing it off strongly suggests that John Barleycorn is the slain god whose body (chaff) is scattered to the winds. (page 158, 2)


It’s not a large leap of faith to realize that our ancestors would have considered the actions of yeast to be those of a good spirit, or of sacred origin. After all, the liquid (wort) changed character, color, solids separated out and bubbling occurred.

Ancient peoples did not have microscopes, but they knew that there was a unique, special substance that came through the air, or sometimes on things, that caused the sugar water (the wort) to become ale. (page 64, 2)

The Magick


Now it is time to invite the good spirits into the brew, and the mother takes down the dusty juniper branch and uses it to stir the now-cooled contents of the cauldron. Three times one way, then three times the other, repeated thrice and thrice again. The ritual is as old as time; the chanting and sacred nature of the event have served to preserve the process over generations.

Within oral preliterate cultures, rituals keep alive, reproduce, and circulate identity preserving formative knowledge, thereby foregoing the leading self-images. ‘Rites are channels, the ‘vessels’ through which identity is preserved.’ (12)

As the pot is stirred the crone takes liquid and drops libations to the four major compass directions of the round-house. In other places (foreign places where the houses are square) the offerings are made to the corners, to the corner crones, but that is not how it is done here.

For instance, one very old Norwegian brewer commented that she always took a little of the sweet wort and before adding yeast, went to the four corners of the brewing house, and poured a little in each corner “for the corner crones” (page 67, 2).

Good and Bad Spirits

Inviting the Good Spirits In

Now it is time to invite the good spirits into the brew, and the mother takes down the dusty juniper branch and uses it to stir the now-cooled contents of the cauldron.

The good spirits have been invited in and the pot is moved to a stand at one side of the round-house, away from the light.

It’s not a large leap of faith to realize that our ancestors would have considered the actions of yeast to be those of a good spirit. After all, the liquid (wort) changed character, color, solids separated out and bubbling occurred.

Ancient peoples did not have microscopes, but they knew that there was a unique, special substance that came through the air, or sometimes on things, that caused the sugar water (the wort) to become ale. (page 64, 2)

And after all that, there were the wonderful effects of drinking alcohol.

Keeping out Evil Spirits

At the door, the middle-aged woman lowers a wooden bar to lock that entrance against unwanted spirits.

There’s good reason to do this; it keeps wild yeast out. And although our ancestors would not yet have known what yeast is, or its direct relationship to fermentation, by observation they would have realized that there was some need to protect the brew against souring.

Unlike traditional beer-brewing, which is done in a sterile environment to guard against the intrusion of wild yeast,[1] sour beers are made by allowing wild yeast strains or bacteria into the brew. (23)

The Wand

In one hand she holds a knife, and in the other a deeply carved stick. Raising both, the crone blesses the tools in the smoke of the hearth, and turns to the door. As she holds the wand high she chants in an old, barely understood language, and carves a deep line into its wood, adding it to the ones already there.

A calendar was an essential part of every home and displayed in the corner where prized and religious objects were kept. The days were marked by holes or by notches, in many ways. Calendars like this were in use into the 19th century, but very few seem to have survived. One type, was a carved staff of six sides, the days of the month notched along the edges.(12)

So, yes, that’s a bit of a stretch, but we do know that our ancestors used sticks (11) to keep information on and this makes for a cool image.

Teaching The Branches

The sediment left behind is cleaned from the cauldron with the juniper broom, and adds another layer of clayey material to the juniper leaves and few remaining berries. As the branch becomes unusable it will be tied to a newer, fresher branch and will train that branch in its proper roles before the older branch is set aside to be burned. The crone tells the younger ones that in her mother’s day, before the copper was available they used clay pots to brew in, and shards from older pots were placed in younger pots to train them in their proper role.

Juniper branches would be placed in the barrel with the fermenting wort. As the yeast ate and produced offspring, a thick layer of yeast built up in the bottom of the barrel or fermenter, covering the juniper branches. After the beer was drawn off and the barrel was emptied, the yeast-covered juniper branches were taken out and hung up to dry. At the next brewing, a branch was taken down and put into the bottom of the barrel with new juniper branches. The wort was added, and the yeasts awakened from their hibernation and ate, making new beer once again. (page 65, 2)

The Tarahumara Indians, when making pulque, a fermented agave cactus beer, place the sweet water-and-sap mixture in special clay jars. The call fermentation “boiling”, and once a jar “learns to boil”, it is placed near other jars (filled with unfermented pulque) that have not learned how to boil so that they might be taught to do so. (page 4, 2)

Never washed, it [the clay jar] has residues of yeasts in it and initiates fermentation whenever new, unfermented pulque is added to it. (page 75, 2)


In other places (foreign places where the houses are square) the offerings are made to the corners, to the corner crones, but that is not how it is done here.

In a roundhouse there are no corners, so offerings go to four compass directions instead:

For instance, one very old Norwegian brewer commented that she always took a little of the sweet wort and before adding yeast, went to the four corners of the brewing house, and poured a little in each corner “for the corner crones” (page 67, 2).

This offering, for instance with tiswin, is common throughout the indigenous world, … (page 68, 2).

The Divine Gift

This is ancient magick, women’ magick; the men will have their turn when it comes time to drink, for although the women will also drink and make merry it is the men who will drink again and again until the divine madness comes upon them and they begin to speak in rare words and images. The women have the magick of making but it is the men who have the magick of dying and rebirthing; they sacrifice their dignity and roles, and for a while are reborn to the world as skalds, storytellers and sacred fools.

Gift of the Gods

The carved wand is used to stir the pot as the crone and the mother take turns telling the stories of how the goddess brought a gift to womankind, the poet’s gift of divine madness.

Probably the oldest written account of the discovery of grain fermentation is included in Rune XX of the Finnish epic Kalevala, circa 1000 B.C. Basically, the epic relates how a semi-divine woman creates the first fermentation of barley for human beings. (page 148, 2)


The Finnish epic Kalevala, collected in written form in the 19th century but based on oral traditions many centuries old, devotes more lines to the origin of beer and brewing than it does to the origin of mankind.

According to Czech legend, deity Radegast, god of hospitality, invented beer.

Ninkasi was the patron goddess of brewing in ancient Sumer.

In Egyptian mythology, the immense blood-lust of the fierce lioness goddess Sekhmet was only sated after she was tricked into consuming an extremely large amount of red-coloured beer: she became so drunk that she gave up slaughter altogether and became docile.

In Norse mythology the sea god Ægir, his wife Rán, and their nine daughters, brewed ale (or mead) for the gods. In the Lokasenna, it is told that Ægir would host a party where all the gods would drink the beer he brewed for them. He made this in a giant kettle that Thor had brought. The cups in Ægir’s hall were always full, magically refilling themselves when emptied. Ægir had two servants in his hall to assist him; Eldir [Fire-Kindler] and Fimafeng [Handy].

In Nart sagas, Satanaya (Ubykh [satanaja], Adyghe [setenej], Ossetian [ʃatana]), the mother of the Narts, a fertility figure and matriarch, invented beer. (10)

Divine Madness

This is ancient magick, women’ magick; the men will have their turn when it comes time to drink, for although the women will also drink and make merry it is the men who will drink again and again until the divine madness comes upon them and they begin to speak in rare words and images. The women have the magick of making but it is the men who have the magick of dying and rebirthing; they sacrifice their dignity and roles, and for a while are reborn to the world as skalds, storytellers and sacred fools.

The ancient Egyptians brewed a mandrake beer, the American Indians spiced up their maize beer (chicha) with coca leaves (Erythroxylon coca), angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia sp.), and morning glory seeds (Ipomoea sp., Turbina corymbosa). Oriental beer was often improved with hashhish and opium, while dried fly agaric mushrooms were crumbled into beer in Siberia. The Gods brewed beer from darnel (Lolium temulentum),… The pagan “Mead of Inspiration” as no simple beer or mead, but must have been a psychoactive beverage whose inebriating ingredients had a stimulating effect upon creativity. (20)

It might be so if madness were simply an evil; but there is also a madness which is a divine gift, and the source of the chiefest blessings granted to men. (16)

The Land and the People

Role of the Land in Beer Making

In all the regions of the world, the land has provided the basic ingredients from which a fermented alcoholic beverage is made: fresh water, grain, honey, fruit or other source of simple sugars, yeast, and herbal and fruit amendments.

The ancient Egyptians brewed a mandrake beer, the American Indians spiced up their maize beer (chicha) with coca leaves (Erythroxylon coca), angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia sp.), and morning glory seeds (Ipomoea sp., Turbina corymbosa). Oriental beer was often improved with hashhish and opium, while dried fly agaric mushrooms were crumbled into beer in Siberia. The Gods brewed beer from darnel (Lolium temulentum),…

Different grains were used in different cultures:

a) Africa used millet, maize and cassava.

b) North America used persimmon although agave was used in Mexico.

c) South America used corn although sweet potatoes were used in Brazil.

d) Japan used rice to make sake.

e) China used wheat to make samshu.

f) Other Asian cultures used sorghum.

g) Russians used rye to make quass or kvass.

h) Egyptians used barley and may have cultivated it strictly for brewing as it made poor bread.

Early brewers used herbals like balsam, hay, dandelion, mint, and wormwood seeds, horehound juice, and even crab claws & oyster shells for flavorings.

1490′s Columbus found Indians making beer from corn and black birch sap. (19)


“The most direct influence of geology is with beer — which one rarely hears about,” says Alex Maltman, a geologist at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. “The link comes about because beer is mostly water, and for most brewers this is obtained from a local aquifer.”

Breweries have traditionally been located on rivers, but, contrary to popular belief, brewers typically used surface river water only for running and cooling machinery, and drew their brewing water from groundwater wells or springs. “The geology of the aquifer directly influences the pH and concentrations of certain key ions,” says Rick Saltus, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Denver, Colo. And water geochemistry, Maltman says, “affects both the brewing process — and hence the most suitable beer styles — and the taste of the beer.”

Although water chemistry strongly determines the type of beer that can be made from it, Wakabayashi says that it isn’t the most important influence on a brew’s flavor. “It is my opinion that flavor characteristics of malted barley, hop varieties and different fermentation flavor profiles imparted by different yeast strains are far greater influences in beer flavor than brewing water,” he says.

But here too, geology plays a role. Maltman says that the regions most suitable for growing barley and hops are fertile, well-drained volcanic soils. More than 70 percent of American hops are now grown on the deep alluvial soils of the Yakima and Willamette Valleys of Washington and Oregon, which are derived from the nearby Cascade volcanic uplands. (17)

Origins of Beer

  • Historians speculate that prehistoric nomads may have made beer from grain & water before learning to make bread.
  • Beer became ingrained in the culture of civilizations with no significant viticulture.
  • Noah’s provisions included beer on the Ark.
  • 4300 BC, Babylonian clay tablets detail recipes for beer.
  • Beer was a vital part of civilization and the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Chinese, and Inca cultures.
  • Babylonians produced beer in large quantities with around 20 varieties.
  • Beer at this time was so valued that it was sometimes used to pay workers as part of their daily wages.
  • Early cultures often drank beer through straws to avoid grain hulls left in the beverage.
  • Egyptians brewed beer commercially for use by royalty served in gold goblets, medical purposes, and as a necessity to be included in burial provisions for the journey to the hereafter.
  • Romans brewed “cerevisia” (Ceres the goddess of agriculture & vis meaning strength in Latin).
  • 55 BC Roman legions introduce beer to Northern Europe.
  • 49 BC Caesar toasted his troops after crossing the Rubicon, which began the Roman Civil War.
  • 23 BC Chinese brewed beer called “kiu”

500-1000 AD the first half of the Middle Ages, brewing begins to be practiced in Europe, shifting from family tradition to centralized production in monasteries and convents (hospitality for traveling pilgrims). (19)


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2.       Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Sacred and herbal healing beers: the secrets of ancient fermentation. Boulder, Colo.: Siris Books, 1998. Print. Secondary source.
3.       “Çatalhöyük.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2012. <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%87atalh%C3%B6y%C3%BCk>. This is a compendium of public knowledge and considered a questionable secondary source.
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5.       Eames, A.. “Goddesses, Myths, and Beer.” Barlecorn Jul. – Aug. 1994: 9-10, 14. Print. Secondary source.
6.       “Epic of Gilgamesh: Tablet X.” Ancient texts library.. Academy for Ancient Texts. , n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2012. <http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/tab10.htm>. Primary Source.
7.       Frazer, James George. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Unknown: Forgotten Books, 2008. Print. Pages 63, 124, 220.
8.       Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA handbook for writers of research papers. 7th ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2009. Print.
Hadingham, Evan. “The Mummies of Xinjiang | Archaeology | DISCOVER Magazine .” Science and Technology News, Science Papers | Discover Magazine . Discover Magazine, n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2012. <http://discovermagazine.com/1994/apr/themummiesofxinj359/>.
10.    “History of beer – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_beer#Mythology>. This is a compendium of public knowledge and considered a questionable secondary source.
Hobden : H. J., 1983/1984 Series – Time Before Clocks, Parts 1 to 4, in Clocks, December 1983 to March 1984
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13.    Joet. “How Beer Is Brewed – News and Features – Ratebeer.” RateBeer: Great beer made easy. Version Craft Beer Introduction. RateBeer Weekly Magazine, 9 Dec. 2004. Web. 5 Aug. 2012. <http://www.ratebeer.com/Beer-News/Paper-400.htm>.
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Palmer, John. “Introduction.” How to Brew – By John Palmer. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2012. <http://www.howtobrew.com/intro.html>.
16.    Plato. “Phaedrus by Plato.” The Internet Classics Archive: 441 searchable works of classical literature. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2012. <http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/phaedrus.html>.
17.    Pratt, Sara. “Geology and Beer.” Geotimes Aug. 2004: unknown. GEOTIMES. Web. 1 Aug. 2012.
18.    “Primary vs Secondary Sources.” Princeton University – Welcome. Princeton University Library, n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2012. <http://www.princeton.edu/~refdesk/primary2.html>.
Raley, L.. “Concise Timetable of Beer History..” AMERICAN BREWERY HISTORY PAGE. American Brewery History, n.d. Web. 3 Aug. 2012. <http://www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/raley_timetable.shtml>.
20.    Ratsch, Christian. “The Mead of Inspiration.” The well of remembrance: rediscovering the earth wisdom myths of northern Europe. Boston: Shambhala, 1994. 280. Print.
21.    “Roundhouse – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Aug. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundhouse>. This is a compendium of public knowledge and considered a questionable secondary source.
22.    Shakespeare, William, and Howard Staunton. “MacBeth, Act IV, Scene 1 as found in:.” The globe illustrated Shakespeare: the complete works annotated. New York: Gramercy Books, 1979. unknown. Print. Primary source.
23.    “Sour beer – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sour_beer>. This is a compendium of public knowledge and considered a questionable secondary source.
24.    Taliesen. “Book of Taliesin XX, Song to Ale, .” Book of Taliesin. Scribd, n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2012. <http://www.scribd.com/doc/25348776/BookofTaliesin#outer_page_122>. Primary source.
25.    “Tally stick – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tally_stick>.
Tate, Karen. “Europe and Asia Minor.” Sacred places of goddess 108 destinations. San Francisco, CA, USA: Consortium of Collective Consciousness, 2006. 93. Print.
“The Biblical “Song of Songs” and the Sumerian Loves Songs..” “Song of Songs” and the Sumerian – Penn Museum. Penn Museum, n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2012. <www.penn.museum/documents/publications/expedition/PDFs/5-1/The%20Biblical.pdf>.
“The Ironage Roundhouse.” The Ancient Technology Centre. The Ancient Technology Centre, n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2012. <http://www.ancienttechnologycentre.co.uk/ironageroundhouse.html>.
29.    “Triple Goddess (Neopaganism).” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2012. <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_Goddess_%28Neopaganism%29>.
30.    Unknown. ‘The Magic Circle’ by John William Waterhouse. N.d. Tate Museum, Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG,. JW Waterhouse: The Art and Life of John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). Web. 1 Aug. 2012. Primary source.
31.    Unknown, Artist. Sketch of Subashi female mummy. N.d. Unknown, Unknown. . Web. Primary source.
32.    Witcombe, Christopher L. C. E. . “Sacred Places: Water and the Sacred.” Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe. Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, Professor, Department of Art History, Sweet Briar College, Virginia, 24595 USA , n.d. Web. 3 Aug. 2012. <http://witcombe.sbc.edu/sacredplaces/water.html>.
33.    “Women in Beer.” Alephanalia Spring 1993: 19. Print. Questionable secondary source. 

Notes on sources

I note that only some of my sources would meet strict academic criteria for being primary sources. Good thing then, that it isn’t required. However, we Pagans have been criticized for not documenting our sources very well, so this is an attempt to ramp up my writing a bit by generally following the MLA (8) recognized bibliographic style and identifying my sources as primary versus secondary.

Primary versus Secondary Sources

According to the Princeton University Library (18), a primary source is:

“…a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include:

 ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records

 CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art

 RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

And a secondary source:

“…interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of secondary sources include:

 PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine papers, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias

 ~ END ~


The Elements Knitted: Moon

August 5, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters.

By now you know of my knitting project: to knit a shawl representing each of the Elements and two more: Sun and Moon.

The first shawl I finished was Fire. I then moved onto Water. Last week I finished Air.

I’m pleased to say I completed Moon.

This shawl is one I’ve made before. The first one I made came out fantastic but it was far too small for me. It’s for sale on my Etsy shop. Making the shawl again gave me a great sense of satisfaction. I knew I could knit the shawl, that it wasn’t beyond my skill, because I’d made it before. And it gave me the opportunity to make it much larger.

I really love the way this one came out. It’s big enough for my body and glints in Moonlight. It’s warm yet cool. It’s practically perfect in every way.

Wordless Wednesday: Calling the Circle

August 1, 2012 by Categorized: Natural Reflections.

Calling the circle on the Autumn Equinox, beneath The Long Man, Windover Hill, Sussex Downs

Calling the Circle, by Chris Beckett

Share your nature photography and artwork on the Pagan Newswire Collective Flickr group. For more information, check out our submission guidelines.

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Sounds and Symbols of the Story

July 28, 2012 by Categorized: Restorying the Sacred.

We live in a Cosmos, and on a planet, far vaster and more complex then the human brain can truly grasp. How freakin’ cool is that? And so we do what we can to make it comprehensible to ourselves and each other through symbol, sign, and simile. In “Restorying the Sacred”, I do it with words. Others find other amazing ways.

Scottish composer Stuart Mitchell is one of several musicians and composers who have adapted parts of the human genome as music. This is the sound of our DNA.

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Jim Wilson and David Carson created “God’s Cricket Chorus”, which superimposes the normal sound of crickets’ chirps over a track of those same chirps “slowed down to match and mirror the length of the average lifespan of a human being”.

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Bartholomäus Traubeck put a cross-section of a tree on a turntable to hear the song of its life.

The late Anne Adams painted “Unraveling Bolero”, a visual adaptation of Maurice Ravel’s legendary composition. As it happens, both of those were manifestations of something much more complex going on in Adams’ and Ravel’s brains.

Anne Adams' graphical representation of Maurice Ravel's "Bolero"


This is how humankind knows itself in the world. We live in the Story. We tell the stories. What a glorious life. What a glorious place to live it. Blessed be.

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