Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Last Big Fox Flap

Fundamentalists in any political party or religious tradition are problematic because they have tunnel vision. They don't speak for the whole group, just their own limited membership. Their 'take' on a subject doesn't give them the credibility or right to speak for anyone other than themselves. It is only their own narrow opinion, aimed at a few ears of those they believe worthy of their message.

Such was the stuff of the recent Fox and Friends Sunday episode that set off a firestorm. You can read about it here:
What the Fox News Team did was very definitely uncalled for and unjust but it held true to their modus operandi of catering to the ultra-conservative Tea Party, Christian fundamentalist and assorted wing nut segment of  the public the Fox Network usually appeals to: the intolerantly racist, wealthy elitists who wrap themselves in the American flag and smugly look down their noses at "The Other".

The Fox Network does this so well that it's become an exemplary psychological template for those who are paranoid and fearful that  "The Other" ( no matter who that is) will take away what's comfortable; they act as if this is the accepted normative behavior in American society. I understand that people rightfully don't want to give up what they've fought for to make themselves comfortable. We give lip-service in this country to the idea of diversity, when in fact, genuine diversity has been mashed, homogenized and manufactured into something very bland and insipid, lacking all discernible character or individuality...and because the majority of the population is simply exhausted trying to survive day to day without rocking the boat or making the effort.  The general public is satisfied with letting these kinds of attacks go unchallenged in the hope that the controversy goes away on its own. Power to the Sheeple.

Irrespective of theology and/or dogma, many mainstream Christians follow their own individual version of their religion, not unlike Pagans. They interpret that individuality as a 'personal' relationship with their God, so that even members of the same congregation don't necessarily follow the same form of expression or hold identical ideas of what it's like to be a Christian. That's why there are so many denominations. Just as in our own Pagan Community, you can't paint everyone with the same brush.

 Fox News is tabloid journalism taken to it's highest form. It is intentionally sensational and bombastic. It is meant to incite controversy. The majority of it's commentators and on-air journalists were specifically chosen for their acerbic style of delivery and  ability to fire off caustic commentary. They speak to a populace that are ready believers in the most recent conspiracy theory which alludes to the destruction of the American Way of Life as seen through the eyes of fearful religious fundamentalists and  political conservatives. They are experts at inflammatory speech and know just how and which buttons to push. And they excel at doing that.

That is why I believe Tucker Carlson and Company had no compunction with attacking the University of Missouri or the Wiccan/Pagan Community.  Because Pagans are still basically unorganized and misunderstood, we are seen as an easy mark for those who wish to spread misinformation about us. The majority of the talking heads at Fox are bullies used to manipulating the facts to fit their agenda and getting their own way. They seized upon the University of Missouri's schedule of suggested  holidays for students  as a rallying point for their assault because it is in the midwest...You can't get much more American than the Heart Land, now can you? Golly gee, the Wiccanists were probably poisoning apple pies as we speak, so it was up to Tucker Carlson and Company to point out the evils visited upon the good citizens of Missouri...Because we all know that Missouri is the gateway to the West and the fabled Promised Land of America. Next thing you know, the Wiccans and Pagans would be making cakes and ale from the amber waves of grain and dancing naked under the moon beneath the purple mountain majesty... and God as our witness, we just couldn't have that happening in the red-blooded, blue collared, white bread domain that is Fox's America! So Tucker Carlson and Company, full of themselves with righteous indignation, stepped to the forefront, unfurled their flag, and charged.  

What the Fox Four were not counting on was the Pagan Community pushing back. They shot spit balls at who they mistook as the weakest kid in the classroom and were shot squarely in the face with a bazooka.I think they were stunned that their vitriolic assault was almost immediately met by a very savvy Pagan-centric news collective and social media who spread the word in cyberspace. Carlson Tucker, Anna Kooiman, Clayton Morris and Tammy Bruce never saw the stregic assault comming...I guess it was was due to the gaming expertise of all those supposed D&D players among us. Or maybe it was surge of estrogen from all the pissed off  twice-divorced, rural-living midwives. Perhaps it was a mass of "Wiccanists" under the influence of incense. In record time individuals had put together protests, boycotts and petitions to counter the duress of the Faux Four. The counter measures were impressive. Pagans-me included- turned to their Facebook and Twitter accounts and demanded an accounting.

Tucker Carlson apologized, first on Twitter, then live on-air from the Fox studios:

"Last weekend, we reported on a story about Wiccan and Pagan holidays being recognized by the University of Missouri. My comments on the story offended a number of people. That was never my intention. I also violated one of my basic life rules which is 'Live and Let Live.' The Wiccans have never bothered me or tried to control my life. I should have left them alone. Sorry about that." 

No matter how wimpy or lame any of us might have found the response, it was a huge deal that it even happened: a news anchor apologized for his personal behavior during a live broadcast on a major television network...and it must have cut Tucker Carlson-a man I personally consider devoid of empathy-to the core of his ego to be forced to say those words.  No matter how arrogant he seemed in those brief few seconds, trust me, those seconds seemed like an eternity to him, and his pride was wounded. He must have been hemorrhaging emotionally the whole time the camera was on him.

2/26/13- For an update on the story, you can go here:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Death and Community-A Reflection

(Originally posted as part of the Pagan Blog Project,week D-1)

We Pagans are fond of saying that Death is not the end of Life; that's not entirely true. The cessation of physical existence on this plane of consciousness is but one of the many Rites of Passage we experience as humans. We may have a belief that when we die we "cross the Veil" to another form of spirit. We may have faith that happens, but we actually don't know what happens to the spirit when it leaves the body. That is one of the Great Unknowns. It is a certainty that we will all die someday; that's how Life is wired. One day each of use will simply no longer exist, our physical body will decay and return to its most basic elements, and we will return to the soil that formed our ancestors.

Humans cling to many notions and taboos about Death. One notion is that we survive in the form of a soul which passes from one level of being to another. We are fully conscious of our existence and that of others of our kind, and so one of us dies many of us choose to believe that we will live somewhere else in another form. In fact, nearly every religious tradition shares that myth: that we go on elsewhere. Why do we do this? I believe it's very simple: we want to know that we mattered, we want to know that what we did in the span of our incarnation made an impact on others. Humans have an innate need to be validated in order to justify (perhaps in their own mind) their presence in this world. Even those who do not believe in life after death want to leave a legacy so others-(and they themselves) know they were here.

Little over a month ago I presided over a memorial ritual for a member of a group of which I was associated. The individual who had died was young and the circumstances of her death were particularly tragic. Her birth family was not Pagan and I'm sure would have been offended if any of us had dared to show up at the spiritual 'homecoming' they held for her, so we had our own. Out of the community's grief over the loss of the individual, there was the emptiness of the void she left. One of us was gone and would not be coming back. The most poignant thing said  during the time of sharing during which we took turns expressing our love for her and joy at having known her was,  "April mattered."  In that moment, I believe, we understood the importance of belonging: our existence was cherished by the others in the circle. Each of our lives mattered because there was a deliberate place for us in the lives of others.

Whether or not we like to admit it, humans long for place.  Best-selling author and Irish mystic John O' Donohue notes," When two people discover each other, the way they look and talk to each other indicates that they are enfolding each other in a circle of presence." [Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong, HarperCollins Publishers,1999] We want to be acknowledged, we want our presence to speak our existence.

But what happens to that existence when we die? Does our existence die also? At what point does existence became memory?

It has been my experience as the witness and officiant of a number of funerals, that just after the passing of a loved one, those left behind want to hold them close. Most don’t want to let go, physically or metaphorically. They don’t want to lose the essence of the individual. That is a natural part of grief and mourning. There is a saying that there are two deaths: When you stop breathing and the last time someone speaks your name.

We keep those we love and care for alive in our nostalgic remembrances.  Episodic memory represents our ability to recall autobiographical events-times, places, emotions and related detail; Semantic memory delves into the rather secret world of personal meaning. Together, they cull the mind of experiences and compartmentalize what we remember.[]

The truth is that we exist after we die as a form of thought to those who survive us. Subjective material is what makes that thought form come alive. It is why we fondly remember Aunt Jenny’s cherry pie that we can almost taste twenty years later. It is how we can momentarily recall what being 16 years old feels like. And it is how we experience the presence of an individual.

Life and Death are essential parts of the same creative process. We don’t know where we came from in the beginning and aren’t sure where we’re going in the end. One day each of us will simply no longer exist, our physical body will decay and return to its most basic elements, and we will return to the soil that formed our ancestors. It is our task to live, but it is the task of those left behind to honor and celebrate memory.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Silence of the Throne

Popes simply do not resign, according to my very old school Roman Catholic up-bringing. The man sitting on the Throne of Peter was there for life. Period. No exceptions. If you were elevated to the Pontificate, you were expected to draw your last breath as a Pope. There was no giving your two weeks notice to the Corporation of God, no matter how old, decrepit or loony you became. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, secretary to the late Pope John Paul II, who suffered from Parkinson's Disease and other physical maladies throughout the last decade of his life, made the rather pointed comment the other day: " John Paul stayed to the end of his life as he believed you cannot come down from the cross." The snark could not have been more thinly veiled. Ouch.

Benedict XVI declared in his shocking resignation that he no longer had the mental and physical strength to run the Church through a period of major crisis.The exact wording began,"Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St Peter ..." I am having a problem with the word renounce. It's use is curious to me, because the words 'relinquish',abdicate,or the phrase ' step-down' Among its many definitions  there is there is also the  phrase, " give back or return", and the words 'repudiate' and  'disown'. Perhaps this was a poor translation, but I find the use of 'renounce' particularly nagging, as if there is something that was left unsaid.As I said, I was raised Catholic: many members of my family remain so to this day. My entire childhood was rooted in Catholicism in the Church under Pope John XXII and Paul VI. My brother-a Monsignor-was employed at the Vatican News Service under John Paul II. I know a lot of snarky Catholic jokes...a lot. The first thought that crossed my mind  after reading the news that Benedict XVI was resigning was that maybe he figured he'd get out before one of his colleagues poisoned him or that someone found his little black book full of altar boy's names. Not a very charitable attitude, but I believe the irony of it isn't lost on fellow former Catholics. Although I left Catholicism (or it left me) years ago, I still credit it with giving me a love for ritual: Credit where credit is due.

There are some immediate problems with the existence of an ex-Pope because there is so little precedence. The last one, Gregory XII, abdicated the Papacy over 600 years ago during the Great Western Schism, so that the Council Of Constance ( a group of bishops) could elect someone else who could satisfactorily serve the Church in the eyes of all the various warring factions involved at the time.[]  I personally find this to be a humble gesture on his part, and which also more than likely kept him from having his head looped off by one of his challengers. Several hundred years prior to that, Celestine V, who was introverted to the point of being known as a hermit, and only accepted after much prodding from his colleagues, gave it all up  after only 90 days to wander in Nature. Maybe he heard the Call of the Goddess? At any rate, his successor, Boniface VIII, had him hunted down, arrested and jailed before he could leave the country-just so they wouldn't be the prickly problem of a former Pope and a current one, as was the case with Benedict IX and his godfather Gregory VI. Benedict, at the tender age of 20, was known to be a bit of a gigolo, and was bribed off the Throne of Peter by Gregory VI. During his more, shall we say, fallow periods, Benedict IX twice attempted to reclaim the Papal Tiara. This skullduggery ended with the expulsion of both Benedict IX and GregoryVI from the Vatican.

The exit of Benedict XVI is not quite so dramatic. The Pontiff cited age and infirmity as his main reasons for exchanging Peter's Chair for an easy chair. I was discussing with my friend Mac just last night that I believed that Benedict's ring should be reclaimed by the College of Cardinals, for it is the Ring of the Fisherman alone, that is used to seal encyclicals and officially authenticate correspondence of the Pope, and which exemplifies the power of the Vicar of Christ. This morning it was announced that all symbols of the Papacy under Benedict XVI would be duly destroyed. It is even rumored that when he returns to a private life of contemplation and study, the former Pope might even take another religious name, although he could possibly be given the title of Bishop Emeritus of Rome and retain the spoken courtesy of " Your Holiness" (following the manner of former Presidents).

I will confess that I am unabashedly overjoyed to see Benedict XVI stepping down as the chief Shepard of the Roman Catholic Church. I find his politics and theology abhorrent in light of his views on just about everything, but especially sexual abuse and subjugation  of women (and their bodies). Other than that, as a non-Catholic, I don't feel I should be  commenting on the collegiate and theological business of a religious body that is not my own... particularly because we Pagans seem to take such umbrage when others outside our traditions comment about us (abet, usually negatively). I honestly don't care who gets the brass ring this time around, I don't really care if the new Pontiff is a European, Latino or Asian, or if he comes from a Third-World country or not.  I do hope, as a world citizen, that the powers-that-be are lead to choose a new Pope who exemplifies all the positive that could be accomplished by being the chief minister of the largest Christian tradition in the world; that he is a man of authentic understanding and compassion who embodies the mythos of Jesus and not the mindset of a corrupt hierarchy.

Presage 2013

Image via Google
In the last couple of years I've pulled a spread for the New Year using three decks of Tarot cards and meditation. On New Year's Day I did the same using only the Native American Tarot (One of my favorites, not just because of the imagery, but because the deck is a present from a very gifted friend).
Because this year has been abnormally busy since Day One, I wrote everything down...and then forgot to post that information into this blog. Recently, a couple of things have taken place in the world that reminded me that I'd gotten a similar message during that reading...and I hadn't published what I'd gotten from that session maybe,just maybe, I'd better find my notes and put what came through on that day down for the record.

I've never considered myself an oracle, but I do believe each of us have the gift of foresight. Some use cards, or other methods of divination. I usually dream events, and to be truthful, a lot of it is lost because I've simply gotten too lazy to write it down; when I was actively engaged in a group studying Jungian psychology it was required that members of the group keep a journal of their dreams. Over the last several years I've gotten out of the habit of being consistent with my journals, so this year keeping up ( and analyzing them) is one of my goals.

Okay, so maybe the Mayans weren't any better than Harold Camping at predicting the 'end of the world'...and no, I never really believed any of the hype surrounding the coming of the Rapture, because frankly, I have a sense that if it ever happens, we will be at a point of no return before we actually realize what's taking place. But I do have a sense that something took place around December 21, and I'm positing that it was possibly caused by so many of us focusing on that one particular place in time- that it wasn't a natural occurrence,but one manufactured by the concentrated vibrational energy of humans.

To me it's undeniable that we created a collective shift of consciousness, the reverberation of which we're going to feel for a very long time. What we choose to do with that heightened vibration will determine the outcome of the next few years in a more tangible way. For some of us, perhaps many of us, this is going to require a change in lifestyle which is going to feel like a huge sacrifice at first but which will actually result in bringing us closer to a harmonious way of living. I feel like this is going to be a monumental wake-up call as to what we  can afford and what we think we want and result in  a form of financial solvency that helps put material needs into a more reasonable balance. A harsh examination of our personal resources will result in changing our perspective and priorities globally.

I believe that the importance of the contribution and participation of women cannot be over- emphasized in this stage of our existence. The inherent ability to create order out of chaos of women,
will bring our civilization to a much more practical outlook if we can shed the mindset of having and loving excess.

That's what I got for the big picture; now for some specific events. I need to preface these by saying that when I 'do' predictions, it's very rare that something just materializes in my mind as a concrete thought when I'm meditating. Usually it's the result of that thought being place in a context. I see things as if I were watching a movie, and the details aren't always clear. I've heard psychics such as Joseph Tittle (featured on America's Psychic Challenge), explain it in a similar manner. I'm also going to add the disclaimer that most viewers use that the timing of these event isn't always possible to nail down, some happen within the current year or the next. However I do feel that if they occur, it's within an 18 to 24 month period and no longer.

So, for what they are worth, here's what I've seen:

1. A series of subway murders, likely in NYC, with those dying being pushed onto the tracks from the platform at busy departure points . This will happen often enough under the same circumstances that authorities will eventually conclude that it is the work of the same individual and reluctantly issue a warning to those using the subway to be aware of a serial killer.

2. The release of a shocking, minute by minute narrative of the events of 911 from one of the World Trade Center Towers (which will possibly result from the use of the Freedom of Information Act).

3. A previously unknown pocket of natural gas will be discovered in the South Pacific, possibly near the area of Guam. This will be the result of a natural event such as an earthquake.

4. A significant earthquake will take place in or near the Four Corners region of the  American South West. Another seismic event will later take place in the Pacific Ocean and will be simultaneously felt along the entire coast of California, but not cause any major damage.

5. A backlash against extremist fundamentalists of all faiths will take place on a societal level as the citizens of the US come to terms with the negativity and division they have caused in the country.  This could portend some violence in the Mid-west and South as militant fundamentalist and their political allies are taken to task by the voters, beginning in 2013.

6. A catastrophic weather system will occur unexpectedly in the Pacific Northwest, possibly in late Spring or Summer.

7. Commerce will improve dramatically in the area of the Mississippi River as the natural environment stabilizes. The areas of the Mississippi basin will experience the best financial recover in nearly a decade as a result.

8. A floodgate of information about the mysterious Bermuda Triangle will result after scientists discover a previously unknown natural anomaly or a huge rock formation off the coast of Florida.

9. An archaeological dig in the Sudan will reveal important genetic information pertaining to the origin of humans.

10. Two significant deaths of entertainment icons will occur, possibly in Spring and Winter of this year (one due to old age and one due to an accident). This will be an actor and possibly a musician.
In another event, the career of a young popular entertainer will suddenly evaporate due to the revelation of illicit sex and drug use to his fans. Yet another popular entertainer will temporarily retire from the scene due to injury, but will return to the stage by the end of the year.

11. There will be a major mass transit accident in the North-South corridor, with a significant loss of lives both at the scene and as a result of the event elsewhere in the region, involving either a rail or airline carrier, or possibly the involvement of both.

So much for my notes. Just so you know, I don't invest a lot of energy into worrying if these things will come to fruition, and in the cases of the ones that are perceived as negatives, I'm quite pleased if they don't. It's not about being right with me, I don't keep a score card...I'm just the messenger.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What No Longer Serves

Every once in awhile, my feelings about things change and I have to adjust my life accordingly. Of course Life in general is eternally in constant change, there is no way of holding that back-nor would I want to. It's an adventure and a journey that I don't want to miss. However, sometimes when I'm in a reflective mood -or I'm forced to examine a particular activity-I come to terms with the fact  that things that no longer serve my growth, enrich my spirit or feed my soul need to go. Things left to molder eventually become more emotionally hurtful and harmful to my psyche. I have had enough of that in the past and have learned when it's time to cut those things loose from the moorings. It's the only way I'm going to be healthy and survive all the other crap that Life throws at me. It's about reordering priorities.

We all need to interact with others; we are by nature social beings. It's  a human trait that we  want to belong and be a part of something  with the hope that whatever it is, it will be personally satisfying and  enriching. That's changed for me over the last few weeks, and I'm no  longer in the 'group' mindset because I have found that I can still do  many of those things by myself and in solitary practice and it is just  as rewarding...and I am happier. So this week I have decided to leave several groups on Facebook because I  find them no longer satisfying, to limit my interaction with other fans of my RockStar Muse because I just don't want to be sucked into the never-ending drama, jealousy and one up-manship, and turn down a call to minister at a church because the philosophy feels more wrong than right to me. Which will leave me with more time to read, study and generally be inside my own head. Unlike the majority of folks, I am more than reasonably comfortable inside my own skin. That  has mostly been a painstaking process, but the end result is that I can live with who I am with very few regrets. That wasn't always the case. Life changes exponentially when you choose to take responsibility and control of your actions and reaction to the everyday business of existence. Within reason and not meant to be a narcissistic statement, I like who I have become. I try to keep the self-doubt to a minimum by not second-guessing my decisions ( but remaining flexible). And I try not to worry what others think about me, because really...Does it matter? Junior High was a long time ago and I'd like to think that it's no longer necessary for Life to be a petty popularity contest. I have little tolerance for the pretensions of others because I have no use for it, those who pretend to be something they definitely are not have no place in my life...and I have an excellent pair of bullshit antennae.

Everything we encounter is influenced by our thoughts and feelings. You don't just see the world through your eyes, but with your heart as well. We become so preoccupied with what we must do in Life that we very often forget what we like to do. There are many more things I want to accomplish and a limited amount of time daily and weekly allotted for me to do them. Casting off things that no longer serve me gives me the precious gift of more time. I will take all that I can so I can continue working on who I am and want to be in the future.

This post is original to my other blog, Inner Faith

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chocolate-Food For The Gods

(Originally posted as part of the Pagan Blog Project 2013,W C-1)

The historical origins of chocolate stretches back to the New World and Central America. Some argue that it was the Olmec, and not the Aztecs as commonly believed, who was the first civilization to cultivate the cacao tree. Sometime in the fourth century Mayans, too had a hand in growing the tree they called cacahuaquchtl- which literally translates to “tree” in their dialect. They believe all trees belonged to the gods, but this one-with pods that grew from its trunk-was a gift from the deities to man and was the only tree worth naming to set it apart from all the others.( It is notable that in the 18th century, the botanist Linnaeus, who created the system of classification for all living things, named the tree Theobroma cacao, meaning “ drink of the gods”, in keeping with the original sentiment of the Mayans, rather than simply calling it a chocolate tree.)  Mayan books in existence from the Classic period are full of drawings of priests and gods preparing cacao pods in sacred rituals. Some of these rituals included a period of celibacy for the planters, or a blood sacrifice of some kind. Most of the illustrations show cacao being made into a dark liquid, which was later flavored with spices such as chili peppers, or corn meal being added to make a type of porridge. Painted pottery from that same period also depict cacao being made into a dark, bitter brew and being poured from one pot to another to create froth-all important in the making of what evolved into what we know today as hot chocolate.

After the fall of the Mayan empire around 900 AD, the Toltec, and later the Aztecs settled that area of Mexico and continued using cacao and chocolate in their rites. The Toltec King Quetzalcoatl was also believed to be the god of air, who was to bring the seeds if the cacao pod from the sacred source of the universe, but to teach mortals how to grow crops. Quetzalcoatl had been forced by political foes to flee the area to the south. During an illness he was given a dark drink as a cure, but it is believed that the concoction drove him mad instead, and he left his kingdom in a small boat, with a promise that he would return to reclaim his kingdom. A prediction written by Aztec astrologers that he would return as a white-faced being to save his people was misinterpreted when Caucasian explorers from the Old World arrived on the scene. The Aztecs mistakenly believed they were the white-faced gods their folklore had said would return to reclaim the kingdom.

It is rather amusing that there is a story that Christopher Columbus was greeted by the Aztecs with a sack full of what he believed to be large almonds in trade for merchandise: noting his bewilderment, the Aztec chief happily explained that the seeds were used to make xocolatl, a most wondrous beverage-which he had made on the spot for Columbus and his men…who found it bitter and disagreeable. None the less, the cacao beans were taken back with the explorers to Spain, unaware of their future economic worth. [The Cook’s Guide to Chocolate, McFadden and France, Anness Publishing, Ltd,1997]

Cortes set out for the New World in search of El Dorado-the Gold of the Aztecs. What he found instead was the ‘liquid gold’ of cacao and spent several years setting up plantations around the Caribbean. Cacao was cheap to grow and there was plenty of manpower to exploit in setting up these plantations by the colonists. Cacao and its associated product of chocolate was a prized commodity in Europe. Having come upon the glories of the confection (and it’s money making ability) the Dutch soon set up their own plantations in the East Indian states of Java and Sumatra in the early 17th century. From there cacao plantations spread throughout the world and were established anywhere the humid, jungle-like conditions required for its cultivation was found. 

The drinking of chocolate, however, continued to be a luxury afforded mainly to nobility and the wealthy. Beyond the discovery that it increased an individual’s energy (many monks and nuns were said to use it for just that reason through extended fasts where they eschewed solid food, but continued to consume liquids) in many quarters of the globe it was considered a source of spiritual wisdom and enhanced sexual endurance and strength. The drinking of chocolate took on some controversy between the general population and the moral voice of society, especially the Church. The Order of Jesuits, actually outlawed it’s consumption by priests, but relented after students began leaving the Society of Jesus because of it. Occasionally a cleric was known to declare the powers of chocolate was the work of the Devil, but his voice would go mostly unheard by an unfazed public which had developed a taste for beverages with stimulating properties and were also consuming coffee, tea, tobacco, rum and sugar.[The Cook’s Guide to Chocolate, McFadden and France,Anness Publishing, Ltd,1997]

The medical community was just as vocal as the Church when it came to the pros and cons of cacao and chocolate. Even though it had been thought to be a healthy way to boost energy from the origins of its discovery forward into the 19th century and was used medicinally for various illnesses and even as a wound dressing, the naysayers in the health care community waged their own battle against its use, particularly as it gained popularity as a panacea for nearly every ailment known to society at the time. Chocolate was touted as a digestive aid, and medicinal chocolate was manufactured by questionable sources and marketed as a cure for consumption (tuberculosis) and other wasting diseases, cardiac stimulants and blood builders which contained the mysterious ingredient ‘Persian tonic’.  After a period of flim-flam and exaggerated claims, chocolate was approved as a food source by hospitals, the military and other public institutions. Soon it began to appear as the cocoa powder, flavoring and confection known to us today.

Bread-The Magickal Loaf

(originally posted for the Pagan Blog Project 2013,W B-1)

Bread is made from harvested grains (wheat, rye, barley, corn)that have been processed into flour, combined with liquid (usually water or milk), and a leavening agent such as salt, yeast or baking soda or baking powder. There are infinite varieties of bread. Many recipes call for the addition of ingredients such as oil, eggs, and herbs or other flavorings. Leavening agents such as yeast cause the bread to go through a chemical change where air is introduced into the mixture through the process of fermentation and the dough rises and increases in bulk. The characteristics of good leaven bread are a symmetrical loaf which has a golden brown crust and moderately soft interior and an unmistakable earthy aroma.

Unleavened breads were commonly known to our ancestors, particularly tribal people who could not spend precious time waiting for the bread to rise. Basic flatbread was quickly made from flour, water, salt and a bit of oil, kneaded until smooth and elastic, and rolled or patted thin( e.g., the matzos of the Hebrews). This type of bread was used in lieu of utensils to scoop food from a vessel. It was particularly handy when used to eat from a common bowl in a community setting. The bread supplied much needed calories and carbohydrates to those living on an otherwise sparse diet under difficult conditions. That’s why it’s been said that “bread is the staff of life”; without bread, many would have perished on a long journey or during a cold winter when other provisions had dwindled.

Although mixing the ingredients for bread is fairly simple, bread making is an art. A knowledgeable, experienced bread maker can devise numerous varieties of bread from a single basic recipe by combining different flours and the addition of ingredients such as sprouted grains, olive oil, herbs, spices, grated cheese and diced, cured meats. It is difficult for us to imagine that in many countries other than the United States, meat is not an entree, but is instead combined with a gravy or sauce and used as a condiment for bread. This is the case in parts of the world where meat is in short supply or excessively expensive. Varieties of Mediterranean and African dishes are made this way, and are quite delicious.
We know that the majority of Pagan pantheons were situated in parts of the world where agriculture was of prime importance; the primary crops grown in those places were grains and grasses such as wheat, barley, corn, rye and rice. Local gods and goddesses were often associated with these crops. The word cereal was derived from the name of the goddess Ceres, which in Latin translates
“of the grain”. Deities associated with the ancient Grain Mysteries, such as Ceres and Demeter, also have an Underworld aspect due to the seed lying beneath the soil awaiting awakening into ‘rebirth’.  Because of this, grain, which is believe to possess energies is associated with transformation, is often portrayed in religious art as a symbol for regeneration.  Decorating with sheaves of grain such as wheat or stalks of corn in the home or on an altar during harvest festivals bespeaks the hope for continued abundant life, particularly at Samhain, when it symbolizes the reincarnation of the soul.

We are familiar, too with the use of bread during the rite of communion with the feminine Divine half of Immanent Deity. Bread, with its association to birth, is used as an incarnation of the Mother Goddess, from whose body all things are created. Any type of baked good can be used as a sacramental; bread, however, is more in keeping with the original tradition. (A personal note to this, as departure to the previous statement, a baked good containing a fruit filling is especially nice to symbolize both God and Goddess in a single sacramental if you are pressed for time or finances. I have used both Fig Newtown cookies and rugula .)

The following is a quickly made ‘emergency ‘loaf which is delicious eaten warm with honey. Because it’s very moist, it doesn’t keep well, so it’s best eaten immediately or the next day as toast. It also makes good last minute ‘communion bread’. The recipe comes from Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, Diamond Books (London), 1995.

8 oz plain wholemeal (whole wheat) flour
4 level teaspoons of baking powder
5 fluid ozs plus 2 Tbs milk

Sift the flour and baking powder together, pour in the milk, and mix into a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two until smooth. Shape into a round on a floured baking sheet and brush with a little milk, which will give it a nice brown crust and bake in a 425 F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. (It will sound hollow when done. Don’t over-bake it. I have used half whole wheat and half unbleached white flour and rolled it in whole oats and had good results. I’ve also added dill, a little rosemary, or sunflower seeds to the dry ingredients before adding the milk for interest.) You can also pinch off bits of the dough and make rolls, if you’d like.