Monday, February 20, 2012

Nature Spirits in the Roots of Carnival

Clarifying something I said in my last post, to the effect that the Mardi Gras carnival celebrations lack the otherworldly connections of Halloween (Samhain), I meant that they have fewer vestiges of their pagan roots as they are currently practiced in the U.S.  However, the case can be made that European carnival traditions grew out of springtime rituals of rebirth that awakened nature spirits, along with the god Dionysius—who represented the spirit of green life and fructifying moisture.  The personality of Dionysius has been expressed in many forms, and his cult has had many permutations, but a major part of his story came from Thrace, (the Balkans), where he was often pictured as a young man in a mother-son relationship with the goddess Zemele (aka Mater Zemyna, “The Moist Mother Earth”), that paralleled the Demeter-Persephone mother-daughter relationship.

Similar to the Persephone legend, there are variants of the Dionysius myth where he dies and is reborn, and in other legends, he is a son of Demeter or husband of Persephone.  As the principle of green nature and life-giving moisture, Dionysius is associated not just with drink, but with ivy and other greenery, fruit trees, and trees in general.  (The forests are described as his flocks.)  Another legend credits him with the gift of honey.  His association with grapes and wine came later, as these were not cultivated in the more northerly regions where he originated, and are also products of later civilization.  Note that the idea of Dionysius as moisture principle ties in with what I said previously about spring meltwater moving through the landscape, as well as the sap rising in the trees.  Relate Dionysius as a force in nature to the lines from the Dylan Thomas poem, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower …”

Masked processions constituted a very significant part of the Dionysian worship.  As in art, the god was always accompanied by a throng of nature spirits, so in the cult worship, his followers dressed up as nature spirits.  In part, his followers did this so they could feel closer to their god, but the Dionysian mysteries were also aimed at enabling his followers to enjoy a form of immortality by being reincarnated as nature spirits in the company of their god of nature.  So, there we have a Spirit-World connection with the modern Mardi Gras seasonal processions, even though the mystical origins have been forgotten.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Movement of Festival Energies

 With Mardi Gras coming up, I am musing on the magical potentials of carnival traditions.  Because I was not raised catholic, this holiday has no traditional religious associations for me, and as I have never had a taste for alcohol, I also to do not view it as an opportunity for excess.  Nevertheless, I have a romantic affinity for New Orleans, and whenever some intense festival energy is being generated somewhere, I think about the potential magic that can be generated.  In parts of the world where Carnival is practiced, masses of people are brought together, often in masked dances and processions, which moves streams of energy through a community, similar to what I have discussed in my posts on the “feng shui of Halloween.”  Unfortunately, although Carnival is very colorful, it lacks the profundity of Halloween, because it doesn’t make that Ancestor World connection, (even if masking opens spaces for spirits to enter).  There are many other world masking traditions, and most societies seem to have some form of these, even though not all at the same time of year or with the same celebrational intent.  Some sort of anthropological-psychological principal seems to hold that it is less important that societies have such “reversal” holidays at a particular season or for a particular reason, than that they do have them at some time of year, for some reason.

Although I say that masking traditions may be found in different seasons, that doesn’t mean that the nature of the seasonal celebration is irrelevant.  The different practices are more meaningful when viewed in context of what is going on in the world of nature.  In my present case, we seem to be experiencing an early spring, (at least here in Michigan).  As we had a mild winter, there isn’t so much snow melt to speak of, but one nevertheless sees—and hears—the continuous movement of water through the landscape.  The water is not just swelling streams, but moves through otherwise dry ditches and gutter runnels.  This can hearken to what, in New England, they call the season of “Unlocking,”  though it’s a little early still, as Unlocking applies more to March.  This movement of water also involves the movement of chi through the landscape.  By this token, anyone doing some masking and parading at this season might think about aligning with these energies of Elemental Water flowing through Nature, which is all the more appropriate, as this is the Year of the Water Dragon.  By the way, when I drove to town this morning, I saw that the sugar buckets are already out (on the maple trees), which means that the sap is flowing.  The maple sugar producers have to watch the seasonal changes closely and act on them quickly, so as not to miss out.

One can also wonder if ritual movements in early spring hearken to ancient traditions of awakening the Earth.  Although I’m getting a little too far ahead in time, I am reminded of the German belief that on the first day of May, the witches must dance the last of the snow off the mountainsides.  So, the idea is that the actions of magical people move the seasonal cycle forward—but then, the seasonal cycle moves on different time tables in different regions.  This suggests a question you can put to your tarot or oracle cards: “Please show me how to dance my way into Spring, in alignment with the moving energies of Spring.”  You might want to bring in “the principle of the fantastic” by trying this with some whimsical deck like the “Paulina Tarot,” which is partially inspired by New Orleans Mardi Gras.

Friday, February 10, 2012


With Valentine’s Day in view, I’ve been reading about it in the book, “Curiosities of Popular Custom,” (printed in 1897), along with related topics on Candlemas and St. Brigid, (because I view Valentines as an extension of the goddess Brigid’s feast, based on the ancient practice of having a festival spread over a week or more, especially due to periodic calendar adjustments).  Like many, this book brings up the theory that in ancient times, young people drew names of the opposite sex, to be temporarily paired with a young man or woman in honor of the goddess Juno Februata; this might also tie in with a belief that birds chose their mates at this time.  [Note however, that the practice in honor of Juno may just be speculation, as modern scholars can’t relate this to any classical texts.]  Later, the Church supposedly tried to suppress this custom by substituting the practice of drawing the names of saints, so a young person would give a year’s devotion to whichever saint he or she drew.  This wasn’t pursued with a great deal of enthusiasm, so the day soon enough reverted to the practice of drawing names of the opposite sex.  Especially charming is the French usage, tied in with the tradition of courtly love, where the sentimental bond was such that, “During the year each stood to the other in the relation of Cavalier and Lady of Beauty, the knight being bound to the honor and defense of his fair one, for which she repaid him in smiles and silk favors.”

Many practices and superstitions have grown up around Valentines.  One usage that was prevalent, though something people expressed more playfully than seriously, was the notion that the first member of the opposite sex that you laid eyes upon on Saint’ Valentines would be your chosen one for the year.  This even applied to married people, and people of all ages, for the famous diarist Samuel Pepys and his wife had fun with this each year.  Sometimes Pepys and his wife would arrange a morning visit to another couple—not as “swingers,” of course, it was just for fun with friends.  On another Valentines morning, Mrs. Pepys jokingly held her hands over her eyes so she wouldn’t gaze on the crew of workers painting their dining room, and on another, a sweet little boy was sent up to her room to deliver a paper valentine: he had written her name in gold on bright blue paper.  (From 1667, this may be the first recorded example of a paper valentine.)

Reading about all of this, it occurred to me that you could have a little fun with your tarot deck when you get up on Valentine’s morning.  The following exercise is somewhat more in the tradition of drawing the names of saints or the just-in-fun practices of people like Pepys and his wife, which is to say, it is for purposes of inspiration and learning more about the cards; (it is not for lonely persons to choose some ghostly lover in preferment to flesh-and-blood ones).  While shuffling, pose a question like, “Which of you will be my Valentine?”  or “Who will be my spiritual Valentine?”   Then, go through your deck until you come to the first card that portrays a distinct personality of the opposite sex.  This card character then becomes a spiritual sweetheart, so that you can spend the year getting to know this card personality by reflecting on his or her qualities.  Notice also whether this personality is reflected in people you meet of the opposite sex, (though this does not obligate you to date them). Think about how this particular tarot personality would act in and contribute to relationships.  The making of relationship is one of the principle functions of the great goddess, so here we do get back to the works of Juno Februata and other seasonal goddesses.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I apologize for using this blog as a political soapbox, but I have become aware of an atrocity that I can’t stay silent about.

Fritos, a brand of Pepsi co, has just awarded a million dollars to Jonathan Friedman, creator of the Super Bowl Fritos ad about killing a cat, because it was apparently the audience favorite.  Anyone who has ever lost a cat or dog—especially if the pet went missing and you don’t know what became of him or her—knows what a profoundly painful and agonizing experience this is for the pet owner, not to mention the poor animal.  That is, anyone who has an ounce of empathy knows this pain.  If you do not have empathy, which of course makes you a sociopath, then of course you would not feel any sympathy either for the owner or for the animal.  [Note that although I am an Asperger person, and Asperger people are often characterized as not having empathy, I dispute this: Aspies can have empathy, we’re just not skillful at demonstrating it publicly.] 

The fact that so many people were so devoid of empathy as to find humor in this sicko ad is truly scary.  The lack of empathy is at the root of all kinds of social atrocities, and these things are on a continuum.  I ASSERT that the sort of people who think that torturing and killing cats, (as well as tormenting their distraught owners), is good, innocent fun are the same people who think that torturing and humiliating prisoners of war, or urinating on the dead, (as has also recently been in the news), is also good fun.

Anyway, I urge anyone who values human decency to boycott Frito Lay, as well as its parent company, Pepsi Co, plus other Pepsi brands including Quaker, Gator Ade, and Tropicana.  It will certainly be tough, because they are into so many different products, but you can go to Pepsi’s website,, to find out which products are part of their brand.