Modern Paganism and Earth Witches
by Morgan Alynn
I think my true appreciation of spring, as a season, started in March 2020, in the midst of the COVID shutdown. I was jogging — my new favorite hobby and apparently the only activity that has allowed me to get some fresh air. I rounded into a clearing of a snowy meadow and saw a glistening blue robin egg in the snow. I held it carefully in my hand with the intention of adding it to my altar. I must mention that I am a witch and I take this title very seriously.
Arriving home to place my new treasure amidst my pile of candles, totems, and tarot cards, I pondered the pandemic and the shutdown like my mind had a hundred times before. This time, for once, it was a happy thought that came to mind. Despite all the anguish, all the pain, fear and death that the human world was currently experiencing, despite the fact that life as we knew it was coming to a frightening end, the outside world seemed surprisingly unchanged. Spring has arrived anyway, as always. The wheel of the year, as it is called in pagan practices, continues to turn without ceasing.
This thought process is the basis of paganism because paganism, in its purest form, is the practice of honoring the cycles of this Earth: life, death, and rebirth. In doing so, we then, in turn, learn to honor these cycles within ourselves. We all have a spring — fresh shoots that begin to share our new leaves with the world. Then summer follows — we grow into our adult bodies and gain self-knowledge. Then, in autumn and possibly winter, when the luckiest among us can spend our golden years quietly contemplating nature, watching the seasons turn around the wheel again, spinning all around us. So if we were to bring this idea back into paganism, spring is symbolically a time of birth and renewal.
These are the longest and shortest days of the year in terms of sunshine. Then you cut the equinoxes, which fall directly between the solstices. These are the autumn and spring equinoxes, called Mabon and Ostara. Then the tertiary Sabbats lie directly between each of these, and these are: Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas and Samhain, which flow into the Wheel, giving us eight distinct Sabbats or festivals. Now why are they important and what do they have to do with the practice of pagan witchcraft? To explain this, we must first understand how these Sabbaths came into existence.
Each of the Sabbats is the culmination of many different festivals and practices around the world. What is so fascinating is the fact that many cultures celebrate in the same way despite the vast geographical distances. One such example is Yuletide Balefires, a ritual fire built for the purpose of bringing back the sun during the darkest and coldest part of the year. Balefire practices took place in many early European countries and date back thousands of years. Likewise, the worship of fertility symbols, such as rabbits and eggs, is found in a wide range of human cultures.
Our ability to manipulate and support the creatures and plants of this Earth around us is the reason humanity has come this far. However, I believe that somewhere along the way, in more recent history, we have become terribly disconnected from this process. As the age of media invades our minds and attacks our senses at every turn, the connection we once had with nature, both physical and spiritual connection, has begun to diminish and thus has created a decline in the practices of earth worship. Somehow we almost have to get away from Mother Earth — We are aware of what our pollution does and how difficult it and its ecosystem are to deal with the damage. In some ways, to look at her too closely is to suffer, like her.
You see, religion has for millennia made a major change. The old religions and pagan traditions (paganism is not a rigid religion but rather a mixture of practices from around the world spanning thousands of years) were very “downward” religions, which focused on the Earth, its cycles, the underlying dirt. our feet and the animals we raise in exchange for their meat, milk or eggs. Modern religions focus more on an “up-and-out” mentality, which means that the deity or spirit world is upwards, in space or in the heavens, away from that almost “ball and chain” of the earth.
I once heard human beings described as “Shepherds of the Earth,” an expression that stuck with me for most of my life. I believe that we were, as part of our evolution, responsible for maintaining and even improving our planet. Our dependence on plants and animals is undeniable, but modern humans are turning away from this truth. We have no idea where most of our food comes from. We no longer remember which wild berries are edible and which are poisonous. We deliberately kill some of the world’s most powerful pain management plants, calling them weeds and spraying them with harsh chemicals to make room for the weed, which has no purpose in our lives above. beyond aesthetics.
When you sum it all up, it’s no wonder the human world finds itself so painfully disconnected from Earth. If we think of ourselves as being on top of the Earth and worshiping the forces that exist above us, it frees us, in a way, from having to look at the Earth. Paganism, in essence, is the practice of forcing us back down, back to the land, back to basic farming practices. It is the practice of seeing the Earth as it is, frosty or blooming, and celebrating each season as necessary and beautiful.
The modern pagan struggles with many traditional practices because nearly every Sabbat and style of worship centers on the natural world. Specifically, which animals and plants might have come to fruition, which animals were destined for slaughter, and where the sun was located in the sky – showing us where on the wheel we should be at any given time. In paganism there are three harvests: Lammas, Mabon and Samhain. Each harvest represents a specific plant that comes to fruition at that time. The most classic and recognizable Sabbath, Samhain, venerates the harvest of pumpkins, falls on October 31 and is synonymous with, you guessed it, Halloween. It’s no secret or surprise that nearly every pagan sabbath has a correlative holiday that we already celebrate in Western culture. Almost all modern holidays have pagan roots, and the most notorious of these “witchy” holidays is Halloween, which has long been associated with symbols of paganism and Wicca.
So many things we associate with Halloween, like the cauldron and broomstick, are pagan iconography, dating back to a time when pagan women fought to continue their witchcraft practices under the guise of religious and governmental overthrow of pagan religion. . Cauldrons and brooms became extremely popular tools among witches as they were common household items used by women and therefore did not raise suspicion. The cauldron has long been a symbol of the ancient womb of creation, and several deities, such as the Celtic goddess Cerridwen, are often depicted stirring a cauldron, a large symbolic womb for souls. The broom became a type of wand, a tool used to sweep or wield energy.
Looking at spring, we see symbols such as eggs, rabbits, and bulbous flowers, which are associated with Ostara, the spring equinox. It is a time that represents the cycle of “rebirth” of the Earth. Rabbits, birds and other animals produce their young at this time and the first flowers begin to bloom again. These ubiquitous symbols make spring one of the best and easiest times to begin aligning ourselves with Earth worship. This has fueled my enthusiasm to add more farming practices into my life and into my spirituality. In fact, I don’t see much difference between my agricultural and spiritual practices. They are one and the same in paganism. After all, paganism is simply the worship of the seasons, and the seasons are the basis of all agricultural practices.
I live in the suburbs and find it hard to feel close to Earth in such a man-made place. I have, over the years, found ways to keep my connection to the Earth and agriculture, even in small ways. Here are some options to inspire you to become more connected to the world around you.
• The first step, and in my opinion the most important, is to consider growing food rather than ornamental plants. The really special thing about planting and harvesting in conjunction with pagan sabbaths is that they really align almost perfectly with their respective sabbaths. Lammas, the maize and grain harvest, takes place in August, when my first cobs of maize start to come out. I cannot express to you the excitement of seeing my garden bloom. Pulling pumpkins from my garden just before Samhain brings immense joy. I only have one medium sized garden bed for cultivation and I always get a surprising yield.
• Another great option for the backyard farmer is poultry, especially chickens, where permitted. I’ve kept chickens my entire adult life, and besides being one of the most hilarious and joyful reasons to get up in the morning, my daughters keep me connected to the cyclical nature of the year. . Eggs are abundant in the spring, as are new chicks (if I’m lucky). Then my daughters will molt and stop producing eggs as the weather cools. Even this very small act of agricultural awareness brings me closer to my food and my practices. The joy of eating a fresh egg covered in home-grown herbs is indescribable. Some people don’t have the luxury of garden space, in which case I would recommend keeping potted herbs or seasonal plants.
Ultimately, I find that even the simplest acts, like growing food or herbs, can help us move towards a more “downward” process of spirituality and a stronger connection to the Earth and the ground. . If you are interested in paganism, I highly recommend the beginner’s book “The Sabbats” by Edain McCoy. It’s a wonderful piece of literature with historical backgrounds, practices, and even recipes for each Sabbat, and it can help you explore how to become a modern pagan witch, if you so choose.