21 Dec 2012

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (20): Windsor Forest

On the South side of the British monarch's royal residence at Windsor Castle, stretching over an area of 5,000 acres, is Windsor Great Park. It may be the remnant of an ancient, sacred, pagan forest or it may be ancient, sacred, and pagan because these elements have accidentally been preserved by the park being directly owned by generations of monarchs keen to keep it as a wild and beautiful place in which they could hunt. Then again it may be a bit of both.

17 Nov 2012

Treasures from Sacred Izumo

The past is another country, and one with extremely tight border controls. But occasionally a letter or postcard manages to slip out in the guise of a new archaeological discovery or theory, giving us insight into that mist-enshrouded realm. The exhibition now on at the Tokyo National Museum, Treasures from Sacred Izumo, is...

{Read the full article here}

30 Oct 2012

Pagan Art: "Romulus and Remus" by Peter Paul Rubens

Following on from the Renaissance, the pagan myths of Greece and Rome became common themes in Western painting. Interestingly, the revival of Roman Catholic power in the Counter Reformation intensified this tendency.

21 Oct 2012

Fictitious Saints and Hidden Gods

One of the great mysteries of Christianity is why there are so many saints. In the Catholic church there are said to be over 10,000, with even more in the Eastern churches. Which ever way you think of it, the numbers seem excessive. Part of the reason is that many of these saints were created to provide a Christian focus for a local pagan god or religious tradition. Without a saint in place, the local customs would have continued in their original pagan guise and the local gods would have retained their pagan identity. The reason so many saints were created was to prevent this.

28 Aug 2012

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (19): The Stone of Mannan, Clackmannan, Scotland

Mannan is an ancient Celtic or pre-Celtic sea god. He is known by the names Manannan mac Lir in Ireland and Manawydan fab Llyr in Wales. The Isle of Mann is also named after him. His name is found in the old Scottish county town of Clackmannan, which means "The Stone of Mannan." The name comes from an ancient whinstone boulder that can still be seen in the town square.

21 Jul 2012

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (18): The Temple of Adranus, Adrano, Sicily

Adranus was a fire god of the Sicels, the original inhabitants of Sicily at the time when the island was colonized by the Greeks and Carthaginians. He was associated with the great volcano of Mount Etna, and had a temple on the West side of the volcano in the interior of the island at what is now the modern town of Adrano. His cult was popular throughout Sicily.

20 Jun 2012

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (17): Ranheim, Norway

An artist's illustration of the temple site at Ranheim

In 2011, the site of a pagan temple was discovered in Norway at a place called Ranheim, 10 km north of the city of Trondheim. The discovery came when builders were excavating foundations for new houses. The temple was apparently built sometime around or after the year 400 AD, and was used for hundreds of years until the suppression of pagan religion in the 11th century. It consisted of a processional route, a stone-set sacrificial altar, and a hut for idols. These idols were in the form of poles with carved faces of Thor, Odin, Frey and Freya.

5 Apr 2012

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (16): The Temple of Pasiphae-Ino, Thalames, Greece

Plutarch in his Lives of Agis and Cleomenes mentions the Temple of Pasiphae at Thalamiae, an oracular site in ancient Laconia. Those who consulted the oracle slept in the temple and received their answer from the goddess in a dream.

The oracle was consulted in the time of Agis, during that king's attempt to restore the ancient laws of Sparta, most notably those designed to ensure social cohesion by avoiding large disparities of wealth. The oracle's advice was that the Spartans should return to the equality which the laws of Lycurgus originally enjoined.

24 Mar 2012

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (15): Cave of the Sibyl, Cumae, Italy

Sibyls were priestess of Apollo noted for their oracular abilities. They usually occupied temples that were connected to caves or grottoes, from whence they were thought to draw their prophecies.

23 Mar 2012

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (14): Saint-Pierre-de-Montmartre, Paris

The church of Saint-Pierre-de-Montmartre is one of the oldest churches in Paris. It was consecrated by Pope Eugenius III in 1147, in a splendid royal ceremony, where Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abbot of Cluny acted as acolytes. It was constructed on the site of a seventh century Merovingian church using four black marble columns from that church. These were placed two against the west wall, one at the apse entrance and one in the north aisle.

11 Feb 2012

"Daphne" by Lia Ices

The legend of Daphne is included in Ovid's Metamorphoses and tells the tale of the wood nymph Daphe, who was desired and pursued by the God Apollo. To protect her virginity she was transformed into a laurel, and, as such, became sacred to Apollo.

The exact meaning of this myth is unclear but is suggestive of the importance of female chastity in ancient society.

This beautiful song by the New York-based singer songwriter Lia Ices stays close to Ovid's words, creating a work that is replete with ethereal pagan spirit, and hints at the realization of deeper meanings.


Daphne in the wood
You'll become the wood
Fire in his eye's gone
and fueled your flight
so high

Over the river rocks
the wind will carry thee
Call on nature now
for she'll keep you safe
from your own beauty

A heavy numbness
seizes her into bark
Feet so swift to root
arm to branch
and hair to leaf
Woman to tree

A heavy numbness
seizes her into bark
Feet so swift to root
arm to branch
and hair to leaf
Woman to tree

In the end it's the difference of the spirit and the matter
It's the difference of the lover and the flyer
Don't it make you want to cry?

It's nothing less, nothing less between the worldly and the one self
All this breathing and the truth that's in your last breath
Don't it make you want to cry?

So fly, fly and we'll wear you like a leaf crown
Fly cause your truth is in the solid ground

Yeah fly, fly and we'll wear you like a leaf crown
Fly cause your truth is in the solid ground

A Pagan Place

11th February, 2012

28 Jan 2012

The "Goddess" of Braunston

In Jennifer Westwood's excellent book, Albion, mention is made of a carved figure outside All Saints Church in Braunston, Rutlandshire. This is sometimes referred to as a "Goddess." Citing the Rev. John Dudley's 1846 book Naology, Westwood tentatively links it to the Celtic Mother Goddess, sometimes referred to by the names Anu, Danu, and The Morrigan.

As the Celtic Mother Goddess was a goddess of both sexuality and war, she also had a terrifying hag-like aspect that accords well with the rather grotesque appearance of the statue. Westwood links the statue to the local legend and traditions of Black Annis, a kind of ghoul or witch used to scare children in the area.

It would be gratifying if the statue were an ancient Celtic goddess, but this is far from certain. The church sits atop a raised circular churchyard, which often indicates the occupation of a previously pagan site, and the fact that the statue, when it was found in 1920, was buried upside down may also be significant, suggesting the desecration of a pagan sculpture. However, there is little precedent for the ancient Celts enshrining their major gods in this way.

It has been suggested that the statue is a kind of gargoyle, hunky punk, shelagh na gig, or church grim, which are all forms of protective talismen, allowed at various times by the Catholic church. Such an explantion is in keeping with the size and style of the statue, which is far from impressive. In such a case the statue would date from the medieval period with the desecration of the statue possibly occuring during the Puritan Revolution.

If the statue is older, it is more probably of pagan Saxon origin, with one interesting suggestion being that it is a liminal queen, a kind of boundary marker that was usually made of wood.