Monday, October 10, 2011

Love them Vikings! (Half Were Women!)

It's been awhile since I've posted on archaeology and history, and I've been wanting to write about recent excavations on Viking history in the United Kingdom. Like research into Anglo Saxons, the archaeological picture continues to grow and change into a diverse and peaceful view of immigration and settlement back at the millennium - the first millennium that is!

Of course, there weren't any "vikings," anyway. Viking is a verb! Folks from way up in Norse countries went off a-viking. Ok, the word does appear once in awhile as a personal name, as in Viking son of Eric. But in general, one goes off to viking. And that's what the Norse peoples did from the 8th century C.E. onwards - sailing off about northern Europe and all the way to Greenland. (Some interesting historical linguists are connect the verb viking to vika, the old Norse word for a distance of measure at sea! very cool research, see it here.)

Since the 1980's archaeologists have been questioning the quintessential Victorian construct of Vikings - those horn-helmeted giants in sheepskin raping and pillaging across the entire North Atlantic. Of course the written record of Norse plundering comes down to us from non-Norse Christians, a notoriously unreliable source! Later centuries would seize these descriptions in both Scandinavian political movements and Wagnerian opera. Most movie depictions of "Vikings" reflect 18th and 19th century Viking revivalism.

The archaeological findings just don't reflect any of Wagner or the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. And some of the most enjoyable scholarship is about Norse women settlers. You know, those women who went a-viking with their families, settling all over England, and now showing up again in studies of Norse burials. Those women, often with children, who point to a whole different "Viking." Those women, often buried with swords, who point to a different history all together.

It turns out scholars are estimating that Norse settlers in England were at least one third, if not half, of all "Vikings." And grave sites previously presumed all male, are being measured by osteological standards, instead of assuming that a sword in a grave means a male in a grave, and suddenly the ratio of grave finds changes completely! Since scholars already know that swordplay was part of all Norse children's education, and that girls learned with swords as well as boys, it is hardly surprising that Norse women were buried with swords beside them - yet still archaeologists are reporting their new findings with amazement.

The presence of Viking women graves with swords alongside is especially heartening for my swordplaying daughter. She wanted a Celtic persona in the Society for Creative Anachronism, not Norse - despite the scholarship about Norse girls and swords. So I put our family personas into 11th century Devonshire, where Norse settlements were established and where a nice Brythonic speaking family might know some sword-wielding peers. This also places us close to Anglo Saxon friends, recreating their own newly understood archaeological studies of equally peaceful Anglo Saxon settlements. These new grave finds in England have energized our family: gee, I was pretty smart choosing early 11th century England, which, based on archaeology, is appearing increasingly multicultural and cosmopolitan.

As is all of Europe. Research on the collapse of the Roman Empire is showing ongoing trade continuing across Europe, and pre-Roman Britian had significant trade with the Mediterranean for centuries. It's about time to reclaim history when it was truly peaceful - throughout England scholars are finding cemetaries with Anglo Saxon, Celt, and Norse people - all identified through DNA - buried peacefully together. Which suggests living peacefully together.

And once again archaeology proves that our history was far more complicated than we thought.

So hurrah for Norse women, who went a-viking with their families. Sword-wielding and shield-bearing, their remains point to an amazing past and culture.

(photo courtesy of

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Helm Magic

We have been back from our family's annual camping trip to Pennsic for a few weeks now, and I need time to write a post about helm magic. Pennsic is the annual, worldwide gathering of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), when this year over 13,000 people camped out for two weeks in sweltering August heat in Southwestern Pennsylvania. As I have written before, it is impossible to explain Pennsic completely to one who has never been: it is 13,000 people camping in a huge, open field in August; it is 13,000 people recreating the Middle Ages from archery to brewing to period campsites to reconstructed bog-finds clothing to men, women and children wearing shining armor and bashing one another with PVC weapons. Really.

My kids drug me into the SCA, again as I have written before. They all enjoy youth boffer fighting, that shining-armor/hitting one another with pvc pipe sport, that, thankfully, is wonderfully and safely taught in our barony (yes there are kingdom and kings and queens and barons and baronies and dukes and all. . .) by the fabulous Lady Zoe. (If not for Lady Zoe, I would have overruled the kids and never allowed them near a boffer!) At Pennsic, the youth fighting is carefully and lovingly overseen by a group of men and women knights, whose dedication to the sport is awesome to behold. Yes, many of the adult fighters are walking around semi-drunk; yes the adult fighters, especially some of the guys, are annoying and pushy louts; yes I think grown men need to think about why they like to put on stainless steel in 90 degree heat and bash one another on the head (no I don't question the women in armor as they all tell me the same thing: they love hitting men - and who can argue with that?). Yet the youth fighting knights are all loving, giving, and dedicated to helping youth learn the sport and chivalry itself.

So pacifist, feminist me spends two weeks each summer watching my kids don their armor and hit each other. Ok, the first year or two I went to every fight and sweated every knock they each took - not to mention being pulled in as a marshal (in other words referee) when occasion demanded (I still have a reputation as being useless at teaching fighting but also as having been scrupulously fair and hard on everyone - a reputation I rather like!), but nowadays they are old enough that I don't have to supervise anymore. I have also watched my eldest daughter and my only son grow tremendously in the sport.

For many years, my eldest was the only girl on the youth battlefield. The boys treated her terribly. In boffer fighting, the hittee has to "take their blows," and it is all honor system as to admitting whether or not you the hittee has taken a blow that kills you. "Not taking your blows" is unchivalrous, an insult, and ultimately will draw unwanted attention from other fighters, parents, and finally the marshals.

For many, many years, boys would not take their blows from my eldest daughter. Yet the boys' behavior was so obvious, and my daughter so reliably took her own blows, that year after year she has won awards for her chivalry and behavior on the field. Now, since my eldest is at least 50 lbs. lighter than the boys on the battlefield, her ability to win even when everyone is as chivalrous as possible is limited, and she would dearly love to win some tourneys due to prowess and not just her amazing chivalry. Yet, year after year, she has stuck to fighting, won tremendous respect from many of the more serious boys, and also won tremendous respect from the knights in charge. In my own schoolwork this year, when the work has been overwhelming and the possibility of ever learning all this vocabulary and theory seemed impossible, I have deliberately thought of my eldest, hanging in there at every practice, taking her blows, losing over and over but not quitting just from the sheer love of the sport. My eldest is an inspiration.

And so to helm magic. Pennsic, that wild and indescribable village/ren faire/art festival/camp out combined, has its own magic. One of my kids' friends is an avid musician, has mild ADHD and is often difficult to manage, but has and still loves Pennsic and the SCA with utter abandon. Over the years Pennsic musicians have gifted him with musical instruments for his Middle Eastern persona, from a gift scholarship for an oud two years ago to a saz this past Pennsic. Giving to kids who show their willingness to work is part of the SCA culture. And it can bring amazing experiences! Last year I was shopping in the marvelous, amazing, gobsmacking and huge marketplace (picking up some badger's claws, the kind of thing one can do at Pennsic!) when my eldest daughter came running into the tent where I shopped. She was sobbing and incoherent and clutching a helm.

Helms, by the way, are just what you think they are: those helmets from knights in shining armor movies we have all seen. That shiny helmet is the piece de resistance of a good knight. In the SCA helm rules are strict and affected by modern medicine: hockey helmets work with some additions for chin and neck protection. Of course, your adult and youth boffer fighter dreams of a good, metal helm, though. Getting helms, visiting armorers at Pennsic and trying on helms, decorating helms (animal tails and horse manes are popular) - all are daily points of conversation.

The helm my daughter carried while in tears was stainless steel, a step up from my daughter's older helm which rusts endlessly. It was also quite small, fitting for my petite daughter's head, but not many of the fighters in the SCA are as small as my daughter. I hugged her while adults gathered around and my daughter explained through her tears that an armorer she admired had watched her try on the helm over and over all Pennsic, and here in the last days, had decided to give her the helm since she wears fighting favors and medallions and clearly is an active youth fighter. The helm itself was worth several hundred dollars, an amazing and magical and loving gift. Just finding a helm to fit her was itself amazing, let alone having the armorer give it for free! My daughter didn't know if she should accept such an expensive gift, but all adults there and in our barony camp reassured her that yes, giving away is part of the SCA and part of Pennsic. My daughter, the one who hung in there never winning year after year, was getting another kind of recognition for her love of boffer fighting. That in and of itself was a day of magic, and I have written about that kind of Pennsic magic elsewhere.

And so to this year. Returning to Pennsic with her new helm ready for fighting (all helms have to be padded and inspected for head safety so that blows to the head won't cause brain injury - this isn't football), my daughter was in her last year as a youth fighter. For the first time she didn't make every single fight practice, but still participated in tourneys and joined her friends on the battlefield. There she met a mom with a teen son in the sport, whose son actually has been a grand friend and supporter of my girl in the world of mostly-boys fighting. The mom was searching for a new helm - hard to find for many women, since the armorers mostly make their wares for men. Like my daughter, she needed a small helm for a small head. And of course my daughter had a helm to sale. By the end of Pennsic, this mom decided to buy my daughter's helm, at a price she could afford, and which will help my daughter with her own fighting costs. My daughter made a special price for the mom, who knew others were interested and willing to pay more. And my daughter knew how hard it is to find a small helm and wanted to make a price to help this mother.

And when the sale was complete, the mom herself broke down and cried - she had never thought she could find a helm that would fit her or that she could afford one if she did. For the second year in a row, a woman fighter, who like my daughter may never be the top champion or even that successful in tourneys, was herself finding a way to be honored as a boffer fighter. My daughter was so happy she was able to pass on the helm magic that she herself experienced. And all of us watching were in tears as well. Anyone who has ever been an underdog, worked their butt off with no hope of recognition, or ever felt that they did something they loved just out of love and never any hope of winning will understand all these tears. That is what this was.

For me the magic was eye opening. I theoretically get it when adult women tell me they love fighting in the SCA and bopping men on the head. Our just retired Baroness is one of the best fighters in our kingdom, male or female, and every kid in our Barony is so gobsmackingly proud of her. However much I dislike the drunken men running around Pennsic with pole arms, I have learned to love and respect the women who fight and challenge sex role stereotyping as well as they assert that chivalry is for women, too.

Yet the incredible reaction of my daughter and this friend's mom to their own metal helms, so much a part of chivalry and knighting, spoke to me of metal magic and Bridget. My Goddess of blacksmithing and healing is also a goddess of armorers and women knights in shiny helms. She is the goddess of girls and boys and men and women learning to take their blows, and she is the goddess of anyone willing to pass on magic. I had not seen helm magic before this Pennsic - I had seen adults teaching and leading youth as magic, and I had seen tremendous attention to crafting and art as magic, but now I realize helms are magic, too. Helms have meanings of power and art, prowess and healing. My daughter and the friend's mom both cried healing tears when given - nay, awarded, their helms. Ok, I still really hate boffer fighting. Yet I can see the healing and love there, too.

So that is helm magic. Bridget at work in mysterious ways. The Goddess at foot on a battlefield. As I continue my journey as a blacksmith, I find more and more ways Bridget the Goddess of blacksmithing, and patron saint of smiths in Christian traditions, lives as central to our lives. Next time you pull out a cooking pot that is stainless steel, think of my daughter and her helm. Or the next time you cook on cast iron think of the mom who bought my daughter's old helm. Metal magic, through Bridget, is all around us.

Our last day at Pennsic, the circle of helms became complete. Another mom with a fighting son asked my daughter if she had heard the story of the girl youth fighter who had gotten a free helm from an armorer? My daughter smilingly explained the story was true and she was that girl. My daughter's helm is becoming part of Pennsic magic, Pennsic myth, and helm myth. I know that everytime the story passes on, Bridget is smiling.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wrens on the porch

I can't believe it has been two months since posting here on my blog! However, since last writing I have (only just) finished the hardest semester of my life; Assessment and Curriculum for Autism and Experimental Analysis of Behavior almost killed me this summer! I am happy to report that I am alive, and have straight A's for the summer. Phew. I really did have days I thought I would flunk out and never finish either course, though.

Sustaining me all summer were wrens. My children have all decorated bird boxes over the years, and I lovingly hang them about the front of my garden by the porch. Many years house wrens next in the boxes and I love their cheerful song all summer! (House wren song can be heard here!) This year was extraordinary, however, with three male wrens all nesting in the boxes out front, along with chattering babies and mates busily singing their hearts out! Three wrens, with the lovely connection to Celtic wren traditions and the perfectly Celtic number of three, had me searching information on wren traditions in Celtic life and myth.

I already knew I had to write a blogpost about the wrens, King of the Birds in Celtic folklore. Wrens have to be sacred to me: I was born on Wren Day, Dec. 26th! I know some lovely boxing day songs about hunting the wren, and less lovely traditions about hunting the wren on Wren Day, and parading the little dead bird around the village. I suppose the only consolation is that other than Wren day, killing wren's was and is still considered unlucky throughout the Celtic world. Around my house at Yule, "the wren, the wren, the king of the birds" is a common song!

Then a few weeks ago I spotted another bird - a wren, but not a House Wren nor a Carolina Wren. This wee one kept hopping onto the porch railing and looking right at me, before flying away. Okay. What can wren be telling me, especially this new and unusual wren? Quick run to my Druid Animal Oracle tarot deck, a fun deck I use when readers want an animal totem tarot, and I read Philip Carr and Stephanie Gomm's take on wren:

"Drui-en allows us to glimpse the beauty of God or Goddess in all things. He tells us that "small is beautiful" and that self-realization lies not in grandiosity or apparent power, but in humility, gentleness and subtlety. Cunning, if tempered with humour and good intent, is a way of achieving great things with an economy and effort, and a rational and honest use of the achievements of others."

Well, that is lovely. I like to think of myself as cunning and beautiful! I certainly feel I have humour and good intent. I recommend the Druid Animal Oracle Deck because it does a lovely job of synthesizing multiple Celtic traditions and distilling them into modern thought. So I thought about my wrens, and every morning sat working on homework while the little ones sang their hearts out for me.

The little and unknown wren visited again and again. Who could this be? Pulled out my birding books to find him: a Winter Wren, down to summer here from Canada! Yup, the Winter Wren of Celtic myth, here on my front porch. Winter Wren stories abound for the Celts. The Welsh mythological hero Bran the Blessed disguised himself as a wren to chase cock Robin in old stories; on the Isle of Mann mermaids change into Winter Wrens to escape capture. In Scotland the Winter Wren is connected with women, healing and wisdom, and a nickname for Wren there is "Lady of Soul's Hen." In Welsh the word Wren itself is dryw, the druid bird.

Winter Wrens can also be associated with Mary. In the fabulously researched Hunting the Wren by Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, she points out that another name for Cutty Wren is Jenny Wren. She re-creates the famous Christmas Carol, The Seven Joys of Mary, as The Seven Joys of Jenny:

"The first good joy that Jenny had
It was the Joy of one,
To see the power her nesty had
To make to speak the dumb.

The next good joy that Jenny had
It was the Joy of two,
To see the power her nesty had
To make the lame to go.

The next good joy that Jenny had
It was the Joy of three,
To see the power her nesty had,
To make the blind to see.

To make the lame to go, b..... boom
And blessed she may be,
Both birdy nest and loving song
For every night and day."

So. A week ago I finished my last extra credit assignment to get my second A for the summer semester - and I got that A by only one little point. But one point was enough. I have approached homework all summer as spellcrafting - trying to do work daily and keeping my nose to proverbial grindstone. When I felt overwhelmed, I forced myself to sit down and do some concrete work. Daily. I didn't want to do those last extra credit points, but knew I might need them, and only two weeks ago sat down with a sigh, to grind out some more work.

Ok. It all paid off. I am proud of my A's.

And I'm still recovering, too! Fall semester starts this coming week. Eek! I would like a summer off!

So I sat on the porch this morning, drinking coffee and enjoying some bliss free days without homework. My front garden is a mass of weeds; there is laundry from our family's campout (I came back several times a week from camping to do work and my last final exam; there is schoolwork I need to do for the kids. But I sat and rested on the porch, watching for a deer family that has been lurking about all summer, and enjoying the now liberated House Wren parents, as the fledglings have grown and moved on.

And what happened? The little wren flies onto the porch again. And flies onto my window sill by my elbow, and then, a first for me, flies onto my ankle. The Winter Wren sat on my ankle! The Winter Wren cocked his head, looked right at me, and then lightly flew away.

I am now a year into my Celtic augury studies, and this experience today has blown my mind. A blessing for me, any bird willing to perch on my body. And the famous Winter Wren of so much lore, and my birthday bird to boot, sat on my resting ankle, looking at me, signaling something on a brilliant August morning.

I plan to take my blessing from the King of the birds, and hold the memory to savor as my semester starts again. Wrens are such little and beautifully marked birds, tiny singers of majestic songs (pound for pound, the wren's song is ten times louder than a rooster's!), and in folklore connected to wisdom and healing. Like Bran the Blessed, they are sacred birds.

So I had a messenger from the deity on my ankle today. My thanks to wren; I am so deeply grateful and touched by your visit.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Awesome article on Women in Early Christianity

This is such an awesome article I want to include it here on my blog: Dive in and enjoy!

I've included links to primary resources like The Gospel of Mary and Thunder Perfect Mind: check 'em out!

Women In Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries
Scholar Karen King examines the evidence concerning women's important place in early Christianity. She draws a surprising new portrait of Mary Magdalene and outlines the stories of previously unknown early Christian women.

by Karen L. King
Karen L. King is Professor of New Testament Studies and the History of Ancient Christianity at Harvard University in the Divinity School. She has published widely in the areas of Gnosticism, ancient Christianity, and Women's Studies.

In the last twenty years, the history of women in ancient Christianity has been almost completely revised. As women historians entered the field in record numbers, they brought with them new questions, developed new methods, and sought for evidence of women's presence in neglected texts and exciting new findings. For example, only a few names of women were widely known: Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene, his disciple and the first witness to the resurrection; Mary and Martha, the sisters who offered him hospitality in Bethany. Now we are learning more of the many women who contributed to the formation of Christianity in its earliest years.

Perhaps most surprising, however, is that the stories of women we thought we knew well are changing in dramatic ways. Chief among these is Mary Magdalene, a woman infamous in Western Christianity as an adulteress and repentant whore. Discoveries of new texts from the dry sands of Egypt, along with sharpened critical insight, have now proven that this portrait of Mary is entirely inaccurate. She was indeed an influential figure, but as a prominent disciple and leader of one wing of the early Christian movement that promoted women's leadership.

Certainly, the New Testament Gospels, written toward the last quarter of the first century CE, acknowledge that women were among Jesus' earliest followers. From the beginning, Jewish women disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, had accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of their private means (Luke 8:1-3). He spoke to women both in public and private, and indeed he learned from them. According to one story, an unnamed Gentile woman taught Jesus that the ministry of God is not limited to particular groups and persons, but belongs to all who have faith (Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28). A Jewish woman honored him with the extraordinary hospitality of washing his feet with perfume. Jesus was a frequent visitor at the home of Mary and Martha, and was in the habit of teaching and eating meals with women as well as men. When Jesus was arrested, women remained firm, even when his male disciples are said to have fled, and they accompanied him to the foot of the cross. It was women who were reported as the first witnesses to the resurrection, chief among them again Mary Magdalene. Although the details of these gospel stories may be questioned, in general they reflect the prominent historical roles women played in Jesus' ministry as disciples.


After the death of Jesus, women continued to play prominent roles in the early movement. Some scholars have even suggested that the majority of Christians in the first century may have been women.

The letters of Paul - dated to the middle of the first century CE - and his casual greetings to acquaintances offer fascinating and solid information about many Jewish and Gentile women who were prominent in the movement. His letters provide vivid clues about the kind of activities in which women engaged more generally. He greets Prisca, Junia, Julia, and Nereus' sister, who worked and traveled as missionaries in pairs with their husbands or brothers (Romans 16:3, 7, 15). He tells us that Prisca and her husband risked their lives to save his. He praises Junia as a prominent apostle, who had been imprisoned for her labor. Mary and Persis are commended for their hard work (Romans 16:6, 12). Euodia and Syntyche are called his fellow-workers in the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3). Here is clear evidence of women apostles active in the earliest work of spreading the Christian message.

Paul's letters also offer some important glimpses into the inner workings of ancient Christian churches. These groups did not own church buildings but met in homes, no doubt due in part to the fact that Christianity was not legal in the Roman world of its day and in part because of the enormous expense to such fledgling societies. Such homes were a domain in which women played key roles. It is not surprising then to see women taking leadership roles in house churches. Paul tells of women who were the leaders of such house churches (Apphia in Philemon 2; Prisca in I Corinthians 16:19). This practice is confirmed by other texts that also mention women who headed churches in their homes, such as Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16:15) and Nympha of Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). Women held offices and played significant roles in group worship. Paul, for example, greets a deacon named Phoebe (Romans 16:1) and assumes that women are praying and prophesying during worship (I Corinthians 11). As prophets, women's roles would have included not only ecstatic public speech, but preaching, teaching, leading prayer, and perhaps even performing the eucharist meal. (A later first century work, called the Didache, assumes that this duty fell regularly to Christian prophets.)


Later texts support these early portraits of women, both in exemplifying their prominence and confirming their leadership roles (Acts 17:4, 12). Certainly the most prominent among these in the ancient church was Mary Magdalene. A series of spectacular 19th and 20th century discoveries of Christian texts in Egypt dating to the second and third century have yielded a treasury of new information. It was already known from the New Testament gospels that Mary was a Jewish woman who followed Jesus of Nazareth. Apparently of independent means, she accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of her own resources (Mark 15:40-41; Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 8:1-3; John 19:25).

Although other information about her is more fantastic, she is repeatedly portrayed as a visionary and leader of the early movement.( Mark 16:1-9; Matthew 28:1-10; Luke24:1-10; John 20:1, 11-18; Gospel of Peter ). In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus gives her special teaching and commissions her as an apostle to the apostles to bring them the good news. She obeys and is thus the first to announce the resurrection and to play the role of an apostle, although the term is not specifically used of her. Later tradition, however, will herald her as "the apostle to the apostles." The strength of this literary tradition makes it possible to suggest that historically Mary was a prophetic visionary and leader within one sector of the early Christian movement after the death of Jesus.

The newly discovered Egyptian writings elaborate this portrait of Mary as a favored disciple. Her role as "apostle to the apostles" is frequently explored, especially in considering her faith in contrast to that of the male disciples who refuse to believe her testimony. She is most often portrayed in texts that claim to record dialogues of Jesus with his disciples, both before and after the resurrection. In the Dialogue of the Savior, for example, Mary is named along with Judas (Thomas) and Matthew in the course of an extended dialogue with Jesus. During the discussion, Mary addresses several questions to the Savior as a representative of the disciples as a group. She thus appears as a prominent member of the disciple group and is the only woman named. Moreover, in response to a particularly insightful question, the Lord says of her, "´You make clear the abundance of the revealer!'" (140.17-19). At another point, after Mary has spoken, the narrator states, "She uttered this as a woman who had understood completely"(139.11-13). These affirmations make it clear that Mary is to be counted among the disciples who fully comprehended the Lord's teaching (142.11-13).

In another text, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, Mary also plays a clear role among those whom Jesus teaches. She is one of the seven women and twelve men gathered to hear the Savior after the resurrection, but before his ascension. Of these only five are named and speak, including Mary. At the end of his discourse, he tells them, "I have given you authority over all things as children of light," and they go forth in joy to preach the gospel. Here again Mary is included among those special disciples to whom Jesus entrusted his most elevated teaching, and she takes a role in the preaching of the gospel.

In the Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is mentioned as one of three Marys "who always walked with the Lord" and as his companion (59.6-11). The work also says that Lord loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often (63.34-36). The importance of this portrayal is that yet again the work affirms the special relationship of Mary Magdalene to Jesus based on her spiritual perfection.

In the Pistis Sophia, Mary again is preeminent among the disciples, especially in the first three of the four books. She asks more questions than all the rest of the disciples together, and the Savior acknowledges that: "Your heart is directed to the Kingdom of Heaven more than all your brothers" (26:17-20). Indeed, Mary steps in when the other disciples are despairing in order to intercede for them to the Savior (218:10-219:2). Her complete spiritual comprehension is repeatedly stressed.

She is, however, most prominent in the early second century Gospel of Mary, which is ascribed pseudonymously to her. More than any other early Christian text, the Gospel of Mary presents an unflinchingly favorable portrait of Mary Magdalene as a woman leader among the disciples. The Lord himself says she is blessed for not wavering when he appears to her in a vision. When all the other disciples are weeping and frightened, she alone remains steadfast in her faith because she has grasped and appropriated the salvation offered in Jesus' teachings. Mary models the ideal disciple: she steps into the role of the Savior at his departure, comforts, and instructs the other disciples. Peter asks her to tell any words of the Savior which she might know but that the other disciples have not heard. His request acknowledges that Mary was preeminent among women in Jesus' esteem, and the question itself suggests that Jesus gave her private instruction. Mary agrees and gives an account of "secret" teaching she received from the Lord in a vision. The vision is given in the form of a dialogue between the Lord and Mary; it is an extensive account that takes up seven out of the eighteen pages of the work. At the conclusion of the work, Levi confirms that indeed the Saviour loved her more than the rest of the disciples (18.14-15). While her teachings do not go unchallenged, in the end the Gospel of Mary affirms both the truth of her teachings and her authority to teach the male disciples. She is portrayed as a prophetic visionary and as a leader among the disciples.


Other women appear in later literature as well. One of the most famous woman apostles was Thecla, a virgin-martyr converted by Paul. She cut her hair, donned men's clothing, and took up the duties of a missionary apostle. Threatened with rape, prostitution, and twice put in the ring as a martyr, she persevered in her faith and her chastity. Her lively and somewhat fabulous story is recorded in the second century Acts of Thecla. From very early, an order of women who were widows served formal roles of ministry in some churches (I Timothy 5:9-10). The most numerous clear cases of women's leadership, however, are offered by prophets: Mary Magdalene, the Corinthian women, Philip's daughters, Ammia of Philadelphia, Philumene, the visionary martyr Perpetua, Maximilla, Priscilla (Prisca), and Quintilla. There were many others whose names are lost to us. The African church father Tertullian, for example, describes an unnamed woman prophet in his congregation who not only had ecstatic visions during church services, but who also served as a counselor and healer (On the Soul 9.4). A remarkable collection of oracles from another unnamed woman prophet was discovered in Egypt in 1945. She speaks in the first person as the feminine voice of God: Thunder, Perfect Mind. The prophets Prisca and Quintilla inspired a Christian movement in second century Asia Minor (called the New Prophecy or Montanism) that spread around the Mediterranean and lasted for at least four centuries. Their oracles were collected and published, including the account of a vision in which Christ appeared to the prophet in the form of a woman and "put wisdom" in her (Epiphanius, Panarion 49.1). Montanist Christians ordained women as presbyters and bishops, and women held the title of prophet. The third century African bishop Cyprian also tells of an ecstatic woman prophet from Asia Minor who celebrated the eucharist and performed baptisms (Epistle 74.10). In the early second century, the Roman governor Pliny tells of two slave women he tortured who were deacons (Letter to Trajan 10.96). Other women were ordained as priests in fifth century Italy and Sicily (Gelasius, Epistle 14.26).

Women were also prominent as martyrs and suffered violently from torture and painful execution by wild animals and paid gladiators. In fact, the earliest writing definitely by a woman is the prison diary of Perpetua, a relatively wealthy matron and nursing mother who was put to death in Carthage at the beginning of the third century on the charge of being a Christian. In it, she records her testimony before the local Roman ruler and her defiance of her father's pleas that she recant. She tells of the support and fellowship among the confessors in prison, including other women. But above all, she records her prophetic visions. Through them, she was not merely reconciled passively to her fate, but claimed the power to define the meaning of her own death. In a situation where Romans sought to use their violence against her body as a witness to their power and justice, and where the Christian editor of her story sought to turn her death into a witness to the truth of Christianity, her own writing lets us see the human being caught up in these political struggles. She actively relinquishes her female roles as mother, daughter, and sister in favor of defining her identity solely in spiritual terms. However horrifying or heroic her behavior may seem, her brief diary offers an intimate look at one early Christian woman's spiritual journey.


Study of works by and about women is making it possible to begin to reconstruct some of the theological views of early Christian women. Although they are a diverse group, certain reoccurring elements appear to be common to women's theology-making. By placing the teaching of the Gospel of Mary side-by-side with the theology of the Corinthian women prophets, the Montanist women's oracles, Thunder Perfect Mind, and Perpetua's prison diary, it is possible to discern shared views about teaching and practice that may exemplify some of the contents of women's theology:

* Jesus was understood primarily as a teacher and mediator of wisdom rather than as ruler and judge.
* Theological reflection centered on the experience of the person of the risen Christ more than the crucified savior. Interestingly enough, this is true even in the case of the martyr Perpetua. One might expect her to identify with the suffering Christ, but it is the risen Christ she encounters in her vision.
* Direct access to God is possible for all through receiving the Spirit.
* In Christian community, the unity, power, and perfection of the Spirit are present now, not just in some future time.
* Those who are more spiritually advanced give what they have freely to all without claim to a fixed, hierarchical ordering of power.
* An ethics of freedom and spiritual development is emphasized over an ethics of order and control.
* A woman's identity and spirituality could be developed apart from her roles as wife and mother (or slave), whether she actually withdrew from those roles or not. Gender is itself contested as a "natural" category in the face of the power of God's Spirit at work in the community and the world. This meant that potentially women (and men) could exercise leadership on the basis of spiritual achievement apart from gender status and without conformity to established social gender roles.
* Overcoming social injustice and human suffering are seen to be integral to spiritual life.

Women were also actively engaged in reinterpreting the texts of their tradition. For example, another new text, the Hypostasis of the Archons, contains a retelling of the Genesis story ascribed to Eve's daughter Norea, in which her mother Eve appears as the instructor of Adam and his healer.

The new texts also contain an unexpected wealth of Christian imagination of the divine as feminine. The long version of the Apocryphon of John, for example, concludes with a hymn about the descent of divine Wisdom, a feminine figure here called the Pronoia of God. She enters into the lower world and the body in order to awaken the innermost spiritual being of the soul to the truth of its power and freedom, to awaken the spiritual power it needs to escape the counterfeit powers that enslave the soul in ignorance, poverty, and the drunken sleep of spiritual deadness, and to overcome illegitimate political and sexual domination. The oracle collection Thunder Perfect Mind also adds crucial evidence to women's prophetic theology-making. This prophet speaks powerfully to women, emphasizing the presence of women in her audience and insisting upon their identity with the feminine voice of the Divine. Her speech lets the hearers transverse the distance between political exploitation and empowerment, between the experience of degradation and the knowledge of infinite self-worth, between despair and peace. It overcomes the fragmentation of the self by naming it, cherishing it, insisting upon the multiplicity of self-hood and experience.

These elements may not be unique to women's religious thought or always result in women's leadership, but as a constellation they point toward one type of theologizing that was meaningful to some early Christian women, that had a place for women's legitimate exercise of leadership, and to whose construction women contributed. If we look to these elements, we are able to discern important contributions of women to early Christian theology and praxis. These elements also provide an important location for discussing some aspects of early Christian women's spiritual lives: their exercise of leadership, their ideals, their attraction to Christianity, and what gave meaning to their self-identity as Christians.


Women's prominence did not, however, go unchallenged. Every variety of ancient Christianity that advocated the legitimacy of women's leadership was eventually declared heretical, and evidence of women's early leadership roles was erased or suppressed.

This erasure has taken many forms. Collections of prophetic oracles were destroyed. Texts were changed. For example, at least one woman's place in history was obscured by turning her into a man! In Romans 16:7, the apostle Paul sends greetings to a woman named Junia. He says of her and her male partner Andronicus that they are "my kin and my fellow prisoners, prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before me." Concluding that women could not be apostles, textual editors and translators transformed Junia into Junias, a man.

Or women's stories could be rewritten and alternative traditions could be invented. In the case of Mary Magdalene, starting in the fourth century, Christian theologians in the Latin West associated Mary Magdalene with the unnamed sinner who anointed Jesus' feet in Luke 7:36-50. The confusion began by conflating the account in John 12:1-8, in which Mary (of Bethany) anoints Jesus, with the anointing by the unnamed woman sinner in the accounts of Luke. Once this initial, erroneous identification was secured, Mary Magdalene could be associated with every unnamed sinful woman in the gospels, including the adulteress in John 8:1-11 and the Syro-phoenician woman with her five and more "husbands" in John 4:7-30. Mary the apostle, prophet, and teacher had become Mary the repentant whore. This fiction was invented at least in part to undermine her influence and with it the appeal to her apostolic authority to support women in roles of leadership.

Until recently the texts that survived have shown only the side that won. The new texts are therefore crucial in constructing a fuller and more accurate portrait. The Gospel of Mary, for example, argued that leadership should be based on spiritual maturity, regardless of whether one is male or female. This Gospel lets us hear an alternative voice to the one dominant in canonized works like I Timothy, which tried to silence women and insist that their salvation lies in bearing children. We can now hear the other side of the controversy over women's leadership and see what arguments were given in favor of it.

It needs to be emphasized that the formal elimination of women from official roles of institutional leadership did not eliminate women's actual presence and importance to the Christian tradition, although it certainly seriously damaged their capacity to contribute fully. What is remarkable is how much evidence has survived systematic attempts to erase women from history, and with them the warrants and models for women's leadership. The evidence presented here is but the tip of an iceberg.

Read more:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Return to Hawks

Last year at this time I wrote about the Franklin Institute Hawk Cam and Celtic Augury. I continue learning as much as I can about augury; however, this year I am watching hawks nesting, not online, but in my own backyard.

Two young Cooper's Hawks started building a nest in one of my silver maples, and for over a month now have built, guarded and roosted their, I suspect, very first nest. Thus I have auspicious birds right out my kitchen window! Yes, gentle readers, this is awesome!

I have also been learning more about Celtic augury and not just my Cherokee traditions. Folks over at Tearlach Roibeard Luder's yahoogroup Celtic Nation steered me and other learning augurs to the wonderful book: Birds Of Ireland: Facts, Folklore and History, by Glynn Anderson. In this great resouce, Anderson writes of hawks:

"In Ireland, Hawks were connected with the willow. They were regarded as messengers between this world and the "Otherworld." They symbolized clear sightedness and deep memory."

The only common hawk in Ireland is the Sparrowhawk (spiorog), a smallish hawk that feeds on insects as well as small animals. They are more clever at hunting than our larger Red Tail and Red Shoulders hawks here in the states; due to their small size they are more likely to imitate smaller birds when hunting, in order to get close enough to strike. Anderson notes that Gerald of Wales in his 12th century voyages to Ireland commented on sparrowhawks, and that the 14th century play The Colloquy between Fintan and the Hawk of Achill, features hawks as the oldest of all creatures, and thus the wisest.

As has happened before, I am gobsmacked at the similarity between Celtic beliefs about hawks, and my own Native American family traditions. Hawks were taught to be as auspicious due to their ability to travel to God, a somewhat Christianized version of how to name holy. By traveling from God to earth, hawk brings messages of luck and good fortune from God's realm. I was brought up to pay attention to hawk.

Over and over, in world traditions, hawk is a messenger. The Egyptians held hawks sacred, as Ra assumed hawk as one of his forms. In Welsh Arthurian tales, Gawain was called Gwalchmai, "the hawk of May," and in early Welsh stories, Gwalchmai is a well known warrior. Later in Wales, St. Bartholomew was angered when a hawk killed a seagull, and caged it, but could not stand the hawk in captivity and finally set it free to return to God. The Aztec peoples descend from a snake-eating birds, and in Aztec culture snake hawks were worshipped for connecting to this auspicious ancestor. Hawks go from world to world.

Now the hawks in my yard are fairly busy - adding to the nest, roosting, guarding the nest. So far I haven't seen them off to Ra or the snake-eating bird of Aztec ancestry. But I do see them, morning and night, winging over my head and hunting high above the ridges here in the alleghenies. On the rare sunny day this spring, I see them flying thermals while hunting across the hollows, and they can fly up and down the mountains while I, rootbound, garden in my seemingly huge yard, which to the hawks must seem as small as a postage stamp. On those lovely days, the hawks are flying in heaven, indeed.

And I admire their work. They are new at nest building, rather as I am new in college and a new career, and i feel a common bond with this work of creating a new life. Soon those eggs they are roosting will hatch, and then I know what they are in for, having reared three kids of my own in my own nest. Yet soon enough the hawk fledglings will be ready to fly, as my own are approaching their own nest-leaving as well. It may be a shorter season for hawk, yet this new world of nests and flying free is a part of us all.

Despite a freeze warning here in the mountains tonight, spring is coming. Birds are nesting. Hawk is in my yard with a message of new beginnings, and while I and my kids work away, we are all building a freer flying world.

Watch for hawks, gentle readers. Sometimes they show up in your own back yard.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Goddess worship in Early Christian Community

Ok! Midterms are almost done, and time for a new post on archaeology and Goddess worship in early Christian community. Professor Arthur Segal first found images of Aphrodite in excavations in Israel in 2009. Excavations are at the roman village of Sussita, inhabited until an earthquake destroyed it in 749 c.e. Professor Segal was part of an American delegation uncovering the day to day homes of early Romans in the now Christianized empire. The discovery of Aphrodite figurines goes a long way to showing that early Christians maintained Goddess worship well into the Christian era.

Then this past September, archaeologists unearthed more Goddess worship evidence. In a wealthy home, Israeli and American archaeologists uncovered a wall painting of the city's patron deity, the Goddess Tyche. The same home held beautifully carved figures of Dionysus' companions, Maenads. The maenads appear to be dancing in the ecstatic dances associated with the cult to Dionysus.

Put together, these findings over several years offer modern women another model of Christianity, one that values female deity and completely different models of sexuality than often depicted in early Christian community. Maenads are about as far from religious celibacy as one can get! Yet here is Sussita, a Romano-Christian town with clear evidence of Goddess cult surviving alongside the established rule of the empire.

And how cool is that?

A lot of Christian effort has been put into creating Christian community in imitation of the early house churches of the Roman empire. From Puritan attempts to create a fortress to God to more modern feminist celebrations of egalitarian house church, Christian theologians, churches and community groups have found inspiration in learning about early Christian communities. Well, here we have another model, one that includes female deity - and Aphrodite and maenads at that.

For women who want to remain in the church, yet find new meanings to women's body/power, and new definitions of God that include women, the finding of Goddess worship all the way into the 8th century is a wonderful new path. Incorporating Aphrodite and maenads into modern Christian worship may seem far-fetched, but really it isn't. Aphrodite figures celebrate women's body, and in Roman eras were associated with Artemis at Ephesus as much as pure sexuality. Aphrodite, however, ruled the heaven and the earth, which is why so many of Aphrodite's temples include Gaia and Uranos around her skirts. It is sad that modern people see Aphrodite as purely sexual terms without realizing her powers extended over arts and learning, and in some histories she is associated with war and fortifications. Aphrodite has many faces, some historians tracing her back to Astarte. Aphrodite in Christian homes is exciting.

Tyche is equally exciting. Tyche presides over the wealth and prosperity of the city; most Roman cities had a temple to Tyche, to ask for her blessings over the town. The Emperor Julian closed her temples as idolotrous, yet here archaeologists find her worship persisting in a wealthy home in Sussita. Again, a strong image of female power continued despite attempts to force the Roman world into monotheism. That a wealthy home publicly displayed a Tyche wall painting is especially powerful. For day to day Romans, goddess worship and Christian identity were not incompatible. Tyche as a model of the importance of women in civic life is marvelous: the United Nation slogan "When women move forward the family moves forward" exemplifies this view. Tyche, goddess or archetype, demonstrates a new economic model.

And let's be honest. Worshiping a maenad? Well, how awesome is that? Christians can use some help learning to celebrate and empower women and sexuality, and if early Christians kept maenads about, well, that is another wonderful model for all to follow, goddess worshiping or not.

I urge everyone to check out the awesome research on early Byzantine/roman communities in the early Christian era. Just as archaeologists are showing the multiplicity of faiths in Jewish communities, archaeologists are finding awesome examples of multiple faiths in the Christian world. Such mew visions enhance all of our worship!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Karen Tate Call for Action: Fight the GOP and Fox News

Ok, for those of you interested in magical action against the right wing, here is a call for spellcasting for March 3rd, 2011. Karen Tate, of Voices of the Sacred Feminine Radio show and streaming, posted this as part of a facebook group tired of the endless attacks from the GOP extreme rightwing and media like Fox News.

Here is the post from Karen:

On Thursday March 3, at anytime during that 24 hours, we're engaging in mirror magic to thwart the Republican (GOP) party and Fox News. We're tired of the Republican war on women, the middle class and poor, planned parenthood, and now the unions who helped build the middle class. We're tired of Fox News distorting truth for the benefit of Corporations and the GOP. Many of you probably saw independent studies that came out from universities showing how viewers of Fox are some of the most mis-informed viewers in the United States. They are hiding behind the Constitution to lie to Americans to pad their pocketbooks. They constantly try to divide Americans based on racism, sexism, immigrant bashing, religious intolerance, etc. Why? Because if everyone wakes up to the real enemies - the corporations who are the masters of the GOP, then they'll have quite a problem on their hands if the people unite against a common enemy and demand justice and fairness. Many are coming to believe the latest budget cuts economists say will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, that the GOP has publicly said they don't care about, is actually an intention to sabotage the country's economy, then blame Obama, so they can win the 2012 presidency.

So, get out your mirror. Have some image that represents the Republican party and Fox News. Use their logos if you like. Google the logos of Fox News and the GOP and print them out. Place your mirror on your altar or kitchen table or where ever you plan to work this intention. Your focus is whatever bad intentions for Americans spews forth from FOX or the GOP, it is reflected back at them. That their deeds and lies are exposed and come back to haunt them. That people wake up to their misdeeds destroying average Americans so the rich can get richer. Basically, they are bringing this on themselves. What they put out in the world will be reflected back on them. Cook up the intention whatever way you want, but this is the central focus. They get back what they've been spewing. The damage they've been doing comes back as damage to their cause. So make your logos face the mirror, effectively reflecting their image and deeds back at them. Muster up all your pent up anger and passion and put it into this intention. Then release it into the Universe so it can do it's work. And leave the mirror and logos/pictures/images there if you can - giving it more energy everyday.

We have to use the collective power of our intentions. We certainly don't have the money Republicans have to buy off our politicians and make laws and tax codes that continue to benefit the rich. No one on the Right is calling for shared sacrifice. The War Budget isn't being tapped for money. The rich aren't getting tapped to pay taxes even at the Clinton Administration rates - instead they're getting tax cuts. Their rich accountants find ways they dodge taxes. So where do they want to get the money -- on the poor and middle class who have been reamed by Wall Street.

Wake up America -- fight against this economic terrorism.

Of course any magical work can be changed to suit your spirituality. Prayer to stop rightwing media and GOP assaults on the US and state budgets are always welcome. I am rather fond, myself, of writing letters to my representatives - a good spellcasting if there ever was one. Puja to a budget for justice is good. Offerings to saints or deities, all good. Whatever path to spirituality works for you, demanding economic justice is cornerstone to all faiths.

Join with Karen tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tell Congress to Extend Anti- Human Trafficking Legislation

As my gentle readers know already, after being homeless I am very committed to anti-trafficking laws to protect all people. Here is an action for readers in the United States from

"This year, the Administration and Congress have the opportunity to make historic bipartisan progress towards ending slavery at home and abroad. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the cornerstone of U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking in the United States and around the world, needs to be extended this year and current funding levels need to be protected.

Please ask Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Reid to support federal funding for anti-trafficking initiatives at their currently authorized levels and ensure the renewal this year of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and President Obama to make the effort to combat human trafficking and modern day slavery a priority, including working hard to renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act this year."

We need to hold the Republicans in Congress, since they always talk about being anti-crime, to their stated values. Fighting crime against children and adults needs to be funded.

Please sign the petition!

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Nóirín Ní Riain - Ode To Bridget

Here is a lovely tribute to Bridget, for Imbolc, St. Bridget's day, Candlemas. Scour your hearth, light candles to Bridget however you may see her, hang your cloak by the door for Bridget to bless. Any art or prayer or craft or spell or inspiration will be blessed by Her today.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finding Angels

It has been a momentous few weeks. I've been to the ER with shortness of breath and a tight chest and a PCP telling me I had to ensure that it wasn't a heart attack. (It wasn't.) Yet during the 24 hours there, I met some wonderful women, all who reached out and supported me while I watched my blood pressure shoot up and scared the crap outta me!

Then two weeks later, I hit a patch of ice, went tobogganing in my van with no control over where we went, and with two kids in the car, hit a 20 foot wall in rush hour traffic. For several scary minutes we sat in traffic as we watched other cars hit the same ice and slide towards us. Then, while I yelled for help on 911, a tow truck pulled up behind us, blocking us from what would end up being a 6 car pile up - plus the car who hit the ambulance that came on the scene. Of all the cars there, mine and one other were the only ones without serious injury. That tow truck kept the following car pile-up from plowing into us.

So I am feeling pretty blessed these days, and very aware that angels come in all sizes and packages. Angels include Miss Anita and Miss Laverne, two wonderful ladies in the ER with me - both mothers and grandmothers. We sat in the waiting room for our stress tests (I passsed with flying colors), and we talked of all the children who need us. Miss Anita reared two daughters, both gifted, both successful Black businesswomen today. Her children, like my own, were in music and church choir. Miss Laverne, in addition to her own grandchildren, volunteers at her church's afterschool program, as do I. We only shared part of a scary day together, and like me, both ladies were released to go home. Yet we sat there in the hospital urging one another to take care of ourselves as well as all the children in our lives. I promised to do more yoga; Miss Anita is going to try to give up smoking again (the more you quit, gentle readers, the more you quit); Miss Laverne promises to start doing exercises for her back.

Miss Anita and Miss Laverne are wonderful reminders of what is missing in the church: caretaking for those of us caretakers. I go to church and hear the same sermon about learning to be selfless week after week and year after year. Male ministers still talk about humbling ourselves to God, while making more money than I ever have. Yet in the hospital, angels like Miss Anita and Miss Laverne do the real ministry; they told me repeatedly to take care of myself for my own sake and for my children. They shared a gospel that reminds those of us who humbly serve that we matter, too. When I got the all-clear to go home (with a scrip for antacids), I hugged Miss Laverne and Miss Anita good-bye. They are my angels.

And sometimes, tow trucks are angels. Yes, the tow truck came to give me a tow after the accident, but it showed up before any emergency vehicle. By parking behind me, the subsequent pile-up of cars missed me, and I was the only car at the scene who neither hit anyone nor was hit. After the police cleared us to leave, and the ambulance personnel checked out my children, I hugged the tow truck driver (poor guy!). And I've been reminding everyone that angels can be surprising things - grandmothers, certainly. And tow trucks as well.

I have been brought up to listen to grandmothers; many grandma's out there have added to my life. Finding angel grandmothers in the ER was no surprise, but still a blessing. But for the rest of my life I'm gonna see tow trucks, and remember how they are angels, too.

Who knew? All of creation is holy, and we all can serve. Remember, the next time you see that truck driving down the road.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany: recognizing the holy

Epiphany is my favorite Christian holiday. As I wrote in a short note to one of my best friend's today, it is the day the Magi recognized Jesus as savior, ushering in a new church. Jesus as Christ becomes manifest to the three wise men, traditionally in Western Christianity seen as the awareness of Jesus' birth and life becoming known to the gentile world. These themes of recognition, awareness, and acknowledgment as holy actions have always seemed wondrous to me.

My own recent communion at church, discussed last month and through a wonderful multilayered correspondence, was an epiphany for me. I had not recognized, despite years of strong support, that my church was responding to communion in completely new ways. Taking communion at church for me was a personal step in awareness about the new church that my Christian friends are building at East Liberty Presbyterian. Hey, my church says open communion, and they mean it. Epiphany for me is recognizing the value of being included there. Knowledge, recognition and awareness of this new open church means a furthering of my own spirituality. A personal epiphony!

And epiphony should be that way: an opening of awareness, a sudden recognition of holiness, a new knowledge about the sacred. Epiphany is not exclusive to Christianity, anyone can experience a new meaning of sacred.

Epiphany as a holiday also bridges those lovely Christian/Pagan lines I enjoy so. Twelfth Night in England with wassail and caroling; versions of King's Cake abound across Europe; in Holland doors and windows are thrown open for luck; Italy famously celebrates Befana, named for a magical older woman, who visits all the children with gifts and sweets. Some historians trace the Befana to the Roman Goddess Strenia, Strenae or Strina. (Certainly the early church stridently opposed celebrations of Befana). My kids have grown up with very dear friends who cherish their celebration of Befana, and who themselves love the Pagan/Christian overlap.

And beyond Pagan/Christian and traditional religious meanings, there is the deepest layer of Epiphany: a gift of acknowledgment any one human can give another. Awareness/recognition of the holy in another human being is one of the most profound forms of relating humans have. Parents recognize the holy in their children; friends find what is sacred in each other; lovers find the most profound relationship in awareness of soul and body. In a world of impersonal traffic jams, concrete office blocks and gargantuan stores that is western post-industrial capitalism, Eiphany is a celebration of connection.

Have a holy day, everybody! Go recognize something, find some holy, see another as the savior they are.

P.S. Just read the blog of Joan Norton, who posts about the Three Magi on Epiphany as three Druids. Great read. Check it out: MaryMagdaleneWithin. I rather love the human aspects of Epiphany, that gift we can give one another, but it's totally fun to relate druids and magi.