Martinmas: The Curious Lore Surrounding St. Martin’s Day (November 11)

A canonized saint in the Roman Catholic Church, Martin of Tours is revered across large swaths of Europe–including Protestant-majority northern European countries. Celebrations of his Feast Day on November 11 speak to a devotional cult that incorporates many curiously Pagan elements of great antiquity, indelibly ensconcing him in a meta folk consciousness channeled through traditions that aren’t about to die out any time soon. From Sweden to Spain, from England to the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, St. Martin’s Day/Martinmas/Martinstag/Sint-Maarten gives rise to seasonal celebrations that commemorate blood sacrifice and feasting (cattle, pork, and especially geese), the building of sacred fires (both bonfires and more controllable lantern-lit processions led by children), uncorking the season’s first wines, welcoming the start of winter, and singing in the streets for Halloween-like treats. Continue reading

Announcing the Call for Submissions for the Winter Issue of Isis-Seshat Journal

As the Executive Editor of Isis-Seshat journal, the quarterly publication of the worldwide Fellowship of Isis, I’ve decided that I want the Winter issue to focus on divination as the nexus of cultus, community, and culture. As the etymology of the word denotes, the purpose of divination is to reveal “the will of the Gods.” In our postmodern Western societies, of course, the concept has largely been divorced from its polytheistic impetus and has become co-opted by (or, if you prefer, degraded to) a secularist impulse for “fortune-telling,” largely for its entertainment value. Continue reading

Mitrovski Zadušnice: The Serbian All-Souls’ Day Heralding the Start of Winter

There are times when you don’t need to look at a calendar page to know that the Days of the Dead are upon you. All of Nature seems to be a manifestation of the restlessness of spirits on the move, of hungry ancestors clamoring for your attention and your ritual foods. It’s the way that fog banks roll into the city on a strong north wind, blotting out the rising sun. It’s the way that the chill autumn rains beat upon your windowpanes as you curl up under the covers at night, trying to blanket all thoughts of your own mortality out of the province of conscious awareness. That’s what’s been happening in my experience here in Chicago as of the past 72 hours, and it’s all very fitting as tomorrow marks one of the biggest All Souls’ Days (Zadušnice in Serbian, from the root word duša, which means “soul”) in the Serbian calendar. Continue reading

Down in the Valley of the Not-So-Jolly Jotuns

Given this morning’s -30 F temperature and the omnipresent mounds of snow, it’s very easy to confuse the Chicago slice of Miðrgarðr for Jotunheim. Whizzing along on the northbound Tri-State, making my morning transition from Cook to Lake County during my drive to work, it was difficult to not find the landscape tinged with thurz-friendly phantasmagoria—look, there’s Fenris loping amidst the snow-laden oaks, sycamores, and aspens in Busse Woods; Skadi loves stomping about with her snowshoes in a childlike spirit of abandon in the gravelly pit of the major construction site at Willow Road.

I was listening to the sweet strains of Loreena McKennit’s liltingly lovely musical interpretation of Tennyson’s masterpiece, “The Lady of Shallot,” when it dawned on me—just as Sunna’s orange and scarlet robes blinded me in the rear-view mirror—that this day is absolutely, wholly, and unequivocally laced with death. The very air, reminiscent of that primal giant from whom the whole world was crafted, is tinged with it. Try inhaling without a scarf or other covering to shield your mouth while, say, walking a dog for 20 minutes and you’ll feel it, death like a form of anti-pneuma seeping into your lungs. A cold caress that makes your flesh and bones revolt to the touch. Continue reading

The Date of Mitrovdan (November 8) and Serbian Lore Regarding the First Day of Winter and the “Master of Wolves”

Koleda (winter festival) spirit wolves. Masks made by artist Leon Uršič; photo courtesy of Primož Hieng

Koleda (winter festival) spirit wolves. Masks made by artist Leon Uršič; photo courtesy of Primož Hieng

“Know your history, know yourself. No history? Then you have no self to speak of.” –What my mother Milanka said to me over her coffee this morning as she and my dad began to regale me with Mitrovdan anecdotes

The ancient Serbs, like the ancient Celts, used to recognize two seasons: summer and winter, which, after Christianization, were marked by the fixed dates of the Feasts of Saint George (May 6) and Saint Demetrios (November 8), respectively. As a modern Pagan, it’s easy for me to see the parallels with the Great Sabbats of Beltane and Samhain in Celtic tradition, for those Days of Power did herald the beginnings of summer and winter. The parallel between the Feast of St. Demetrios–known as Mitrovdan in Serbian–and the Celtic Samhain is delineated even more clearly when one considers that in the Old Julian Calendar, Mitrovdan was commemorated on October 26. Continue reading