A Day of Thanks and Giving: Understanding the Truth About Thanksgiving and Celebrating it as a Pagan

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Since Samhain I have not had to time to even think about the upcoming holidays. With the opening of the online portion of my store, The Hierophant, setting up my 2019 Salem area tour (yes, I did say Salem, Woohoo!, and finishing up my 2018 classes I have been so consumed. So, I thought I take a moment to talk about what I have come to rename “A day of thanks and giving”. Let’s start with what is commonly taught about Thanksgiving, then what we know as the truth and why I have renamed it and a way we as Witches and Pagans can celebrate it with respect to others who you may be sharing a table with.

Thanksgiving as We Commonly Know It

Thanksgiving is a national American holiday, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Originally celebrated as a harvest type festival. Since 1789, Thanksgiving has been celebrated nationally but did not become a federal holiday until 1863.

What Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World. It was a feast that had lasted for three days and was reported that it was attended by 90 Native Americans (Wampanoag) and 53 Pilgrims. Another reason for this feast was that it was a symbolic gesture of peace and thanks between the settlers and “Indians”, after an English-speaking chief named Squanto, taught the settlers how to survive. At this feast it was said to contain food that had been grown by the Pilgrims by means of “Indian” knowledge. Turkey, goose, duck, corn, squashes were all to have been placed on this recounted table of “gratitude”.

The Thanksgiving Story as We Should Know It

The real story began in 1614 when European explorers returned to Europe with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. In their efforts to capture new slaves from untouched lands, they had left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped capture. When the Pilgrims arrived in the “new world” they found only one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto (who’s real name was Tisquantum) who had survived slavery and knew their language. He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation which was short-lived.

Word had spread in England about the Eden to be found in the “new world” which caused others to arrive by the boat load. They seized land by any means possible, capturing strong young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. However, the Pequot Nation had not agreed to Squanto’s peace treaty and fought back. Making the lesser known Pequot War one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.

pequot_warThen In 1637 the body of a white man was discovered dead in a boat. Blaming the Pequot tribe who had gathered possibly for their annual Green Corn ceremonies. In the early morning, while the tribe slept, armed settlers invaded and surrounded their camp . Upon ordering them to come outside, those who did were shot or beaten to death and those who remained inside were burned alive. The victory was celebrated with feast as a thank you to their God for winning over the savages and for the newly acquired land.

While many Indigenous people and historians, still debate over what exactly happened to what directly led to the creation of “Thanksgiving Day.”, the truth is it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, hell it wasn’t even turkey and buttered corn.

National Day of Mourning

The National Day of Mourning is an annual protest organized since 1970 by Indigenous Americans of New England (although, others have joined in) on the fourth Thursday of November, the same day as Thanksgiving. Participants in the National Day of Mourning honor their ancestors and the struggles to survive today. It is also to educate Americans about the history of Thanksgiving. In an interview, Cedric Cromwell, the chairman and president of the tribal council of the Mashpee Wampanoag, said, “…it was a holocaust, and that holocaust must be shared and communicated so that we ensure that mankind doesn’t do that to each other again”. I found it interesting that he still sits down with his family on the day, but for him it’s meaning is about history and truth rather than the myths we have been feed.

A Day of Thanks and Giving

Although, I grew up under Native influence, we still celebrated Thanksgiving (for my grandfather it was always Turkey Day). For us it wasn’t so much about the “American history” it was more of a way for all of our family to get together, and for football. Not that anyone in family really was a die-hard football fan. It was just the American thing to do, I guess. It wasn’t until I reached high school that I learned the horrible history of Thanksgiving. For me this began the drop of calling it Thanksgiving Day, moving on to what my Grandfather called it “Turkey Day”. I’m still not sure to this day if he used this title because of its history or if that’s how he referred to it.  It wasn’t until years later that I used A Day of Thanks and Giving to denote Thanksgiving Day. For me, it means a day to give thanks to the earth and its bounty and to the people in my life by giving the means of food and good cheer. It also has a denotation of respect and honor to many of my ancestors.

father_knows_best_thanksgiving_1954Now that I am hours away from my parents, we do not spend this holiday together. However, I do spend it with my cousin, who was is the daughter of my first teacher. Although, she was raised within a Wiccan household, she is primary Christian based. Which means we say a prayer before we eat. There have been times when this has fallen on me to deliver. With respect to all those present I tend to keep the focus on the Harvest and family aspects of the Holiday. After the prayer we always share a round of things we are thankful for. The following is the prayer that I have used, and of course you can always tweak it to your family and situations.

Day of Thanks and Giving Prayer

We are thankful to Mother Earth for the bounty before us,

We are thankful to our Father who shines above us,

We ask for blessings be bestowed upon our friends and family seated here today

And to those that are not with us but are in spirit

We share this meal in love and respect.

So, it is, so shall be

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An Excerpt From “The Modern Witch’s Curriculum”: Daytime Magick

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As the sun began to touch the tip of the mountains the drumming began again, the cries of the sacred drummers seemed to echo around us. I could feel the energy of the day to come pounding through my body. The fire that sent our prayers the night before was still raging in anticipation of the ceremony ahead. At this point I have not slept since we started, but the primal forces running in our camp kept me going. All through the night we prayed, we sang, calling on the spirits of the land. I watched as the poles were chosen, preyed upon, cut, preyed upon again and then placed in the ground. The smoke of burning sage never died away unless it was replaced with the sweet smell of mother earth’s hair. Although, I was not going to have the privilege of being a part in the ceremony or would even be able allowed to watch it as it unfolds. I did get a chance to see the dancers partake in some of their own private preparations. As much as I understood why I could not attend one of the most sacred ceremonies of my tribe, I still felt some disappointment. I held on to the satisfaction in knowing that the knowledge I had received from my elders about the Sundance was unlike any other that I would find anywhere else or by anyone.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to witness many different sun-based ceremonies and rituals, in part or in participation, all have been “spirit” opening and spirit learning. There is something completely different in the energy, the flow, and the meaning when working with the sun. My first ever experience, outside of a Wheel of the Year celebration, was when I was a “little Witch” and attended a Wiccaning that was being held just after the Summer Solstice. It was here that everything I had been taught seemed to be put into question for the first time. This Wiccaning was very different than I had learned about. The focus was on a god and not a goddess and utilized the sun and not the earth. This was the first time I had ever heard about “drawing down the sun” being done in a ritual or even at all. This was one of the first times during my initial training that my “why” brain screamed “whoa! Hold on just a moment?” After learning so much about the Goddess being first in everything, I now saw that there was room for the God to move forward and be the center of attention. It was not until years later that I experienced first-hand and participated in a “drawing down the sun” rite at a Beltaine celebration in New York City. Being part of this circle and learning the structure of the ritual was life changing. We can learn so much from another’s traditions and from experiencing things outside of our own.

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In “The Modern Witch’s Curriculum”, this chapter explores the magick of the Sun and how to work with its energies. Each week deals with a time of day and each day explores a different aspect of Witchcraft in a traditional curriculum style. Whereas each day has activities to foster spiritual growth.

Examples of Daily Activities Found in “The Modern Witch’s curriculum”

Sunday
Make a list of what the sun means to you spiritually and how you feel at sunrise. The sun can mean a lot to different people, memories of summer on a beach, fishing on a lake as a child or the evening sun glistening on a snow-covered tree. The times and memories we associate with the sun excite and vitalize us. Even during the dark days of winter or after a long rainy week we crave the warm rays of the sun, this not just a physical craving, but a spiritual one as well. The sun plays a major role in spirit and our spirituality. Depending on tradition, it can mean more for an individual Witch. Today, write out a list of your own personal and your traditions meaning of the sun. Just as with the moon we can also be affected by the phases of the sun, this week we will track these feelings to access our magickal time of day.
Friday
Study and learn the herbs, oils, and crystals associated with the sun. Create an incense for working with the sun. Planetary correspondences and their magickal properties can be an overwhelming and difficult practice. There are thousands of plants and natural items that are associated with the sun as a planet, as gods, or as a type of energy. Figuring out which is which can discourage any Witch. Some herbs have a connection to the sun because of its color, growth cycle, and so many other factors. To narrow your studies down I recommend looking into the teachings of your tradition or cultural beliefs and practices.

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“Take me! I am of great power”, The Illusive Hag Stone

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In my twenty plus years of being a Witch I have never found a hag stone. However, my roommate who is also a practicing Witch has found more than she can count. What makes these stones show up more for one person and not another? To find out I started looking more into what they are and their history.

A Hag Stone is a stone with a natural hole through it and are believed to be magickal. These stones are believed to ward against spirits, bad luck, “Witchcraft”, sickness, and nightmares. They are also known to be windows or doorways to see “otherworlds”, such as the fairy realm. These magickal stones have as many names as they do powers and seem to have originated by their folk-lore and use in a particular region. Sometimes referred to as hex stones, serpent’s eggs, snake’s eggs, and Druids’ glass. However, the more common names other than hag stones are Witch stones, (holy) holey stones, and adder stones.

Two origin stories of adder stones say that the stones are the hardened saliva of many serpents together in one area and the hole is caused by their tongues. The second claims that an adder stone is made by the sting of an adder. Some sources say that these stories hail from the Druids of Ancient Wales and Britain, while others say they are European. As these are just folk stories and superstitions, I then turned to their numerous uses in cultures and traditions.

It seems that in certain parts of Europe, this stone kept the “hag” spirit away in order to prevent her from stealing horses and children. While in others It was also used as a talisman to dispel the evil eye and many people still hang this stone in bedrooms. In the UK, both fishermen and farmers also adopted this holey stone as protective charm against unwanted forces and storms and still use it today.

Peculiarly, out of all the information I found, I saw no mention of the Blackfoot custom of the “Buffalo Stone”. Although, these stones do not usually have a hole, some of the “magickal” ideals behind them are the same. Now of these stones, I have many, some have been in my family for years, but none have a hole or resemble the traditional hag stone.

The Buffalo Stone, or Iniskim, is a sacred medicine stone, typically a fossil of some sort, that can be in the shape of an animal, mainly that of a buffalo. Although, they can be any stone that seems to be out-of-place of its surroundings or contain natural anomalies, such as a hole. Similar to some of the hag stone’s uses, Iniskim medicine helps have a successful life and grants luck and prosperity to its owner. However, the origin behind them is of a completely different nature.

A summarized popular version of this legend is that long ago, the buffalo suddenly disappeared and the people began to starve. Among them was a woman, who one day while gathering wood for the fire, she thought she heard someone singing a song. The song seemed quite close, but when she looked around, she saw no one. Following the sound and looking closely, she found a small rock that was singing, “Take me! I am of great power. Take me! I am of great power.” When the woman picked up the rock, it told her what to do and taught her a special song. She told her husband her experience and then said, “Call all the men together and ask them to sing this song that will call the buffalo back. Ever since then, the people took good care of a buffalo stone and prayed to it, for they knew that it had much power.

Whether you call them hag stones, adder stones or buffalo stones, they all hold a story behind the magick of what they can do or how they are found. I may not have ever found a traditional holey stone of my own, but I have found the magick in knowing that these illusive stones find you, rather than you finding them.

 

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I “totem” so! – Respecting “Living Cultures”

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Cultural appropriation has been a phrase that has been showing up in many areas of social media,‭ ‬especially within the Pagan and indigenous communities.‭ ‬Just recently I was witness to an interesting conversation in a Facebook group that sparked the idea of this blog entry and thought I would write about it.‭ ‬I want to express that this post is based on my opinions on the information I have found viable on the topic and by no means constitutes,‭ ‬as factual study or anthropological theory.‭ Continue reading