Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Category: Witchcraft

St. Germain of Auxerre (Part 2)

In my previous installment, I noted that the life of Saint Germain of Auxerre seemed to recall an The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, published in 1275:
episode, or at least a theme, that had a loose connection with the tradition of the Feast of the Parcae, or Mothers’ Night. In this installment, I’d like to examine a similar connection with another Germanic pagan theme. Here is the relevant passage, again from

He [Germain] preached on a time in Britain so much, that the king denied him lodging, and his people. Then it happed that the king’s cowherd went with his portion that he fetched at the palace, and bare it to his little house. And he saw the blessed Germain and his men seek their lodging where they might be harboured that night. And the cowherd brought them into his house, and saw that they had much hunger. But he had not meat enough for him and for his guests. This cowherd had but one calf, which he did do slay for to give to them, and he received them debonairly with the little good that he had. And when they had supped and had said graces, S. Germain bade him bring to him the bones of the calf and to lay them upon the skin. And after made his prayer to God, and anon the calf arose to life without tarrying. 

Naturally, this recalls the legend of the laming of Thor’s goats, which was recorded by Snorri Sturluson in the Edda, around 1220:

Öku-Thor drove forth with his he-goats and chariot, and with him that Ás called Loki; they came at evening to a husbandman’s, and there received a night’s lodging. About evening, Thor took his he-goats and slaughtered them both; after that they were flayed and borne to the caldron. When the cooking was done, then Thor and his companion sat down to supper. Thor invited to meat with him the husbandman and his wife, and their children: the husbandman’s son was called Thjálfi, and the daughter Röskva. Then Thor laid the goat-hides farther away from the fire, and said that the husbandman and his servants should cast the bones on the goat-hides. Thjálfi, the husbandman’s son, was holding a thigh-bone of the goat, and split it with his knife and broke it for the marrow. “Thor tarried there overnight; and in the interval before day he rose up and clothed himself, took the hammer Mjöllnir, swung it up, and hallowed the goat-hides; straightway the he-goats rose up, and then one of them was lame in a hind leg. 

It’s worth pointing out that the laming of Thor’s goats is alluded to in the Eddaic poem Hymiskviða, so it’s not just an invention of Snorri:

38. Not long had they fared | ere one there lay

Of Hlorrithi’s goats | half-dead on the ground;

In his leg the pole-horse | there was lame;

The deed the evil | Loki had done.

The pattern is, of course, exactly the same. The animal is cooked and eaten, the bones gathered up on the skin, and the animal is resurrected. I’ve previously linked the story of the laming of Thor’s goats with the Krampus legend, and the Feast of St. Nicholas. However, the theme of the resurrected animals, bones, and skins is much more widespread than I had originally realized. We see it mentioned over and over in western Alpine witch trial records, for instance, and the legends of the benandanti, which I mentioned in the previous article. Interestingly, the witchcraft trial evidence mentions that the animals so resurrected are no longer able to work as well, or provide as much milk, as they did before they were resurrected. This connects them more closely with the laming of the goats, while the fact that the saint was explicitly said to raise his animal and have it be as capable of work as before, might be a deliberate counterpoint to then-current ideas about the resurrection of the bones (along the lines of “the pagans do it and lame the animals, but when a Christian does it, they’re fine”).

In terms of St. Germain, it should be remembered that just because the individual died in 450 CE, is no guarantee that the legend of the resurrection of the bones can be dated to that time. I can find nothing in earlier sources that mentions the legend in connection with him, so it’s entirely possible that the connection was an invention of Jacobus de Voragine, or a later source that he used.

That said, we can firmly establish that the resurrection of the bones was a theme current throughout the Germanic parts of Europe in the 13th century. We see it both in Iceland and in the Alps, and, as we shall see in another article, it was much more widespread than that.

We are left with three possibilities regarding the resurrection of the bones:

  1. It is a genuine pre-Christian pagan tradition that was encapsulated in the Old Norse sources and survived in more Christianized regions in a debased and distorted form
  2. It is a post-Heathen invention that was added to the Old Norse literature concerning Thor and his goats
  3. It is a theme that was developed independently in parallel in both Christian and pre-Christian societies
I think it’s fair to discount the third option without some glaring new evidence to support it, given the specificity of the details. That leaves the first two options, and a much more comprehensive examination of the sources, and particularly the timing of the sources, is needed, to be able to track the spread of the idea of the resurrection of the bones.

St. Germain of Auxerre (part 1)

St. Germain of Auxerre. Doesn’t he just
look like a self-righteous prig?

There are some interesting passages in the Life of St. Germain of Auxerre (c. 378 – c. 448), also known as Germanus. Note that the name denotes someone connected with the Germanic tribes, and he lived in Gaul during a time of great Frankish invasion and influence, and he died just before the creation of the first Merovingian dynasty.

The following passages come from The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, published in 1275.

The first deals with a custom that we have seen before, in connection with the pre-Christian Yule-season holiday, the Feast of the Parcae, also known as Mothers Night:

On a time he was harboured in a place where every night the table was made ready for to eat after supper, when men had supped, and he was much amarvelled thereof, and demanded of the host of the house wherefore they made ready for to eat after supper. And the host said to him, that it was for his neighbours, which would come and drink one after the other. And that night S. Germain established him to wake for to see what it was. It was not long after that there came thither a great multitude of devils, and came to the table in guise of men and women. And when the holy man saw them, he commanded them that they should not go away, and after he sent for to wake the neighbours on all sides, in such wise that every body was found in his bed, and in their houses, and made the people to come and see if they knew any of them, but they said nay. And then he showed them that they were devils, whereof the people were much abashed because the devils had mocked them so. And then S. Germain conjured that they never after returned thither ne came more there.

Now, nothing in this account from St. Germain mentions Yule or Mother’s Night, but it does map excellently with later accounts that showed up in early witch trials in southwest Germany and eastern Switzerland, described in detail in Carlo Ginzburg’s Night Battles and Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath.

Burchard of Worms, writing nearly 600 years after the death of Germain, describes something very similar, if lacking in detail:

Hast thou done as some women are wont to do at certain times of the year? That is, hast thou prepared the table in thy house and set on the table thy food and drink, with three knives, that if those three sisters whom past generations and old-time foolishness called the Fates [“parcae”] should come they may take refreshment there… those whom thou callest “the sisters” can do or avail aught for thee either now or in the future? (Corrector, 153)

Still another 400 years or so later, Ginzburg describes a very similar ritual among the benandanti (who might be considered “good witches”), who fought the evil witches who were inclined to go into the wine cellars and first drink themselves to satiation, and then piss or shat into the casks to foul the wine. The benandanti simply drank the wine.

As such, we see a progression, but always involving the habit of some persons with supernatural connections entering a home after the inhabitants had gone to sleep, and who eat and/or drink the provisions available, and who can do good or ill.

One interesting further connection is in the timing. Although the story of St. Germain doesn’t mention anything about when he saw his supposed “great multitude of devils”, Ginzberg’s sources are very specific, and often name “the ember days” as times when they when they would perform their rites.

The Parcae, or Fates

The ember days are an interesting phenomenon worthy of a digression. First introduced as early as  220 CE by Pope Callixtus I*, it was adopted in fits and starts across the West, first in Britain, then Gaul, then Spain, then Italy. They take place three (four, later on) times a year; Advent (December), Lent (March/April), Pentecost (May/June), and September, thus approximating the solstices and equinoxes.

So it is entirely possible that the ceremony that St. Germain describes happened before Yule. Even though the account is silent on the time of year, it would agree with both the Corrector and the later witch trial evidence from the western Alpine area, which describe a similar phenomenon. .

So I present this as yet another piece in the puzzle, which can go one of two ways. Either we’re seeing a mythology-based celebration of the coming of the Norns/Fates/Parcae that was gradually transformed into a sort of virtual visiting tradition, or we’re seeing an actual visiting tradition that was slowly mythologized and turned into a virtual “astral” gathering once it was outlawed by the coming of Christianity.

The slight shifting of the dates is easily explained, as the Church deliberately attempted to appropriate already-extant Heathen holidays. It’s only natural that the peasantry, who were accustomed to making their celebrations on or near the solstices and equinoxes, would simply shift the date to conform to the new authorities, without making substantive changes to the event itself. Over the course of centuries, these customs became distorted, and became but a pale shadow of their former, robust Heathen origins.

__________

* Why don’t modern popes take cool names like that???

Paganism’s Pedophilia Problem

Kenny Klein, the diddlin’ fiddler of
N’awlins

The neopagan “community” is overly fond of complaining that Asatru has a “racism problem.” But as recent events in the news have made starkly clear, they’re the ones who have a problem, and that problem is a thousand times worse than the (largely unfounded) complaint they make about us.

If I may be permitted to employ a Biblical quote:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

The ugly stain of pedophilia is the beam in the eye of the neopagan community, and for years they have not only studiously ignored it, but they have actively tried to cover it up and apologize and protect the perpetrators in their midst.

Hey, sound like anyone we know?

While at the same time they’ve tried to tell us in the Asatru community that we need to “do something” about what they so condescendingly told us was “the problem within Asatru.”

Well, the conviction of Kenny Klein yesterday on twenty counts of possessing child pornography might, just might, get them to start looking at that beam in their own eye.

Hel, even when they try to do something about this problem, they can’t help themselves from reflexively circling the wagons and protecting their own.

But it’s not just child pornography in Klein’s case, of course. There have been stories for years of his predation of young girls at pagan events and renfaires, and I understand that apparently it was common knowledge in those communities that “you don’t leave your daughter around Kenny.”

But lest you think this is one isolated case, I invite you to think again.

James Irvin of West Virginia was convicted in 2014 of abusing three children, claiming his magical powers could bring back their dead father if they complied. And what did the “pagan community” do? They claimed he wasn’t a “real Wiccan” (shades of “he’s not a True Christian”) and conveniently offered to help clarify any misconceptions about their community in the media.

Sounds like something CAIR would say after an Islamic terrorist attack, honestly.

And don’t forget Gavin and Yvonne Frost. Their seminal book, The Good Witch’s Bible, included in its first printing a ritual in which young initiates were “deflowered” “in the pleasant surroundings of the coven” during a ritual which was provided in the book.

The reference was removed from subsequent printings, but rumors have swirled around the Frosts for years about their putting those recommendations into practice.

And what did the Wild Hunt do when it all came to a head, and the Frosts were banned from the Florida Pagan Gathering? Nary a word of condemnation. Just carefully studied non-statements often framed as rhetorical questions. So at best the Wild Hunt is neutral on the subject of these two luminaries who endorse children being sexually initiated at rituals (although Jason was careful to repudiate the practice itself, much like the Catholic Church’s tut-tutting about child abuse itself being evil, while at the same time refusing to do anything about the abusers themselves).

And the examples go on, and on, and on, and on. Google “Wicca child abuse” and related phrases if you have a strong stomach. Hel, Pagan author Marion Zimmer Bradley’s own son accused her of abuse, and the whole thing was famously covered up for years in the fandom and neopagan circuit.

This isn’t to say that nobody in the neopagan and Wiccan community hasn’t spoken out. They have. I even linked to some of them above in this article. But the community as a whole seems willing to bury the issue, and want it to go away, in fear of bad publicity, or because they know the person and “he’s just being him” and excuse after excuse.

Well you know what? If you can’t bring your own community to categorically condemn child sexual abuse within its ranks, and insist that predators be exposed and shunned and turned over to police with a policy of zero tolerance, and stop making excuses and protecting child abusers who are popular for other things, or who are your friends, then you as a whole really need to shut the fuck up with the complaints about complaints you have about other faiths and other communities.

Fix your own house before you go around complaining about the state of someone else’s.

‘Witches’ link to Cornwall sex abuse cases

The BBC has a story that could, if the allegations turn out to be true, have implications to the Pagan and Witchcraft communities that go beyond the crimes themselves:

Some of the alleged victims say they were abused as part of pagan ceremonies by men purporting to be white witches, Truro Crown Court was told.

Jack Kemp, 69, of Grenville Road, Falmouth, denies 15 charges of sexual assaults on girls five to 14 years old.

Peter Petrauske, 72, formerly of Falmouth, denies two charges of indecent assault and one of rape.

Nordic Witchcraft in Transition

Today Medievalists.net calls our attention to a paper by Stephen A. Mitchell (author of the excellent Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages, which I’ve read and consider to be a wonderful treatment of the subject) from Scandia in 1997 entitled Nordic Witchcraft in Transition: Impotence, Hersery and Diabolism in 14th-century Bergen.

I’ve been fascinated with medieval witchcraft accounts for many years, now, and have found within them a wealth of information that can be applied to modern Heathen practices in the form of folk-beliefs. Such accounts, when sifted to separate the Classical influences and new folkloric constructions from the native northern European material, can be most useful in adding depth to our practices.

The article deals specifically with accounts of witchcraft from the mid-14th century, drawing parallels and comparisons with saga material and other written sources from much earlier. I found it quite interesting, and wholeheartedly recommend my fellow Heathens give it a quick read.

UK Announces Religious Child Abuse Action Plan

The United Kingdom recently announced an effort to combat religiously-based child abuse. While the plan is mostly couched in neutral language, it’s being implemented in response to various high-profile cases of children and others being tortured and/or killed in the course of “exorcisms”. One of the “key messages” in the program states:

The number of cases of child abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, possession and witchcraft is believed to be small, but where it occurs it causes much distress and suffering to the child. It is likely that a proportion of this type of abuse remains unreported.

The Wild Hunt blog has a lot of information on the whole subject. Particularly this, though.

There’s a lot going on here. None of it good.

Much of the problem (and it is a horrific, abhorrent, problem) is that Pentecostal church members in Africa are bringing their beliefs about witchcraft with them when they emigrate. Back in their homeland, one of the very successful strategies they’ve employed to further their own evangelistic endeavors is to use the indigenous animistic belief as a Satanic enemy. By having such an external enemy, they’re able to create an atmosphere of fear very conducive to their own growth.

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear. Freedom of religion does not, ever, under any circumstances, justify the abuse, torture (physical or emotional), or discrimination against anyone, especially children. Period.

I don’t think we’re seeing native British Pentecostals engaging in this. I don’t even think that they’re encouraging it; it seems to be something the immigrants are bringing with them.

That said, it goes without saying that this sort of thing must be squashed, instantly and forcefully, so that no one even THINKS of acting on these sorts of beliefs. Eradicating it in the homeland is the best, most long-term solution, but the shoots of this belief must be destroyed wherever they sprout.

One wonders why they don’t apply these same beliefs to British witches who are proud of the title and are able to use it legally and openly. Do they make a distinction between the native witches and the British version? Do they fear to do so because discovery would be easier (and more catastrophic in terms of publicity)? I have no idea, but it would be interesting to learn the answer.

In the meantime, those responsible should be punished in the most degrading and public way imaginable, and then shipped back to their home country ignominiously. 

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