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Welcome to The Mad Logophile. Here we explore words; their origins, evolution, usage. Words are alive. They are born, they evolve and, sometimes, they die. They are our principal tool for communicating with one another. There are millions of words yet only an estimated 171,476 words are in common current use. As a logophile, I enjoy discovering new words, using them and learning about their origins. Please join me and other word lovers as we delve into the wonderful world of words.

First of all, my apologies for being a no-show last week. My Mother died very suddenly on Monday morning, Nov. 2nd. I had to fly down to Las Vegas to be with family. I had no web access at all for the entire week, hence my absence.

I had hoped to be done with this topic by now (maybe there's a reason it's been dragged out....?) and this will be the final installment. I promise. But I have decided to go to a bi-weekly schedule starting with this week. It's become too difficult for me to get a good diary researched, written and "illustrated" in one week's time. I hope you all understand. I want to continue to give this series all of my attention and to do that, I need to spread it out. Thanks for your understanding.

Now, on to the good stuff. This week, we will examine words from a NeoPagan religion and a few others that I find very interesting.

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The widest known Neo-Pagan religion today is Wicca. Wicca comes from the Anglo word wicce, meaning to bend. Though it has its roots in the old religions of Europe, the modern version of Wicca was developed by Gerald Gardner, an English anthropologist. With some help from Doreen Valiente and others, Gardner developed the Gardnerian Tradition. As do all religions, Wicca had its splinter groups. The Alexandrian Tradition was the first to grow from the template Gardner created. Others followed; Seax-Wicca, Celtic Wicca, Dianic Wicca... Since Wicca has no official sacred writings and no central ruling body, there are literally hundreds of different Traditions today. The thing to keep in mind as you read on is that no one description can fit every Wiccan. It is a highly personalized religion.

Wicca is a pantheistic faith; it recognizes many gods. However, the major deities are the Goddess and the God. Worship of these figures varies widely among Wiccans. Some may use preferred names from Egyptian, Greek or Celtic tradition. Some simply use the titles, Lady and Lord. These two major deities encompass the several different aspects. The Lady is seen as the Earth Mother as well as the Moon Goddess. The Lord is a Sun God as well as the God of Animals and the embodiment of  the crops as the Harvest King. The Moon Goddess is further divided into personifications of the moon's phases; Maiden (waxing), Mother (full) and Crone (waning/dark).

Though there is no specific sacred writings, each Witch keeps a book of their own called a Book of Shadows. This contains personal information, formulas, spells, rituals and other writings. Each group also keeps a BoS with writings of the group. This may include Ordains, a list of rules. Some groups, however, reject such rigidity. There are two teachings that most Wiccan groups do adhere to. These are the Rede and the Law of Three-fold Return. The Rede (an old English word meaning advice) is analogous to The Golden Rule; An' it harm none, do what ye will. The Law refers to that which is sent out (in any form), coming back upon the sender three times over. This is a pretty good incentive to watch what you say, think and do. It is also a good reason not to perform harmful magick. In Wicca, the word magick is spelled with a "k" so as to differentiate between it and stage magic or prestidigitation. Magick is the practice of causing change through the use of powers as yet undefined or accepted by science. Like any power, it is neutral until it is used.

Practitioners of Wicca are usually called Witches. This includes the men; warlock is an old Anglo-Saxon word for an oath-breaker and male Wiccans do not claim it. Some Traditions have a hierarchy, while some do not. In those that do, the High Priestess (HPS) is at the head of the priesthood. She is seen as the representative of the Goddess on earth. The High Priest (HP) is the God's representative and slightly below the HPS in the hierarchy. The Maiden is the aide to the HPS and is usually a Priestess-in-training. The HP's aide is known as the Warder or Steward . Most groups are known as covens but the terms grove and temple are also used. In more formal Traditions, there may be a Degree system. Usually, this consists of three degrees; First Degree or Novice, Second Degree (sometimes called Student) and Third Degree or Priest/ess.

The ritual items and tools of Wicca will, as most things in this religion do, depend upon the practitioner. Some Witches like to use flashy or ornate items while some prefer plain things. Since the main purpose of these tools is to set the mind from the mundane into the magickal, whatever does that for the user is accepted. On an altar you might see an athame (knife), censor (incense burner), wand, platern (plate), chalice, candles and symbols of the Lady and Lord. The latter might include shells, flowers, horns, stalks of grain and/or statues. The athame, it should be noted, is for symbolic use and is never used to spill blood. Some groups have a cauldron, which represents the womb of the Goddess. Rites are held in a Circle, an area that is delineated by an imaginary line traced by the athame or wand.
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The symbol of Wicca is the pentacle or pentagram, the difference being that the pentagram is the five-pointed star enclosed in a circle. The five points represent the elements of air, fire, water, earth and spirit.

The Wiccan calendar is both lunar and solar. The lunar rites are performed every month and are know as the Esbat. This can be held at any phase of the moon, depending on the group and are associated with the Lady. The solar year revolves around the God and his roles as a solar and harvest deity. The Wheel of the Year consists of the Sabbats or Cross-quater holidays. Sabbats usually begin at sunset the eve before. The Wheel begins at Samhain (meaning summer's end) on November 1, the Celtic New Year, last harvest and first day of Winter. Yule (old Norse for wheel) falls on the Winter Solstice. The rebirth of the Sun/God is celebrated on this day. Imbolc (Gaelic for in the belly) or Oimealg on February 1, is the first day of Spring. The name refers to the immanent birth of young livestock animals. The Spring Equinox is Ostara (also Lady Day or Alban Eiler). On Beltane (also known as Roodmas or May Day), May 1, the first day of summer is celebrated. Summer Solstice is Litha (Gaelic for in the stones) or Alban Heruin. Lughnassad or Lammas falls on August 1 and is the beginning of the harvest season and first day of autumn. The name refers to the Celtic god Lugh, who is a personification of the grain. The Autumn Equinox is known as Mabon and marks the Second harvest. Then, the year ends at Samhain.

Wiccan life cycle rites are similar to those of other religions but some of the traditions date back much further. A child is welcomed into the community with a Wiccaning, which is much like a Christening. When young adulthood is reached, that is acknowledged depending very much upon the Tradition and the group. A Handfasting is the marriage rite. The tradition of tying the couple's hand together is extremely old and is where we get the term "tying the knot." The ritual may also include the jumping of a broom, again, a very old custom. Often, old age is recognized with a Croning or Saturning. This is a relatively new custom that honors the Elders of the community. Funeral customs vary widely. Some Traditions see this as the elevation into the highest Degree, the initiation into it being the attainment of the secret of the Ultimate Mystery.

Some other words to know..

Amulet: A protective object. It may be worn, carried or placed in a appropriate place.
Bane: Something poisonous or dangerous. Usually in reference to an herb, as in henbane.
Chaplet: A garland of flowers or leaves worn on the head.
Curse: A concentration of negative and/or destructive energy deliberately aimed at a person or thing.
Divination: The art of seeing the future through means other than the five senses; includes Tarot cards, crystal gazing among other methods.
Enchant: Literally, to sing to. A magickal procedure used to align an object with the need or desire.
Hex: An evil spell or curse. Hexes and curses are considered anathema to true Wicca.
Poppet: A small doll made to represent a person. Used in healing magic.
Power Hand: The dominant hand, the one you write with. Considered to be the "sending" hand in magick.
Scry: To gaze into a crystal, bowl of water, fire, clouds, etc. to see visions, signs and omens.
Spell: "Prayer with Props" A magickal rite.
Talisman: A object worn or carried to attract a specific influence such as love, money, luck, etc. As opposed to an amulet which repels influences.
Witchcraft: The practice of natural magick. Often used interchangeably with Wicca.
Wort: An old term for an herb. As in mugwort

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Voudoun is commonly known as Voodoo by the general public. The word vodoun derives from vodu, meaning spirit or deity in the Fon language of Dahomey. Its roots go back to Africa: slaves brought their religion with them when they were forcibly shipped to Haiti and other islands in the West Indies. The slaves were baptized into the Roman Catholic Church upon their arrival but there was little Christian infrastructure present during the early 19th century. The result was that they overlaid the new religion on their tribal ones. The resulting syncretic religion became Voudoun.

The deities of Voudoun are known as loa. The Loa which originated from Dahomey are called Rada; those who were added later (often deceased leaders in the new world) are called Petro. These Loa resemble Christian Saints, in that they were once people who led exceptional lives, and are usually given a single responsibility or special attribute. Each person has a met tet (master of the head) which is analogous to a Christian patron saint.  

Followers of Voudoun believe that each person has a soul which is composed of two parts; a gros bon ange (big guardian angel), and a ti bon ange (little guardian angel). The ti bon ange leaves the body during sleep and when the person is possessed by a Loa during a ritual.

A Vodoun temple is called a hounfour (aka humfort). At its center is a poteau-mitan, a pole where God and the spirits communicate with their followers. An altar is decorated with candles, pictures and/or statues of Christian saints, and other articles related to the Loa. Vodoun priests can be male (houngan) or female (mambo). Caplatas (aka bokors) are the Dark priests of Voudoun. They perform acts of evil sorcery or black magic, including the creation of zombies.

A Voudoun ritual consists of the creation of a veve, a symbol of the Loa who will be entreated during the ritual. This is drawn on the ground in flour or cornmeal. Then comes a call to the Grand Père Eternel (Great Eternal Father), usually followed by the the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary. Chanting, drumming and dancing ensues until one of the participants (hounsis) becomes possessed by a Loa. The possessed dancer is said to be a horse being ridden by the Loa and will behave as the Loa and is treated with respect and ceremony by the others present. Animal sacrifice is practiced and the animal is cooked and eaten, thus satisfying the hunger of the Loa.

Among the deities of Voudoun are:

Agwe: spirit of the sea title=
Aida Wedo: rainbow spirit
Baron Samedi: guardian of the grave
Dambala (or Damballah-wedo): serpent spirit
Erinle: spirit of the forests
Ezili (or Erzulie): female spirit of love (whose veve is shown at left)
Mawu Lisa: spirit of creation
Ogou Balanjo: spirit of healing
Ogun (or Ogu Bodagris): spirit of war
Osun: spirit of healing streams
Sango (or Shango): spirit of storms
Yemanja: female spirit of waters
Zaka (or Oko): spirit of agriculture

Other syncretic religions related to Vodoun include Macumba, Candomble, Umbanda and Santeria.

Other terms to know...

Asson: A sacred ceremonial rattle owned by the Houngans and Mambos. It represents the Chief Loa, Damballah.
Gris-Gris: (grey-grey) A voodoo charm, spell or hex used to cause certain events to occur, for protection from evil or to ensure good luck.
Hoodoo: A type of American folk magick, which is drawn from Voodoo practices, Appalachian folk magic, and similar traditions.
Juju: A charm believed to embody magical powers.
Lambi: A conch shell. Used as a musical horn in ceremonies dedicated to Agwe.
Legba: Solar and phallic deity (aka Alegba) of Dahomey. He is the Guardian of the Centerpost and the Opener of the Gates to whom first salutation is due in any ceremony of communication with the Loa.
Mange Loa: The feeding of a Loa.
Mange sec: (dry feeding) An offering of various foods without animal sacrifice to the Loa, usually during a minor ceremony.
Peristyle: An open sided temple with several entrances, used for most public ceremonies.
Ve: What a so-called voodoo doll is actually called.
Von: The Earth from which we come.
Vudu: (to draw water) Ewe (eh-veh) word which denotes the entire process of the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth, and all that this encompasses in the life of an initiate.
Yanvalou: A favorite Voudoun dance; the name means supplication.

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When speaking about Native American Spirituality, it is impossible to try to fit all the traditions into one succinct overview. There are many, many different ones and most are passed down orally. Today, many Southwest traditions are represented in the Native American Church.

The major deities in the NA Tradition are the Great Spirit and the Earth Mother. Depending upon the tribe, there may be others such as White Buffalo Woman, Grandmother Spider, Wendego and Coyote. Many more are detailed here. All the gods and spirits may be viewed as one creative force, known as Wakan-Tanka by the Lakota and Dakota.

Although the term Shaman has its origins in Siberia, it is often used by anthropologists throughout the world to refer to Aboriginal healers. They are sometimes referred to as Medicine Man, a term that came from the Europeans. Each tribe has its own shaman and its own traditions surrounding him or her. However, Shamanism is not interchangeable with Native American Spirituality, it is merely a word and concept that is part of that Tradition.

The rituals have been enacted for perhaps thousands of years. The Sweat Lodge is practiced from the East to the Southwest and is known as the inipi or Temazcal. The Sacred Pipe ceremony originated with the Sioux and spread amongst the tribes. It was said to be brought by White Buffalo Woman. Smudging, waving a smoldering handful of herbs around a person, is a ritual cleansing gesture; a practice said to have arisen only in the past hundred years. The Plains Indians have a ceremony known as the Sun Dance. Generally held in late spring or early summer, the rite celebrates renewal and the regeneration of the living earth. The Ghost Dance originated with a Paiute mystic and became a messianic movement among the tribes. Believers were encouraged to engage in frequent ceremonial cleansing, meditation, prayer, chanting, and most importantly, dancing the Ghost Dance (more here). Young boys at puberty are encouraged to undergo a Vision Quest, a rite of passage or initiation practice to clearly delineate a young person’s transition from childhood to adulthood. The kiva is an underground chamber found among Southwest tribes, used for ceremonial, religious and celebratory purposes.

The symbols of the Native traditions are varied. Animalsare commonly adopted as symbols of clans; in the Northwest, these are  title=worked into totem poles. The Southwest tribes have kachina, representing various natural forces; a revered ancestor, an element, a location, a quality, a natural phenomenon, or a concept. Petroglyphs are found everywhere and can tell stories, give directions or instruct. The Medicine Wheel is a manifestation of the spiritual world. This term was first applied to the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, the most southern and one of the largest in existence. It consists of a center cairn of stones, surrounded by an outer ring of stones, then spokes, or lines of rocks, coming out the cairn.

There is much more to read about Native American Spirituality. Thisis a good place to start.

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Zoroastrianism was founded by Zarathushtra in Persia (modern-day Iran) and may have been the world's first monotheistic faith. Religious historians believe the many Jewish, Christian and Muslim beliefs were derived from Zoroastrianism.

The Zorastrian holy book is called the Avesta. This includes the original words of their founder Zarathushtra, preserved in a series of five hymns, called the Gathas. Later writings included in the Avesta deal with laws of ritual and practice and the traditions of the faith. Zoroastrianism can be summed up in the credo, Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds.

Zoroastrianism believes in a single god, Ahura Mazda, who is supreme. Communication between the God and humans is via divine beings called Amesha Spentas or Bounteous Immortals. These Immortals are sometimes described as concepts, and are sometimes personified. There is also an evil spirit of violence and death, Angra Mainyu, who opposes Ahura Mazda. This results in conflict which involves the entire universe, including humanity who is required to choose which to follow.
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The priesthood is divided into the Nâvar (newly initiated) and the Martab. Only the latter can perform the ceremonies of the inner circle of the Fire-temple. A ratu is a righteous leader who guides people to peace, prosperity and happiness. The only major ritual mentioned in the Gathas is that a blazing fire was lighted within an enclosure. The worshipers stood around it and sang songs from the Gathas. Consequently, there are not many ritual traditions described save for a very few. Fravarti or Conviction is the declaration of one’s choice of religion. It is an initiation and consists of renouncing one's former religion and adopting the Good Religion.

Divine enlightenment, or Seraosha, consists of divine faculties which lead to the understanding. The foremost among these are spenta mainyu (progressive mentality), asha (righteousness), vohu manah (wisdom),  vohu khshathra (good rule), aramaiti (serenity), haurvatat (wholeness, perfection) and ameretat (immortality).

One of the world's most ancient organized religions, Zoroastrianism can be explored more fully here.

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Rastafarianism is a religious movement born out of the black slums of Jamaica. It is based on the teachings of the Jamaican born black nationalist, Marcus Garvey. Garvey's influence on the poor black slave descendants in Jamaica came to its peak in the 1920's when his message of encouragement and pride won many supporters. With the crowning of Ras Tafari Makonnen on November 2nd 1930 in Ethiopia, many believed Garvey's prediction of a black king crowned in Africa who would be a redeemer and liberator of the dispossessed black race had come to fruition. Makonnen took the title Emperor Haile Selassie I. Ethiopia holds great significance to Rastafaris who believe in a coming judgment day when the righteous will be called home.

Without a central organization, any one definitive text, official buildings or a recognizable leader, the religion is difficult to categorize. A wide variety of beliefs and practices come under the general umbrella of Rastafarianism, which often results from individual interpretations. However, there are some notable characteristics: condemnation of European colonialism and slavery; return to Africa to defeat oppression; divinity of Haile Selassie; pacifism; religious use of Ganja. Individuals follow a path to truth for themselves and reject the power of modern, oppressive white society (Babylon) which is seen to be rebelling against the Earth's Rightful Ruler called Jah. Jah is within everyone and all are connected to God. This is reflected in the often used phrase I and I when referring to oneself.
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One of the more obvious symbols of the Rastafarians are the dreadlocks , which are said to represent the Lion of Judah. Another major symbol are the colors red, gold and green; Red stands for the Rasta Church and the blood of the martyrs of Rasta, green represents the beauty and vegetation of Ethiopia and the gold symbolizes the wealth of the homeland that shall be regained. The true Rasta also only eats I-tal food. This is natural food which never touches chemicals and is not from cans. Marijuana or Ganja is commonly smoked during ritual and as medicine and is not officially advocated for recreational use. When it is used, the purpose is to aid in meditation and perhaps help the user achieve greater mystical insight into the nature of the universe. Rastafarians speak a vocabulary called Iyaric. It is part of an intentionally created dialect of English, with a modified vocabulary and dialect.

There are two types of Rastafarian ceremonies: A reasoning is a simple event where the Rastas gather, smoke ganja and discuss ethical, social and religious issues; a binghi is a holiday. The major binghi are...

January 7 - Ethiopian Christmas
February 6 - Bob Marley's birthday
April 21 - The anniversary of Emperor Haile Selassie I's visit to Jamaica. Also known as Grounation Day.
July 23 - The birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie I
August 17 - The birthday of Marcus Garvey
November 2 - The coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I

You can read more about Rastafarianism here.

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Perhaps more than any other aspect of our lives, our religion (or non-religion) affects how we view the world and others. That is why it is vitally important, especially in this day and age, to learn about the religions of other people. That doesn't mean we must approve of them, but we must learn about them. What we know nothing of, we fear and in our fear, we lash out. When it comes to religion, this behavior is unacceptable. There are so many things that our various faiths have in common. Our task is to find these things and try to tolerate the things that are different. In many ways, the very survival of mankind depends upon it.

Online, there are a few very good places to continue to learn about different religions. One of my favorites is Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. This is a very user-friendly website with over 5000 articles. Another great site is run by The Interfaith Alliance. This is a national organization dedicated to protecting faith and freedom. The The Interfaith Network is another great interfaith group with an informative website. This used to be called The Interfaith Council of Washington. I'm a bit biased towards it as I have several friends who have served on this council as representatives of Wicca.

I'll leave you with a bit of poetry by the Sufi mystic, Rumi. He is often called the Alchemist of Interfaith Tolerance...
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I am neither Christian, nor a Jew, nor a fire-worshipper, nor Muslim
I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the sea;
I am not of Nature’s mint, nor of the circling heavens.
I am not of India, nor of China, nor of Bulgaria, nor of Saqsin
I am not of Iraq, nor of Khurasan (old name of Afghanistan)
My place is the placeless and my trace is the traceless.

So Mote It Be. Amen.

Originally posted to The Way The Wind Blows on Sun Nov 15, 2009 at 05:05 PM PST.

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