Bet You Didn’t Know Groundhog Day is Pagan

ground hog day

February 2 is Groundhog day. Here in the United States, it doesn’t seem particularly spiritual, but the tradition actually has earth base spirituality roots. In ancient times, agricultural cultures had to pay attention to the natural cycles. The sun and moon told them when it was time to do things they needed to do to survive. Paying attention to the signs foretold how long it would be before the animals awoke from hibernation and when to begin planting.

The pagan Celt’s story about how to foretell the length of winter focuses on Cailleach, the Winter goddess who controls the weather. On Feb 2 she goes to gather firewood. If she wants winter to linger, the day will be bright and sunny so that she can stay out longer and get more wood. If it’s gray, winter will be shorter.

After the coming of Christianity, the story changed. There was only one true God, and so Cailleach went away. The need to foretell winter’s length was still there though. People changed the story so that the sun was still the deciding factor. Only the sun didn’t shine because Cailleach wanted more firewood for the long cold ahead anymore. A sunny day just meant a longer winter.

In Germany the story morphed into the hedgehog being the prognosticator. If the day was sunny, the hedgehog would see his shadow and winter would be longer. When Germans emigrated to Pennsylvania, they adopted the story to the local animals. The hedgehog became the groundhog. That’s how we got Groundhog Day and why it happens in Punxsutawney, PA.

In the mainstream culture, it’s not a day off or a day for celebration. But perhaps now that you know that Groundhog Day is pagan, and you know the story behind the story, you can look at it a bit differently.

Bee Lore and Spirituality

bee lore

About ten years ago, I stopped by the beekeepers area at the state fair. They didn’t tell me about bee lore. Instead they blew my mind with all the interesting stories about colony collapse disorder, the importance of bees to the planet, and most of all honey flavors. I decided then and there to become a beekeeper. I wanted to be a part of saving the honey bees. The next spring, I got my first two hives.

Colony Collapse Disorder

In 2006, lots of beekeepers reported bees abandoning their queen. That year, beekeepers lost 30 to 90% of their hives. This just doesn’t happen. The queen is everything. She is the future of the hive. Why would bees suddenly leave lots of honey, pollen, and brood with few workers to care for them? This means death! Pesticides, varroa mite infestation, and poor nutrition (due to monocrop cultivation) are blamed for the problem.

Bees as Pollinators

As honey bees gather pollen and nectar, they go from plant to plant. Some plants, like almonds, depend almost entirely on bees to stay alive and produce food. Blueberries and cherries are 90% dependent upon bees for pollination. Seventy out of the top one hundred food crops rely on bees for pollination. Honey bees produce about $20 billion in crop production annually. No bees, no food. So beekeeping is an incredibly important business or hobby.

Varietal Honeys

Farmers rent bees for the time that their plants are in bloom to ensure a good crop. When the bees collect pollen from only one type of plant, their honey picks up the colors and flavors of that plant. This is how we get thyme, blueberry, orange, clover, buckwheat, locust, and tupelo honeys. These are natural flavors, not flavors that are added afterwards like mint. When the honey is produced naturally with whatever is growing within the two miles around the hive, it’s called wildflower honey. It’s a mix.

Bee Lore

If you’re not a beekeeper or honey enthusiast, you might not know those things. If you don’t have bees, you probably don’t know that there is all sorts of spiritual lore associated with them too. See? Life’s holistic! It’s not just practical, but spiritual too. Here is some of the bee lore from around the world.

  • Bees are messengers of the Otherworld. They can travel back and forth, bringing messages from the gods and the dead.
  • If a bee flies into your house, it’s good luck.
  • If a bee lands on a baby’s mouth, he will be  great speaker or storyteller.
  • Scottish Highlanders believed that the soul left the body when sleeping in the form of a bee.
  • Bees are family members. They need to be informed of special events like births, weddings, and deaths. This is especially true if it is the beekeeper’s death. To fail to do so invites bad luck. The bees carry these messages to the Otherworld.
  • Bees don’t like harsh words. Never quarrel in front of a beehive. When tending the hive, use low, soothing tones.
  • If bees rest on your roof, good luck is coming. The 180,000 bees who lived in the roof of Notre Dame slept during the recent fire and survived!
  • Never sell a hive. You can barter or give it away. It’s bad luck to sell them. They don’t like this.
  • Many cultures consider the bee holy by many because of its service. Worker bees spend their lives working for the survival of the hive.
  • Bees are symbols of wisdom, discernment, service, creative imagination, desire, fine character, and royalty.
  • Ancient Egyptians believed bees came from the tears of the sun god, Ra.
  • Bees reflect reciprocity. They sting to defend their queen and honey. They pay for this with their lives.
  • If a bee lands on your hand, money is coming.
  • Mead (made from honey) and honey are medicinal. People all over the world use honey for healing and have for centuries.
  • In ancient Egypt, people often left honey as a gift for the dead.
  • Ancient Mycenaens buried kings and queens in beehive shaped tombs.

Bees also reflect the Pan Society path of sovereignty, connection, and Oneness. There are three roles for bees: workers, drones, and queens. Each is true to itself. Drones fertilize queens. The queen lays eggs. Workers clean the hive, gather nectar and pollen, feed the queen, drones, and larvae, and make wax. In this way, they all contribute to the survival of the hive. Unlike humans who all want to be queens, they don’t try to be who they are not.

Workers are 75% related to each other, so perhaps this is why they are so dedicated to the collective. Whatever the reason, by being who they were born to be, they cement their connection and leave the path open to Oneness. It’s animism in motion! If you want to know how to be, just look at Nature. As within, so without.

Are you a beekeeper? What stories have you heard? What have you seen? Share so we can all learn together!

What Are Good Are Mosquitoes?

Photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels

Children are so perceptive! They say the smartest things. I was telling some children about how everything is sacred and needs to be respected. One of them raised his eyebrows and said, “What good are mosquitoes?” Awesome question!

I can see why people might not like them. They were attacking me just this morning on my walk by the water. They bite. Mosquitoes spread sickness and death through diseases like malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, chikungunya, yellow fever, filariasis, tularemia, dirofilariasis, Japanese encephalitis, Saint Louis encephalitis, Western equine encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, Ross River fever, and Barmah Forest fever. They can even make animals sick. So what good do they do?

Well, everything is part of the wheel of life. In the animist world, everything serves a purpose. Even the annoying mosquito.

What Good Are Mosquitoes?

In nature, everything feeds upon something. Mosquitoes lay lots of eggs that many aquatic animals and insects need to survive. Mosquitoes are also eaten by other animals like bats, fish, dragonflies, and birds. In fact, a single bat can eat 1,200 mosquito sized insects per hour!

Some mosquitoes eat dead insects that drown in the water and help to keep natural waters clean. Mosquito larvae feed on waste products and making nutrients, like nitrogen, available for plants that live in the water.

We know mosquitoes as blood sucking varmints, but only the females need blood to get protein necessary to lay eggs. Otherwise they eat nectar. Isn’t that a surprise? So they act as pollinators so that plants flourish – especially water plants where mosquitoes live. Without them, there would be less aquatic life.

Mosquito Spirit Animals?

Generally speaking, animals from the insect kingdom don’t serve as spirit animals. There are a few exceptions, but mosquitoes are typically not among them. Perhaps this is because most traditions with folktales about mosquitoes focus on how annoying they are.

However, if you have a mosquito for a spirit animal, consider its qualities. It filters water and makes it clean, so perhaps it is giving you the ability to transform things and make them clean. Mosquito is a pollinator, so perhaps it brings life wherever it goes. Mosquito also bites and destroys things that are much larger that it is, so it could be that it gives you the gift of surprise by being underestimated.

So, the next time you ask yourself what good are mosquitoes, pause. Think about whether you want to kill them, get a bat house, or plant some herbs to repel them. Sure, they are pesky, but they serve a purpose too.

Five Things You Might Not Know About Food

food supply

Most people are so removed from their food that there are many things you might not know about what we eat. The more you know, the better food choices you can make. Here are five things that could spark an interest in knowing more about your food.

Chickens are Not Vegetarians

I am always amazed when I see packaging labels on chicken that says they are vegetarian fed. I guess it’s a marketing ploy to appeal to those who want cruelty free food, but chickens are not vegetarians. Healthy chickens eat bugs, worms, mice, little snakes, and all sorts of critters they find in the pasture and woods. Vegetarian fed chickens are probably fed grain, which is processed and not what chickens naturally eat.

Fresh Eggs Don’t Have to Be Refrigerated

Eggs are refrigerated in the USA (not in other countries) because they have been washed and sprayed with chemicals to prevent salmonella. When eggs are raised in clean, healthy environments, this is not necessary. The washing increases the risk of contamination because wetting the shell makes conditions better for bacterial growth and penetration of the shell. Egg shells are strong enough to keep an embryo intact and disease free for 21 days until the chick hatches. So fresh eggs don’t require refrigeration.

Some Bottled Salad Dressings Contain An Ingredient Found in Paint

Titanium dioxide gives paint and sunscreen their white color. It’s also found in salad dressings, cake, and candies. There haven’t been a lot of studies done on titanium dioxide safety. Those that have been completed show conflicting evidence about safety. Still, France is considering banning it as it’s associated with increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease.

Almond Milk is Not “Health Food”

Almond milk is made up for 4 to 5 almonds, water, vitamins, and additives. It’s processed food, not a healthy alternative to cow’s milk. If you like milk and want a healthier option, try goat milk. It’s easier to digest and natural.

Shredded Cheese Contains Wood Pulp

That all natural parmesan cheese that you’re eating can be called “natural” despite containing wood pulp because trees are natural. Wood pulp is added to keep it from clumping together. If you see “cellulose” on the label, know that the other name is wood pulp. Next time you might want to shred your own.

These are just a few things that the average person probably doesn’t know. It pays to be a label reader and to know what can be omitted from labels. A good rule of thumb is to choose foods that are on the outside aisles of the grocery store. Growing your own food also helps to educate you about what is natural and what is not.

If you want to make animism a lifestyle, it pays to know a little about how food is grown, sourced, and created. This knowledge can help you make wiser choices about what to eat as it impacts not only your body, but the environment too.

How to Naturally Deal With Pests

How to Naturally Deal With Pests

Warmer weather is coming and with comes bugs and other pests. If you are savvy, this won’t be a problem for you. You already know about natural pest control. For all the others, here are just a few of the safe ways to deal with unwanted critters.

Praying Mantises

Praying mantises are voracious carnivores that eat other insects- both beneficial and pests. Each egg case contains about 200 mantises. It takes about eight week for them to hatch, so if you want them for your garden, it’s best to order before June 15. Live praying mantises may also be ordered, but it’s risky to do it this way because if they are without food for too long, they will eat each other. Females may lay several egg cases in the fall creating a new batch of insects for the following year.

Guinea Fowl

Guinea fowl are amazing at pest control. They eat ticks, fleas, snakes, beetles, grasshoppers, and crickets. Guineas are great watch dogs. They squawk loudly at anything that appears unusual including dogs, people, and foxes. Additionally, you can eat them and their eggs. Looking for guinea fowl? Check our your local craigslist. There are usually some for sale in the farm section.

Lady Bugs

Lady bugs are the most common natural pest control for aphids and thrips. They are also popular because they don’t dine on beneficial insects. It’s best to attract these rather than buying them to make sure you get ones that work best for your area. If you have plants with lots of pollen, lady bugs will find you! Keep in mind that using pesticides will kill beneficial bugs as well as “bad” ones.

Dragonflies

I live on the river and you might think that we’d be eaten alive with mosquitos, but there aren’t ever any here. Dragonflies are one reason why. They consume 10 percent to 15 percent of their own weight per day on insects such as mosquitoes, termites, deerflies, blackflies, horseflies and midges. All you need to attract dragonflies to your area is a little pond. It doesn’t have to be deep – just two feet will do. Situate it in the sun and make sure that there are some plants in the pond and watch the dragonflies find you.

Barn Cats

Not all cats are mousers. You best bet at finding one that is is to rescue a feral or semi-feral cat. If you have rodents, or live near a field, a cat or three will keep the mice, moles, voles, and rats under control. You don’t want them chewing up your electrical wires, getting into your animal feed, or getting into your house. Keep in mind that barn cats are not pets. Once you domesticate them (if you can), they lose their wildness and may not hunt anymore. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to feed or house them. It just means that you don’t want to spend a lot of time cuddling them.

Brown Bats

I know bats have a bad reputation for sucking people’s blood, but that’s mostly fiction. Bats don’t usually bother humans. They want mosquitos, and lots of them. They can eat 1,000 mosquitos in an hour. To attract bats, provide them with a water source, like a bird feeder. Bats hunt at night, so fragrant plants that attract nocturnal insects will also attract bats who come by to feast on them. Dahlia, French marigold, nicotiana, evening primrose, thyme, honeysuckle, and raspberries are great choices. You can also put up a bat house. Bats are finicky. We never got any bats to inhabit ours, but they found natural homes to roost in. It’s fun watching them fly out at night to begin their foraging.

Pest Repellant Plants

If you are looking for plants to repel pests from your garden, try planting garlic, basil, lavender, mint, thyme, lemon grass, marigolds, or rosemary among the other plants. (Be careful with mints. They spread quickly and can get out of control). Many insects don’t like these aromatic plants and will avoid them. Another tactic is to raise plants that attract bugs that eat other bugs. Many flowers can do this. They won’t rid you of all your problems, but they can greatly reduce them without using any chemical pesticides.

Make Natural Pesticides

There are many different ways you can make or buy natural pesticides. Some are oil or soap based. These coat the insect making it hard for the bugs to breathe. Some are repellants that keep the bad bugs away with their smell. Be sure to investigate each one thoroughly before you try it. Some kill beneficial and harmful insects. We want to protect the bees! So things like diatomaceous earth won’t work when you want to target specific bugs.

As you can see, there are many practical natural pesticides that don’t involve toxic chemicals. If you try something new, let us know how it works out for you.

Intro to Spirit Animals

Intro to Spirit Animals

Many animist cultures believe that humans are accompanied by spirit animals. They are here to help you on your life journey. Spirit animals teach you their lessons through sharing its wisdom, skills, protection, guidance, or power. Whether you use them or not is up to you. If you are aware of your animal and call upon it, you can use it consciously.

Here are some common beliefs among animist cultures.

Birth Animal

We are all born with a birth animal who stays with us for life. You may subconsciously know it. Perhaps you’ve seen it in your dreams or have always had an affinity for this particular animal. You may have no idea at all what it is. Even once you find out what it is, you may not have any idea how it is helping you. The only way to know is to develop a relationship with it. Get to know it. While every beaver, elk, and salmon have things in common, yours won’t be like mine. It’s just like all people don’t have the same personalities or strengths.

Helper Animals

Helper animals can come into your life for a time to assist with specific problems or lessons. Once those are completed, the animal goes away. This animal can come in spontaneously or you may call on it. It’s up to the animal to come and stay. You cannot compel it to do so. Even spirit animals are sovereign beings. For example, if I am going through a divorce and need support, I might find that a dog pops up to help me through that. Dogs are known for loyalty and to be great company, so this could be exactly what I need. Or perhaps I am going through a divorce and need to find my backbone. Perhaps a badger shows up to give me the qualities of persistence, determination, and endurance.

Finding Your Spirit Animal

There are a lot of “find your spirit animal” quizzes out there. A lot of people will tell you that they can find your spirit animal for you. If I had a spirit animal every time someone tried to give me one, I’d have a zoo. My suggestion is to find your own, and then trust what you get. The first time I sought my spirit animal, I found a small, meek creature. I dismissed it. I thought there was no way that that could be my animal. People tried to give me other animals that didn’t resonate, so much later I looked again for my spirit animal. Guess what? It was the same little critter. Only this time I stopped to speak to it to ask what gifts it brought. Once I understood it’s value, I could see how much it had been helping me all along. So don’t let others tell you what your animals is. Find out for yourself. Then trust yourself.

You can try to find your animal through meditation. Just ask the animal to reveal itself and then trust that it will when it’s ready. It’s not yours to command. If it doesn’t appear, then trust that it’s not time. There are also rituals that can help with this.

Getting to Know Your Guide

Learn what you can about your animal. Read books. Watch movies. Study the lore from other cultures. Go out in nature and observe it. If possible, get one as a pet. Meditate on it, then journal about it.

What does it eat? When is it active? How does it mate? How does it protect itself? What qualities, skills, or habits does it have? How does any of this show up in your life? Is there anything you can learn about yourself from this?

How to Communicate With Your Spirit Animal

Each animal has a different way of reaching out to you. Perhaps you’re a dreamer who gets messages while asleep. Maybe your spirit animal lives with you in the form of a real life animal like a pig or a peacock. Maybe you see a wild one and get a premonition. Trust yourself. If you feel that you’re getting a significant message, you probably are. Pay attention. The more open you are to spirit communication, the more easily it will come to you. But remember that your spirit animal isn’t here to live your life for you or tell you what to do. They are guardians, not helicopter animals.

Additionally, animals are not people. They don’t care about your rent or your love life. They aren’t going to be able to help you with human concerns and won’t speak to you the way a person does. If this is what you are expecting, you will be disappointed. It takes a lot of patience to be able to communicate with terrestrial animals. Spirit animals are even more so as they are wild. If you approach it as a wild animal, as if you are cultivating trust, you may be rewarded with a useful, meaningful relationship.

Some Beliefs About Spirit Animals

  • If you lose your spirit animal, if your spirit animal leaves you, your life force diminishes significantly. Some believe that you can even die.
  • You can reclaim a lost spirit animal and regain your life force.
  • You cannot choose a spirit animal. It chooses you. You can, however, call on the energy of anything – a tree, a dead relative, an animal – for help in a situation.
  • A clan, or group of people, can have a spirit animal. For example, those in the Turtle Clan will have the spirit of Turtle watching over them.
  • There are no unimportant animals. Your animal is paired with you for a reason. It might not be obvious to you. If not, perhaps you are not seeing yourself clearly. Or maybe you are not seeing the gifts of your animal clearly. Look again.
  • Mythological beasts can be spirit animals. Maybe yours is a unicorn, kelpie, or dragon.

The belief in spirit animals belongs to many animistic cultures. Spirituality belongs to everyone and no one because it can’t be owned. However, you can distort and make meaningless the beliefs of others if you don’t understand the entire cosmology. You can be accused of cultural appropriation if your beliefs are random ideas that are connected to nothing. There are other beliefs that may look like spirit animals. If you are not part of that cosmology an are ignorant, you may not know the difference. Familiars and totem animals are not the same thing as spirit animals. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Engage in personal experience and you will have a spiritual path that is grounded, meaningful, and respectful.

Modern animism exists to return to the core spiritual beliefs of our ancestors without stepping on the toes of extant indigenous peoples who have their own traditions.

We Have a New Mascot – the River Otter

We Have a New Mascot – the River Otter

I was having a conversation about spirit animals and how they help us when it occurred to me that Pan Society, LTD doesn’t have a mascot! We had to remedy that. So, I set to work on looking around at animals to see which one might fit the bill. We chose the river otter. Here is some otter lore that helps to explain why.

Our logo colors are blue and green. These are the colors of Water and Earth. River otters are water and earth creatures. The space between water (emotions, fluidity, purification, transitions, healing) and Earth (material world, foundations, boundaries, steadiness, fertility, security) is neither wet nor dry. It’s liminal space. The otter is therefore a creature who easily inhabits the liminal space.

The Scottish have a tale about Otter Kings whose skins would make the wearer invincible and also protect them against drowning.

In ancient Persia, otters were revered above all animals. Killing one resulted in a huge penalty.

Zoroastrians hold ceremonies to honor dead otters they find in the wild, and consider it an act against nature and their gods to kill one.

Native American lore varies from tribe to tribe, but some see the otter as a trickster who is mischievous, but not mean spirited or aggressive. Some tribes see them as lucky, loyal, and honest. Some tribes have otters as a clan animal.

An Ojibwa legend says that an otter was entrusted with the secrets of the Grand Medicine Society. The Ojibwa are said to call upon the spirit of the otter in birth, death and marriage ceremonies. They recognized these are major points of transition. A tribe member requires initiation from one phase of life into the next. Because the otter is adept at moving in-between (liminal spaces), it’s a perfect energy to call upon when moving between two stages of life.

The Tlingit and Tsimshian peoples have stories about a race called the Kushtaka, which means “land otter people”. They are shape shifting tricksters who lure humans away from their homes by imitating the cries of an infant or screams of a woman. Once caught, they’d turn their victims into more Kushtaka which isn’t good since this would render them semi-zombies. They could no longer reincarnate and would no longer be immortal. When they don’t turn their victims into Kushtaka, they might simply tear them to pieces. It’s serious business to leave river otters alone. They are associated with ghosts and drownings and are never eaten for food for this reason.

The Ainu (indigenous people of Japan and Russia) have a tale about the otter that explains why men are imperfect. It says that God was in the middle of making the first man when he was called away on urgent business. He told otter he would send another deity to finish, but otter was to tell him what to do.  Being intent on nothing but play, otter forgot. So mankind was made imperfectly. As punishment, God made gave otter a poor memory.

Some consider the otter to be the most intelligent non-human animal on the planet.

Like monkeys and apes, otters can create tools.

Otters are protective mothers. Babies are born helpless. When their babies arrive, mama kicks dad out of the den and showers babies with nurturing and love. Only when the babies are big enough to venture out on their own is dad allowed back in.

Otters are affectionate…or at least practical! They hold hands while sleeping so that they don’t drift apart at night.

Female otters only mate with one male in their lifetimes, but males can mate with many females. This results in a lot of competition and even rape. Mating can be so violent that it’s estimated that 11% of females don’t survive it. Fortunately, there is a type of river otter that is monogamous and mates for life.

Most live alone or in pairs, but socialize in groups.

While other animals play, otters are the only animals that build slides that help them both get around and have more fun.

The Tibetan symbol for universal love involves the pairing of the six traditional enemies – garuda and snow lion, otter and fish, crocodile and sea-snail.

As a spirit animal, otters are said to possess the qualities of protection, aid in gaining wisdom, playfulness, loyalty, finding inner treasures, enjoying life, healthy libido, recovery from crisis, courage, motivation, creativity, lightness of spirit, and help with transitions and transformations.

That’s all the otter lore I possess. All animals have gifts. I think we’ve chosen a great one to represent Pan Society, LTD. There are those who believe that in order to catch wisdom and grow in spirituality, you need the playfulness and curiosity of a child. We hope that our river otter enhances that energy within us as we journey through the wheel of life.