burial mounds

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

August, 2015

I live in Westerville, Ohio. In the past weeks, big things have happened that have reminded me that I was a historic tour guide and am the daughter of a cemetery worker. My understanding of the dead and the past is unusual due to these things.

First off, as to the cemeteries, mom sold cemetery property and directed funerals for over twenty years. I went along for appointments in people’s homes while they were discussing grave markers, caskets, what type granite they preferred, what size urn or vase they preferred, etc. I knew how to behave at a funeral and how to be a comfort to strangers mourning the death of loved ones when I was not even ten years old. At one of the cemeteries where mom worked, the grounds keeper, affectionately called “Old William” used to let me tag along while he did his maintenance work. I remember our walks in the Georgia sunshine.

Years later, I would work in nursing homes, doing bedside visits with dying people.

Now, I can tell when a death is about to occur within my own family and friends circle sometimes.

A friend of mine introduces himself as “John, who speaks to dead people.” Well, so do I. And I always have, ever since I was a child. A lot of people who come to Paganism, witchcraft, New Age disciplines, and the other groups we circle with do, too.

What a lot of people forget is that this is nothing special. It is a normal human ability. I always say dead people are still people. They just don’t have bodies anymore. They still communicate with us. The thing that makes me and other people like me unique is that I have not forgotten how to communicate with the dead, despite the fact modern society does not support or encourage this. It encourages us to take a pill or go to a psychologist if we “hear voices”. While I do believe in the existence of psychotic illnesses, I also believe they are over diagnosed, and I am well aware of the fact that a lot of people, like my mother, ignore their natural abilities because mainstream culture believes it is all make believe or the topics for good fiction.

Having said that, don’t let me discourage you from seeking doctoring if you think you are hearing voices that are not there. You can communicate with your ancestors, but still have an illness…like me, for example. Without dumping personal information on readers, I will reveal, I do struggle with anxiety, but I DO talk to dead people also.

If you think dead people are telling you to jump off a building…and you take a pill and the voices go away, you need pills. If voices tell you to jump off a building, and you get blessed by a holy person, and the voices go away…you need to stay blessed, keep banishing, and be careful about conjuring. This is a case by case scenario, and nothing to play around with. The human body is so complex. One little part of the body could break down at any time. There is no shame in doing what is necessary to feel better!

I also worked as a tour guide at a Cavern. The site included local Native American History as well. I do research on my own and have befriended some people who are Native Americans.

In Ohio, the mound builders disappeared by 600 C.E. , but they left behind their burial mounds. Serpent Mound is certainly one of the most famous sites, but other mounds are all over the state.

One site that people are talking about right now is Shrum mound. Some sources state it has NEVER been excavated, but it is maintained by the Historical Society and it is accepted that it is a mound builder burial mound, meaning it is basically a cemetery site. Groups of people, some of whom are friends of mine, like to do drum circles there. An uproar ensued when trees were felled from the site.

Having studied as much as I have, I immediately knew it is accepted that mound builders kept the mounds cleared of trees. Could archaeologists be wrong? Sure. But attempts to keep as close as possible to historical accuracy is important. So, I knew that is why the trees were felled.

A lot of modern Pagans do not see it this way. “THEY KILLED TREES!!!!!” HOW COULD THEY!!!!”

This raises an issue white Pagans run into every time they come to a historic site. Not only one of misappropriation, but one of inability to wrap our modern minds around historic mindsets.

For one thing, we are inundated with messages that planting trees will save the earth and that because we use so much paper, deforestation will be the death of us. Actually, much of the paper we use comes from trees planted specifically to produce paper. Yes, some companies are tearing down rainforests, but it is not to get trees for paper, it is to get land. Deforestation was actually much worse when people relied on wood burning fires in their homes, and people preach that electricity is evil, but they forget coal pollutes the air and coal miners suffer excruciating back injuries and if falls or collapsing mines do not kill them, oftentimes, black lung makes them miserable later in life. These are lies the mainstream fills our heads with and get us riled up.

So some trees were felled at a mound because some trees were dead, and it was decided to fell all of them because it is believed mound builders kept trees off the mounds. It was decided to try to keep things historically accurate, and frankly, it is respectful of the dead to keep their burial site as they intended. But some people in town disapprove because trees are living things and people like to go to the mound and enjoy the trees. Some have said they feel the trees pain.

I am guilty of visiting mounds, myself. I am basically visiting the gravesites of people who I do not know for my own gain. I like to learn. Some people go for drumming. Some because it is a pretty day. Whatever the reasons, we are all basically visiting a cemetery that none of our family is buried in for our own gain if you think about it, and none of us think anything of it.

We do not think of ourselves as misappropriating ancient ways, but in many ways, we really are. How do we know that it is okay to do our Neo Pagan services at Stonehenge, and did you see the articles about all the garbage that was left there? Was that respectful keeping the old ways alive? Do you think the old gods and the ancestors were pleased with all the trash? I doubt it.

Somebody drove their truck upon Serpent Mound and left ugly tire marks on it. New grass can grow, which is no big deal. The deep disrespect shown is more disturbing. More news will come out. Was the individual drunk or stoned? Was he ill? Was he doing it on a dare? Was he lost and thought he was on a road? Now he is in jail, so we will get answers. He is only nineteen years old. What a horrible start to adulthood.

Can we truly say the Aztecs, Olmecs, Incas, and Mayans want us climbing their pyramids and touring their temples? What about visiting the pyramids in Egypt that are actually burials for the great Pharaohs and their families? Have you seen the programs that show people who go inside and lay down in the pyramids to try and be reborn sometimes?

What about the famous white “shamans” who do sweat lodge retreats including the one where people died?

One of the speculations at my Caverns is there may be indigenous remains in some of the closed off passages. I have often wondered if this is true, would the people who left their dead there want us leading tours down there?

The Rainbow Family had their gathering this year at The Black Hills. A lot of Native American people are very upset. Native Americans have lived in The Black Hills since at least 7000 BCE. Most recently, it was taken from the Cheyenne by the Lakota and promised to be off limits from white settlers in 1868 The Treaty of Fort Laramie. But it was discovered less than ten years later, there was gold there, and of course, white Americans took over the Black Hills. Aside from being owned and promised in treaty, various tribes consider The Black Hills to be the sacred center of the world. Some are very insulted by the fact Mount Rushmore, showing four US Presidents is carved into the mountainside.

In 1980, The Supreme Court ruled The Black Hills were unfairly seized and offered settlement money to The Sioux, which still stands. The Sioux to this day refuse the settlement, which is about $ 757 million, and instead want the land. I have not researched enough to see if they want to share with the Cheyenne and other tribes who had lived there. I would like to think so.

Some Sioux have been very vocal in expressing how much they do not what the Rainbow Family having their gathering at the Black Hills. Concerns about sanitation have been raised. Due to the fact the group is known for not renting porta johns, and instead creating makeshift toilets in the ground, and just leaving the human waste, people have asked the gathering to move elsewhere, but the group has refused. I did not like remarks some people made that I thought were discriminatory. Some people disapprove because some folks who come around the Rainbow Family smoke pot and some of them are nudists. Live and let live, people.

However, an article from July 10 states the gathering came to a close and drew about 2,000 attendees and cleanup has begun and is going well. You can read it at www.blackhillsfox.com/home/headlines/Rainbow-Family-cleaning-up-after-gathering-in-Black-Hills

It appears all the fuss was for nothing, and unless the 200 or so cleanup crew members get lazy, the group seems have been spoken against unfairly. I feel this group is accused of misappropriation, but misappropriated nothing.

Unfortunately, there really is a lot of misappropriation that goes on.

A lot of us Pagans, and those we circle with do not see it this way. We oftentimes do whatever we feel like. Then we call ourselves children of the “Old Ways”. This is not old practice. This is new practice. I am not saying people are necessarily wrong for this. I am saying we cannot claim we are practicing the old ways unless we are.

What we are actually doing is going to old sites, and doing modern things. We are modern people trying to reconnect. That is okay! Unlearning everything we have been taught since the day we were born is not going to happen. While we may temporarily feel at home with camping at retreats, or time in the garden, we get there via automobile as opposed to by foot or horse. We probably wear synthetic sunscreen and bug off. We do not eat the foods they did. Likely, we are not speaking the languages they did.

We do not live like people did way back when. Yet when we visit their sacred sites, those of us who are sensitive are bound to get messages anyhow, and read energy at these sites. At a South American site, for example, I was picking up on a massive fire, and I asked our tour guide about it. I also asked about human sacrifice at one particular monument. He said no. Upon visiting a museum the next day, there was an entire room devoted to the site we had visited. I had never researched the site before, and was just “listening” to what I was picking up on. Guess what? I discovered, by reading the museum information, that I’d heard right.

For those of us who are aware of the dead, and who practice magic, going to these sites means we sort of “plug in” to the power there. Not everybody can. It is still important to keep certain things in mind and not overstep boundaries. We have an advantage over a lot of other people, and with that comes great responsibility.

Rather than a ritual, since we are in between Sabbats, I will include a guidelines for those of you who are aware and communicate with the dead and who share their magic when you are visiting sacred sites.

Touring Historic Sites for Those who share the Old Ones Magic

  1. Getting there and Planning– Dress for the weather, and dress in layers if needs be. Find out where the bathrooms are when you first arrive. Call ahead to find out hours of operation, parking costs and nearby lodging, and food arrangements. Ask admission costs and do not forget to find out what form of payments they accept. Leave before closing time. Do not make the staff chase you around to get rid of you. If this is a site that is not run by a business or Historic organization and is off on its own, make sure you are allowed to be there. You will be arrested if you are caught trespassing. I know people this happened to, and it was not fun for them.
  2. Taboos and Keeping Rules– Doing as we are told is an unpopular topic in our circles. A lot of us ascribe to modern thinking, claiming we do not follow herd mentality. This is in, and of itself, however, herd mentality. When you get an entire society of people whose collective mantra is the same, it does not matter if it is something like “Nobody can tell me what to do, because I am an INDIVIDUAL!!!!” That is still herd mentality. We often make fun of people we refer to as “sheeple”, and then in the next breath say trying to organize Pagans is frustrating and like “herding cats.” Ancient people did not share this frustration. Besides, cats are actually easy to herd. All you have to do is get out the treats! While we may feel they lived in constrictive societies in the past, they cooperated with one another very well. That is how they built things like Stonehenge, Skara Brae, and fed villages of thousands of people without the technologies we utilize. They cooperated for the good of all. When visiting a site ran by the descendants of these ancient people, it is an expectation that visitors mind the rules of the event or site. That may include staying on trails and not touching certain things. You may be asked to switch off your cell phone and not talk out of turn. Remember, we are guests at these sites, and even if we pay admission, it is a privilege to be there, not a right. The hosts, living and dead, do not owe it to us to allow us to do everything we please. I will never forget the day a man brought his kids into the Caverns with trowels and told them to dig and hammer into the Cavern walls and allowed them to yell at the top of their lungs. He came into the office to complain to me when my boss kicked them out. He felt that because he paid admissions that they should be allowed to do anything they wanted to. Not so. It is very American to say “The Customer is always right”. On sacred sites, you might get by with something because the staff cannot stop you, but then again, you might not. Usually, though everybody is on the same page with expectations and everything goes quite smoothly.
  3. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” Do not take anything, even rocks, leaves, and wildflowers. You could get fined. If you get permission to take something, that is different. Do not disturb wildlife. Some wildflowers are endangered and will not survive transplanting. As for animals, unless you are a professional wildlife expert, leave the animals alone. They are cute and fuzzy, and whatnot, and they can give you rabies, or you might unintentionally scare the little dears. You might think you are “rescuing a lost baby” when in fact the mother just went off to eat, and will soon return. ifacts are always off limits, no ifs, ands or buts.
  4. Do Research Before Arriving– If this is a well known historic site or indigenous group of people you are going to visit, the Internet is your best friend. You can learn a whole lot. People make fun of Wikipedia, but I have found it to be pretty reliable. Most groups, tribes, and Nations have websites, and you can find out plenty.
  5. When in Doubt, Ask– There really is such a thing as a stupid question, but I seriously doubt that anybody who would take the time to read a list of suggestions would ask a stupid question. So nobody reading this asks stupid questions. By stupid question, I mean one like the question asked by a stereotypically white, middle aged male hick who was wearing “God Bless The USA” Tee shirt to a Pow Wow. He asked a seventeen year old Native American speaker what the speaker thought of the bombing of the World Trade Center. The boy said, something along the lines of ‘Well, I am an American, too. It’s my country, too. So I was bombed, too.’ Another white hick who was wearing almost the same outfit asked the same speaker the exact same question a few minutes later. I believe these were stupid questions. What did they expect the boy to say? “Terrorist bomb good! Kill many white man!!!! Make Indians big happy!!!!!!!” At a Highland Festival, a friend of mine asked a kilted athlete what men wore under their kilts. He was so used to it, he didn’t even think about it. He just lifted his kilt up and showed her that he had on custom made shorts that matched his plaid. People are curious and want to learn at these events and sites, and people who know the answers come prepared to teach.
  6. If You Feel Uncomfortable Don’t Go– It is that simple. If all your friends are going, and something does not sit well with you for whatever reason, find a way to wriggle out of going. Most especially if this is a site that is sacred. Your gut might be telling you to stay away. Just because a site is sacred does not mean it holds sacred meaning for everybody. That is alright.
  7. The Dead Like to Connect to The Living– They always have, they always will. So if you are like me, you will communicate with them. You might have life changing experiences after visiting sites. But keep your shields up, and make sure to banish or smudge or cleanse.
  8. You are on Their Turf and Their Time– Think of it as another time and another world where modern life ceases to be. We judge history and historic people through modern eyes, simply because that is the only way we know to view things. Try to suspend judgement. I am not saying you should condone crimes and atrocities like brutalities and abuse. But to assume that food was weird, their religion was barbaric or sinful, their clothes were uncomfortable, the music was lame, transportation and technology was inferior, life was unbearable, etc. is taking a bias that people failed in the past to lead quality lives because they did things differently than us. Different is not wrong. Different is just different. It can be interesting to discover how they did things. I was having a conversation with a feminist once. She was under the impression that all husbands always brutally beat their wives and children constantly in all parts of the world until the American feminist movement gave women a fair shake. She also believed that all women in all other parts of the world but America are oppressed and miserable. There are so many things wrong with this misconception. I told her human beings could not have survived as a species if they had done nothing but beat on one other constantly since the dawn of time. I have met so many people from so many different Nations. Even hijab wearing women. They are not covered in bloody cuts and bruises or brutalized and miserable. You will be pleasantly surprised by all the wonderful similarities despite our differences, which are quite interesting, and you might learn a new way of doing something you like even better.
  9. Enjoy!!!!!!!!

May you enjoy your trips and gatherings with the living and dead. Life is full of so many wonderful experiences. I have to admit, being a witch makes it all the more wonderful for me. Have blessed experiences. Blessed Be.

Moon Owl Observations

February, 2011

Long and Round Barrows: Neolithic Monuments to the Dead

The Neolithic time period was very important for Pagans as it was in this time that people began to settle down, claim boundaries and start farming. By this time the moon was already regarded as the Goddess, but with the farming people began to see the wheat swell and grow with the power of the sun, and with this the sun became regarded as a masculine force- the God. One thing that the Neolithic people are known for is the creation of the long and round barrows, which were grave mounds, dedicated to the dead.

The first to come about was the long barrow, these were either earthen mounds or made of stone. Before a body was placed in a long barrow, it was set on a plank in a ditch so the wild animals could pick the bones clean. The bones would then be gathered and placed in side long barrows. These bones would be considered movable property as the skulls would often be removed at later times for ceremonies. When the bones would be placed in the long barrows, they were not placed at random. The skulls would be in one place, right arms in another, etc.  With the process of moving the bones around, animals picking at them and through time, it is very rare to find a whole skeleton in tact.  Men, women and children would all be buried in long barrows, but a spot in one was a privilege.

Long barrows are in the shape of a rectangle, trapezoid or an oval. They can be anywhere from 20 to 400 metres in length and 10metres or less in width. Most consist of a large wooden room with a number of large supporting posts. Up to 50 skeletons could be placed in a single long barrow. There are still many in good condition all throughout the U.K, but the one that seems to be in the best condition is the Coldrum Long Barrow in the North Kent countryside.

The round barrow became really popular in the Bronze Age. The circle, as most know has a lot of symbolism in it. The round barrow represents a path with no end, and the well known cycle of death and rebirth. The preparation of round barrows required that the soil would be well ploughed beforehand. There were also rich and poor barrows, depending on the contents of the grave goods (pots, jewellery, etc). Unlike the long barrow, once sealed, the round barrows would not be re-opened. It was quite common however that a second burial would be added to the mound, in fact most barrow cemeteries consisted of members of the same family. If the body was to be burned, the urn would be placed inside of the barrow along with the grave goods.

Long and round barrows helped to unite communities  and many are connected to ceremonial pathways such as Ley/serpent lines. At these grave mounds, offerings would be made as this was a time period where people really started to believe in reincarnation. The mound represented the womb and it was a way to give the body back to the Goddess. Even after all this time red ochre is still seen, as this was placed to symbolize the blood in rebirth. There are several types of each barrow and if you want to see one, the best place to look would be England.  The Neolithic time is well known in the Pagan religion, and the long and round barrows are just one thing that was brought about in this time.