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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Ancient Healing Traditions Fight Patents

For thousands of years, Indian villagers have used an extract from seeds of the neem tree as an insecticide. So when a U.S. company patented a process for producing the substance in 1994, India reacted with outrage.

After spending millions of dollars in legal fees to successfully overturn the patent, India's government is creating a 30-million-page database of traditional knowledge to fend off entrepreneurs trying to patent the country's ancient lore. Full Story

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Medical Uses of the Moon Metal Silver

Silver, one of humankind's first weapons against bacteria, is receiving new respect for its antiseptic powers, thanks to the growing ability of researchers to tinker with its molecular structure.

Doctors used silver to fight infections at least as far back as the days of ancient Greece and Egypt. Their knowledge was absorbed by Rome, where historians such as Pliny the Elder reported that silver plasters caused wounds to close rapidly.

In 1884, a German doctor named C.S.F. Crede demonstrated that a few drops of silver nitrate into the eyes of babies born to women with venereal disease virtually eliminated the risk of blindness among such infants.

But silver's time-tested if poorly understood versatility as a disinfectant was overshadowed in the latter half of the 20th century by the rise of antibiotics. Full Story

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Classes on Witchcraft, Astrology, and Alchemy

“Find your horoscope, tell me what it says, tell me if it’s accurate,” Professor Darin Hayton tells a classroom full of students after handing out “Today’s Horoscope” from The Washington Post. One student raises her hand and begins to read: “Aquarius. Don’t wait for the spirit to move you—move the spirit instead. The stars help you enlarge your sphere of influence. Social gestures may feel forced at first, but with a little practice, you’re soon delivering with finesse.” Another student, a Taurus, discovers that “If you think too much about what’s in store, it’s likely to scare the dickens out of you! Jump right in, and get going without a lot of deliberation. Once you’re in motion, everything works out.”

Hayton, a new assistant professor of history at Haverford, doesn’t expect the horoscopes to be accurate. He intends to contrast them with the detailed horoscopes that learned astrologers created in the 15th century. Hayton and his students are knee-deep in the astrology section of one of Haverford’s newest courses: History of the Occult and Witchcraft. Full Story

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tarot Magic Explored in Siena

Exhibition looks at Italian origins of divination cards.

The history, symbolism and mythology of tarot cards is the focus of a new exhibit which opens here on Wednesday.

The Tarot: Art And Magic looks at material ranging from the 15th century to the 20th century, including a number of engravings by well-known artists such as Albrecht Durer, Hendrick Goltzius and Bernard Picart.

Among the antique documents on display are the most famous treatises on Renaissance iconology, a series of esoteric texts, and a wealth of documents on laws governing card games and gambling.

There are also, naturally a variety of cards, mostly hand-painted, while one deck is even made of ivory. Full Story

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Judge Rules Against PA Intelligent Design

"Intelligent design" cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.

Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution when they ordered that its biology curriculum must include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said. Several members repeatedly lied to cover their motives even while professing religious beliefs, he said.

The school board policy, adopted in October 2004, was believed to have been the first of its kind in the nation. Full Story

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Spell and Reflection

When the first red and green lights start appearing on roof-tops, and when cars begin to meander through city streets with evergreens strapped to the roof, non-Christians get a bit tense. And why not? The accoutrements of this Christian holiday all originated from Pagan practices. But this is an argument we’ll never win, so heavily is the culture infused with the symbols and spirit of traditional Christmas. So it’s probably best to stop fighting it, and just think of Christmas as a second Yule. Who wouldn’t want two major festivals in one week? We’ll all be avoiding our scales after all the celebrating has ended, but what a way to go! Take time now to go alone, or with your family or a group, to the place in your town that has the largest concentration of garish decorations, and simply bask in the glow of all the holiday hoopla. By Edain McCoy

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

The History of Holiday Feasts

Tis the season to eat birds, especially turkeys. Despite tradition and Dickens tales, few families eat goose at Christmas. Fewer eat blackbirds. Almost none set a coffin on the dining table. But Halloween traditions still skew holiday cuisine weeks after children put away costumes and masks.

Bongi's Turkey Farm in Duxbury has been raising its own turkeys for decades. Anyone who joins the gourmands waiting in line for its turkeys must think at least a bit about the history of a bird Europeans prize as quintessentially American.

Until Christianity spread across Western Europe and the British Isles, pagans ate fatted geese to celebrate the ancient New Year, Nov. 1. The Celtic Samhain festival, marking the end of the year and commemorating the dead, eventually became Halloween, a holiday still spiced with paganism. The Germanic Yupe, an end-of-harvest festival, partly merged with Halloween. Pagans ate fatted geese in rituals dedicated to Thor, hoping he would grant a fine harvest the following year. Through the Renaissance, wealthy people ate geese on Halloween, mostly from long-forgotten pagan tradition. Migratory geese arrived and disappeared mysteriously, and the large birds seemed part of a magical seasonal rhythm. Full Story

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Maine's Spiritual Groups Mapped

Ever feel tempted to consult a shaman? Or learn how to be a shaman? Interested in finding out about solstice celebrations conducted by local pagans? Wondering what Swedenborgianism is all about? Curious about the much-persecuted Bahai Faith? Looking to find a compatible meditation group?

Information on these topics and many, many more can be found in Karen Wentworth Batignani's book, a compendium of the history, location and beliefs surrounding spiritual practices in Maine.

The reader is bound to be impressed by the diversity and richness of such practices. For example, who would have thought there would be a Hindu ashram in Industry, 20 miles north of Farmington? Everyone knows about the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake and the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Otisfield, but probably few know there is an Amish community in Smyrna and Sufi centers in Portland and Brunswick or that you can study kundalini yoga in Island Falls.

"Exploring the Spirit of Maine" deals mostly with lesser-known, mystical and alternative religions. Full Story

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

How I Live a Pagan Life in a Christian Culture

My personal life is firmly rooted in my pagan beliefs. I try hard to live as gently on this earth as possible, to respect Mother Nature and be grateful for all that she provides to us. I know that whatever actions and thoughts I put forth in this world will come back to me. This is my driving force for all relationships. I work hard to be close to, recognize, love and honor the divine in everyone around me. This is the foundation for my life.

So, how can I reconcile these tenets with the many Christian influences, thoughts, actions and beliefs that are everywhere in our society? First of all, I have reclaimed the spiritual language of my youth. This language is a universal language and continues to serve me well today.

What do I do when someone asks if I believe in Jesus? I answer truthfully. I say, "Yes I believe in Jesus. I believe that he was a wonderful teacher and leader. We would all be better off if we could live by his example." This is also true of all great spiritual leaders, in whom I also believe. If someone further asks if I believe in the divinity of Jesus I can again truthfully answer yes. I believe in the divinity of all people, we are all children of the divine. Full Story

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pagans Observe Solstice

Andy "Salem" O'Rear has been preparing for the holidays: planning with friends, shopping and laying out his hopes for the new year.

But the Tulsa man isn't getting ready for the traditional Christmas holiday, though he will celebrate his spiritual faith. The founder of the Oklahoma Pagan Association, along with other pagans statewide, is celebrating the winter solstice today.

The winter solstice, sometimes called Yule, celebrates the energy building up to the moment the sun enters the astrological sign of Capricorn, O'Rear said. Though the solstice will happen this afternoon, O'Rear and his coven planned to celebrate the changing season Tuesday night.

Individuals and covens -- or groups -- celebrate the changing of the seasons in different ways, O'Rear said. Full Story

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

SOL INVICTUS (The Invincible Sun)

History of ceremonies honoring the sun's life-giving cycle enriches the understanding of today's holiday traditions

Ancient worship: A history of midwinter celebrations...

Long ago, people worshiped the sun as a god. His cycles were watched and measured with great care because it was thought the quality of life on Earth changed dramatically according to his whims.

As the season changed and winter fell, survival became much harder for ancient man. Many would not live through a cold winter, when food became scarce. As the days shortened, they feared the sun would disappear completely and leave them helpless in the dark.

So they lighted fires and performed elaborate rituals to ensure the sun's return. They also feasted when the sun reversed its course, and days began to grow long again. Full Story

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Solstice, a Winter Wonder

One of my favorite days of the year is right around the corner. Christmas? New Year's Eve? Valentine's Day?

Nope. I'm talking about the first day of winter.

Now, lest you think this ol' desert rat enjoys the cold, crisp air of wintertime, let me assure you that few things could be further from the truth. Maybe it's the long, dark winter nights that I like? Not a bad guess, considering my nocturnal tendencies.

No, the real reason is that the first day of winter is marked by the winter solstice, and that's what I eagerly anticipate. This year's solstice occurs at 10:35 a.m. next Wednesday.

The winter solstice marks the moment when the sun reaches its southernmost position over our planet and begins its journey northward. To an observer in the Earth's Northern Hemisphere, the day marks the sun's lowest position in the midday sky, and the beginning of its climb once again. Full story

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Teacher Forces Girl To Remove Pentacle

Winter Springs, Fla. -- A Seminole County mother is speaking out after her daughter's teacher forced her to remove a necklace, which is a religious sign.

The necklace is a pentacle, a sign of the Wiccan religion.

Aleigh Garmen said Indian Trails Middle School teacher Mary McNeal told her to remove the necklace because it represents Satan. The girl took it off, but with her mother's permission she was transferred to a new class with a failing grade. Full Story

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Voodoo Lounge

It's hard to find a good séance these days, so I schlepped to Jack the Pelican Presents in Williamsburg Thursday night where "world renowned psychic medium" Jackie Barrett conducted a voodoo ceremony to conjure the spirit of German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. Why him? Well, Don Carroll, who runs the space, kinda likes the guy, though he also considered Henry Fuseli, who's "very cool too." The gallery's current group show is a multimedia mélange in which mutants, introverts, and tweens echo the nineteenth century nature-mystic's gloomy vision. Friedrich didn't seem particularly sociable on this side of the veil—so I wondered if he'd feel like chatting now that he's crossed over. Full Story

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Christian Pastor to Call off Pagan Christmas

The senior minister at central Kentucky's largest church defended a decision to not offer services there on Christmas Sunday and responded to mounting criticism.

The Rev. Jon Weece praised the decision of elders at Southland Christian Church during a service Saturday and said they "chose to value families. People over policy."

Weece has heard from hundreds of Christians across the nation protesting the closure, Southland officials said. Preaching before a crowd of about 1,150, Weece said the full story hasn't been heard.

"Christmas began as a pagan holiday to the Roman gods, and if we were to really celebrate the historical birth of Jesus, it would either be in early January or mid-April," Weece said. "I'm only pointing out the historical technicalities not out of intellectual arrogance, but again because of the illogical, ill-informed and even hypocritical arguments that were aimed at me this past week." Full Story

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

N.J. Prison to Allow Inmate to Receive Wiccan Items

A convicted murderer who practices the Wiccan religion has won the right to receive religious books and items while behind bars.

The state Department of Corrections on Dec. 8 settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey on behalf of Patrick Pantusco, who was convicted of murder, aggravated assault and other offenses in Bergen County in 1998, and sent to East Jersey State Prison at Avenel.

He began practicing Wicca in 2002, while serving a 30- to 50-year prison term. Wiccans say their religion is based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons. Full Story

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Money Ritual Bath

Three nights before the cycle of the full moon, you should begin this three-day spell to remove the negative energy preventing abundance from coming your way. Repeat the following ritual bath on each of the three days leading up to the full moon with the last day being on the day the full moon starts. You should use the same candles for each of the three ritual baths.

The Ritual Bath:

To a warm bath, add money bath salts, which are made from a variety of formulas but generally have a strong patchouli scent. Light some general candles around the bath to reach the ambient lighting you prefer. Imagine a soft white light entering through your head and feet to cleanse the negativity from you. Focus on this goal as you enter the bath. Relax and meditate on the obstactles and stresses in your life melting away into the water.

As you drain the water from the tub, your negativity will follow the water down the drain.

Next, cast a circle and light a God and Goddess candle and place it upon your altar. Also place on the altar a green pillar candle that you have anointed with lodestone oil. Visualize your financial goals as already achieved. Put all of your energy into the candle. Finally, rub the candle down with a mixture of cinnamon and cloves. Light the candle and burn money incense while focusing on your goals.

Repeat this ritual for three days so that the last day is upon the full moon.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Mummers: The Return

Life, death and rebirth: the eternal cycle has been central to human cultures since time immemorial.

Rituals enacted in midwinter ensured the return of the sun in springtime to breathe life back into the barren soil and bring fertility to the land so that its inhabitants may reap a plentiful harvest.

As cultures have become more industrialised and moved away from a direct connection with the land and the cycles of nature, and science and technology have replaced a reliance on magic and ritual to control the unpredictable forces of nature, so these traditional rituals have been lost in most areas. However, in some rural areas, our cultural heritage is being kept alive.

In Ireland, groups of “Mummers” still perform the traditional midwinter rituals. In Bulgaria “Kukeri” is the name given to these practices. The rituals are a way of keeping alive a rich culture of traditions, as well as bringing together communities, and in the case of the Irish and Bulgarian groups, of fostering cross-cultural ties. But, says Jim Ledwith, International Programmes Manager of the Mummers Foundation, “first and foremost it’s about having fun.” Full Story

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Interview With The Gypsy

“Hello, don’t you guys have dead folk??” This was Gypsy Maggie Rose’s incredulous initial reaction when she moved to Australia from Wales at the age of thirteen. Maggie grew up in a gypsy household, following the traditions of her Romany heritage and a seven generation legacy of psychics on both sides of the family. As a child, she always accepted her ability to communicate with the spiritual world. These psychic powers were “as natural as breathing and something I simply never questioned,” says Maggie. “I spend so much time on the other side, sometimes I am not sure which world I am actually in.”

Maggie is well accustomed to transcending boundaries and navigating between different worlds. While a child in Wales, Maggie alternated between maintaining a “normal” lifestyle and going to school, and the free-flowing nomadic lifestyle common to the Romany people. She faced difficulties on both sides – mothers of the non-gypsy friends would discourage them from playing with her, while some gypsies would resent her family for living in a house and having such amenities as shoes and a bed to sleep in. Full Story

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Occult Tradition (Book Review)

Walk into any bookshop and you will find a plentiful supply of books about Atlantis, pyramids, lost ancient wisdom and secret societies. Brown's ability to turn this esoteric pop culture into readable thrillers has made him a millionaire and spawned countless imitators. But where did it all come from? David Katz's fascinating book offers a few answers.

Right from the start, Katz - an Israeli professor of literature and history - makes his position clear. There are, he says, lots of "trashy" and "parasitic" books on this subject, and his is not one of them. Instead, his book "traces the growth and meandering path of the occult tradition over the past five hundred years and shows how the esoteric world view fits together".

Anyone wanting to understand the deep historical connections between the numerous strands of modern esoterica would do well to read it. Full Story

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Pagans Prepare For Solstice

Sea salt mounded on a pewter plate. Milk and honey sipped from a communal cup. A sword raised high into the air, invoking the wisdom of the sea, land, sky and fire. These are symbols and rituals that Cynthia Jane Collins and other members of the Silver Cauldron Coven will use to celebrate the winter solstice in the coming weeks.

As Christians and others look forward to the celebration of Christmas, Mainers who describe themselves as pagans prepare to mark the shortest day of the year and the anticipated "return of the light" as days grow longer.

"When the sun returns after the shortest day, we see hope for life," said Collins. "It's a time for us to reconnect and look ahead, as it is for many faiths."

Later this month, Collins and her husband, Harry Spirito, will host several public and private solstice celebrations at their High Street home in Saco, or what they call their "covenstead." Full Story

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Unhappy With 'Holiday'

Bob Chance cultivates 7 sweet-smelling acres of trees - Douglas fir, Norway spruce, Colorado blue - and he can rattle off their names with precision. He doesn't care what his customers call them.

"I plant them in the spring, I dig them in the fall, and in the winter I sell them as a symbol," says Chance, owner of a Harford County tree farm. "But I don't micromanage the terminology."

This year, there are plenty of others to do that for him.

In a campaign led by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Christian conservatives have come to the defense of the term "Christmas tree" this, um, holiday season.

They have lambasted governments that have put "holiday trees" on display and targeted retailers that wish customers "Happy Holidays," threatening them with boycotts and dunning them with phone calls and online petitions.

The groups say Christmas is under attack, and they have amassed an army of more than 1,500 lawyers to defend it. Full Story

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ancient Herb Improves Alzheimer's Symptoms

Herb improves memory function in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease

Dec. 1, 2005 - An herb traditionally used in the ancient Hindu system of healing known as Ayurveda improved memory in a mouse model for Alzheimer's disease, say Oregon Health and Science University researchers. Their work adds to the evidence that antioxidants - also found in apples and other foods - seem to hinder memory loss.

There were similar studies with rats in 2004 that found the antioxidants in quercetin protected the rat brain cells from oxidative stress. More recently, one of the largest studies of its kind has finding a link between fruit - in particular apples - and vegetable consumption and memory loss in the elderly. Full Story

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Medicine Men Help Care for Veterans

When Albert Laughter unpacks his medical supplies, preparing to treat the military veterans who are his patients, he finds no stethoscope or thermometer.

His examination room doesn't have walls to speak of. It is made of canvas and wooden poles, a teepee with a small fire ring inside. His supplies -- pheasant and eagle feathers, cornmeal, sage and other herbs -- come wrapped in small leather pouches.

Laughter, a Navajo medicine man, cares for warriors as five generations of his forebears have: with traditional herbs, songs and ceremonies. But unlike his ancestors, he does it as a healer under contract with the federal government.

Laughter's services are part of a small assortment of programs run by the Department of Veterans Affairs to treat American Indian veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder and other maladies. Full Story

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Walgreen Disciplines Pharmacists

Walgreen Co., the nation's largest drugstore chain by revenue, said it has put four Illinois pharmacists in the St. Louis area on unpaid leave for refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception in violation of a state rule.

The four cited religious or moral objections to filling prescriptions for the morning-after pill and "have said they would like to maintain their right to refuse to dispense, and in Illinois that is not an option," Walgreen spokeswoman Tiffani Bruce said.

A rule imposed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in April requires Illinois pharmacies that sell contraceptives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fill prescriptions for emergency birth control. Pharmacies that do not fill prescriptions for any type of contraception are not required to follow the rule.

The licenses of both a pharmacy and that store's chief pharmacist could be revoked if they don't comply with the Illinois rule, Bruce said. Full Story

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Monday, December 05, 2005

The Savage Business Of Witchcraft Hunts

They came for Lemi Ndaki in the night. "I was sleeping when I heard a noise," explains the 70-year-old Tanzanian grandmother. "Someone grabbed me and chopped off my arm with a machete. I think he came to chop my neck but I raised my hand and he only took my arm."

A neighbor responded to her crying and took her to the hospital in Mwanza, the nearest city, a three-hour drive away near Lake Victoria.

"They couldn't put my arm back on and the scar still hurts," she says. That is not surprising: the bone still pokes out below her elbow, 19 years later.

Other elderly women in her village, Mwamagigisi, have not been so lucky. Ng'wana Budodi was shot in the head with an arrow. Kabula Lubambe and Helena Mabula were stabbed to death. Ng'wana Ng'ombe was murdered with a machete, and when they set fire to her hut they killed her husband, Sami.

This is the fate awaiting thousands of old people, mostly women, accused of witchcraft. The killings are escalating and the Government does nothing. Full Story

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Winter Solstice, New Year, and Evergreens

For millennia, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in winter. In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year occur about December 22, referred to as the Winter Solstice (sol-: sun; -stitium: stand still; when sun reaches its southernmost point.) Many ancient peoples considered the sun as the Supreme Being. In winter, as daylight became shorter and shorter, the people considered that the sun, or the Supreme Being, had become sick and weak. After the Winter solstice, daylight became longer and longer, meaning that the Supreme Being was getting well. So, the beginning of the recovery of the Supreme Being was considered worthy of celebrating. Evergreens, still around in winter, symbolized all other plants that needed warmth and long exposure to sun in order to turn green, and then provide food. So, the evergreens became a “tool” for the celebration of the Solstice.

The earliest documentation of celebration of the Winter Solstice with evergreens goes back to ancient Egyptians, probably during the New Kingdom period (~1300 BC). Throughout Ancient Egypt, the sun was considered to be a universal creator, symbolized by Ra, a hawk-headed image bearing the solar disk on his head (yes, the body was that of a human male). At the Winter Solstice, Ra was considered to have begun recovering from illness; to celebrate, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes, which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death. Full Story

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Spirituality of Pomegranates

Next time you're wandering the produce aisle, pick up a pomegranate and treat yourself to a lesson on world religions. Beneath that smooth, red and bitter skin lie hundreds of tiny scarlet seeds - and almost as many religious associations.

"People use whatever is at hand to express their religious beliefs," says Frank Salamone, an authority on religious symbols and a professor at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. Centuries ago, in the Fertile Crescent, where so many religions arose, the pomegranate was at hand. By its very nature, it lent itself to religious symbolism.

"The pomegranate is red, and so is blood," Salamone says. "It has a lot of seeds and is an obvious symbol of fertility."

It's beautiful, strong and delicate, and its juice has healing properties, he says. "It says a lot of different things all at once. People bring meaning to it."

Ancient Persians painted pomegranates on their shields for protection in battle. In Greek and Roman myths, it was the pomegranate that seduced Persephone, the goddess of fertility, into marrying her kidnapper, Hades, god of the underworld. Full Story

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Santeria Grows In Popularity, But With Controversy

A religion founded more than 500 years ago is growing in popularity, not only in the United States but also in Houston. Practitioners call it "the way of the saints," while others call it sacrilege. The KPRC Local 2 Troubleshooters gave an in-depth look Tuesday into the world of Santeria.

There is no bible, no text, and no written accounts of any kind -- only hundreds of years of rituals and legends handed down orally to each generation. It's a religion growing in popularity across Houston, raising eyebrows and fueling a theological debate.

"The Catholic Church has consistently expressed deep concerns about Santeria," said Monsignor Frank Rossi, with the Galveston-Houston Catholic Diocese.

"What people don't understand they are scared of, and they don't understand Santeria," Santeria follower Mercedes Rios said.

But to understand this debate you have to understand Santeria's roots. Full Story

[Editor's Note: Why is it that everytime the news media does any article on pagan religions, they invariably have to go and get a Catholic's opinion on the matter? Sure, Catholicism is tied to Santeria in some respects, but can't it stand on its own merits? Ah well, at least they are reporting it. Sigh.]

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Spell to Speed Up Time

[Editor's Note: If you are having trouble finding the patience for Yule to come around, try the following spell designed to speed up your experience of time so that it goes faster for you.]

There are many spells to accelerate time for the caster. This spell is designed to make time fly, or at least feel like it is. Begin by outlining your altar with roses to form a circle. Next, light three candles and place them upon your alter. Cast your magick circle and repeat the following words:

"Father time by these candles three,
make my days, hours and minutes flee.
I cannot wait as the candles burn.
Time, time, quickly turn."

If the candles are blown out, assume that your spell worked. If not, repeat the process at a later time until they do.

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