Fear (Pagan Blog Project, Week 11)

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“Purity is piety, honesty, and fear of the gods.”
– inscription on the walls of the Ptolemaic-era temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear’s path. When the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
– the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, quoted by Frank Herbert in Dune

“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep. I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”
– Alexander III “the Great” of Makedon

Fear is an important concept for the modern-day Pagan who embraces the chthonic traditions of Thrace. To the Greeks, a titanismos was a Thracian battle-hymn so fierce, so filled with the terror of the sons and daughters of Nyx, that the Thracians’ enemies would simply turn and flee, if they weren’t frozen to the spot. And of Titanismos as the modern acknowledgment of our Titanic progenitors, our brother the Anomalous Thracian is fond of saying: “This is Titanismos. You should run.”

What does it really mean to have “fear of the gods,” as the Egyptian inscription instructs Horus’s priests to have? Can fear ever be a positive thing, particularly related to the idea being afraid of the Divine? What about other kinds of fear? Are they a force to be avoided, or, as the Litany quoted above suggests, could they become a weapon to use to our benefit?

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Apotropaic Magic

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This’ll be the second post in the Pagan Blog Project series I somehow convinced myself I wanted to take part in. Hopefully, it will be of some use.

Following the agreed-upon alphabetic format, this is my second post with a topic beginning with the letter A. [If you want to see the first A post, the one I wrote about ancestors, it’s right here.] For my second A post, I want to talk about apotropaic magic. What the Hades does that mean? And how do you even say that?

Apotropaic (ah-POE-troe-pay-ick) is the English rendering of the Greek word apotrepein. This translates “to turn away” or “to push away,” so apotropaic magic would be magic designed to turn away or push away something.

Traditionally, apotropaic magic is used to deflect other magic, or for protection against evil that is “sent” toward or against something or someone else. It’s a specific kind of defensive magic, one with a long history in our world.

Ancient Egyptians used apotropaic magic to protect against everything from evil spirits to a spouse’s wandering eye. Official state rituals turned any potential evil away from the kingdom as part of every new year’s celebration. Private rituals could invoke fierce gods like Bes and Taweret to protect children from danger; like Sekhmet to scare off plagues; or Neith to dissolve nightmares. Apotropaic heka (as ancient Egyptians called the entire magical corpus of tools, words, and rituals used for magic) included amulets; “magic wands” made of ivory; statues; images carved into household objects like beds, headrests, and chairsincantations; or curses spoken to ancestors or dangerous spirits.

Apotropaic magic wasn’t limited to Egypt, nor did it start there. We know of many apotropaic practices and rituals from the rest of the Ancient Near East, and also the rest of the world. Nor is it something that was only done in antiquity. Everything from throwing salt over your shoulder because your Irish grandmother told you to do so, to the blue glass eyes hanging in a Turkish coffee shop (or on your cell phone screen?), reminds us that apotropaic magic is alive, well, and functioning all over the world, right now.

Apotropaic magic: It’s what we use to kick ass, or warn someone or something that we’re all out of bubblegum, when necessary.

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There’s always evil to be smashed, so why not engage in some of your own apotropaea? What sorts of apotropaic magic do you practice?