The Idea of Internet as the Otherworld

In most cultures in history people have constructed their own view about the Otherworld or the realm of the dead, a place where the souls of the departed in some sense ‘live on’. In digital culture the Internet is more and more seen as a place of the Otherworld, a place where souls and family members or friends (or pets) who have died continue to dwell. Many people nowadays still believe in another place somewhere where the souls of their loved ones will go to. The expression on the Internet of some of these people in the form of images of candles, stars, portals, rainbows and angels among others, explains the significance that people put on the Internet as a dimension that actually exists. This expression can be seen as being not purely of a religious nature but also as a symbolic or metaphorical expression, all of which can give meaning to life, and can thus be regarded as being in the realm of folklore, arguably, a manifestation of folklore on the Internet.

The personal computer must be regarded as a medium with a cultural history shaped more by its users and less by its inventors.

Olia Lialina, Digital Folklore (2009)

Personal Computers (PC),  digital media and online networks have become increasingly integrated into people’s daily lives since the early nineties. These ‘new’ media offered many opportunities and new ways for people to express themselves, and, as these became more and more commonplace objects and processes in daily life, they gradually became ‘e-meshed’ with people’s emotional lives. The social context of grief and remembrance for example has now begun to take place in a digital context too, instead of as it had been in the past, in family circles.  According to Hutchings (2012), elements of the contemporary process of grieving take place in new electronic spaces where grief can be communicated.  Family members and friends of a deceased person gather around online digital archives of pictures, candles, stories and video’s to grieve.  The memorial place of a person becomes ‘alive’ in a digital sense, and forms it could be said, a virtual gathering place where space is simulated.

Light a Candle

A virtual altar to light a candle for a deceased person. On: http://thecenterforhealingarts.com/light-a-candle/

Robert Dobler uses cyber-ethnography as a way to approach the folklore on the Internet and he has identified a number of rituals that have emerged through the interaction of people with their PC’s on the Internet. For example, he has observed and described how personal pages on social network sites like Facebook and MySpace are turned into virtual altars after a person dies. These places of ‘spiritual communion’ become a meeting place for the bereaved and often the website is turned into an online book of remembrance. These digital places of worship are visited regularly and therefore could be termed places for rituals (or folklore) as they are symbolic activities that give a sense of meaning to people. The bereaved place virtual flowers or candles and write poems or farewell notes on the webpage. This behaviour apparently indicates that there is a strong desire to make real contact with the deceased person; almost everyone communicates in a direct form to the deceased person. Dobler (2009) describes this transformation of a personal webpage as: “dynamics of the transition of spontaneous shrines into the virtual world of the internet”. In this way the virtual altar serves as a bridge between de deceased and the living.

As to why the Internet is seen as the Otherworld,  Olia Lialina gives an explanation in her book Digital Folklore (2009), in essence that people see in the Internet a connection with space. In Lialina’s view, the space atmosphere symbolizes a hope in the future, that it is bringing us to new dimensions and to other galaxies. The step to connect the concept of space with the place where souls reside can be quite easily made by some people; some remembrance websites use the star as a symbol to represent the deceased one. Deceased persons or pets are believed by some people to live in another state quite similar to the past life that they had on earth. Gustavsson (2013) describes in his article: ‘Death and Bereavement on the Internet in Sweden and Norway‘ how many people see a continuation of this ‘futuristic’ life on the Internet, almost intuitively. The idea of a future existence in heaven is mostly absent; with most references made to dead pets and in some cases to deceased people.

The ‘Starry Night Background’ from the early 90’s. More ‘Starry Night’s’ can be found on Olia Lialia’s personal page: http://art.teleportacia.org/observation/vernacular/stars/

Different images appear to be used on different occasions relating to remembrance on the Internet. The so called ‘rainbow bridge’ to another world is mostly used in cases of deceased cats, dogs or other pets; somehow, people find this symbolism more suitable for animals. However, according to Gustavsson, both pets and deceased people can be depicted as entities which have acquired ‘angel status’. Little children are often depicted as butterflies because their fragile nature and ephemeral existence can easily be compared to that of a child. The picture below is a good example of a memorial page where deceased children are symbolized as butterflies in a garden. To some people ‘the Internet’ apparently holds a mystical status in their beliefs and can be easily and almost naturally adopted as an extension and deepening of a person’s belief system. It also appears that some people even believe that both pets and loved ones that have died will read everything that people write on the Internet. It must also be emphasised though that many people don’t believe at all in the Internet as the Otherworld, but their behaviour towards it reveals the opposite.

One of the 'vlindertuinen' (butterfly gardens): http://www.kindjeopkomst.nl/vlindertuin/ritueel43.html

One of the
‘vlindertuinen’ (butterfly gardens): http://www.kindjeopkomst.nl/vlindertuin/ritueel43.html

Formerly the cementery, church or house-altars were places of contact with the deceased. In modern popular culture highway memorials or other public memorials have become treated as places of connection with the Otherworld in the physical world: the place were someone exhaled their last breath. Increasingly though the Internet is becoming the popular place for contact with elements being taken from the physical world, like candles, flowers, a central portrait and the messages of condolences and used on the Internet in some form or other. The sacred aura that web design can create, with the effect of space and eternity can be seen in total contrast to the often temporary nature of the websites themselves. A new element is the use of audio and video on memorial webpages that, triggered by the visitor, brings the paradoxical feeling of  being ‘living and real’.  In this way the deceased are kept ‘alive’ and the bereaved can feel more connected.  Thus, the non-tangible memorial webpage has in some sense become the single most important connection between the living and the dead.  This is perhaps a radical change in the culture of grief and remembrance, where the Internet can be seen to be starting to play a significant and intriguing role, a role that will almost certainly develop and mutate in the increasingly digitised world.

Rainbow bridge

A rainbow bridge used for remembrance websites for deceased cats. On: http://www.acreswaycats.com/rainbowbridge.htm

Literature

  • Olia Lialina & Dragan Espenschied, Digital Folklore Reader (2009).
  • Robert Dobler, ‘Ghosts in the Machine: Mourning the MySpace Dead’ in: Trevor J. Blank, Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular Expression in a Digital World (Colorado 2009) 175-193.
  • Tim Hutchings, Wiring Death: Dying, Grieving and Remembering on the Internet (2012).
  • Anders Gustavsson, ‘Death and Bereavement on the Internet in Sweden and Norway’, in: Folklore, Vol. 53 (2013).
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Filed under Contemporary History, Digital Culture, Digital History, Folklore, Grief Studies, History of Daily Life, Internet Culture, Modern Culture, Popular Religion, Remembrance and Funeral Customs

Mugwort: a European plant of divination

Remember, Mugwort, what you made known,
What you arranged at the Great proclamation.
You were called Una, the oldest of herbs,
you have power against three and against thirty,
you have power against poison and against infection,
you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.

Nine Herb Charm, Lacnunga manuscript, 10th century. 

Mugwort (Artemisia Vulgaris; German name: Beifuß; Dutch: Bijvoet; French: Armoise) is a native plant from Europe. Mugwort has American and Asian variations too. (Not to be confused with St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum). The Latin name Artemis is named after the Greek moon goddes Artemisia, goddes of birth and marriage. In medical terms it was used for female issues, therefore it is sometimes called ‘womb wort‘ ore ‘love herb‘. It helped against menstrual pain and in high doses it was used to excite abortion.  Mugwort however, was also considered as a sacred herb by Germanic tribes in Europe. Originally the German ‘Beifuß’ is derived from the Old High German ‘bozzan’, which means ‘to repel’, mostly against evil and bad luck. In folk etymology this name is changed into ‘bijvoet‘ and ‘biboz‘, because this herb was put in shoes to protect oneself against pain during traveling.

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Mugwort is the first plant ever described in an preserved European manuscript by the Greek Plinius the Elder. In his Naturalis Historia (77 AD) he talks about travelers who took mugwort during their travels. The Greek physician Dioscurides used mugwort for medical purposes against worms. Greek and Roman people used it as a flavouring for food and drinks. In other parts of Europe people used it to flavor drinks at least since the Iron Age. It is believed to be the oldest herb in the world… Therefore it is mentioned in old legends, for example the story of Queen Aremisia from Persia about which is said that she built a monument mausoleum with a lot of mugwort for her husband in the city of Halicarnassus around the year 377 BC. Interesting fact is that the temples of Diana, the Roman version of Artemis, were used for healing.

Mugwort is a real Midsummer herb as it is praised in the Nine Herb Charm mentioned above. The christianized version is St. John’s Plant because it blooms during the feast of St. John the Baptist on the 24th of June. This date is very close to the early Germanic midsummer celebration on the 21th of June. Nine herbs were used during the Midsummer celebration because nine is a holy number according to Germanic people. Various folk rituals are focused around mugwort during Midsummer. People could improve one’s eyesight while looking at the bonfire through a bunch of mugwort. Puppets stuffed with mugwort were thrown in the bonfire to wash away sins. Or, in my opinion, these dolls were not only used for sins, but to clear away bad luck or bad energy, maybe demons. Because during the Middle Ages, bunches of mugwort were used to clear areas of ill powers in order to keep away evil spirits and demons.

Already in pre-christian Germanic times this plant was used for it’s healing purposes. It was specially used for female illnesses and childbirth. In the fourth century, the Gaul Marcellus of Bordeaux describes the custom of people girding themselves with some  mugwort at sunrise, preferebly gathered with the left hand, and using this as a remedy for pain in the loins. It is therefore not suprising that a lot of folk medicine concerning mugwort are passed on troughout the European Middle Ages. Hildegard von Bingen in her Physica (1150-1160) derived juices from mugwort, against ailing intestines and against a cold stomach. If you eat it, preferably in a puree, it could attract rotten matter in your food and remove it out of your body. In a mixture with honey and egg white, according to Hildegard, it is very helphull against open wounds. According to the Compendium of symbolic and ritual plants in Europe van Marcel de Cleene these above described juices of mugwort were a wide spread magic recipe in Europe. The juice of mugwort imparted great strength to the person who rubbed it into his limbs. This superstition could be based on a description by Pliny the Elder, stating that mugfort would protect the walker from tired feet.

As we already have mentioned, mugwort was one of the Midsummer herbs, that could enhance visions ans prophecies,  especially during the Midsummer night dreams. The common mugwort, became the important ‘St John’s Wort’ in Christian Folklore. (Don’t confuse it with the original St. John’s Wort). People also stuffed their pillows or drank tea to generate foresight. It was one of the most important plants for divination and health, in pre-christian pagan times and during the Middle Ages all the way up to the modern era. In 1927 in Germany, for example, mugwort was still used to treat illnesses caused by spells as it was a good protection against the devil and demons. Mugwort also had the property to free bewitched eggs or milk.

“There is a remarkable Russian legend about the Common Mugwort. On the 3rd of May, the day of the veneration of the Holy Cross, a young girl goes to the forest to pick mushrooms. Suddenly she spies a jumble of snakes, decides to return home, but on her way falls into a very deep hole. At the end of this dark burrow, she notices a shining stone. She also sees a queen with golden horns leading hungry snakes to the stone; they lick the stone and immediately their hunger is satisfied. The girl follows their example and so manages to stay alive. At the start of the following spring, the snakes form a ladder for the girl to climb up, and so she excapes from the hole. On her departure sahe recieves a special gift from the queen: she is able to understand the language of herbs, and understand ther curative powers. However, she has to promise never to utter the name mugwort or c’ornobil (he who was black), for then she will immediatlely lose all her knowledge. And indeed, the girl is now able to understand the language of the plants and know all their powers. However, walking along, she is soon overtaken by a man who asks her which plant grows by the wayside of small country lanes, She answers c’ornobil and immediatly loses her special knowledge of herbs. From this day on the mugwort was known as Zabutko of herb of oblivion.”

From: Compendium of symbolic and ritual plants in Europe van Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune (2003).

Remark: c’ornobill really means ‘dark stalkes’. See: Wiktionary of Chernobyl

Interesting facts: 

  • In modern times the Dutch name Bijvoet was used as a nickname for herbal doctors, which shows the important significance of this herb in herbal lore. People whose family name is still Bijvoet may have had doctors as ancestors.
  • Mugwort is called in many languages the ‘love herb’. In Dutch: ‘liefdeskruid’. A Greek papyrus scroll also mentions the Artemisia as a magic remedy for winning love and friendship. In Posen/Poznan (Poland) widows anxious to remarry wore a sprig of the mugwort as a love plant. In Neder-Overheembeek in 1909, lovesick girls would place the mugwort between their naked breasts in order to attract a lover. (It works!)
  • Mugwort was held in high regard by the Germanic, Celtic and Slav peoples; they used the herb to ease childbirth and cure all sorts of female disorders and induces abortion in high amounts and birth in low amounts.
  • Before 1949 in Limburg (Belgium) a cross was made of the herb and then worn as an amulet. Large wreaths were also made of it and worn as a St John’s girdle
  • Mugwort was a highly valued plant; this is evident from the old names of this plant, such as Mater herbalum (the mother of herbs).
  • The coal found under mugfort during St. John’s Day has healing properties. It was effective against epilepsy and fever and protected the cattle for two days, in the early 20th century. (A pre-christian custom was to led cattle through the coal and ashes of the Midsummer bonfire).
  • During Tynwald, the nation day of the Isle of Man, soldiers wear sprigs of mugwort according to an old custom.
  • Mugwort also has the power to preserve the beer into which it is cast or suspended, because it does not turn sour

Sources: 

  • Compendium of symbolic and ritual plants in Europe van Marcel de Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune (2003).
  • Transcriptions and information from Marius Odinson.
  • Physica, Hildegard von Bingen (1150-1160).
  • Naturalis Historia, Plinius the Elder (77 AD).
  • Nine Herb Charm, Lacnunga Manuscript (10th century).
  • Mugwort Lore, Edward E. Armstrong, in: Folklore, Vol. 55, No. 1 (1944).

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Filed under Fairy Tales, Folklore, Germanic Paganism, Grandmother's Wisdom, Health, Health and Hash, Heathenism, Herbs, Historical Festivities, Legends and Folktales, Middle Ages, Myths, Popular Religion

Icelandic Ásatru Temple: a historical event

“Þat mon verða satt, es vér slítum í sundr lögin, at vér monum slíta ok friðinn.” (Eng. trans: It will prove true that if we tear apart the laws we will also tear apart the peace.) Source: Íslendingabók, by Ari Þorgilsson12th century.

As Þorgeirr, the Icelandic lawspeaker of the Alting spoke at the Lögberg around the year 1000. The only way to keep peace in a country, according to Þorgeirr, is the commitment of everyone to keep the same laws and the same religion. In his eyes this meant a complete Christian Iceland. Now, 1000 years later, this same peacefull country begets and embraces the old religion of the Icelanders once again by building the new ‘hof’ or temple for the Icelandic Asatru Society.

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Design for Icelandic pagan temple, based on sacred geometry by ar­chi­tect Mag­nús Jens­son. Source and more information: http://wildhunt.org/tag/magnus-jensson

The Ásatrú Association (Ásatrúarfélagið) is a Germanic neopagan group in Iceland, founded in 1972. Ásatrú means ‘faith in the Æsir’, and is the old polytheïstic believe system and loyalty to the main Germanic gods (Æsir). These people refer to themselve as Asatruar or heathen. Important gods are for example Thor, Odin, Frey and Freya. Actually, the rise of Germanic neopaganism is also seen in other European countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. Unfortunately to say, but the rise of a temple on the continent is besides desirable, still unthinkable. We don’t have our historical treasures like the family Saga’s and the pagan influenced poem’s of the Edda’s. Without this historica legacy in Northwestern Europe, which in their case was very important in modern Icelandic nation building, we continental pagans have still a long way to go.

In any case, we continental pagans can be pleased for the Icelanders who paved the way for the emancipation of Germanic paganism in Europe. The news of the new temple already reached national newspapers in the Netherlands like the Algemeen Dagblad, Trouw, internet news site Nu.nl, Telegraaf, and the public broadcaster PowNed!. The English newspapers likewise, such as The Guardian, The Independant, the NBC News,  The Telegraph and the American Washington Post.   Just how special is it, that ignorant minds now, by reading their daily newspaper, suddenly become acquainted with modern Germanic paganism. Let’s step forward with firm steps!

More information on Icelandic paganism in this interview with Jörmundur Ingi, head of the Reykjavikur Goðarhttp://grapevine.is/mag/interview/2006/12/01/nordic-gods-alive-in-reykjavik/ 

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On a new generation…

777e

“And here I recognize the mission of that youth, that first generation of fighters and dragon slayers, which
brings forth a more fortunate and more beautiful culture and humanity, without having more of this
future happiness and future beauty than a promise-filled premonition.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Use and the Abuse of History for Life X (1874).

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A DECLARATION FROM THE EUROPEAN CONGRESS OF ETHNIC RELIGIONS

A DECLARATION FROM THE EUROPEAN CONGRESS OF ETHNIC RELIGIONS (English Version)

We, the delegates from twelve different countries convened at the European Congress of Ethnic Religions in Vilnius, Lithuania, on this 9th day of July 2014, join our voices together to make the following declaration:

We are members of diverse European indigenous ethnic cultures who seek to revitalize and reclaim our ancestral religious and spiritual traditions. We honor those who went before us, who gave us our life and our heritage. We are bound to the lands of our ancestors, to the soil that holds their bones, to the waters from which they drank, to the roads that they once walked. And we seek to pass that heritage to those who come after us, whose ancestors we are in the process of becoming – our children, our grandchildren, and the many generations yet to be born. We send solidarity and support to those other indigenous nations, races and religions who are also engaged in the struggle to preserve their own ancestral heritages.

Our ethnic religions are the product of the history of this continent; they are the living expressions, in the present, of our most ancient traditions and identities. At a time when the world is precariously balanced on the edge of environmental and economic upheaval, largely as the result of imbalanced individualism and rampant greed, our religions promote very different models of spiritual and social values: living in harmony, balance and moderation with the Earth; the importance of family and cooperative community; and respect and honor for all forms of life.

Yet, in many countries of Europe, the practice of our religions is impeded, restricted, and sometimes forbidden. We urge all European governments to fully comply with, and actively enforce, the provisions guaranteeing freedom of religion to all citizens as stipulated in the Treaties of the European Union, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention of Human Rights, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other similar conventions and agreements, and to refrain from granting preferential treatment to some religions over others. We also ask that this equality of religious preference be reflected in the European educational systems.

We urge all our governments to actively engage in the preservation and protection of European indigenous sacred sites – be they human-made structures or natural settings. We further ask that free and open access to those sites be given to ethnic European religions which seek to use them for the purposes of worship and spiritual celebration.

We do not seek ownership or exclusive rights to those sites – the land does not belong to us, we belong to the land.

We object to the use of the term “pagan” by extremist political groups of any kind, as it reflects negatively on our reputation.

Finally, we urge all peoples and all nations to place the well-being of the Earth – who is, literally, our Living Mother – above any and all other priorities.

We send this message in kinship, love, and respect.

Andras Corban Arthen (President), Anamanta, Spain/U.S.A.
Ramanė Roma Barauskienė, Lietuva
Martin Brustad, Norway
Nina Bukala, Werkgroep Hagal, Netherlands
Alexander Demoor, Werkgroep Hagal, Belgium
Valentinas Dilginas, Kuzšei Žemaicĭai, Lithuania
Sören Fisker, Forn Siđr, Danmark
Federico Fregni (Board Member), Societas Hesperiana, Italia
Marianna Gorronova, Czech Republic
Lars Irenessøn (Board Member), Forn Siđr, Danmark
Irena Jankutė-Balkūnė (Board Member), Romuva, Lithuania
Runar Kartsen, Forn Sed, Norway
Daniele Liotta (Board Member), Movimento Tradizionale Romano, Italia
Silvano Lorenzoni, Federazione Pagana Italiana, Italia
Anna Lucarelli, Movimento Tradizionale Romano, Italia
Sachin Nandha, United Kingdom
Zdenek Ordelt, Czech Republic
Elisabeth Overgaauw, Werkgroep Hagal, Netherlands
Eugenijus Paliokas, Šventaragis Romuva, Lithuania
Staško Potrzebowski, Rodzima Wiara, Polska
Prudence Priest, Romuva, U.S.A.
Marina Psaraki, Y.S.E.E., Greece
Vlassis G. Rassias, Y.S.E.E., Greece
Valdas Rutkūnas, Romuva, Lithuania
Ignas Šatkauskas (Board Member), Romuva, Lithuania
Øyvind Siljeholm, Forn Sed, Norway
Dovile Sirusaitė, Lithuania
Eleonora Stella, Societas Hesperiana, Italia
Inija Trinkūnienė, Romuva, Lithuania
Ram Vaidya, United Kingdom

 

Source: www.ecer-org.eu

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White Horse pulling the Sun Wheel by Nina Bukala

White Horse pulling the Sunwheel by Nina Bukala

A beautiful visual expression of Midsummer’s Eve by Nina Bukala. See more beautiful drawings on The Norse Mythology Blog. (Click on the drawing!)

Her explanation:

“The notion of the sun being pulled across the sky by a horse was already prevalent in prehistoric Indo-European societies. The simple initial image of one white horse pulling the sunwheel, later developed into more elaborate images including several white horses, a chariot and an anthropomorphic sun god(dess) driving the chariot. Because in the Northern Hemisphere, a left-right motion of the sun can be observed during the day, the sun horse has usually been depicted facing towards the right. Midsummer marks the day when the sun appears highest in the sky. At this point, the sun’s movement seems to stop for a moment before reversing direction. While a moving wheel is represented by a tilted cross within a circle, a motionless wheel is symbolized by an upright cross within a circle.
Among midsummer traditions and beliefs, plants take on an important role. Ferns, for example, were thought to flower and produce seeds only on Midsummer Night. According to folklore, the flower of the royal fern brings prosperity or magical abilities to the person who finds it and was therefore much sought after. The seeds would make one invisible and bring buried treasures to the surface. Midsummer has been Christianized as the feast of St. John the Baptist. Consequently, one herb which is traditionally linked to midsummer throughout Europe, has been named after the saint. St. John’s wort, whose yellow flowers represent the sun, were picked at midsummer for their healing powers, protection against bad spirits and for divinatory purposes.
Ox-eye daisy is a plant so white, that it has been compared to the fair god Baldr and therefore received the name “Baldr’s brow.” On a astronomical level, Baldr’s death symbolizes the decline of the sun’s power after reaching its greatest height at the summer solstice. Cornflower is one of the many herbs that bloom at midsummer. Wild strawberries peak at midsummer as well and have been consumed in Europe since the Iron Age.”

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June 21, 2014 · 7:46 pm

Lithuanian Easter Eggs

Lithuanian Easter Eggs

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Lithuanian Easter Eggs2

Kiausiniai Easter eggs,
a beautiful example of Lithuanian Folk Art

Find more out here and here!!

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April 21, 2014 · 8:23 am