Author Archives: Heathen Chinese

TWH: Resiliency and the Spirit War

titian_bacchus_and_ariadneMy latest article at The Wild Hunt, “Resiliency and the Spirit War,” is up.

Though She is not mentioned explicitly in the article, it was Ariadne who told me to do work around resiliency. Hail Ariadne!


Villain Hitting and Politics

paper_tigers_in_villain_hitting

Paper tigers used in villain hitting. Credit: SoHome Jacaranda Lilau

The Guardian has an interesting article about villain hitters in Hong Kong, who are professional sorcerers specializing in curse magic. They are mostly elderly women, and they typically set up shop in stalls under bridges:

At roadside stalls with burning incense and an assortment of statues of deities, the sorcerers hit a paper effigy with their shoe while cursing the villain in question. If there is a specific target, patrons can write a name on the paper or bring a photo.

Once it has been beaten to shreds, the sorcerers rub the remains with a slab of pork fat and burn it. They then chant for good fortune, and all for just HK$50 (£5.25). […] The ritual originated centuries ago, when farmers in southern China performed the ceremony to drive away evil spirits. […] Aside from hexing enemies, the women advertise spells to cure illness, stop babies from crying, help souls crossover and even [sic] contact dead ancestors for marital advice.

Apparently, patrons have been targeting politicians lately: “As his popularity plummeted, Hong Kong’s leader, Leung Chun-ying, has been increasingly in the crosshairs of the roadside retribution vendors.”

A stream of people have brought Leung’s photo to be hit, Wong said, but she would not take credit for his decision not to seek a second term in elections next year. Tourists from neighbouring Taiwan have also stopped at her shrine, paying to curse their former president Ma Ying-jeou.

Political tension in Hong Kong exploded two years ago, resulting in nearly three months of street protests, road occupations and constant calls for Leung to step down led by what became know as the umbrella movement.

“People felt depressed and powerless in the immediate aftermath of the umbrella movement, as even such a large scale mobilisation failed to bring about any observable change,” said Mathew Wong, a politics professor at the University of Hong Kong.

Villain hitting offers another type of power. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “the concept of politics will have then merged entirely into a war of spirits…there will be wars such as the earth has never seen.”

villain-hitting

Canal Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong. Credit: Foouaichaou


Matronae Veteranehae

matronae-veteranehae

Credit: RLMB

This is a fragment of an altar to the Matronae Veteranehae, the Matrons of Veterans. It comes from the area around Embken and Wollersheim, which are neighborhoods of modern-day Nideggen, Germany. Various inscriptions have been found in the area, probably all from the same sanctuary. It dates from 150-200 C.E.

This partial inscription reads:

MAT
VETER
L-SEV
TAC

Which probably is short for: Mat[ronis] / Veter[anehis] / L[ucius) Sev[erinus] / Tac[itus?] –/—-, “To the Matronae Veteranehae, Lucius Severinus Tacitus–/—-”

The end of the inscription may have been a formula such as VSLM (votum solvit libens merito, “fulfilled his vow willingly and deservedly” or DD (donum dedit, “gave this gift”).

In The Cult of the Matronae in the Roman Rhineland, Alex Garman writes:

“Veteranehae” derives from the Latin veterani which means retired soldiers. The name and the location of the site suggest that some of the surrounding farms were owned or managed by retired Roman soldiers. The inscriptions […] do not record any ranks or positions held. (55)


TWH Book Review: The Tao of Craft

tao-of-craft-promo-imageMy column for The Wild Hunt this month is a book review of Benebell Wen’s The Tao of Craft, which is about designing and using Chinese 符 (fú) sigils. My review largely focuses on Wen’s nuanced approach to cultural context (and thus the question of appropriation, which she deals with well), working with spirits, and magic as a craft.


The Iceni, Boudica and Andraste

iceni

The Iceni were a Brythonic tribe living in what is now Norfolk. They voluntarily allied with the Romans when Claudius invaded in 43 CE, but revolted in 47 against the pro-praetor’s attempt to disarm them.¹ A colony of veterans was stationed at Camolodunum to dissuade further revolts. The coins of the Iceni included depictions of horses and wheels and flowers.

iceni_coin

Iceni gold stater, c. 15 BCE-20 CE. Credit: Numisantica.

Though defeated in 47, the Iceni remained nominally independent under King Prasutagus. When Prasutagus died in 60, he named both the Roman Emperor Nero and his two daughters as his heirs. His wife, Boudica, was whipped, and his daughters were raped.² According to Tacitus, it was the veterans settled at Camolodunum who were particularly responsible for committing outrages against the Iceni:

For these new settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves, and the lawlessness of the veterans was encouraged by the soldiers, who lived a similar life and hoped for similar license.

Furthermore, Roman moneylenders, including Seneca the Younger, demanded repayment of loans from the Iceni.³ Meanwhile, the Roman governor was busy campaigning against rebel Druids on the island of Mona (modern Anglesey).4 Queen Boudica led the Iceni and many other British tribes in revolt against the Romans.

Cassius Dio, writing well over a hundred years later, describes Boudica as being exceptionally tall, having a fierce glare, harsh voice, red-brown hair to her hips, a large golden necklace around her neck, a multi-colored tunic covered by a heavy cloak fastened by a broach, armed with a spear and riding a chariot.5

boudicca

He attributes a speech to her wherein she declares, “let us show them [the Romans] that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves.” According to his account, she then released a hare from her cloak as a form of divination similar to Etruscan augury, it ran in an auspicious direction, and she then prayed to the goddess Andraste “for victory, preservation of life, and liberty.” He also names “Andate” as the Iceni equivalent of the Roman Victoria, and alleges human sacrifice in Her sacred grove.6

At Camolodunum, Boudica’s first target, the statue of Victoria fell down and turned Her back towards the enemy as if fleeing. “Women excited to frenzy prophesied impending desturction,” the ocean was seen to be blood-red, a submerged town was seen in the Thames, the theater was filled with the wailing of spirits and the Senate was haunted by a disembodied voice laughing and speaking in a foreign language.7 Archaeological evidence suggests that when Boudica’s rebels sacked Camolodunum, whatever buildings they could not burn, they methodically leveled to the ground.8 Boudica next defeated the Ninth Legion, then proceeded to attack Londinium and Verulamium.9 Archaeologists have found layers of charred rubble in London dating to Boudica’s revolt.10

The Roman governor withdrew from Mona, gathered 10,000 troops, and fought a pitched battle against the British rebels, who brought their families in wagons to the edge of the battlefield.11 When the battle turned against the Britons, the wagons impeded their retreat, and they were slaughtered: Tacitus claims that 80,000 Britons were killed on that day.12 Boudica died, either through committing suicide with poison13 or because of illness.14 In the entire uprising, Tacitus claims that 70,000 Romans and allied Britons were killed,15 while Cassius Dio claims 80,000.16

Notes

  1. Tacitus, Annals 12.31.
  2. Ibid. 14.31.
  3. Cassius Dio, Roman History 62.2.
  4. Tacitus 14.30.
  5. Cassius Dio 62.2.
  6. Ibid. 62.5-6.
  7. Tacitus 14.32, many of the omens also repeated in Cassius Dio 62.1
  8. Jason Burke, “Dig uncovers Boudicca’s brutal streak.”
  9. Tacitus 14.32-3.
  10. Museum of London.
  11. Tacitus 14.34.
  12. Ibid. 14.37.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Cassius Dio 62.12.
  15. Tacitus 14.33.
  16. Cassius Dio 62.1.

Matres Ollototae and/or Transmarinae

matres-ollototae

The Matres Ollototae are attested to from inscriptions from Roman Britain. The epithet comes from Brythonic ollo-, ‘all’ and teuta, touta, ‘tribe,’ or in other words “Mothers of All the Tribes.” Unlike most of the inscriptions to the Matres in Britian, at least one inscription was found at a non-military site (Heronbridge, Cheshire).

matres-ollotatae-sive-transmarinae

Another inscription, made by one Pomponius Donatus at Roman Fort Binchester in Durham County, links the epithet Ollotate to the epithet Transmarinae with the word sive, meaning “or.”

I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo) et Matribus Ollototis sive Tramarinis Pomponius Donatus, b(ene)f(iciarius) co(n)s(ularis) pro salute sua et suorum v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To Iupiter, Best and Greatest, and to the Mother Goddesses of All the Peoples, or Overseas, Pomponius Donatus, beneficiaries of the governor, for the welfare of himself and his household willingly fulfilled his vow’

The epithet Transmarinae is also found at Lowther, Plumpton Wall (Cumbria), Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Tyne and Wear) and Risingham (Northunmberland). Transmarinus/a/um can mean either “beyond the sea” or “coming from beyond the sea.” But if They can hear prayers from across the sea, then They have in fact crossed the sea Themselves, making a combination of both meanings likely in my eyes. Perhaps, like the Chinese goddess Mazu (“Mother Ancestor”), who is a protectress of sailors and fishermen who has not one but two temples in San Francisco Chinatown, They may also have been seen as facilitating safe passage across the sea.

black-mazu

Jin Xiang Ma statue of Mazu, Lugang Mazu Temple, Taiwan.

At York, an inscription was dedicated to the “African, Italian and Gaulish Mothers,” and at Winchester, one was dedicated to the “Italian, German, Gaulish and British Mothers.” These are clearly in the same vein as the inscriptions to the Matres Ollototae and the Matres Transmarinae.


Strong Roots and Wide Branches Hospitality Suite

strong-roots-and-wide-branches

Help us put on a Pan-Polytheist Hospitality Suite at Pantheacon! Strong Roots and Wide Branches, a Polytheist learning community, is hosting a hospitality suite at PantheaCon 2017. Our suite will provide dedicated shrine spaces to Ancestors and Gods from a variety of traditions. We will also provide Polytheist-focused classes, rituals, workshops, and spiritual triage services. We are dedicated to providing inclusive, safe and welcoming space for con attendees.

Donate here. Blessings and thanks.