I post on this site less as the other demands on my time shout for attention. Just too much going on these days! I'll be back when I can, because I do live with a goddess by my side.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

blending attitudes about pagans

Q: Can you be a Pagan and a Christian?

A: Yes. Such people may call themselves Christo-Pagans, Mystic Christians, or other names reflecting their dual heritage. Angel Wicca is another popular example. Some Afro-Caribbean religions like Santeria combine Pagan and Christian elements too. You can blend together aspects from many different religions according to what feels right to you; many people do this. In your explorations you might meet a "Jewitch" studying Judaism and Witchcraft, or a "Pagan Sufi" studying Paganism and the Sufi branch of Islam, or just about any other combination you can imagine.
Thanks to:
Elizabeth Barrette, lives in central Illinois with lifepartner, in a large Victorian farmhouse with a yard frequented by wildlife. An avid wordsmith, she works as a writer and editor, doing poetry, articles, essays, reviews, interviews, short stories. She is a former editor of PanGaia magazine and has written several popular books published by Llewellyn including the popular 2012 Magical Almanac and Composing Magic and many more. She is a member of The Greenhaven Tradition, and Fieldhaven Coven in central Illinois.

It is perhaps misleading even to say that there was such a religion as “paganism” at the beginning of [the Common Era] ... It might be less confusing to say that the pagans, before their competition with Christianity, had no religion at all in the sense in which that word is normally used today. They had no tradition of discourse about ritual or religious matters (apart from philosophical debate or antiquarian treatise), no organized system of beliefs to which they were asked to commit themselves, no authority-structure peculiar to the religious area, above all no commitment to a particular group of people or set of ideas other than their family and political context. If this is the right view of pagan life, it follows that we should look on paganism quite simply as a religion invented in the course of the second to third centuries AD, in competition and interaction with Christians, Jews and others.
—North 1992, 187—88, in Cameron, Alan G.; Long, Jacqueline; Sherry, Lee (1993). Barbarians and Politics at the Court of Arcadius. University of California Press.

Wikipedia gives this:
Paganism is a broad group of indigenous and historical polytheistic religious traditions—primarily those of cultures known to the classical world. In a wider sense, paganism has also been understood to include any non-Abrahamic, folk, or ethnic religion.
Contemporary or modern paganism, also known as neopaganism, is a group of new religious movements influenced by, or claiming to be derived from, the various historical pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe.
 There is much more discussed on that site.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Margo Adler

Excerpts from the memorial service recently held for a goddess.

If you don't know much about Margo, besides having heard her on NPR frequently...go search and learn about a powerful, amusing, dedicated, loving, down-to-earth...woman!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Goddess, God, and Wicca

I spoke up the other night and said "I'm a pagan."  This was in answer to someone saying the word as if it were know the sneer on someone's face who was brought up believing pagans worshiped the devil...a totally Christian viewpoint.  She said she is finding out that "Christian" as a term also has many meanings, depending upon which denomination you might find talking about it.  A Catholic and a Baptist certainly say many different things than a Unitarian Universalist Christian.

But as a Pagan, I also embrace the Goddess in Her many aspects (though not all pagans do).  Let's look at more information that isn't biased from the Christian perspective. After all, that's probably why you're reading this!


Q: Who is the Goddess? The God?

A: The Goddess is the female aspect of divinity. As Maiden, She is the perfect innocent child who shows us the simple joys in life. As Mother, She is the perfect mate and provider who nourishes and guards us. As Crone, She is the perfect grandmother who teaches us wisdom and leads us into the next world. The Goddess loves all of us as Her children; all life comes from Her and eventually returns to Her. The God is the male aspect of divinity. At different stages, He is the son and the lover of the Goddess. He teaches us about manhood and fatherhood. As the Horned One, He reigns over the crops of the field for harvest and the wild animals for hunting. Together the Goddess and the God bring us blessings and challenges according to our needs. Their eternal dance marks the changing seasons, as They each change form and show us Their different faces.

Q: What is Witchcraft? Is it the same thing as Wicca?

A: Witchcraft encompasses several branches of Paganism, one of which is Wicca. Others include Stregheria (Italian Witchcraft) and a feminist version that considers every woman a Witch. Not everyone means the same thing when they say "Witchcraft" – some mean only religion, some mean magic, and many mean both. The lowercase "witchcraft" may refer simply to the practice of magic, not to a religion. Usually Witchcraft is a complex, positive belief system which incorporates a God and a Goddess venerated through ritual. Wicca follows that paradigm, drawing most of its content from the works of Gardner and Alexander; modern traditions include Dianic, Faerie, Eclectic, and even Angel Wicca. The Wiccan religion incorporates gender equity, immanent divinity and immanent worth, and the responsible use of magic.


We shared a little about Pagans before.  Still to come...Gainism, polytheism, and magic.  (Or you can go look at the site, which I've heard less than 50% of people actually do.) 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Great Goddess and her Influence

I don't need to reiterate all the scholarly work that has been written about the goddess throughout history.  And this article is one that I find covers a lot of information.

The author, Dr. Cristina Biaggi is an artist, sculptor, lecturer and author/editor whose works are a reflection and an extension of her lifelong interest in the classics, art and art history, archaeology, literature, and languages.

Let's see if you feel like clicking a link today...
The Great Goddess and Her Influence

It was published in 2006 in the first issue of the magazine "Goddess Pages" which is still available on line.  As a matter of fact all issues are available here.

I may have more quotes from this site later.

And Dr. Biaggi is still doing what she is her web site, and in 2010 she had a blog HERE.
That blog has lots of great photos in nature and of goddesses!  I'll be reading more of it myself.

 Crucifixion_I_thCrucifixion Triptych I, 1977

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Women gathering in Her Name

Ramya, Barbara, Judy,(in back) Jane, Linda, Louise?, Heidi, Mamie, Byron.  Front row, Annie, Rita, Joni, Su, and Teresa
In 2010, this great group of women met for 8 sessions of a class that focused upon goddess her-stories that ranged throughout the world, from Mary Magdelene to Pele'.

Sadly, two of these gorgeous women have passed beyond the veil, as they say.  We miss them both.

I no longer have red hair...indeed in the 4 years after this I've let it grow out and is totally white now, and long. I do still have a tummy that likes to peak out from below my shirt.  I won't say what has been happening in any of the other women's lives...and I also am sad that I haven't had any continuing touch with several of them.

This class studied a Unitarian Universalist curriculum "Rise Up and Call Her Name."  It was taught with variations based on the desires of the class and the facilitators.  Three wonderful dedicated women shared the duties of presentations, and we were all so grateful to Byron, Linda and Mamie.

What was important about this class (as well as many others shared by women through UU curriculums) is that it helps women speak together and learn more of the powerful her-stories of goddesses.

This last year Linda and Byron taught another class to encourage a new generation of women and their daughters to learn through song, dance, art and crafts...and we elders certainly enjoyed it as well.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Divine Feminine

The following article is the introduction on a web site by the same name, which began in 2009 and continues (intermittently it seems) with dialog and courses.  The organizer is Joy Reichard, of San Mateo, CA.
The voice of the Divine Feminine is re-emerging in human consciousness bringing with Her a new vision of the sacredness and unity of life. Her voice is needed during these chaotic times. Our stressful, fast paced culture that emphasizes masculine ideals such as competitiveness, control and domination often confuses and dis-empowers women. Confused as to what is appropriate feminine behavior, many women become over-involved in care taking others, are afraid to say no, or to set healthy boundaries. Unsatisfied needs and/or unexpressed rage can lead to fatigue, indecisiveness, a lack of enthusiasm and depression. Or it can manifest as the martyr, the victim, the saboteur or the “bitch.”These negative character traits are destructive whether we act them out, or are victimized by them when they erupt in others.
By reclaiming the images and mythologies of the Divine Feminine from around the globe we rediscover Her wisdom, Her rich symbolism and Her life-affirming traits that offer positive role models and guidance to modern women and men. By honoring the Divine Feminine we remember to honor ourselves, our bodies, our ability to feel deeply and express our feelings, and our feminine ways of knowing. We remember to value motherhood and children, as well as all living beings with who we share this beautiful but increasingly fragile planet. By honoring the Divine Feminine we take time to remember the Great Mother of us all who has provided for all living beings for eons; She who is both abundant and unpredictable in her terrible but awesome beauty. As we reclaim the Divine Feminine, we reclaim the divine that is within each woman, and each man who opens to Her, enabling us to reconnect to ourselves, the sensuality of our bodies and to our feminine wisdom as we can claim, or reclaim, our personal power and our passion for life. The message of the Divine Feminine is one of peace, compassion, and respect for all life. She is ancient and wise, and she is very present within each one of us right now.
Join me in exploring the wisdom of the Divine Feminine that has been passed down through the ages and is flavored with contemporary philosophy, theology, psychology and creative expression. This Meetup sponsors a monthly In Her Name Circle celebrating a manifestation of the Divine Feminine . These Circles evolved from a growing need for women to gather together to honor the Divine Feminine and the divine within. We meet on the second Friday of the month.
The IN HER NAME CIRCLE will resume 
January 23, 2015  
Relationships are important for women, and circles provide a natural way for women to gather and create a safe place to greet old friends and make new ones.  In circle women find the confidence to speak freely from the heart and know that they will be heard, if not always agreed with.  
Unitarian Universalist Congregation

300 East Santa Inez Ave., San Mateo, CA (map)


As I just tumped my laptop upside down to get the piece of rice cake out of the crack in the keyboard, I also checked in on Facebook.  So there was a post about Starhawk.

She was my introduction to goddesses, divine feminine and well as lots of other things.  Check out this article, I won't copy it's probably copyrighted anyway.

9 Lessons in Spiritual Leadership From Starhawk 

Friday, November 21, 2014

What is a pagan?

This is one simplified answer.
A Pagan is a person who feels a strong connection to nature, who holds the Earth and its creatures sacred, and who seeks a personal connection with the Divine. Pagan religions come from all around the globe, from ancient history and contemporary times as well. Paganism encompasses the reverence of nature, the worship of the Divine in many guises but especially as an embodiment of natural forces, the observance of seasonal cycles, and a perennial quest for personal growth. Most Pagan religions are polytheistic, celebratory faiths. Like any religion, Paganism is much too complex to describe fully in just a few words.

Q: What do Pagans believe?

A: This depends on the Pagans, because different Pagan religions have different tenets. Still, some common threads emerge. More often than not, Pagans believe: The God(s) and Goddess(es) made this world as a kind of school, where souls can enter bodies to learn many valuable lessons. Your body is a precious gift that you should cherish and care for accordingly. All the plants, animals, landscape features – everything in this world is sacred and worthy of respect. You must take responsibility for your own life and actions. Magic, a focusing of Will to alter reality, can help you shape your life to positive ends. Many good spirits offer help and guidance along the way. You have a right to choose a religion meaningful to you and helpful in achieving your goals. You are a good and worthwhile person; you do not need to "do" anything to earn or keep the love of the God and the Goddess, because unconditional love comes with no strings attached. Humanity includes the capacity for great good and great evil; we are not tainted by some "original sin" from which we need "salvation" but we do need to choose right action over wrong action. After you die, you will travel to a beautiful place and be reunited with your ancestors and friends who have gone before; you may or may not return to Earth for another lifetime.
More questions about pagans are answered at the on-line magazine Witches and Pagans, on their FAQ page HERE. 

The author of this FAQ:
Elizabeth Barrette lives in central Illinois with her lifepartner, in a large Victorian farmhouse with a yard frequented by wildlife. An avid wordsmith, she works as a writer and editor, doing poetry, articles, essays, reviews, interviews, short stories. She is a former editor of PanGaia magazine and has written several popular books published by Llewellyn including the popular 2012 Magical Almanac and Composing Magic and many more. She is a member of The Greenhaven Tradition, and Fieldhaven Coven in central Illinois.

I'll share more from the FAQ sheet about various pagan/goddess/wiccan questions.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Lost World of Old Europe Exhibition

 “Goddess is a metaphor for the great force of creativity and compassion that underlies existence”. Starhawk

Before you go running off to New York, remember this exhibit was in 2010...sorry about that.  I just thought it was worth commemorating here, as written.

Observations on The Lost World of Old Europe Exhibition
by Lydia Ruyle, Artist, Author, Scholar

One of the highlights of a holiday trip to New York City in 2009 was a visit to The Lost World of Old Europe, The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BCE exhibition at New York University. We arrived just after a huge snowstorm had blanketed the east coast. The city streets were piled with snow and ice and we were bundled up from head to toe to deal with the cold.
A large banner with a Goddess image on it stood at the entrance to the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World building a block east of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 84th. Walking inside, we deposited our gear in a closet and walked into the surprisingly small exhibition space. Visually the entire exhibition is a celebration of the feminine.
A case with a vessel, a large map of Old Europe, and an introduction to the exhibition are on the wall in the foyer. The introduction states:
“In 4500 BCE, before the invention of writing and before the first cities of Mesopotamia and Egypt were established, Old Europe was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced regions in the world. The phrase “Old Europe” refers to a cycle of related cultures that thrived in southeastern Europe during the fifth and fourth millennia BC. The heart of Old Europe was centered in the Danube River’s fertile valleys, where agriculturally rich plains were exploited by Neolithic farmers who founded long lasting settlements—some of which grew to substantial size, with populations reaching upward of 10,000 people. Today, the intriguing and enigmatic remains of these highly developed cultures can be found at sites that extend from modern day Serbia to Ukraine. The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3000 BC presents extraordinary finds from the three countries with the richest Old European archaeological heritage—Bulgaria, the Republic of Moldova, and Romania.
While Old Europe can be defined geographically with relative simplicity, the identification of cultural groups who lived there is more complicated. Since these cultures did not leave behind any written sources, the material remains from excavated settlements are the only tools that scholars can use to reveal both localized and common customs. Archaeological exploitation began throughout the region at the end of the nineteenth century but systematic excavations did not commence until the 1930s. During these formative years, when a common Old European culture had not yet been identified, archaeologists began classifying individual cultural groups based upon the site where each was first recognized. Hence, the Cucuteni culture is named after the modern Romanian village of Cucuteni, where the first remains from this culture were excavated. The same is true for the lower Danube site of Gumelnita and Hamangia, and Varna in Bulgaria, all highlighted in this exhibition.
Modern observers have projected quite different visions on the remains of Old Europe. But this much is clear—far earlier than is generally recognized, southeastern Europe achieved a level of technological skill, artistic creativity, and social sophistication that defies our standard categories and is just beginning to be understood in a systematic way. New studies of old collections, future excavation projects, and exhibitions such as this one hold out hope for a clearer understanding of Old Europe, the first proto civilization of Europe itself.”

There are two rooms for the exhibition which you can see from the foyer through tall glass doors. One is filled with exquisite ceramics, large and small, small gold objects and items made from spondylous shells which were traded across the Danube area. A raised rectangle platform displays the ceramics at waist level making it very easy to see the details. The size of some of the vessels is astonishing, some two to three feet in diameter. The patterns and details on the full rounded vessels are stunning. The artistic ability and skill to create the vessels, decorate them with symbols and the technology to fire them in kilns are most impressive.

A figure seated in a vessel decorated with symbols connects a female figure with vessel as a shrine. There are also several large clay figures of females, approximately twelve to fifteen inches high which are hollow, in cases along the wall.
I’ve found only by actually seeing and experiencing objects can you appreciate their scale and detail. I use what I call my artistic sight, trained now for over fifty years, to see, feel and touch the gorgeous, sophisticated objects. The ceramics symbolize to me the abundance of creation and creativity in female forms.
The second room, which you enter by parting two tall glass doors, felt like entering a shrine or sacred space. At the center of the room across from the doors is a case with the Thinking Man and Thinking Woman in it. The Thinking Man has breasts and I think is a female. Douglas Anthony, one of the exhibition curators, stated in a radio interview that The Thinking Man could be a woman. Hooray   Women can think   Amazing 
In the middle of the room are two cylinders lighted from within displaying groups of clay figurines, one titled a Council of Goddesses. One cylinder has the figures arranged in a circle, the other has the figures in a vessel. The figures are small, the largest perhaps eight inches, and half of them are seated on seats or thrones.
The text labels on the circle of figures states:
“This group of twenty-one figurines (thirteen large and eight small) was found together with fragments from two large ceramic vessels, one meant to contain them and the other functioning as a lid. The figurines and the fragments were placed adjacent to a hearth inside a large building, interpreted as a sanctuary, which from archaeological remains appears to have been intentionally destroyed by fire.
Originally wrapped in straw to protect them, the figurines can be identified as female by their clearly marked anatomy. All have schematically rendered bodies with abbreviated heads and arms, and exaggerated hips. The thirteen larger statuettes are set apart from the eight smaller ones by their painted decoration and the individualized chairs that accompany them. Two of the figurines could possibly be identified as senior by the fact that they sit on horn-backed thrones, a type of seating that in later cultures held ritual or religious significance. The intentional placements of these figurines next to a hearth, the emphasis on female anatomical details, and the hierarchy among the statuettes have prompted some scholars to identify the group as a “Council of Goddesses.” The lack of specific information concerning a Cucuteni or Old European pantheon, however, prevents a specific identification of this intriguing collection.”
The second lighted cylinder features figures seated around a central opening in a shrine like vessel again connecting figures with vessel suggesting female ritual in a defined ritual space.
There are cases around the room with more figures in them. An explanation text on the wall in the second room states:
“Old European Figurines: Materials, Composition and Technique
Anthropomorphic figurines were fashioned by Neolithic cultures from Anatolia to Thessaly, from Egypt to the Levant, and from Mesopotamia to Southeast Asia. Made in a wide array of materials—stone, metal, fired clay, ivory, shell, and bone—they are found in domestic and funerary contexts and probably played a central role in the social and ritual life of the communities producing them.
Among Old European cultural groups, figurines were predominantly modeled in clay. Bodies were usually composed of two modeled pieces that were pressed together and then covered with an additional layer of clay. For larger figurines, a two-piece mold may have been used. The body of each figurine was then decorated. Pierced holes, incision work, and painted motifs were frequently used to enliven the surface. After firing, small attachments, often in copper, were inserted in the holes as ornaments.
Each cultural group living in the Danube Valley developed a unique tradition for the depiction of the human body, favoring specific shapes, forms, and decoration. For example, the Cucuteni culture created highly stylized bodies with abbreviated heads and arms, and decorated them with extraordinarily precise incision work and painted motifs to create complex series of signs and symbols. In contrast, the Hamangia culture preferred more accurate representations or figures that combined realistic bodies and unrealistic “pillar” heads, while generally avoiding painted decoration.
An element common to all figures is their miniaturization. The small size, resulting from compression and abstraction of the human body, must have been fundamental in defining the function and meaning of these objects. It has been suggested that they were used in initiation rites, to prompt narratives or as magical depictions of deities. Regardless of the various interpretations, it is certain that the size allowed a person to interact with these tiny bodies, moving and arranging them with respect to surrounding space and to one another, thus creating a highly individualized relationship between each user and the figurines.
The female figure was of great symbolic significance during the Neolithic period, as attested by a proliferation of figurines in a variety of materials, here including stone, lime plaster, and clay. Although we cannot be certain whether these figures represent humans or deities, some scholars have identified them as representations of a Mother Goddess, possibly linked to the importance of fertile land in agricultural societies.”
(underlined emphasis mine)
The majority of the figures are small and female in form. Usage of the term figurines rather than figures suggests to me a subtle method of diminishing their significance as sacred objects. Their size could be a function of the physical properties of clay itself as larger figures must be hollow in order to keep clay from exploding at high firing temperatures.
The texts for the objects and explanations attempt to reflect a “scientific” left brained approach to the material. I included the mounted texts from the exhibition in this review in order to give a framework for what the exhibition organizers present. Like any selection process, the objects chosen and the texts are the choices of the organizers. I do not interpret them as negative just limited as to the concept of a Goddess. For me, the missing element is the artistic spiritual insight of the material which celebrates the fecundity and abundance of life in the female form as a Great Goddess. I agree with Starhawk that “Goddess is a metaphor for the great force of creativity and compassion that underlies existence”. From my experience, western archaeology avoids the term. Eastern European archaeology uses the term Goddess with respect and reverence.
The perfect artist/scholar to review this exhibit, find out more about Lydia Ruyle.....
Getting inside her head:
"Seeking with my mind and body, knowing with my inner being, life gives me wake-up calls. Art and the Ancient Mothers call me on a journey. Art is my soul language. I create because I must. After exploring many media, I began to make icons, sacred images of the divine feminine, to tell herstory and share my art with the world." 
--- Lydia Ruyle
To see Lydia's incredible banners, true Ambassadors of Goddess, that have traveled around the globe for years raising awareness of the Feminine, go to
The Goddess figure featured on a banner outside the exhibition and on the front page story in The New York Times about the exhibition opening is similar to Cucetani Venus, a Goddess Icon Banner Lydia created in 2006 for an Archaeomythology Conference at the Brukenthal Museum in Sibiui, Romania.


Please note, by checking for info on Lydia Ruyle, I only was able to get a link that worked to her art, which is very interesting!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Be wild

Borrowed from Facebook.

This dovetails nicely to my reading of "Glorious Women," a sermon from the free on-line book of sermons which won prizes, by Rev. Dorothy Wilson Kimble. (the entire PDF file was linked yesterday here.) It won the sermon award for 1992.  Part of the reason I read this one was that Rev. Kimble was born in the same year I was.  But this is one of the most powerful woman-authenticating sermons I've ever read (or heard.)

I quote...

From Mary Daly on answering the call of the wild.  She writes:

Enspiriting is hearing and following the call of the wild, which is in the Self.  The call to wild-ize our Selves, to free and unfreeze our Selves is a wild and fantastic calling to transfer our energy to our Selves and to Sister Selves…Wild means “living in a state of nature; inhabiting natural haunts: not tamed or domesticated…”  It means “growing…not cultivated…not subjected to restraint or regulation…exceeding conventional bounds…deviating from the expected course…great in intensity.

Source: Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), 343-344.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Glorious Women All

I'm going to give you the link to a book, available free on-line, of about 18 sermons about women, prize winners all. And the competition was just for  sermons about women.  

The first was given in 1985, and the last in 2004.  The Ministerial Sisterhood Unitarian Universalist was started in 1974 to encourage more women in ministry.  In the first 25 years of it's work the UU churches changed from having less than 5% of the ordained UU ministers being women, till in 1999 there were 51%.  

Don't miss reading the introduction also, which tracks the progress of changes from earliest times of women as ministers to when the book was written in 2004.

I haven't read all these sermons yet myself.  It's my reading for the next few days however.

First is one about Louisa May Alcott.  I see in the Table of Contents another author, May Sarton, and other familiar names like Dorothea Dix, and  Jane Addams, and abolitionist, Lydia Maria Child.

I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hypatia of Alexandria

The surviving fragments of Hypatia’s teachings indicate a mystical orientation. Glimpses of her spiritual views survived in the letters of her disciples, which speak of “the eye buried within us,” a “divine guide.” As the soul journeys toward divinity, this “hidden spark which loves to conceal itself” grows into a flame of knowing. Hypatia’s philosophy was concerned with the “mystery of being,” contemplation of Reality, rising to elevated states of consciousness, and “union with the divine,” the One. [Dzielska, 54-5, 48-50]

Hypatia’s father Theon was an astronomer and mathematician who was devoted to divination and astrology and the pagan mysteries. He wrote commentaries on the books of Orpheus and Hermes Trismegistus and poems to the planets as forces of Moira (destiny). Nothing indicates that Hypatia departed from her home culture. The Chaldean Oracles and Pythagorean numerological mysticism figured in her teachings, as the letters of Synesius indicate. Like her father, she saw astronomy as the highest science, opening up knowledge of the divine.

The following is excerpted with kind permission from “War Against the Pagans,” in Secret History of the Witches © 2000 Max Dashu
Hypatia+of+Alexandria… The Roman state gave free rein to Christian extremists who destroyed pagan shrines and images, or who committed violence against pagan leaders. They attacked people at pagan services and destroyed their temples. Arson was a favorite tactic. From the late 300s on, monks stand out as the primary aggressors in the battle to suppress pagans in the east. Even Christian documents describe them as violent and crime-prone, beating people they considered sinful, stirring up sectarian strife. [MacMullen, 171-2] The pagan Eunapius remarked that these monks looked like men but lived like pigs, “and openly did and allowed countless unspeakable crimes.” [Eunapius, 423] He added bitterly, “For among them, every man is given the power of a tyrant who has a black robe and is prepared to behave badly in public.” [Hollland-Smith, 170] Some were not above murder.

One target of the fanatical monk was Hypatia, an astronomer, mathematician and philosopher of international reputation. Socrates Scholasticus wrote that “she far surpassed all the philosophers of her time,” and was greatly respected for her “extraordinary dignity and virtue.” [Ecclesiastical History] Hypatia’s house was an important intellectual center in a city distinguished for its learning. Damasius described how she “used to put on her philosopher’s cloak and walk through the middle of town” to give public lectures on philosophy. [Life of Isidore, in the Suda]

 Admired by all in Alexandria, Hypatia was one of the most politically powerful figures in the city. She was one of the few women who attended civic assemblies. Magistrates came to her for advice, including her close friend, the prefect Orestes. [Damasius, Socrates Scholasticus] In the midst of severe religious polarization, Hypatia was an influential force for tolerance and moderation. She accepted students, who came to her “from everywhere,” without regard to religion.

Hypatia was a Neoplatonist. Some have claimed that she does not really qualify as a pagan, only as a rationalist philosopher. But this description is inaccurate and misleading. First, the meaning of “philosopher” had changed considerably by late antiquity, encompassing even Christian ascetics. [MacMullen, 205 fn 24] Second, such a narrow definition of paganism fails to recognize, as its enemies did, that it constituted a much broader spectrum than temple rites and theurgy. The sacred books of the Neoplatonists were pagan—Orpheus, Homer, the Chaldean Oracles—and they embraced “the esoteric doctrines of the mysteries.” [Cumont, 202] Third, Neoplatonist philosophers were persecuted as pagans, and identified as such in the struggle over the temples. They joined and even led in the pagan defense of the Serapium in Alexandria.

One of these leaders, Antoninus, had been initiated by his mother, Sosipatra of Pergamum, a Neoplatonist philosopher and mystic seeress. Antoninus “foretold to all his followers that after his death the temple would cease to be, and even the great and holy temples of Serapis would pass into formless darkness and be transformed, and that a fabulous and unseemly gloom would hold sway over the fairest things on earth.” The Serapium was razed in 391, the year after Antoninus died. [Eunapius, 416-7] …

Her disciples certainly regarded her in the light of a spiritual leader. Synesius of Cyrene called her “the most holy and revered philosopher,” “a blessed lady,” and “divine spirit.” Though a Christian, he refers to “her oracular utterances” and writes that she was “beloved by the gods.” [Dzielska, 47-8, 36] She spoke out against dogmatism and superstition: “To rule by fettering the mind through fear of punishment in another world, is just as base as to use force.” [Partnow, 24] Unquestionably, Hypatia’s teaching represented a challenge to church doctrine. The apparent destruction of her philosophical books underlines the point. Her mathematical works survived and were popular into the next century.

When Cyril became bishop in 412, he began pushing to extend his power into the civic sphere. His enforcers were the parabalanoi, strongmen who had been the shock troops of bishop Theophilus’ war on pagans and Jews. Bishop Cyril persecuted heterodox Christian groups, closing their churches and expelling them from the city. He spread rumors of a Jewish conspiracy to murder Christians and instigated a brawl between Jews and Christians at a theater. The Jews protested that the bishop’s agents had provoked the fight. The prefect Orestes (himself a Christian) heard out their grievances and arrested one of the bishop’s allies. In 414, armed conflict broke out between Cyril’s supporters and the embattled Jews. It ended with the looting and seizure of synagogues, and the bishop expelling the ancient Jewish community from Alexandria.

Many Christians in the city sided with Orestes and put pressure on Cyril to desist. Instead, he escalated the conflict, calling in hundreds of monks from the desert. They mobbed Orestes in the streets, calling him a “sacrificer” and “Hellene”—in other words, a pagan. [Chuvin, 87-9] The monks hurled stones, wounding him in the head. The prefect’s bodyguards fled, but a crowd of bystanders jumped in to save his life.

Accusations of Witchcraft

Realizing that he was losing on public relations, the bishop changed tactics. Now he attempted to turn the people against Hypatia as a powerful woman by accusing her of harmful sorcery. A later church chronicler, John of Nikiu, explained that “she beguiled many people through satanic wiles.” It was Hypatia’s “witchcraft” that kept the prefect Orestes away from church and made him corrupt the faith of other Christians. Further, she was involved in divination and astrology, “devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music.” [John of Nikiu, Chronicle 84. 87-103, Online:7-20-01]
In March of 415, Peter the church lector led a mob in attacking Hypatia as she rode through the city in her chariot. Socrates Scholasticus wrote that “rash cockbrains” dragged her into the Caesarion church, stripped her naked, and tore into her body with pot-shards, cutting her to pieces. Then they hauled her dismembered body to Cinaron and burned it on a pyre. [Alic, 45-6] John Malalas accords with Socrate’s statement that the mob burned Hypatia’s remains. Hesychius’ account agrees that the mob tore Hypatia to pieces, but simply says that “her body [was] shamefully treated and parts of it scattered all over the city.” [Dzielskaielska, 93]

In John of Nikiu’s version, men came for “the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments.” They found her sitting in a chair and dragged her through the streets until she was dead, then burned her body.[Chronicle, 84.87-103] After Hypatia’s assassination, Orestes disappeared (fled? assassinated?). Cyril prevailed, and his parabalanoi were never punished for killing Hypatia. The bishop covered up her murder, insisting that she had moved to Athens.

No one was fooled. Our nearest contemporary sources agree that the bishop was behind the witch-rumors and the killing, and that his men carried them out. Public opinion may be measured by the fact that Christian city officials continued appealing to imperial officials to curb the parabalanoi, to bring them under secular control and restrict them from public places. They were only partially successful, since the imperial court itself was in the midst of a crackdown on pagans. As for Cyril, whom John of Nikiu credits with destroying “the last remnants of idolatry in the city,” he was later declared a saint. [Dzielskaielska, 97-8, 104. 94]

Hypatia was not targeted only as a pagan. Other pagans—men—continued to be active at the university of Alexandria for decades after her death. It is clear that Hypatia’s femaleness made her a special target, vulnerable to the accusation of witchcraft. Her courage in opposing the escalating anti-Jewish violence and her moral stance against religious repression were factors as well. In defending the assault on the philosophical tradition of tolerance, Hypatia had everything to lose, yet she acted boldly.

Later in the century, her male counterparts also came under attack. By the mid-400s, pagan professors were being sentenced to death in Syria. Some time after 480, an Alexandrian Christian society called the Zealots hounded the pagan prefect and his secretary from office and into exile. The Zealots capped their triumph with the burning of “idols.” Two of them moved on to Beirut, where they incited further hunts of leading pagans. They formed a group to collect denunciations, using informers, and brought names and accusations to the bishop. This worthy held joint hearings with city officials, which led to more bonfires and the exile of pagans. [MacMullen, 26, 194 fn95]
The cultural repression used to Christianize the Roman empire was unprecedented anywhere up to that time, in extent, duration and geographic scale.
Read more about Hypatia of Alexandria:
The Life and Legacy of Hypatia by Danielle Williams
The Real Wonder Woman: Hypatia of Alexandria by The Secret Sun
Great Philosophers:  Hypatia at Oregon State University online