Wednesday, May 13, 2015

New Blog at Patheos!

I may have forgotten to make my formal announcement here, but I'm sure you regular followers have noticed by now that the tone of my posts has changed somewhat over the last few days!

I am proud to say that I have been asked to write a blog on Patheos Pagan, Heathen at Heart.  I'll be doing my blog writing and posting over there from now on, with all the usual information, bits and bobs of ritual and prayer, and personal reflection that you've grown used to from me.  You can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter if those are easier!

I will keep this blog up as a resource, as I have devoted a fair few years to it at this point.  In addition, since it was originally begun as a blog to record my Dedicant's Path progress, I will continue to use it as a journal as I pursue further ADF study programs - which is why you're seeing all the rune stuff lately.

I hope you'll all come with me on this new adventure - I have so enjoyed writing over the past years, and I hope it has contributed to the lives of others in some way.  Thank you all!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fear of Fire

by MarcusObal, creative commons license
I am frightened of fire.  I know, this is not a typical Pagan trait, but I really am.  I've never extinguished a candle with my fingers or thrown new logs on the bonfire.  During my turn being fire-tender for a local group, where one must light candles from other candles and not a long and safe lighter, I spent every ritual pretty terrified.

On the other hand, the fire fascinates me.  Sitting and watching the flames dance is one of the easiest ways for me to enter trance.  It has always been inherently magical to me: from the first campfires my grandmother built for me, to the first candle I lit as a beginning Pagan years and years ago, to the Fire of my grove's ritual last weekend - they all have beckoned me, called to me, with a voice strong and terrifying and also alluring.

To be fair, I have a strange relationship to fear.  Nerthus, the Goddess I am devoted to, has always frightened me.  For that matter, all the Gods scare me a certain amount; They are powerful and far above me in a way I don't understand, and this can be very disconcerting.  But for my part, I embrace this fear.  The fire is transformative.  That which enters it never comes out the same.  But it doesn't have to come out as ash: from fire we also receive cooked food and melted metal, two essential pieces to our evolution as a species.  Metaphorically, being burned and changed by the fire is also essential to us as individual people; we all go through tough times, periods of intense change.  It is part of life.  I'm not saying we will always come out of these tough times stronger or better, that's also not how life works.  The certain thing is that you will be different, and it is what you choose to do with that difference is what matters.

In many ways, I think the fear I have is part of the magic.  It is not only its physical attributes that frighten me, but many of its magical aspects as well.  Its alluring pull sets off alarm bells, its ease of taking my conscious mind throws up walls, the transformation it represents makes my mind scream to run away.  I don't want to get burned, physically or metaphorically.  But being transformed is an essential piece of spiritual work, at least for me.  I face my fear, allowing it to break me down, and come out on the other side with a different perspective.

In ADF, the Fire is the one completely essential piece of ritual that must always be present.  It is a portal to the realm of the Gods, a small window through which we send our words and our offerings. It opens onto a different and very foreign world, one full of powerful figures that I can barely begin to learn about, let alone understand.  This very much squares with my experience, why the fire has always affected me so strongly.  It has always been an open door for me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Daily Devotional - Evening

photo by Michael J Bennet
creative commons license
I've been feeling the need lately to round out my day with a night-time devotional to mirror my morning routine.  I chose to honor Earendel and Niht, the evening star and the personification of the night.

Hail Earendel, evening Star,
bearer of light before the Sun and Moon.
Bright above me every evening,
star in the darkness, jewel of the sunset.

Hail to Niht, the darkness of night,
Mother of the good earth.
Joy of sleep and goddess of dreams,
black that blankets all.

I smoor the sacred fire
as the light of day wanes.
May it bring rest and sweet dreams
to me and mine.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Gefjon, Goddess of the Boundary

Gefion Fountain in Copenhagen
I may have a slight obsession with boundaries.  In my defense, it seems the Indo-European peoples did as well; motifs and themes of the liminal occur throughout the mythology of these many diverse culture groups.  I have written before about the deities in Norse mythology that wall and encircle, that erect protective boundaries (ironically they seem to mostly be Jotuns)!  So today I will focus on Gefjon, a Goddess that appears both in the Prose and Poetic Eddas, and has some very interesting mythology associated with Her.

The story goes like this: Gefjon spends a night with a Swedish king, "entertaining" him.  Afterwards, he offers Her all the land She and Her oxen can plough up in a day and a night (not realizing that She is a Goddess).  She travels to Jotunheim, births four sons in the form of oxen, and brings them back to Sweden to plough up some land.  They pull up the land so deeply that a lake is left where the land once was, and the oxen pull the land out west into the sea to become Zealand, now the most populated island in Denmark.  She erects a boundary and takes as Hers everything within it, much more than the kind originally expected.

There are historical traditions that may have come from, or may have a common source as, this myth; walking or ploughing the boundary of your land in order to claim it - especially on the part of women - is found in both Celtic and Germanic cultures.  This boundary-making and claiming seems to me to have been a very important and sacred function to ancient Germanic peoples, found even in the sixth century in the Anglo-Saxon plough-charming rite.

I have recently had cause to explore some inner work related to boundary-setting and claiming my own pieces of myself and my life.  I have found Gefjon to be an invaluable ally to work with on these things - She has helped me in understanding exactly what is mine to claim and what it is that I need to let go and let others take care of.  Perhaps the most important thing about claiming and taking a piece of land is not to bite off more than you can chew - if you can't adequately farm your piece of land, it becomes almost a waste.  If I claim more things than I can handle, more things than I can reasonably accomplish and stay sane, my life begins to break down.  If I don't claim enough and let others take from me things that I love and enjoy, that also has very negative consequences.  For me, Gefjon has become the Goddess of the Boundary.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nature Spirits, Nerthus, and Celebrating Earth Day

photo by David Luther Thomas
creative commons license
What does Earth Day mean to you as a Pagan?  For me, Earth Day (and its constant Nebraskan companion, Arbor Day) is a secular holiday that nonetheless holds a great deal of religious meaning.  I hate to say things like "the nature spirits are the most important part of my practice" because of course my ancestors and the deities are also incredibly important.  But the land wights are certainly more present in my day-to-day life.  Just looking out my windows, walking my daughter to school, or even driving down the street on my way to work, I encounter hundreds of them, and there's no ignoring it.  People who would never think to discuss their God(s) or ancestors will comment often on the weather, the flowers, etc.  We are always thinking about our fellow earth-dwellers, all the time.

This is a ritual I wrote to celebrate the Germanic Goddess of the Earth, Nerthus.  I have written about Her before, a relatively 'dark' mother Goddess who allegedly received human sacrifice after parading about the land bestowing Her bounty.  Of course I am Her devotee and fairly biased, but I believe that as the earth becomes more and more damaged by human actions, more people will begin to see the darker side of the land.  I find it powerful and motivating to stand in awe of Her, not motivated by love or trust; but sometimes by genuine fear.  In my mind, it is She who sustains all life, and if She so chose could end that sustenance at any time.  She is truly awe-worthy.  It is my hope that this Earth Day ritual captures some of that wonder.

There are a few rituals for Nerthus out there, most centering on the journey of Her wagon bringing peace and feasting to every village She visited.  Since this is an Earth Day ritual, however, I find it more appropriate to focus on the things I can do for Nerthus, rather than parading Her about and asking Her blessings on the people who hold partial responsibility for the damage done to the land.

Set up a small shrine out of doors; in your backyard, a local park, or wherever you can be relatively assured of solitude.  If absolutely necessary this can be done indoors as well, be sure to face a window or have some reminder of your local land available.

Needed items:
Representation of Nerthus - something as simple as a bowl of water to represent Her lake will work
Found objects from the land to decorate shrine - my permanent shrine has dried leaves and twigs from each tree in my yard, as well as feathers and other found things; this is a good place to start if you're not sure what to use
Offerings for Nerthus and land wights - I often use birdseed or dried corn, but anything that does not
actively harm the land would probably be acceptable

Plans for an Earth Day activity to help the Earth

Approach the shrine, calling out:
"I call to all the spirits of this land:
the dancing wights of stream and creek,
the swaying spirits of the trees,
the singing grasses played by the wind.
I call to the stones, solid and stoic,
to the dark and fertile earth beneath my feet,
to the flowers that fly open and fade away.
I call to the furred spirits, waiting for twilight,
the feathered wights that serenade the dawn,
the tiny crawling beings, spirits of scales and slick skin,
to all the spirits of this land.
Be welcome and pray welcome me.
Accept this offering!"
Scatter or place offerings for the wights before the shrine.

Bending or sitting as you are able, place your hands upon the earth.
"Hail Nerthus, veiled Goddess,
dark and silent in your sacred grove,
hiding your eyes from the hurt of the Earth.
Vibrant with life, shining with death,
keeper of the never-ending circles all things dwell within,
green that grows from dark decay.
I see the broken land, I work to right it;
join your power to mine, and bring life from this death,
lend your aid to me and mine as we heal the hurts."
Scatter or place offerings to Nerthus before the shrine.

This is a great time to actually do some kind of service to the Earth - perhaps going around picking up trash, planting a tree, or any other activity you may have planned for Earth Day.  If you are not able to do it right away, simply tell the spirits what you plan to do in service to the cause of helping the land.

"Hail to Nerthus, sweet mother of earth,
and all the wights that dwell here in this place.
I thank you for your gifts of sustenance, gifts of beauty.
Remember me as I will remember you.
Hail and farewell!"

The found objects should be left to continue to give beauty to this piece of land, unless you feel one is meant to come home with you.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In Defense of Formal Ritual

Online, I run in a lot of circles that are very informal in their ideas of ritual and honoring the deities.  I mostly talk to Vanatru folks and read their blogs, and as a group they tend to be more off-the-cuff and extemporaneous in their words and actions.  I do a lot of this as well - my morning ancestor offering is a cup of tea and a quiet moment of contemplation, and the nature spirits usually are tossed some birdseed with few flowery words.  But I also have some moments of my day that are very formalized: when I first rise and greet the sun in the morning, I say the same prayer every day, in the same stance.  My bigger celebrations tend to vary; some holidays are just what I feel up to that day, and some are highly formalized.  It's those I'd like to talk about today.

Formal ritual gets talked down about in parts of the Pagan community; there are people who believe that prescribed actions and words make it very difficult, if not impossible, to connect with the spirits or deities one is calling to.  While I'm not opposed to informal ritual - obviously, since it makes up a decent chunk of my practice - I believe that it doesn't have the same energy or impact as formal ritual, and doesn't allow the same sort of experimentation that working within a structure can offer.

I express my Heathenry first and foremost through the model of ADF Druidry, which sounds a bit ironic, but actually works very well for me.  ADF is a pan-Indo-European organization, which means the Heathen Gods fit squarely in its purview.  The unifying factor in ADF is its conception and framework for ritual - it is the same framework for all groups, everywhere there is an ADF Grove.  That structure is loose enough to allow many Indo-European pantheons to work within it (there are Heathen, Hellenic, and Vedic ADF Druids.. and more cultures that are less common!) and yet structured enough that it's easy to recognize an ADF-style rite once you're familiar with the Core Order of Ritual.  I have been working within this structure for more than three years now.  At first, I loved the Core Order because it made things easier for me.  I didn't have to plan an entire ritual, I just had to write prayers to fit the appropriate parts and everything was ready to go.  After working in this framework for years, I love the Core Order because the formality of it, the structure it provides, has freed me in so many ways.  It's like a heartfelt song to which I know all the lyrics and can belt at the top of my lungs, instead of meekly stumbling along and cringing every time I get a word wrong.  Even when doing informal, small ritual, the Core Order in a very condensed form comes naturally to me - invite the spirits, give them offerings, ask for or thank for blessings, and bid the spirits farewell.  This structure has given me a ritual mindset to operate in that ultimately has made my rituals more effective and easier for me to slip into.  Like tarot decks with their defined structure but endless variations, ritual is easier to understand when it's similar each time.

Of course, everyone is different and not all people will benefit from a formal structure or way of doing ritual.  But I believe it can be a powerful tool, and one that many Pagans may be overlooking.  It doesn't have to be "call the elements, cast a circle" and it doesn't have to be ADF's Core Order either.  I do think it can be a good learning experience to just pick a format and stick with it for awhile, even if it doesn't seem to resonate at first; you never know what will come out of that structure after you've become completely comfortable with it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

River Goddesses, Water of the Earth, and Local Cultus

Platte River by Jetuusp, Creative Commons License
This week's topic for the Pagan Experience is Water.  I'm sure I'll get to read quite a few posts on Monday about the element of Water in a Wiccan or Neo-Wiccan context, and I'll enjoy them - but I've come to the point where it's not really relevant to my practice at all.  Rather than the overarching idea of Water as a being or spirit that encompasses all that is wet in the world, I have instead begun honoring many local spirits.  They are certainly related to water, but that is not all that they are.

The first is my river Goddess, the lady of the Platte River that spreads brown and wide across the prairie.  She extends Her tendrils into hundreds, maybe thousands of tributaries across the land where I live, and as a child I grew up near and found refuge in several of them.  She has been with me nearly all the days of my life.  I understand Her as the life-bringer to our dry land; farmers use Her water for irrigation for their crops, so much so that Her volume is much lower today than it was before mass European immigration.  In this way, Her giving of life is a very real and visceral thing - it is not an endless resource to bestow on all, but instead as we use this precious water, it directly takes away from Her vitality and the habitat of all who dwell in Her ecosystem.  Part of my work in honoring Her is educating the future generations that I work with about good water management practices, and how the river contributes to the entire ecosystem that we must live within.  I also make it a point to visit one of Her tributaries (it is just across the street from me) and leave an offering once a week - something biodegradable, that will hopefully aid the river and its life.

The second great spirit of water that I recognize is the Ogallala Aquifer.  This is a huge lake that spans many of the midwestern states, located far underground.  I don't have any direct experience with this water (other than drinking only well-water for several years of my life, which of course came directly from that source), but it is a place and a spirit that I frequently visit in my meditations.  From my experiences there, this is a deeply ancient spirit, dark and cold and clear where the Platte is warm and brown with sunshine.  Being deep under the earth, it is a place where nothing grows, where nothing lives - an old, old spirit of water surrounded by even older rocks for many years.  Its personality seems to be equally as different from my river Goddess.  I haven't ever gotten a feeling of gender from this spirit.  It seems to be outside of those kinds of concerns of things that live and breathe on the surface of the earth, where life comes and is gone in the blink of an eye.  It can be deeply hostile - the aquifer is also being drained at an astounding rate by farmers always seeking more irrigation, and to me it feels as if it resents this strongly.  I have spent many years building this relationship, and yet I am still very much a stranger in a strange land when I try to approach the aquifer on its own turf.

These are my primary spiritual interactions with the idea of water, these two spirits that hold the vast majority of the water in my region, who have always sustained me with water to drink, who water and give life to much of what I eat.  They are not the element of Water, they are not associated with emotions or changeability in particular - they are distinct spirits, beautiful and strange deities, and they are directly responsible for my family's ability to live here in this arid land.  I feel as if I cannot honor them enough for these gifts.