Tuesday, December 31, 2013

High Holy Day Essay: Yule

I attended a few Yule rituals this year, but I'd like to write again about the ritual put on by Prairie Shadow Protogrove. This was one I cobbled together from a few different rituals I found on the website, and was held at my home. It was a Germanic ritual to honor the return of Sunna at the solstice. The participants came down the porch stairs into my backyard, each sprinkled with a bit of water and given a candle for purification by fire and water as they entered. We welcomed Nerthus as the Earth Mother, and offered to the Fire, Well, and Tree. We invited Heimdall as our Gatekeeper, and then the Three Kindreds. Sunna was called as the Being of the Occasion, and we performed a gradual extinguishing of all the candles, including those held by the participants, mimicking the darkness of the long night of the Solstice - this was based on a Solstice ritual by Ian Corrigan. After taking a favorable omen heralding change and transformation as the gifts of the Kindreds, we asked for blessing on the Waters of Life (a choice of mead or cider). After giving out the Waters, another poem was read and the candles were gradually re-lit, the flame passing from person to person, mimicking the return of Sunna on the Solstice morn. Then Sunna and the Kindreds were thanked, the Gates were closed and thanks given to Heimdall, and the last of the offerings given to Nerthus. The ritual was ended.

 So, about five months after attending my first public Pagan ritual, I was thrown into leading one. I was very nervous, between opening up my home to many people I'd never met, and having to actually stand in front of those people and talk to them with a script featuring many words I certainly hadn't grown up pronouncing. I tend to be hard on myself, and so I will attempt to limit my complaints. The biggest problem was the water that was sprinkled at the start of the ritual - it sloshed out of the bowl and onto my script, which I then had to peel apart whenever I needed to turn a page. My husband also commented that my natural demeanor is rather cheery, which may have interfered with the solemnity of the ritual. Personally, I find it hard to sense energy when I am concentrating on so many other things like reading in front of others, who I'm supposed to be offering to, and so on. It seemed as if the other participants enjoyed the ritual, for which I was glad. I was personally unsatisfied; but I don't think I would have been happy if it had gone anything short of absolutely perfectly, and realistically there were no major disasters and all seemed to go mostly well.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Pagan Umbrella can be a Community

Last Saturday, I attended a Yule party, put together jointly by the Order of the Red Grail and Nebraska Heathens United.  Yes, you heard me correctly - some Wiccans got together with some Heathens, and managed to put on a fantastic party that most everyone in the community enjoyed.

The way that a lot of Pagans talk on the internet, a person might assume that different branches of Pagans don't have anything in common.  Not all Pagans are earth-centered, not all Pagans are polytheistic, not all Pagans celebrate the eight Sabbats, etc.  This is all true.  There is a huge amount of diversity and difference in the Pagan umbrella, and that's okay.  In fact, it's awesome.  Since most Pagan paths are rather tolerant of other people's ideas of religion or spirituality, there's no reason for us not to celebrate that diversity.  Unlike different Christian denominations that have argued for centuries about, for example, whether Mary had other kids or not; we as Pagans can accept that each of us has a different view of deity (or deities).

I see Paganism as a giant Venn diagram, with many circles.  In each path, and in each person, those circles will overlap differently - and some will not include some of the circles at all.  But what connects an urban-centered, hard-polytheistic Hellenismos follower with an earth-centered, pantheistic eclectic Wiccan is other Pagans, that each incorporate some of those circles in their own path (see example at left).  So the Wiccan who complains that they have zero in common with a Hellenismos follower is incorrect - they have other Pagans in common.

Now I've seen this argued over endlessly on the internet.  But do you know where I don't see it argued about?  My local community.  If a group of eclectic Wiccans and a group of Heathens can get together and plan a successful party, at which most people are enjoying themselves, then we as Pagans can have community with one another.  I think this is made infinitely easier in-person, because there are so many things that can be said over the internet that would not be said to a person's face.  It's difficult to look someone in the eye and insult them unless they truly deserve it.

I am, admittedly, a bit biased.  The Pagan community is something I care deeply about.  Though I am fairly specific in my own practice, I really want to be able to reach out to others who are different from me, learn from them and just.. exist in community with them.  This is part of the reason that my ultimate goal is to become a well-rounded Pagan clergy-person.  I want to be able to help and bring together people on many different paths.  This is a big part of the reason why I'm currently learning with a Wiccan coven - I'm not a Wiccan in my personal practice and haven't been for a long time - but there are many Pagans who are, and I want to be able to understand and help them as much as I would be able to understand a fellow ADF member.  And because all the people in that group are fantastic people, and I enjoy knowing them and spending time with them, regardless of the fact that we have different theological positions on the nature of the Gods.  While I acknowledge and accept that there are some Pagans who are happier remaining only among those who share their views; I think the majority of the Pagan community would be a happier and better place if we learned to work together with one another rather than at odds with each other.  It can be done!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Frige and the 'Womanly Arts'

Growing up, my mother was a feminist.  Not a radical feminist, or a particularly far-out-there one; but I grew up being told not to get married or have children, that there were so many other things in the world I could do if I wanted to.  Well, it turned out that I did decide to go the traditional husband-and-babies route; and now being a stay at home mom, it can sometimes feel as if I've taken a step backwards.

Enter Frige.  An Anglo-Saxon Goddess, Her name is cognate with the Norse Frigg; wife of Odin and Queen of Asgard.  Through Norse sources, we know that She is the Goddess most often associated with women, children, and the home.  She is also the patron of what those of generations past would have called the 'womanly arts': spinning, sewing, knitting, cooking - the things a woman needed to know to maintain her home.  However, Frige is no 1950s housewife, and those who honor Her certainly aren't, either.  In the Lokasenna (you can find Benjamin Thorpe's translation free), Loki accuses Frigg of sleeping with Odin's brothers; the Goddess Freyja retorts by saying "Mad art thou, Loki! in recounting thy foul misdeeds. Frigg, I believe, knows all that happens, although she says it not".  This has led many to speculate that Frigg winds the threads of fate that the Norns spin into orlæg (ørlög in Old Norse).  By the way, later on in the poem the God Njörðr says: "It is no great wonder, if silk-clad dames get themselves husbands, lovers", seeming to say that women having multiple sexual partners was not a big deal.  In the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, it is mentioned that Frigg has a "falcon form"; not quite as tame and feminine as one might expect from the Queen of the Æsir.

Now that I've gone off-topic talking about all the ways Frige is not like a housewife, it's time to circle back around and talk about the more traditionally feminine crafts She is associated with.  Because I don't have a spindle or access to raw wool, I've eschewed the traditional spinning and have instead learned to crochet as a devotional act.  It's very calming and meditative, as the same motions are repeated over and over, but requires constant attention; it's not the kind of thing you can do absentmindedly while watching a movie, you must be looking at your work.  It's the same with embroidery, which I learned long ago in Home Economics, but still enjoy doing on occasion.  These actions both quiet and focus my mind in a way that traditional meditation - which usually just puts me to sleep - is unable to do for me.  This kind of work does not have to be only a time-consuming chore put aside when faced with modern conveniences.  It doesn't have to be a symbol of subservience, as if being domestic and taking care of one's living space is somehow lesser.  The act of creation: of a meal, of a scarf, of a clean space; is very powerful, and lands squarely in Frige's domain.   I think this is part of the reason crafting is so popular today - many of the people I know either work office jobs or are working on their education; there's a lot of work that happens but doesn't produce any real, tangible result that can be held in your hand or used for a practical purpose.  But the creation of those tangible things can be so satisfying; the simplicity of taking a strand of yarn and working on it for a few hours until it becomes a cute little pouch is something I think a lot of people crave.

I know I titled this post about the 'womanly arts', and that's because they've historically been a woman's domain.  But I want to make it clear that men can absolutely benefit from learning these things as well!  I taught my brother how to sew one day when he lost a button, and now he fixes his own pants when they get holes in them; and finds a great deal of satisfaction in being able to do so.  On the one hand, simple things like sewing and cooking are great life skills; and your life will be easier for having them.  On the other, as I said earlier - these activities are also very psychologically fulfilling.  I plan to pass these skills down to all my children, daughters and son, and hopefully an appreciation for Frige as well.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Y is for a Yellow Ritual

'Woman with Yellow Scarf' from NationalGeographic.com
Color magic is the kind of magic that is intuitively understood by many Pagans, even the most early of beginners.  Looking at a love spell and seeing '2 red candles' listed as an ingredient just makes sense.  Using a green altar to attract prosperity seems like the most natural thing in the world.  It's so readily understood because the science of 'color magic' has been in general use in our society for a long time.  Hospitals paint their walls greens or blues to calm, night clubs often use big, bold colors to pump up their visitors.  Stanford even has a class on the power of color (I found one of the class projects, check it out!).

I want to talk today about the power of color in ritual.  In the same way that buildings can use their color schemes to project a feeling onto their visitors, we can also use color to help bring the group into the ritual mindset - or if doing solitary ritual, help to bring ourselves there.  Since this is a Pagan Blog Project post, and this week is the incredibly difficult to find a topic for Y, I'll be using yellow as an example.

Yellow is a color with a lot of associations both in general culture and for Pagans.  In our wider society, it is known first as a color of cheery, bright happiness; maybe the color of sunflowers evokes warm summer days, or daffodils remind us of the spring.  It is also the color of the sun, which has larger significance to many Pagans.  And yet, its most common use in the general population is a color of warning.  Yellow is the 'caution' of the traffic lights, it is the color of signs warning the floor is slippery, it is the color of school buses that bear our most precious citizens and need the most protecting.  This is because yellow, sitting right in the middle of the visible spectrum of light, reflects the most light back out towards its viewer of any of the colors - it is the most attention-getting, and the easiest to see at long distances.  For many Pagans, yellow is also the color of the East, and the element Air.

Now how can we use this information to weave color into a ritual?  First, we've learned that yellow is a strong, at times overwhelming color - so it ought to be used sparingly.  Other colors can certainly be brought in to complement yellow and the overall ritual theme.  Representations of the element Air, for example, should have some yellow on them; but the primary color should be different and softer, so as not to overwhelm or outshine the other elements.  For a ritual celebrating spring or a spring goddess, bringing in some yellow flowers would certainly be appropriate.  One fun use of the color would be to have a dark-colored altar cloth, like a plum purple or navy blue; but set bright yellow cloth napkins underneath the ritual items that are particularly important - this will help keep a group's attention focused on these items specifically.  If your group or practice is the kind that marks out sacred space, try using the color yellow to do that.  It will create a very clear delineation that will aid in seeing the sacred space as separate from the outer world.  One idea I've always liked, but have never gotten to try out, is the idea of a ribbon dance.  As Pagans, we do a lot of work on the sound side of things when it comes to dancing - we drum, rattle, and some groups add other more melodic instruments as well.  But not a lot of work is done on the visual side; wouldn't it be amazing to see a group of dancers (in a rather large space, mind you) waving ribbons of various colors specifically chosen to aid in the group's working?

For more information on a wide range of colors, you can visit colormatters.com; they have lots of interesting info to explore.  Use this to find some ways to incorporate more color and visual drama into your own rituals!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reconceptualizing the Power of Myth

When I was first getting started in Paganism in the early 2000s, all the beginner Wiccan books I read made a point of mentioning the "real" origins of Wicca.  There was no early Goddess-worshiping, peace-filled matriarchy, no nine million witches burned, no ancient lineages passed down through the generations; only an old British guy with a liking for Margaret Murray, Aleister Crowley, and nudity.  I read a lot of debunking, but never actually explored what was being debunked.

So when I first read Triumph of the Moon, with its rather dispassionate, scholarly take on the origins of Wicca, I was completely baffled as to why some people in the Pagan community seemed so offended by it.  Facts are facts; and Murray's pseudo-history was most certainly not that.  I wasn't one of those Pagans, the ones who held on to their antiquated and disproven beliefs; because I believed at the time beliefs must be factually accurate to have religious meaning.  I now understand that this was rooted in my fundamentalist Christian background - it can be hard to shed the idea of a literal religious interpretation.

Since my own path long ago veered away from Wicca into paths that are a bit more academically based, I hadn't really gone back and re-examined those basic ideas of who is 'right' and 'wrong' when it comes to religious truth.  In reconstructionist religion, things can be a lot clearer - something either is or is not attested in the lore.  In my efforts to find community and gain a broader understanding and knowledge of the Pagan community, I have recently become a student of a local Wiccan coven.  Reading my study assignments, I am forcibly confronted with this idea and the preconceived notions I carry about it - facts vs. not facts, 'not facts' being the clear loser.

And yet, with these views, I am a complete hypocrite.  I rarely talk about it because I know it's controversial in Pagan circles, and because I don't want to be looked at the same way I originally viewed those Pagans who still find value in the idea of an ancient, Goddess-worshiping matriarchy.  But I do honor some *gasp* fictional deities.  At least, that's how others would describe them - I consider them just as real as the other Gods and Goddesses I honor.  See the double standard?  How I can I mentally reject a person for finding value and worship-deserving entities in the myths of King Arthur, while at the same time finding inspiration and religious truth in a work of fiction?

This is something I'm still grappling with.  On the one hand, I think it's incredibly important to be accurate when talking about facts - especially with the Wicca's history of unclear information.  On the other, I think that some of Wicca's early shared mythos, while historically inaccurate, has been cast aside too easily by some newer to the faith.  There are many lessons to be learned in myths, whether they are ancient or recent.  Just because something is not factually true or historically attested doesn't mean it can't hold value.  As a polytheist, I am already adept at holding multiple truths simultaneously - the values Brigid calls me to are certainly not the same as those Thunor calls me to honor -  is it so absurd to imagine that, while there was no historical Camelot, a valid and fulfilling religious tradition can be built from those myths?

While the evidence tells us there was no peaceful Goddess-loving matriarchy in ancient Europe, that doesn't mean a peaceful Goddess-loving matriarchy can't be created as a valid practice today.  And it doesn't mean the myth isn't very powerful to a large number of traditions doing good work today.  It's still not the path I walk; but I'm starting to understand, at least a little bit, those who do.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Wynn

Bliss he enjoys who knows
not suffering, sorrow, nor anxiety,
and has prosperity and happiness
and a good enough house.

This section of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem speaks of the rune Wynn, which translates directly to "joy".  The Saxons apparently had a very wide definition of joy, one which is often overlooked today in our materialist-driven culture.  If you aren't suffering, in sorrow or anxious, the poem says, you are enjoying bliss.  If you have prosperity, happiness, and a "good-enough" house - you are enjoying bliss.  Alaric Albertsson talks about this rune in his book Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer.  In it, he translates the Anglo-Saxon word blæd as "prosperity" - which the translation above also does - but makes note that "blæd does not necessarily mean 'endless wealth;' it means 'having enough'."

Joy, to the Anglo-Saxons, was having the resources and tools you needed to build a good life.  This is a lesson many, including myself, desperately need today.  Having just enough of what you need is wealth and bliss, perhaps greater than that of the very rich.  I am in a position myself where I have a lovely home, enough food to put on the table each night, and that's about it - not a lot of room for extras.  Wynn teaches me that there is great happiness to be found in that.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Three Kindred Essay

The Three Kindred are, in my opinion, the most essential piece of ADF Druidry.  Honoring ancestors, spirits of place, and gods and goddesses was an essential part of the Paganism of the Indo-Europeans.  Though perhaps the ancient Indo-Europeans did not fit the spirits they encountered into boxes as neat as we do today, they are nonetheless helpful categories to aid our understanding of IE spirituality.

The Gods and Goddesses are considered the most powerful kind of spirits by most Indo-European cultures.  Called the Déiwōs, which translates to "Shining Ones" in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language (Ár nDraíocht Féin [ADF], 2009, p. 69), the Gods and Goddesses are humanity's allies, and sometimes, friends.  Their power is certainly much greater than our own; many Gods are described as having gifts of foresight or magic, and others are said to possess tremendous strength unthinkable to a human.  They are also immortal, a class of being that does not have a permanent physical form or experience death in the way that living things with bodies do.  Nonetheless, the Gods have chosen to take an interest in humanity, as evidenced by their ongoing interaction with both our Indo-European ancestors and the Pagan community at large today. 

At the center of an ADF Druid's relationship to the Gods is the Proto-Indo-European concept of *ghosti, which means "someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality" (ADF, 2009, p. 21).  The idea is that gifts to the Gods and Goddesses of Indo-European pantheons begin a relationship of reciprocity, in which the Gods and Goddesses are then encouraged by the concept of hospitality to bestow gifts and blessings on their worshippers.  The nature of this relationship is not exactly tit-for-tat; but instead each member gives according to his or her means.  This means that while a Druid may pour out a shot of mid-range alcohol with a prayer to a God or Goddess, that being will reciprocate in a way worth much more than ten minutes and fifteen dollars; because the resources available to that God or Goddess is much greater than the Druid's.

It is also the duty of the Shining Ones to maintain the cosmic order of things.  Most Gods and Goddesses have specific parts of human culture or the world at large that they have jurisdiction over or are associated with.  For instance, the Norse God Tyr is often looked to in matters of justice, or the Gaulish God Ogmios associated with eloquence and public speaking.  In many pantheons and Indo-European myths, the Gods and Goddesses are shown fighting or at war with a more primal kind of spirit, more chaotic and much less favoring towards humanity; in ADF these spirits are usually identified as the Outsiders.  The Shining Ones fight or distance themselves from these spirits to maintain the balance of the cosmos.

The Spirits of Nature are perhaps the most diverse, and therefore difficult to classify, of the Kindred.  There are spirits of land and place, house spirits, plant and animal spirits, and in some IE cultures, even specific rocks are said to have spirits.   These spirits also seem the most ambivalent towards humanity - unlike the Ancestors or Gods, many of these spirits are hostile towards people, and will not seek a relationship (ADF, 2009, p. 42).  On the other hand, since these spirits are not as powerful as the Gods, for some it is easier to build a close, friendly relationship with them.  Some Germanic peoples, for example, believed that plants had spirits and were useful in healing because of this (Gundarsson, 2007, p. 28).

It is my personal opinion that the hostility of many nature spirits towards humanity may have been overstated or caused by a Christianized population.  It is often mentioned in Irish folklore, for example, that offerings were frequently left out for the Fair Folk - and any offerings missed or stopped were met with anger (Evans-Wentz, 2003, p. 291).  It seems to likely to me that tales of angry or hostile Nature spirits may largely be a result of offerings, once frequently given by the local people, stopped and the spirits themselves renounced in the name of the new god.  In any case, I have found my local nature and house spirits to be receptive to offerings; and though I always extend any overtures with caution, I have yet to experience any negative consequences from attempting friendship with these spirits.

Nature Spirits are the least mobile of the Kindred, though there are a few Icelandic tales of house wights (troublesome or friendly) following a family to their new residence (Gundarsson, 2007).  Spirits of my local park, for example, are best honored in their place of residence; it is unlikely that one would be able to reach them in a far-away city.  However, I have also found that in many cases, land spirits know and interact with one another; so that if for some reason I wanted to relay a message or feeling to a spirit in my local park, I could address the spirit of the Platte River basin and ask that spirit to pass the message along (though whether it would choose to or not is debatable). 

Just as there are many pantheons of Gods and Goddesses and many kinds of Nature Spirits, there are also many kinds of Ancestors.  Though all humans who have passed from this life and their mortal bodies are Ancestors, and all are honored when we call on them, there are of course some who are singled out for greater honor and closer relation to Druidry and individuals today.

The first and most obvious are Ancestors of Blood, those whose DNA directly contributed to making us who we are.  Contrary to a popular modern belief about the unimportance of "sperm donors" or "egg carriers", the DNA of our family plays a big part in our personalities, character traits, and areas of struggle in our lives.  Equally important, however, are Ancestors of Culture - those Ancestors that we choose to honor or take on because of their actions or important contributions to either modern or ancient society as a whole.  For instance, though I have no idea if she is an ancestor of blood, I honor the Celtic warrior-woman Boudicca as an ancestor of culture because of her heroism and bravery in a time when women had a great deal less power than today.  I also honor the ancestors of my adopted father as ancestors of culture - though they did not contribute to my DNA, I gained them as ancestors when my father took me as his child.

Though we often think of ancestors as far-distant figures of the past, or great Heroes of long ago, it is also important to remember our Ancestors who have only recently passed.  One important ancestor to all of ADF Druidry is Isaac Bonewits, who I am sure continues to guide and watch over his organization and its members from the otherworld.  Though limited in life, the beliefs of the Indo-Europeans tell us that in death, people gain a degree of might, magic, and foresight that rests somewhere between the Gods and men.  Praying and offering to the ancestors is often just as effective as praying to the Gods - perhaps even more so, as the ancestors are kin, who have a vested interest in seeing their relations healthy and happy.

The Three Kindred - Ancestors, Nature Spirits, and Shining Ones - are all equally important to the faith of ADF-style Druidry.  Each one of the Kindred brings unique attributes that are helpful to humanity in some way or another, and also helps us to understand the wider world and otherworld in a more complete way.

Ár nDraíocht Féin, (2009). Our Own Druidry. 1st ed. United States: ADF Publishing.

Kvedulf Gundarsson, (2007). Elves, Wights, and Trolls. 1st ed. United States: iUniverse.

W.Y. Evans Wentz, (2003). The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries: The Classic Study of Leprechauns, Pixies, and Other Fairy Spirits. United States: Citadel.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Resource for Children's Rituals

While stumbling about the internet today, I came across a wonderful resource for children's ritual that I had to stop by and share!

The website of Charter Oak Grove ADF has an entire section devoted to rituals for each of the High Days designed specifically for children.  While the rituals are written according to ADF's Core Order of Ritual, there's also a nice amount of resources for Pagan children of any path that honors Celtic deities.  Their book about the Kindreds (ancestors, nature spirits, and gods and goddesses) is available in print from Lulu.

I hope this is helpful to some parents and groups out there who might be having trouble coming up with ritual ideas for children!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Y is for Yule

Yule - perhaps the most recognizable of all Pagan holidays.  In my opinion, it features the easiest celebrations to translate from secular to religious.  Especially for me as a Heathen living in America, many Germanic traditions have made their way into our celebrations of the holiday.  Christmas trees, Christmas hams, and warm fireplaces - all leftovers from or inspired by pre-Christian Yule celebrations - were childhood staples for me.

Today, my family and I celebrate Yule as twelve-day festival full of family, food, and fun.  The first celebration falls the night before the solstice, known to the Anglo-Saxons as Mōdraniht; it is a night to remember our female ancestors, called the Idesa.  We celebrate this night with a feast featuring family recipes, talking about our lineage and memories of relatives recently lost, and leave portions of the food out for the Idesa.

The next night is the Solstice, on which I try to keep on all-night vigil to wait for the sun.  The Wiccan coven I'm learning from hosts a Solstice ritual at the local Unitarian Universalist church.  At dawn, I will hail Sunne and make offerings to Her to thank Her for the return of the warmth of the sun.

The next few days (depending on how close the Solstice falls to Christmas) are a rush of baking cookies, last minute gift construction and wrapping, and card-making.  Some local Pagan groups also have their own celebrations around this time that I like to attend.  Another special thing that I usually like to do three days following the Solstice (though this year, due to Christmas Eve, it will only be two) is an adaptation of the Yule ritual described in Heimskringla by Snorri Sturlson.  I cook a large feast, sprinkle the kids with a bit of gravy, and we drink toasts to Woden, Ing-Frea and His father, and the ancestors.

Then comes Christmas Eve!  Traditionally, my father's family has a get-together with all my aunts and uncles and cousins (who are steadily increasing in number!) - it's becoming quite the gathering.  This is a big family celebration we've been doing since I was very young.  In ADF Druidry as well as Heathenry, spending time with folk and family is as important to our religion as prayers and devotions.

We usually celebrate Christmas morning with my mother and siblings, and Santa always makes a visit for my children.  The next few days are a fun blur while going to parties, seeing family, and this year helping out with the Prairie Shadows Protogrove (ADF) ritual on the 28th.

Then on Twelfthnight - which this year coincidentally falls on New Year's Eve - the season comes to an end with another big feast.  Since my family is pork-free, I will often make bread or cake in the shape of a pig, and we'll make our New Year's resolutions over it.

All in all, it's a pretty full religious calendar - but since much of it is 'secular', emphasizes family and social gatherings, and includes holidays also celebrated by mainstream culture; it's easy to incorporate it into the season's busy schedule.  To me and my family, not surrounded by a large Heathen community, that mix of 'secular' and religious is what makes the holiday season.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Anglo-Saxon Religious Calendar 2014

I'm not a reconstructionist Heathen by any means; looking forward, I don't think I would be willing to change years' worth of my own traditions to be more historically accurate when more archaeological information comes to light.  But since I'm currently building those traditions, I have an opportunity to create something that is reasonably akin to the religion my Pagan ancestors would have practiced.  This is the perspective I'm coming from with my Anglo-Saxon religious calendar: it is based on research, but to flesh things out I've had to resort a bit to my own imagination.

If any of my readers are at all interested in Anglo-Saxon heathenry, I must recommend that you check out Englatheod.org; it's a wonderful resource where I've gotten many AS-specific tidbits of interest.  One of these tidbits is an article on the Anglo-Saxon calendar year that goes into a great deal of detail on the possible ways the calendar may have looked and functioned.  It is one of these possibilities on which I have based my own religious calendar, also using holidays attested by the venerable Bede in De Temporum Ratione, and a few traditional Asatru holidays that are not attested to in England, but which are important to me as a Heathen.  Since the calendar is largely lunar, these dates will change year-to-year; but the following are for 2014.

February 14 - The Charming of the Plow (in which cakes are offered to the earth, a practice attested to by Bede for the month of Solmonað)

March 16 - Festival for Hreða (the full moon, and midpoint, of Hredmonað)

April 15 - Eostara, spring festival for the goddess Eostre (the full moon, and midpoint, of the month Eostara)

June 28 - Litha (placed on the new moon closest to the solstice; this would have been the day between two months called Before-Litha and After-Litha)

August 10 - Hlæfmæst (literally 'loaf-feast', on the full moon midpoint of Háligmonað)

September 9 - Freyfaxi (unattested in England, but an important Heathen harvest festival; I chose the full moon of September as it often lines up with other Freyfaxi celebrations)

October 8 - Winterfylleð (Winterfinding is the name of the month; given similar holidays attested in Norse sources, I have chosen to honor it with a feast-day, again on the full moon)

November 6 - Winternights (again, this is not a historical English celebration, but its importance in modern Heathenry brings me to celebrate it)

December 19 - Mōdraniht (I have chosen to celebrate this the night before the solstice, though there is some debate on where in December it should be celebrated)

December 20 - Solstice (I choose to honor Sunne on this day, though as far as I know this is historically unattested)

Jan 1 - Twelfthnight (this is attested in Norse sources, but given the history of the 'twelve days of Christmas' in England, I find it perfectly acceptable to extend the festive holiday season)

Friday, November 29, 2013

X Marks the Spot: Why and How to do Rituals for Children

I'm currently putting the finishing touches on a ritual "just for kids".  I put that in quotes because, of course, adults are welcome to participate - but the ritual is written for children.  In Christianity, this is almost a given now; practically any church you walk into on a Sunday morning will have a dedicated children's church, usually taking place concurrent to the adult service.  There a Christian's children have a chance to play with one another, do arts or crafts, and to learn the moral and religious lessons their parents and the congregation have decided is important to them.  In the Pagan community (outside of large festivals) I've never encountered any children-specific programming that is also religious in nature.

I'm sure there are a number of reasons behind this, first and foremost that many Pagan parents are unwilling to teach their children about their religion - again, for a number of very valid reasons.  I'm not here to judge those parents or say they're doing it wrong.  But there are those of us who are teaching our children our religion, and the standard Pagan ritual is a particularly bad place for doing that.

Just imagine being five or six years old and attending a pretty normal Pagan circle.  Generally, they open with some kind of quiet or guided meditation, where noise and fidgeting are a pretty big distraction.  You as a child are not only asked to sit through this, but are frowned or glared at when doing your pretty natural kid stuff.  Then, again, you are obliged to wait in relative silence as the quarters are called and the God and Goddess are invited, calling out a late "blessed be!" when the adult next to you nudges you with an elbow - because listening to one person talk on and on, or waiting silently while that person walks slowly around the circle, has completely lost all of your interest.  No matter how engaging or interesting the mid-ritual activity, you've already zoned out completely.  Your interest might perk up again if juice and cookies are offered as cakes and ale, but that's usually followed by the reversal of the whole "be quiet, they're casting circle" routine.

Us Heathens have it a little easier (since objectively, blots are a bit more fun!) but I'm talking today about the generic Neo-Wiccan that so often accompanies the umbrella term Paganism.  And in this, I suggest we take a leaf out of Christianity's book.  I know, not many Pagans like to hear that; but the truth is that Christianity struggled with this same problem a few generations ago: Sunday school was a lot like regular school, and not a whole lot of kids were enjoying it or getting much out of it.  But youth pastors across the country came up with some great solutions to get kids more involved in their learning, and we can learn a lot from the one word that is emphasized over and over: Participation.

If we can write a ritual that actually gets kids interested and involved, that would go leaps and bounds towards helping children learn more about the faith of their parents (or at the very least, relieve the poor kids' suffering at the hands of boring adult ritual!).  To do this, I've broken down Participation into four easy-to-do parts that should make almost any ritual appealing to children.

          1) Language
I feel like this is one of the most important factors of all.  Use words that kids can understand.  Use words that kids can understand easily, so they can listen more attentively and actually internalize more of what is being said.  As adults, hearing a lot of technical jargon or subculture-specific vocabulary is often an instant turn-off of attention; for kids, flowery phrasing and Ye Olde English is much the same.  For participation, more 'repeat-after-me' is great, but only really works when those repeating can understand what exactly they're saying.  Also, make sure that the ritual really explains everything that's happening.  Before you call the quarters, just give a quick and simple sentence or two about the elements, and why we want to welcome them to the circle.  If the children have no idea why something is happening (or even what's happening at all!), attention dips quickly.

          2) Songs
This one goes hand in hand with language; basically, if you can sing it, you should be singing it.  Kids do best with simple melodies and repeated words, so it doesn't have to be anything complicated at all.  Get their hands clapping!  Let them dance!  One technique I'm using for the ritual I wrote is to have simple chants to welcome the elements, all with the same tune and simple repeated words, so kids can really lose themselves in the song and have a great time doing it.  If you're not great at writing your own stuff, there are songs and chants all over youtube that are simple enough for children to do, and an iPod with speakers (as long as you're singing too!) is a perfectly acceptable solution for the less musically-inclined.

          3) Kid-friendly Ritual Objects
We want our kids to be really participating in this ritual, so the last thing we need is a bunch of beautiful, breakable lying around to be tripped over, knocked over, or any variation thereof.  Having a well-defined center can be helpful for focus, so a small altar table is perfectly acceptable - just make sure the things on it are ready to be handled by children.  For my children, I bought some unfinished wooden boxes at the craft store and painted colors of the elements inside to serve as elemental representatives around the circle; but big rocks with bright paint in element colors works just as well.  For the altar table, cloth dolls for the God and Goddess would work great for very young children, older ones would probably be fine with the more inexpensive resin designs from Sacred Source or the like.  Plastic reusable (since we're green Pagans!) cups for cakes and ale, and make sure whatever you're using for 'ale' is set on the floor and has a lid.  Sticks make fine wands, athames really are not necessary, and a lot of dollar stores sell plastic wine glasses that would make great chalices.  Ideally, the children are actually interacting with these ritual objects, and we want them to be interacting with them freely and un-selfconciously.  If you're hovering over them, apprehensive about the condition of your things, the kids are going to feel that and close themselves off.

          4) Crafts
Like songs, kids almost universally love crafts.  It doesn't have to be big and complicated - in fact, it's probably better if it's not; this is a ritual where we want the children to feel like independent participators that don't need an adult to hold their hand through every step of the process.  Even coloring sheets and crayons would be great!  Something simple like "draw a picture of what you want to thank the Goddess for" can go a really long way.  Bonus points for opening up to children's natural creativity: hand out a coloring sheet and tell kids to use the colors that feel right to them in this moment, not necessarily the ones they would think of as being the 'right' colors.

The truth is that Pagan ritual is very uniquely suited to being kid-friendly; it only requires changing a few things, and a willingness to get down on the children's level.  Just like any ritual, sometimes things are going to go wrong, kids are going to get bored or not want to participate, and that's fine.  In fact, it's totally okay in a children's ritual, because the ritual itself should be written to accommodate these things.  The other children aren't going to get worked up if we have to pause to open a door for little Nadia, or if Travis trips over the representation of Earth and falls out of the circle; and I don't think the deities are, either.  Kids are kids, and recognizing and accommodating that, even in ritual, is in my opinion the best investment Paganism can make into its future as a religion.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Giefu

Generosity brings credit and honor, which support one's dignity;
it furnishes help and subsistence
to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.

Here we have another rune that, while attested in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem quoted above, does not have a counterpart in the Icelandic or Norwegian rune poems.  Giefu directly translates to 'gift' in Anglo-Frisian (another Germanic language once in use in the British Isles).  Despite a very Christianized concept of generosity and gift-giving represented in the rune poem, the original Heathen idea of a gift was rooted in the concept of Hospitality.

In ancient Germanic societies such as the pre-conversion Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, hospitality was one of the most important values.  It provides for the care of travelers or those who have fallen on hard times, it helps to establish community relationships, and even provides a basis for interaction with the divine.  If any of you have read A Game of Thrones, GRRM's concept of guest right is a very common one throughout Indo-European cultures, and Germanic culture specifically places a heavy emphasis on it.

In the same way, "a gift for a gift" provided the basic religious outline of Indo-European, and later Germanic, ritual to the divine.  Offerings, promises, and prayers were often given to the gods or land spirits in thanks for their goodwill and help; either before or after the help took place.  The idea was that giving to a spirit put them in a place where they were obligated to give a gift back - not in a manipulative or skeezy way, but in a completely culturally appropriate and widely-understood fashion.

To me, this is also what the rune Giefu represents.  It is a rune of that which is given, and the gift that must be given in return.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: A World Full of Gods by John Michael Greer

A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism was written by John Michael Greer and is available here on Amazon.  The first thing you should know about this book: it is about philosophy.  It's not about theology, or what do Pagans believe; it's not a book to help you go more in-depth with your practice or to hammer out the finer details of your personal world-view.  It is a philosophy text written in the traditional style of persuasive argument; in this case, the argument for polytheism.

John Michael Greer is the current head of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, a group I don't have much personal experience with but have heard good things about.  He is also a prolific author who has released many Pagan and esoteric titles, and maintains his blog, The Arch Druid Report.  This particular work is a bit of a departure from other things I've read by him; his tone, while remaining conversational and easy to read, is very much rooted in the philosophical tradition.

In the first part of the book, Greer outlines his basic arguments for polytheism, as opposed to either classic monotheism or atheism.  Though the first half of the book does seem to largely digress into discussions of the various arguments for the aforementioned positions, I for one appreciated the basic overview of these classic arguments before diving into Greer's own counter-arguments.  He makes many persuasive points; the main argument being that with so many different experiences of the sacred or deity, it therefor makes the most sense for there to actually be different deities imparting these separate experiences.  He also addresses many of atheism's arguments against theism, and many classic monotheist's arguments against atheism and (misunderstood) paganism, and quite handily shows their inherent flaws when faced with a polytheistic worldview.

I personally greatly enjoyed this book; but I also minored in philosophy at the undergraduate level.  Those more unfamiliar with the discipline of philosophy, or who are familiar but don't enjoy the type of arguments that philosophers frequently entertain, may find this book much less appealing.  For the Pagan who is often faced with religious debates or attacks by Christians or atheists, this book can arm you with some very valuable, perspective-changing arguments that may be of great use if you are interested in engaging in those kinds of discussions.

Overall, I feel this is a very specialized piece of writing that will probably appeal to a small group of the already small group of Paganism; but if what you've heard sounds appealing, you'll probably enjoy it a lot - I certainly did!

Friday, November 22, 2013

X is for.. I'm tired and sick, let's talk about Healing!

For the past week, my family, including three kiddos five and under, has been suffering.  I don't know where it came from or even what it was, but all of us were having trouble moving, thinking, and retaining liquid.  Lovely, I know.

Still in my fuzzy pajamas (that I've been wearing for two days now), I manage the strength to stagger weakly over to my kitchen altar where I keep Brigid's shrine.  Taking a moment to block the air flow to my nostrils so I'm not nauseated by the kitchen food smells, I open my prayer book and scan for something that might work as a healing prayer.  Of course, I've never taken the time to make something like that easily accessible, so I mumble a few words to the effect of "Brigid, please help us!", realize my lighter isn't around, and crawl back to the couch totally defeated.  Not exactly the fantastic, elaborate healing ritual I'd imagined on more healthy days.

These experiences leave me with a few questions.  When suffering from an illness, it can be difficult to summon the concentration or energy make a spell or prayer very effective.  I believe the number one help here would be preparation.  Not preparation of a fantastic, elaborate healing ritual - nobody has time or energy to do that when feeling sick enough to need the healing!  Have some emergency unscented candles sitting in a drawer just in case smells make you feel awful.  Write a short, simple prayer wherever it will be easy to find when you need it, and stick it in there.  Here's a lovely prayer to Brigid from Brigit's Forge by Hilarie Wood:

Be the cross of Bride between me and all bad spirits
That move invisible.
Be the cross of Bride between me and all ill,
All ill-will and ill-mishap.

Be the compassing of Bride around me,
From every spectre, every evil,
From every shame that harmful moves,
In darkness, in power to hurt.

Be the compassing of holy Bride
Shielding me from every harm,
Keeping me from every doom
Coming towards me this day,
Coming towards me this night.

Be the fiery sword of Bride
Defending me from all black swarms,
Be the shield of blessed Bride
Protecting me from all sharp edges,
Be the cloak of gentle Bride
Encircling me.

Be the compassing of Bride about me,
This day and every day,
This night and every night.

One other thing I wanted to mention about healing from a Heathen perspective is this: you don't have to call on a God or a Goddess to help you.  After my disastrous attempt at a prayer to Brigid, I found myself laying in bed and looking up at my ancestor shrine.  If anyone in the world is going to have sympathy for your plight, isn't it most likely to be your female ancestors?  Just as many of us had our mothers care for us when we were sick in childhood, we can extrapolate that feeling to our grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and so on who have passed on.  In Anglo-Saxon, these ancestors are called our Idesa.  Since I'm feeling a bit better this morning, I've taken some time to compose a quick prayer to the Idesa that can be used for a family or modified to fit an individual.

Mothers who mourned when your merry ones were ill,
my children are crying, chilled and feverish.
Help us, heal us, hold us together,
so fit and fierce, we will face the day.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Cen

The torch is known to every living man
by its pale, bright flame;
it always burns where princes sit within.

Today we have another rune with some linguistic confusion and a variety of interpretations.  The Norwegian and Icelandic rune poems named this rune Ulcer, and consequently their poems speak of a dangerous rune.  The Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, called this rune Torch.

Though we don't have many extant Anglo-Saxon sources, we do know quite a bit about the mythology of their cousins, the Norse.  In Norse mythology, fire holds an exalted place - Muspelheim, the first of all worlds, has flames so hot that there are no visitors.  The place where the fires of Muspelheim came in contact with the ice of Niflheim was called Ginnungagap, and it was here that life came to be.  (Sturluson, The Prose Edda)

Fire also heralds the end of the world, also called Ragnarök; the Gods of Asgard are fated to fight the fire giants of Muspelheim (Sturluson).  It can be both destructive and creative.  The name Torch suggests to me the positive aspects of fire: it is fire contained, controlled by people, and used for the people's benefit.  "The torch is known to every living man," because who in those times could make do without a bit of light to see by or fire to cook on (or, in our times, who in this country could do without electricity?).

One thing this rune does not signify is knowledge!  This is based on a linguistic misunderstanding, where 'cen' or 'torch' is mistaken for 'ken' or 'knowing'.  Instead, we must look to the Germanic understanding of fire as participant in both creation and destruction to understand the torch - creation harnessed to give light and life to humanity.

W is for Winternights

In the waning days of Autumn, those of a Celtic or a more generic Pagan persuasion will often celebrate Samhain near the 31st of October.  Many people following a Northern European Pagan path will also celebrate many of these same themes near this same time - many Heathens call this holiday Winternights.

Historically, Germanic peoples thought of the year in terms of two seasons rather than our modern four (much like their neighbors, the Celts).  These seasons were summer and winter, and were roughly divided between long-days and short-days.  Therefore, one of the most important days of all was the beginning of winter, also known as Winter Day.  The Ynglinga Saga, written by Icelander Snorri Sturluson around 1225 (wikipedia is helpful for remembering specifics), mentions three sacrifices, including this one: "On winter day there should be blood-sacrifice for a good year," (Ynglinga Saga, chapter 8).  Modern Germanic Pagans such as the Asatru have adopted this holiday, though in the Heathen community it becomes more of a harvest and ancestor celebration; actual blood sacrifice being relatively rare these days (Asatru holidays).  The Catholic holiday of St. Martin's Day is thought to be a remnant of this old celebration (Albertsson, Travels Through Middle Earth).  For many modern Heathens, the celebration is held in early or mid-November; for others, it is held in mid-October - the variance of seasons across the Germanic lands makes pinning down a specific date very difficult.

 The Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic people that made England their home sometime in the fifth century, are thought to have held their celebrations near the Full Moon in the month (look here for more awesome AS calendar info), therefor I have taken to celebrating Winternights near the Full Moon of Blótmónað (roughly corresponding to our month of November).  So on Sunday night, my children and I will be cooking a wonderful feast, pouring out some ale to the deities, ancestors, and land wights, and talking about the change in season that has taken over the land.  Winter nights are here.

Just as a note: my Germanic path is rather loose Anglo-Saxon Heathenism, and I am not as familiar with the Old Norse sources as some Asatru or continental German reconstructionists.  So if I have anything incorrect or in a misconstrued context, please let me know in the comments - I'm always open to correction!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Rad

Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors
and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads
on the back of a stout horse.

The above stanza taken from the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem is one of the more interesting I've read since embarking on this study.  This rune is usually characterized as one of the simpler ones: the translation is "to ride", which often sees it telling of travel, journeys and transportation.  But reading through the various rune poems leads me to believe that this simplicity is rather deceptive.  Consider the Norwegian Rune Poem, which says "Riding is said to be the worst thing for horses", or the Icelandic Rune Poem, which specifically mentions that although "Riding // joy of the horsemen // and speedy journey" it is also "and toil of the steed".

All of these poems have something in common: dual perspectives.  In the Anglo-Saxon, the two perspectives are those of someone indoors, not having to actually face the danger of riding a horse; and that of someone on the back of a horse, taking dangerous roads with a potentially less-than-reliable animal.  The other poems reveal exactly why the horse may be slightly dangerous - while riding can be great for those doing the riding, the animal that has to carry that person is working very hard.

So while this rune is most obviously about travel, riding, and our modes of transportation; I think it's worth considering in a reading that this rune may be trying to show another side to the story.  Consider an outside perspective, perhaps one that is normally overlooked or brushed aside.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

High Holy Day Essay: Samhain

I ended up attending a few more functions put on by Pagans of Nebraska, and it was there that I met fellow ADF member Amber Doty, at the time the only other ADF member in Nebraska. We talked about starting up a group, and it was on the 18th of October that Prairie Shadow Protogrove was born. Our first ritual was held at Samhain. Amber wrote the ritual with a Hellenic hearth culture, and the ritual was focused mainly on the Ancestors. There was a processional between two sticks of incense into the ritual area, held in Amber's large and open backyard. After the processional was a brief meditation, followed by prayers of welcome and offerings to Gaia, the Earth Mother. Offerings were made to the Fire, Well, and Tree, Hermes was called as the Gatekeeper, and there was another brief guided meditation for opening the Gates. The Kindreds were welcomed and offered to. For the main body of the ritual, the participants were invited to talk about their Ancestors; Amber told us about a man named Dale, a friend of hers who had passed on but inspired her to found Prairie Shadow Protogrove. The final offerings were made, a favorable omen was taken, and cider was used as the Waters of Life, held up and blessed by all the Kindred. The Waters were taken around the half-circle that had formed, and poured for each person. The Kindreds were thanked, the Gates were closed with another meditation, Gaia was thanked, and the rite was closed.

 This was my first group ADF rite. While it wasn't without its flaws, most of these were natural to a first-time ritual with any group. The energy was not as present as I had felt in other rituals, but no one was visibly distracted or not paying attention. The Fire had some problems staying lit when several offerings were poured on it in a row, a lesson we took to heart for the next ritual. Honestly, it was so refreshing to be doing ADF ritual, pretty obviously written for a group of people, with an actual group of people! I know there are many solitaries who happily use the Core Order of Ritual, but I could never quite make it feel right for myself - but in a group of 10-12, it seemed that just the right dynamics were present. The energy created by Amber and I's excitement at the group's first ritual was strong enough to overcome the hurdles that we discovered along the way.

W is for Web Ritual

A brief introduction: I am a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, a group focusing on recreating (in a modern context) many various religions of ancient Indo-European peoples.  Though it's the largest Druid group in America, until recently (luckily a Protogrove just started in my area!) I haven't been able to attend any rituals with other members.

Luckily for all members outside of driving distance of a Grove, the idea of 'web rituals' was recently talked about on the lists.  Nicholas Egelhoff, a member of the Norse kin (a group within ADF devoted to the Norse pantheon) set up the first 'Druid Moon Ritual' on Google Hangout.  Called the 'Druid Moon Ritual' because of its location on the 6th day of the new moon, about eight people were on video (from different locations!) performing the ritual for a larger group of ADF members.  You can watch the video of the ritual here on youtube.  There were a few technical issues at first (which is why I linked it some 30 minutes in), but overall I felt it was a wonderful success!  The use of more tech-heavy imagery, as well as the invocation of pioneering technology Ancestors, was an amazing touch that really made the ritual work.

Before trying it out, I wasn't sure how to feel about virtual ritual.  On the one hand, coming from a Christian background, I'm used to the notion of believers from around the world being able to 'link together', as it were.  On the other hand, it's a concept I've tried to minimize in my own practice - believing as I do that contact with land spirits is best done on the land, talking to ancestors is best received near their graves, etc; my spirituality is generally more about direct contact than linking energy over great distances.  And yet, once the ritual begun, I largely forgot my misgivings.  The energy did flow.  Though the Kindreds were being invited and sacrificed to many miles from me, I still felt Their presence.

The leaders of the Druid Moon Ritual are hoping to have one each month on the 6th day of the new moon.  If you're interested in watching or participating, you can check out ADF's Google+ page, where I believe more announcements will be made as the time for the next ritual draws nearer.  Personally, I'd like to see as many people as possible - it's a wonderful experience, and I think largely due to its nature, would only become more powerful as more people join in.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Os

The mouth is the source of all language,
a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men,
a blessing and a joy to every knight.

The Anglo-Saxon rune Os (according to a Wikipedia article which steadfastly refuses to cite its sources!) is one of three Anglo-Saxon runes that split from the Ansuz rune of the Elder Futhark.  Because of the development of vowels in England at the time, the 'a' rune was split into an 'o' sound, an 'æ' sound and an 'a' sound.  If I'm remembering my diction class correctly (which is debatable), the 'o' sounds like the o in 'moat', 'æ' sounds like 'cat' and, and 'a' sounds like the a in 'caller'.  Os is our 'o' rune.

There is also a bit of controversy over the translation of the name of this rune.  I discovered, by googling some of the information in the before-mentioned Wikipedia article with no sources, a lovely volume titled The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, Volume 6 by Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie.  One of the poems he analyzes is the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, and his commentary has a great deal of information on the runes, as well as what seems like a wealth of sources - which I am, unfortunately, unable to see with the brief Google Books preview; I'll be ordering it through inter-library loan and will hopefully be able to update with more direct sources soon.

 "The name os, given for this rune by Hickes, is perhaps the Anglo-Saxon word os, "(heathen) god"."  He goes on to say: "In the Iclandic rune poem the rune (in a somewhat different form) stands for óss (or áss), "god," but in the Norwegian rune poem it stands for óss, "river-mouth, estuary."  An alternative translation of the Anglo-Saxon rune name, by Kemble, Archaeologia XXVIII, 340, favored by Dickens and accepted by Keller, Anglia LX, 142, takes os as the Latin noun, "mouth."  This meaning fits better with the [stanza of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem], "source of every language," but no other foreign words are found in the poem as the names of runes."

Given this evidence, I think it is reasonable to discount the Latin translation 'mouth' as a Heathen interpretation of the runes.  I believe that Van Kirk Dobbie is quite correct in his supposition that the name for this rune translates to 'god', especially since the Icelandic rune poem, as noted in the quote, quite specifically mentions it (God // aged Gautr // and prince of Ásgarðr // and lord of Valhalla).  Given the connections we know Woden has to the runes, language, and poetry; I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that the line "the source of all language" may be referring to Him.  Again considering the Icelandic rune poem, who would be the "lord of Valhalla" but Odin?

Now that we've analyzed the possible translations of Os, it's time to discuss the meaning of this rune and its possible implications in divination.  My take on this is obviously going to be informed by my association of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem's stanza with Woden, so bear with my potentially over-reaching conclusions!  I see this as Woden's rune, much like Tyr is associated with Tiw.  We don't know much about how the Anglo-Saxons viewed Woden, and how those views may have been similar or different to the view of the Norse; and this rune poem was written a few generations off from un-Christianized Heathens.  Nevertheless, I feel this rune's strongest associations are with Woden as a god of language and poetry; a poet's rune.  To me, it would represent creativity, and the struggle that must so often be engaged in to let the creation come to light.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Thorn

The thorn is exceedingly sharp,
an evil thing for any knight to touch,
uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.

Well, my rune crafting and studies are not turning out to be as 'every day' as I intended.  Still, I am plugging away on them, and today I write about the rune Thorn (or Thurisaz, or any number of Germanic variations; I tend to use the Old English names).  As you might expect, the translation is rather simple - Thorn.  The poem above comes from a stanza of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, which warns of the dangers of this rune.  The third rune in the sequence of the Norwegian and Icelandic rune poems is Giant; it has been speculated (though I cannot find a source for the original speculator) that the Thorn was a metaphor for a Giant.  The Norwegian poem states: "Giant causes anguish to women // misfortune makes few men cheerful", while the Icelandic poem elaborates further: "torturer of women // and cliff-dweller // and husband of a giantess".

I am currently reading Kveldulf Gundarsson's Elves, Wights and Trolls; which is a fantastic study on various supernatural beings from a Germanic perspective; and he noted the definition of giant as "husband of a giantess".  He speculates, with more supporting evidence that I can't recall at the moment (just go read the book, it's fantastic!) that giantesses were viewed as more wild, more primal than even their male counterparts.  This gives rise to an interesting idea: if Thorn is a metaphor for a male giant specifically, than it represents a dangerous warning that may yet lead to an even greater, more chaotic danger.

Altogether, it is fairly obvious that this is a rune of danger, and a bad omen.  Not a rune I'd like to pull very often!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Samhain with Prairie Shadow Protogrove, ADF

Photo by Shanda Hahn Kinkade
The day was clear and warm-ish, and the space for our ritual was huge and green, covered with a smattering of fallen autumn leaves.  It really was the best possible setting one could want for a Samhain ritual in Nebraska.  I'd met Amber, the Protogrove founder, a few times before at various places around town, and a little meet-and-greet held at her house a few weeks beforehand.  I don't think I've ever met anyone so passionate about an organization and a community as she is.  When I arrived at her house a few hours before the ritual, she was bringing out tables to be used as altars and a giant tote full of offerings, decorations, and various other ritual necessities.  In the next few hours we did some cooking (as my clumsy self destroyed her kitchen!) and lots of set-up as her husband built the fire we'd be using.  Others began to arrive, and a community was being built.

Photo by Shanda Hahn Kinkade
Prairie Shadow Protogrove is a brand-new group, the first official branch of ADF in Nebraska.  The ritual we were setting up for was the very first: a new beginning in a season usually thought of for its endings.  A smattering of people from the local Pagan community attended - including some friends from Nebraska Heathens United - one person drove in from out of state, and another nearby ADF member came out to join us.  The ritual was Hellenic, inviting Hestia and Gaea, and Hermes as our gatekeeper.  I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Hestia, and was especially happy to welcome the Goddess of hearth and home to help build and strengthen our little community.  For the main body of the ritual, we honored our ancestors of blood, land, and hearth - Amber spoke about her old friend Dale, and how he had once inspired her to begin a Druid group here in Nebraska; Prairie Shadow Protogrove, named after his old production company, is the realization of a dream they shared years ago.  There were some others in attendance who had known him also; even though I never knew him, the outpouring of emotion and memories of him was so strong I was brought to tears.  It was my job to pull the omen, asking the Kindreds if our offerings were accepted and what blessings they would give to us in return.  I pulled the King of Cups (the outpouring of love and remembrance for Dale was most pleasing), and the Nine of Cups, showing a content man with all he had ever wanted; the Kindreds gifted us with blessings of happiness and contentment in our lives.  We passed out the waters of life (or the cider of life, in this case!), drank deeply, and thanked all those who had come.  For a first foray into ritual, Prairie Shadow Protogrove did quite well!

After ritual, we had a potluck and lots of community-building.  Watching some friends I'd gotten to know recently meet one another was amazing, and getting to know some new faces was perhaps the best part!  I'm always up for a good religious conversation - especially when my husband gets tired of listening to me enumerate the differences between the Morrigan and Macha - and there was plenty to be had.  I honestly couldn't have been happier with how the day went, and couldn't be more thankful to everyone who helped put it together - setting up, writing liturgy, or simply bringing their presence.  It was an amazing day, and a wonderful start to what will hopefully be a long tradition for Prairie Shadow Protogrove.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Family Samhain Adventure

I was reading an interesting post this week on the nature of Samhain, and its two-fold nature.  The night of Halloween, the author proposes, is about local community; with all the kids out trick-or-treating.  Samhain itself, the day of November 1st, is about the historical community - those who have passed on.  My family and I have celebrated in this way for the past three years or so, but I've never quite been able to articulate how trick-or-treating is related to my religious practices!

Walking around the neighborhood on the 31st, we get to see many neighbors that rarely get more than a passing 'hello' through the rest of the year.  There were several of my oldest daughter's classmates walking around this year, and many parents that I had talked to waiting to pick her up from school.  It really was a night where the local community came together to create fun for all of the children.

The next day, November 1st, we woke up early to gather offerings for our ancestors.  In past years, I've made bits of pie for my women ancestors (big pie makers!) and brought tobacco for the men; but this year my middle daughter insisted that we make and bring cookies!  With my recipe book (with the family recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies ever) still in a box somewhere, we instead made sugar cookies - a big Christmas tradition in my family.  Since the weather was so beautiful this year, we made it out to three different places and honored many of our ancestors: my grandfather-in-law, my great-grandparents and their siblings, and we even managed to find the graves of my great-great-great grandparents who came over from Germany with their young son in the 1800s.  At each of these places, we would sit for a while, offering the ancestors cookies and water (too many alcoholics in my family to bring anything harder), and talk about memories of them - and in the case of those more distant in time, things I had learned about them and how they are related to us.  I was so pleased this year when I began telling a story about my great-grandpa and my oldest remembered it exactly, and was able to finish the story for her younger siblings.  It really hit home at that moment that I am creating a tradition - that part of the job of first-generation Pagan parents is creating a tradition.  I can talk about tribal ways and the deep love and loyalty for family until I'm blue in the face; but my children are really learning it through the traditions and actions that I'm passing down to them.  Even if they grow up to find another religion - and, realistically, they probably won't be Heathens or Druids as adults - they will remember the stories.  They will remember where they came from, and how it is such a large part of who they are.  Even if they don't grow up to worship Thunor or Brigid, they may still come in the fall to put flowers on the graves of their ancestors, and tell their children the stories.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Ur

The aurochs is proud and has great horns;
it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns;
a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.

For the rune Ur, I have again quoted the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, a translation of which can be found here.  The Norwegian and Icelandic poems are debatable, but I personally do not associate the second stanzas of those poems with this Rune.

I have always seen this rune, in a Elder Futhark context, represented as Strength.  Which is fair - the aurochs is incredibly large and strong.  But that's not exactly what the poem is saying.  It talks about the pride of the aurochs, it's bravery.  Now of course, the aurochs can be brave and prideful because of its great strength; it has the power to back up its claims.  In fact, it is a savage beast, and will prove its power beyond a shadow of a doubt with sufficient provocation (and reading about aurochs, it seems like 'sufficient provocation' could have been pretty minimal!).  This rune makes claims of strength because it has that strength, and will not hesitate to show it off when confronted.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Fehu

Wealth is a comfort to all men;
yet every man must bestow it freely
if he wish to gain honor in the sight of the Lord.

The quote above is from the first few lines of the Anglo-Saxon Rune poem, a poem composed around the 8th century, after the Germanic religions of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and others had been supplanted by Christianity - hence the occasional Christian references.  It was first written in Old English, but there's a modern English translation available here.  There are also Norwegian and Icelandic Rune poems, composed later and yet more Pagan in nature.

At first glance, I assumed the slightly negative slant on wealth in the quote above was a Christian overlay; however the Icelandic and Norwegian poems are much more negative in nature, saying "wealth is a source of discord among kinsmen; the wolf lives in the forest," and "source of discord among kinsmen // and fire of the sea // and path of the serpent."  Clearly the Germanic peoples realized the power of greed; it is this that causes the fights even among families.  The Anglo-Saxon Rune poem offers us a solution, however: do not hold on too tightly to your wealth, but bestow it freely, and greed will not haunt your house.

It's interesting and sheds a great deal of light on early Germanic culture that cattle (the literal meaning of 'fehu') is synonymous with wealth.  The more cattle you were able to sustain, the more milk you would have in the early spring, and more meat in the fall and through the winter.  Clearly, however, having too much wealth - or just being rich for the sake of being rich - was very undesirable.