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; 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.