Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Yule Toast to the Gods of Peace and Good Seasons

photo courtesy of wikicommons

The Saga of Hákon the Good was written sometime in the 1260's, describing the reign of King Hákon I, who took the throne in 1217 and died in 1263.  There is a lot of interesting Heathen details scattered throughout this work, which talks about the time of transition from Pagan beliefs into Christianity for Norway.  But one of the gems is the description of a Yule ritual, at which a feast is eaten and offered to the Gods, and many toasts are drunk to the deities.  The ritual I have written here is an attempt to give form to the rather dry writing of the Saga, but certainly shouldn't be mistaken for a historically accurate representation!

Gather your holy liquid - either mead or water depending on how sticky you want things to get!  Say a prayer over the liquid, such as:

"This water is consecrated to the Gods, the wights, and my ancestors who watch over my steps.  May it please the spirits and make holy all it touches."

In the Saga, the liquid is sprinkled over the altars, the gathered people, and both the inside and outside of the temple.  For my celebration, I sprinkle my indoor altar, the thresholds of my home, and around the trees and garden - do whatever feels right for your home or gathering.  Repeat while sprinkling:
"Hail to the Gods and Goddesses.  Hail to the wights of the land.  Hail to my ancestors of blood and spirit.  Make this place sacred by your hand."

 Once you are finished, come to your table or hearth and set the remainder of the liquid aside.  Sit down to feast and offer it to the spirits, saying:
"This feast is consecrated to the Gods, the wights, and my ancestors who watch over my steps.  Thank you for your bounty."

Pour out a glass of whatever you are drinking - I always find that mead is beloved of many of the northern Gods and spirits, but fresh water is also appreciated by deities of the earth.  Lift it in a toast, saying:
"Hail Odhinn, the one-eyed wanderer, giver of Runic knowledge: for success and victory in the year to come, I ask You!" Drink the toast.

Pour another and say:
"Hail Njord, God of the waters, giver of bounty: for prosperity and a good season in the year to come, I ask You!"  Drink the toast.

Pour another and say:
"Hail Frey, married to the land, bringing peace in Your wagon: for joy and bounty in the year to come, I ask you!"  Drink the toast.

Pour another and say:
"Hail the Hidden folk, landvaettir and wights who dwell in this place: for friendship and peace in the year to come, I ask you!"  Drink the toast.

Pour another and say:
"Hail my Ancestors and departed friends, who are remembered on this night: stay with me in the year to come, I ask you!"  Drink the toast.

Outside or on your altar, leave a plate of food and pour out the consecrated liquid for the deities and spirits.  Say a quick ending prayer, such as:
"Gods and Goddesses, wights of the land, beloved dead who watch my steps, thank you for all you have done for me this past year.  Pour out your blessings in the new year as I pour out offerings to you.  Hail!"

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Coming Home

Well, it has certainly been awhile since I've been able to post here.  October through December are certainly the busiest times for Pagans; planning Samhain or Winternights rituals, attending them all, and then starting the process over for Yule can be very daunting, especially when the weather is chill and the wind is fierce.  There's also something about the waning of the year that often takes the spirit out of my writing.. it's difficult to become motivated, to form new ideas, when it seems as if all things are laying down to rest.

Nonetheless, I wanted to share with all my readers some very exciting news - the Order of the Red Grail, a Wiccan coven and fantastic group of people who I attend ritual with regularly are raising money to build a retreat center here in Nebraska.  I know many of you are of the more Heathen or other non-Wiccan varieties of Pagan, and this is great for those of us in these camps too!  The Red Grail has been around for twenty years, and has been such a huge supporter of other Pagan groups trying to start up in the region - Nebraska Heathens United consistently has events co-hosted with the Red Grail, and the local ADF Druid group (Prairie Shadow Protogrove) just helped perform lovely Yule ritual for the Wiccans' solstice party.  Having land open for Pagan use in the area would mean so much to many of the groups in eastern Nebraska.  Please stop by the IndieGoGo campaign and help by donating or spreading the word!

I have a small Yule ritual prepared for Frey and Njord that I'll be posting the next few days before the solstice, so keep your eyes out!  Thank you all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blōtmōnath, Winter Nights, Dísablót, Samhain - All the Holidays!

by Boschfoto on Wikicommons
Creative Commons License
Sometimes, being a Heathen with a leaning towards the historical can get a little confusing.  Depending on exactly what Germanic culture you're working within, this time of year is good to sacrifice cattle to the gods (Anglo-Saxon Blōtmōnath), offer to the Dísir (Scandinavian Dísablót), or possibly even to honor Odhinn as may have been done during the Icelandic Winter Nights.  For those who follow a more pan-Germanic approach, or draw inspiration from more than one tribe or geographical area, this is a lot to sift through.  For a great discussion of Winter Nights, head over to tumblr blog The Frozen Oak.

I personally tend towards the Anglo-Saxon direction, and so I save honoring the Dísir for Mōdraniht in December.  That leaves Blōtmōnath, the month of sacrifices when cattle would be dedicated to the gods.  According to Swain Wodening's reconstructed Anglo-Saxon calendar,  Blōtmōnath starts on November 3rd this year.  There's a lot of talk in Neo-Pagan circles about Samhain being the 'meat harvest' and I think this is one of the inspirations of that idea.  This time of year, our ancestors who had to carefully ration food to make it through the winter would figure up just how much feed they had, and how long that would last their current herd of cattle.  Usually, it wouldn't go quite far enough - and then the cattle would be ritually slaughtered, and the meat feasted upon and saved for the winter.

Now, modern-day Heathens, especially those living in suburban or urban areas, are not generally going to be able to ritually slaughter their own animals.  Instead, I choose to observe this time of year as one of awareness and remembrance for the gifts given to me: both by the animals who gave their lives that I could eat, and by the gods who create and sustain the lives of all things on this earth.  In keeping with that idea, not only do I like to have one large family feast featuring a roast or some other delicious meat dish, but I find it helpful to remember to address a prayer to the spirit of the animal, and the gods that went into its growth, each time I cook or eat something using meat.  This is one I wrote to use when honoring the cow from which our roast will come this year.

Nerthus, Sunna, Thor, and Frey:
For the black earth,
for the shining sun,
for the pouring rain,
for the sweet grass,
I thank you.

Strong cow who roamed the black earth,
lay in the shining sun,
drank the pouring rain,
grazed on the sweet grass,
for your gift of life,
I thank you.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mental Discipline Writeup

I began working on my meditation requirement in early October of 2013, and have continued at least twice a week up until the time of this writing, and I plan to continue doing so into the future as well. When I first began trying to work on meditation, I unfortunately had a great deal of difficulty with it. I downloaded a copy of Ian Corrigan's recording of the Two Powers meditation, and for the first month tried nearly every day to follow along with the meditation.

This turned out to be an incredibly difficult task for me. Though the meditation itself is just short of ten minutes, I found myself asleep before the end of the meditation every single time I attempted to work through it. This isn't to say that I didn't make any strides – in fact, I experienced some definite growth and changes during the first half or so of each attempt – but the outcome was always the same. About the middle of October, I began noticing that I could feel energy flowing within myself when the meditation directed me to reach my roots down into the cool water below the earth; I felt a cool tingling come up from my feet and spread across my whole body. Likewise, when I reached my branches to the sun, I could feel the warm sunlight, and its warmth suffused through me and mixed with the cool tingly energy just as the meditation described. Unfortunately, I don't think I have ever gotten beyond this mixing point when listening to the Two Powers.

This continued on for another month or so, each time failing to even make it through to the end of the meditation. After awhile, I posted on the ADF facebook page, begging for help figuring out my problem. I was getting incredibly discouraged – I know the point of the DP is to at least try a variety of things, but I felt as if my attempts were getting me absolutely nowhere. I'd discovered a great way to get myself to sleep at night if I was having trouble with insomnia, but I wanted to go deeper and discover more.

On the facebook page, a few different ideas were presented that I decided to try out. The idea I liked the most was a walking meditation, but unfortunately by that time of year it was much too cold outside for me to comfortably walk about for more than a few minutes. So I began another form of moving meditation: I returned to doing a Sun Salutation morning devotional, this time with a focus on clearing my mind as I moved through the yoga poses. I practiced this meditation almost every morning for six months, and I did enjoy it, but it wasn't quite the traditional sort of blank-mind meditation that I suppose I had in mind when I set out to learn to meditate. Once spring came again, I decided to try out some of the warmer-weather ideas.

The first was a walking meditation, which actually turned out to not work for me at all. Continuing to do my sun salutations, so I could actually have some productive mental discipline time, I added a walk in the afternoon when I could have some time without my children. I found the actual act of walking calming in the same way that my yoga in the morning was, but unfortunately there were way too many distractions in my neighborhood – neighbors would say hi, family (since we live in the same neighborhood as my in-laws and my husband's aunt and uncle) would drive by and honk and wave, and overall I found it the very opposite of peaceful to be constantly jarred out of a meditative state. I think it might work better for me to walk in the very early morning or in a different location, but I'm not able to make that work with my children-limited schedule.

The second idea I tried was a focused meditation – the idea is to focus on a square of ground or some other part of nature and to let one's thoughts quiet while contemplating it. This was something I had a great deal of success with. I think having some visual input is very helpful for me to stay awake; I am a fairly powerful visualizer, but with my eyes closed and no one else around, the signals for sleep are apparently just too strong. My usual practice involved climbing up my backyard oak tree in the afternoon, putting my hands on the trunk, and just studying that tiny patch of trunk or leaves. I did not set a timer when doing this, because I only had action to an old-fashioned ticking type which was often distracting. I found that I usually was done in about half an hour, including time to climb up and down the oak; so it's probably somewhere around 15 minutes of actual meditation. Once I had realized how effective this was, after about a week, I switched to this form instead of my morning yoga; and began doing a simple version of the Core Order of Ritual as my morning devotional instead.

Now that the weather is beginning to get colder again, I've been driven back inside and can no longer climb trees in the afternoon. Luckily, before it began to get cold, I attended the Midnight Flame Festival and was able to attend Nick Egelhoff's workshop on different types of meditation. I found a great affinity for a square breathing meditation – where I breathe in for three, hold my breath for three, exhale for three, and hold again for three more. Something about the counting and the concentration that it requires from me is very engaging, and I am able to clear my mind without it being so unoccupied that I slip into sleep. It's not as lovely as meditating in a tree, but it is very relaxing.

I never have had as physical a reaction to meditation as I did when feeling the energy in the Two Powers; that was a unique experience that I don't think can be replicated with the simpler, less visualization-heavy kinds of meditation that I've been trying since. I find meditation very relaxing and calming, and it helps me deal with the stress of the day. When I switched my meditation from morning to afternoon, I did notice a change – but it was not a drastic one, since I was still doing a morning devotional that was calming and centering for me, though not exactly a meditation. I found that doing something both in the morning and afternoon was really helpful; it's the natural midpoint of my day when my children are either asleep or at school, so I found it a great time to pause and recharge, and it really increased my patience in the later half of the day. I also found it easier, after a few months of practice, to get into a ritual mindset immediately at the start of a rite, which was very helpful for me both in my solitary practice and as a leader of ritual.

All in all, beginning a meditation practice has been incredibly beneficial to me, and honestly I wish I had started sooner. I meditate almost every day, and have done so since beginning this experiment, and it has enabled me become better at both concentration and entering and staying in a ritual mindset. Once I tried something new, and overcame the problem of falling asleep during meditation, it became a powerful tool; one I will absolutely continue to practice.

Friday, October 3, 2014

T is for Thorri and Thorrablót

I make my grand entrance back to the Pagan Blog Project today, after a lengthy computer-breakdown-induced absence.  It's barely autumn - especially here in the midwest, where temperatures have been warm and lovely even though it's nearly October - but I recently stumbled across this amazing piece of Heathen winter lore that just needs sharing.

In the mid-winter months, many Heathens, especially those of an Icelandic leaning, will celebrate the holiday of Thorrablót, holding sumbel and blót for Thor.  This is a very old holiday, celebrating the first day of the old Norse month Thorri; but there's some debate as to just what this holiday originally meant.

There's little doubt what Thorrablót celebrated in the past few centuries - a spirit named Thorri, a personification of the wind and cold of winter, was welcomed by the housewife the night before the month began, seemingly in hopes of calming what was often the worst month of winter.  Now, many modern Heathens believe this spirit to be a diminutive, corrupted version of Thor, and so celebrate the holiday accordingly.  I'm all for reclaiming traditions that Heathen ancestors may have actually practiced, but I think it's often just as important and interesting to look at what our more recent ancestors were doing.  For instance, I celebrate Eostremonath with my children with bunnies and egg hunts, as I know many modern Heathens and Pagans do in their spring rites - but we don't have any historical evidence of this, only our family traditions and a practice that fits with the seasons and cycles of the earth.

This year, I'd like to do the same thing with Thorrablót.  Of course, we will still hail Thor at the end of January, but come the 23rd I will go out into the wind and snow and welcome Thorri into our house for a sumbel and blót with my children and I.  And if I'm very lucky, we just might have a mild February!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Charm to Halt the Rain

From Wikicommons
In my little corner of the midwest, any group that does magick or prays to natural gods has probably done a spell or ritual to bring the rain.  It gets dry and hot here, and our economy depends a lot on agriculture; so any prolonged drought has a ripple effect, first on the farmers, then on local businesses, and then on the employees of those businesses, and on and on.  Everyone is impacted.

So it's not very often that you'll find someone from my region talking about prayers to stop the rain.  But it does occasionally happen that we get just too much in too short a time, and it all runs off and creates dangerous conditions, carrying valuable topsoil with it.  This isn't exactly ideal either.

The past month, we've had far greater than our average amount of rain, which for a time was great, because we were rather behind.  It's getting to be too much, though.  We've already had more than two inches today as I write this, and it's supposed to be raining until early this morning.  So what can we do to gently ask the deities to halt the rain for a bit?  Why, write a charm, of course!

Hail Thunor the Thunderer!
You whose mighty storms cover the sky!
The rains have grown great,
laying our lands with water,
flooding our fields.
You who rule the wind and weather,
dry the rain, scatter the clouds,
return only when you are needed.

Hail Ingvi Frey, God of the World!
You who rule the rain and the shining of the sun!
The water is rising,
choking the green things,
stealing the soil.
You who bless the fields with growth,
dry the rain, scatter the clouds,
bring forth the shining sun!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Personal Practice Writeup

I first began my work on the Dedicant's Path in 2012, when I originally joined ADF. I had been Pagan for years or so prior to that, but I had never felt called to a particular pantheon or group of deities; instead my spirituality was largely centered around nature spirits and the Earth Mother, and a reverence for the mythology of JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion. I stayed in this place for a long time, trying to reconcile my generalized understanding of deity with ADF's emphasis on treating the gods as individuals. In July of 2013, uncertain of whether or not ADF was truly for me, I posted a question about Tolkien's mythology on the general facebook page. It engendered a wonderful discussion, and set me on a path to develop a new way of thinking about the gods and spirits; and also encouraged me in the pursuit of study with ADF.

One particular piece of advice I received was to look to the cultures and mythology that Tolkien was inspired by. I decided to pursue this idea, and ended up studying the Germanic deities, eventually arriving at the conclusion that my Earth Mother who I had honored for so long was Nerthus. I also began flamekeeping for Brigid with a group on the forum eCauldron, and pursued a relationship with Manannán mac Lir. As I continued to study and practice, I also began forming relationships with Frige (Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Frigga) and Thunor (Anglo-Saxon Thor) by offering to Them in both traditional and non-traditional ways: usually beer for Thunor and time spend crocheting for Frige. As I learned more about traditional Germanic views of land wights through reading Kvedulf Gundarsson's Elves, Wights, and Trolls, I also began honoring my local landvaettir in a more traditional way; pouring offerings over a stone in my backyard once per week. I did a great deal of genealogy work, learning about my ancestors and my past, talking to my grandmother about how she was raised and all the people she loved and remembered who were now passed; and working to build relationships with them through offerings as well.

As the summer unfolded into winter, and winter to spring, I continued to feel called to honor more deities of both the Irish, Anglo-Saxon, and other Germanic pantheons; to the point where my devotional and ritual schedule got a little crazy. I would offer to the Germanic, the Irish and the land wights as separate groups once a week, and also add in individual offerings to those deities I particularly honored, which had now grown to include the Cailleach, Danu, Oghma, Skadhi, Frey and Freyja, Eostre, and Hreda. It was an incredibly busy schedule, and soon began to be unsustainable while also caring for my three children and keeping up with the housework (usually as an offering to the house wights)!

Near the end of May of this year, my computer suddenly went caput, putting me out of contact with most of my Pagan friends and cutting off my primary avenue of research (not to mention completely arresting my progress on the DP). Getting a new one right away was not financially feasible, so I made do with what I had, and as the weather grew warmer and the sunshine stronger I spent more and more time out of doors connecting with Nerthus and the landvaettir. Now, I do not possess a 'god-phone' as some call it who hear the deities speak directly to them or can easily meet the gods on otherworld journeys. But I spent a great deal of time this summer just sensing, and meditating on the nature of the gods.

Later that month, my grandfather died. I withdrew from almost everything around me, stopped offering to most of the deities I had honored before, and focused my attention on what I knew I needed to get through my grief: the spirit of my grandfather, Nerthus, and the land. A few weeks after his passing, I went to the place where his ashes were scattered (the graves of my great-grandparents), and performed my own version of the ritual 'sitting-out' of the Germanic peoples. I kept vigil on the graves through the night, meditating and sharing offerings of Crown Royale, asking the spirit of my grandfather to visit me. And eventually, he did. Not in a physical or even auditory manifestation, but as a presence I could sense was him, just as you'd know without looking if your mother walked into a room. I told him I missed him, and then felt there was no need, because he would be with me as long as I remembered him. I came out of the cemetery that morning knowing just where to go next.

Later that week, I made time for a ritual devoted to communicating with Nerthus through divination. I asked Her, with the runes, how I should steer my personal practice going forward; since the way I had been doing things was unsustainable for me. Her message was very clear: I have always loved Her and loved the land, and my focus should rest on Her and the gods of the land, Her children and the gods of Her pantheon.

Since that time, I have kept up my offerings to my Ancestors (especially my grandfather) and my offerings to the local land wights. I also continue to offer specifically to Nerthus, by thanking Her for each meal and leaving a small bit of it to be composted. I have begun a new weekly practice of ritual and offering to specific members of Germanic pantheons: Frey and Freyja, Thunor, Sunne, Njordh, Gerda, and Jord – which is still a rather long list, but having one ritual of offering to all simplifies things greatly. I also honor Sunne, Eostre, and Earendel (possibly an Anglo-Saxon god of the morning star, but that's largely my UPG) with a quick prayer to the dawn every morning. It's certainly possible that in the future the scope of deities that I honor will once again widen further; but for now, this is where Nerthus wants me to be – and I believe that in pursuing this goal, I will be able to form an even deeper relationship with the Kindred that I honor.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Winterfinding Ritual

As the daylight begins to wane, cooler nights settle over the land and cause all sorts of changes in the world around us. Many ancient Germanic peoples held sacrifices or festivals to honor this time of the year and to give thanks for a good harvest - and when building a relationship with the land, it is always good to say thanks.

Swain Wodening’s reconstruction of the Anglo-Saxon calendar, unfortunately no longer available online, sets today as the start of the month Winterfylleð. According to the Venerable Bede this translates to ‘winter full moon’. Called Haustblót in Icelandic (autumn sacrifice) or Álfablót (elves’ sacrifice) in Scandinavian sources, the end of autumn was a good time to offer to the land and the spirits. Whether you’d like to try it today, on the full moon, or at a seasonally appropriate time for your locale, this is a simple but powerful ritual to acknowledge the gifts of the harvest and the coming of winter.

Things to gather: representation of Frey, locally harvested produce that can be made into a meal or left fresh, mead or other celebratory drink

Carry the representation of Frey around the space set out for the ritual, whether that be your home, yard, or other area, saying “Frey, who blessed the fields and gives bounty to humankind, we thank you and offer you gifts now in return for your kindness.”

Set the image of Frey before you, and walk the edge of the space again, noticing the changes that are coming over the land. Use your own words that resonate with your local land, or say “Trees that have begun blazing with color, squirrels that are hastily gathering nuts, cold earth ready and waiting to rest: you herald the coming of winter. Landvaettir, wights, alfar that surround this place, I thank you for your bounty, and offer you gifts now to see you through the coming cold.”

Come back to the center or your altar, and lift the cup of drink in a toast. After each hail, pour out some drink, drink some yourself, and offer a portion of the produce.
“Hail my ancestors who prepared well for the dark of winter! Watch over me in these days of coming cold. Feast and drink with me, in thanks for your protection!”
“Hail the alfar and wights of the land, fertile soil and growing food! Feast and drink with me, in thanks for your harvest!”
“Hail Frey, Lord of Alfheim, who blessed the fields to grow! Feast and drink with me, in thanks for your bounty!”

If you have some things in particular to be thankful for this season, you should also toast the gods or wights responsible and share with them as well. When you are finished, pour out the rest of the drink and leave the produce to be composted or where it will be found by wild things.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Earthy Heathen: A Blog Experiment

Oh, Tumblr.  I have to admit there's no love lost there.  I'm not a huge fan of the format or the controls, but as a blogger it's time for me to admit that there is definitely more of an audience on Tumblr.  And so, to reach out and try to get some interest in the idea of Earth-centered Heathenry going, I'm starting up a small blog there that I'll be posting a prayer, ritual, or some information to every week.  I will also be cross-posting those things here; but if you're more inclined to Tumblr and interested in Earth-centered Heathenry, come follow me at!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Those Pesky Pagan Holiday Names

I read an amazing article The Triumph of Mabon on Jason Mankey's Patheos blog Raise the Horns this morning, and it got me thinking about a topic that has always bugged me just a little bit - the naming of the 'standard' Pagan holidays.  When I was the kind of Pagan who wasn't much bothered about specific cultures or history, they didn't get to me too much; though I must admit I've never been overly fond of the pseudo-historical feel.  Even as a newbie Pagan, I much preferred referring to solstices and equinoxes than I did to Mabon or even Yule.

Now that I am working within a specific cultural framework, and writing for even more for Prairie Shadow Protogrove's rituals, it's become even more complicated.  I just don't feel comfortable inviting people to an Ostara rite that honors Demeter and Persephone, for example - it just feels culturally wrong.  I don't feel like I'm being authentic when I tell my daughters about Samhain, a sacred day when we honor our Ancestors; our traditions are very Heathen, and to call the holiday by a Celtic name just seems disingenuous to me.

I'm certainly not trying to tell anyone else how to practice or what to call holidays - it doesn't matter to me!  But this is how I personally feel when using the 'traditional' Pagan names, so I've tried to come up with some a bit more modern.  Though I am very much a Heathen and very inspired by history and research at this point, I want to help my children see with a wider view; should they want to follow a different path of Paganism or even leave the religion but still remember special traditions from their youth.  I'll still refer to the solstices and equinoxes by their scientific names, that's what makes those days so special, after all.  We've always called Beltane 'May Day', which it is - we just celebrate it a whole lot more than other people here in the midwest.  Lughnasadh has always been simply 'Harvest Festival', easy-peasy but a tad confusing when compared to the Autumnal Equinox.  The difficult ones so far have been Samhain and Imbolc - I'm just not sure what language to use to describe honoring the Ancestors or praying for the spring without resorting to silly and trite-seeming epithets like 'Ancestor Day'.  I have always liked the name 'Candlemas' for Imbolc, and connects it back to my youth, but I'm not sure that stealing Catholic holiday-names is the best way to go.

I think this will always be a tricky topic as Paganism as a whole continues to diversify; with some wanting to retain the standard holidays but wanting them to be more culturally appropriate.  I continue to hope for the wide-spread adoption of more neutral terms, but understand that for many that compromises part of the magic of these names.  Like so much of the work of building a religion, I imagine that as time goes on, these things will be figured out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Feeding Your Fire

Photo by Dirk Beyer
After coming home from Pagan Pride Day, I was exhausted.  That next morning, I didn't have the energy to get up and attend my local UU church with my children, and quickly realized as the day progressed that I didn't have the energy to go out and do much of anything.  After discovering my daughter was sick and taking her to Urgent Care, I honestly really didn't want to attend ritual with my local coven that night.  But I had said I would go, and so I wearily trudged out and attempted to make conversation and engage in my normal cheery attitude.

We talked about the dark time of the year, and the things that keep us going through the darkness.  We talked about those things singular to us, that make us who we are.  I'm not Wiccan, and though I enjoy both the company of those others in the coven and the inter-connectedness of our midwest Pagan community, it's sometimes tricky for me to pull meaning from the metaphors and language so common to Wiccan dialogue.  For instance, the concepts of Maiden, Mother and Crone are not powerful archetypes for me, and discussion of them and their relations to the season can sometimes go over my head.  But at these rituals, there are almost always powerful moments of community relation or introspection that are not specific to Wicca, that go straight through denominational lines and relate a message that is both needed and helpful.

During last night's ritual, we built a fire together as a community.  And together, we discovered within ourselves the things which keep our fire going during the times of darkness, when the sun diminishes and many people naturally feel a little more down, a little more tired.  For me, that thing is a joyful attitude.  Growing up as a sad little kid, my mother always taught me to 'fake it til you make it'; to smile at others no matter what you're feeling inside.  Though I know this can often be a very harmful message, it has ultimately proven to be a good one for me.  I don't talk about it much because of that same childhood conditioning, but I get depressed.  Often, and seriously.  But my smile, and cheerful attitude around others - something that people have often complimented me on throughout my life - often actually helps to lift the fog a bit.  It's so ingrained in me that I honestly can't not be cheerful with people I don't know extremely well; but my smiles spread smiles.  And the more I can brighten others' days, the more mine is brightened in return.  This is why getting out and doing social things can be so difficult sometimes - it's hard to prepare myself to be cheerful when I'm feeling awful or completely apathetic - but once I get out there, the light of others energizes my own heart.  Inspiring happiness in others feeds my fire.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pagan Pride Day and an ADF Equinox Ritual

Pagan Pride Day Altar
This past Saturday, the Pagan Pride Day I'd spent the better part of my summer and fall helping to plan for was finally in full-swing.  We had about 120 people stop by, a good number of vendors and workshops, and overall I considered it a great success.  But it was also incredibly draining for me.  This actually is a fairly rare phenomenon - usually I get energy from events, even ones that I put a lot of work into planning and executing.  But Sunday, the day after, I was just exhausted both physically and emotionally.  Leading two rituals, giving a workshop, and generally schmoozing all day just wore me out - not to mention being out in the sun for 11 hours.

Our closing ritual was an ADF one, led by Prairie Shadow Protogrove, honoring the spirits of the harvest as the beings of occasion.  I wrote this one awhile ago, actually sitting at the park location for some of my writing.  I think it's one of the best rituals I've ever written, actually; and it's one of the most participated in rituals we've ever held.  Everyone came up and gave praise offerings, all in a line - it was almost like watching communion at a church, except this was people who were giving to the gods.  While reading the welcoming phrases, I felt I was truly connecting with the spirits of that lovely place; a place I'd spent a few years living near, spirits I had grown up loving and honoring.  When I called to the spirits of the shoreline to aid in the opening of the Gates, I remembered being a little girl exploring the icy edges of that lake, falling through a weak spot and ending up soaked up to my knees.  When I called to the spirits of the treeline, I remembered climbing high up in the branches of the pines, hands sticky with sap, waving in the wind.  These spirits were my friends from long ago.  It was incredibly powerful.

I've always had a close connection with the natural world, ever since my Grandmother took me out walking and talking to trees as a little girl.  I know I've written about it here before.  I heard someone say at Midnight Flame, an ADF festival I attended recently, that in ADF there are many people who feel drawn largely towards one of the specific Kindred, and I think that I am one of those people.  I honor the Gods, I love my Ancestors, and make regular sacrifices to both - but there is something so immediate, so material about the oak in my backyard when compared to those beings.  I can touch it, feel it, understand what it wants.  The squirrels that run through my yard and feast on acorns chat with me, look at me, engage with me - just as I engage with them.  I have always loved them, because they have always been there.  The land wights are not an abstract concept that I learned about later in my life, but a presence that I grew up with, that I ran to for refuge when people felt too difficult.  This is not to say that those who are deity- or ancestor-centered are wrong for connecting more with those Kindred - it's just a difference that helps make up the diverse tapestry of ADF.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Winterfinding, Nebraska Heathens United, and Growth

painted in 1847 by Oluf Olufsen Bagge
I've written before about how much I love Nebraska Heathens United.  A local, but all-inclusive Heathen group that doesn't care if you're hailing Loki, Frigga, or Njordh at sumbel?  Sign me up!  And I did, more than a year ago now.  I've been to sumbels and bloats with these wonderful people, hailed their gods and ancestors, listened to their boasts and their oaths.  

NHU is an open, public group, allowing all who'd like to attend a chance to see what Heathenry is about.  But there is a need in the community for a closer relationship, for a group that comes together more frequently and more privately.  Now that, too, is coming together - NHU's leadership has initiated a plan to build an innangarth, so that the Heathens in Nebraska can have community of their own.

I'm so excited for NHU, the founders, and this next stage of their growth.  I'll be right there, too - there's something about a small group of people sitting around a fire toasting the gods and spirits of Germanic origin that kindles its own fire in me.  These are people who honor that which I also honor.  The tradition of it thrills something inside of me.  

For the Winterfinding bloat, we hailed Odin and each drew a rune that told of His gifts to us.  Now, I don't have much of a relationship with Odin - more standoff-ish nods when our paths happen to cross - but the rune I drew really struck me.  It was Gebo, the Gift.  It speaks of reciprocity, a building of relationships through mutual giving; in some ways, it describes the group dynamic of a Heathen gathering perfectly.  I showed up on the front porch of one of the leaders bearing a bottle of mead and a tupperware full of sweet potatoes, and in return I received community, fellowship with the deities and spirits, and a hearty dinner.  As a group, we showed up before the altar and around the fire bearing alcohol and words of praise for the gods and ancestors, and in return Odin gives me the benefit of those group dynamics.  A gift for a gift.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Doing the Work

Druids at Stonehenge
I know that for many this phrase - "doing the work" - is difficult, conjuring up images and memories of accidentally abandoned plans and waylaid dreams.  For me, it's probably my favorite part of being religious.

Let me back up for a moment.  When I was a child, my mother, an evangelical Christian with the highest of ideals, did her very best to imprint her religion on our hearts and minds.  We prayed five times a day (morning, meals, and bed-time), memorized bible verses, attended Sunday school on weekends and youth-group meetings Wednesday nights; I spent five years in Catholic school and four at a fundie Lutheran institution.  Unfortunately for her, we were born with an innate skeptical outlook; unwilling to accept the contradictions of the Bible we were taught as infallible fact - but that's a story to be told another time.  The point is, I was raised with a great deal of religion, taught from birth that spirituality is something necessary, essential to a well-lived life - and that ideal has stayed with me ever since.  I often tell people that my mother instilled all the religion in me she dreamed of - from her perspective, it just ended up being the wrong one.

So when I make a habit like hailing the sun each morning, or thanking the spirits of nature that helped provide or sacrifice for the food I'm making, it feels right to me.  Natural.  As if I'm slipping back into a familiar, warm territory where the sun of my childhood shines.  It's why I sometimes have difficulty empathizing with others who are having trouble starting up a daily or weekly practice - to me it's like a balm that just makes all of life better.  Then I remember my own difficulty starting up a workout routine, and suddenly it all makes sense!

All jokes aside, what I'm trying to say is: the work is worth it.  Having a daily practice, offering to the Kindred or honoring Someone in particular, is incredibly beneficial.  My relationship to the Land, to my Ancestors, and to the Deities becomes stronger every day.  It helps me also to stay mindful - since I changed my morning devotional to one honoring the deities and spirits of the dawn, I find I am more aware and more appreciative of the work that the sun does in the world.  After acknowledging Sunne in the morning, I feel Her presence throughout the day - each time I look out the window and catch a glimpse of sun-dappled leaves, each time a ray of light enters the house and warms my skin, I remember Her - because I made the time to acknowledge Her.  It's the same with each and every spirit and deity that I make the time to honor.  My house spirit gets milk once a week, but the creek I walk over when I take my daughter to school is greeted twice a day - which spirit do you think I am closer to?  Do the work, relationships will come, and you will be rewarded.

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Oath Rite

Nerthus by ErebusOdora
It's getting to be that time.  I've been working on my Dedicant Path documentation for ADF on and off for more than two years, and I'm finally nearing the finish line (still have to do a write-up on my meditation practice, but that's going to take some compressing).  I've spoken with Amber, the Grove Organizer for Prairie Shadow Protogrove, and we've scheduled my Oath Rite to take place during our Samhain ritual.  So here I am, desperately trying to write an oath that is simple, addresses all the points I feel are necessary, has the right gravitas, and yet doesn't drag our ritual out to twice its usual running length!  After more than a few drafts, I feel ready to present it for critique - please let me know your thoughts!

I stand here tonight that I may make an oath before the Kindred, my friends, and my Goddess. This oath is the result of more than two years of study and dedicated practice in the tradition of Ár nDraíocht Féin, and the culmination of more than ten years following a Goddess of the dark, still earth.

Today I Oath to my Ancestors, to my lineage that stretches back to the once dark and wild forests, my Disir who guide me wisely, to my great-grandparents and my Grandpa Lee.  Ancestors, accept this offering, and hear my oath.
Today I Oath to the Landvaettir, to the house spirit who dwells in my home, the tree spirits around us, the spirit of the wide prairie and the brown river Goddess that spreads across it.  Landvaettir, accept this offering, and hear my oath.
Today I Oath to my Gods, to Nerthus my patron, the dark Goddess of the fertile earth and the wild places, to Her children Freya and Frey the divine twins, to Thor who brings the rain.  Gods, accept this offering, and hear my oath.

I swear to seek the knowledge of the past, and bring what I find of value in my Ancestor's practice into this time.
I swear to cherish the Earth and the spirits of the earth, and do what I can to reduce and heal the damage caused by my people.
I swear to honor the Gods and Goddesses, to maintain the relationship of hospitality between us, and to continue in my commitment to the service of Nerthus.

These things I swear before the burning Fire that sends up sparks to the sky, the dark Well that flows in the deeps, the sacred Tree that bridges the worlds. These things I swear before my Ancestors, the landvaettir and wights, and my Deities. These things I swear before all those gathered here, on these beads that have long taken my prayers for the Kindred. As I swear, so be it!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Inspiration from the Midnight Flame

Mead Hall of the Grove of the Midnight Sun -
just amazing, right?
First, an admission - the first big Pagan event I attended was sort of a flop, for me.  I drove all the way up to Minneapolis to attend Paganicon, not knowing a soul except a few usernames on a forum I frequent.  It turns out that I'm probably a bit too shy to dive in and introduce myself in social situations like that; and so I ended up attending a few workshops that weren't really relevant to my path and driving back home pretty disappointed.  So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I decided to attend Midnight Flame, an ADF festival, with my friend and Grove Organizer.

I don't know if it's because the rituals were all fairly familiar and geared towards my personal spirituality, or because I recognized and knew people from ADF's facebook page and email lists, or because our Protogrove ended up bringing four people along (though I imagine it's the absolutely sweet and welcoming demeanor of the hosts, Flip and Deb Rutledge), but I had an incredible time.  Meeting people who's input I had only seen online was amazing, and seeing a large group of people do ADF ritual was so inspiring.

And that's the biggest thing I brought home from this festival.  The Midnight Flame that burned throughout the night lit a fire in my heart, and the wonderful people have filled me with ideas.  On the way home, I waxed poetic about the beautiful stoles of Three Cranes Grove, the amazing way that chants transported us to a sacred place in ritual, the value of a longer and more focused processional.. I could go on even now.  Our Protogrove is still very new compared to many of the groups we met up in Michigan, but that doesn't mean we can't borrow some ideas and traditions to improve the ritual that we do.  And the more we improve, the better and more cohesive our rituals feel - the easier each person there will be able to connect to the Kindred; and that is our ultimate goal.  Pagan Pride Day is coming up this weekend, and I've used the idea of humming tones as a building of a group mind, just as I saw it done last weekend.  Here's hoping we're half as successful!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Squirrel as Gatekeeper

US Fish and Wildlife Service, Public Domain
I've been thinking a lot about Gatekeepers lately.  In ADF ritual, the Gatekeeper is invited both as a spirit that aids the opening of the Gates to our Ancestors and the Shining Ones, and often also as a guardian that protects the ritual space from more malicious spirits.  Trying to establish relationships with more nature spirits and nature-oriented deities of the various Germanic pantheons, I've been having some trouble finding a deity that is interested in the job on a long-term basis.  Freyja helps out on occasion, and for our Grove's Norse rites I usually call on Heimdall, but He's pretty clear that it's a community duty for Him, and I am Not His.

I just returned from Midnight Flame, a wonderful ADF festival (more on this in another entry!) held in Michigan.  What struck me most about that land in contrast to my own was two fold: first, the trees are so skinny!  And perhaps because of this, I don't recall seeing a single squirrel, of the typical type that is found practically wherever one steps in eastern Nebraska.  Upon coming home, I was struck by the ubiquitous nature of this animal; and also by the connection that I'd built to them over my life.  I talk to them, and often they will chitter at me as I sit on the back porch invading "their" space.  They literally play with my children, scurrying up and down our trees like they invented hide-and-seek.  I thought of Ratatosk, the legendary squirrel mentioned in both the Poetic and Prose Eddas, traveling between the roots and the boughs of the World Tree to speak to the creatures dwelling there.  I thought of our squirrels, who build nests high up in our trees, and bury their nuts near their roots.  Of all the nature spirits who spend their lives with us in this suburban city, the squirrels seem like the most natural and obvious example of a Gatekeeper.

I was thinking on all this throughout my first morning back home; and that afternoon my husband asked if I would mow the lawn this time around.  I like to look around when I'm mowing and practice some nature awareness with at least one of my senses, so I did some quick centering and headed out.  It was in my front yard, underneath the giant maple that watches over our house, that I found pieces of a squirrel nest scattered.  Laying below were two small, probably adolescent squirrels; their flesh mostly eaten but their fur and bones remaining.  Their skulls were crushed, presumably damaged in the fall.  I wanted to lay them to rest by burying them beneath the tree that was their home, and as I picked up the second squirrel, the end of its small, furry tail came off in my hands.  It was totally free of flesh, and dried as if it had been tanned.  I consider it a gift of the nature spirits, an acknowledgement of my desire to pursue a relationship with the squirrel spirit.  After burying the dead and making my offerings, I brought the tail inside to freeze, to remove any mites or other stray creatures; after which it will sit on my altar next to the Tree - a fitting memory, and the beginning of a new journey.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Thoughts and a Morning Devotional

Wind Turbines at Sunrise, Emilian Robert Vicol, Public Domain Photos, CC by SA, 2.0
Over the past few months, I've been drawn deeper and deeper into my work with what I'm calling Earth-centered Heathenry.  Nerthus, my patron deity, led me to this place - but it's gone beyond just the Vanir (which may be a term and classification invented much later than anyone thought; see Rudolph Simek's The Vanir: An Obituary).  To me, Earth-centered means to be focused primarily on the natural world, which includes not only the Earth itself, but also the sky, the seas, all of nature that surrounds us.  Yesterday, I felt strongly led to alter my morning devotional, currently a very ADF standard acknowledging of Gods, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits.  

The morning star has always been special to me, and Eostre and Sunne since I began honoring Anglo-Saxon deities; but suddenly I felt strongly led to acknowledge these deities of the morning.  Taking inspiration from Cynewulf's 9th century poem Crist II, which contains beautiful verses about the morning star, I wrote a new morning prayer.

Hail Earendel, brightest of stars,
Herald of the coming dawn,
bright above the morning, every season
a perfect illuminated jewel.

Hail Eostre, the shining dawn,
brilliant beginning of the day,
rays of light crowning the East,
a bright and glorious birth.

Hail Sunne, bright bride of the heavens,
All-shining bringer of life,
flaming chariot riding through the sky,
the fire that feeds the world.

I kindle the sacred Fire
with the joy of dawning day;
may it bring light and life and warmth
to me and mine.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Return and Update, Scheduling Announcements, and a Moonlit Walk

Photo from
It's been a long time, my friends.  My computer crashed back in May, and I'm just now returning to the world of the internet thanks to a loan from a very generous friend.  It feels great to be back!  But also a little weird.  There's so many things that have completely fallen off my radar that I must now go back and pick up the threads of.  A backlog of blog posts, Pagan news (and drama), all waiting to be read and explored and ruminated upon.  School starts back up this week for one of my little ones, so I may have a bit of time in the afternoon to actually devote to those things!

Quick announcement before I carry on with updates about my rather mundane life: Pagan Pride Day Omaha is being held on September 20th of this year at Zorinsky Lake, and Prairie Shadow Protogrove ADF is holding the main ritual as our official Equinox rite.  We're having lots of vendors, lots of workshops, and a bunch of informational tables; so if you're at all interested in the Omaha/Lincoln Pagan scene, please come down and meet some of these awesome people - non-Pagans are totally welcome as well!

Okay, back to the updates.  Since I last wrote, a lot of different things have happened in my life that have evolved my spiritual practice and changed what exactly I'm doing.  First, I've been slowly feeling a call from a subset of the Germanic deities I honor to do a very specific and special work for Them, that will require much of my time and focus.  I've spent a lot of my time without internet working on this goal - carefully reading, researching and making footnotes in the books I already owned; along with a slow and steady building of relationships with the spirits and deities whose assistance and goodwill I will need.  This focus has left little time for other spiritual pursuits, however, and it seems to have been the mutual conclusion of I and the Gaelic deities I have honored to move apart from one another for now.  This has been difficult for me - Brigid and Manannán have long been very present in my life, and having to move on and build relationships with others has been a sorrowful time.

The other event that has thrown my usual life out of whack was the death of my Grandfather.  He passed away on Father's Day, the night before I was coming to see him for the first time in awhile.  He was an amazing man, and he was ready and accepting of his own death - but I was not ready for him to go.  I'm still carrying around a lot of guilt and grief over his passing, and am trying to channel that energy into writing a sort of guide/ritual for the welcoming of a new Ancestor in an ADF context.  It has been difficult, but I'm hopeful that now I have access to the greater online ADF community, I can get some input and possible examples from others who've faced the same situation.

Last night, as I walked home from an extremely enjoyable full moon ritual put on by the Order of the Red Grail - including some amazing Lughnasadh games - I had the wonderful experience of walking home under a bright silvery full moon in a sky full of lightning and rushing clouds.  As I reached the final stretch of my walk, a park in my neighborhood with no electric lights and long stretches of open grassland, I was amazed by just how bright the moon really is!  A vague silver, shifting light, it is nonetheless strong enough to create dark shadows where the occasional tree stands next to the path.  Though I adore summer, you will often hear me say that the winter sky is best for viewing stars: I always feel that the cold air sharpens them somehow, making their sparkles that much brighter.  But I have never seen a moon as bright as the one that led my way home last night.

Monday, June 30, 2014

High Holy Day Essay: Summer Solstice

For Midsummer, I wrote a ritual for Prairie Shadow Protogrove in a Germanic hearth culture to mirror the honoring of Sunna that we had done at Yule. Once again, Nerthus was our Earth Mother and Heimdall our Gatekeeper, and we invited the Kindred through the Gates of the Fire, Well, and Tree. A friend who's been attending our rituals brought home-made mead which we used for the Waters of Life, and we offered bright-orange tiger lilies from my garden to Sunna. The Kindred accepted our sacrifices, and sent us blessings of growth and physical well-being as determined through tarot card divination.

 Midsummer is always one of my favorite Pagan holidays, because I love the summer and the sun and Her light and warmth. Being able to do a ritual with a good number of Pagans whom by then I mostly knew well was absolutely wonderful; being less nervous performing ritual, I was able to get into it and feel the presence of each of the Kindred as we welcomed Them. I felt Sunna's pleasure at the fiery color of the lillies, and was so blessed by Her light (and also thankful for the shade of our Tree)!  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

High Holy Day Essay: Beltane

At Beltane, I attended a ritual held by the Order of the Red Grail. The ritual itself was very traditionally Wiccan, casting a circle, calling the four Elements and the God and Goddess, and was led by two High Priestesses. In preparation for the ritual, each member of the group had researched a deity associated with love or relationships and acted as that deity in the ritual; each giving speeches trying to prove that they were the 'best' god or goddess of love. I represented Aengus of the Irish pantheon, and had a fantastic time.

 After the ritual, the High Priestess crowned the May Queen (which I was rewarded for my stirring portrayal of Aengus!) and I led the group in a traditional Maypole dance – the pole was beautifully decorated with ribbon by the time we were finished. When the dancing was finished, we had a potluck and enjoyed the beautiful weather and each other's company. It was a very enjoyable ritual for me, though I think the most powerful part of the day was the dance – I always build a lot of energy and get great joy from simple easy exercise, especially when there are so many people to enjoy it with.

Monday, March 31, 2014

High Holy Day Essay: Spring Equinox

For the spring equinox, Prairie Shadow held a Greek ritual honoring and welcoming Persephone back to the world. It was held in my living room, since unfortunately the weather was rather dismal; not very spring-like. Since it was indoors in a relatively small house, we did not process; but each person entered the ritual space after rinsing and drying their hands as an act of purification. We offered to Demeter as Earth Mother and welcomed Hermes as our Gatekeeper for the rite, and gave gifts of flowers to Persephone. I unfortunately do not recall the omen that was given for this rite, but I do remember that our sacrifices were accepted. After the main offering and the receiving of the blessings, we thanked the Kindred and closed the Gates.

 This ritual was also somewhat nerve-wracking for me. Because Amber was very sick that day, I had to lead the ritual myself; and unfortunately I don't have a connection to any Greek deities. There were many members of the Red Grail there (another group I had joined) and they were thankfully happy to help out; reading parts and helping build energy despite my stresses. In the end, it went rather well.

Friday, March 28, 2014

G is for Garden

Thank goodness for being able to schedule posts, because I've been pretty absent over the past couple of weeks.  Between illness in the family and the loss of someone I'd grown up with but hadn't seen for quite awhile, I haven't really been up to writing.  But here I am, getting some words out into web.

This week I'd like to write about gardens, and how gardening is my most satisfying expression of my Paganism.  My patron Goddess is Nerthus, whom Tacitus in his Germania called the Earth Mother of Suebi tribes.  Though She is a complicated deity, and has many influences and interests outside of green and growing things, it is the primary way I encounter and honor Her.  Not only is She very present in the act of gardening; but in replacing generic green grass with plants that give food and support to both humans and animals, I feel the affirmation and appreciation of the local land wights as well.  After caring for my garden for a few years, I have become very close to the spirit of the soil there.

The first step to a good garden is clearing and preparing the earth.  It is in this step that I feel closest to the primal Earth.  Coming to gardening without knowing anything about it, I assumed the soil before planting would be pretty boring, requiring only a few holes and seeds to bring it to life.  But the truth is that the soil is already alive!  Each spade turned over reveals beetles and earthworms, centipedes and pill bugs, living off of and giving life to the decayed matter that makes up a large part of a garden's earth.  Working compost into the soil gives even more life, adding fuel to the biological processes that are already taking place, providing nutrients to feed an already thriving, but tiny, ecosystem.  The soil itself has a life to it - the feel, the texture, the smell, is different in every location.  Here in Nebraska, my soil is rather dense and clay-like, difficult to break apart and plant in; after a lot of shoveling and a bit of compost, it becomes more like the black, rich dirt we instinctively know is right for planting.

The next step is putting in the seeds, and watching over them while they sprout and begin to grow.  This is perhaps one of the most exciting times in the garden - growth is fast, new leaves are added every day, and the hard work of the gardener is quickly on display.  It's also one of the most magical.  It seems almost impossible that such large plants, such vibrant life, could come from such tiny seeds.  As each plant grows, its own unique personality and uses can be seen.  Some are showy and bright, spreading wide and tall, with beautiful flowers.  Some are more inclined to grow close to the ground, with just small green leaves to show their presence.  Some guzzle down the water from the rains, and some seem to prefer a drier summer.  Getting to know the plants, their ways of growth and their preferred conditions, has been my biggest and most rewarding challenge as a gardener.

Here in Nebraska, for many fruit-bearing plants, after the planting and initial growth comes a long summer full of watering, weeding, and various garden-care tasks that can seem to stretch on forever with little result.  Growth has slowed and become less apparent (though those plants are certainly still growing!) and pests move in that can be difficult to drive off.  Flowers come and go, and it's not until August or even September that tomatoes, peppers, and others are big and ripe enough to be harvested.  I always tell my children this is the season of patience - if we continue to put in the work and care for what we've planted, we will reap the rewards in the fall; but if we forget or put it off as sometimes happens, the little lives we are responsible for can suffer greatly.  During this time, I see the plants almost like another part of the family.  I am responsible for their care, for their well-being.

And then in the fall, we are richly rewarded with a lovely harvest.  There's nothing like biting into a tomato gifted from a plant that has received offerings of water and care through many months, warmed by the sun and fed by the cool earth.  After those glorious few weeks, the frost sets in, and it's time to pull up the annuals and trim the perennials, and place them on the compost pile to give life to next year's garden.  This process, repeated year after year, has attuned me not only to the local seasonal cycle but to the tiny ecosystem that fills the world of my backyard.  This intimate knowledge, this camaraderie built with giving and receiving over the years, feels more Pagan to me than anything else I do in my practice.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Crafting the Runes: Tiw

Modified from original sketch by John Bauer
Public Domain

Tiw is a guiding star; 
well does it keep faith with princes;
it is ever on its course over the mists of night
and never fails.

Tiw in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem seems to obviously be describing the North Star.  Like the deity for which the rune is named, thought to preside over matters of justice, the North Star is a fair and impartial guide when finding one's bearings in the night.  Interestingly, neither of the other extant rune poems make a reference to the star, instead dwelling exclusively on the deity.  The Norwegian rune poem states that "Tyr is a one-handed God; often has the smith to blow".  The Icelandic rune poem says this: "Týr, God with one hand, and leavings of the wolf, and prince of temples".  The first lines link Týr with perhaps His most famous story, where He places His hand in the mouth of the giant wolf Fenris to trick him into being bound, and loses His hand for the deception - a story that strongly links Him with a sense of justice and fair-play.  The other ideas mentioned, smiths and "prince of temples" are more obscure, I wasn't able to puzzle out what they may be referring to.

This rune is one of only two in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc that are specifically named after a deity (the other being Ing).  The rune, and its meaning, are strongly linked to Tiw's nature as a deity of justice; it "never fails".  This rune can mean that something is certain to pass, or it can also represent the need to look at one's situation objectively, almost as a judge deciding a case.  Used in magic, the rune can call the aid of Tiw specifically, or merely the idea of fairness or keeping faith.  Like Sigel and Sunne, this rune can be used as a fine representation of Tiw on an altar or shrine.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Hreda and the Month of March

Public Domain
The Venerable Bede, an English monk and scholar writing in the 8th century, leaves us a very incomplete, but helpful picture of the Anglo-Saxon ritual year.  One such celebration is Solmonath (Solmōnaþ), roughly equivalent to the month of February, when cakes were offered to the Gods.  I find it reasonable to assume, based on the Æcerbot where cakes are offered to the earth in exchange for growth and fertility of the crops, that the deity honored in the rituals of Solmonath was the Anglo-Saxon idea of the earth mother Goddess.  Bede also mentions two deities of the Anglo-Saxons by name: Rheda (a Latinized form of the word Hrêða) and Eostre, from the month names Rhedmonath and Eosturmonath (Ēostermōnaþ).  Eostre is a fairly popular Pagan deity nowadays, and I've written about Her before; but I'd like to dedicate at least one post this month to Hreda (or Hretha) - the much less popular Goddess of March.

Bede tells us little besides that the month of March is named for Her.  Some modern Heathens identify Her with Hertha, a deity similar to Nerthus attested in northern Germany, but I feel that the linguistic links between them are tenuous.  Also, since I honor the Earthy Mother deity of the Anglo-Saxons during February, my personal UPG is that Hreda is a different sort of being - though not completely dissimilar, as we see with Eostre, who is still very much a deity of growth and spring.  Hreda's name can be linked to a few Anglo-Saxon words: primarily 'glory', 'victorious', and 'swift'.  Philip Shaw, in his book Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda, and the Cult of the Matrons, argues that Hreda is the matron of a specific kin group.

Lately I've been thinking about the Christian idea of Lent, which often coincides with much of our modern March.  The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon 'lencten', which means spring.  It's been speculated that Lent, a traditional period of fasting before the Christian Easter, was a natural result of the food shortage at the end of winter and beginning of spring - when supplies were running out, and milk from the ewes was often all people had to sustain them.  It seems possible that Hreda, a victorious and glorious deity, was associated with this lean time with the purpose of Her eventually triumphing over the difficulties and ushering in a more prosperous time of year.

I was born in the month of March, and have always had a certain affinity with the strange weather that can happen in the midwestern US at this time of year.  The wind is said to roar like a lion, and temperatures can fluctuate wildly: from beautiful balmy days to heavy dumps of snow.  Hreda comes to me in the weather of my own country, different as it may be from Britain's; I see Her primarily as the late winter/early spring wind that can be so powerful here.  She too roars.  Eventually all that blustering wind blows in warmer weather, just as Hreda ushers in Eostre as the months continue to turn.

There is so little concrete information on this Goddess, I feel there are few wrong ways to honor Her.  However She chooses to manifest in a person's life, I do think it is important to continue to offer to this lesser-known Goddess, who was obviously important enough to the Anglo-Saxons that an entire month was named for Her.  This weekend is the full moon, when I choose to observe the mid-point of the Anglo-Saxon months and also their festivals; so this weekend I will be doing a ritual in honor of Hreda.  I've written a  prayer that incorporates mostly my UPG surrounding Her (how could it not, given the lack of information), feel free to use it or modify it to better reflect your own experience of the Goddess of March.

Hreda, Goddess of March,
roaring lion and swift wind.
Drive out the snow
and bring the shining sun,
the glorious warmth of spring.
That the plants may grow,
that animals may mate,
that life may wake from the land.

Francesco La Barbera
Creative Commons license

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Crafting the Runes: Sigel

From the Runic Tarot
by Caroline Smith and John Astrop

The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers
when they journey away over the fishes' bath,
until the courser of the deep bears them to land.

Sigel, the sun, "is ever a joy".  The Anglo-Saxon rune poem above talks specifically about the sun being helpful to seafarers, but we know that the sun was very important in many aspects of life for the various Germanic tribes.  The Icelandic rune poem calls the sun "shield of the clouds, and shining ray, and destroyer of ice," and the Norwegian rune poem states that "sun is the light of the world".  In addition, we know from Caesar's Commentaries, authored by Julius Caesar in the first century BC, that the Germanic tribes "rank in the number of the gods those alone whom they behold, and by whose instrumentality they are obviously benefited, namely, the sun, fire, and the moon".  So not only is the sun praised as a great benefit to humankind, but it was also beheld as a deity - which could refer to an early iteration of the Germanic Goddess Sunna (Sunne for the Anglo-Saxons).

In divination, I would see this rune as very positive, bringing with it warmth and light; and perhaps specifically good guidance or advice, as referenced in the AS poem.  In magic it could be used to promote positive outcomes, or the light that is necessary for growth.  Naturally, I also think of it as a rune representing Sunne, and is a fitting representation of Her on an altar or shrine.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sorting through Spirituality: Vanatrú in Heathenry

Freja by John Bauer
Public Domain
I have been a devotee of Nerthus for many years, before I knew Her name.  I often hear other Heathens talk about how Heathenry isn't nature-centered - and I know it's not necessarily earth-centered - but my Heathenry is, and always has been.  There's a lot of talk about Óðinn and Thor in the Heathen community, great warrior deities who fight the good fight, delaying Ragnarök.  Frey has His devotees, and Freyja is often talked about as a love deity.  But when people separate Heathenry from generic Paganism by saying that it's not earth-centered, full stop, I think this erases a very important part of the religion of my ancestors.

The Vanir are represented by Snorri as a separate tribe of Gods from the Æsir, and this has prompted the creation of the term Vanatrú (loyal to the Vanir) as opposed to Ásatrú.  Some contend the true separateness of the two tribes, especially in the Anglo-Saxon culture I work in; but there's no question that the deities traditionally identified as Vanir have different attitudes, rites, and expectations than the Æsir.  Frey's priests are described by Saxo Grammaticus as wearing women's clothing and dancing effeminately, and according to the Heimskringla, Njörðr married His sister (suspected to be Nerthus) and had children with Her - an action forbidden among the Æsir.

Though I have honored Nerthus for many years, it's only relatively recently that I began to explore a relationship with Frey and Freya.  Looking for more information on Them, I came across more and more references to the term Vanatrú.  I'd heard it before, mentioned in passing on forums or on some sites talking about Nerthus, but I'd never been very interested in exploring it further.  This time around, I decided to take a look.  Reading websites like Cena Bussey's Wane Wyrds and Gefion Vanirdottir's Adventurs in Vanaheim, and Svartesól's book Visions of Vanaheim, I felt the idea take hold somewhere inside me.  I'm not declaring myself Vanatrú - for one, separating myself from the general Heathen community is not something I'm interested in; and two, I tend to be more lore-based in my Heathenry than many Vanatrú practitioners - but the idea of a truly nature-centered way to practice Heathenry feels like home.

Civilization, culture, and society have their place in many religions; and I think a very important place in Heathenry.  I continue to honor Thunor, Frige, and Woden, because they are the Gods of my ancestors, and because I am a mother, a homemaker, and a scholar.  I can't always wear the hat of eco-activist, and I can't go out and live under the trees and stars, because I have a responsibility to my family and my community.  I can't sacrifice my life to Nerthus like Her slaves of old - but I worship Her.  I continue to honor and offer to the land wights around me.  And now I honor Her children as well; and in doing so I move closer to the cycles of the land, the circles of the Earth.. birth and life, death and decay.  Nerthus is leading me to Her people.  In one of his famous poems, Rumi wrote: "The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.  Don't go back to sleep."  In beginning to honor Ing Fréa and Fréo, I can just barely hear mumbled whispers coming from the dark earth.