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!