Wednesday, May 13, 2015

New Blog at Patheos!

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fear of Fire

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Daily Devotional - Evening

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Gefjon, Goddess of the Boundary

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nature Spirits, Nerthus, and Celebrating Earth Day

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

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

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

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

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

Plans for an Earth Day activity to help the Earth

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In Defense of Formal Ritual

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 5, 2015

River Goddesses, Water of the Earth, and Local Cultus

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

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

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

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

Prayer and Offering for Eostre

by Norbert Nagel, Creative Commons License
Hail Eostre, the rising dawn and the coming spring!
As Your golden rays gleam above the horizon,
the buds begin to bloom and open,
heralding the return of light and life!
Beautiful Goddess framed in flowers,
the beginnings of apples, peppers,
all fruit that flourishes on branch and vine,
bring brilliance and bounty to me and mine.

My favorite offering for Her this time of year is dyed eggshells.  First poke two holes at either end of an egg, and blow the contents out into a little dish to save for omelettes or whatever you like.  Then the eggshell can be dyed in natural dyes, and it will color both the inside and outside of the egg.  I have had a good time crushing several eggs together until they form a colorful sort of eggshell gravel, but they can certainly be offered whole as well depending on what you’d like!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Prayers to the Gods

In times of difficulty, I often feel so drained or exhausted that even thinking about praying or giving an offering seems to much.  It feels there are no right words for the circumstances, no flowery phrases that can directly translate the pain and heartache that must be dealt with.  In these times, I find it best to use a simple prayer, a good prayer that affirms the order of the world and calls down blessings.  One such prayer can be found in the Sigrdrífumál, part of the Poetic Edda.  This version was translated by Bellows in 1936, and reads:

Hail Day!  Hail sons of Day!
And Night and Her daughter now!
Look on us here with loving eyes,
that waiting we victory win.

Hail to the Gods!  Ye Goddesses, hail,
and all the generous Earth!
Give to us wisdom and goodly speech,
and healing hands, life-long.

This is such a powerful prayer for me.  I have written my own version that I like to use when I can't find the words but feel the urge to pray, to affirm my place in the cosmos and ask for the good favor of the Gods and spirits.

Hail to the Day that rises,
hail Sunne who brings light and life!
Hail to the Night that brings joyful sleep,
hail Mani who keeps the time and tides!
Ever keeping Your circles,
look on us with loving eyes,
bring blessings like shining light.

Hail to the Gods and Goddesses,
to the lands and the living waters,
to the ancestors, ancient and wise,
to all the generous Earth!
Give to me wisdom and a happy heart,
a voice and hands that heal hurts,
for all the days of my life.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Another Post About Eostre

Okay, they've been everywhere this past week - posts about Ostara the holiday, about Eostre, debating Her claim to historical fame, Her attributes, Her associations.  She has been paired with foxes, described as young and perhaps childish.  So as we head into the Anglo-Saxon month of Eosturmonath (rougly equivalent with our modern April), I'd like to write about some of my own impressions of Her.

For me, She is not just a Goddess of the spring.  It is one of Her domains, yes, and a very important one.  But primarily for me, She is the Goddess of the dawn.  The linguistics of Her name supports this - Eostre is etymologically linked to *austrōn, a Proto-Germanic reconstruction meaning 'dawn'.  Through this, She is linked to a fair number of Indo-European dawn deities, including the Vedic Ushas, the Roman Aurora, and Greek Eos.

This time of year, I am still rising just a bit before dawn.  As I wake to dark windows and a silent home, I remember a bit of a poem by Rumi that I loved as a teen: "The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.  Don't go back to sleep!".  I come before my east-facing patio door, a large window that looks out over my backyard, and say my prayers to the deities of the sun and the morning that I honor: to the morning star, to the sun, to the opener of the gates of dawn. 

It is Eostre who holds that honor for me, afire in a blaze of golden and red and pink glory.  She throws open the gates, Her face shining with the holy light of the sun as Sunne passes by.  Her arms are raised, drinking in the glory, Her gown whipping against Her with the wind raised by the force of the sun.  She looks to the heavens above the earth in acknowledgement, but also with a sense of triumph: the stars will be put out, and She will be responsible for bringing real light to the world.  She is fire and glory and too bright to comprehend, a deity who will not tone down Her shining, holy light for my sake.  This is my Eostre, how She appears to me each morning as I implore Her to please open the gates.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Heathen Religious Calendar 2015

I made a post about this last year, and have had a few requests for an update, so I thought I'd finally get around to posting even though it's already March!  It's not all Anglo-Saxon this time - I've added a few Icelandic holidays for spirits that seemed to want to catch my attention this past year.

January 23rd - Thorrabloat (welcoming and appeasement of Thorri, a spirit of winter)

February 3 - The Charming of the Plow (in which cakes are offered to the earth, a practice attested to by Bede for the month of Solmonað)

February 22 - Konudagur (celebration of Góa, an Icelandic spirit of spring)

March 5 - Festival for Hreða (the full moon, and midpoint, of Hredmonað)

April 4 - Eostara, spring festival for the goddess Eostre (the full moon, and midpoint, of the month Eostara)

June 17 - 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 29 - Hlæfmæst (literally 'loaf-feast', on the full moon midpoint of Háligmonað)

September 27 - 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 27 - 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 25 - Winternights (again, this is not a historical English celebration, but its importance in modern Heathenry brings me to celebrate it)

December 21 - 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 22 - 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)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

When UPG Trumps the Lore: Hreda

Via Creative Commons
This is the month when many Anglo-Saxon Heathens (and many Pagans in general) focus on Eostre, and so I thought I'd be a bit stubborn and write about a deity associated with March by the Venerable Bede.  I've written about Her before, covering most of the lore and speculation that's available to us at this time, and I've lamented its utter incompleteness.  How is it that Eostre, with basically the same amount of information relating to Her, became such a central figure in the Pagan springtime festivities while it's difficult to find even Heathens who know who Hreda is?

My personal opinion is that Eostre's associations just are easier to understand for us in English-speaking, Christian-heritage countries.  Everyone in this culture knows Easter and all that it entails, and since the Goddess Herself lent Her name to the festival - the connections are readily made.  Hreda has no such similar festival, no cultural markers that I'm aware of to lend Her importance in our modern age.  But that doesn't mean She's not there, waiting.

My devotional relationship with Hreda has been something of an experiment for me.  I'm usually pretty hidebound when it comes to matters of lore; I'll build a practice up around it using some UPG, but in matters of disagreement?  The lore wins hands down.  It's one method I use as a check and balance.  But for Hreda, we have less information than even Nerthus; only a possible etymology, and even those are conflicting.  Is it 'swift', 'glory', or 'victorious' - each of these have such different implications as to the kind of deity She could be.  And maybe the etymology matters not at all, and it's just a name unrelated to Her function or areas of interest.  We just don't know.

And so I reached out to Her.  This has been going on for a few years now; Her presence is certainly strongest for me in March, so that's when I get my best ideas of Her.  Each year, consistently, I find Her in the wind that drives out the winter.  All of a sudden, around this time of year, the winds start shifting.  Instead of howling out of the north biting cold, they begin to blow up from the south.  They are no more gentle - in fact, often the winds are strongest this time of year.  But the southern winds don't carry snow and ice; they tend to drive away the clouds so that ever-earlier rising sun can shine down on the land.  To me, these winds are a manifestation of Hreda.  She is swift.  She is victorious (eventually!).  She drives away the clouds to reveal the glory of the light. 

Every time I think of Her, I am reminded of a particular statue that I loved in my art history class, The Winged Victory of Samothrace.  I am not a Hellenist and don't know the story behind the statue, but when I think of Hreda it is forcibly brought to my mind.  The way She stands, leaning into the wind, the raggedness of Her clothes and feathered wings - She fights a long battle, but She is not cowed.  She is Victory.

Just to be clear - there is absolutely no indication in the lore that Hreda is this kind of deity.  I don't know much about British weather, but I think this time of year is usually much more mild than it is on the plains of the Midwest, so it doesn't even hold up historically.  I don't care.  I have been reaching out, making offerings, honoring Hreda for three years now; and this is how She comes to me.  I won't argue with anyone over their personal interpretation of Her.  At this point, I'm not really up for arguing with anyone over my interpretation of Her.  She is who She is to me, and I could not be more grateful for the gifts She brings and Her influence in my life.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Earth Lies Fallow, and So Do I

Philip Halling, via Creative Commons
I am at a point in my life where a lot of things are poised on the brink - waiting, wanting to change, but just not quite there yet.  It can be a very frustrating time.  I want so much to just get on with it, to blaze ahead, to make those changes and live inside them and grow used to them.  But it's not time yet.

I am an impatient person.  I really, really suck at waiting - even bad things, I just want to get them over with as soon as possible.  The anticipation is almost always worse than the pain itself.  But that's not how life works.  Even simple things like the cycle of the seasons; everything turns slowly, and comes around in its proper time.

Nerthus is teaching me this right now.  I have other Gods, other spirits, knocking down my door to tell me about this change, to prepare me for what's ahead, to bid me goodbye as I move on to the next stage of my life.  But Nerthus - it's a human thing, a human concern, and She honestly couldn't care less.  A song keeps running through my head: "we'll sleep out in the garden, and when it rains, we'll just sink into the mud," it says.  She is calling me.  To forget my human concerns, this silly impatience, all the surrounding pain; instead, I must sink into the mud.  A time of pause.  This time, before the first green shoots poke their way out of the soil, is for resting.  I must lay in the lake, let the dark water wash over my head, breathe that darkness into me while I wait.

On the other side of this coin is new growth, blooming flowers, a warm and inviting spring - I know that it's waiting to come forth.  In the gnostic gospel of Thomas, Jesus says "If they ask 'what is the sign of the Father in you?', tell them: 'movement and repose'."  That cycle is inherent in my life, and from what I can see, in all of nature.  The sacred is working within me - there is movement, there is rest.  This time of waiting will turn, and new and exciting things will happen; but now is not that time.  And so I lay down in the soil and wait.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Konudagur - a Celebration of Spring

Spring Maiden
by Frank Dicksee
As explained by tumblr user Thorraborinn here, the first day of the Icelandic month of Góa is a day celebrating women and wives.  Góa is alternately either the daughter or the wife of the frost-king Thorri, who disappears at midwinter, and a blót is given to bring her back.  I have written a small ritual to honor this tradition of welcoming back the spring.

Bring a small meal and drink to the threshold of your home.  Call out and address Góa, saying:

Hail the daughter of the Frost King,
who hides in the winter
and returns in the spring-long day.
Your eyes are thawing pools,
your hair like shining sun,
your limbs long and empty branches
soon to sprout new leaves.
I come bearing gifts for the lady of spring,
food to nourish new growth,
to bring forth green sprouts,
to warm the thawing earth.

Open the door, go outside, and pour out the drink on the earth, saying:

Be welcome, dear Góa,
and go into the house;
don’t be outside in the wind
in the spring-long day.
(translation by Thorraborinn)

Come back inside, bringing the plate of food to the table, and set it out as you would for any other guest.  Dine with Her and leave the offerings outside afterwards, if possible.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Destruction and Rebuilding

Odin and Fenrir, Freyr and Surt
by Emil Doepler 1905

I am not what most Heathens would consider a 'traditional' Heathen.  Part of this is my unconventional understanding of the idea of Ragnarok, which is usually painted either as a condemnation of Loki or a Christian add-on to a pagan myth.  The story as told in Snorri's Edda basically goes like this: Balder dreams He will die, so His mother Frigg does everything She can to protect Him.  She misses something, Loki learns about it, and uses that information to guide Hodr (Balder's brother) to kill Balder.  A series of unfortunate, reactive events happen because everyone needs vengeance, which leads to Loki, Surt, and some other Jotuns attacking Asgard.  The world is basically destroyed except for two humans who go on to repopulate, Thor's sons, Hodr, and - amazingly - Balder, who comes back from Hel to rule.

There are many interpretations of this whole series of events, and my intent is not to say that anyone is wrong in their understanding.  But I see the death of Balder - the devolution of the gods' honor and authority - and ultimately Ragnarok as a myth of death and rebirth.  In many ways, it is a mirror in large-scale of Odhin's sacrifice to Himself by hanging in the world tree for nine nights.  Many of the gods lost things, from Frigga's loss of Her son to Tyr's loss of His hand; and ultimately of course many of the gods are apparently killed.  Of course, if their deaths are as permanent as Balder's, this is likely to also be cyclical.

We all face times of destruction in our lives, when it seems like everything is falling down around us and there is only pain.  Sometimes it seems our entire lives are being disrupted and changed, and that things will never be the same as they were before.  To be fair, that is likely - after a big change, nothing can be completely the same.  The same happiness you enjoyed prior to this life disruption is unlikely to return just the way it was before.  But after the destruction, after everything has been torn down - then it is time to rebuild.  And the glorious thing about rebuilding is that nothing has to be the same!  In a new world full of fertile fields, you are the one who decides what to plant, what to grow, what to encourage.  Mourning losses is important - but once you are finished, use the blank slate change has left you to build a better life.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ritual is Ritual

"AshWednesdayAltar" by Jonathunder 
This is going to sound strange, but - I just love Catholic mass.  I was raised in an Evangelical household but I attended Catholic school for four years, including mass every morning.  I can unequivocally place my love of elaborate ritual at the foot of that Catholic church.  The Stations of the Cross, the Candlemass throat-blessing, even the tinkling bells that rang out when the bread was supposedly being changed into the body of Christ - I loved them all.  Now, dogma wise I completely disagreed with the church and still do, but in my opinion that doesn't make the way they do ritual any less beautiful.

I think my favorite of all was Ash Wednesday.  The entire church processes forward (even those that aren't Catholic) and is marked with the ashes of last year's celebratory palms, as the priest intones "From dust you are made, and to dust you shall return."  I have always loved that phrase.  Usually read at funerals and on solemn church days, it has nonetheless always seemed lively to me.  Rather than an ominous proposition, it was a reminder of who I was - where I came from and where I was going.  As with all living things, I was made of and sustained by the cool soil beneath my feet; and when it came time for me to die, I would become part of that magnificent giver of life once again.  The phrase affirmed my place in the huge expanse of everything that is the earth.

I've written here before about being raised in a tradition other than Paganism, and how important I think it is to honor the words and ideas that first inflamed my passion for the spiritual.  I'm not interested in being a Christian with a Pagan veneer (honestly I feel like that ship sailed a long, long time ago for me) but I also don't want to toss out the baby with the bathwater.  Ian Corrigan has a wonderful Yule ritual over on the ADF website that perfectly mirrors the Tenebrae rite practiced in some churches on Good Friday - all candles are slowly extinguished but for one, which is used to relight all the others and bring light back into the world.  I love that sentiment, the power of the darkness and the returning of the light, and I've used a modified version of that ritual in my own Grove's Yule celebrations.  I'm so thankful that we as Pagans don't have to throw it out because of its association with a Christian ritual.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Februalia with Prairie Shadow Protogrove

 I haven't written about most of the group rituals I've participated in lately - it was a requirement for the Dedicant's Path, but since I've finished that bit up it's fallen to the wayside.  I feel like I should, though.  I know before I started being a social Pagan I googled the groups in my area; and there was not a lot of information out there.  For most, there just a listing on Witchvox and, if I was lucky, a public ritual schedule.  Just in case anyone is googling Prairie Shadow Protogrove (or Prairie Shadow Grove!), hopefully I'll have summaries of recent rituals that will give you an idea of what to expect.

As an ADF Grove, we perform rituals near each of the High Days (more commonly known as the Wheel of the Year).  Since we are a pan-Indo-European group though, these rituals aren't always what you'd expect.  This February, we celebrated a Roman rite called Februalia - a festival of purification.  It was written by our resident expert on all things Roman and Greek, Senior Druid Amber Doty.  We celebrated Februus, the patron of the festival, as our deity of occasion; and invited Janus and Hestia as well.  The purification portion of the ritual particularly spoke to me - I had a frightening encounter earlier that week, and being able to wash that feeling away was absolutely a blessing.  All in all, it was a fantastic ritual, and I couldn't be more appreciative of what Amber has done in building this grove!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tea Time with my Ancestors

Each month, The Pagan Experience devotes one week to writing about 'deities and divinity'.  I feel it's important for me to not only write about my Gods, but also the other divinities that I honor.  For me as a Heathen, the Gods are of course a big deal.  But the spirits I feel closest to, in a more intimate, familiar way, are the land wights and my ancestors.  For me, the Gods often need to be called, welcomed into my home and heart.  But my ancestors?  They're already there - have always been there.  They are just as much family as my brothers or my children.

For quite awhile now, I've been following the old tradition of leaving a bit of the family meal out for the ancestors.  My husband is an atheist and slightly uncomfortable around religious rituals, so the plate isn't left on the table.  Instead, I make a point of placing it on my altar before sitting down to dinner.  This lacks a feeling of 'sharing' though - as if I've sent part of the family to their room and am serving them there.

Recently I've begun making tea for myself in the morning.  It's cold
outside, and the hot beverage is awesome - but I've found that few minutes of time to myself while I watch the water boil is just as valuable.  It occurred to me a few weeks ago that this was a fantastic ritual to share with my ancestors.  I pour the tea into two cups, one to place on my altar.  As I wait for mine to cool, I welcome my beloved dead and offer them the drink.  Then I will stand for awhile, sipping my tea, looking at their pictures and belongings - remembering their stories, their voices.  It's such a strong moment of communion, one in which I can completely focus on something I really care about.  It's calming and almost meditative, a quiet moment when the spirits speak to me through memories.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Divining with the Deities (or any of the Kindred!)

Ancient runestone from Sweden
via Creative Commons
I have been practicing divination for a long time now.  I made my own set of "clow cards" (yes, it was a tv show for little girls, and yes, in the absence of anything else occult, I totally lapped it up) at age twelve, staring at the beautiful art and assigning fairly arbitrary meanings.  It wasn't until I moved out of my mother's house at sixteen that I was able to get my hands on an actual set of tarot cards, but it became something of an obsession after that.  I've learned a lot of different methods, have participated endlessly in the assigned meanings vs. intuition debate (I fall somewhere in between), and even spent two years as an email tarot reader.

But now, I'm trying something new.  When Prairie Shadow Protogrove started up, I was usually designated the Seer during ritual since I had more experience with divination systems.  Actually contacting the Kindred through divination was a very new experience for me, and honestly it was also pretty overwhelming.  I'm not as adept at hearing Their voices or receiving inspiration than others, and I'm afraid the Omen portion of those rituals may fallen rather flat.  I also don't do a whole lot of personal divination anymore; it's difficult to find the time and proper concentration with three little ones running around.

That's something that needs to change for me.  After receiving a rather scary sign in my own home, a friend prodded me to look into it further via divination.  At first I wasn't really sure who to go to with my request - I like to use the runes nowadays, but Odhinn and I have a rocky relationship at best.  Most of my offerings these days go to the Vanic deities.  So eventually I mustered the courage and offered some honey to Freya, asking for some answers to the lingering questions the event had left.  The runes aren't Her favorite (my UPG), but She was helpful enough in answering my questions.

It's a powerful experience, communicating with a deity.  After I was told that Frey was the source of the omen I received, I made offerings to Him and asked some pointed questions - things like "why'd you have to scare me so darn bad?"  The answer I received?  "I am a God, vast and more powerful than you can conceive - that the functions of nature scare you isn't really my concern."  Now, this is the type of answer I would expect from Nerthus, and a feeling I've gotten from Her many times.  But Frey has always seemed so friendly and jovial.  In my efforts to find the answers to my questions, I'd forgotten what an amazing thing was already taking place right there on my porch.  It shook me up almost as much as the original sign had.

I'm about ready to finish up my Dedicant's Path for ADF - I've submitted the work, but have some revisions to do before I can be approved.  I'm thinking about moving forward on the Initiate's Path, a guided journey designed to deepen one's inner connection with the Kindred.  One of the classes is Divination 1, where daily draws and journaling are heavily encouraged.  I think this is something I'd like to start pursuing even now.  When communication becomes too one-sided, strange things start happening - including scary omens that show up in houses.  It's time for me to open the door.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Week 6: The Earth is Full of Life

Ah, the earth.  Is there anything more ubiquitous in modern Paganism?  Many, if not most, Pagans will use terms like 'earth-centered' or 'nature honoring' to describe their religion or practice; and those who do not usually make a point of letting people know since it's such a common assumption.  I also identify as having an earth-centered spiritual path; but this means something a bit different to me than many Pagans.

Rather than a pantheistic view of the earth as mother-of-all, all-encompassing Goddess, my idea of honoring the earth is a recognition of the incredibly varied tapestry of spirits that dwell on and within it.  The Goddess I am dedicated to, Nerthus, is typically described as an earth mother; but this is not the best descriptor for Her.  She is not found in all places with dirt, or indoors, without being called or welcomed there.  I also honor other deities with ties to the earth or planting and cultivation: Freyr, Gerda, Gefjon, and others.

In addition to the deities, there is a whole world of spirits to welcome and build relationships with.  The altar I've built in my garden specifically honors a tree Goddess, while also acting as a shrine for many of the land wights - earthworms, squirrels, tree spirits, the local river Goddess, etc.  These relationships make up a huge part of my personal spiritual practice, forming the backbone of how I relate to the world around me.  Learning to identify each individual voice in the chorus of wights that make up the land around me was a huge challenge as I moved from a pantheistic worldview to a more animistic one, but it was a challenge that broadened my spiritual horizons hugely.

As I prepare to plant my garden this spring, I also continue to build relationship with the many wights that dwell in and pass through this land.  It's a blend of the concept of getting out and experiencing the land and spiritual appreciation of the many beings that share this home with me.  The earth is alive with many spirits, many stories, many personalities that are all worthy of attention.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Week 5: Humanity is Community

Pagan Pride 2014
I've been thinking about this post topic a lot.  Humanity is not something I think a lot about when I think about my religion.  I write prayers and give offerings to the spirits, I research and meditate on their natures - they're generally the center of my spirituality.

There's a few Heathens out there that will tell you Heathenry is entirely about culture, that if you're not raised German or Swedish or in some other Germanic culture, you're out of luck.  You just don't have the cultural reference to be a Heathen.  Now, I tend to think that is just plain wrong.  But it does occur to me that the 'human' side of my practice is something I don't think about because it comes so naturally to me.  It is part of who I am, how I was raised - but that doesn't make it any less a part of my religion.

I am involved in a lot of groups locally.  I hang with the Wiccans three or four times a month, I plan and lead rituals with the Druids, I'm always there for a sumbel with the Heathens (if the kids aren't sick!).  I do a lot to help these groups function - and they do a lot for me too.  Having a large group of friends, a circle of people that I can count on and call on if something goes wrong, has positively impacted my life in so many ways.  It's also not something that I'm used to; I'm usually a bit of a loner.  I haven't really had friends of my own since I left college almost eight years ago.

In ancient Heathen culture, the giving of gifts and the reciprocity of these gifts was essential both to spiritual practice and to everyday life with those close to you.  Exchanging gifts established a relationship.  This is something I've practiced with the spirits for a long time, but it was only after entering into my community and giving of my time and talents that I realized how deep and profound a relationship it brings to people as well.  It certainly doesn't have to be with fellow Heathens, either!  Joining a group, making an active contribution and receiving fellowship and service in return can be a profound human experience - and also inherently religious.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cauldron Blog Project: Doorways

Loki and Svadilfari by Dorothy Hardy
public domain
I've never been a Roman recon or honored any deities originating farther south than Germany and England, but I must admit I'm a little obsessed with Janus and everything that He represents.  A deity just for doorways?  Weird.  And awesome.  Boundaries, and the thresholds where these boundaries meet, is a recurring theme in Indo-European lore and mythology.  Both Celtic and Germanic sources speak of rituals where people parade objects around the boundary of farmland, of the home, of the town, to bless these spaces.  Establishing the boundary is seen as a sacred act.

I often wonder about the implications of these rituals when considering the story of the walling of Asgard.  Told in the Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda and the Völuspá of the Poetic Edda, the tale recounts a giant who comes to Asgard, offering to build an impenetrable wall around it in exchange for the hand of Freya, and the sun and the moon.  The Gods give him a time limit that seems impossible, but the giant comes close to completing his task.  Loki is sent to stop him and succeeds - and for the giant's "failure", Thor kills him with his hammer.  Of course, that's a very concise version, but it's the very beginning that's of interest to me.

The being that walls and encircles Asgard, certainly a holy and protective function, is not one of the Aesir.  The threshold of the home of the Gods is not established by its inhabitants or a sacred, appointed spirit - instead, it is built by a giant, a member of the apparent "savage" race that the Gods are trying to keep out.  There's no evidence either here or in later writings that the giant is attempting to trick the Aesir with shoddy building or a hidden door so he can later attack - he is the honorable one in this exchange, serving a sacred function for the Gods who unfortunately prove themselves unworthy.

Another Jotun, a giantess named Gerd, is said to have later married the God Frey and is listed by Snorri as one of the Asynjur.  The etomology of Her name is an interesting one, with many concluding it means either 'walled field' or that it simply denotes the action of walling (from Rudolf Simek's Dictionary of Northern Mythology).  How fascinating that She also is so linked to this bounding of space, separating the inside from the outside, while She is really a product of both.  While of course I honor Gerd in my garden, I see Her also as a deity of these boundaries, and I offer to Her when I ward my doorways and the edges of my land.

It's clear that doorways and boundaries were very important to the ancient Indo-European peoples.  How interesting that two spirits strongly associated with these boundaries are giants, so often overlooked or pushed aside in modern Heathenry.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Week 4: Álfablót Anytime

photo by Aymi and Laurel
creative commons license
One of my favorite things about Heathenry - and possibly what initially drew me to the path - is the emphasis on honoring ancestors and land wights as much, or more than, the deities.  Don't get me wrong, I like the Gods, but being able to go out and sit in the garden and connect with the land wight there is so much more concrete and immediate than reaching out for a deity that travels this world and the otherworlds.

Álfar is an old Scandinavian term that is a subject of some controversy in Heathen circles - whether it refers to the spirit of a male ancestor, a land spirit, or some mix of the two is under some discussion.  The old holiday  Álfablót was a time of sacrifice to these beings, held individually in the autumn at each farmstead.  Since there aren't actually any grave mounds on my property, I chose this time to do a special sacrifice to the land wights.  But one day a year is not nearly enough, in my opinion.  Honoring the land spirits had to become a major practice for me, simply because they are such an ever-present part of my life.

And so every Friday, I go out to the altar in my garden, bringing a bit of food or drink for the land wights.  It doesn't have to be an elaborate blót - in fact, it rarely is - all that's needed is to call the spirit's attention to the offering.  This consistency is important towards building a relationship with a land wight; it establishes a mutual hospitality where gifts are given on both sides - and a land wight's gifts are not to be underestimated.

Spirits of the earth and soil,
of things green and growing,
expanding and entwining,
rooted deep in the dark,
hear me now.
Spirits of the lithe and limber,
of wandering wings and fleet of foot,
sprinting and spry,
digging and devouring,
hear me now.

Hail to the land and the wights of the land.
A gift is given, and another is given in turn.
May we meet again on the dark earth.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Thorrablót Ritual for Thorri

Photograph by Ian Capper, shared via Creative Commons License
As Vanatru or Earth-centered Heathens, it's easy to love the Vanir.  They're flashy, they're green, they grant prosperity and fertility - usually thought of as warm and friendly in contrast to the more 'stern' of the Norse deities such as Odhinn and Tyr.

Where I live on the Midwest prairie, it's hard to forget about winter.  And yet I think many Pagans often forget about honoring this time of darkness and cold.  In my many gardening adventures, one important thing I've learned is that many of the plants that grow in my home state can't grow farther south, where the winters are short and warm if they exist at all.  They require this period of dormancy, of rest in the cold earth.  And yet, it's important that the land doesn't become too cold - below zero temperatures for weeks at a time can spell disaster for many plants typically grown in Nebraska.  As a person who honors this land and its weather, not recognizing and encouraging a natural, normal winter takes away from my practice and my relationship with the land.

And so we come to the old Icelandic holiday of Thorrablót.  Last year, I addressed some etymological questions about this day as Thor's, and came to the conclusion that as an Earth-centered Heathen, this day and season more appropriately belong to Thorri, a spirit of winter and cold.  Anglo-Saxon Heathens may choose to honor Jack Frost, who has similar folklore origins.  This year, I've taken the time to write a small ritual to propitiate this king of frost, that the spring may come in a timely fashion.

First, prepare a small feast or special meal that can be shared with the spirits; if you want to go all out, there are many traditional Icelandic dishes associated with the holiday.  Also have a special drink on hand - preferably mead, but any alcohol or 'fancy' drink will do.  In fact, if you prefer the non-alcoholic route, hot cocoa or mulled cider would be a particularly suitable offering!

via Creative Commons License
Once the meal is ready, make up a small plate and take it and the drink outside with you, into the cold.  If you have an outdoor altar, perform the ritual there - otherwise the threshold of the home or natural place that calls to you are good options.  Call out and address Thorri, saying:

"Hail King of the Frost, son of Snow-King,
You rule this icy winter.
The chilling winds that blow are Yours,
the gray clouds that hide the sun are Yours,
the frozen crystals that cover the ground are Yours.
I come bearing gifts for the Frost-King,
food for the spirits to warm Your heart,
to turn aside the winter winds,
to relent in the cold that covers all."

Set the plate of food on the altar or ground, and raise your glass.
"Hail Thorri, great King, who gives the world rest,
Ancestor of my heart, bringing sparkling frost,
I honor Your gifts and welcome their return
in their due course, in Your right season.
Hail to Thorri!"

Drink half the glass and pour the other half out.  You may eat your feast outdoors, or if weather or other circumstances prevent, inside looking out at the winter landscape.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Pagan Experience Week 3: Deity and the Divine

Nerthus by paintedflowers on deviantart
creative commons license
 I have really enjoyed the Pagan Blog Project the past few years, and was very sad to hear that it wouldn't be continuing for 2015.  Robin over at The Pagan Experience has taken over the idea, and will be posting prompts and collating links of Pagan blogs throughout this year.  I'm listed in the blog list as Heathen in the Grove - a little more descriptive of a title for those first visiting the site!  I'll be tagging these posts to make them easier to find, and also listing them under the Pagan Blog Project tag to make all my community posts accessible.

This week's topic is Deity and the Divine.  I feel I must start with Nerthus - my patron deity who has been with me since the beginning of my spiritual journey.  From the J.B. Rives translation of Tacitus's Germania:

"There is nothing noteworthy about these peoples individually, but they are distinguished by a common worship of Nerthus, or Mother Earth. They believe that she interests herself in human affairs and rides among their peoples. In an island of the Ocean stands a sacred grove, and in the grove a consecrated cart, draped with cloth, which none but the priest may touch. The priest perceives the presence of the goddess in this holy of holies and attends her, in deepest reverence, as her cart is drawn by heifers. Then follow days of rejoicing and merry-making in every place that she designs to visit and be entertained. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms; every object of iron is locked away; then, and only then, are peace and quiet known and loved, until the priest again restores the goddess to her temple, when she has had her fill of human company. After that the cart, the cloth and, if you care to believe it, the goddess herself are washed in clean in a secluded lake. This service is performed by slaves who are immediately afterwards drowned in the lake. Thus mystery begets terror and pious reluctance to ask what the sight can be that only those doomed to die may see."

This is all we know of Her, a brief note in a book written by a Roman around 100 CE.  Linguists link Her name with Njordh, noting they have a similar masculine/feminine naming dynamic as Frey and Freya.  This has led many in the Heathen community to the conclusion that Nerthus is Njordh's unnamed Vanir wife, the mother of Frey and Freya.

I believe that the true nature of the Gods is fairly unknowable for us - perhaps incomprehensible is a better word.  But I can tell you who She is to me; how She has shown Herself and what She asks.  I have always felt called by the most wild of places: the deeps of the forest, the midst of the river, where one can wander without seeing any signs of civilization.  I didn't feel safe or comfortable in these places.  They gave me a sense of deep excitement; like stumbling onto an alien land where I am not particularly welcome (though I'm not immediately ejected either - it's more of a low-grade, cautious hostility).  I didn't have many friends growing up, and I spent most of my free time in these places - being in a very small town granted me a lot of 'wandering in wilderness' opportunities.  It was in these places that I met Her.  Just like the land, She at first seemed hostile; but also thrilling.  She was the strongest presence I'd ever felt, a spirit far more concerned with the protection and well-being of the land than with yet another human.

As I grew, I became closer and closer to Her, this presence in the trees and streams.  I didn't have any idea that Paganism was a thing, that there were those who would call Her a Goddess.  When I discovered Wicca, I thought for sure She must be the Earth Mother others talked about; though I soon discovered that my Goddess was very different from the loving, all-embracing Gaia that so many described.  Nerthus is deep, She is ancient - She is angry, at times, a righteous rage at those who would defile the land.  She is sacred, She is hidden, She is veiled - too holy to be looked upon by those who do not understand.

And yet!  In Tacitus's description, we hear that when She visits, it is a time of great feasting and merry-making.  She harbors and loves all the land; even the tame agricultural fields, to which She brings bounty and prosperity.  It is my UPG that She is not commonly found in these places so worked over by human hands, but She will come if invited - and when She does, that is a good day.  Each spring, right around this time, my children and I perform a ritual to invite Her into the garden and bless our land and crops, and despite our presence in the suburban Midwest, we feel Her presence.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Boasts, Oaths, and Asking of the Gods

Almost a month ago, I had the opportunity to attend an intimate, informal Yule sumbel - one of the highlights of the ritual year for me.  Surrounded by friends, some Heathen and some not, we drank to the Gods, our ancestors, and spent a few rounds boasting and oathing.

Just a few days before, I had run across a real treasure online - a vintage organ with a full pedalboard, in brilliant condition, for a pretty reasonable asking price.  I'm something of a music nerd; I play several instruments passably well and am always excited by the prospect of something new and beautiful - and this organ was certainly beautiful.  The owner wasn't getting back to me, and I was getting a little anxious about it.  Organs aren't exactly in high demand, but this was a great price and a unique instrument.

From my research, it seems we don't have a lot of examples of exactly the form an oath would have taken during sumbel.  But thinking about that organ I was inspired to make an oath to the Gods - in exchange for Their assistance.  I promised offerings of music and song, practice sessions dedicated to deities, if only the Gods would help to make this instrument mine.

Now, I'm not one to place at the feet of the supernatural what can be attributed to good old fashioned work.  But the next morning when I woke, an email was waiting for me agreeing to my bargained asking price and asking me to come get that organ as soon as possible.  I called the movers and the instrument was in my house the very next day!  Of course it could just be coincidence, but I'm not about to short my deities on offerings if They were the driving force behind this sudden contact; and so nightly practice sessions have begun at my house.

I've had people doubt the fitting nature of music as an offering.  "Singing a song is so easy," they've said.  "It's hardly as good as a nice bottle of mead."  I couldn't disagree more.  Sure, singing a song is pretty simple - but first you have to learn it (maybe write it!), practice it, polish it so that it's fit for performance - we're talking hours of work and pre-planning.  Besides, I like to think that the Gods and wights (and I know my ancestors!) like a good song just as much as they like a good bottle of mead.  My deities know how to have a good time.

So that's the story of how my unconventional oath turned out amazingly for me, and the Gods and spirits got Their due in return.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Making the Transition from Family to Ancestor

My husband's grandmother is in the hospital right now - she's been there for a few weeks already - and things have been busy and scary and bittersweet.  The doctors have told us that it's pretty much time to say goodbye. I wrote a more general post over on the Patheos Pagan Families blog about talking to my children about their great-grandmother's passing - but here I want to specifically address how to make this transition as a Heathen and a Heathen parent.

Earlier this year, my own grandfather passed away, and it was an incredibly difficult time for me.  I loved him very much, but I wasn't able to say goodbye.  I feel like this made the transition so much more difficult than it needed to be - I finally felt some connection with him when I visited the place where his ashes were scattered, keeping vigil during the night and meditating on my memories of him.  So here's my recommendations for Heathen kids (or any Pagan path that values ancestor worship) - or really anyone who is going through this difficult time.  These are only recommendations, things that have made this time easier for me; and of course everyone's grieving process will be different.

First, spend as much time as you can with your loved one while they are still physically with you.  Holding their hand, brushing their hair, just being able to talk to and touch them is such a valuable experience, and something you will treasure forever.  This end-of-life time is so important for both people - it is comforting to most who are facing their own death, and it eases the transition from member of the family to ancestor for those who will survive them.

After the person passes, begin talking and making offerings soon afterwards.  If you have the opportunity to stay with their body for awhile, do so - the practice of sitting out on the grave mound seems to imply that the ancient Germanic peoples believed in a connection between body and spirit even after death.  Talk to them just as you would have before.

If there is a service held in their memory, attend it.  It can be difficult for many of us to attend religious services that remind of painful times, but don't let a few Our Fathers or the evangelical pastor scare you away.  This time is about sharing memories and communicating with other loved ones of that person, a tradition that in my opinion couldn't be more Heathen!  Tell stories, laugh and cry, talk to people about the sides of your loved one you may not have known.  Don't get defensive about others' beliefs - just steer the conversation back to the person you both love.

Make adding their picture or things to your ancestor altar into a ceremony.  Address your loved one's ancestors and your own, and ask them to be welcomed in that group.  Address your loved one directly, talking much as you did before, perhaps leaving a favorite beverage or treat out.  When I did this for my grandfather, I told him about his funeral - we hadn't planned to invite anyone but immediate family to scatter his ashes, but as more people heard, more people began planning to show up, until we had a gaggle of cousins and aunts and uncles I hadn't seen in years.  He was so fun, and so generous, and so well-loved; nobody wanted to miss a chance to say goodbye to him.

Remember to grieve.  I see this a lot in my Christian friends - they'll say "he's with God now," as if that makes everything okay.  Yes, as Heathens we love our ancestors and they hold a very special place in our hearts - but it's alright to mourn the relationship you had before their passing.  Things are not the same, and it's important to recognize that.

Tell stories.  To keep the memory of your ancestors alive, the younger generations need to know about them.  My mother and father never really tell stories of their youth or their grandparents, but my grandmother loves to talk family history with me - and I repeat every single word of it to my own children.  To find their own place in the world, they need to know where they came from.  It may be painful or difficult at first - but that's okay.  Remember it's alright to grieve, and it is essential that we preserve the legacy of the ones we love in our hearts, and in the hearts of those who come after us.