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.