Ancient Norse Women – Warriors, Housewives, Poets and Priestesses

Originally posted on Metal Gaia:

peter-nicolai-arbo-ingeborg (2)

There is still much about the Ancient Norse People that we do not know, so much of our current information is an attempt to fill in the gaps (since the Vikings did not write down their history and the Christians destroyed much of their existing culture). History becomes a guessing game where modern day people impose their fantasies and longings upon the past. Some of these fantasies imagine a place where every woman is a blonde haired vixen with a pointy helmet and a chain-mail bra, smashing through the faces of her enemies with sword in hand. Fantasies on the other end of the spectrum paint a picture of a male dominated society where all men fought glorious battles and women existed as mere prizes to be won.

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(Very practical battle armor)

The truth is much more nuanced. Not all men fought battles and not all women had a specific…

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Sweetness

This week has been entirely cool. On Saturday, we installed our bees on the Ve.

Four of us (and our children) began this journey last summer when we first looked into beekeeping in our different counties. A whole group of us had been interested in beekeeping for a good while; so we attended a summer symposium. Four of us stuck it out when, in February, we started learning in earnest. After a winter of learning—and learning that there really are very few prohibitions[1] against beekeeping—we bit the commitment bullet, built our hives, and installed our bees.

Lemme tell ya, it was not as frightening as I expected.

And it brings me to the sweetest magical allegory in town.

I am allergic to everything on this beautiful planet (aside from poison ivy, go figure) and was terrified of what the “bee installation day” experience might bring. Yet, I donned my nerdy protective suit (full-body prophylaxis), walked into the fray where bees were flying by the tens of thousands,[2] and was totally fine. Seriously, I wasn’t even nervous. Not even a little.[3]

It’s like working with magic. Real magic. Not that conk somebody on the head because you lost control of your emotions sort of trifle that so many of us can do—but don’t if we’ve learned better. I’m talking about—whatever your tradition’s analog may be[4]–I’m talking about conjuration and all that jazz.

Let me run this metaphor out.

  • Calm bees stay calm until someone sounds the “alarm.” Then they all switch on a pheromone that makes the whole colony lose their shit. If a human sounds the alarm, well.

o   Even benevolent spirits (entities, daemons, thoughtforms, etc.) can get—um, spooked—we’ll go with “spooked,” if the conjurer gets all bent out of shape and switches on the magical alarm pheromone. And you bet your arse, somebody’s getting stung.

  • The best thing to do is use lots of protection when you are first learning to handle bees. As you get more proficient, as you learn the signals of the bees, you can work with or without gloves, with or without a veil, or with just a smoker. I’ve seen it done. I don’t think I’ll ever get there (my aversion to anaphylaxis and all)—but that doesn’t mean no one does it.

o   Likewise with conjuration. Holy heck, that can sting like the Dickens and lay you out if you aren’t properly protected. Right? Sometimes you need a metaphorical beesuit. But, once you know what’s what—and as long as you don’t have reason to suspect a rogue bee[5]—you might eventually be able to get away with working with fewer accoutrements. Just, you know, make sure you have a well-lit metaphorical smoker.

  • Beekeeping is not for the faint of heart. Some folks are just skeered. Of everything. Dogs, chickens, snakes, spiders, witches, bees. Fear comes from an uncontrolled mind, from anxieties arising out of attachment in the form of anger and hatred. Human fears develop in a direct corollary to our feeling of being threatened. According to Buddhist[6] thought, fears result from our ignorance of Self, the origin of delusions, and thus the root of our fears. If you don’t have a sense of self-presence—knowing exactly who you are (not a delusion of Self) and what you are (actually, not delusionally) capable of—you have no business messing with bees.
Fried Green Tomatoes, "Bee Charmer"

Fried Green Tomatoes, “Bee Charmer”

o   Same goes for magic. If you are a frightened, victimhood-oriented individual you should steer clear of actual magic. If you don’t “Know Thyself,” you won’t be very effectual in the first place; but you shouldn’t go messing around in atmospheres where you have no business. If you are delusional about yourself and your abilities? Let’s just say I’m not going in after you if you decide to jam your hand all down in a metaphorical honey super on a cloudy day like you’re Idgie Threadgoode or something. I’ll call the metaphorical equivalent to 911, but the rest is on you. Literally.

Some people think that if they’ve seen it in a movie it must be real–and that it must apply to them. Mmm’hokay.

  • That leads me to my last point. There are “stock” bees and wild bees. The bees I have are Italian, like most beekeeper bees in the US. They were bred by a specialist who knows how to breed queens that produce calm and unruffled[7] colonies. Like all breeding programs, this is a precise science to which all I can say is, “I don’t know man, I didn’t do it.” Some bees were bred for different things—serenity not being one of them. Or, you know, being lower on the list. This is just to say that even if you know *your* bees, you don’t want to make the same assumptions about another colony or—lords no—wild bees. The rules go out the window in the wild.

o   Not all of the “stuff” one can encounter out in the Aether is of metaphorically “known parentage.” A magician, sorcerer, whatever-you-call-yourself, can be very familiar with and work with great ease with one set of energies. But out of that element? All bets are off. Should you encounter something “wild”? The worst thing you can do is make assumptions about its imperatives and jurisdictions. Some shite will laugh in your face. And then peal it off and eat it just for kicks.

You might not, but I buy it.

It might seem like too much risk for such little payout. After all, the honey doesn’t extrude and jar itself. But bees are a necessary part (a dwindling part) of a functioning eco-system. I started keeping bees because it was the right thing to do. Now I’m discovering that there are rewards to be had well before the honey flows.[8] Likewise with magic. I started doing it for personal development, ego reduction, and self-awareness. Sure, I hoped there’d be plenty of alchemical honey on the other end of the project, but it wasn’t my primary motivation. It was just the right thing to do. And just like with my old “friends,” I’m finding that with my new little friends, there are rewards to be had before I’ve even seen my first comb.

Think about it. The necessity to calm the feck down each and every time, the necessity to have faith in one’s protective measures, the necessity to know—really know—the limits of one’s abilities (and to push them just a little more each time), and the necessity to remember to keep the smoker lit at all times.

There are explicit rewards to finding oneself in the presence of bees.

Wæs þu hæl!

 

[1] I mean, we have limited finances and a slew of animals and pregnant ladies and children and allergies. Honey may be bad for babies but bees are only dangerous if one is allergic. And one would be allergic, pregnant or not. So, there was really no reason not to go for it.

[2] Earlier in the day, my estimate is that there were 1.5 million bees. Assuming that each packaged colony had around 10,000 bees and there were about 150 orders. That’s without the neighborhood bees who came to see all the hullabaloo.

[3] The story was different when I opened the hive wearing only protective gloves the next day. That was a test in bravery. A test I passed with flying colors.

[4] Yes, I believe that various paths have various names and they are all valid—though not the same.

[5] Hive minds don’t really produce many rogues as long as your population is healthy and bred from calm queens. We don’t have the threat of “Africanized” bees in my neck of the woods.

[6] Thanks to one of my Cultural Diversity students who phrased this so eloquently during his presentation in our non-Abrahamic religions unit.

[7] They are also hygienic, varyingly disease resistant, and relatively high-producers.

[8] Not to mention the hope of propolis!

Every Human Effort

I was having a conversation with a student about how I don’t really “do magic” as often as I used to. And that got me t’ruminating.

I was thinking, “Well, I don’t actually need to ‘do magic’ as often as I used to, because lately life just seems to iron everything out if I am patient.” Not always the way I expect that it will, but I really love the universe’s  ability to provide while employing the element of surprise.

Irony is often my favorite outcome.

But in the past few months, I have started to miss “doing magic.” Just the pure drama of outcomes. Then I remember the power of “pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result” and I shush. No need to start tossing all that energy around just out of boredom or impatience. Tends to water things down. And enough water can put out even the most vigorous blaze.

I don’t mean the “drive-by” kind of uncontrolled tossing all the papers out of somebody’s hands in the midst of an emotional snit-fit. I still do that from time to time, though far less frequently than I did in my youth–I try to keep a reign on it since that is simply *not cool* and it really diminishes the power behind actual magic.

I’ve always been of the (fairly traditional) mind that one does not simply “cast” for results unless one has exhausted every human effort to attain the thing in question. I have pissed off more than one client who came to me looking for a magical-quick-fix when I gave them the mandatory “to-do list” that accompanies my willing assistance. It might not fall under the category “unthewful,” but to me, it seems downright rude and fairly presumptuous to ask the universe to provide a thing through magical means if one is not willing to do some basic (and often, not-so-basic) tasks and lay out some human energy to attain the same ends.

I honestly get a kick out of those who say I must have no magical power because I have to resort to mundane work in order to make things happen. (Yup, it’s been said.) Thing is, I have grown to see “mundane” acts as potentially magical. You see, when I was younger, I observed each turn of the moon on my own and celebrated the turning of the wheel. There was a lot of ebb and flow in my first two-decades of serious occult investigation. (This is, aside from the first 17 years in a highly spiritual life–having been introduced to profound spirituality in early childhood.) When I hit my mid-30s, I also hit a stride of daily devotions and constant magical practice. Not so much “spell-casting,” but Ceremonial Magic. Around-about 2007 I began in earnest to make real magical practice and spiritual devotions a regular part of my everyday life; it took about nine-months to sink in, but it finally did. And now it just feels like breathing. Air: in and out. Ond, exchanging energy, letting it flow, building maegen. As natural and as simple (only not simple at all) as blowing out a candle-flame.

Thus, after five or six years of such constancy, I do not separate what I do in the garden, in the kitchen, or in the bedroom from what I do in the temple, in the hof, or at the harrow. My life has become my altar. Every act has become part of The Great Work. To me, nothing is supernatural–as they say, “Magic is just stuff science hasn’t made boring yet.” Don’t get me wrong, I believe in divinity. I just see The Divine and nature as symbiotic manifestations of the same. I only “work” or “cast” or “conjure” when I’ve exhausted every human effort–and I’m pretty inventive when it comes to exhaustion.

And I find that I don’t have to resort to pull-out-all-the-stops spell-casting anymore. Roads open (and close) as easily with well-timed phone calls and properly filed paperwork. Like a good helping of earth tossed on a campfire. The last year or so has only left me with the need to employ “crafted” spellwork for others–those under crossed conditions, those who need a response from an unforthcoming employer, those that need special protections, those that need, you know, stuff. I didn’t realize it while I was doing the early work, but now I understand that it is for these folks that I built up sacral gefrain (if I may coin a phrase to mean god-gefrain used for the benefit of those under one’s sacral leadership), so that I can work on behalf of those that need me–who need the benefits that derive from the years of work I have already done.

So, I retract my statement that “I don’t really ‘do magic’ as often as I used to” and assert that I (try to) do magic with my every act: those that employ public policy, those that employ technology, those that employ the legal system, those that employ established systems of commerce, etc. To those who would claim that “she must have no magical power because she has to resort to mundane work in order to make things happen,” I ask, “How small is your imagination?”

Waes hael!

 

Getting Dumped On

I don’t know if this is a very Heathen or a very Witchy post–but I had to share. During Spring Break I got to watch a little TV now and then.

You know those scenes in the movies where some extreme jerkalope gets something vile dumped on them just as they are in the process of antagonizing an innocent? At the height of hilarity, it is scripted as poop of some sort. Even better if it gets in their mouth.

Think of Biff Tannen from Back to the Future. It becomes a running gag through the trilogy that Biff will always get dumped on because Biff is–seemingly from his deepest ancestry–a tool. I can watch the scene from the first film over and over again. Not because of the wicked footwork displayed by a young Fox, but because of that moment *just before* the truck dumps. It’s when you know it’s about to happen and you, the audience member, feel actual trepidation for a villain who’s got it coming.

Right around 2:06, Marty makes his move and while the carload of cretins is looking backward instead of forward, they miss those vital few seconds that would have allowed them to change course and avoid being dumped on en masse. All they can do is holler, “Shaaaaaat!” while Biff, their leader and driver, swings them sidelong into the back of a manure truck. Everyone gets an equal serving.

It’s a metaphor for divine retribution, I’m just sure of it. “Instant Karma” if we must.

But, like I said, it’s the moment BEFORE the dump that gets me. While they are all looking at Marty McFly / aka Calvin Klien, who deftly maneuvered into a new position–I love the word *zwischenzug, they miss the opportunity to save themselves. At once I am anxious for them and yet I know that they are getting what they deserve by narrative standards. Particularly the idiots in the backseat who are simply willing to let Biff drive them to their doom. They are not innocent bystanders, as they have encouraged and allowed Biff to harass generations of McFlys; but they are not the primary instigators. Does that make them *more* worthy of getting dumped on?

Maybe.

Sure.

So, if this is an allegory for cosmic justice? How could the backseat dumpees avoided getting dumped on? I mean, aside from not joining Biff in his constant bullying and chicanery? Should the boys have bailed out of the car instead of riding the shitstorm out with Biff? Could they react that quickly? No, maybe not. Only if–yes, this is likely it–they had been looking at where their driver was taking them rather than looking at the man behind the 1946 Ford Super De Luxe Convertible?

Eyes ahead, folks and waes hael!

*Zwischenzug: this is a chess term for a strategy where one player refuses to make the (typically obvious) move that his opponent expects him/her to make. Instead, s/he makes a move that forces the other player to do something they really would rather not do. After that, the first player follows through with the previously expected move–however, now the opponent has fewer advantages from which to retaliate or protect his/her side of the board. Zwischenzug is very much a “game changer.”

One that typically has the player who formerly said: “You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia’ – but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line’!” falling to the ground instantly dead. (Cindy, the gratuitous PB reference is especially for your chuckles.) Rather than kidnapping princesses, it’s always better to spend a few years building up a tolerance to Iocane powder.

Oschdre, Austrō, Ēostre, or Ostara?

I’ve written three posts that sit languishing in my drafts box. But this one? Ah, it’s time sensitive!

First off, Happy Autumn to those of you on the flip-side of the wheel! I’m told winter is coming. Happy Spring to those of you on this side of the globe. I hope it sticks.

At the last Pagan Pride Day one of the participants made a comment about how everything in Norse Paganism is hard to pronounce. “Even the word Norse,” he joked, pronouncing it Norsey. For the rest of the day he joked about all the Heathens and “that Norsey group.” It was so endearing, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that we are Germanic Heathens.

Besides it gets too complicated to talk about a pan-Germanic Heathenry at a primarily social event.

So, it didn’t bother me at all that he called us Norsey all day. It was all in fun and we talked it over at length during Imbolc.

It was then that someone who shoulda known better said something vaguely snarky about the vacillation of our lexicon and pantheon. It was the kind of comment that revealed the precise level of theological inexperience of the speaker.

So, as an exercise for a future lesson for my students (and as part of a discussion for this weekend’s celebration where we expect a number of first-time-visitors), I’m working out some definitions here. Definitions that I always take for granted that “everybody knows”—and, in truth, they don’t.[1]

Fortunately, I have students who keep me in check, make me back up, explain myself, recontextualize, and then proceed without losing the focus of our lesson. I like it. It makes me think more deeply about stuff I’ve assumed as predetermined “givens.”

Also, I like when they challenge me on a “given” and I turn out to be wrong because of my decades-long assumptions, I get a little tickled. OK. First I get ticked, then I end up tickled, because I realize A) I’m better for the knowledge, B) my student is well rounded enough to ask such an in-depth question, and C) my student is comfortable enough with me[2] to challenge me rather than just blindly following my lead.

images

Here’s the question, from a would-be student, that started this ball rolling: “How is Oschdre the same as Austrō, Ēostre, or Ostara [depending on your geography] and is She, then, the same as Eos and Aurora?”

Well, no; she’s not.

And yet, yes; she is.

This is the part where I have to back up.

No language, culture, or religion is isolated unto itself. Those traditions which claim to be or even strive to be “purist” do so in the face of thousands of years of contact, influence, and exchange—before, during, and after The Migration Period. Most cultures, and certainly not those of Europe and Asia, are not hermetically-sealed against outside influences. Moreover, cultures evolve in their own practices—in addition to outside influences, as a reaction to outside influences, as a resistance to outside influences.

Therefore whether we are talking about Scandinavian, Nordic, Teutonic, Germanic (including Celto-Germanic, Deitsche, and Anglo-Saxon) Heathenry, we are talking about peoples who affected each other during migrations that predate the Viking Era. The Jutes and Gauls and Goths were trading shite and raiding shite and sacking Rome (and getting sacked in turn) long before Ragnar went west.

Don’t let me confuse you here. We are not of the mind that “older” is “better” (whatever that means)—just that ancient interactions matter. We honor the New World (ehem, Christianized) practices of Hoodoo (Uath Dubh) and Bracherei (Powwow) as much as our ancient Old World influences.

This is the part where I have to explain myself.

There’s a difference between “eclecticism” and “syncretism.” And there’s a difference between heterogeneous “eclecticism” and a motley jumble—what I’ve heard derisively referred to as “smorgasbord tradition” and “cafeteria religion.” Some people find value in mix-and-match traditions; and I say, “Have at it!” Personally, I’m too attached to rationale. I like to have a little purpose behind my actions—purpose aside from, “Well, I like it; it feels right.”

Don’t let me confuse you here. We set great store by personal gnosis and individual patrons—but we temper both concepts with sound evidence rather than just “feeling our way” through our rituals and devotions.

Also, don’t let me confuse you on this point. Simply because we honor a Heathen pantheon does not mean non-Germanic figures won’t grab us by the ear and insist we “come along” from time to time. And we know better than to ignore them just because they aren’t “our flavor.” But that is a personal devotional issue, not necessarily one upon which we would center a sege (blót) for the entire group.

There’s also a small linguistic difference between “syncretic” and “syncretistic.”[3] Again, I’ve heard these used in a neutral as well as in a pejorative sense. I use them as neutral-to-positive demarcations.

Syncretistic (from syncretism) used to mean “to combine, as two parties against a third” especially, “in the manner of the Cretans.” But now it simply means “reconciliation of diverse or opposite tenets or practices.”[4]

Syncretic means “aiming at a union or reconciliation of diverse beliefs, practices, or systems” as it is “characterized by the fusion of concepts or sensations” (my emphasis).

Once you have all of that under your hat, you can see that neither syncretic nor syncretistic traditions are “smorgasbord traditions.” Nor are they exactly “mixed traditions.”[5]

(Traditional) Wicca itself has a syncretistic origin. It didn’t develop in a vacuum and has bits of various Pagan sources from across the whole Western world; from 19th Century literature and folklore; and from Western occultism/ceremonial magic, which is very Judeo-Christian in itself.

ostara

This is the part where I have to recontextualize.

So—back to our theological question at hand. “How is Oschdre [Austrō, Ēostre, or Ostara depending on your geography] and is She, then, the same as Eos and Aurora?”

Well, no; she’s not.

And yet, yes; she is.

From a SYNCRETIC practitioner’s perspective, all of the goddesses representing light and vertive life are the same; the Goddess Ostara is the Goddess Eos is the Goddess Aurora. In this theology, the Gods become a fusion.[6]

Now, there is a supplementary divergence here too. Some folks see this “fusion” as a sort of archetype rather than discrete entities. Not all, just some.

From a SYNCRETISTIC practitioner’s perspective, the deities are all separate. They may have interrelating functions or characters that make them highly cooperative at certain points; but they remain individuals.[7]

Likewise, I think it’s fair to say that while Braucherei and Seiðr are both “shamanistic” practices, and that we study and engage in them both; Braucherei is *clearly* not Seiðr and Seiðr is *clearly* not Braucherei. Rootwork is not the same as witchcraft. I could go on forever.[8]

This is the part where I have to proceed, hopefully without having lost too much focus.

I’m more comfortable saying that Oschdre is the same as Austrō, Ēostre, or Ostara than I am saying she is the same as Eos or Aurora. Though she shares the element of vertive life-bringer with Demeter, she is not Demeter. However, I think Oschdre and Ēostre are only subtly different based on geography and the relationships she has with folks in different locales.

Let’s see if I can metaphor.

I am known as Angela, Ange, Angie, Ehsha, Dr. Farmer, Mrs. Farmer (not right by a long-shot but folks still call me that), Mom, and Mommy. I am each of these but I function differently for each name I am called. When my daughter calls me Mommy, I know to hide my wallet. When a (secular) student calls me Angela, I don’t respond. When someone other than my parents, cousins, or siblings call me Angie, I snarl. As Dr. Farmer I can pull strings that Mrs. Farmer (grrr) cannot. Angela is far more influential than Angie. And Ange? If you know me well enough for me to be comfortable with you calling me that? You don’t need me to tell you where my powers begin and end. (And if you call me that against my will? Just see.)

My point is to say, it’s important to know what your relationship to the God/dess is and refer to Him/Her appropriately.

As syncretists, we see Oschdre as a “White Lady”—or one who straddles the liminal space between “here” and “there.” Though she shares that roll with Berchta (Perchta, Perht, Berta[9]) and Holle (Holda, Hel, Hella, Huldra), she is not them.

One day I will parse out trinitarian God/desses like The Mór-ríoghain. Not today.

So how are we to celebrate?

As today is the equinox, we will do/have done a few things. But the term Oschdre (or Ostara) is a plural word—meaning the celebration was held over multiple days. Typically our Kindred likes to celebrate before the change of the season rather than when the energy is waning. This celebration is different. We can start today and conclude on Saturday—exactly what we are doing[10]–and we won’t miss any of the energy.

We don’t *only* venerate Ostara by the way; we have honors for Freyr (Frey), Thunor (Donner, Thor), Sif (Siwwa), and Idunn (Idunna) as well.

Plus eggs.
And fertility games.
And a seed share.
And other nice surprises.

Enjoy your spring!

Wæs þu hæl!

Ostara Eggs by Oshuna on deviantart


[1] I mean, it’s fair. I’ve been studying theology since before some of my students were alive. It’s second-nature to me and alien to them.

[2] And my student knows my ego won’t implode.

[4] All my definitions are from the OED Online. Lemme know if you want a real citation.

[5] This is what I call—non-derisively—PB&J traditions; taking two unrelated traditions and making a new (delicious) one. Correllian Nativists would fit this bill. I guess if someone were Yoruba-Kemetic, that would be too. Or Hellenic-Druid. Lords this could get fun.

[6] I’ll be honest. This is the way I was *taught* to imagine the divine: “All the Gods are one God.” But my experience with the divine has taught me that I should no longer refer to myself as syncretic but as syncretist.

[7] My son came in the room and I asked him, “Son, do you think Artemis and Diana are the same . . .”

Before I could even get out the end of the question, he said emphatically, “No,” and just kept going.

[8] That reminds me—I just taught the difference between theurgy and thamaturgy. I should do that here too.

[9] Some attest her to also being Freke. But because this name is more closely connected to Frigg and Berchta is the wife of Woden (*not* the same as Odin, I have it on good authority)—that just doesn’t work.

I don’t believe Frigg/a and Freyja are the same either.

[10] Some of us are even lucky enough to get to sneak off to Earth Fest for an hour or three.

*Not* Hatin’ on St. Patrick — or Rome

This time of year I start to see a lot of “lore-based” anti-St.-Patrick arguments about the abuse heaped upon pagans at his hands. Folks, the history doesn’t support these myths. (And you may know how I feel about that. If not, read this.) We have to remember that the version we have of Patrick and his violent conversion in toto of Ireland was filtered through Catholic monks a few hundred years after he was dead and buried (presumably next to Jimmy Hoffa). Along with all the silliness I’ve seen on social media, I was glad to see Jason at The Wild Hunt address the matter in a more evenhanded way.

If you’ve only ever heard the myth of Patrick, you can watch this super-simplified slideshow. I’ll wait.

Chicago's SSI Parade

Chicago’s SSI Parade

As an American married to a ruddy Gael-Mheiriceánaigh, I enjoy our green-bacchanalia. Even if I find it to be a bit of an obscene caricature of actual Celtic heritage. (Shoot, I like cosplay as much as the next nerd.) But having grown up on the SouthS ide of Chicago–a notoriously Irish Catholic area, where I attended a Catholic school and graduated from a Catholic University–I participated in the South Side Irish Parade, both as a parader and as a spectator running across Western Avenue in traditional fashion!

Yes, I’m a Heathen and St. Patrick’s Day is (originally–or aboriginally) a celebration of the conversion of Ireland to Christianity. However, the celebration did not become a “thing” until well after Patrick was gone. What’s more important is that the conversion to Christianity was neither immediate and complete nor savage. It was a slow and cooperative “colonization” (I mean that in every sense of the word). See this for simplified info.

You see, in my experience of St. Paddy’s, the whole brouhaha had more to do with celebrating Irish-American Blue Collar identity than anything else. I mean, these were folks whose great-grandparents distinctly remembered being the subjects of New World Hibernophobia and “NINA” signs (likewise mythological in its omnipresence in America), they remembered forming labor unions and passing the value of work-solidarity down to the next generation who then told stories about working their way up the social hierarchy through rigorous work ethics and of creating their own communities for support and protection. So–it wasn’t so much about snakes and Druids–more about getting (and keeping) an honest-paying job. 

But, as it stands, I am a syncretistic Heathen who happens to value the way Christianity shapes my understanding of the divine–even if I don’t subscribe to its tenets. I figure I honor my patrons every day, and They know Ireland was converted–it’s no news to Them; I doubt they mind if I wallow in a bit of an American satire that focuses more on Irishness than it does Catholocism.

St. Pat's in Orlando

 

Now, if I was a Druid in 20th Century Ireland celebrating a High Hold Day of Obligation? They might ask me to withhold my “Slainte!” That’s a whole different story.

My main point is that we shouldn’t “hate” on St. Patrick. Instead, we should focus on venerating our own ancestors–especially if they were Irish, came to a new place, fought against yet another wave of oppression, managed to feed their families and carve out a new democracy in the workplace, and bring our generation into existence with a strong sense of ethnic pride.

If that doesn’t do it for you, stick it to Patrick by honoring your own patron gods and goddesses (as this article also suggests). And one way to do that is to find out about *real* history rather than the wholesale purchase of unsubstantiated “lore.”

I look at it like this. Creationists are often disparaged openly and loudly for their hard-headed insistence that the Genesis myth is fact when we have evidence to support a more temperate version of how the world came into existence. But that doesn’t mean that the Garden of Eden story has no value. Lore is important to the development and maintenance of a culture–so long as it isn’t confused with fact. At the same time, the St. Patrick story is important to Catholic culture. Just as the story of Iðunn is important to we Heathens and the story of Eris is important to Discordians and Hellenic Neopagans and the story of Connla is important to the Celts. The apples are different, but the need for lore is the same. Maybe we would be better off concentrating on our own lore than fixating on the lore of the mega-culture? Hmmm, just a thought.

And “hate” was never good for anyone.

Go out and kiss someone Irish–or kiss someone pretending to be Irish for the day. Either way? Propagate human connections rather than seething in anger about a misrepresented historical somethingorother. Go love your ancestors and lift up your Pagan/Heathen patrons, gods, guides, whatever you got. If you must: stick it to Catholicism by being a better Pagan.

Waes thu hael!

The thing about the hands and arms? That's a myth too, BTW.

The thing about the hands and arms? That’s a myth too, BTW.

Just a sidenote: While I’m on the subject of misplaced ire, I found some very disturbing hate-mongering propagated by Heathens. I was aghast–and really, really confused by the “Burn Rome” movement. (You can buy a t-shirt that says “Burn Rome” around a Valknut.) Because it is new to me, you might just want to read a report with more veracity here. To illustrate how it is used, see this link. Likewise, this makes no sense. Rome is not Roman Catholicism and the Vikings (because I presume this is who the “Burn Rome” crowd is emulating) never really engaged with The Roman Empire–it was already in a shambles by the time the raiders came along. Heck–Rome prettymuch burned itsownself, like, 700 years prior. I find the whole thing … odd.

 

Ergi and Trans* Identity: “The Sacred Third”

She had me at, “I’ve started my own church.”

As if it isn’t enough that she oozes charisma or that she has the wittiest comebacks for every comment, we share an affinity for Jane Austin and Gender Studies.[1] Though I did my stint with the 18th Century and walked away, thanking David Garrick for all he taught me, she is sticking it out (and doing it rather fantastically).

Over the past few months, I have had the great privilege of getting to know some of the most inspiring young men and women in my community, members of Spectrum, The Auburn University Gay-Straight Alliance. Among them is Miss Darcy Corbitt, who consented to allow me to talk about her in this forum—a brave thing in and of itself!  Darcy has been honored recently by The Women’s Studies Program at Auburn and Equality Alabama for her activism for trans* rights; she is passionate, she is articulate, and, above all, she is right: “These are issues that are not highlighted and not talked about enough.” You can—no, should—watch her Stephen Light Youth Activist Award acceptance speech (also available at the bottom of this page); right around 4:05, I see the lioness I have come to admire emerge. She means every word.

At the end of her speech, Darcy challenges us all: “You’ve heard what I have to say. Now what are you going to do about it?”

Here’s my answer.

Aside from talking about the cisfemale-only ritual brouhaha at PantheaCon a couple years back, I haven’t talked about discrimination as much as I should. And I haven’t been as pointed about gender as I likely should be. Sure, I skirt around it. Like in “Redneckognizing a Difference,” I mentioned, “Of the theological differences between Wicca (and Wicca-based eclectic practices) and Heathenry is the polarity between genders which affects our sexual ethics.” But I never brought it home, did I?

I always like to quote Malaclypse the Younger in situations like this, “I don’t know man, I didn’t do it.” Go see Beyond the Wand for the full scoop on this meme.

In “The Difference: Part 2,” I did it again. When I had a moment to wade into a discussion on discrimination, I kept it a little more focused on what is turning out to be this year’s big PantheaCon topic: what has come to be called “Wiccanate Privilege.”[2] Even in “The Difference: Part 3 (Leadership and Gender)” I kept my topic focused on sacral leadership. I should be talking about equality, no? I mean, I graze the tip of the Spivak-pronoun and I often mention ergi in a footnote here or a side comment there; but I never grabbed the, um, bull—we’ll go with bull—by the proverbial horns.[3] In all of the local criticism I’ve gotten about my belief system and practices, I shied away from talking about my own fecking belief system and practices. Did I actually let someone silence me? Well, thanks to Darcy The Brave, I think I have my voice back.

Heregoes.

If you are Pagan, you likely know about Heathens. If you are Heathen, you might know about the Northern European practice of magic, seiðr. If you practice seiðr, you have prolly heard of “ergi”—the negative characterization of men (actually, non ciswomen) who practice seiðr.

This is not only a problem for men, it is a problem for women; it’s a problem for intersexed individuals; it is a problem for trans* individuals. Basically, it’s a problem for everyone. You see, anytime we characterize non-binary gender (or sexuality, for that matter) as “other,” as non-normal, as problematic, we not only shortchange individuals with non-binary identities, we curtail the possibilities for all identities. It makes sense to remember that Laguz, fluidity, represents endless possibilities.

There is a lot of contentious commentary out there that claims men who practice this sort of magic are (negatively) effeminate or unmanly (called ergi or argr—both intended as insults). However, this is only so in interpretations of the post-Christian telling of the Sagas and Eddas.[4] In my way of thinking, the concept of ergi as a negative attribute has been over-emphasized and overplayed by patriarchal post-Cartesian contemporary recon traditions. After all, gender is a culturally constructed principle which is as individual as personality, no? Further, while it is true that the majority of those who practice seiðr in the Sagas are female, it is not true than no men ever practiced seiðr.

I mean, Odin much?

You see, ergi and agar, are not as cut-and-dried “insults” as contemporary translators would have them. Firstly, ergi is often translated as “unmanly” or “effeminate.” Some translators go a step further and indicate “homosexual,” which, as we all know, is not the same as unmanly or effeminate.[5] Some scholars, like Jenny Blain and Jenny Jochens, indicate that “acting like a woman” may have more to do with shape shifting than human sexuality. Blain also suggests that seiðr may have been considered an effeminate activity given the passivity and repetition involved in channeling energies: being a ‘vessel’ (Blain. Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-shamanism in North European Paganism. Routledge. London and New York: 2001. Jochens. Women in Old Norse Society. New York. Cornell University Press: 1998). What’s more interesting, it seems that sexually assertive women were seen as sexually active instead of passive and were, therefore, also referred to as ergi. It could be then, as Katie Gerrard points out, “that ergi is both ‘a woman acting as a man’ and ‘a man acting as a woman’” (Seidr: The Gate is Open. Avalonia Press. London: 2001).

Secondly, as Jochen discusses, the terms sordit and sordinn refer to acts of penetration and of being penetrated (respectively). Should taboos against ergi or argr represent issues of homosexuality, then sordit and sordinn seem to be more suitable terms, don’t they? However, these are not the terms used to discuss men who practice So—that can’t be right.

Finally, in Scotland, the term argi is used to refer to someone who ‘holds back violence,’ which can mean something altogether different:

If we look at instances of seidr where it is used to trick opponents into coming out into the open, or to appear to someone while they are sleeping (and therefore in a more vulnerable situation) then we can indeed wonder whether the term ergi was used simply because seidr . . . [equates to] ‘holding back violence.’(Seidr: The Gate is Open).

There is too much written by Raven Kaldera (a FTM spirit-worker and author) to start quoting him and his tribe-members at length. Instead I will just direct you to the “Gender and Sexuality” page of Northern Tradition Shamanism.  Especially “Being Ergi,” by Lydia Helasdottir, “The Tale of a Transsexual Norse Pagan Spirit-Worker,” by Linda D., “On Being A Twenty-first Century Argr Man,” by Jálkr, and “Secret Selves,” by Dagian Russell, which gives me, as a cisgendered spirit-worker, a good idea of how similar our experiences are—rather than how different. He says, “I was born ‘female’ (a point with which my body argues) in meat-space, but when confronted with an aroused astral form during a lesson I quickly learned that I was not entirely female.” We all confront a version of our Self in journeys that doesn’t match our physical manifestation—“meat-space” indeed. Why should gender be an exception?

Simply? It shouldn’t. It isn’t.

While the specifics of Kaldera’s practice and those of our kindred are different on several counts, our steadfast insistence on every human’s inherent value and sacredness is the same. We articulate this valuation to each other and in our value system that states:

. . . we see no reason whatsoever to advocate sexual union for the purposes of  procreation alone. As a matter of fact, we inclusively honor those who do not, for whatever reason, procreate. We honor each person’s sexuality as the Creator made them and believe that as far as consenting adults are concerned, “all love is creative love.” . . . For this reason, we endorse consenting and respectful monogamies, polyamories, asexualities, and celibacies of all kinds. (www.disrtroth.org)

As if sacred sex needed our endorsement, I know. Statements of faith in a Judeo-Christocentric culture, meh.

I am also touched by Kaldera’s introduction to “A Letter to Transgendered Spirit-Workers”; he says:

First, before I speak to you of what needs to be said, my sisters and brothers and sister-brothers and brother-sisters, please understand that I am one of you. I am no outsider. I was born female and male in one, I have lived as both, I look male now (clothed, at any rate) but I am and have always been the sacred third inside, no matter what my body was doing at the time.

As for me? When Facebook rolled out its 58 gender options,[6] I chose “gender-nonconforming.”[7] But in Kaldera’s sense, I am a total outsider. I am a mostly-but-not-exclusively-heterosexual, moderately[8]-gender-role-subversive, philosophically-polyamorous/polyfidelitous, feminine cisfemale. Yup. I’m pretty much culturally privileged, only transgressing upon hegemonic values with what my culture would call “an open mind.”[9] From this position I began wondering, “Well, how do *I* take up Darcy’s charge: ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Just as I was winding myself up about what I could do without much of a platform, without much political visibility, “How do I? What do I?” my son and his friend walked in the door. This is how I greeted him:

Me:      How do you feel about cis-privilege?
Son:     Um? It exists.
Me:      Does cis-guilt exist?
Son:     I guess … if someone is aware enough to realize it’s a thing.
Me:      But what does it do?
Son:     It’s as useless as any guilt by any privileged group. Just like the marginalized, the privileged group didn’t choose their state of being.
Friend: It doesn’t do anything but make you feel better for not doing anything.
Me:      Bingo. So, what is the responsibility of cis-gendered people?
Son:    To raise awareness and work toward equality among all human beings. [He grabbed a cookie off the counter and shoveled in his mouth.] Workers of the world unite!

And then I realized. I’m a mom. I have the greatest platform there is.

I am also a Kindred leader, that’s kinda a thing. Especially in a kindred where, as it was pointed out to me today,[10] we have all sorts of couples and singles and groupings—we’ll go with groupings. I guess I never realized that simply providing a safe space to express one’s spirituality while inhabiting an often uncooperative meat-suit was a big deal. I didn’t do it to be political, I did it because it was needed and it was the right thing to do.

I teach Cultural Diversity where I introduce Anne Fausto-Sterling and Judith Halberstam[11] to 18 year olds and am faculty advisor for the GSA. I didn’t seek these things out, they kinda came to me.

I guess I felt like I should be seeking out the right thing to do and then doing it.

And then there’s this. A little blog with about 1750 readers.

Writing about issues of gender within a religious community is one thing. Writing about gender identities within a minority tradition in an already marginalized religious community? Egads, there is no excuse for any of us to ever cause or allow any Heathen of any identity to ever feel ostracized or disempowered. Feck that.

I still feel like I could/should do more.

Until I figure it out, I look to you, my community, to tell me what you need. I’ve spoken with a few of you privately about gender identity and I hope I’ve done right by you in the past. Either way, I want to do better.

And if you don’t need me? I urge those of you who are in a position to be heard to make it a point to make our brothers and sisters visible and I pass Darcy’s challenge on to you.

“You’ve heard what I have to say. What are you going to do about it?”

Wæs þu hæl!


[1] It’s been so long (eek, 1998) that I can’t remember the specifics, but one of my Master’s thesis was on “indoor gender” and “outdoor gender” in Persuasion.

[2] Read this. It’s longish but full of all of the points I should have been making all along.

[3] I know, I also keep promising to broach the subject of polyamory.

[4] If you don’t know the argument, here’s what Diana Paxson has to say about it in her article, “Sex, Status, Seidh.” And here’s a *much* more inclusive article, “Ergi: The Way of the Third,” from Raven Kaldera.

[5] And we also know that “homosexual” is a late-twentieth-century Western constructed designator, not exactly something we would find in Medieval Scandinavia.

[6] An event which generated much conversation between me and The Older Two. Youngest is far too cool to Facebook with family.

[7] It reminded me of a t-shirt I had in grad school that said “Gender Disobedient.” (Which, in turn, reminded me of the t-shirts we made as undergrads, “Gender is a Spectrum, Not a Dichotomy.”)

[8] But not on purpose, just because I’m doing what makes sense to me.

[9] When they are being polite about it.

[10] While I was trying to figure out what I could doooo. Doh.

[11] When I was a fresh PhD candidate, I kept a copy of Female Masculinity on my desk. Oldest was fascinated.