Goodness and Rebirth

The Forest of Rebirth by Narandel on DiviantArt

The Forest of Rebirth by Narandel on DiviantArt

I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. — Charles Bukowski

I have always had a strong affinity to the Phoenix. I have an uncanny knack for rising up out of my own ashes.

I also kinda like Bukowski. Some people read him as “dark” and “cynical” and even “misanthropic.” But I see in his poetry (more than in his prose, I admit) an insatiable longing for goodness. A knowing that goodness is out there and a death-drive to fecking find it. To find it and straddle it and slide next to it and kiss it full on the mouth with the greedy expectation of being enveloped by its swarming, blood-thick reality. I’m not talking about altruism, philanthropy, political-correctness, or politeness. I’m talking about goodness. And goodness–honest goodness–is often heavy, sticky, and oppressive with wonder and insight.

Maybe that’s not what you get from Bukowski. I can see that.

But let me tell you a short story. I introduced Bukowski to someone who was grasping at spider’s webs, trying to hang on to a reason to live. Words, man. “This,” she said, “this I can feel.” She had been pushing away every constructed regurgitation of others’ emotions because they struck her as “false,” so she refused them and started believing that there were no “true” feelings to be had. “This. This I can feel.” Sounds pretty damn hopeful to me. Sure, she was reading “The Crunch,” not a very uplifting piece; but his refrain that “people are not good to each other,” implies that we can be. There can be goodness. Heart-breakingly beautiful goodness. Goodness that, with its nasty weight, most people reject for “love and light.”

I’ve been stumbling all over that kind of goodness lately. I’ve been finding it stuck to my shoes and matted in my hair and running down my legs in thick rivulets of dumbfounding honesty. I’m a little overcome by it but I also have the breathtaking desire to find more of it–now that I know it’s out there.

Rather, in here. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it’s been in me all along. Goodness, I mean. I had just forgotten it, or had devalued it, or had disguised it as something else.

Let me put all of this verbal meandering in some context. It’s been exactly a year since my husband hired a lawyer to pursue a defamation case on my behalf. It’s been a helluva year. Since then I have been in court (for myself and for others being similarly harassed) more than I ever wanted to be[1] and, as a proximate result, have lost my teaching job at the university.[2] Somewhere in that year, I lost a sense of who I am. I turned over the kindred leadership to my priest and his wife (also a blood-relative), put occult teaching on the back-burner, sent a child off to college, had a couple of traumatic personal “lashing-out” adventures, and watched my husband obsess over another woman (even if it is hatred-fueled, it’s a real thing to watch). All that, and the result is that now I don’t have the job that I sacrificed so much for. I don’t mean I sacrificed because I wanted it–but because my family needed me to stay put, I passed up other (tenured) positions in places that are not Alabama.[3]

So I feel like Bukowski on this. I honestly feel like the last 12 months have been equitable to binge drinking. Once this hangover clears, I think I’ll be allowed to resurrect my slaughtered self.

You see, just a few weeks before The Husband hired The Lawyer–Midsummer 2013–I wrote about an epiphany I’d had the previous spring (and put it in context of the year prior to that) in the aptly named “Midsummer.” I said:

… the crux of the vision was that I needed to …. reclaim a part of mySelf that had been lost and reintegrate it into my whole being. A week later I went to a celebration with a nearby coven. At their ritual, they performed a “rebirthing” ceremony. I thought, “Ah-ha! This is just what I need.” Nope. I had to bear that weight a little longer.

Little did I know how much gestation time I was in for.[4] And how much giving birth to oneself hurts.

I figured if I gave you Bukowski, I should give you Giger--just for giggles.

I figured if I gave you Bukowski, I should give you Giger–just for giggles.

In that year of breaking myself into uncompletable shards, I found that there were hidden treasures. Hidden goodness. Under all my own “false” emotions—the ones worn to pacify others’ needs for stability and appearances—I found “true” emotions. The sticky-thick unnerving kind. And I needed to be unnerved. I was dying under the weight of niceness[5] devoid of any anchor in goodness.

What happened was this. I became more intentional in my devotions[6] and I prayed. A lot. And you know what happens when witches pray. Shite gets real.

Suddenly, I had this fantastic aetherial partnership that went far and beyond anything I had experienced with KCHGA. The only way I can describe it is “entirely specific.” And this is a really good thing—else-wise I’d believe I was losing my ever-loving mind. But because I have seen evidence that this is not “all in my cracked head,” I know it’s real.

Then. Then I started obeying—executing instructions. And I’m a little blown away by the specificity of it all. There is nothing ambiguous about instructions, consequences for not following instructions, rewards for following instructions, grace-periods, etc.[7] It really got to the point where I started writing things down so that I could highlight them, check them off, cross them out as they happened.

A friend and I have a joke about life being a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. This is almost like reading ahead and knowing what’s on each page before choosing!

  • My first test was in January and an unexpected “adventure.” The experience itself was pleasurable but left a little aftershock, if not outright trauma. Maybe just in that it actually happened the way it was supposed to. Or at all.
  • Then there was Imbolc and our land-warden-planting and a visit to a very high energy location and yet another adventure—where I may have left someone else vaguely traumatized!
  • Then Ostara and no adventures aside from a rebirthing ritual of our own. That, I think, was just after I figured out the “rules” of this new relationship.
  • Walpurgisnacht was fascinating (and landed me sick for a month) and a complete reversal of Walpurgisnact 2013 which I spent intentionally with only female priestesses—this (liberating) ritual took place with just myself and three male[8]
  • Between the spokes in the year, there was a series of unfortunate events—floods and infestations—that, in turn, caused some of the other items to get ticked off my list.
  • Finally, just before Midsummer, some paradigm shift caused the whole convoluted picture to come into focus. By mid-June, I saw what was coming but I didn’t know the finer details.
This was from June 30. It's just ... so much.

This was from June 30. It’s just … so much.

Now, on the other side of the harvest, Lammas, things are starting to converge. And I’m terrified that I’m getting exactly what I bargained for. Exactly—but with fun surprises at the bottom of the box.[9] And a lot of hidden treasure among the shards of my broken soul. And all that goodness—true goodness—I thought I had irretrievably lost. I don’t think I’ve found rebirth or resurrection yet—I think these are the labor pains.

There is a bout with forgiveness that I’m going to have to fight. Actually, more than one. And if fighting *with* forgiveness doesn’t sound paradoxical to you? Welcome to the conundrum. I feel ya. And I think I’m up for the fight. Hope you are too. If not, drop me a line and we’ll hash it out together.

There’s a “struggle of the wills” that I’ll have to take part in. I think I know where this one is going to come from. My goal is to remain compassionate yet not a carpet to be walked on: balancing geburah and chesed.

In my secular life, mid-November is significant. It’s when the timeline for the EEOA investigation of my termination runs out and I will have an answer. And I’ll turn to that page in my adventure book. Until then, I plan to stay the course.

I hope to be able to keep the regular promise of letting you know how it turns out. But I simply can’t say what’s on that page just yet. Either way, waes thu hael.

~E

 

[1] Except when I was courting law school.

[2] You see, my supervisor has a relationship to the defendant and let me go in retaliation. Needless to say, I have another year of another suit–this time an EEOA violation.

[3] I did get what I needed out of that suit though–the truth has (mostly) come to the surface, maybe not the details but certainly the reality of the situation; I’m unharassed; and I know who my friends are and who I can trust better than ever. Plus, I’ve an even stronger sense of devotion and have reaped the harvest of such devotions. That can’t be all bad.

[4] Like whale and rhino long.

[5] Motivated solely by the determination not to be “bad.”

[6] There is still plenty of room for improvement.

[7] The only thing I am struggling with is the time line. I’m fecking impatient and may end up shooting myself in the foot with that shortcoming.

[8] We have two Walpurgisnacht rituals: the main one and a more private, chthonic one.

[9] Sometimes it’s just the spiritual equivalent of a press-on tattoo—but that’s better than nothing. Lagniappe is always welcome.

Sizing Down a Witch

I’ve mentioned a few times that the last five years have been a real emotional-roller-coaster. But I haven’t spent much time talking about the spiritual rest of it. It’s been a hard road getting back in balance—mentally, spiritually, magically, physically. But I’m almost there. Almost.

It has taken seeing a couple of dear friends go through their own traumas to recognize more precisely what happened (is still happening) to me.

Women don’t usually talk about the toll trauma has on our bodies as much as we should —especially where sex is concerned. We body-shame ourselves, of course, but (by-and-large) we haven’t been taught to see the effects of emotional trauma on our bodies.

As Witches, we don’t really talk about what happens to our bodies in moments of Initiation.

Initiation, REAL Initiation, Capital “I” Initiation, can feck with a body as much as a spirit.

When I was a new PhD student, mired in scholastic work—pushing 15 years-worth of spiritual and magical work to the corners of my mind, another female student said something about my weight. Never mind what that weight was, I wore a size 4 that hung from me like draperies. She scoffed and said that she wished she were thin. I said, “I lose a lot of weight when I’m stressed. I’m constantly stressed these days.”

Rather than commiserating with me about the rigors of graduate school, she retorted that she gained weight when she was stressed, “like a normal woman.”

Need I mention that we were both in the same Feminist Theory class?

When I graduated, stress abated, that 4 fit me a little better, and BAM! I walked myself straight into a shitstorm, nearly shaved my head bald, and made a right-arse outta m’self. It was during that time that I was recovering a sense of who I was as a Witch. Or trying to. It’s just now occurring to me that I should have paid more attention to the lessons I had learned about Initiation.

When we seek Initiation, whether on our own or with a group—dun’t matter, we HAVE to go through an Ordeal. Some choose their Ordeal, some let the Ordeal choose them by default. In these times, I see a lot of student-Witches say things like, “Why is all this happening to me?” The answer is: Well, you chose a path to the Divine—the Divine is going to test you and will either find you worthy—or, you know, not. I’ve also seen plenty of seasoned Witches try to take on a new level of Initiation unprepared and fall flat on their pointy-hats. I’ve further seen years of fall-out from some of those same people who think they can just press through without addressing their Ordeal as part of Divine Initiation.

I’m not judging. Hell, I’ve done it.

That’s what I’m trying to tell you.

I sought Initiation, was handed an Ordeal, and rather than just letting myself hang, I kicked and wrestled myself into a sorry state.

This took a physical toll as well as a spiritual and emotional one. Not to mention the magic. Ick.

I was looking back at some old photos from Christmas a few years back, and boy-o, I was huge. I had gone from that tee-tiny 4 to a full-to-brimming 14 in less than four years. Because of said shitstorm, I had issues of loss, fear, and guilt and I needed to do some hard-core self-forgiving. I realized that I was torturing myself as penance but I couldn’t make it stop. I was working on my spiritual and magical Self, but had all but murdered my physical Self. Seriously—health issues abounded. And the magic? Again, I say, ick.

I held on to the image of myself as “Bad,” let others call me “Bad,” hid behind the façade of “Badness” as a shield.

Then—magically?—I stepped out into the sun, dumped the old imago,[1] and immediately dumped two sizes.[2] And the magic got a little better.

Finally, after years of mental stuntedness, it occurred to me to embrace the Ordeal and achieve the Initiation so long in the making. Just letting it hang.

It didn’t go so well at first.

It took seeing a girlfriend go through a very similar shitstorm—eerily similar. Guess what? Her body is doing the samedamned thing mine did. I reckon she’s got some self-forgiveness issues to live through and I sympathize with her with every gram of my soul. I ache for her. But I can’t go through her Ordeal for her.[3] She and I talk frequently and in (what would have previously been alarming) detail about this trauma and body and sex thing. In talking to her about what she calls Grace and I call exculpation—we have a different moral philosophy here[4]—I am finding my own way out of the mire. I hate that she had to go through it, but I’m glad the Divine threw me a rope with which to pull myself out. Ironically, this same rope is the one I am using to, um, hang myself good and proper. No kicking and wrestling this time.

deviantart by ‘sceithailm’

It was three weeks ago that, while DEEP in meditative devotion, I was given pretty specific instructions about how I was to react to an upcoming situation. It was so far-fetched that I thought it was more a dream then an adumbration. But—skuse my French—feck me if it didn’t come to pass exactly as I saw it (not exactly as I understood it, lawd no). And only one week later.

I would never have reacted the way I did if I hadn’t been forewarned. Egads, no. But I was. And I did. And the last two weeks have been all about a special kind of liberation. Liberation from the guilt and fear and loss of a five-year-shitstorm.

Hell, it even smells better around here.

Here’s part of the outcome—only part because I see this as only the beginning of a beautiful denouement (you know, the part of a story where all those loose-ends get tied up?)—I’m bouncing around in single-digit sizes again (partly because I stopped eating grain of all kinds back in August) and I have little to no sense of shame or regret. Not because I have no sense of morality, of course. But because I see the world through the eyes of The Hanged Man: the paradoxical nature of control through capitulation, victory by surrender.

I had a conversation with someone yesterday. I think he was trying to get a rise out of me. I reflected on the conversation and realized that in the past I would have demurred or even fibbed just to make him feel better. In retrospect, I realize that I have dispensed with guilt and shame about a lot of things through straightforward (sometimes brutal) honesty. I keep thinking of scenarios where I would have “covered” or “sidestepped” a few years ago. Today I cannot think of one thing about which I would lie. Know why? I have aligned my actions with my morality and my morality with my True Self.

It’s freaky.

Not my culture’s expectations, not my family’s worldview, not some dogmatic set of prohibitions and admonitions.

Even did a little magic on Saturday that had full and intended effect on—what?!—Sunday. True story.

I have a final task to undertake—it too has been a long time coming and is all wrapped up in the ebb and flow of the shitstorm in question. I no longer feel “Bad” about it. Where I once felt regret, lamenting at the necessity of it all, I now feel emboldened and really, really ready for it to just be over.

Cheer me on as I run this final gauntlet?

Or, you know, get outta my way coz I’m coming anyway.

And it seems I’ve got my mojo back.

And my name is Angela, BTW.

Waes thu hael.

[1] Not only does this mean “image” but imago is also the last stage in metamorphosis: the imaginal stage. While not really related, it reminds me of The Lacanian Imaginary—where the ego is developed by a phantasmal “fragmented body.”

Bugs and psychoanalysts, man.

[2] Not that that was healthy either. I didn’t do it on purpose, it just kinda happened.

[3] She’s a progressive Catholic. Her God took on the Ordeal for His people when He hung on a tree. Mine insists I do it myself. It’s kinda empowering. Terrifying, but empowering. It took me a minute to get that.

[4] She needs her God’s forgiveness; mine says, “S’ok kid—your über controlling culture says that was ‘Bad,’ I’m a’right with you. Now if you can get right with you and we’ll be cool.”

PBP – Week 7-8: D – Denizens of Yggdrasil

 An eagle sitteth on Yggdrasil’s limbs,
whose keen eyes widely ken;
‘twixt his eyes a fallow falcon is perched,
called Vedhrfolnir, and watcheth.

Ratatosk the squirrel is called which runneth ay
about the ash Yggdrasil:
the warning words of the watchful eagle
he bears to Nidhogg beneath.

Four harts also the highest shoots,
ay gnaw from beneath:
Dain and Dvalin, Duneyr and Dyrathror.

More wyrms do lie the world-tree beneath
than unwise apes may ween:
Goin and Moin, which are Grafvitnir’s sons,
Grabak and Grafvolluth;
Ofnir and Svafnir ay, I fear me,
on that tree’s twigs will batten.

The ash Yggdrasil doth ill abide,
more than to men to is known:
the hart browsing above, its bole rotting,
and Nidhogg gnawing beneath.

Grimnismál 

When journeying around Yggdrasil, it’s good to know that there are some “standard” residents. Of course, there are inhabitants who are “off the map,” but knowing the traditional animal energies and guiding influences of a place helps us know where to go for what we need.

Hraesvelg (“Corpse-Eater”) sits on the tip-top of the tree.[1] An eagle, actually a giant who has taken the form of an eagle, who causes chaotic winds to blow when he beats his wings. He doesn’t have much to say to journeyers—I mean, he’s pretty unreachable—but he sends insults to the bottom of the tree via Ratatosk.

At the very bottom of the tree, controlled only by Hel herself is the great wyrm Níðhöggr (“Striker”). Crawling around between Helheim and Niflheim, she gnaws on one of Yggdrasil’s three roots in the spring, Hvergelmir. Níðhöggr lives on Nastrond, the Shore of Corpses, where she eats corpses to sustain herself. Niflheim is the realm of icy fog and mist. Saturated with darkness and cold, it is the lowest level of Helheim, the realm of death.

Níðhöggr is not the only serpent who gnaws away at Yggdrasil.  There are also serpents called Graback, Grafvolluth, Goin, and Moin.

And there is also the Midgard Serpent, Jörmungandr. Tossed into the sea to fend for itself, this serpent can surround the earth and grasp his own tail. When he lets go? It’s all over.

Ratatoskr (“Traveling Tusk”), the “gossipy” squirrel runs up and down the tree carrying insults between Hraesvelg and Nidhogg. Many travelers say that he doesn’t generally talk to visitors but I find him to be really chatty. But in a fragmented, distorted sort of way. I compare the information one might overhear from Ratatosk’s chatter to the visions Raven Simone had in That’s So Raven. True, but misleading.

Duneyrr (“Rest”), Duraþrór (“Slumber”), Dvalinn (a king of the Dweorg—Dwarves—who forged Brísingamen, Freyja’s amber necklace), and Dáinn are Red Deer stags who run around the upper branches. Like most of the beings on Yggdrasil, they are shapeshifters too. They are dwarvs who agreed to take on the forms of deer so they could control the winds which they carry on their huge racks.Water from the Well of Wyrd drips onto these antlers which forms “honey-dew.” I’ve been told that we can learn to traverse these currents, but that any attempt to manipulate the winds will bring the deer to stop you and toss you into Ginnungagap like used-Kleenex.

The Guardians of the Four Directions are Austri, Vestri, Sudri, and Nordri who take on many different shapes. The four of them can be called on to help out if you have lost your way. They come together like a compass and help you find your way. You likely know that Heathens don’t’ tend to “call the quarters” or “cast a circle. At the beginning of each rite, we “hammer” our “hof” and we invoke the directions, just to ground us and set us in a stable place.

Of course there are Æsir, Alf, Dwarves, Giants, Valkyrie, Wolves like Fenrir, Horses like Alsvid and Sleipnir, Goats, Boars, Cats, and Bears, oh, my!

I’m out of time for now, so here is a link to the first of several posts on the basic geography of Ygdrassil. If you are just learning your way around, I encourage you to poke around Jack’s other Prats on the World Tree.

Until next time, waes hael,

~E


[1] However, according to other myths—Fjölsvinnsmál—the bird is a rooster called Víðópnir who sits at the top of Mímameiðr, much like Yggdrasil. His purpose is to watch over creation. Sort of–there’s more to it.

This post is part of a year-long project, The Pagan Blog Project, “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing your spiritual and magickal path. . . . Each week there is a specific prompt for you to work with in writing your post, a prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet . . . .” 

PBP Week 5-6: C – Curses

I’m still catching up on my PBP posts (out of order, I know) while my brain rests up for night 4 of 9 of dates with Odin.

A few weeks ago, my son wandered out of his bedroom and asked me why in the world Jesus would curse a fig tree? He and I discussed the story in Mark 11 (also in Matthew 21) at length and then the conversation turned to curses.

In a back-in-the-day post, I talked to Maman Lee about justified Hoodoo enemyWork, .

There’s always a lot of talk about cursing—well, about not cursing—in our community. Threefold and

Ancient “Defixio” Curse Tablet

attraction and like meets like and Harm None. Well, I’ve never been of that mind. Just never was. And Kenaz Filan, one of my favorite Voodoo scholars, says, “the historical record suggests that ‘real Witches’ had no problem with casting curses.” He also asks:

Does our ‘forgiveness’ and ‘turning the other cheek’ come from our higher evolution or our cowardice? What is more frightening, being powerless or powerful? All these questions must be addressed by those who will work curse magic – and by those who will not. Cursing is not something to do for boasting or petty reasons. This is the magic we work in darkness and silence, the spells which we do to right the world. This is the responsibility that comes with wisdom.

Not that it’s directly connected, but—his statement makes me remember the first time I realized that power may reside in restraint. I was a reckless Witch in my late-20s; I cast for anything and everything. Like Rufus Opus (one of the first bloggers I ever followed–and the way I found Filan’s post), “my biggest problem with cursing is that once I feel justified, I’d start cursing everyone who pissed me off. . . . In the moment of my rage, I would feel perfectly justified calling up every spirit I know and sending them against whoever rubbed me the wrong way.” (Read the particularly useful comments section too.)

I’ve grown out of it, of course.

Mostly.

There was a particular incident where someone was in my way—I knew I could eliminate her as an obstacle. But for some reason—I honestly don’t remember the circumlocutions of my logic, though I remember it as being a profound moment for me, silly young girl—it occurred to me that having power over someone could be exercised by abstaining from action. Up to that point, I felt a little out of control of my magic; this new deliberation made me think, “What good is being able to do it if you can’t decide not to do it?”

So, yeah. She stayed an obstacle, I didn’t get what I wanted (well, not exactly the way I wanted it), but I learned about restraint. (Keep in mind that she hadn’t done anything to me ‘cept get in my way. I was a kid. Cut me some slack.)

Another layer of restraint that I have learned is how to “curse” with my thinking-cap on. Last year I wrote about my own version of sweet revenge. Kill them with kindness. Curse them with enlightenment.

But revenge is not really the same as cursing, is it? A “curse” is a pronouncement of judgment. Revenge is about retribution. Cursing seems to be the act of judging—vengeance seems to be the result of that judgment. Vengeance follows from the curse. Whatcha think?

So, because I am not God and because I cannot judge the weight of a wo/man’s soul, I started thinking about it this way: I leave psychostasia to the gods.

Not too long ago I had to permanently sever ways with someone who was trying to whip me into a frenzy. He’d say, “Help me!” But just as I reached out my hand he yelled, “Psych!” and slipped me a slimy eel instead of the formerly proffered hand. (And then had the nerve to tell me I was being “paranoid”—the time-honored male-chauvinist dismissive reaction to female censure.) Without even thinking about it I told him “farewell” and “may the gods weigh between us.”

Later I read a nearly identical statement in RO’s post: “‘May the spirits judge between us.’. . . By saying that, you’re basically putting your own ass on the line. . . . If I can go through with that in good conscience with no fear, it’s a go. . . . I’m never scared to ask the Spirits to judge between me and the other guy and enlighten whoever has their head up their ass.” It was a groovy validation.

In my mind I saw The Morrighan deciding which of us would go home on his/her shield. I saw the Valkyrie (wæl + cyrie = “slaughter + chooser”) picking one of us for Vallhalla, leaving the other for Niflheim. The classic Egyptian image is that of Anubis with the feather of Ma’at—I knew I wouldn’t become a tidy snack for Ammit.

I said it and I meant it. And it felt good to not have to carry the weight of judgment. If I have any sort of faith, I know the gods will weigh what I’ve asked them to weigh. And if I have confidence that I am in the right, they will weigh in my favor. If it turns out that I am in the wrong, no harm will be done to an innocent party.

Cool, eh?

I didn’t mean it as a “curse,” of course, and I had no designs on vengeance because I didn’t feel like I’d “lost” anything. But the feeling of utter release that came from not having to think about BS anymore was so great that I’ve started thinking of a method for “cursing” when it comes right down to it. Dark “shamanism” is not new, of course. And baleful seiðr is not unheard of (consider the Skern Runestone). There is a rich history of “spirit-walkers” engaging the assistance of malevolent influences in many cultures. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m developing an idea for a journeyer’s curse which, after a good deal of divination and soul-searching, the path-walker brings an issue to Hel to be weighed.

Let me finish putting it together and, as ever, I’ll let you know.

Wæs þu hæl,

Ehsha

 

This post is part of a year-long project, The Pagan Blog Project, “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing your spiritual and magickal path. . . . Each week there is a specific prompt for you to work with in writing your post, a prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet . . . .”  

Third Time’s the, um, Charm

This one is more personal than sex.

And while I’m great at theorizing sexuality and discussing sex in the abstract, I never do very well when the conversation turns real. I don’t want to know the intimate details—the, um, ins-and-outs—of my friends’ romantic lives any more than I like to talk about mine. I’m not prudential, mind you. I’m fairly game for accepting anything[1]—except that I don’t like talking about it.

And if you consider how I feel about talking about actual magical operations, I think you’ll see that this is a full-on personality trait. I will do many things; but when it comes to constraining the importance of those things to the limitations of language, I find that I am uncomfortable. It seems to me that speaking a thing diminishes it, disempowers the act, caps its potency, and imprisons it forever in a Derridian horizon of nominalism. To blog about such things seems to make “words on a page,” a formerly empowering phrase for me as a writer, turn into what Hamlet calls merely, “Words, words words.”

Thus, it goes against my grain to tell you what I am about to tell you.

So be gentle.

I’ve had one of those run-ins—finally with a Norse deity—that is hard to put into words. I’ve told you about the times Hestia and Megaera paid brief visits. But they weren’t claiming me; they were bringing me advice, comfort, instructions, whatever.

I’ve never been “dedicated” to a particular deity. I’ve had affinities to be sure, mostly Celtic and mostly dark aspects like The Morrígan and Ceridwin; though I have been lit up by the fire of Brigid from time to time and the combative spark of Scáthach. No one has ever asked for more than a dance or two, and that was just fine with me since I couldn’t imagine being “godatheow,” a godslave.[2] (Psst, you’ll wanna check out that footnote, it has a g-jillion links.) *I* obviously never chose a deity to which I “belonged,” that felt a little pompous or assumptive or something.

The Norse gods never bothered with me much. I liked the ethics and the lexicon and the culture of the Northfolk, but the pantheon just felt (as it should) like elder-kin. The lore always seemed (as it should) like literature. I am not saying that I never felt their presence, but they were more like onlookers—guests who stopped by to have a beer but not stick around too long. Admittedly, I kept them at an arm’s length. Loki scared the shit out of me and Odin just seemed like a pushy, domineering sort.

Odin on Sleipnir by spanielf on DeviantArt

Over the years, Odin would poke his head in and say, “Hello. Wanna go for a ride?”

I always declined.

Recently quite vehemently.

It was September of 2012 when I finally decided that I would formally align myself with a deity. I’m not sure how the other kids are doing it, but I did it this way. I was alone for the weekend and I had just gotten re-comfortable with my old practice of spirit-journeying. I had gotten to where I could drop back into a trance like I could in my 20s and early 30s. Just like riding a bike. And just as exhausting when one is older and not in great shape.[3] After what felt like an eternity of asking questions and opening doors and walking and walking and walking and talking to odd inhabitants, I was tired enough to throw my astral hands in the air and say the equivalent of, “Come and get me!” It felt almost like an offer to the highest bidder. I regretted it almost immediately: “That was a bad idea.”

Of course, I had a couple of scrubs come by and low-ball me; I expected this. But I don’t go home with deities that live in their mama’s basements.

Yeah, it felt kinda like being picked up in a bar.

I almost took this one offer but there was a weird little hitch that made me look at the fine print a little better before saying, “I’m sure you are very sweet, but no thanks.

After that, things started happening, changing, improving, amplifying, and doing so pretty rapid-fire. I found myself asking, “Who do I thank for this? And who do I thank for this? And who left this present?” and generally shouting, “Thanks,” to the broader universe hoping my benefactor would hear me.

I knew I had settled on being a Heathen. I knew I was bound to engage with a Celtic/Anglo deity. But I kinda thought there might be a lesser-god/dess that would be a little less insistent than The Alfather. Yeah, yeah, I am a control freak. Who of us isn’t? And anyway, I don’t believe that going to the ultimate deity is the only way to go. I know lots of folks who have great relationships with deities that are not Zeus, Quetzalcoatl, Baal, Lugh, or their female counterparts. I thought a creatrix like Cailleach or Fairy Fand would suit me just fine.

Then, as you likely read, over the winter, Freyja came along and started making it fairly obvious to me that she was taking up housekeeping. I thought this was a little bigger than I expected but it seemed fine and dandy to me. I could handle a shapeshifting Vanic-fio-Asa-Goddess with cats, falcons, boars, and herons who just happens to be Queen of the Psychopomps.

Then Odin came back along—a little more strident than ever—and suggested that he had claim on me simply because I had agreed to Frejya’s terms a few months earlier.

“No.” I said. “And it’s not that I don’t like you. I really think you are groovy, but you see, you’re just not my type. You’re too aggressive. If you want to talk from time to time, that’s cool. But you have to stop leaning on me.” That’s how it felt—like he was always leaning on my like a possessive and dominant dog. “If you don’t stay on your side of my comfort zone, you will turn me off entirely and send me running to some more-passive wine-drinking Apollonian.

He laughed his tell-tale laugh, made a polite acquiescence that somehow still insinuated, “But, I’ll be back,” and let me be.

For about two-and-a-half months.

In the meantime, I decided that I would go ahead and make a formal dedication to Freyja. Not a “godatheow” relationship but a reciprocal, “I-recognize-what-you-have-been-doing-for-me-so-thanks-let’s-wear-each-other’s-class-rings,” kind of dedication.[4]

It was nice. Just nice enough to be fine. Good. Fine. Nice.

And then yesterday.

I don’t even know how to tell you this without sounding schizophrenic. But I assume that if you are reading this blog, you have a modicum of knowledge about such encounters and will not seek me out to have me committed.

Yesterday.

Odin approached me for the third (serious) time.[5]

This showed up.

Last week when the kindred met to do that stav workshop, my Journey-buddy and I were making comments about “finding spirit animals” or fylgia. He mentioned that one might see “normal animals” three times in remarkable circumstances but that fantastic animals (should that be your animal) tended to appear everywhere all the time—on t-shirts, on TV, in dreams, etc. Last week I started seeing hanged men and gallows everywhere. It unnerved me. I wasn’t sure what to make of it until yesterday.

Yesterday when Odin poked his head in and said, “It’s time.”

This time, he . . . um, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I don’t mean to say he was going to put a horse’s head in my silk sheets or my brains on a band contract, but that he made an offer so tempting that I couldn’t refuse it.[6] Not a carte blanche offer either, of course. This is a Norse deity who plays by the rules of Gebo. But a fair, good, solid, damned-attractive offer. And in the end, I get to keep my soul—such as it is—thank you very much.

We made a bit of a compromise, and I was even given the A-OK to tell y’all about it—most of it.

I have to give an ordeal.[7] No bloodletting, piercings, or body-hanging or anything of that sort, but not totally painless either—only because I am so indulgent. My detox period has been moved up. I normally detox for a week in April or May. I start on a nine-day near-fast on Monday: “No bread did they give me nor drink from a horn.” And there are other physical and non-physical sacrifices to which I am obliged. A little sleep deprivation, a little caffeine withdrawal, a little abstinence—alcohol and sex.

This showed up.

The ordeal of Odin is usually commemorated in August. Guess what? I detox every six months. After striking the deal it occurred to me—Guess what’s six months from now? August. And the fact that it’s Lent and we are talking about self-sacrificing gods making an exchange for Gnosis, hanging on trees, and transfigured resurrection, yeah. All that occurred to me too. After the fact.

I have to journey in each of the nine worlds and collect eighteen “things.” I guess I’ll know what this is when I get there. (This struck me as “random.” Then it occurred to me, duh: 9×2=18. I’m slow.)

Yes, I get something in return—I was given this information from Odin in his Oski aspect. And then as Svipal gave way to Gagnrath, he warned me that I wouldn’t get my return in *my* order, but in his.[8] This could be a Witch’s Duh moment–but I don’t think so. And once it’s all over and our accounts are settled—then I will be asked for my hand in, um, theowdom—we’ll go with theowdom. Obviously, it would be a shame on me forever if I decline.

To be clear–I don’t see this arrangement as “ownership” or “slavery.” Others may (I’ve read that they do.) This is not the tenor in which it was presented to me. To minister is already to serve–“theow” means is related to “thew” or “bodily discipline”–I’ll talk about that later too. After all, in the RCC, the Pope is called The Servant of Servants. (Go ahead, sing the Nirvana song. I’ll wait.) There is a physical discipline to journey work. We must commit to this loyally if we want success, no?

I wanted to talk about Ordeals and trees and Judas Iscariot but that will have to wait, I suppose. I also somehow thought I’d have time and space to cover “horsing” and such but that will have to wait too.

For now, let me just share with you a bit of the conversation I had with Odin. Keep in mind that prior to yesterday, I didn’t know that humans replicated Odin’s ordeal. I had no idea that folks were doing this sort of thing. It wasn’t until after this conversation that I thought to look any of this up. I have a ton of stuff to share this upcoming week. In the last 48 hours, I have had information and revelation dumped in my lap like an aetheric piñata has burst just above me. I may be a little too overwhelmed to make much else of it.

E: “I’ve told you, you’re too pushy. I don’t want to be owned by a man. You know that simply just doesn’t fit my worldview.”

O: “Ah, but you are missing the point. Men are the war-lords—women rule the hearth and hamlet. You are in charge of all else—I am the defender, the warrior.”

I feel like I’m trying to make a photo essay at fill in the language gaps–like John Berger’s Ways of Seeing–but with trees.

E: “But a ‘slave’? Naw.”

O: “Read the Hávamál: ‘I know that I hung on a windy tree, nine long nights, wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin, myself to myself, on that tree which no man knows from where it’s roots run.’ See?”

I was beginning to see. In a weird apocalypses unlike any of those I’ve had with other beings. It transcends words.[9]

E: “So, what’s in it for you?”

That’s the part I don’t have any words for. I had this instantaneous understanding of things I couldn’t have imagined even existed.

O: “See. That’s how it works.”

E: “I can totally live with that.”

O: “See you a week from Wednesday.”

–Oh, I have to share some insights about Wednesdays too.

Until then, waes hael!

~E


[1] Doing is another thing altogether. I’m married to a dedicatedly monogamous man + I am loyal to my vows to him = transitive property: I am dedicatedly monogamous.

[2] There is a lot of controversy about this term and practice. It seems the Norse gods are very hip on “collecting” godatheow and Odin has more than his fair share of folks out there discussing the matter. Here’s a good oneThis one gives food-for-thought. In a search this morning, I found my friend Aubs (SatSekhem) at this forum.  I haven’t had a chance to catch up with you recently, lady, how goes it with Sekhmet? Here’s a thread with a broad range of ideas.

[3] This was also the around time I decided to call myself “Völva” instead of “Witch” and to use the term “Seiðr” instead of “Ceremonial Magic.” I haven’t gotten around to telling you just how I think I might maybe feel about the word “Shaman,” so let’s just say that this was when I *formally* re-made “spirit-walking,” “journeying,” and “pathworking” a part of my regular practice/life.

[4] My relationship with the gods is best explained in terms of dating, it seems. Married by 20, I have little experience with either.

[5] From what I’m learning, it takes a lot of folks three times.

[6] And I had just finished reading Needful Things, so I was in a wary state of mind. It was *that* good.

[7] One of the biggest controversies is that godatheow are conflated with BDSM. Not all servants are Ordealists. Not all Ordeals involve BDSM. If you are an adult, read this (and all of her ordeal posts, really).

[8] He was shifting aspects like a character from A Scanner Darkly.

[9] If you follow me here—you follow. If you don’t understand this part, it’s not for you to understand.

Sticks and Stones

I have a few favorite words; one of them is “tristesse.” Most of my favorites are favorites not because of their definitional meanings but because of their connotation. Tristesse means “sadness.” But it is typically used to refer to the melancholy which attends the end of “involvement”: the end of a sweet love affair, the end of a travel-adventure, the post-climax denouement of a three act play, the feeling one gets upon selling a piece of art or successfully completing a writing project. Closing night of a musical. The day after the prom or a wedding. Selling a house and retiring. When the party ends and the last beloved friend goes home. Tristesse.

Yesterday was a big day around here. All of my favorite kith and kin gathered and made stav. There was wood, there was leather, there were stones and charms, there was wood burning, there was stain made out of coffee beans and dragons blood bark. Yeah, yeah, there were also sacrilegious jokes about “getting wood” for the “volva” workshop. But it’s bound to happen. I know The Ancestors enjoy a bawdy guffaw as much as we do. There was food-and more food!

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Then we learned the most basic of meditative practices in preparation for journeying. We have some members who are old hat at journeying, are on conversational basis with their guides, and can coordinate physical and mental states at will; some that have little to no experience with it at all. So we began with a brief tour of the wells of Yggdrasil. Simple? Well, a necessary first step. This was our “human initiation” phase and Ulfvolk welcomed seven members into the, um, pack. Those of us who have experienced such, shared some stories about our “astral initiations.” I sort of told you about mine a while ago in a post about “Wolf Warrior – The Ulfhethennir.” I can’t wait to hear about the new initiates’ experiences. It’s kinda like waiting for a baby to be born.

Following that (yeah, I know, we had to pack a lot into one night), we had an initiation and elevation ceremony. Three-quarters of OPS “Seekers” were initiated last night and 100% of our Neophytes became Advocates.

And with that, two-weeks of intense “involvement” came to an end and a sweet sense of tristesse set in.

This is not to say that I don’t have anything else to do, but that I have some breathing room, some reflecting room, time to really feel the moment that has just past.

Plus I had an epiphany. I was faced with two choices: push the rest of the book out by March 1 or wait until the next release date in late spring. My typical push-push-push-achieve-achieve-achieve personality took a nap long enough for my rational self to say, “Ten weeks? In exchange for sanity? And maybe a little better writing? We’ll take it.” (Boy-o, “Competitive Me” was piiiiiissed off when she woke up from that nap; but she’s being a lady about it. In exchange, she has negotiated a few episodes of Breaking Bad and new nail polish.)

Today, I am feeling Tristesse. (And eating leftover artichoke dip with my fingers.)

And, like I said: tristesse is one of my favorites.

Waes hael,

Ehsha

A Little More About Stav

Many of you have responded positively to my post about the völva, I thought I’d provide you a little more historical context. I hadn’t intended to turn this blog into an education center, but if a little teaching is called for, it’s what I will do gladly.

First, a little fun about the word völva. Though it is strikingly similar to the word vulva (and what Google always thinks you mean when you search around for more information about my subject—that and Volvo), the two words come from different stems of PIE (proto-Indo-European) languages. If you look at the chart below, you will see that Latin and Romance Languages and then Germanic Languages are on different branches. The word we use for female genitalia, vulva, does come from a word “volva,” but this Latin form of the word is also from where we derive “revolve,” as it means “to turn.” The Germanic version of the word völva means something entirely different. The word which translates more closely to vulva in Germanic languages (walwjan, wealwian, weoloc, and walzan) is more akin to spiral, roll, wheel, and waltz. About a year or so ago, I latched on to the term helix. Völva, on the other hand, with an umlaut[1], translates into “wand carrying woman” (in that it is a female word) or “stav carrying woman.” Therefore, the relationship between völva and stav is not new. As a matter of fact, as you can see, the stav is part and parcel with the term völva.

 iecentum1

The term “stav” has a bit of a multiple meaning. “Stav” means both “stave,” the physical weapon or “staff,” and the martial art which employs the stav. It also means “rune-stave,” magical symbols carved into items—look them up, they are fairly Goetic-looking. It can also refer to a perpetual calendar (aka Runic Almanac) based on the cycle of the Moon over 19 years. See this for more funtimes. The term also refers to runic characters themselves. Stav meditations, that is to say meditations on the meanings of the runes, date back to circa 500 CE.

Further, meditations using stav are not new (and the relationship between völva, stav, meditation, and Yggdrasil alignments are not new–that is to say, these are techniques that have a deep and meaningful history). Like yoga, Stadhagalr (sometimes misnamed runic “yoga”[2]) is a technique of meditation which uses gestures and postures to reach higher levels of consciousness and enact seiðr (magic).

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Many of these techniques were written down and codified by various practitioners—Stav by Ivar Hafskjold (who claims it is based on oral tradition preserved in his family since the 6th Century) in the 1990s, Yggdrassil alignments galore (by the likes of Per Lundberg and a YellowPages search of “Yggdrasil Yogaskole” will yield a list of yoga classes across Norway that use Yggdrasil meditations), and Stadhaglr by F.B Marby, S.A. Krummer, and Karl Spiesberger in the early 20th Century. However, they are centuries older than that—we just don’t have a formal manuscript to point to their origins. (We have a good deal of Medieval texts—a few earlier.) According to Sarah Lynn Higley in “Dirty Magic: Seiðr, Science, and the Parturating Man in Medieval Norse and Welsh Literature,”[3] The Book of Taliesin “show[s] a preoccupation with the hermetic and pseudo-scientific knowledge popular in medieval wisdom traditions. . . . [As] “Angar Kyfyngdawt” . . . list[s] supernatural attributes spoken in the first person by the Taliesin persona who boasts of his exploits, ordeals, secrets, and incarnations as animals and objects” (137). This is just to say that seiðr and its shapshifting element, in astral projection or “pathworking” or “journeying,” is nothing new—just that it is becoming “re-popular.”

I hope this clarifies a few things about the age of stav practices, the variety of stav practitioners, and the differences between traditional stav-work and contemporary applications of ancient practices. And I hope it gives the interested a few more resources to pursue.

I have magic-class tonight and one of my students is bringing me a behbeh kitteh that she rescued from under a shed. Starting tomorrow my posts may be much less academic and reflect how much “I really love cats”[4] in an eHarmony sort of way. All cats all the time.

Waes hael,

Ehsha


[1] To denote a “front” vowel—the ö is the sound in early or burn.

[2] I feel about using “yoga” to define stadhaglr about like I feel when folks use “shamanism” to talk about journeying or spirit walking. Yoga : Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism :: Shamanism : Samoyedic / Tungusic Siberians and Mongals and their various descendants. I plan to write a post in the near future about the words we use to signify “altered states of consciousness in which we interact with the spirit world and the benevolent and malevolent spirits who reside there” or “entering into a trance state to practice divination and healing.”

[3] Essays in Medieval Studies 11.

[4] Of course, “I think about how many don’t have a home.”