Vouchsafing

“Love all, trust a few …” (W.S. All’s Well that Ends Well. 1.1.61.)

Article Photo for SAFE

While I realize that most Pagans in America practice in solitary, there are still a good number of folks that practice in groups: covens, kindred, tribes, groves, councils, etc. When we do this, we make ourselves vulnerable in a lot of ways. For this reason, many groups employ a policy of “vouchsafing.” (I’ll likely address the etymology of it at The Big Bad Words Blog.) This means that someone within the group meets newcomers to assure everyone’s welfare.[1] It helps everyone within the group feel comfortable with the newcomer and it guarantees that the newcomer is familiar with at least one person at the gathering—likely an unfamiliar experience.

This is on my mind because the last few weeks have included several opportunities to vouchsafe new attendees, an energy-packed ritual and gathering—which is our primary motivation for vouchsafing, and a notable increase in “Catfishing”—that which we vouchsafe to prevent.[2]

Firstly, the “Catfishing.” It’s odd how, periodically, we get upsurges of requests from clearly fabricated Facebook profiles. They tend to be brand-spankin’-new profiles with an obviously fictitious name, a photo that reeks of being stolen from some teenager’s Instagram attention-mongering or deviantArt mythical creature over-identification, no friends, no photos, and no other activities. Given the history we’ve experienced with cyber-stalkers and harassment, we are guarded. I like to think that these are truly well-meaning folks who are trying to establish a Pagan profile for networking; but I realize that at least a fraction of these are just silliness. They arrive daily for about two weeks and then cease for a few months, rinse, repeat. No harm is done, I just find it curious how they come in waves.

It was during one of these waves that we received a request to join us physically for Imbolc. It was the next week before we could meet someone who turned out to be what seems to be an absolutely perfect match for our group: academic and looking for solidly founded theology and practice, compassionate, and properly nerdy. It was the best case scenario.

safeThere have been situations where we have met with people requesting invitations to our events and have had to decline. A few times we have invited people and had to discontinue future invitations based on their behavior. Some people are simply unthewful (unethical), frithless (unfriendly), or simply unwilling to contribute to the group welfare in a meaningful way. But mostly, it is those people who act in such a way that makes the existing membership “creeped-out” that causes us to cease invitations. When we gather for “family dinner,” we let our hair down, let our defenses down, and hold nothing back from each other. When we do ritual-work together, we get ourselves into a spiritually vulnerable state; there’s no room for “the willies.” Not to mention nosey-bodies and lookie-loos. That’s never good.

seidrFor example, let me tell you about Imbolc in very general terms (to protect anonymity and all). We had three new attendees, two “significant-other” guests, and a non-member-repeat-attendee (that is to say he’s not new but he’s not a formal member—we call these “Friends of The Tribe”), as well as most of our regular members. The three new attendees as well as the significant others were vouchsafed by existing members of the tribe. We took responsibility for their guidance through protocols and ritual. But, the night took several weird turns. Almost right at the onset, we were called upon to do an emergency protection rite for one of our members. Watching a horde of Heathens hammer and hallow away in unison can be skeery to an outsider under any circumstances—when you add the fact that we are a seið-working group? If we had not vouchsafed these individuals and prepared them for what was happening, we could have done some psycho-spiritual damage to them on accident.

Add to that, our resident oracle did her thing and—of course—focused in on a newcomer. (Who had just been completely “opened up” by one of our Reiki Masters—all things work together even if we don’t know we are doing them, no?) Not on purpose, of course—we don’t get to pick and choose what messages come through, right? It was intense, far more intense and specific than usual. A bit of an initiation, you might say. Two other newcomers, a couple, sat in on the drum circle and had the opportunity to feel the energy we raise. Had they not known what they were getting into, this could have been, um, awkward. And, there is, yet another reason to make sure there is a contained and secure environment—you never know when a novice is going to tap into the ambient energy and spontaneously exhibit latent witchy abilities. I won’t go into that part of the evening except to say, I’m still finding glass.

I often felt apprehensive that we might be encouraging insularity or exclusivity with our policy of vouchsafing. But this recent experience has proven to me that all of the reasons for which we put the policy in place are valid.

And I’ve learned a subsidiary lesson. There is a limit to unknown variables that can be prudently merged into an existing spiritual-ecosystem before it becomes destabilized.[3] So—that means that not being able to vouchsafe the “absolutely perfect match for our group” until after Imbolc turned out to be the best case scenario—again.

As ever, I’ll let you know how Ostara goes.spindle2

 

[1] In our kindred bylaws, we state that, “If a potential attendee has never celebrated with us before, we insist on meeting with him/her in person before including him/her in a ritual event. If that isn’t feasible he/she will need to be vouchsafed (referred by a third party, someone known by the Kindred) before we will extend an invitation to attend a ritual event…. However, once a guest is welcomed they should be offered food and drink as well as all the comforts typically afforded a visitor.”

[2] Our Facebook page even has an Anti-“Catfishing” policy—here are the basics:

“Given the number of fabricated profiles that appear on social media and given the vulnerability we face on Pagan-related Facebook groups …. in order to keep a peaceful and nurturing atmosphere, free of unnecessary spectacle, we must vouchsafe those who would like to be part of our Facebook presence…. Anyone asking to be added … on Facebook must be a ‘known-person.’ This is to say that we must verify that there is an actual person of good intent behind the profile with which they request membership. While everyone is welcome in our kindred group, anyone who has an unknown or anonymous profile will need to be vouchsafed (referred by a known third party).”

[3] My estimate is somewhere around 10% of the total attendance. No kidding.

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Of Mice and Meh: A Heathen’s Reversal of Fortune

It’s been a weird month or so. And a really fecking hard week.

Of course, as you know, I lost my teaching position at the university. My take on it is that this was done in retaliation for my having reported a coworker (who was thus terminated by higher-up in the food chain) for religious-based harassment. This has meant more lawyers. And other banal yet demoralizing experiences.

We’ve had an odd mouse thing in the chicken coop and in the house—and ew. Every day the mouse adventures get weirder and weirder.[1] The end result is that we removed the drop-ceiling in our basement so the vermin have no way to run from room to room.

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We had two rooms flood from different sources (thus the contents of those rooms are all precariously arranged in inappropriate places).

 

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Basements are fun.

imageAnd I have a child experiencing a crisis which has caused our medical bills to explode. Also—it’s made me have to cancel all of my summer plans so that I can supervise her care. Her safety is well worth it—trust me, this is a no brainer.

Meh.

Don’t think I haven’t already considered how this fits into the Wyrd I have weaved, how my Luck is functioning in relation to my god-gefrain, and how my faith is being tested. I have thought it out. I think it out every dang day these days.

The truth is that I’ve been entirely at my wits end. In the end, I had no choice but to, if I my paraphrase, “Let go and let my gods.”

It was a moment of, “Now, I don’t mean to get up in your face, but I kinda ran out of steam a while back. I’ve been going on pure inertia here. I might could use a push or some sort of gravity-related assistance.”

My gods like locomotive metaphors. Well, any metaphors really—as long as they hold together.

Two nights ago I didn’t sleep.

I stayed up until midnight-thirty washing dishes and whatnot and was awoken at 3:30 in such a way that left me unable to go back to sleep. As a result, I overslept a bit this morning. If you consider waking up at 7:30 instead of 6:15 sleeping in, I “slept in.” One hour makes a huge difference in morning chores, however. And the domino effect of that hour was amazing.

Before I get going—I have to remind you about the floods and preemptively answer: “No. I can’t use an irrigation timer. I have a really nice one—but cannot use it this year. I. Just. No.”

Let me start from the beginning. Normally, I stumble outside at 6:20 or so—in my PJs, set the sprinkler going on the part of the garden that gets the earliest sun (before said sun hits past the shadows of the high pines), then head back in for coffee and cat/dog feeding. This is followed by changing the irrigation system to the back yard where I do my chicken and bee rounds before heading in for a second cup of coffee and presentable clothes. It’s usually 8:30 or 9:00 when everything has been watered, everyone has been fed (including the humans), and I’m ready to hit my office where I work out various publication issues, toodle on The Faces Book, answer emails, read the day’s whatnots, etc. That is—if it’s an office day. Sometimes it’s an “appointments” day or an “errands” day or a “clean the refrigerators” (yes, plural) day. You know—you have an abode—it takes some doing to keep a joint hopping. And this joint is damned big and aging and it takes a lot of doing to keep it on its feet, let alone hopping.

But today, I slept in. A reversal of (fortune) sleep patterns.

I staggered out of my room around 7:45 and looked at the sun shining brightly on the first half of the garden and said, “Feck it. I have to water by hand anyway, I’m making coffee first.” The cats were pleased at this situation because it meant that they got food first. Caffeinated, I decided that I needed “real” clothes before watering the garden.

This was the best call of the day.

I got the water going at about 8:30, watering just the soil so the leaves of the plants wouldn’t burn in the Southern sun. I didn’t quite make it to the second third of the garden before my First Neighbor came by walking her dog. She’s a preacher’s wife who homeschools—we don’t have a lot in common but I really adore her conversation. She’s level-headed and as thoughtful as she can be. (I also just learned that her oldest son, a National Guardsman, is now in Afghanistan; so let’s remember them when we light our candles this week. Will you do that with me?) We don’t talk much since she does her thing and I do mine and—apparently—they intersect geographically about an hour and a half apart.

While in conversation with First Neighbor, Second Neighbor drove past while taking her son to Summer Sport Activity. On her way back, she parked and came up my walk where I had moved on to cleaning paintbrushes (let’s just say that earlier this week there were canvases, there was paint, there were teenagers, all this resulted in art-therapy and turpentine).

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Second Neighbor is an old friend. Her daughter and my youngest were besties once upon a time—she and I are/were coworkers. (I never know how to phrase this—I mean, I still have a summer gig. I kinda still have the job. Kinda.) We had a lot to catch up on since we hadn’t talked more than just in passing at work or at our kids’ school events for a few months.
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I gave her the house tour called: “This Leak is Why There Are 312 Books in My Foyer; This Leak is Why All of the Guest Bedding is in My Office; and This is Our Solution to the Great Mouse Invasion of 2014 (and Why I Had to Clean Mouse Brains Out of My Keyboard).” This was accompanied by the “Chicken, Huckleberry, and Bee Tour”—which is, by nature, much more fun. We got to spend a solid hour catching up.

Just as she left, I returned a day-old call from An Important Support System. That conversation was—I—just—wow. If you’ve ever had one of those experiences where you thought no one on earth could understand the full implications of your situation and then you talk to someone—someone TOTALLY SANE—who not only understands your issue from A-Z and all the letters in between, but also makes the most apropos jokes and then offers to get your back, then you know exactly what happened to me sitting on my wee (cluttered) porch this morning.

Then I breathed.

For the first time in about five weeks. I didn’t even have to ask and help was already on its way.
imageAs I was exhaling, my Charming Lady Neighbor came by with egg cartons and a bouquet of fresh lavender tied with the sweetest pink bow I’ve ever seen. (The effect it had on my psyche rivaled the unexpected and humongous bouquet of oregano my dear girlfriends brought me from their bourgeoning garden this past weekend.) She didn’t even want eggs. She still had a few from the dozen I gave her on Friday; Charming Little Lady Neighbor had collected the cartons from her other Charming Lady Friends and brought them to me.

I literally give away about $20-$30 worth of eggs a month,[2] I barter with the rest. Hardly anyone remembers to return the cartons.[3] This one was a big deal to me.

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I guess this post is my way of saying thanks to my gods in an openly visible sort of way—I think I just got my push, my reversal of fortune.

And that’s how I see it all relating to the Wyrd I have weaved and how my Luck ifunctions in relation to my gefrain. Yes, my faith is being tested. And I am letting go.

After all, I already have a potential teaching job in the Fall that will allow me to teach Pagans about Pagan things.

I’ve also already been offered a really great opportunity that I would never be able to accept if I was working full time. As ever, I’ll let you know how that goes.

I have a kick-arse garden this year, so ain’t nobody gonna starve.

Because of the mice and the flooding, I already have a new floor (and a new window is on the way). And I have been forced to purge a storage room that just never would have happened. It just wouldn’t have. And I really wanted to use that room for living space—now I can.

The Kid is doing fine. The doctors are good and we are optimistic. And Second Friend? That visit may prove to rekindle our daughters’ friendship, which is always nice.

The Kid has lots of friends, but this experience is helping her weed out the supportive ones from the toxic ones. A skill I didn’t learn until I was an adult. As a matter of fact, I had to stop proofreading this post twice. Once to play a card game with The Kid and Her Friends[4]; once to drive The Kid and Other Friend to a temporarily—but necessarily—relinquished activity. It’s good to be getting back to normal.

I still don’t know where I’m going to get the money for theatre camp—a favorite and highly therapeutic activity that I simply cannot make her forego[5]. But, it will happen. *Somehow.* I’m just gonna let it go. And breathe.

And today. Today has been a relief.

I’ve had the chance to see some neighbors that I’ve missed by being outside only in the early-morning.

And I find that I have some quality pro bono legal assistance. All I need is a couple more weeks and I’ll have the filing fee, and away we’ll go.[6]

My life is nowhere near serene at the moment. Everyday finds a new reversal of fortune. But if you, like me, have run out of steam—and then run out of inertia—know that help is generally right there. All I had to do was “let go and let the gods.” Maybe you could try it too?

And, hell—letting go is one of the hardest things to do.

That may be why it grants the greatest compensations.

I wish you well and hope you weather whatever storm you are currently negotiating. And if you are having smooth sailing? I hope you continue to find your Luck.

Wæs þu hæl!

 

[1] I know that there is a problem with killing mice. We tried more humane removal. But you have to understand, this is a dangerous infestation that has caused respiratory illnesses and has become downright gross. The mice have got to go. We are down to “bearable” but--do you know how many fertility charms have backfired over here!?

[2] Don’t get on me about this. There are a few families in my neck of the woods that have fallen on hard times. The measly $2 I charge for a dozen eggs means less to me than knowing the little ones have food on their tables at breakfast.

[3] It seems that every once in a while I get a carton windfall. If you have ever been one of my polystyrene benefactors, know that this is always a big deal to me.

[4] I’m always weirded out when The Teens want to play with The Mom.

[5] Especially since Theater Lady is moving and this is her last year in our town.

[6] It’s too bad we couldn’t have reached a more civil-like arrangement when I tried. Now everything will be public record—and the ugly has exploded. Though I’m clearly in the legal (ethical, spiritual) right, this adventure won’t be fun for anyone, so keep me in your thoughts on this count too.

Meh. The gods work things out the way they will have it, not the way we will have it.

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.

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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.

 

Charming of the Plough

  • Disting—A Norse celebration of the Disr (female ancestors) and Freyja, who is most manifest in her erotic attributes at this time.
  • Grundsaudaag (Groundhog Day)—A Dietsche celebration of the great American prognosticator.
  • Imbolc or Oimelc (ewe’s milk)—A Celtic celebration; festival of the goddess Brigid.
  • Landsegen (land-blessing), or “Charming of the plow”—A Germanic Heathen rite where farming tools (or other “work” tools) are blessed. The land is honored and cofgoda (household spirits) are venerated.
  • Solmonath (Sun Month)—An Anglo-Saxon time to celebrate renewal.
  • Vali’s blot—A mid-February celebration for Vali, the god of vengeance and rebirth.

Halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox is a cross-quarter day which many Pagans will be celebrating tomorrow as Imbolc. Here at our hof, we will be celebrating creation—the act as well as its manifestation.

Imbolc is particularly important to our Kindred. It was two years ago that we celebrated our first ritual on our land: The Charming of the Plough. Last February, for Imbolc we had another first. We joined with a group of Druids who welcomed us with the warmth and spiritual devotion we just knew was out there. Seven of us trekked out to another grove and saw a fresh possibility for our own Pagan community. And we found a wonderful sister along the way.

This year we are celebrating with yet another group of Pagans on their land. It was not a planned coincidence, but it seems to be a happy one.

But before we head out to the woods, we are meeting on our own land to “activate” our landwarden, honor the land, venerate our cofgoda, and reflect on creation.

In the Germanic creation myth, the realms of fire and ice melded together in a place called Ginnungagap—that yawning primordial sacred void—where our worlds (all nine of them) took form. When we talk about Ginnungagap in our tradition we envision the “womb of the world”—or of all nine worlds—the sacred space of creation. Therefore, the image of Ginnungagap becomes very apropos to all of the celebrations related to Imbolc.

In the Disting, where Freyja is venerated in her most voluptuous form, the deference for the fecundity of all things—creation and procreation—is apparent.

All hail Freyja the sexy!

Persephone’s Womb by James Ward

The Celtic Imbolc and the veneration of fiery Brigid is not far removed from the Germanic Disting and Freyjablot. The hearth—the womb of the home, if you will—is traditionally tended at Imbolc, as are all things that hold fire: candlesticks, incense burners, etc. are proper to maintain at Imbolc.

In observing Grundsaudaag, our Deitsche kindred to the north not only give credence to the natural cycle of the seasons and the observation of animal-life, but there are also many spiritual elements imbedded in the image of the Groundhog. Like Ratatask, the groundhog is seen as an inter-worldly traveler and messenger. At Imbolc, the veil is almost as thin as it is at Winternights or Samhain. (The spirits that fly out with the Wild Hunt are flying back to the land at this time.) This makes it an excellent time for oracles and communication with the other-side. The groundhog tells us more than the weather.

Plus, just one look at a groundhog burrow and you can see both the connection between the openings of the burrow and the paths on Yggdrasil as well as the womb-like formation of the subterranean abode. This relates back to Freyja, creation, and reproduction. A perfect image of the new life that is gestating just below the crust of the earth.

Groundhog Burrow by VintageRetroAntique

This is why we include a Landsege or land-blessing: “The Charming of the Plow.” We set aside a moment to honor the land that sustains us and the cofgoda that protect and live among us. And since my particular household, where our hof is located, is aligned with Gefjon —plows are kinda a big deal.

As the main element of our Landsege, we activate our landwarden—what our Deitscherei neighbors call a Butzemann.[1] It is at this time of year that the spirits of the Wild Hunt are returning to the land. We want to welcome them with a place to inhabit. In exchange, they become part of the family and give us their protection.

We believe in a life-death-rebirth cycle as so many of our agricultural ancestors did. So the landwarden is made of last year’s crops and “planted” in this year’s earth which he will make fertile and where his “children” will grow. Think about that image. I see the posting of a landwarden as a form of hiros gamos. A sacred marriage between the people and the land.

There’s so much to talk about in each of these points, I could go on for a season. Nonetheless, we can’t have a nekid landwarden tomorrow, so I’m off to sew him some clothes!

Whatever you are doing tomorrow, however you mark the day, I wish you well.

Wæs þu hæl!

To my dear Kindred, we have just celebrated two years of togetherness. We have acted as agents of creation, we have planted new seeds, we have nurtured the environment so that we can see growth. In our third year, I hope our roots will grow stronger and our branches more supportive.

I love each one of you individually, but as a whole? You rock my world.


[1] Basically, a scarecrow—only not. When I was a kid, I thought these were called Puts Men. I thought this was because it was a “man” you “put” among  your crops. When I found out it was a derivation of another word? *facepalm*

Samhain and Winternights

Samhain-Altar-2007-small

I found the article I referenced in my last post and was reminded that it was for the newsletter for The United Pagan Federation (October 2012). If you are interested, here it is:

Most Pagans recognize the term Samhain (pronounced: sow-an), meaning “summer’s end,” as the “Celtic” origins of Halloween. There are plenty of mythologies surrounding that particular night (or nights), but we aren’t exactly sure what the pre-Christian Celts, Gaels (Picts), and Manx did to celebrate—if the celebrated at all—because their custom was to pass knowledge down in secret, without writing much down at all. But we do know that Samhain was relatde to the nights that separated the warm seasons from the cold seasons (either the beginning or the end of summer). Unlike the equinox, when the light half of the day could be measured against the dark half of the day with great accuracy, many scholars believe that Samhain was celebrated at a time of indistinguishable change in weather.

Such is the case in Heathen practices. Harvestfest, Winternights, or (in the Old Norse) Vetrnætr is celebrated on the days surrounding the last day of summer and the first days of winter. According to the Swedish runic primestaff, the Worms Norwegian runic calendar, and the Gudbrandsdal runic calendar, this falls on the 13th of October. However, today, given the pervasiveness of other traditions, Winternights is regularly celebrated on October 31st in America.

Today Winternights festivals are held across Scandinavia, Germany, and New England and are marked by bonfires, tournaments, feasts, and arts and crafts vendors. But, originally, Winternights was far less sedate than it is today. Originally, Winternights marked the final harvest, a time when the animals that were not expected to make it through the winter, and therefore create a strain for the entire flock, were butchered and preserved for the winter months. But not everything was sacrificed; there is a common tradition of leaving the “Last Sheaf” in the field. There are a variety of stories that explain this tradition, but my favorite concerns The Wild Hunt. One of the most portrayed myths of Heathen legend, The Wild Hunt is the spectral apparition of Hel, Odin, and a horde of psychopomps; the Northfolk considered it a dark omen indeed if one were to “see” The Wild Hunt rolling through the dark winter sky. From Winternights to Walpurgis’ Night (May Eve), the roads and the fields no longer belonged gods, ghosts, and trolls. For this reason, the “Last Sheaf,” was better left as an offering to the riders of The Wild Hunt than harvested for human consumption.

Driving in the season of hunting rather than reaping, shadow in place of light, Winternights was, perhaps, seen as the last throes of abandon before the darkness of winter.  Winternights celebrations focused on divination; “seeing” omens to predict the hardships of the coming season was an important skill. The volva (female sorcerers and “seers”) and skalds (bards) were, I imagine, very busy this time of year!

Unlike the Celtic protoDruids, upon whose presumed traditions many neoPagan customs are based, we have plenty of written historical and archaeological records concerning Winternights. In The Heimskringla, we see a depiction of these festivals (Ynglingasaga, Chapter 8):

Þá skyldi blóta í móti vetri til árs en að miðjum vetri blóta til gróðrar, hið þriðja að sumri. Það var sigurblót.

[A sacrifice was to be made for a good season at the beginning of winter, and one in midwinter for good crops, and a third one in summer, for victory.]

Another difference between the Heathen harvest schedule and the neoPagan “Wheel of the Year” is that, given the range of difference in temperatures, the year was divided into three seasons: Spring, Summer, and Winter; Autumn was not a season for Northern Europeans. Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117), the great Roman historian, says in his Germania (Chapter 26):

Nec enim cum ubertate et amplitudine soli labore contendunt, ut pomaria conserant et prata separent et hortos rigent: sola terrae seges imperatur. Unde annum quoque ipsum non in totidem digerunt species: hiems et ver et æstas intellectum ac vocabula habent, autumni perinde nomen ac bona ignorantur.

[They do not laboriously exert themselves in planting orchards, enclosing meadows and watering gardens. Corn is the only produce required from the earth; hence even the year itself is not divided by them into as many seasons as with us. Winter, spring, and summer have both a meaning and a name; the name and blessings of autumn are alike unknown.]

While the differences between neoPagan traditions and Heathen traditions are somewhat marked, one similarity between Samhain and Winternights is that the separations between the worlds (all nine of them!) were considered to be “thin” or more easily traversable. Further, though costumes were not part of the Winternights festivities, we do have evidence from archaeological remains that masks were used in Scandinavia. Rather than being about frightening the spirits of the dead away, the Winternights feast was a time to celebrate kinship (this can mean blood-bonds or friendship) with both the living and the dead. Heathens hold a great reverence for their ancestors and honor their ancestral spirits, and land spirits associated with the Elves: the álfablót or Elven blót. They would also pay homage to the the Vanir. These celebrations were led by the female head of a household—the ruler of the family and the entire domestic realm. We hold on to these traditions still today.

Isn’t That Already Over?

This happens to me at Eastertime too.

CC_1969-Halloween-Store-Displays-5I get momentarily confused when our kindred has held their major festival for one of the major holidays and then I enter a retail center or grocery store and find it crammed with analogous secular celebratory goods. For just a second, I always think, “Isn’t that already over?”

I reckon I get so saturated with preparations for our celebration and ritual that I forget that the rest of the nation still lives by a Christian calendar. As I wrote for [a newsletter that I cannot recall at the moment], there are some differences between neoPagan and Heathen calendars: “Harvestfest, Winternights. . . is celebrated on the days surrounding the last day of summer and the first days of winter. According to . . . the Gudbrandsdal runic calendar, this falls on the 13th of October. However, today, given the pervasiveness of other traditions, Winternights is regularly celebrated on October 31st in America.”

Last weekend may have been a main feast day, but we totally dressed in costume. Hazey revived my Wonder Woman suit from 2002, a significant year for me (i.e. I moved to Alabama). Kiddo, you are merciless!

Kiddo, you are merciless!

This difference works well to our benefit. When many in our community adopt the 31st as their celebration date while we celebrate earlier in the month, there are fewer scheduling conflicts.

Personally, this means I get to both throw a great celebration *and* attend some bang-up Halloween parties. Win / win! (On account of I lurve a great Halloween party and kinda don’t see the point of a boring one.) And while last weekend may have been a main feast day for us, we totally dressed in costume.

Hazey even revived my Wonder Woman suit from 2002, a significant year for me (i.e. I moved to Alabama). I saw it as a bit of an homage–then again, she might have just worn it because WW is a bitchin’ costume.

I dressed as Astarte–the stone frieze version. As the night wore on, as often happens with complicated costumes, the stone wings and “chicken feet” became too much and I chucked them. This left me looking strangely naked (and cold). Some of the kin joked that I was dressed as being “skyclad.”

The Hubby embraced a recent compliment and dressed as an old-school gangster. Tommygun and everything!

It wasn’t just a party, though. We had a great ritual to honor our ancestors–the real reason for the season, as they say; we burned our land guardian, lest he be inhabited by a baneful spirit after his essence has flown-off with the Valkyrie on the Wild Hunt, and we safely disposed of the year’s ritual detritus–I’ll give you a post about the ritual itself later; and we initiated three promising newstudents–an auspicious beginning to the “New Year,” wouldn’t you agree?

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All that–and there’s more yet to be had! I am still roasting pumpkin seeds from my carvings and looking forward to a weekend partying pretty solidly for four straight days with various segments of my extended Pagan community.

I hope you are all blessed and safe and secure as you celebrate whatever lies in your path: be it Samhain, Halloween, Winternights, Allelieweziel, Dia de los Muertos, or Old Year’s Night.

Waes thu hael,

~E