Deep Winter

We magical folk always tell each other, “Be careful what you wish for.” The kicker is that what we want sometimes turns around and wants us in return. And then—it gets us.

Let’s just say I’ve been got.

I’ve always wanted to write a memoir about some of the particularly nasty experiences I have been in and borne witness to as a witch, surrounded by witches. My justification for never finishing the thing was that I didn’t know the ending. Good writing knows where it’s going. Even if the writer doesn’t know at first, the story itself leaves a trail of breadcrumbs along the way; a good writer can find that trail and follow it home. The breadcrumbs have finally settled and I can begin to digest the trail—but I’m not sure I really even want to follow it back home. Because, ew. Maybe in my old age.

Yes, I realize that birds are a problem in my metaphor.

Around about this time last year, I left off drafting a memoir and started writing A Year With The Dísr, a ritual book of sorts crafted especially for my kindred. I thought, “Well, the seasons are cyclical. I don’t need to know the end.” What I didn’t know was that I was going to have to live the cycle in order to truly write from a place of deliberateness. I drafted that one and it rang as hollow—a set of rote formulae for seasonal rituals like every other rote formula for seasonal ritual. I wanted a stronger sense of gnosis to guide me in uncovering the Mysteries of creation, death, and rebirth.

Be careful what you want; it might just want you in return.

So, about 117 pages in, I put it aside. And not exactly by choice—it seemed something wanted me enough to pull my by the ear and teach me a cosmic lesson.

Two years ago, we changed the name of our kindred and changed the emphasis of our attentions. Immediately after that, we started seeing purposeful growth. But Midsummer of 2013 saw a boom in attendance and participation—a heyday, if you will. As summer turned to autumn, we saw hardship and loss (strikingly manifest at our Lammas celebration)—and we faced it as a family. That Yule, in good Heathen fashion, we did what we had to do and culled out the resources that were most draining and fed that which would bring us most strength. (I’m not talking about people necessarily, rather activities and goals.) We held a celebration the following January and solidified our commitment to each other. Oimelc/Imbolc followed and spring saw an uphill battle—especially for a few of our members. By Midsummer we were, again, firm in frith and expansively joyful. However, as the season waned to Lammas, so did so much else. This time, I had to face much of it without my kindred—not because they abandoned me, mind you; but because two really wicked incidents derailed our Mabon and Yule celebrations, leaving only a Winternights celebration in between.

Around October, things took a turn for some of us. Winter was deep, lemme tell ya. But I kept saying to everyone, maybe in hopes that it was true for me too, that the fire was returning with the spring. The land would renew with the sun. Day would dawn.

This was a genuine test of Faith—capitol F, Faith. If I really believed that as the seasons turned, our lives followed suit, I had to believe that in the crocus there is Hope—capitol H, Hope. Headed for another Oimelc/Imbolc, I can already feel the stirrings of profound optimism.

Don’t get me wrong, on paper it looks like life is shite right now. I’m still seeing clients but basically out of work—my beloved vocation as teacher unfairly torn from me and with that, a large part of my identity. Some dear friends are facing total devastation and, as is my calling, I find myself a rock in a tumultuous sea—this is rewarding but simultaneously draining. You know this, I’m sure. At 15, 18, and 20, my kids are facing their own challenges, but we are facing them together and head-on. One of the blessings of Deep Winter has been that my husband and I are clinging to each other in a way that the previous 25 years only dreamed of. Communication and trust are at an all-time high and anxiety and hostility at an all-time low. Spring brings with it the promise of a full partnership: familial, emotional, physical, and spiritual. Winter was rough but it doesn’t depart without some beautiful recompenses.

Another of those reassurances is the return of my kin. With that comes the return of my inspiration to write, to finish projects left-off in despair. There is renewed inspiration to strengthen old community relationships and build new ones—while steadfastly avoiding toxicity. Inspiration—even leaders need a muse, and I have rediscovered mine in my kin. For a minute, I wasn’t sure we would even reconvene at Oimelc, but I am looking forward to the respite that comes in the arms of people who love me dearly—even when I feck it all up. “Even if the bread isn’t fully baked.”

And, of course, even par-baked bread can leave a crumb-trail to follow home.

Now that I’ve experienced two full years that rise and fall with the seasons, I feel that my wish has been granted. I have seen the death and rebirth of creativity, security, affection, and all those other things that make the world go ‘round in a directly personal way that has edified me. I can apply this cosmic education to the project at hand in a way that makes it more than rote formulae.

And, having taken a few hour hiatus in the composition of this post to talk to a magical student, I have a plan for the next round of perfectly timed priesthood preparation.

Though Deep Winter held its hidden blessings, I’ll be happy to see the fire of spring return. And though it was a rough row to hoe, I’m blessed to have gotten what I wanted.

Brace yourself. Spring is coming.

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*

Hail Brigid: A Good Jera

Hail Brigid of the triple face
Who’s voice does rise on the lilt of grace
Who’s blossoms beautiful ever bloom
On the wings of poetry’s sweet perfume

–“Hail Brigid” from Songs for the Strengthening Sun by Sharon Knight and T. Thorn Coyle

Keeper of the healing light
Shine your love on us tonight
“Brighid” from Lady Moon by Kellianna

Pimpin’ some great Pagan tunes today. Enjoy!

Yesterday I spent the day affirming life and celebrating the onset of spring with some friends. Sort of new friends but not really. We have many mutual friends in common and have been in the same place at the same time on many occasions but were never meant to come face to face until yesterday.

This may be a lot like my post about visiting Mount Cheaha but with a different punchline. You see, a few months ago–November–I took one student to a gathering in Central Alabama to meet with some folks. This visit ended up really lifted our spirits by letting us know that not all of the Pagan community was out to burn this little set of “bad” witches. Yes, they had heard all of the rumors and lies about us but judged us for who we actually were, face-to-face, on that day. Amen?

Yesterday, come Helheim or high-water, bad brakes or “no-half-foods” (inside joke, sorry), we were getting our behinds to Pinson, Alabama for a lovely rite with an Ár nDraíocht Féin (A Druid Fellowship/ADF) group. T’wern’t just me and one student this time (though that would have been totally fine). There were two carloads of us that pulled up this time. And we had a blast.

Can I brag about it for a minute?

On the way down Hazey and I made one of Hazey’s cohort watch The Godfather for the first time. (“Wait, is this the one with the cocaine?” “Or is it the one with the ‘little friend’?” “Oh, is this the one . . .” “It’s the one with the horse head–now watch and learn.”) We quoted it back and forth so often that we confuzzled the poop out of the poor girl.

We pulled up in a yard where we were immediately welcomed like family, treated to the most amazing stories about Hawaii, Scottish lore (and actual history), and the funniest people we have been with in a long time. One note: while bacon purportedly makes everything better, salmon mousse with wine may be the exception that proves the rule. (Also an ongoing joke, sorry.) I got to meet a woman who’s been following my blog while I have been following hers–and we didn’t even know! (Go follow Journeying to the Goddess and The Journeys of a Nomadic Pagan, go on, I’ll wait.) I love when the universe says: “And *NOW* you will meet!” Seems she moved to my neck of the woods a few months back. (Welcome home, Daughter RavynStar; feels like kin already, don’t it?) And if that don’t beat all, we were given free rein to grab as many potential stav as we could for next week’s workshop. I may have walked away from that experience with some great sticks and a serious case of machete envy. 

Once again, I was treated to the chorus, “Oh, *you* are the Bad…hmmmwhatnow?”[1]

As much as I hate to disappoint, I never live up to the lies one might hear about me.

After a beautiful ritual, expertly executed[2] by my new soul-friend, Pixie (of the Pythons), we had the most luscious feast with Pagans who do eat meat and do not get sloppy drunk.

Tipsy, yes. Ugly, no.

Then we drove home in a reflective spirit, a joyous spirit, an exhausted and snoring within thirty-miles spirit. Fresh air, red wine, fun folks, energy galore, followed by The Godfather Part Two? Yup. I may have even drooled on the leather interior before Vito pinched the rug.

But in all seriousness, I was blessed profoundly during Pixie’s ritual. You see, last Imbolc, I thought I had turned a corner. I thought I had found good community with which to celebrate. I thought I could be a good Pagan among Pagans. I was wrong. My heart ’bout broke. The only thing I got right was a promise I made to pursue the *real* feminine divine. Last year’s rite involved far too much smoke and ashes[3] the blessing of “wish wheels”–we carved our intentions for the year on a green platter and then “cast” to internalize our intent. I carved a water symbol, a pertho, a something, and a something else.[4] All representing the female mysteries.

While I did not find the community I thought I found at Imbolc 2012, I did find the purpose. I struggled for a solid five or six months after that to figure out what I really needed to do to reclaim the female divine. Suggestions of Yoni Punja and of Dianic orders abounded–all which left me scratching my head.

But at Imbolc 2013?

Before heading out the door I pulled a rune for the day, as I sometimes do when the spirit moves me.

Jera.

I assumed that it was because it was a new spring, a new season, a new yadda-yadda. Then during the ritual Pixie offered us an opportunity to reflect on our own “work.” I sat on the ground flanked by brilliant students. I found myself breaking pine needles. One of my girls handed me a particularly “good” one. As they fell from my hands, I looked down: Jera.

There it was.

I nearly wept.

If it had been five degrees warmer, I likely would have allowed myself to wail without fear of tear-cicles.[5]

I looked up and saw that I was surrounded by people who love me—plus some new friends who think I might, in fact, be kinda OK.

Jera.

As we pulled out of the driveway and onto the highway to head back to Auburn, I asked my carload, “Damn, that was fun! Why don’t we have cool Pagans at home?!”

One of the girls perked up and remonstrated me: “Duh. We do. Look around, we are they. And there are, like, a ton of us.”

Jera.

Brigid, bright and fair,

Thank you for slapping me upside the head and getting my feet on the right path.
Brigid, whose hue is like the cotton-grass,
You kicked my ass right where it needed kicking.
Rich-gressed maiden with ringlets of gold,
Your wisdom is in the bounty of letting me “cut m’own switch.”
Oh, Mother Brigid,
Let this be as good a year as is begun.

May every last one of you be blessed!

Waes hael,
Ehsha


[1] More than once followed by, “So, tell me more about Völva-craft.” Dude. Squee?

[2] Expertly executed–I don’t care what she says; when problems arise (as they do in this human life), you can’t fly by the seat of your broomstick like that unless you know your business inside and out.

[3] Which I took as a bad omen and then proceeded to push down, down , down.

[4] It didn’t occur to me until a bit later that I needed to form a helix.

[5] Eye-cicles?