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.

Liminal Space and Time, Ritual Structure: Part 1

I’ve had so much going on in my life over the past few weeks that I may end up doing a massive brain dump on you WordPressers just to get it all sorted out for myself.

I thought I was going to post the things I wrote about making incense with my students or the thing I wrote about homophily in Pagan study or the thing about avoiding defamation on the InterWebs[1] or how proud I am to have three brand-spanking-new ordained priests in our tribe—three who put a full year of training and hands-on apprenticeship into their ordination rather than just writing a check and buying it.

But instead there’s this, a bit that came from my work on ministerial preparation and ritual structure. Maybe I’ll get to those other half-written posts in a day or so; but just now, I feel like I do when I have a massive research project going on and still have to function as a domestician, academic, witch, teacher, parent, woman, etc. You know, like everything in life relates to the subject at hand.

Here’s my life in a nutshell.

My eldest just got a TAship and a promotion in her research gig and a job and a dog and an apartment. She is a grown-ass woman and is doing her thing—and her thing is amazing. This is bittersweet.

My son has just completed back-to-back-to-back theatre productions; he’s been getting larger and larger rolls as his voice settles into a richly resonate baritone. He is a tremendously talented singer, dancer, musician and he has a large and wonderfully diverse (and absolutely loyal) friend-base. I love these kids. Some of them are seniors but most, like my boy, are juniors and have just one more year of high school remaining. A last year before they move on.

My baby has been volunteering at the hospital. Every Monday she spends her time in scrubs taking care of convalescing patients. And she’s hit that bumpy patch at fifteen that makes the entire world seem adversarial.

Aside from family things, I’ve had some animal things. Our little Lhasa Apso foundling is aging and that’s a thing in and of itself. Also, one of my leghorn chicks became overly attached to me, refused to keep her tiny butt in the brooder, and met the Catahoula and Springer Spaniel before I had a chance to teach them, “These are not mice. Do not bring them to me.” And I’ve had a favorite hen fall ill with what seems to be egg yolk peritonitis. She’s doing much better and is back out with her sisters today, and everything seems right as rain.

Speaking of rain.

The storms that pummeled the South this week left us unscathed—but only by the skins of our teeth. The spot where my daughter had intended to move was ripped to shreds, all the areas around everyone we care about were likewise clobbered. The important word is *around.* None of the clobberings hit home. How blessed are we?

And with all that, I’ve been thinking a lot about liminal spaces. Liminal in both a physical sense and a transcendental sense. The liminal spaces between childhood and adulthood, between high school and college, between adoration and animosity, between banal and magical, between beginning and being, between health and infirmity, and the ultimate limen between life and death.

It was mostly my little black Araucana hen that got me to thinking about limens.

More precisely, it was the threshold of the indoor chicken quarantine that started it all. She had been in isolation while ill and as she began to improve, I opened the door to her cage and invited her to walk around the house.[2] The hen perched herself on the bar separating “inside” the coop from “outside” the coop and looked at the outside. Just looked. On her first few attempts to leave the coop, with great ceremony ,she opted to go backward and into the confines of the dog-crate-come-chicken-coop but eventually let me pick her up and settle her on the floor just an inch away from where she couldn’t bring herself to pass.

The Latin word, limen, literally means “a threshold.” Think of a doorway—a space that is neither “in” nor “out.” Those physical limens are commonplace enough—but what of metaphysical limens?

In our tradition, we have a unique ritual called “The Limen of Creation,” which, like the casting of a circle—or more so like the performance of the LBRP, draws upon the liminal recess between “ritual” space and “mundane” space. It’s not just a way of demarking the physical space of the enclosure of a ritual space, though. Liminality has a magical quality all its own.

Transformation happens in liminal spaces. Even mundane experiences like long, intimate conversations take on a trance-like quality where time can be “lost” and when the participants “emerge” at the end of an hours-long-conversation, as if from a trance. Liminality produces a condition which allows a space for magic in ritual. By its nature, there is a quality of obscurity, ambiguity, distortion, or disorientation that transpires during ritual; this is when participants are in transition—perhaps during an initiation or rite of passage, where they are becoming initiated but are not yet initiates. It is well recognized—even in mundane psychological theories—that, by its nature, processes of either integration or individuation take place within a liminal space.This is why so many of our magical traditions require that initiates cross a “threshold” and face a “challenge.”

Anyone who has seriously considered[3] ritual structure realizes that there are two attributes to a proper rite—especially an initiation rite.[4] Firstly, there has to be a structure to the ritual. Even if the rite is unscripted, it should still follow a meaningful sequence of events; and if more than initiator and initiate are involved, everyone involved should know what to do when and how—even if they don’t fully understand why just yet.

There should be no room for someone else coming in and seizing control of the rite. Seriously, I’ve seen this happen—someone decided to “lead” a rite but was so ineffectual in the construction of ritual that, on a number of occasions, more seasoned outsiders swooped in and took command of the ritual. Nature abhors a vacuum. If there is no center, the circle will shift until it finds one.

Related to that is the second attribute to a proper rite; they require one person to serve as a mediating agent to lead participants (especially an initiate) into, though, and safely out of the liminal space of ritual purpose or initiation. I’ll make a second post on this last part and the threat of mimetic leadership to a community in crisis. It’s too convoluted for one post.

Another element of liminality is “equivalence.” Because liminal moments intentionally interrupt —or even terminate —our typical sense of stability, liminal periods allow the possibility for (even long-standing) hierarchies to be reversed. This reminds me of all the research I did on Rabelais and the phenomenon of Carnivalesque order.[5] During a transition—a liminal stage—customary differences (with the example of Carnival, think social class) collapse into equivalence. This is not necessarily a lack of structure—like the way the uninitiated imagine chaos—but the hyper-structure of fundamental human unity.

In liminal spaces one can see the fluidity and malleability of institutions that are generally perceived as fixed. That’s where the magic happens.

Imagine the changing of the guards or a formal changing of command. There is a (brief) moment where one commander is relieved, yet the “new” commander has not yet taken authority. In that brief moment, no one is in charge and everyone is suspended in equivalent unity.

Sounds great, right? However, it is for this reason that liminality can cause feelings of uncertainty, or even anxiety, based on the dissolution of order, and even intense anxiety. This is why such liminal periods are necessarily brief. Liminality is unsustainable and, by necessity, must resolve. Such states of intensity are too unstable to persist for very long periods. Well, mostly. Sometimes intensely unstable cultures designed around a state of liminality will be forced to develop their own internal structure to support the unstable exterior.

So, as a shorthand for the lesson I’m preparing for ordinates, here’s how liminality functions as part of an initiation.

First there is separation, followed by the liminal phase, and ending in reincorporation of the transformed individual.

Because initiation is about death and rebirth, the separation phase involves the images of actual death—usually a metaphor[6] but sometimes only a metaphor or image of the threat of death. Think about Hyram Abiff in the masonic tradition. There might also be a traversing of the underworld—descent and re-emergence. Think about Innana and Dumuzi, even Orpheus and Eurydice (this last one also includes the common approbation about “not looking back”). This “death” allows for the elimination of assumptions and “old ways of thinking” or “being.”

This death is followed by a liminal phase. This phase is necessarily destructive—in that destruction is necessary for regeneration. That is why it is so important to have a leader that knows WTF is going on at all times. And not just in terms of knowing the “script” of the rite—but really understanding the ins-and-outs of the ritual structure so that if a step is missed, the leader can get folks back on track safely. Seriously, it could be detrimental to the psyche of those in transition—especially initiates—if, during this phase of considerable change, the reins were dropped and stability abandoned in favor of emotionality or sensory fulfillment. Don’t misunderstand—emotion and uninhibitedness are fantastic parts of ritual, just so long as someone is steering the energy rather than burning down the house. Consider that the liminal portion of the rite entails an actual traversing of a threshold. We do not want the blind leading the blind through this tenuous moment. We certainly don’t want a ritual principal who will lead us to the ends of the earth and then let us jump off a cliff (or worse, give us a shove).

Finally, there is the phase of ritual which reincorporates the participants (especially initiates) which now have a “post-magical-act” transformed way of thinking or being or even a new identity.

Because of the vulnerability of participants who have just undergone a period of intense sensitivity, liminal periods can permit the emergence of charismatic pretenders that assume leadership positions without the real know-how to safely traverse liminality. For this reason, such impostors tend to perpetuate liminality because they simply cannot find their way to the other side and yet do not want to relinquish control and allow a natural resolution of order.

As my exam—another liminal space where the semester is over, yet not over—is done and it’s time to go plan for tonight’s Walpurgisnacht–a terrifically liminal time–ritual, this is where I end for today and will pick up tomorrow, a discussion of mimetic leadership and the role of the trickster in periods of communal liminality.

Til then, waes hael and enjoy your Walpurgisnacht, Beltane, or Moifescht!

A roof in the Harz Mountains--Walpurgisnacht Blessings!

A roof in the Harz Mountains–Walpurgisnacht Blessings!

Works Consulted:

Liminal Landscapes: Travel, Experience and Spaces In-between. Ed: Andrews, Hazel and Les Roberts. Routledge, New York: 2012. Print.

Marc Labelle. Liminality and Emerging Adulthood. MA Thesis. University of Alberta, 2006. Web.

Thomassen, Bjørn. Anthropology, Multiple Modernities and the Axial Age Debate. Anthropological Theory 10.4 (2008): 321-342. Web.

Thomassen, Bjørn. “The Uses and Meanings of Liminality.International Political Anthropology 2.1(2009): 5-27. Web.

 

[1] Until then, I highly recommend you have a looksee at this.

[2] Chicken diapers are hilarious.

chicken diapers

[3] I don’t mean “read a book” or “looked Online” or “copied someone else’s.”

[4] Of course, otherworldly or “shamanic” initiations follow a different structure. I’m talking about humans initiating humans.

[5] Yes. I will footnote myself:

Farmer, Angela. “Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and Aqua Teen Hungerforce as Rabelaisian Carnival.” Studies in American Humor 3.17 (2008): 49-68. Print.

(But also Web)

[6] But like I said, shamanic initiations are a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

Sweetness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me run this metaphor out.

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

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

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

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

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

Fried Green Tomatoes, “Bee Charmer”

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

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

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

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

You might not, but I buy it.

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

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

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

Wæs þu hæl!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Not to mention the hope of propolis!

Every Human Effort

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

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

Irony is often my favorite outcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waes hael!

 

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*

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

Citizenship Rituals–and Football!

Almost the view from my office window. From up there I can see *into* the stadium.

This weekend officially begins football season in my neck of the woods.

In The South, we tease that sports are like religion.

But its not a joke.

According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the elements that keep a community together are ritualistic activities that take place in a public venue. He said that, while everyone should be free to observe their personal beliefs in private, citizens should be required to observe a public religion or a set of common beliefs represented by rituals, doxologies, and regalia. Such activities encourage good citizenship.

This reminds me a lot of football season.

There are plenty of rituals that surround a football season, especially homecoming. (Here in my college town we used to have a ritual of “rolling” a set of historic trees. However, a couple years ago some douchebag decided to poison them. He’s done his time, but the trees are dead nonetheless.) There are also all sorts of doxologies that accompany football. In my town we scream “War Eagle” at the top of our lungs and a fun little rah-rah-sis-boom-bah chant. The regalia is of course orange and blue everything and tiger-bedecked polos and khakis.

downloadAnd with Pagan Pride Days rolling around in the next month or so across the nation, I also think about the kinds of rituals we will hold when pagans gather in communal space together. While we all walk different paths and follow different traditions, there’s at least this one time of year when we can gather together and celebrate our differences. We get together in some public place and enjoy (at least) one ritual that, hopefully, brings us closer together as a pagan community.

This is the sort of activity Rousseau says strengthens our community by proving our dedication to being a good citizen of that community. When each member of the community agrees to set aside their differences for one moment for the benefit of the broader community, it makes the whole community stronger.

Just like when my father, a Bama fan, visits Auburn on a game day. He wears orange just like he ought to.

Though I reckon he could be ugly about it like that arse who poisoned our trees. Just like someone could get ugly during a public celebration of pagan diversity. But then, that wouldn’t be good sportsmanship–or good citizenship.

Let’s all enjoy football. Here’s hoping your team comes out on top of this year. I’m pretty sure mine won’t; it’s been a rough road the last few years–but I support them anyway. Here’s hoping no one is hurt and that none of us lose too much bettin’-money. Here’s to chants and team colors and tailgaiting!

And here’s hoping your Pagan Pride Day, wherever you are, is successful and brings you closer to those in your community. 

Waes thu Hael and War Damn Eagle,

E