Wear a piece of the World Tree

rowan amuletIn Northern European cosmology, Yggdrasil, the World Tree, is the center of the universe, and all worlds–including the one we live in, Midgard or Middle Earth–are both connected to and contained within Her. From the Great Tree, which exists in all worlds, a shaman, witch or spirit worker may access or travel to any of the worlds. Yggdrasil’s branches ascend into the shining worlds of the gods, Her trunk shields and protects Middle Earth, and Her roots penetrate deep into the underworlds. 

From early childhood, I have always been captivated, enthralled and awed by trees–their majesty, their quiet, watchful intelligence (they seem such gentle giants, but anyone who has been in a forest at night knows that nighttime is when the trees awaken–and then, you’d better hope you’re on their good side!), and the efficiency with which they draw nourishment from deep within the earth and from the sunlight, rain and air. They moderate their local climate, providing food and shelter for plants and animals (including us!) and the very oxygen we need in order to live. In Germanic paganism, the trees are our ancestors, as the gods made the first man and woman from trees. Like Yggdrasil Herself, Her children stand sentinel over the earth–and some of them have been doing so for thousands of years, silently witnessing our days and recording our deeds for good or ill.crabapple amulet

There has been much argument over which species of modern tree corresponds most closely to Yggdrasil, but in my personal belief all trees partake of the nature and essence of the Great Tree, and all trees can provide a link with Her. My Tree Spirit Vessel Necklaces may be worn not only to honor and work with the species of tree spirit represented, but also as a talisman that provides a link to the Great Tree. 

To create my Tree Spirit Vessel necklaces, I personally wildcrafted tiny specimens from seven trees: hawthorn, blackthorn, oak, yew, crabapple, willow, and birch (with permission and the proper offerings, of course).  The specimen for the eighth tree, rowan, was wildcrafted by another Pacific Northwest witch, from whom I purchased it.

I hand-knitted the cord for each necklace using undyed nettle yarn held together with an appropriately colored yarn made from a variety of other natural materials, depending on the necklace. (Nettle is an important forest plant in its own right, both medicinally and magically, and since ancient times its fiber has been spun to create a yarn very similar to hemp.) This resulted in a very appealingly rustic look, and all of the cords are light and extremely comfortable to wear.

After sealing the specimens into the vials (which are glass with rubber stoppers and metal caps), the pendants were allowed to rest for three days–one day each for our Middle Earth, the heavens, and the underworlds–on my Odin shrine. Odin is the shaman of the Northern gods and knows Yggdrasil well, having hanged himself from Her branches in a sacrifice to learn Her mysteries. These pendants all come with His blessings to all who would wear them for love of the trees. May they help draw you closer to the mysteries of each tree, and to the mysteries of their Great Mother, the Tree of Trees.  birch amulet

Want to see all eight Tree Spirit Vessel Necklaces and read more about each tree? Come join me over at Lady Rosamonde’s Garden on Etsy!

Cats, moving, amulets, and more seidhr changes: an update

In the past few days I have:

  • Relinquished my second-favorite cat (our youngest, Heidi) to her new home with a good local friend and her roommate.  It took a real effort not to stop our friend as she wrestled our unwilling feline into the cat carrier, and Heidi’s first night at her new home was reportedly traumatic…But several days later she is doing much better and is even more outgoing than she was with us, a good indication that she’s actually happier being an only cat, with the attention of two doting humans lavished solely on her.  (Unsurprisingly, she wrapped the roommate around her orange-cream paws immediately upon arrival by climbing under his shirt to cuddle.  He is now thoroughly smitten, of course.)Losing her has been hard, but not nearly as hard as I expected it to be.  I don’t draw lines of demarcation between the humans and non-humans (animals and spirits) in my life; the non-humans, our pets included, are just as treasured, just as beloved, just as much part of our family.  (Fittingly enough, since my Husband Himself is not human.)  But life goes on, we have work to do and can’t afford the luxury of wallowing in grief, and besides, there isn’t much call for grief since Heidi hasn’t died but rather gone to a home where she will receive more attention and probably better care than we could afford to give her.
  • ŸMet the future new owner of another of our cats, Valkyrie. Valkyrie is one of a pair of cats–boy and girl siblings, both black, she long-haired and he short–who were presented to me one day by a young boy seven years ago, back in Philly.  I had never seen this young boy in the neighborhood before and never saw him since, and he had bright red hair and a suspiciously mischievous grin.  Loki’s gifts (for such we decided they were) went on to produce two litters of kittens (the first before we knew they were old enough, the second because we mistakenly thought Val could not conceive while lactating.  Princess is the only kitten who survived from the first litter, and two kittens from the second litter were adopted by a Loki’s woman (leaving us with Val’s only boy, Grim Greyling, my favorite cat).  Val herself will be with us for another month yet, and then will be going to a wonderful new home (including a yard and a fireplace!) with a responsible and level-headed woman who was instantly taken with her.  I’m sure Loki had a hand in this, too.
  • Printed out flyers (written and designed by Jo) to attempt to find homes for our next two cats designated for re-homing, Princess and Neech.  I’m sure most people who read this blog are not local, and those who are (that we are aware of) have either already spoken for a cat or aren’t in the market for one.  BUT if you are in the Eugene/Springfield area and might be looking to add a cat to your household, please, please consider one (or both) of these two.  We’re going to give this about a month, and then if there are no nibbles for either Princess or Neech we’ll have to also advertise for a few others who we would much rather keep.  (We want to keep them all, don’t get me wrong.  The ones we’re trying to find homes for first are the ones we think would have the easiest time adjusting to such a change.  The remaining cats are either too old to consider re-homing–like my 15 year old Maine Coon, Sassy–or so shy or neurotic that they wouldn’t be as likely to adjust easily, like Grim and his father Berserker, or our shy Persian Luna.  However, given the right person, any of the last three could still work out with someone else…maybe.  It’s a road we’d rather avoid, though.)

On a brighter note, in the past few days I also:

  • Worked on a commissioned order (a doll) and got about halfway finished.
  • ŸWorked on the Tree Spirit Vessel necklaces, which are coming along but will probably still take another couple of weeks before they’re ready to launch on Etsy; progress was delayed by our current cats & housing crisis, and then by my having been violently ill for a week.  The delay, however, has also resulted in improvements to my original concept, and I think they’ll be worth waiting for.
  • ŸMade a new local contact and hatched a Seekrit Plan.
  • ŸSpun some more lusciously soft variegated red wool yarn.
  • ŸSpeculated with Jo about eventually moving further north and closer to the coast.  This won’t happen for at least several years yet, but it’s something we would both like to aim for.  The simple truth is that she feels Poseidon most vividly at the ocean, and Odin…well, Odin happily goes anywhere and everywhere, so it matters less where I live, although from the perspective of deepening my Work with Frigga, Saga, and some of the sea etins, closer to the ocean would be preferable.
  • ŸNailed down (in my head, anyway) some of the finer details of my impending second Etsy store and its associated blog: Fensalir Fiber.  Neither of these will be ready for unveiling until months after our move, when we once again have internet access at home and I’ll be more capable of managing several internet presences than I am now.  (I’ll also need time to produce inventory for the new store, and won’t have that time while most of my energy is going into the moving preparations.)
  • ŸDecided, with Odin’s blessing, on a new schedule for my oracular seidhr practice, to take effect AFTER this month’s session for the Wolf Moon of February (on Friday, February 19th).  There doesn’t seem to be very much demand, on a monthly basis, for oracular seidhr, and it finally occurred to me that one possible reason for that could be that traditionally it wasn’t practiced frequently or with much regularity (in fact, I think I’ve been holding more frequent sessions than any other practitioner I’m aware of), but was performed according to need.  A community would contact a practitioner (as in the Saga of Erik the Red) and she would travel to them and answer questions from any and all members of the community who came forward.  When seidhr occurs in a community setting today, it generally mimics this pattern by taking place at a heathen gathering, at which anyone present can come forth with a question–but this is a tricky thing to duplicate in a practice that accepts questions by email from faraway querents, such as mine.

    In looking for a solution, I turned once again to the sagas: this time, to Ynglinga Saga, which sets forth the following: “Odin set in his land the laws which had formerly been upheld by the Asa folks…Near winter’s day they should sacrifice for a good season, and in the middle of winter for a good crop, and near summer’s day it was the sacrifice for victory.”  Most scholars interpret “winter’s day” as occurring around the middle of October (or, in England, possibly coinciding with Samhain), “the middle of winter” as Yule, and “summer’s day” as the middle of April in Scandinavia, or May Day in England–and these three dates were, in fact, the most important three festivals of the ancient heathen year.

    And so, I’ve decided to begin holding my oracular seidhr sessions three times a year: at or near Samhain, Yule, and May Day.  The rest of the year, I may be open to performing an extra, impromptu session if more than three people contact me during a given month with urgent questions, and if so the extra session would take place as close to that month’s full moon as possible.  Otherwise, I am available to answer isolated questions via less formal scrying, light trance (questions such as “What does Odin have to say to me about [fill in the blank]?” would be a good candidate for this), or rune or Tarot readings, my caveat being that for a rune or Tarot reading of any complexity I would charge a $10 fee, payable to my Paypal account.

    This new, less rigorous schedule will also give me the time and energy to delve more deeply into operational seidhr, which has taken a backseat as I’ve worked at developing my oracular practice, and which may in time become a public offering of its own in some form.  I hope everyone will understand; please let me know if you have any questions about these changes.  Oracular seidhr itself will continue to be completely free of charge (although of course monetary and in-kind donations are deeply appreciated), and I will be posting the new dates for the coming year in a sidebar to this blog in the next few days.

Thoughts on Imbolc (better known to us Northerners as Ewemeolc, Charming of the Plough, and/or Disting)

lambsEwemeolc was a holiday eagerly awaited by our spiritual ancestors because, after having subsisted mostly on root vegetables and salted meats all winter, milk was a welcome addition to the diet and the lactation of the ewes was one of the earliest harbingers of spring.  In Anglo-Saxon England, the agricultural year began on or around the beginning of February, a tradition that lingered into medieval times and became Plough Monday, the official resumption of farming work after Christmas.  The very idea of attempting to plough in February was incomprehensible to me when I lived on the east coast, where the ground is still very much frozen solid until April.  Here in the Willamette Valley the climate is considerably closer to that of England, so of course now it seems utterly obvious that early spring should begin in February; after all, the days are getting longer, the weather is warmer, and flowers are starting to emerge. (I spotted some violets—one of the plants traditionally associated with Imbolc–last weekend.)

In De Temporum Ratione, Bede wrote that February (Solmonath or “Sun Month”) is “the month of cakes, which in that month the English offered to their gods”.  This practice is reflected in the thinly Christianized AEcerbot (“Field Remedy”) Charm from the 10th century Anglo-Saxon manuscript Lacnunga.  This charm was actually an elaborate day-long ritual in which four pieces of sod were taken from an field and a paste applied to the roots consisting of yeast, honey, oil and milk mixed with “every kind of meal” (assumedly, every kind of grain available locally). In Christian times the sods were taken to mass to be blessed and then returned to the field with a small cross planted in each one. Once the sod cakes were properly prepared,  the farmer faced the east, turning three times clockwise and calling upon the “holy guardian of the heavenly kingdom” to “fill the earth”, so that the crops would grow well in the coming year. A plough was then anointed with a mixture of oil, paste, frankincense, salt and fennel, while a long chant was sung, beginning “Erce, erce, erce eorþan modor, mother of earth,” after which the field was ploughed for the first time that season.

Of course, modern Heathens who perform this ritual, or some variation of it, for the blessing of their own fields or gardens strip the Christian trappings from it and also usually abbreviate it greatly, sometimes equating “Erce, Mother of Earth” with the Vanic Great Mother Nerthus, or with Jord, the giantess-mother of Thor, earth’s protector.  Last year I performed a simplified version myself, in which I prepared a small cake and buried it in our backyard, asking for the blessings of the landwights on our herb garden.  Now that we know we will have to move, however, we won’t be doing any gardening this spring, so I plan to modify the ritual even further, taking my prepared cake to a nearby park and burying it there while praying to the landwights and the gods to help us find and secure a new home to rent that meets all our needs–and as many of our wants as possible, too.  (By the way, any of my readers who feel moved to offer prayers on our behalf as well are more than welcome to do so, with my thanks; even though we will be, sadly, re-homing a few of our cats, we’re still going to be looking for a place that will allow us several cats and a small dog, so we can certainly use all the prayers we can get!)

For non-gardeners and people who aren’t currently looking for a new home, another possible variation on this ritual would be offering a cake to the gods and wights (a libation of milk is also appropriate, for obvious reasons) while asking for blessings on all your endeavors during the “light half” of the year: writing, art work, magical studies, entrepreneurship, or whatever you’re personally involved with.  This is a time of hope and new beginnings, a time to shake off winter’s lethargy and make plans for the coming year’s “harvest,” whether that harvest is connected with prosperity, business undertakings, creativity, or what have you.  Just as a farmer would take inventory of the supplies he has at hand—the seeds available, the tools, etc.—in planning his crops for the year, so those of us who are less agriculturally-minded can take stock of what we have available (in terms of time, energy, materials, etc.) for the projects we have in mind.  We can then plan what we still need to get and assess whether this is practical, and if not, alter our plans accordingly.

In my own UPG, Ewemeolc is also the time to celebrate the marriage of Odin and Frigga.  In The Lost Gods of England, Brian Branston identifies Frigga with “Erce,” and even if this is inaccurate many Heathens do see Her as a daughter of Jord or Nerthus, making Her pairing with Odin very much a marriage of Earth and Sky.  (The festival’s connection with sheep also links it to Frigga as patroness of spinners.)  I’ve known other Heathens to honor Freyr and Gerd for this festival, seeing the Eddic story of His winning of his giantess-bride as a sort of parable about the warmth of the sun overcoming the resistance of the frozen earth to bring about the new growth of springtime.

Disting, the Swedish version of this festival, was actually held a bit later—in late February or early March—and was the first public moot of the year, accompanied by a blot (sacrifice) to the Disir, a catch-all term for protective female powers that potentially includes the goddesses, the Norns and Valkyries, and one’s own female ancestors.  For this reason, many choose to remember Frigga’s “Handmaidens” on this holiday as well.  I use this word in quotations because, while many Heathens refer to this collection of either nine or twelve Goddesses as Frigga’s Handmaidens, only Snorri Sturluson designates them as such in the primary sources.  I believe They were originally independent and probably local goddesses who became associated with Her over time–or perhaps the association was even Snorri’s invention, designed to give Frigga a greater resemblance to the classical Hera by supplying Her with a bevy of attendants. Brian Branston and other writers have argued that at least some of Them are either aspects of Frigga Herself, or personifications of the qualities for which They are named.

In Denmark, the first furrows were reportedly made in the fields at this time of year, though my guess is that it must have been a mostly ceremonial gesture.  In Iceland, Thorrablot (in honor of the Icelandic winter spirit Thorri and his wife Goa, who represented the coming mildness of spring) was celebrated with great of fanfare and a lot of truly disgusting food, including rotted shark, sheep’s head, and fermented whale blubber, washed down with liberal amounts of Icelandic schnapps.  This holiday is still observed in Iceland today.  For our ancestors and today, it was a celebration of strength; being strong-willed enough to eat all those really nasty traditional foods was a way to celebrate the endurance to survive a harsh winter.

In general, the spiritual “vibe” of the holiday is that the days are growing longer, the warmth of the sun stronger, and winter is showing its first signs of weakening.  Ewemeolc is the first festival of the “light” half of the year—the half dominated by outdoor, social activities, as opposed to the inward-turning of winter.  This turning back is just beginning at Ewemeolc and will not be complete until Ostara, but the stirrings can be felt.  This is the time of year to honor those first stirrings.

My evolving oracular seidhr practice

I mentioned last week that my practice of oracular seidhr would be going though some changes this year, and thought today I’d elaborate a little on that, both in order to share my own experience and to show how ancient rituals can be adapted for modern practice with a little imaginative thinking.

As explained on my website, I began my current practice five years ago, and at the onset it was a very simple, spirit-taught rite.  Right from the start, it has been very closely associated with Odin, naturally, and with two of His own spirit allies: His uncle Mimir (mentioned in the Havamal as one of His earliest teachers in the arts of incantation and sorcery; no, He didn’t learn all His magic from Freyja!), and a mysterious being I’ve come to know as the Well-Wight, a froglike water wight who dwells within the Well of Wyrd.  Since all bodies of water are regarded in the Northern Tradition as having their own indwelling spirits (who are usually very wise, but can also be extremely bloodthirsty), it wasn’t a huge leap for me to accept that the Well of Wyrd itself was no exception to this.

My initial rite (which remains the core of what I do today) was fairly simple, consisting of a cleansing bath followed by a trance journey to the Well of Wyrd (I don’t journey to Helheim for this, as some traditions do) to make offerings of a drink libation and some of my blood (in symbolic imitation of Odin’s own offering of His life’s blood as He hung from the Tree, impaled by His own spear).  I then seek oracles on behalf of my querents, sometimes scrying into the Well itself for answers, sometimes beseeching Mimir and/or the Well-Wight, and sometimes posing questions of Odin or various other gods, all of Whom are generally accessible via the Well.  (And sometimes They even answer!)  Oracular seidhr (as opposed to operational seidhr, or soul manipulation) is essentially a community-based activity; after all, if there are no questions there’s no point in seeking answers! However, not having had any kind of local community at the time I started with this I decided to invite questions via the internet, initially from my friends and eventually from the general public.  (And here I’d like to insert a plea: if you’ve been reading my blog and thinking about sending in a question “at some point,” but hanging back because you think I may have too many, don’t be shy! I need YOU in order to make this practice work, because as mentioned above, there can be no answers without questions.)

From its basic beginnings, the rite has evolved slowly and gradually, the first addition having been my purchase of a high seat (whose use is supported by the most complete account of oracular seidhr we have in the primary source materials, the Icelandic Saga of Erik the Red).  Mugwort (the herb I associate most strongly with Odin, and also apparently a favorite of the Well-Wight) quickly became my chief plant ally for seidhr, to be taken as a tea before mounting the high seat, added to my purification bath, and burned during the ritual.  Eventually, roses were added to these mixtures, and most recently birch bark–both of which are now among my plant allies.  (The name I now go by, Beth–which is my real middle name–means “house” in Hebrew, but “birch” in Gaelic; it is also the first letter of the Ogham alphabet, a magical system that has many things in common with the runes.)  Both of the latter two plants are also connected strongly with Frigga, who is becoming involved in my pre-seidhr cleansing and other preparations, after which She hands me over to Odin for the duration of the ritual.

Other new elements that will be incorporated gradually into the ritual over the coming months have been inspired by my work with my personal Mighty Dead, among Whom is Thorbjorg, the seidhrkona mentioned in the Saga of Erik the Red.  The dead tend, as a rule, to be far more concerned than the gods are with following the traditions and customs of their own cultures and time periods, and Thorbjorg is encouraging me to adopt as many of the trappings of her own practice as I can, as described in the saga. The saga takes place in Greenland after the Christian conversion, when most of the old ways have died out and the ritual described is obviously a dying vestige of something much older.  The seidhrkona (seidhr woman, or witch) herself is described as having been one of ten sisters with the gift of prophecy, but she is the only one left alive at the time of the saga.  It is a lean time in Greenland, and the community invites the seeress to come among them to tell them when relief will come and what is in store for them (both collectively and individually) for the coming year.  When she arrives a high seat is set up for her, with a cushion stuffed with chicken feathers.  I already have the high seat, and sewing myself a cushion for it, stuffed with feathers I can probably obtain from a local butcher, will be an easy addition to that.

The seeress’ costume is described in astonishing detail, and presents a bit more of a challenge.  The key features are a jeweled mantle (which I can probably also sew or even knit for myself at some point), a string of glass beads (I prefer amber, so I have started a collection of large amber beads—famously connected with Freyja, the great seidhrkona of the Northern Tradition–and a few other stones that resonate with me to eventually make a special necklace reserved only for seidhr), a hood of black lambskin lined with white catskin, calfskin boots lined with fur (a new pair of Uggs clones will work for these), white catskin gloves lined with fur, a staff adorned with a brass knob set with stones (making this is another project I still need to tackle), and a linked charm belt around her waist with a large purse in which “she kept the charms which she needed for her predictions.” (Spirit work kit, anyone?)  Returning to the catskin gloves and hood for a moment, while I’m not about to skin any of my cats, I do have a blue smoke Persian whose fur is quite spinnable (with at least a four inch staple length), so one creative workaround I’ve come up with is to card some of her fiber with wool and angora rabbit fiber, spin it into yarn, and use it to make fingerless gloves and a hood/cowl to wear during seidhr.

A surprising amount of detail is given, too about the ritual itself.  First the seeress is served a meal of “the hearts of all the animals available” locally, along with a porridge of goat’s milk.  There has been speculation in the seidhr community that this rather strange meal was intended to help the seeress align herself with the local landwights and other spirits, whose cooperation she would need in order to prophesy successfully, and this suggestion is supported by the fact that she insists she must spend the night in the community before holding the rite.  At any rate, I am already well acquainted with the local landwights, having been working with Them and making offerings for two years now, but have decided to adopt a variation of this ritual meal anyway, for tradition’s sake and because it will please Thorbjorg.  There is a nearby butcher specializing in local and humanely raised meats where I can get chicken hearts and (with a week’s advance warning) cow hearts (and maybe in time I will find a source for pig and sheep hearts as well); I can boil these, take a small taste, offer some to Thorbjorg, and give the rest to my household of eight felines (and one small dog).  The goat’s milk porridge is even more of a cinch; goat’s milk is readily available locally, and I can use it to make a small portion of Irish steel-cut oatmeal.

“Late the following day” (which suggests to me that the ritual took place at or near dusk, the same time of day I hold my own seidhr rite), the community gathers and the seeress asks for people who can perform “the chants required for carrying out magical rites, also known as warding songs.”  The word used here, vardlokkur, means literally “ward enticers,” or chants intended to attract spirits to the sorceress, who was enclosed in a ring of wards set up before the ritual. (In my case, these wards are set for me by my partner Jolene, who prepares the seidhr chamber—a physically closed-off ve set up in my bedroom– while I am taking my cleansing bath.)  In other words, although most of us who practice oracular seidhr in a modern setting do some degree of trance journeying as part of the rite, in the most complete description of a Viking-era seidhr rite we have, there was no trance journeying at all; the seeress called the spirits to her.

Although I do intend to continue journeying to the Well, once there I will be using the warding song I was recently given in order to deepen my trance and call the spirits to me.  This is more an addition of a new technique than an actual change in direction, since what distinguishes oracular seidhr from spae in the first place (according to most practitioners) is that answers are obtained with the aid of spirits, rather than just by way of the practitioner’s natural psychic ability.  However, I see it as an important technique, since in my experience, and that of many others, spirit songs work partially because most spirits love music; singing or chanting not only attracts Them but can also make Them more inclined to give aid.  (In the saga, Thorbjorg states that the warding song performed for her was done so well that many spirits came to her, and gave her a great deal of information where before they had not been inclined to answer.)

I’m sure further refinements and changes will be given to me in time, as always happens in a living, evolving tradition, but for now I have my work cut out for me with new practices to implement (many of which–especially the ritual costume elements–will probably take a while, and may not even be completely finished this year).  I’m not sure yet how much I’ll be allowed to share in terms of photographs of my costume and other accoutrements, however I will probably post updates on these developments from time to time even if they can’t always be accompanied by photos.