Norse pagan · Norse paganism · northern tradition · polytheist community

Do Pagan Women NEED Goddesses?

(A brief disclaimer: I’ve tried to make this clear within the post itself, but in case I’ve failed in that: when I refer to “women,” “men,”, “females,” or “males” within this post, I am in no way excluding trans or non-binary persons. As you were.)

One quibble I’ve always had with Heathenry is the notion of adhering to traditional gender roles–which I see from some of the newer Norse pagan channels on YouTube is very much still a thing. And part of this whole notion is the idea that men SHOULD naturally gravitate towards male gods, while women SHOULD gravitate towards goddesses.

It was partly for this reason–because I found this idea to be inherently sexist–that I fought for years against what I felt to be the expectation, within both my local community and my extended online community, that I needed to “find my goddess.” Especially since at the time I was so laser-focused on my relationship with Odin–something that I think made my co-religionists uncomfortable at best.

For the record, I still find this whole idea to be sexist. People should follow whatever deities they have the strongest connection with on a personal level, regardless of the gender of either the deity or the worshiper. (This also begs the question of what, exactly, we mean by gender when applied to deity in the first place–let alone the complexity of the gender issue when it comes to humans–but I digress.)

Now, I am aware that in elder pagan/heathen times there very much WERE traditional gender roles, consisting of the males leading war bands and raiding parties, while the females stayed behind to run the farms, bring in the crops, raise the children, preserve food, and produce textiles to be used in making clothing, ship sails, and shelter (via those “traditionally feminine” arts of spinning, sewing, and weaving).

Most of the above roles are no longer needed in our 21st century society, and others have altered dramatically. With women just as capable of working for a living as men, men just as capable of raising children and maintaining a home, and people of all genders shopping at Walmart rather than making their own clothes, most of the traditional chores are no longer practiced, or if they are, they’re done as hobbies rather than necessities. 

But I do find that the older I get, the more the traditional arts of the home and hearth appeal to me. This is not at all a gendered issue, but I have come to accept that I am a hearth witch at heart, and that the old world arts of spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, and cooking are all very dear to me. Again, I am certain that there are people of all genders out there who feel the same! (And as a reminder, I say all of this as one half of a same-sex marriage, and with the awareness that just being allowed the time and tools to practice these arts is a privilege.)

Which brings me to Frige (aka Frija, aka Frigga–but I’ve always leaned towards the Anglo-Saxon side of heathenry, so I think I’ll call Her Frige, which is pronounced Free-ya). Years ago, as a baby heathen/Norse pagan, when older and wiser priestesses urged me to befriend one of Odin’s wives among the goddesses as a way to counterbalance the intensity of His influence in my life, I fought them. I dragged my heels. I protested that although they might need this, I most certainly did not. My ego was on high alert, ad in full feather. (And yet, with the benefit of hindsight years after the fact, which of us burned out and suffered a multi-year spiritual crisis? I know I did. I’m betting they didn’t.)

And because I recognized in Frige an introverted kindred soul not unlike myself–Someone who was very capable of running the kingdom of Asgard (Osgeard? aka the home turf of Her Husband’s war band) while Woden was away, but who preferred to sit and spin in Her marshy hall by the sea–I fought especially hard. Because who was I to identify myself with Her, even privately? And on the other hand, how dare anyone suggest that I needed an intermediary in my relationship with Woden? (Again, for the record, this was NOT what anyone suggested, nor was it what Frige Herself offered. It was what I, in my ego-fueled indignation, assumed.)

But the people who advised me to befriend one of Odin’s divine wives or girlfriends were not wrong. And I think it’s having taken up hand spinning again that’s led me to this conclusion.

Spinning is a slow art. It requires patience, a cool head, and steady but nimble fingers, as you scour the dirt and grease out of the wool, wait for it to dry (a lot of fiber processing consists of “hurry up and wait”), comb and card the fibers to recombine and reorganize them, twist and smooth them to give them form, all the while keeping the strands in order, untangled, so that they can, finally, be wrapped into a skein or a ball to be used in the creation of fabric (whatever may be your preferred method of doing that). Spinning is no longer a necessary art or craft; it is a privileged one–but doing it successfully still takes a certain temperament, a certain kind of person. It is tedious, requiring long hours spent alone or with like-minded and similarly-occupied people. It is repetitive, downright boring at times; it requires a love of the feeling of the fiber moving between your fingers, of the way the wool smells, of the way it looks when, having been soaked to set the twist after spinning, the original crimp of the sheep’s fleece reveals itself once again. And when you have mastered the process to the point that your fingers and hands move through it on their own without input from your conscious mind–well, that’s when the magic comes in. That’s when, as pagan writers have fantasized and as some of us who have practiced the art can attest to, Woden Himself looks on in wonder as Frige spins the threads that keep the universe turning.

Again, spinning is not a gendered art; let me be clear, none of the traditional household arts are. But they do require a certain temperament, and it is NOT that of the person who needs to claim the spotlight, who needs to be the center of attention. By and large, these are not arts for the extroverted, the charismatic folks whose mere presence draws the rapt attention of crowds. This is, in brief, why Woden does not spin, but Frige does. They are not gendered arts, but I believe that in past ages society assigned what we now call extroversion to men, and what we now refer to as introversion to women. To be fair, people didn’t know any better, and were laboring under thousands of years of misguided tradition. 

So, do women NEED to worship a goddess? No, absolutely not. But, depending on the other influences in your spiritual life, and depending on your own temperament, you may find, as I am finding now, that it’s helpful to have a counterbalancing influence, Someone who can act as a tether for you, an anchor, a mooring. Much as Frige Herself does for Her wandering Husband, Woden.

Norse pagan · northern tradition · odin · seidhr

“Why won’t the runes give me a straight answer?” (another old-ass post)

(I’ve discovered a small trove of old posts I had saved to Evernote in anticipation of possibly publishing an Odin book–which might still happen, but in the meantime I’m going to share snippets of these old posts as I feel appropriate.)
Due to the fact that last night’s oracular seidhr kicked my ass, and that I still have the answers to send out as well as another post I need to make, this week’s installment of “Ask Me About Odin” is going to be shorter than usual.  However, it also has an unusual distinction in that this week, rather than “ask me about Odin,” it is “ask Odin.”

It was actually one of last night’s seidhr questions.  As sometimes happens when the question is either from one of His own or on a subject matter He is closely concerned with, Odin took my body over to answer the question more directly, and the answer was so shattering that Jolene wondered, as she was taking it down, whether it was something she was even allowed to hear.

At the same time as He was speaking through me, however, Odin also informed me that the answer was to be shared more widely than just with the original querent.  “Let them know the price,” He said.

The question was:  “I have fallen in love with the Runes so to speak and am trying to learn to work with them at present, I guess what i need is for them to give me a straight answer as trying to read for myself is confusing, what do they (The Gods) want me to do?”

And Odin answered:

“The runes speak in riddles and poetry, not in straight answers. They share their mysteries and they hint and they whisper and they shout, but they do not speak in plain language – not what anyone who has any sense would call plain language, anyhow. To hear them, therefore, you must lose some of your sense. You must let go of your logic, and listen to the spirits of the runes as they speak to you.–as they sing and as they clamour and as they cajole and threaten. They will lead you down many a merry path, winding through landscapes you never dreamt existed, but you must go willingly, though the soles of your feet bleed and you cannot bear to take another step. One does not master the runes – not even I. One is penetrated by them, one is consumed, one is possessed by them. When you have become mad, you will hear them clearly. Sanity is the sacrifice they demand.”

2018 Edit: And it dawns on me only now that if this is the price, I think in the past two years I have finally paid it.

devotion · northern tradition · odin · spirit work · spiritual musings · wild hunt · witch

My Life with Odin

In the wake of the big oath I took to Odin and the Wild Hunt on September 29th, I have been the recipient of a number of strokes of good luck, bounty, and other signs that the oath was well-received and that I’m on the right path with the direction my spirit work is taking.  Among these signs of validation: finding another dead squirrel right after getting the tattoo connected with the oath; being given spontaneous (and significant) gifts by a customer at work; increased sales at my Etsy store; a library book I had been waiting for a long time finally coming in, getting downtown after work to find the area in front of the library littered with red rose petals (my favorite flower, and also one of my plant allies), renewed interest in my book, and a lot of other little things that would probably not sound like much if I were to list them but, taken together, amounted to a big “thumbs up” sign from my gods and spirits and the universe at large.

That said, after the initial “high” from the oath and tattoo abated a little, I’ve been made aware that I’m now expected to reassess and make adjustments to certain things, particularly my public image, the way I present myself and my Work, and how much of what I do I share here at my blog.  (None of these will amount to drastic changes, just a little self-reinvention and a slightly different approach.)  There will be forthcoming posts connected with this, but while I continue to mull things over I decided to share this post, originally published on my old LiveJournal account more than six years ago now and very slightly edited for public consumption.  For those of you new to this blog who don’t know a lot about my spiritual background or who found their way here from my Etsy store (plus the handful of co-workers who may be reading), this post may be something of a revelation.  I will preface it with the disclaimer that I don’t expect anyone to believe me, agree with me, or otherwise offer me any form of validation; I get enough of that from my gods and spirits, and if I’m deluded the universe is clearly playing along.  (See above.)

My Life with Odin (LJ post from April 2, 2004)

I didn’t really expect to be posting this here, because it is SO personal. But some of you who know me better already know or could have guessed parts of this story anyway. Also, it’s something a lot of people have been asking me about recently. And, well, I almost feel it’s part of my “job” to let people know that relationships with the gods can be this close, this personal.  But doing that requires being brave enough to talk about it without becoming too concerned or scared of what people might think, or what their reactions might be.

So, without further ado, here is the Official Abridged Version (TM) of my life with Odin to date.

I was eight years old when He first tried to claim me. (I’ve written a short story based on that; if you’re interested in reading it, and haven’t yet, you can find it in my book, Odhroerir: Nine Devotional Tales of Odin’s Journeys.) I thought He was Santa Claus back then; on stormy winter nights, He would come to me as the Wild Hunter with His retinue of ghostly horsemen and howling wolves. Outside my window, He would pause and call my name, inviting me to come and ride with Him. But He frightened me, and the only response I was capable of was to hide under the covers and pretend I didn’t hear, and try to block the entire experience from my memory.

And for a long time, I succeeded. I was drawn to the runes from an early age, but some instinct made me keep putting off studying them; some part of me, even though it wasn’t a conscious part, knew that the runes would lead me right to Him. Similarly, I loved Tolkien and knew he had borrowed heavily from Norse myth, but kept putting off reading the actual myths, even while Odin in the guise of Gandalf continued to beckon. I wrote constantly, although I’ve only begun trying (and succeeding!) in getting things published quite recently. I felt strongly drawn to wolves from an early age, and the call of a raven or an eagle was enough to send chills through my entire body, but I put both those things down to being an animal lover. I heard voices in the wind, felt I could communicate with trees, and often sensed unseen presences around me, presences that I almost could see with a kind of inner sight. I knew I was very different from most of the people I knew, but as I began reading about Paganism and Wicca I learned that many people had an extended awareness similar to mine, if not exactly the same. On the subject of Odin Himself, though, I remained deeply in denial. Whenever I encountered a mention or an image of Him, I would quickly turn my attention away before I had time to consider it, before He had a chance to reel me in.

By the age of 13, I was a Wiccanesque Pagan, especially fascinated with magic and ancient mysteries. Towards the end of my teens, I actually became Wiccan, and began to focus on that. It seemed close to what I was looking for, but was still not quite right. Then, in my early twenties, I met another woman who not only also heard voices, but actually heard some of the very same ones I did, and was interacting with these noncorporeal beings on a daily basis. If my new friend had been my own age, I might have tried to dismiss this as a delusion or signs of an overactive imagination, but she was twenty years my senior and by all indications otherwise normal and sane. We began to talk about our experiences with these beings, hold extended conversations with Them, and even journey, in sleep or trance states, to visit Them in their homes, which were grand and palatial. The entity who was around me the most appeared to be an older man with silver hair, not old like Gandalf but strong, virile, and very alluring—eloquent, charismatic, and more than a little dangerous. He came to me in dreams at night and in my waking hours during the day, and I adored Him. He did not call Himself Odin but another name, yet He was a guide and protector of the dead, a traveler between the worlds, a warrior, shape-shifter, and powerful sorcerer. In retrospect, it seems to me that His actual identity should have been obvious, yet at the time somehow He kept me from seeing it, or at least from panicking and fleeing. When He said He wanted to marry me, I eagerly agreed, having no idea what that would mean.

Unfortunately, not long after my otherworldly marriage took place I had a falling out with the woman I had been confiding in about all these things. Our friendship broke up, she and I went our separate ways, and without her support I wasn’t able to sustain the conviction that I was married to a discarnate being, or even that I was actually interacting with these entities. Then I began dating a man who gradually convinced me that either I had imagined the entire thing, or that it was all very nice but not relevant to my everyday, mundane life. This man wanted me to marry him. I was not head over heels in love with him the way I had been with my otherworldly husband, but he was my friend and he could offer a measure of security, and eventually I agreed. At our wedding, instead of the wedding march I had selected, “Ride of the Valkyries” suddenly blared out as I was about to walk down the aisle. The message was clear: my new marriage was doomed from the start, because I already belonged to another. But this was a warning I neither understood nor heeded. Likewise, all the little signs and hints Odin continued to give me through the following years also went unrecognized. Crows and ravens seemed to follow me everywhere, but my new husband was an avid reader of Carlos Casteneda and insisted they were signs for him instead of for me. Meanwhile, Odin’s name kept popping up in unusual contexts; when I went back to college to finish my BA in English literature, one professor suggested that I read the Eddas, while another suddenly asked me one day, apropos of nothing, if I had heard of Asatru. But I was clueless, and all my energy was consumed in my studies and in trying to be a wife, and a mother to my daughter. The studies earned me straight A’s, and my daughter was gifted, but wifehood I was hopelessly failing at.

Fast forward thirteen or so years. I was unhappy in my marriage, having trouble at my job, and feeling spiritually disconnected, almost spiritually dead. Wicca wasn’t working for me, and hadn’t been for a while (I had never been able to form strong attachments to goddesses), and everything simply felt meaningless. Then a sudden crisis at work threw me into a deep depression that lasted for about a year. I started taking Prozac, but even in spite of that was contemplating suicide. After about six months I quit the Prozac because it was doing me no good, and at around that time began to feel a huge tug towards exploring my heritage, which is mostly English, French and Scandinavian. As a means of distracting myself from being miserable, I started studying Norse myths and deities, and felt irresistibly drawn to the stories and images of Odin. In a bookstore one day, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods demanded to be bought and devoured, and as I read about Mr. Wednesday my entire being cried out “MINE!!!” I began to dream about Odin. I bought a set of clay runes, and enrolled in a rune study course. Finally, on Ebay, I saw a statue of Odin with His wolves and ravens by Oberon Zell and impulsively bought it, and when it arrived I began to talk to it, telling Him about all the reasons I was so unhappy and begging Him to help me if He could.

Within days, there was a sudden and dramatic answer to my prayers—a tangible answer that proved to me that Odin was not only a real, distinct, individual God, but that He seemed to have a very strong interest in me. And then, one night soon afterwards, He showed up in person—or, well, in astral form, as He had years before. And once again, I fell head over heels in love with Him. He claimed me that night, and also freed me from the depression as if it had never existed. And I realized that it hadn’t really been Him I had been running from all those years, but myself. Much of what people say about Him is true: He is demanding, He plays for the highest stakes imaginable, and His folk live turbulent lives filled with all manner of sacrifice in return for His gifts. His lessons are often painful–not because He wants to hurt us but because He is the God of consciousness–and what could be more painful than to really come to know your own self? Yet He is also the God of ecstasy, enabling us to rise above pain like a phoenix rising from its own ashes.

Not long after He claimed me, Odin asked me to formally dedicate myself to Him. I began to write a ritual and the oath I planned to take, but soon found Him taking over the writing of it, changing the wording and the oath to suit His own purposes. Before long, I realized that what I had written was a wedding ceremony, interwoven with a blood oath and elements of the old traditions involving the last sheaf at harvest time. This terrified me, because I was already married, at least in name (although I didn’t realize at the time that my first wedding vows had already been to Him!) and because at the time I had only heard of one other person daring to even think of doing such a thing in modern times, outside of Lwa marriage in Vodou.  (Although I had come across references to ancient priestesses being considered brides of the Gods they served.) But He insisted, and even in my terror I wanted this, wanted Him, more than I had ever wanted anything in my entire life. So the ceremony took place, and about six months afterwards was repeated in front of a witness, my kindred sister (now my partner). I ordered a silver ring engraved with Wodan in runes, which I now wear as my wedding band.

So, what have been the repercussions in my life of swearing myself to Him in this way? Well, my mortal marriage broke up shortly afterwards, needless to say.  But beyond that, I have been completely and utterly changed, my life turned upside down and inside out. I am the living vehicle for a god, His voice and eyes in the world. Everywhere I go, I carry Him with me; I am a doorway for Him to manifest in the world. The somewhat famous Odin’s woman Diana Paxson has been known to warn people that Odin can become the other half of your soul if you let Him, but that it may well be at the expense of your existing human relationships. That has certainly been the case for me, but I can say without reservation that the sacrifices and growing pains have been more than worth it. He demands that I give Him all that I am, but in return He gives me all that HE is—which is a more than fair bargain, believe me. Just like any relationship, ours is not without its snags and difficulties, but even the crises bring me closer to Him and deepen our bond. This is not an easy path, and it is definitely not for everyone (even swearing to Him at all is not for everyone, and should not be undertaken lightly), but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world!

devotion · folklore · myth · northern tradition · odin · wild hunt

Wild Hunt tales, installment 1

A Vision of the Wild Hunt by Agostino Musi (1515)As a devotional to the Wild Hunt during this season when They are most active on earth, I will be writing a series of posts retelling some of the different stories of Their origins, leaders, and encounters with humans, as recorded in the surviving folk myths.  To begin, I’ll note that Wild Hunt legends and lore are widespread throughout Northern, Western and Central Europe, but they tended to take on a distinctive local character in each region, varying greatly in terms of the identity of the band of hunters (who were variously described as fairies, the dead, demons, or all of the above) as well as Their leader and the object of Their Hunt.    Despite the lack of direct mention of the Hunt in the Icelandic Eddas, Odin in His many guises is one of the most frequently cited Masters of the Hunt, and often there are details in an account that point to Him even where He is not directly named (as we shall see).

For my first tale of the Hunt’s origins, we’ll turn to Myths and Legends of the British Isles, by Richard Barber.  In this compilation volume, the author includes a story originally appearing in Courtier’s Trifles, a collection of stories written by Walter Map–a follower of the court of Henry II–in the late 12th century.  The story goes that Herla, an ancient king of Britain, was approached one day by a pygmy king (possibly a dwarf or elf) who informs him that he will shortly receive an offer of marriage for the French king’s daughter to become his queen.  The pygmy puts before him a proposition: he will grace Herla’s wedding with his presence, and that of his servants, on the condition that Herla will return the favor at his own marriage one year hence. 

Herla agrees, and the messengers arrive later that day with the news, just as the pygmy had promised.  At the appointed time for the wedding feast, the pygmy king returns with his servants, who provide all the food,, drink, gems, and other luxuries the wedding guests could want; so much so that there is nothing at all left for Herla’s servants to do.  After a feast of unsurpassed splendor, the pygmy king departs, with a reminder to Herla to mind his promise and return the favor a year hence.

Herla spends a year of happiness with his new bride, and then one day emissaries from the pygmy court appear one day to conduct the king and his retinue to the pygmy court to make good on his promise.  After a short journey, the party travels deep into a cavern and then emerges again into the light, where the glorious palace of the pygmies stands.  When the wedding festivities have ended, the pygmy king escorts the visitors to the boundaries of his kingdom, giving them each rich parting gifts including a small greyhound for each guest, with instructions that the dogs are to ride on the saddle before their owners, and that the men must not dismount from their horses before the dogs have leapt down to the ground. 

After traveling for a short time, Herla’s party comes across a shepherd, and Herla approaches him to ask about his wife the queen by name.  The shepherd seems confused at first, then tells Herla that he can barely understand his words, since he (the shepherd) is a Saxon while the stranger (Herla) is a Briton, but a queen by that name was said to have ruled two hundred years ago, wife of the legendary King Herla who rode away with a group of his men one day and never returned.

In shock at these words, several of Herla’s party leap to the ground, although their dogs have not moved, and crumble away to dust as soon as they have touched the earth.  Herla warns his remaining men to remain mounted until their dogs have leapt down.  He then rides on with his followers, but none of the dogs ever jump down, with the result that his band is forced to roam the earth forever as night-wanderers, whom men come to call followers of Herla, or Herlethingi, “an army of infinite wandering, of the maddest meanderings, of insensate silence, in which many who were known to be dead appeared alive.”  On one occasion, in Wales, a group of men encountered this eerie troup and attempted to confront them…at which point Herla’s band simply rose into the air and vanished.

As a side note, I’ll mention that one of Odin’s many heiti (or by-names) mentioned in the Scandinavian sources is Herjan (Leader of Hosts), so even in this rather odd Hunt tale there is a link back to Him.  Also worth noting in this tale is the presence of dogs, animals whose connection with the Hunt and the dead (both as psychopomps and guardians) are a recurring theme.

northern tradition · odin · pagan · shamanism · spirit work · trance work · Uncategorized · wild hunt

Wild Hunt tales: installment 2

It snowed last night here in Eugene, OR–an unusual occurence for us in the Willamette Valley.  I have to admit that although I would not want to have to go back to navigating around huge piles of black, sooty ice throughout the winter, snow is one of the things I miss about the East Coast.  I love the silence that settles over the landscape when it snows, the hush and whiteness and sense of quiet against which spiritual voices become much more audible.  And of course, snow is so evocative of Frau Holda and the Wild Hunt in general; in Scandinavia, Odin’s Hunt was thought to be nearest when there was a sudden change of weather, stormy/inclement weather in particular.

I’m still adjusting to the aftermath of my oath and of roaming with the Hunt on Samhain;  I’ve been making things, reading, trancing, and getting a continual stream of new insights–not much of which, unfortunately, I can share publically.  Oracular seidhr sessions continue to go deeper than I had thought possible, and my loved ones–gods and spirits both–on the other side of the veil are strongly present, speaking to me more clearly than ever before,  as I continue my preparations for Yule.  I’m working on a number of new ideas for the Etsy store, too, most of which are similarly not ready to share.

Since there isn’t much personal stuff I can share right now, I thought this would be a good time to post another Wild Hunt legend, this one from Bohemia.  This tale has a few interesting elements related to the Huntsman’s retinue, which in this version rides forth at  midnight on Christmas Eve (the same night we do our Wild Hunt mumming locally) and includes an old man who warns that the Hunt is coming, then a woman on a white horse with neither sadle nor bridle (on of the few times a woman is seen riding with the Huntsman, rather than as prey of the Hunt, or leading her own separate retinue), and on her right the Wild Huntsman himself on a fiery steed.  Behind them come their followers, including howling dogs, dead warriors, and a host of demonic and otherworldly creatures. 

A peasant–so the tale goes–was heading home at midnight when he heard a voice from behind him call out a warning that the Hunt was nigh.  The peasant flung himself down on the ground with his face to the earth, and the party passed by him harmlessly.

Another time, a trademan was walking through the forest and heard the baying hounds and warning cries.  He flung himself to the ground as well, but couldn’t resist glancing upward to see what all the commotion was about.  From that hour on, he was insane.

Throughout the countries in which Wild Hunt legends appear, it has been thought unwise to meet the Hunt (unless you’re a crazed spirit worker, hahaha), since you could be snatched away to the land of the dead.  Prayers and waving around crosses were likely only to make the dead angry.  In Scandinavia, it was said that if you were out late at night and heard the Hunt, the safest thing to do was to throw yourself down on the ground face-first and avoid looking up.  In Småland, it was advisable to carry a piece of bread and a piece of steel when going out and about during the Christmas season. If you met the rider with the broad-rimmed hat (Odin), you should throw the piece of steel down to distract him, but if you met his dogs first, you should throw the pieces of bread.  In some regions, requesting a sprig of parsley from the leader of the Hunt would protect you from death or madness at his hands. Yet all the precautions in the world might avail you nothing, since you could be taken up to join the cavalcade in your sleep.  However, this isn’t always a bad thing; in some places in Scandinavia until very recent years, the windows were left open during Yule in houses in which there was a sick invalid, in case the ailing person should choose to join the Hunt during the night.

In future installments: the beasts of the Hunt, the quarry of the Hunt, and rewards of the Hunt.

culture · devotion · festivals · northern tradition · odin · offerings · pagan · rants · seidhr · spiritual musings · tradition

The Mighty Dead

Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, second wife of ...
Image via Wikipedia

A reader asked why I honor Anne Boleyn, so I thought I’d elaborate a little on that, and on the concept of the Mighty Dead.

As all of you are probably aware, ancestor worship plays a major role in many pagan religions, and is especially prominent in Heathenry.  However, since some people have become estranged from their immediate ancestors and are uncomfortable with the idea of honoring them for a number of reasons, and others  (me included) were adopted and thus don’t know as much about our biological families as we would like, the concept of “adopted ancestors” has become an increasingly popular one.  Somewhat related to this is the idea of the “Mighty Dead”:  actual or adopted ancestors who were somehow bigger than life, whose name and deeds live on widely after their deaths, and whose values and personal qualities inspire us and epitomize the qualities we’d like to bring out in ourselves.  Many Heathens number figures such as King Penda—an Anglo-Saxon warrior king who fought fiercely against the spread of Christianity—among their own Mighty Dead.  Others—such as a seidhr practitioner like me—might well honor Thorbjorg, the seidhrkona described in the Saga of Erik the Red.

However, although pagans are more likely to choose pagan heroes to honor as Mighty Dead, there is no reason to dismiss Christian figures out of hand; sometimes a person—living or dead–has such outstanding personal qualities that their specific religion becomes a secondary consideration.  Anne Boleyn, for example, was a leading light of the Protestant Reformation and undeniably a Christian Queen, yet she was also a tireless advocate for  literacy, one of the very first to insist that the Bible should be available in English for the English people to read.  She also epitomized qualities such as strength, cunning, boldness, passion, poise, and grace in adversity that I find valuable in my own life and have cultivated partly through her example.

How does one go about honoring the Mighty Dead?  First, just as you would with any god or spirit you would like to honor, ask them how they’d like to be honored or remembered, be open to their suggestions, and then act on them.  Typically, you might be asked to set aside a place in your home either for a group of ancestors or one in particular; Anne will get her own little area, ultimately, with jewelry and other items I either make for her or that I think she would have liked.  You don’t need a big, elaborate set-up, just a small space set aside and dedicated to them, with items either that belonged to them or that they would like (often they will tell you exactly what to include, if you listen) and a candle and incense holder,  with a bowl or glass for offerings.  Food offerings should be things that they have either requested, that they enjoyed during life, or possibly—if you don’t have enough information to know what they liked to eat—you could offer things that would have been eaten in their culture by people of their status at that time; for example, enough is known about food in the Tudor era that I should be able to prepare a small feast for Anne quite easily on her day.   Other possible ways to honor ancestors or the Mighty Dead include assembling devotional playlists for them (including both things they might like and pieces that remind you of them or their lives), writing or creating artwork in their honor, dressing in a way that pleases them (for Anne’s day, I will be wearing a head covering, as all women did in her time), and–if appropriate–supporting causes they cared about during life.  Since Anne will be getting an entire festival in her honor, I will very likely also spend some time on that day either reading about her, watching depictions of her in movies or TV shows (such as The Tudors and The Other Boleyn Girl), or both.

Since my approach to religion in general is one of service, not bargaining (in other words, I honor the gods and spirits in my life out of love, for their own sake, not for what I think they can give me), I’m not expecting to get anything out of honoring Queen Anne other than perhaps a feeling of greater closeness with her, and an acknowledgement of the kinship I already feel with her.  The principle of Gebo (a gift invites a gift) being what it is, it is entirely possible that I will receive some guidance or possibly even assistance from her at some point, if she is pleased by my attention; who knows?  However, that is not my goal, and should never be a goal or factor in devotional practice.  (The tendency of some pagans to see the gods and spirits as spiritual vending machines dispensing favors is its own separate rant, and my friend Dver just posted on that very topic.)

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Wild Hunt playlist

Because I dropped the ball on my once-per-week posting of songs from my Wild Hunt playlist that I had intended to continue throughout the Hunt season, instead, just for you, here is a more or less complete list of this year’s selections.  I know there are a few trancey instrumental pieces missing, but at the moment I can’t think of the titles;  so perhaps I’ll remedy the lack by posting a trance work playlist at some point in the near future.

  1. Christmas Eve in Sarejevo, Manheim Steamroller
  2. Don’t Fear the Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult
  3. Furious Angels, Rob Dougan
  4. Ride of the Valkyries, Wagner
  5. Gingerbread Coffin, Rasputina
  6. Hunter’s Kiss, Rasputina
  7. The Sickness, Disturbed
  8. Riders on the Storm, The Doors
  9. Odin’s Song, Karl Donaldsson
  10. Pursuit, Icon of Coyle
  11. Hollow Hills, Bauhaus
  12. Hagal,  Wardruna
  13. Raven, Hedningarna
  14. Wo die Wilden Kerle wohnen by Allerseelen (This one is very evocatiove of Frau Holda for me.)
  15. Aral, by Aral (Sorry, I don’t have any more information on this one; it was g iven to me in a mix by a friend, and she doesn’t remember where she got it from–but track it down if you can!)
  16. Dans Macabre by Saint-Saens
  17. Nachts: night weaving silently through the woods,  Joachim Raff
  18. Hunter, Bjork
  19. Howl, Florence and the Machine
  20. Dark Angel, VNV Nation
  21. Devil of Mine, Moulettes
  22. Seeker Divine, Hagalaz Runedance
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Looking ahead, looking back

As the end of 2010 fast approaches, I find myself thinking of the year about to pass with fondness at the same time as I eagerly await what 2011 will bring.  2010 was mostly kind to me, an almost soothing year in some ways after the few that preceded it.  It was a year of strengthening, building and making forward progress, rather than one of cleansing, purging, and doing damage control.  (We’ve all experienced the latter, and although they are of great value spiritually they aren’t at all fun to live through.)  2010 was a relatively stable year financially; it began and (I assume, anyway) will end with my having a steady job that I mostly enjoy and a home I love living in, in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  It even witnessed a promotion that brought considerably better working conditions and slightly better pay.  Things are still tight (we pay a LOT of rent due to our large animal household), but we’ve managed to stay on top of expenses with even a bit left over for wants rather than needs.  It was a year that saw my existing relationships (both with the humans in my life and with my gods and spirits) strengthened and intensified, with friendships deepening and new understandings reached as a result of working through the handful of minor crises that occurred.  My health has had a few new and troublesome downward developments, especially in terms of there being fewer and fewer foods I can tolerate most of the time, but overall it has mostly held steady too, and I found a wonderful doctor who has been willing to prescribe the medicine needed to keep my fibromyalgia, IBS, and other issues under control, as well as being a wonderful source of health advice and support. 

In my artistic life, I worked hard at some things I had never tried before, or had only done on a limited basis until now, and increased my crafting skills exponentially.  Around the middle of the year I began a small business (my Etsy store) and have had a few small successes.  I have not yet hit my stride in a way that holds the promise of being able to quit working for others and become a self-employed artist/craftsperson, but I still hold out hope for that. 

However, the most striking advances of 2010 were undoubtedly spiritual, with the service oath (to Odin, Asgard, and the Wild Hunt) I took in late September that has literally reshaped and realigned my life.  Ever since initially oathing to Odin in 2002, my life has become a pattern of diminishing choices that have ironically meant ever-increasing freedom: freedom to be who and what I was always meant to be, freedom to give free reign to the power I have always had that had been restricted by other, prior choices, the limiting choices made both by myself and by others on my behalf throughout my life up until that point.  This year’s oath was the final step in that process (well, probably not final—who am I kidding?—but a very dramatic and decisive one), and in swearing myself to service as I have, I have finally truly come into my own sovereignty.  For this reason, more than any other, I ardently await what the new year will bring, what wonders it will inevitably show me, what opportunities to further perfect myself and my Work.

On the threshold of 2011, I am making a few steadfast plans for the year ahead–not oaths or resolutions, though, because I’ve already taken the most important of the former, and we all know what too often becomes of the latter.  On January 1st, as soon as the taboo forbidding spinning during the 12 days of Yule has lifted, I will begin applying myself seriously towards learning to spin well on a hand-spindle, with a savings fund to go towards the eventual purchase of a spinning wheel.  There will be more on this in the coming weeks, but for spiritual as well as aesthetic reasons, the fiber arts (especially spinning and knitting) will be occupying a huge chunk of my artistic life for the coming year, and perhaps for the foreseeable future as well.  My other spiritual plans include continuing to uncover obscure but appropriate ancient English and Scandinavian pagan traditions and practices and adapting them to my modern path (we have some exciting festival ideas for the year ahead already!); deepening my oracular seidhr practice and my other forms of trance work (trance journeying, pathwalking, and uti seta.) by incorporating more of the afore-mentioned customs and my own spirit-led inspirations; continuing my study and practice of wort-cunning (herbal magic); and going back to basics with a renewed practical study of rune magic, galdr, and operational seidhr (the Big Three categories of Odin’s magical expertise).  2011 will also see the 9th anniversary of my sacred Marriage to Odin (nine being, of course, the number most sacred to Him), and will also see me broadening my practice a bit by working with a goddess I haven’t heretofore worked with in any depth: Frigga. (The latter is almost inevitable, considering my increasing involvements in the fiber arts, of which She is a patroness.)  And at some point during the year (probably at Midsummer), I am hoping to get my big seidhrkona armband tattoo, for which the timing just didn’t work out this year.

Artistically, there will be the fiber arts emphasis I’ve already mentioned, along with a line of herbal witchcraft supplies for Lady Rosamonde’s Garden (which will be taking on a decidedly more herbal-hedgewitchy flavor, in keeping with its name), along with a few surprises I’m not ready to talk about yet.  Also, a particular writing project I put on hold a year or two ago has been poking at me to take it up again, so there may be some news on that front at some point, although the project may also take more than a year to finish, since I have so many other things going on.  I will also be looking to take further steps towards making my artistic work more sustainable and reducing my personal and artistic impact on the earth; I already make many of my creations from reused, recycled and upcycled materials, use earth-friendly toiletry and cleaning products in my home, and so forth, but as my relationship with the landwights deepens I constantly feel the need to do more.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, 2010 was the year I finally began to live the life I’ve been waiting and preparing to live for eight years: a life completely owned and directed by my gods and my spirits, living with Them and for Them fully and without reservation.  There are still some practical tangles to be worked out in this (for example, I still work too many hours each day for other people, and am greedy for  more time to do the things I really want to do both artistically and spiritually), but I am finally on the right path and headed in the right direction.  It will be interesting (though hopefully not in the Chinese curse sense of that word) to see what the year ahead will look like, my first year lived fully and from beginning to end with my current sense of commitment, purpose and drive.

After today, I won’t be online again until Monday.  Tomorrow I’ll be running a few errands (fun errands to some of my favorite places, including my local yarn store and the liquor store) and then we’ll settle down around our Twelfth Night fire to eat homemade stew and drink homemade mead, toasting in the new year in the old way.  Whatever your plans, I wish you luck, joy and success (in whatever ways you define all of those things) in 2011.  See you next year!

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Putting the Germanic back in Yule (or, Odin is the REAL reason for the season)

Image of the wild hunt in Sweden.
Image via Wikipedia

I’m coming into this a few days late due to my lack of internet access at home (one of the ways in which my partner and I choose not to buy into the pressure of cultural consumerism), but yesterday I read posts by both T. Thorn Coyle and my friend Dver on the topic of Christmas and pagans, both writers arguing that many pagans have become seduced with the commercial trappings of Christmas and its appeal to the masses at the expense of their own midwinter holidays and their own spiritual traditions.  While I definitely agree with this line of reasoning in general terms, I feel the need to contribute a few points of my own.

First, yes, by all means, if you practice some flavor of paganism that has no legitimate ties to the Yuletide in all its various manifestations–if, for example, you are a Hellenic pagan, or Kemetic–and you have no other cultural or spiritual threads that tie you to the holiday (for example, I know Dver does have some Germanic influences due to the spirits she works with, and I know of other people who are deeply influenced by the cultural practices of their ancestors, despite the fact that their main path may lie elsewhere), then yes, I would agree that you would be better off having nothing to do with Christmas/Yule/Solstice/Whathaveyou, and just focusing your time, energy and money on the midwinter traditions of your own path, whatever they may be (and assuming that they exist at all).  Sure, you may also have family obligations that weigh in on this, but I would argue that some pagans use these as an excuse to get caught up wholesale in December madness, simply because it’s easier to let yourself be carried away by that than it is to do the hard work and digging of uncovering your own traditions and following them.  But hell, I think even Jews, who have a fine midwinter holiday of their own, are all too often guilty of making Chanukkah look an awful lot like secular Christmas with a menorrah, dreidel, and latkes.  (Why yes, my mother was Jewish; how could you tell?)

However.  For those of us who follow a Scandinavian or pan-Germanic or even English pagan path, the outer trappings of secular Christmas–the bringing in of trees or greenery to brighten the home, the lighting of candles and lights to give strength to the sun during this darkest time of the year, the fumigation with spices, drinking to excess, feasting with family and friends, exchanging gifts, going from house to house singing or just roaming around the countryside making a general ruckus (which has its roots in mumming, a Yule tradition myself and several of my friends have revived locally), the taking of oaths for the coming year, and even (or in my case, especially) the nighttime journeying of Santa (i.e. (Odin) through the storm-torn skies–yup, all of these things do indeed have their roots in Germanic paganism, and only became absorbed into the cultural celebration of Christmas in the first place because people refused to give them up.   It’s easy to see why this would be the case in Scandinavia, parts of which remained pagan well into the middle ages, when most of western Europe had been Christian for hundreds of years.  But even in 16th  century England, Christian for nearly a thousand years, these pagan customs were so deeply ingrained in the celebration of Christmas that the Protestant Reformation had to fight long and hard to root them out–and even so, ultimately lost.  People love their customs–all of the myriad little rituals that give structure and a sense of purpose to life–and will do almost anything to hold onto them, even when they may have long forgotten the initial meanings behind them.

So, if the secular customs attached to Christmas/Yule speak to you, by all means continue to practice them.  However (and I’m sure you knew this second “however” was coming), do keep in mind that we are pagans, which in a predominantly Judeo-Christian culture automatically means that we have chosen to swim against the tide, to break away from the herd, to follow a religious path that is in most cases markedly different from the one handed down to us by birth or upbringing.  For most of us, this also means that we had to do at least some work to map out our paths, to mark the boundaries and get the lay of the land; we read books, we researched, we talked with other pagans in person or online.  Whether we are following someone else’s tradition or bravely forging our own, it took study and practice to break away from society’s norms, to do something religiously different from the default choices our families and culture set before us.

So, why stop there?  If you want to keep the trappings of Yule, why just blindly follow along with the familiar customs when you can dig a little deeper and rediscover the meanings behind them–meanings which, in some cases, amount to Mysteries.  For those of us who have a legitimate claim on Yule as part of our own religious traditions, I think there is a very real responsibility to keep in mind that for our spiritual ancestors (and for us as well, should we choose to keep the trappings) Yule is a religious holiday, not just an excuse for a midwinter party. In Snorri Sturleson’s Heimskringla (History of the Kings of Norway), we are told that it was Odin who established Yule, as a time to make sacrifice for good crops (which in modern times for those of us who do not farm could be rephrased as success in any endeavors) in the coming year.  In his Dictionary of Northern Mythology (which is among the most vital secondary sourcebooks for most heathens), Rudolph Simek also refers to Yule (which is still the Scandinavian word for Christmas, by the way) as a fertility sacrifice, celebrated til ars ok til fridar (“for a fertile and peaceful season”), and he further points out that the focal point of this festival was not the Vanir (as one might expect), but rather Odin, one of whose names is Jolnir, and who had (and still has) a unique connection to Yule in His role as a god of the dead (the draugr, who are especially active on earth throughout the raw nights of Yule) and as a leader of the Wild Hunt.  In fact, the connection between Odin and Yule is so strong that I would argue that pagans who are overly uncomfortable with Him would probably do better to disown the holiday altogether.  Not that you need to be oathed to Him or even honor Him at any other time of the year, but recognize that for Germanic pagans, Odin IS the reason for the season, and that all the candles, merriment, decorations, drinking and carousing of Yule only came about as a hedge against the long dark.  For at the heart of Yule are the dead and their mad, wild ride through the long nights, and the madness and ferocity of their leader, the masked god.  At the heart of Yule is sacrifice (a word and concept many pagans shrink from), sacrifice in supplication to the Huntsman and His wild wights, to keep the dark at bay and to survive the long winter nights in order to live and prosper through another year.

And so I leave you with this cautionary note: that even for those of us who have a legitimate claim on Yule as part of our own traditions, there are still deeper traditions–and their meanings–to be uncovered.  And I leave you with a challenge: to dare to enrich your practice and your spiritual life in general by digging deep, deep enough to uncover and understand the roots of the customs you embrace.  Don’t settle for putting a pagan veneer on secular Christmas and then claiming to be authentically Germanic; we are better than that, or at the very least we ought to be.

devotion · folklore · heathen · myth · northern tradition · odin · pagan · pagan advent calendar · spirit work · wild hunt

The Hunt Rides Tonight

Einherjar are served by Valkyries in Valhöll w...
Image via Wikipedia

(Today, on the eve of the Solstice, seems like a good time to repost this poem I originally wrote a few years back.  It has appeared in a number of publications since then.)

Fasten your windows and bolt all your doors,
Draw tight your curtains and shades;
Keep the lights burning and stay out of sight,
For the Yuletide is turning;
The Hunt rides tonight.
Hordes of dead heroes from long-ago wars
Ride forth from Valhalla this eve,
And there’s blood in their eyes and they lust for a fight,
They will seize the unwary;
The Hunt rides tonight.

With shrieks and shrill hollers they take to the skies,
Like a curtain of mist they advance,
Riding the storm winds, the furious host,
They sweep down on the slumbering lands.
With their horses’ eyes burning and hounds at their heels,
The dead hunters seek out their prey,
Ripping down trees and tearing down walls,
Raining down doom on their way.
Scattering grain and shattering lives,
They lay waste to all in their path.
Ghostly hands tear down what humans have built,
Leaving destruction behind.
But the hunters sow seeds in the deep-frozen earth,
So that next year the crops will be kind.

Lock up your children and hide your fair wives,
Stay inside safe by the fire,
Set out your offerings for all the wild wights,
For the Yuletide is turning;
The Hunt rides tonight.
For the huntsmen seek food and the huntsmen seek lives
And blood is the mead in their horns,
They will sweep away all that is left in the fields,
So new seeds can be sprouted;
The Hunt rides tonight.

As for me, I will stand outside on the steps,
With the wind whipping chill through my hair,
Watching the skies as the clamor draws near
With the howling of wolves and the clashing of spears,
Watching the skies until He appears,
Riding the storm on His eight-legged steed,
Leading the dead through the skies,
Riding the winds at hurricane speed,
With two wolves at His side and His cloak of blue-black.
And a terrible gleam in His eye.
Wodenaz, come to me, take me away,
For I am your rightful prey;
Lift me beside You and off we will ride,
Leading the dead through the skies.

Fasten your windows and bolt all your doors,
All those who want to stay safe.
But I’m bride to the Huntsman, and with Him I will fly,
Riding the storm winds;
The Hunt rides tonight.
Wodenaz, drive Your spear into me,
Drink deep of my heart’s blood so red;
For the Hunt’s in my blood and there’s fire in my head
And I give myself freely;
The Hunt rides tonight.

Copyright © 2005 by Laure Lynch

(Want more of my poetry and stories written for and about Odin?  Check out my books!)