In my part of the world, the early blooms of Spring are beginning their slow, determined crawl up through the worn and weary crust of the earth, not so much punching their way into view as just grinding it out centimeter by centimeter. I’m reminded of Sisyphus, that self-important, braggart of a mortal punished by the ancient Greek gods for his deceitfulness, struggling day after day to shove an almost unbearably heavy stone up the side of a dauntingly steep mountainside. Each day he almost reaches the pinnacle of the mountain only to have the stone roll to the bottom of the slope each evening whereupon he resumes his task the next day, for all of eternity.

I don’t think the buds of the trees or flowers of the fields are self-aggrandizing; I don’t think they’re being punished, but I do marvel at the mechanics of small life-forces inching their way through dense, static clods of dirt in their irresistible quest for sunlight, their unquenchable thirst for air, for moisture. Watching the daily (sometimes hourly) progress of breaking buds on the trees—that’s just astonishing. Tiny, irresistible life-force breaking past what seems like the immoveable object of the outer skin of the bud—what can I learn from your struggle? From your perseverance?

Image by DASonnenfeld via WikiMedia. CC 4.0 License.

The earth around me is only now greening. It feels like Persephone is running a little late this year, although I’m sure that this is just my mortal impatience with all of the browness that yet lingers well into this rainy month. Catkins rustle dully as the chilly slaps of wind buffet them, desiccated stalks of bee balm and coneflowers, flattened by the repeated bludgeoning of snow and ice, cover the ground like discarded straw. It ain’t pretty here, folks.

Or perhaps it is. Perhaps in all the browns and blacks of death there is a different kind of beauty, a lesson to be learned as I wait for the hyper-vibrant hues of full Spring to overtake and saturate my senses.

It’s my practice to lean into those things that cause me discomfort, to explore the source of that discomfort and see what insights about myself I can glean. My impatience and weariness of greedy Winter, so reluctant to relinquish ascendency, becomes an opportunity for mindfulness, for observation, for slowing my own rhythms to be more in cadence with the rhythms of my Mother. What if, instead of obsessing over the eventual arrival of Spring, I instead opened my eyes to the dregs of Winter surrounding me right now, in this moment?

Photo by the author.

Owls, and Wisdom, Hidden in Plain Sight

At the center of the Heart Labyrinth, located on the grounds of the church I attend, is a black walnut tree. I discover dozens of walnut shells scattered around its base, husks cleaved open and scraped by ravenous squirrels eager for a juicy snack. On their slow path to devolving into humus, the walnut halves clutter and obscure the grey mulch under them. They look to me like a parliament of barn owls.

Mythological harbinger of death, symbol of the crone, solitary night hunter, what can you teach me? To wait and observe. To remember to use all of my senses and perhaps not be so reliant on sight as my primary means of understanding the world around me. To understand that all parts of the Great Cycle are critically important to the whole, interconnected and interdependent.

Well into my own crone years, this is a message I need to be reminded of. The texture of my skin is changing as I age, becoming drier, less pliant, rougher. My jowls are becoming more pronounced. The flesh of my neck is loosening and lopsided, courtesy of a surgery on my carotid artery a year ago. My waist-length hair, once lustrously black, is as grey as the weathered mulch under the walnut shells.

And yet this life-force within me remains irresistibly vibrant. The wisdom that so routinely eluded me in my younger years now flows through my fingers, my voice, my very way of being as effortlessly water flows downstream. I give thanks to the owls for the insights they have offered.

Blessings upon you who still give of yourselves even as you are overlooked, even as you are broken. May I be open to the lessons you offer.

Photo by the author.

We Make a Life by What We Give

(Thanks to Winston Churchill for the quotation.) Behind the Heart Labyrinth, tucked up into the stalky slope of the eastern corner of the property, is a festoon of spent milkweed pods. They’re glorious, big and sassy and faintly Georgia O’Keeffe-ish in their unabashed voluptuousness. “Behold,” they seem to say, “and imagine the lives we have sustained.”

In North America the Monarch butterflies are recovering from the brink of extinction thanks to thousands of individuals who have been mindfully planting and caretaking milkweed. The Monarch butterfly population is still anemic in numbers, but it is growing because a tremendous number of humans from Canada to Mexico, pretty much none of whom really know each other, responded to their plight and formed a support network for this non-human species.

Sustainer of life, what can I learn from you? That sometimes I’m not the star of the show, I’m the support staff. That I can give whatever nourishment I choose—be it tangible or intangible—freely, without expectation. That I can be someone’s waystation, someone’s safe house, someone’s soft landing place, and when they’ve been fed and rested and renewed I can say goodbye with a hope-filled heart and wish them well on their journey without getting stuck in mourning the loss of their presence. That I can have healthy boundaries and still be in relationship.

I am reminded of a Parker Palmer quote from his book, The Courage to Teach: “I want to learn how to hold the paradoxical poles of my identity together, to embrace the profoundly opposite truths that my sense of self is deeply dependent on others dancing with me and that I still have a sense of self when no one wants to dance.” I give thanks for the insights the milkweed has offered.

Blessings upon you who freely offer the gifts of unconditional nurturance and deep peace without expectation. May I be open to the lessons you offer.

Photo by the author.

In an Ending, A Beginning

In high Summer, the path to the Heart Labyrinth is hidden from sight. In the native plant landscaping, Brown-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, bee balm, and other prairie plants and grasses crowd the edges of the pathway. The vegetation is about three feet high and the path becomes a low channel through a wide river of indigenous flora. Though the black walnut tree at the center of the Labyrinth is easily visible it’s not an uncommon experience that, due to the combination of tall grasses and sharp bends in the path, visitors can’t actually see the Labyrinth until they’re practically upon it.

Now, though, so close to Beltane, the prairie’s stiff brown bushes are bare and the hollowed-out grasses have collapsed against each other like so much chaff. The limestones marking the lanes of the Labyrinth look like a ritual scarification, a permanent modification of tattooing upon the land. The stones are grey, the winter-worn mulch is grey; the Heart Labyrinth seems dormant and listless.

Well-traveled path, what do you have to teach me? What can I learn from you? Mindfulness, always mindfulness. To watch my steps and heed my surroundings. To be willing—and able—to pause on the journey and be fully present in the now even as the path seeks to pull me forward into the not yet. Acceptance, when I stumble over some loose mulch or unevenness in the path, for no journey of Becoming is smooth or without twists and turns. The patience not to hurry my steps in order to “get to the goal”; the center of the Labyrinth is not a goal but a turning point, simply another iteration of winding.

“Round and round the earth is turning,” goes the old English folksong, “turning always into morning, and from morning into night.” So too, of course, the seasons. So too, we in the Universe and the little universes in each of us. All spiral-dancing within ever-widening circles both seen and unseen, experienced firsthand or only faintly dreamed of at the edges of our knowing. I give thanks for the insights the Labyrinth has offered.

Blessings upon you who offer lessons of patience and mindfulness, who recall me into an exploration of my own heart’s labyrinth. May I be open to the lessons you offer.

May you journey your seasons with intention and integrity, with a joyful openness of heart and spirit, and in the deep knowledge that you are beloved of the Universe and all that is holy. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore, may “your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.”

Namaste, my friends.

When the weather outside is a combination of sleet, freezing rain and snow, I can reflect on springtimes past and the future. So here I am, mid April, writing this and looking out my window at this cold wintery mix we’re having, and asking, why? Well, not that I’m a weather expert, but I gave this some thought. Maybe Persephone is still in the Underworld. I have to give Hekate and Demeter credit for not wanting Persephone to freeze her butt off in this unusual Wisconsin weather. I’m sure when the time comes, They will escort Her to the Middle-world again. When They’re ready.

Photo by the author.

After reading Jason Mankey’s post about Summer Pagan Festivals, I thought about all the incredible mentors I’ve had in my life, not all Pagan.

Professional Mentors

I worked for a sergeant in the Air Force in the early 1960’s overseas on Okinawa. Herbert Marsh taught me a lot about photography, as he had been a photographer in World War II and took photos of the bombing at Pearl Harbor. He was the first person who took me under his wing. His encouragement helped me to choose photography as a career. When I was assigned to his unit, I was an audio-visual specialist who really liked photography, but except for a photo class in middle school, hadn’t thought much more about it.

Since I was one of two a-v specialists, and they really only needed one I asked to help out at the photo lab front counter. I was skilled in all the things that most of the photo staff weren’t, so we made a deal. I would do all the paperwork, forms, booking the regular photo stuff, like passport photos and social stuff for the base newspaper. In return, he taught me as much as I could absorb, including helping the alert photographers at night. That’s where I really learned my darkroom craft, developing and making prints, processing color slides and the like. It became the start of my career move later in life.

Another mentor in the military was James Deal, whom I worked for in the training aids division in Duluth, MN from 1968-1969. By then I was against the Vietnam War, and when I was asked to relocate to the Pentagon, I didn’t want to go there. He supported my decision and helped me realize that since I was trained really well in both audio-visual skills and photography, not only darkroom work, but aerial photography as well, I should leave the military. Prior to being assigned to the base in MN, I had been in Montana in mid-1965, and Truax Field in Wisconsin later, where I was using, at that time, digital conversion of radar scope images to a system of film based processing and projection for war room applications. Yep, I was starting to learn digital in mid-1965.

Now, keep in mind, I wasn’t open as Transgender or Pagan yet. Later under President Clinton, it was “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I left the military and pursued a different career path, one in which I could be more myself.

Image by Tumisu via Pixabay. CC License.

Spiritual Mentors

Fast forward to 2017, when Hekate came into my life with a roar! She has been with me through a lot of different experiences and continues to help me on my path. When all these crossroads I had wrote about in previous articles, started appearing regularly, one by one, She was giving me guidance though my meditations with Her. It helped reduce my stress a lot. I simply gave those stress related problems over to Her and the Universe. She knew what I could handle, and what I couldn’t. So instead of everything going on all at the same time, it got spread out over a period of time. What I thought I could do in a month or two, actually took almost 6 months to close the business and the related issues caused by that.

Pagan Community Mentors

I’ve also had a lot of great mentors in the Pagan community who have really influenced how I think about myself. Before I became involved, in 2016, with Circle Sanctuary, I was a solitary Pagan. Even though I had known Selena Fox for quite a few years, it wasn’t until much later I could share what I was and what I am, with her. Selena accepted me unconditionally and really started mentoring me. She knew there were a lot of things I really hadn’t experienced before being by myself. She also knew that I had done most of the customer service and client contact in my business for 39 years. When there was some administrative change happening at Circle, she asked me if I could help her with all the Full Moon Rituals in 2017 after those people left. I had the time, said yes, and it helped immensely. I also know that Hekate had played Her part in that too. She is the change, the ally and friend for the next level, the guard, guide and system.

After that, I started feeling much more balanced in my life. Being in the closet as a Transwoman and a Pagan had been very stressful.

There were also a number of people I met at Circle Sanctuary, and at their events that have literally shaped where I am, and where I will be, on my journey as a Pagan Transwoman. Without supportive mentors, most of whom are younger than me, my life would’ve been a disaster. When my mentors found out that I wasn’t active with any Pagan groups, they took took me under their wings. They gave me great advice, help, and above all inspiration.

I felt that I had to move out of state and leave my given name and life in Wisconsin, so I, as Brianne, could finally be free, and move on. I focused on getting rid of everything that was associated with my past, including all of the male parts, but I was conflicted. What should I do? The answer came at Pagan Spirit Gathering.

I had met one of my mentors, Chante’, at Circle Sanctuary in 2016. We had talked about a lot of things, but I hadn’t told her everything. I asked what she thought I should keep. Her response was, “keep what made you the person you are today. The rest isn’t important.” She helped me see everything more clearly, that I didn’t have to totally get rid of all of the thoughts and things in my past. Sometimes, the simplest answer is the best!

Image by StockSnap via Pixabay. CC License.

Writing Mentors

I was fortunate to meet some really great people at PSG 2017. Two of whom are mentioned above. Since that was my first PSG, I took a lot of workshops, including Jason Mankey’s. I had heard about him and knew he was a good writer. We talked after a lot of his workshops, and I said I wanted to write a memoir of my life. He suggested that I start by writing a blog, and later incorporating what was relevant into a book that I will self-publish.

First I had some unfinished business to take care of. Late in 2017, he reached out again, and asked me when I was going to start writing. I had been procrastinating, and since I hadn’t written anything like that before, I didn’t know how to start. But he encouraged me to start writing my blog on Patheos, here at the Agora. He saw the potential in me and took the time necessary to help me get started writing. He gave me a lot of great advice. He took the time, even when he was really busy with all he was doing at Patheos, writing books and attending indoor Pagan events, to help me.

That first article got some editing help and was updated and published in mid-January. About the same time I had read Astrea Taylor’s book Belle Dame Sans Merci, which I loved. We started a conversation that led to my articles. She gives me a lot of very constructive comments, which helps me get my message out a little clearer.

I also have to mention here, that Cyndi Brannen was very helpful when I started writing about my Journey With Hekate articles. When I first started writing about Hekate, I was trying to learn as much about Her as I could. I started reading Cyndi’s Hekate articles at Patheos, and really liked how she wrote with such passion about Her. As I was learning more and more, my personal practice evolved into a Hekatean Spiritual and Witchcraft path for me. She gave me permission to use the words at the bottom of my latest articles and helped me with very constructive comments about my writing.

Conclusion

It takes a tribe to build a village. Sharon Stewart told me that when I was helping with the layout for PSG last year. “You’ll watch the PSG village grow very day. Don’t blink.” It does, and it did.

From that tribe, a wonderful group of mentors came to me. I will forever be grateful for that. I thank all of you who have helped me from the bottom of my heart. My mission going forward is to be a mentor to those Trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming Pagans, as I myself have been mentored.

So until next time, with Her, I’ll see you…in the future!

Mighty Hekate, Queen of the Witches,
Blessed am I,
To call myself one of Your chosen.

(Above used with permission from Cyndi Brannen..with many thanks and love)

Why relationships with Gods isn’t simple . . . . . .

Most people don’t know the defining moment in their life, when they took that one step on their path to become the person they were meant to be. I know the exact second, the exact moment, and the exact breath. I can picture it perfectly in my head. It was the moment I discovered with my heart and soul who I would truly become and commit to it without fear. The moment I would not turn back.

Originally from Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods.” Painting by Arthur Rackham via WikiMedia.

I was in a strange place mentally, physically, and spiritually. I knew who I was and was connected to that, I had met the woman that I knew I was going to marry and she was becoming the person that she wanted to be. My Spiritual life was great, I knew there were more steps coming but I wasn’t afraid to take them, I was just waiting for them to be shown to me. Everything felt perfect and I was starting to become a leader in my small community. I was proud.

I also felt stagnant in the position I was in, like I had reached the top and would go no further. So when things started to fall apart on the Detroit Pagan Pride Day Festival and I was able to step up, take over Teen Programming at the very last minute and cobble something together, people took notice. Although I told them that there was one Ritual that I wanted to go to during the day and that was a warrior attunement ritual, and I knew that I needed to be there.

So I went. There was talking, there was ritual, and there was an offering laid out on the table to the gods of a blank check up to and including my life. That was my moment. The very definition of the second that changed the course of my life. That was the moment that the Gods truly seized control of my life and rushed me headlong into what I was going to become.

It took nine days for me to have everything and nothing. I really did write that check and the Gods accepted. My Gods don’t play. The Norse Pantheon is not for the weak of heart or for those that are going to waffle around. Once you are in, expect abuse and reward, that’s the only way they know how to roll. I have not met one person that truly walks with the Nordic Pantheon that will not curse out one of the Gods that they work with on a semi-regular basis.

Don’t expect some business professional relationship with the Nordic Pantheon either, again that is not how they roll. Once you have been accepted you are in for the ride of your life. You become more focused and driven towards the goals that you need to accomplish, and one by one your list of tasks will just fall at your feet. It will be simple. Your to-do list will never stop getting larger, you will never be able to stop checking in with yourself, and by all means the second that you take a step that they don’t want you to take be prepared for a huge lesson. The more stubborn you are the more painful the lesson will be.

Here is where it becomes a little be harder to distinguish what is true Re-constructionism, what is half-truths, and what is actual fact that we might know. Most of the facts that we have are based on archeological findings and limited accounts of the tattooed blond people from the north in some literature that has survived. Much about their gods and actual practices has not survived. According to an article from the BBC regarding the Viking Religion pre-Christianity there is very little know. The few things that are know is that Village Chieftains may have acted as spiritual guides and the hammer of Thor was used as protection. They converted easily to Christianity to open trade routes. They were warriors and traders.

So one thing we truly know about them is they took what they needed and wanted and used it. They were opportunists. If they saw that there was a wealthy village or monastery on their trade route that could be easily taken it was theirs. Why not take every aspect that you know and find out, to create and forge your own path and become the person that you want to be? I mean it would be very simple and very east to do. All you have to do is take what you have been given and what works for you and move along. More has been created with even less.

Walk your path, find your moment, and become who you want to be.

“The beauty in Greek religion is the simplicity of worship. In our homes, worship is based on the PanHellenic tradition, but customizable so you may grow your own family tradition.”

This post is dedicated to all the beginners seeking guidance for their new path in Hellenism. I define Hellenism as the collective Greek ethos that stretches from the Myceneans (16th century BCE) to the present day. Religion is just one part of Hellenism. Hellenism is the collective culture of the Greeks, it encompasses all things Greek related such as language, philosophy, literature, history, architecture, food and so on.

Hestia tapestry, via WikiMedia. 6th Century, Egypt.

I am guessing it is the gods that have drawn you in. That is a common entry point into Hellenism. I want to welcome you and give thanks to the gods for bringing you to Hellenism. There is an important question you must ask yourself. Why do you want to worship the gods? If your intentions are fueled by romanticism for the ancient world, I will ask that you temper your perceptions of what it means to practice Hellenism. The revival of Hellenism is not about strict reconstruction of the ancient modes of worship in all its forms. Instead, through the traditions which have been passed down to us, we like any religion, live in the realities of our times and as such follow necessity, as our guide to building our path today and into tomorrow. We do not seek to relive the past.

Below is a basic model for household worship which is honest and authentic to the PanHellenic tradition. This is a model for monthly ritual observance. Consider the following outline below as a seed which you can use to grow your own household tradition. It is the barebones to get you started. This can be done when it is appropriate for you. Either the first of the month, or near the changing of the zodiac signs (usually around the 20th and 22nd of the month) or the new moon of the current calendar month. Whatever works for you. The community which I am a part of celebrates festivals communally usually on the Saturday after the zodiac sign changes. Find the time frame that works for you.

Hellenic Ritual generally contains the four components:

1. Invocation to Hestia

2. Invocation to the god of the month. Right now, it is Aphrodite.

3. Invocation of your choice. This can be based on any PanHellenic festivals that happened during this month. You will need to research what festivals occurred during the month, to which god they were for and then to recite their hymn. You can also recite the hymn to any god you feel is needed to be said. Or skip step three altogether.

4. Offerings followed by a moment of contemplation. I like to burn incense at this point. You can do traditional offers such as wine, or something personal.

Let us practice. It is April, below is an example for this month’s home ritual. I have a candle for Hestia that I light before I open any ritual. It can be a dollar store candle, or you can be as elaborate as you like.

Botticelli’s Venus (detail), via WikiMedia.

Hestia

Daughter of Kronos, venerable dame, the seat containing of unweary’d flame;
In sacred rites these ministers are thine, Mystics much-blessed, holy and divine
In thee, the Gods have fix’d place, strong, stable, basis of the mortal race:
Eternal, much-form’d ever-florid queen, laughing and blessed, and of lovely mien;
Accept these rites, accord each just desire, and gentle health, and needful good inspire.

Aphrodite

Ourania, illustrious, laughter-loving queen, sea-born, night-loving, of an awful mien; Crafty, from whom necessity first came, producing, nightly, all-connecting dame:’Tis thine the world with harmony to join, for all things spring from thee, O pow’r divine.The triple Fates are rul’d by thy decree, and all productions yield alike to thee: Whate’er the heav’ns, encircling all contain, earth fruit-producing, and the stormy main, Thy sway confesses, and obeys thy nod, awful attendant of the brumal God [Bakkhos]: Goddess of marriage, charming to the sight, mother of Loves, whom banquetings delight;Source of persuasion, secret, fav’ring queen, illustrious born, apparent and unseen: Spousal, lupercal, and to men inclin’d, prolific, most-desir’d, life-giving., kind: Great sceptre-bearer of the Gods, ’tis thine, mortals in necessary bands to join; And ev’ry tribe of savage monsters dire in magic chains to bind, thro’ mad desire.

Come, Cyprus-born, and to my pray’r incline, whether exalted in the heav’ns you shine, Or pleas’d in Syria’s temple to preside, or o’er th’ Egyptian plains thy car to guide, Fashion’d of gold; and near its sacred flood, fertile and fam’d to fix thy blest abode; Or if rejoicing in the azure shores, near where the sea with foaming billows roars, The circling choirs of mortals, thy delight, or beauteous nymphs, with eyes cerulean bright, Pleas’d by the dusty banks renown’d of old, to drive thy rapid, two-yok’d car of gold; Or if in Cyprus with thy mother fair, where married females praise thee ev’ry year, And beauteous virgins in the chorus join, Adonis pure to sing and thee divine; Come, all-attractive to my pray’r inclin’d, for thee, I call, with holy, reverent mind.

Hymn of Choice

April also is when we celebrate the festival for Aphrodite, so you can do any hymn you like at this point. Maybe thank a god that that helped you with something for example. Or just honor any god you will appropriate now. This step can be skipped.

Close with offerings followed by a moment of contemplation.

I’m getting ready to travel to do a sacred sites tour of southwest Ireland so I have the idea of respectfully visiting these sites on my mind. I think there’s layers to this idea for modern pagans and polytheists who visit places considered sacred, especially when these sites have acknowledged historic value. Whether we like to admit it or not tourism is damaging historic locations and just because we might consider ourselves part of a religion or spirituality that sees these places as spiritually significant doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes contribute to the problem.

Cheathru Chaol 2016. Photo by Morgan Daimler

On the one hand I think it’s incumbent upon people merely as good humans to pick up after themselves and not toss their rubbish on the ground (whether or not there’s a convenient bin nearby). On the other hand as people who are choosing to go to these places, possibly even as an act of devotion, I think it’s essential to show respect to them, and that means thinking our actions through beyond our own immediate desires or the way we would act at home.

When I did a similar tour in 2016 – focused on the Morrigan – I was appalled at the amount of garbage our group found at each site we visited. Aluminum cans, plastic bags, styrofoam cups, food wrappers, cigarette butts; when we helped clean out a holy well we were even finding old CDs and plastic plant potters. Even in places where the site itself is gated off I saw the evidence of people throwing rubbish intentionally into the sites. It was depressing to see the careless disregard that the places were being treated with, especially considering that some of them require effort to access.

I also saw evidence of people engaging in practices, such as tying things on trees, which were well meaning but harmful as well as being misunderstandings of actual traditions. The rag tree tradition is a practice found across Ireland and the UK where certain trees, often located near a holy well, have strips of cloth tied to them symbolizing a prayer (usually for healing). The issue that comes in here is multilayered. Lora O’Brien explains it well in a piece she wrote called ‘Rag Tree Tradition‘ but basically I would say it comes down to three things.

Cheathru Chaol 2016. Photo by Morgan Daimler

Firstly people are tying things to random trees that have no association with previous use as a rag tree. Secondly they are not tying pieces of natural, degradable cloth but all sorts of random things including plastic; these items don’t break down which is a problem from a magical standpoint and also causes serious damage to the tree. Thirdly this is being done without any real understanding of the practice, its meaning or magical purpose; I’d like to hope it goes without saying that you shouldn’t do anything if you don’t know why you are doing it or what its purpose is but I’m saying it anyway.

We also need to be aware that when we are going into these sites, while we might view them as a sacred places, they don’t belong to us. I don’t just mean that in a literal sense* but also metaphorically. They don’t belong to us. We can say that these places belong to the Gods and spirits and we are their guests while we are there. We can say that they are a part of history – many of them are still being actively studied by archaeologists – and we need to treat them with the respect they deserve as culturally significant. We can even say that they don’t belong to us because they belong to everyone not only now but in the future.  We can enjoy them, we can find value in them, we can even connect deeply to them – but we should never feel as if we own them in any sense or have any right to treat them the way we would our own property.

Newgrange (Sid in Broga), photo by bastique, via WikiMedia. CC2.0 License.

I’d like to suggest some basic guidelines to visiting a sacred site:

  1. If you see trash pick it up and throw it away. You may not enjoy dealing with other people’s garbage but it’s important to do your part to keep these places clean.
  2. Don’t leave any garbage there yourself. I suggest carrying a spare bag you can pack your trash in since there may not always be rubbish bins around; this is also helpful for picking up random garbage you find as you go.
  3. Don’t interfere with the site in a way that damages it. This includes taking away pieces of it, such as stones (think about it, if everyone who visits takes a stone away from a cairn or other sacred site the damage is devastating). This also includes things like burning candles, which gets modern wax into the structure.
  4. If it’s on private property you must get permission to visit it. Period. Even if you know where it is. Even if you’ve been there before.
  5. Be very careful with offerings. Don’t leave things that aren’t biodegradable and safe for local wildlife. Don’t tie plastic or synthetic fibers to trees. Don’t push coins into trees.

Ultimately we must remember that if we are travelling to these places we are guests and we should act like it.

*this is literally true as well though and should be kept in mind. If you are travelling to visit a sacred site you are in a place that is not your own, especially if you are in a foreign country. Don’t treat it like your backyard.

It took me most of my life to truly enjoy my life. You may ask, why? Well, when you know what’s on the outside isn’t who you are on the inside, it takes time. Most of you who have read any of my previous articles, have found out that I’m a Pagan Transwoman. When you hide what you really are from the time that you’re very young, what you become is an introvert, a shy, reticent person.

Thats how it was with me. Hiding. From others and from myself. Even though I was around others, I found that I was only really happy in nature. As defined by the dictionary: Solitude – the state or situation of being alone, a lonely or uninhabited place.

But was I lonely? No. I was surrounded by nature’s beauty. The colors of spring. Green grass, beautiful wild flowers, the fresh smell of the moist earth carried on the wind, the arrival of songbirds, and the young animals being born. The fawns, a multitude of life, with baby birds in their mother’s nest. The summer, with crops growing, the warm rains to replenish the earth. Fall with the crops being harvested, golden fields of wheat, oats and barley. The reds, oranges, yellows, and lots of colors in the trees. Even winter, with beautiful white snow.

Being around people was another story. I got really good at avoiding groups, especially group functions where there would be people I barely knew. Unless I was hanging out with really good friends, most of whom had no idea I was Trans, I stayed by myself. And being in a small farming community when I was younger, without a car, I got used to it. It stayed with me my entire life until I found my true home, many, many years later.

Solitary: alone or existing alone. I found in nature, and many years later, when Hekate came into my life, that I was never really alone. But it was still a struggle to not get too depressed at times. I was solitary as a child, and even as an adult, because I didn’t have that option of a community of inclusive people. By being an introvert, I was not driven to seek out other Pagans.

Even though I had known Selena Fox for some time, I was still hesitant to get involved with other Pagans. Having the business, and being Trans was hard enough, I was afraid to rock the boat with my clients by openly admitting I was Pagan. That changed in 2016. Hekate was the one who literally pushed me into going to Welcome Summer at Circle Sanctuary, but at the time I hadn’t realized it. I knew when I first walked into the Temple Room, I had found my home. My chosen family. And I was finally accepted unconditionally.

For others that are introverted, and solitary in their craft, here’s a link to a really good article written by Astrea. Sometimes all it takes is a little push to leave your comfort zone. That was how it was for me. I have to thank Hekate, Selena Fox and others at Circle Sanctuary for that push.

At PSG 2017, I met some younger Trans and gender non-conforming Pagans who reminded me of myself when I was younger. Some of them weren’t “out” to parents or friends. I was able to talk to them, and let them know that within our Pagan community they weren’t alone. I was very glad there was a Social Justice Center in Rainbow Camp. Having a safe place, where we can come together, and discuss issues important to us, is very necessary. This type of safe place needs to continue at all PSG events in the future.

As more and more younger Pagans come to, and get involved in events such as PSG, older Pagans have to realize that what was sufficient before, such as two gender rituals, isn’t any longer. With all the information about Pagans like us available today, most younger Pagans, a lot of them millennials, are and have to be the future. I feel that people like me who are older, gender non-conforming, and understand the challenges we face, that the older community will indeed need more education about us. And a lot of them are almost afraid to ask I found out at PSG last year. Change is coming, and needs to come. The future is, and needs to be in the younger generation that will come behind us. They too will need education and guidance from us older Pagans.

For Pagans that are Trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming we need a place for trans and gender non-conforming youth in our community; understanding that a body’s sacredness surpasses gender or sex assigned at birth. It is not enough to “accept” trans and gender non-conforming people in the community; the community must work to include them on their own terms (Senioring vs. Croning/Saging). There is a need for spaces in ritual which celebrate and include genders outside of the binary. There was an All-Gender Ritual at PSG last year that I attended. I found it to be very well planned out and was pleased to see so many diverse people that attended. We need to keep doing these. It will be a way to affect the change that we need.

But it’s not just what Circle Sanctuary and PSG are doing. I feel they are leading the way in that regard. I think that event planners at other Pagan events need to realize that the Trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming Pagans are here to stay. I know there are a lot of smaller events out there, and it does take a little extra planning, but in the long run it will be worth doing. Even though we are accepted, there still needs to be more education about us. We are not going away.

So until next time, with Her, I’ll see you…in the future!

Mighty Hekate, Queen of the Witches,
Blessed am I,
To call myself one of Your chosen.

(Above used with permission from Cyndi Brannen..with many thanks and love)

When things don’t go your way: Unraveling the Mystery of Loki in your life

So the name that was given to me in my spiritual seeking was Jarl Aslaung Thoreskelde, when translated means something like Chieftain Woman Betrothed to the God Beloved of Thor. If that doesn’t sum up my life in a nutshell nothing does. To add to this puzzle I’m going to let you in on a little secret, the woman I love is named Sigrun Rose Angar Laufeyson, which basically means Secret Victory Rose, ruler with the sword, and if you don’t recognize her second last name let me enlighten you, it is also Loki’s Last name. Something about son of a leaf?

I never wanted to be in a relationship and I thought any chance of having a relationship was abandoned when I decided I wanted to basically become a Viking Nun. I married a God named Thor, and he taught me how to be a leader and personable. One day I met this girl who was only half on her path and I helped guide her to her path. She started walking it and got herself married to Loki, and now she and I are getting married to one another.

“Loki Consumes a Roasted Heart” by John Bauer. From WikiMedia.

How is Loki, the trickster god in my life? I’m in a multi-dimensional polyamorous yet physically monogamous relationship. I sound like a crazy person, even when I write that sentence out. To most people in the Pagan Community we are nuts. For us, this is our everyday life. Ninety-nine percent of my life is preparing for what to do when things go wrong and the inevitable chaos that is my relationship with a Trickster God and his wife goes crazy.

Even people that follow the Northern Path and understand that we have something more than a business professional relationship with our deity will rag on Loki, the trickster god. Saying he’s terrible to work with and no good and pure chaos. I want to say something here, yes, Loki is Chaos in its most basic form and working with him causes changes and chaos in your life. He is not terrible to work with you just need to know what you’re signing up for when you put your name on the dotted line.

Loki is going to facilitate the change that you need in your life. Is it going to be that change that you want? Not always, but it will always be the change that you need. Is it going to be in the way that you want it to happen? Never. There is one thing that you can always expect from Loki, he is an a-hole and he will always be an a-hole. If you want to deal with him in any kind of manner where he doesn’t completely screw up your life at every step that you take, well here’s how.

You pay attention. You honestly don’t have another choice. When Loki is in your life ignoring him will make you go spiraling into deep dark abyss quicker than you can think of because he is trying to help you so you need to accept his help or it’s going to go the opposite direction. These are the terms and conditions that you need to accept when you work with Loki.

This I think is where Loki tends to get a bad rap with most people that follow the Northern Path, and most pagans in general. He has three aspects to him depending on his stages in life. You have the completely trickster Loki that is going to do everything to please himself, and for the sheer joy of doing things. This is a Loki you hear about less frequently because he’s not around for very long. This is when he first becomes a blood brother to Odin and in order to get the others to like him he plays pranks.

“Loki and Svaðilfari” by Dorothy Hardy. From WIkiMedia.

Spoiler Alert, no one on Asgard liked these pranks, and all he got for it was an eight legged horse that calls him Mom. Which is where you start getting into what I like to call the middle of the road Loki where he causes trouble only to fix it and try to be seen as the savior. Tom Hiddleston plays an excellent middle path Loki (though his hair should be red!) he angers everyone, tries to fix it, and in the end hilarity ensues. While a lot of the facts are inaccurate in the Marvel Universe and those Movies, the character behind that Loki makes him a perfect example of the Middle Path Loki Attitude.

Flash forward a little while in his life. If you don’t know by now, Frigga becomes troubled by dreams of her beloved son Balder dying. So she of course extracts promises from everyone to not kill him except for the mistletoe because it was too young. Loki convinces Balder’s blind brother to throw a dart of mistletoe at him, killing him. Basically after that it is all downhill for Loki in the lore. The gods betray him, they bind him to rock with his son’s intestines, and have a very venomous snake over his head dripping poison into his eyes. At this point who wouldn’t be pissed?

Loki switches teams, will eventually break free, and ride in on a ship of nails leading the army of giants. Then everyone dies. This last incarnation is destroyer of worlds, and he will destroy everything you know and love to set off your own personal Ragnarok.

My point being, know which Loki you are working with, pay attention to what he is trying to do, and plan for when things go wrong. You don’t have to become the Chaos in order to embrace it and you don’t have to fear Loki being in your life. You can just ride the wave and let things happen, Loki is a bad guy but he’s not really the bad guy. Loki is the one that you will fear the least when you understand him.

I see a lot of discussions around the pagan community, both on social media and in person, which often focus on debating points of belief with an idea of reaching agreement. We discuss the nature of the Gods as if we are trying to convince other people to agree with us. We debate the efficacy of magic as if we need to prove or disprove it to others. We advocate for or against systems of practice.

“Cobden argues with the clouds” by Mosscat, via WikiMedia. GNU License.

These discussion are necessary for the growth of polytheism, I think, as we explore our own beliefs and reach a better understanding of our cosmology and theology for ourselves. However it is a fine line between discussion as self-exploration and a healthy sharing of world-view and discussion as argument where consensus becomes a requirement. I think that we, in a general sense, would do well to give some thought to why we need others to agree with us and what value it really adds to have divisive arguments over points of belief.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good spirited discussion about belief and theology, but I firmly believe we can discuss without needing to prove our own beliefs or disprove someone else’s*. To quote Aristotle “It’s the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it“. Even things that I would say pass beyond belief for me and are simply part of my reality, like the existence of the Good Neighbors [read fairies], are things that I can accept that other people do not believe.

I don’t find that what I think or believe is threatened by people who have different opinions, and so discussing my beliefs isn’t about convincing others but about sharing. In the same way listening to other people discuss their spiritual beliefs is something I usually find interesting, even fascinating, rather than threatening; even when I don’t agree or don’t find any personal resonance in what someone else is saying.

There is one area where I will argue to the end, and that’s on subjects that have a factual basis. Fact is not opinion, and as Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”. If a person wants to believe that the Morrigan is a goddess of fluffy kittens that’s a personal belief and that’s on them; but if a person wants to say that there’s an Irish myth where the Morrigan nurtures fluffy kittens and declares them her familiars then we have crossed over to falsehood. And I can’t deny that while I don’t care whether or not a person values myth more than modern lore I do care that people understand which is which. How much fact and fiction matter to anyone will vary, and that is another point of belief that we can agree to have different opinions on.

Picture taken at Brushwood Folklore Center by the author.

Why do we feel the need to argue about spiritual things instead of discuss, especially about spiritual topics? Obviously there’s no firm answer here but I personally suspect that there are a few possibilities. In some cases I think people are afraid of being wrong themselves and so the only option they feel they have is to hold their metaphorical ground and try to prove they are right, even when that is an impossible goal.

Sometimes I think people simply aren’t listening to each other but are only engaging in order to have a platform to speak their own opinions. And sometimes I think that people really, truly do think that what they believe is the only option, the only possibility, and that other people must believe what they believe as if their beliefs were facts.

Maybe sometimes – maybe sometimes there is a concrete right and wrong of it – but more often I think it’s about our own perspective. If you ask five people to describe the same animal or plant, will you get one cohesive description or will you get five different ones each focused on the aspect that mattered most to the person answering the question? Often, I think, we forget that the tiny portion of reality we comprehend is heavily coloured by our own perceptions, culture, filters, and that life isn’t about either/or but a series of endless ands and shades of possibility.

My beliefs aren’t yours, and that’s okay. We don’t have to believe all the same things, and quite frankly it would be very boring if we did. It is diversity of belief that keeps things interesting and keeps challenging us to better understand ourselves and our own spirituality.

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, it does not exist.” – Nietzsche

*obviously the exception here is when another human’s beliefs, spiritual or otherwise, involve or are predicated on denying or reducing the inherent value of other human beings. That I have no tolerance for.

Before me lay a familiar, worn-down meadow used as a sports field. Ringed by loblollies and a greying split-rail fence, it was nothing my 12-year-old self particularly cared about—just an expanse of scrubby grass, the site of soccer humiliations, I needed to cross in order to get to the stables. And in fact, I rarely crossed through the middle of the field, much preferring to make my way through the gnarled, knobby roots of the pines, worn and shiny from generations of summer campers.

I loved the slightly springy feel of the fallen needles under my shoes, as if Earth, having received the energy of my footfall, was returning that energy to me through the soles of my feet. An odd child—a child slightly apart—I felt comforted by, connected to the sighing of the branches as the wind threaded its way through their green fingertips. It seemed like no matter how difficult a day of trying to fit in had been, the trees were always there to remind me to breathe, to breathe in time with their breaths until I could reestablish my own rhythm and try again.

Photo by the author.

And so, I never really paid attention to the field until I had The Dream.

Before me lay the familiar, worn-down meadow. The sun was particularly bright, bleaching away the blue of the cloudless sky as I entered from one end. The pine trees kept themselves still and silent. Alert. As I crossed the center of the field I felt an unseen force, tensile, thick and cobwebby, stretch into my skin, across my face. And then I pierced a veil.

One the other side was a riotous jungle of a world filled with hot, Fauve-like colors and shapes, dripping wet and pulsing with energy. The air was thickly humid, yet sweet in my lungs and coating my skin with a pleasant buzziness. Enthralled rather than shocked, I was not frightened. Instead, I felt a deep sense of homecoming, as if I had at last found the place where I truly, wholly, and utterly belonged.

My back to the veil, I turned my head to look over my shoulder and realized I could still see the meadow I had just crossed behind me and yet this place, this place that had been there all the time, was invisible from the other side of the veil. I faced forward and tried to absorb everything—the lianas, ancient and deeply grooved, draped across the densely leafed, low-lying branches of massive trees, the shifting greens of the half-lit gloom, the shimmer of wetness limning every surface. In the distance, laughter and music.

As my brain was starting to translate what my senses were experiencing, someone spoke to me. I turned and saw a faun nestled against the liana, watching me take everything in.

“We’ve been waiting for you,” he told me, “come with me”.

Image from pxhere, CC.0 License.

Breathless with joy, I followed him toward the music. We came upon a meadow—a meadow within a meadow—filled with faery folk dancing in a great circle. Willowy and graceful, their movements were so fluid as to seem like they were the embodiment of water. At the end of their circle dance they came to where the faun and I were standing. Each in turn hugged me, whispering words of love and encouragement before moving off to resume their dancing.

The faun and I sat on a long, low branch of an oak tree, our backs against its trunk, content to watch the faery folk dance, listening to the music and not speaking a word. It seemed as if we lingered there for a few days, silent companions, drinking in the magic around us.

At last I turned to him and said, “I want to stay”.

“You cannot,” he replied. “You must go back”.

There was no discussion as he led me back to the veil. I was deeply sad, sad beyond tears. He was not unkind, but there was no question that I was leaving to return to my mundane world. I glanced over my shoulder as I stood before the veil, trying to imprint everything into my memory, into my pores and atoms. I stepped through the tautness of the veil and back onto the worn grass of the soccer field.

And then I woke up in my bunkbed.

And then, I forgot The Dream.

Years passed before I remembered it again. The mundane world was filled with broken relationships, bitter misunderstandings that stretched and took on new life as estrangements, and countless constructions, then teardowns and reconstructions of Self. Life, the old maxim goes, is what happens while you’re making other plans.

A couple of days after my fortieth birthday, on my younger son’s birthday—which also happens to be the Winter Solstice—I had an emergency hysterectomy after almost bleeding out. My hematocrit level was at seven, and my veins had flattened to the point that getting the IVs hooked up was a real challenge. It was as close to crossing over—to death—as I hope to be for a good long while. As you may expect, I emerged from the experience—my fortieth birthday, the longest night, and emergency surgery—changed. The symbolism of having a hysterectomy at forty on my younger son’s birthday was not lost on me. He became the last child I would ever have. My life was unquestionably, irrevocably moving into a new phase, whether or not I was ready for it. It remained for me to try to make meaning out everything I had experienced.

Photo by the author.

And I remembered The Dream.

What does it mean when a dream stays with you for years, decades? What meaning, if any, does it have in our lives? How do we contextualize it? Do we pass it off with, “oh, I had this crazy dream once when I was a kid”? Do we mine it for metaphor, line it up against who we are now and see where the tangent points are? Or do we let it live just under our conscious thought without parsing it out at all?

If a dream is a portal, do we stand firmly on our side and simply gaze through? If a dream is an entrance to what is unseen—to our personal underground—do we choose to enter? If we’re ready for change but the Universe says, “Not yet,” what do we do with that? What if we’re content with the status quo and the Universe says, “Guess what”?

A few nights ago, I had another dream that seems to be staying with me. I can’t remember the images, but I do remember the words that were spoken to me just before I woke up.

“You belong with us,” the voice said. “You belong with us”.

A while back someone forwarded to me an entry from The Times Literary Supplement written by the renowned classicist Mary Beard entitled Paganism Without the Blood. The entry made me laugh; it also annoyed me. The opinions stated by the author demonstrate the level to which fantasy exists in the minds of academics, and their limitations when it comes to living polytheistic religions, specifically Hellenism.

Beard opens the entry with the following, “[o]ne of the good things about working on ancient “pagan” religion is that no one actually believes in it any more.” Beard explains there is relative ease with debating paganism because there is little chance someone will become upset: “you’re not always looking over your shoulder at a community of contemporary believers.” This allows her to make controversial statements regarding paganism without fear. True, our numbers are low. It is less likely you would run into one of us, but we do exist, an existence which Beard does acknowledge but is quick to dismiss.

From WikiMedia. CCO License.

Beard mentions that a group of Greeks in Athens had gone to the Temple of Olympian Zeus to pray for world peace and to celebrate the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. Beard does not fear the presence of Greeks practicing the ancestral religion because whatever it is that the Greeks are doing today, “it bears very little relationship to ancient Greek religion.” Beard’s main complaint with our religious practice is the lack of animal sacrifice as she asks “where was the animal sacrifice?” Beard asserts that animal sacrifice was “the key centre of the whole religious system.”

Beard closes with the following statement: “Until these eager neo-pagans get real and slaughter a bull or two in central Athens, I shan’t worry that they have much to do with ancient religion at all. At the moment, this is paganism lite.”

Firstly, I hope Ms. Beard has evolved on this topic and has done her research on Hellenism as the living tradition it is. It is not a reconstruction nor a neo-pagan movement. Secondly, if this statement from 2007 still holds true, I’d like to try to make a case for how this belief is incorrect. Thirdly, the ancestral Greek religion gained state recognition and protection by the Greek government in 2017. (The group which Ms. Beard refers to in her 2007 statement were not members of the current state recognized religion.)

While animal sacrifice was certainly widespread and important in the ancient world, some people did reject it. Great figures such as Orpheus and Pythagoras rejected animal sacrifice. These were not minor figures in Greek history by any chance. To ignore their contribution is a mistake.

The Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes’ official position concerning sacrifice is that it is no longer needed given the world we live in with supermarkets and packaged meat. Along with the religious purpose an animal sacrifice had, it also had a practical purpose, a purpose which has found itself obsolete in our time. As such, bloodless sacrifices are the preferred option and are in harmony with our tradition.

Our religion is not alone in ending the practice of animal sacrifice. This brings me to my main argument, which I pose to Ms. Beard. According to your standards, the Greek religion as practiced today fails to fulfill the ancient practices to your satisfaction; thus it is “neo-pagan” or “paganism lite.” Are you willing to do the same for other religions? Christians do not perform animal sacrifice, ending the Jewish practice, claiming Jesus’s death was the “perfect sacrifice.” Let’s take this one step further and say that any Christian tradition after the reformation should by Beard’s standard be Neo-Christianity, since they purged the religion of centuries of well-established traditions in an attempt to “correct” the religion. Without the temple in Jerusalem, Jews can no longer perform animal sacrifices, so is Judaism today less valid? Shall we call these traditions Christianity lite and Judaism lite?

Why must Hellenism conform to so-called ancient “standards” (set by the classicists) in order to be valid, when contemporary practices do exist in the ancient record? I think the issue stems from the idea that Hellenism eventually faded away. Any public expression of Hellenism is then suspect in the eyes of academia. Hellenism never entirely disappeared; a continuity exists no matter how silent it may have been all these years. Unfortunately, scholars cannot fully accept this continuity, and it does not matter. Let them live in a fantasy of what they think Hellenism is and leave our community to the activity of living Hellenism. Scholars do not define nor can they give validation to religions. They cannot do so for Hellenism.

Lastly, I’d like to pose to be Ms. Beard, and any classicist reading this:

“Clearly you love the ancient world. If you did not love it, you would not be passionately teaching, promoting and benefiting from it. Why do you not support the revival of Hellenism? Why not be a champion for the public return of a persecuted tradition, which fought for religious freedom in its native birthplace? You could help us, be our ally, help the world accept us once again.”

Sadly, such goals may not be in the interests of scholars like Mary Beard, who are happy they need not look over their shoulders to find a community of contemporary believers who will get in their way.

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