Land spirits are an important part of paganisms around the world. These are spirits associated with places, whether they might be as small as a stream, or a tree, or as large as a mountain, a village, or a country.

In Europe, such spirits go by a number of names, like the elves and faeries in Britain, and the alfar and landvaettir in much of Scandinavia. But these familiar/well-known examples are just the tip of the iceberg. We can find land spirits almost everywhere, from the Celtic clootie well, to the Korean mudang’s tree, to the Mongolian oboo.

a tree with red ribbons hanging from it
Mudang’s Tree – Polly Peterson (2008) / Flickr.com

Similar patterns can be found around the world. In some parts of Indonesia, clearing land for farms may require sacrifices for the spirits who live there so that farmers will be left unharmed. Specific trees or stones may be left alone, or simply warned ahead of time so that resident spirits have a chance to vacate before the land is disturbed. Spirit-workers, whether mediums, diviners, or priests, often have a role in determining if there is a problem, and then resolving it.

Sometimes I find it strange that we don’t see this pattern much in modern America. Willy-nilly, we build with virtually no regard for the land at all. We shape the land and use it, but find it hard to believe that the land shapes us in return. True to our pioneer myth, we generally see the land’s power as passive, ready to be put to use by a strong, firm hand.

Ignoring those who already inhabit the land has been part of our mythology. But as we move from invaders to inhabitants ourselves, this changes. Knowing how to live in harmony is a skill, and one that many pagans embrace.

Moving In

I have moved a fair amount in my life. It wasn’t always like this, but now when I move to a new place, I survey the local land and the local “mythologies.” I then go and find an appropriate location to introduce myself to the land spirits.

Architecturally Modified Mountainside for Shamanic Rituals – Inwangsan
Architecturally Modified Mountainside for Shamanic Rituals – Inwangsan / Polly Peterson, September 2008

When my wife and I lived in Korea for a year, our first weekend trip was to Inwangsan, a mountain associated with Korean shamanist tradition (muism). We left some soju at one of the many impromptu shrines dotting the mountainside, and introduced ourselves to the spirit of the mountain. I must admit, the powerful spirit was singularly unimpressed with our presence.

Inwangsan is an interesting place. Both Buddhist and animist shrines on the mountain are still active, and there was a shop on the mountain that sold a variety of ritual objects. On the way down the mountain, we ran across a woman, probably a mudang (Korean: shaman), ritually tearing cloth. And no, we didn’t stop to snap a picture.

Years later, when we came to the San Francisco Bay Area, my wife and I traveled to the top of Mt. Diablo. This mountain is in many ways the spiritual equivalent of Inwangsan; it has been a holy mountain for the people who have been here ten or more millennia.

We traveled up the mountain and introduced ourselves to all the lands surrounding. Perhaps because of the park system’s strict policy about littering, we neither found shrines nor started one. We simply found a small knoll at the top, and stopped to say hello. We shared some water with some plants there, and asked for permission to stay in the area.

the silhouette of a mountain against the sun set
Mt Diablo” by Hughly741 at en.wikipedia
Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Logan using CommonsHelper
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Wherever we go, the landscape is dotted with places like this. Finding them can be a matter of listening to old stories and keeping your eyes open. As it turns out, Mt. Diablo was named by the Spanish in the area, on account of local spirit beliefs.

A Note of Caution

While recognizing the power of the land spirits is only polite, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to dress the part. Wearing any kind of indigenous clothes for ritual is something you should only do when required by someone who has the “proper” authority through that tradition.

On the other hand, be respectful. When going to a sacred site, it might be appropriate to wear long pants and long sleeves, and to take off your hat when speaking with your betters. These are marks of respect in Western culture, and will generally be recognized and appreciated.

Offering some grain, salt, wine, beer, tobacco, soju, or whatever the local spirit-neighbors like is only polite. Dressing up in their clothes to do so is seriously stalker-y.

The Best Way to Have a Good Neighbor Is to Be One

Living well somewhere means getting along with the land spirits just as much as it means getting along with your other neighbors. Being pleasant and non-disruptive is a start in fostering harmony with the land.

When you move into a new place, heading over to your neighbors and introducing yourself is usually the polite thing to do. This is true whether they live in the next apartment or the old tree down the road. If they’ve lived there ten years, you might learn a thing or two. If they’ve lived there three hundred, so much the better!


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[Editor’s Note:  This article was originally written by Dana in 2009.]

Over the years, I’ve often heard complaints from teens that older Wiccans don’t take them seriously. You say that we don’t listen and that we don’t respect you, and that we too often refuse to teach you. I know that has to rankle, and I’m truly sorry, but please hear me out.

Now, this is not going to be one of those “When I was your age I had to walk 10 miles through a blizzard every day to go to school” lectures. But I would like for you to understand why our eyes glaze over and we wander away going “Eep! Gloik!” when you attempt to tell us what you know about Wicca. What you know about Wicca and what we know about Wicca are poles apart.

Minerva Studio / Shutterstock.com
Minerva Studio / Shutterstock.com

In the years since I first began studying in 1971, the definition of Wicca has changed radically. The kind of person who’s attracted to it has changed radically. And to the older Witch, what you youngsters are talking about when you say “Wicca” does not look or sound anything like what we’re talking about when we say the same word. And both groups believe that their definition is the correct one.

Let’s say that it’s 1971 and some guy is interviewed on the evening news talking about something he calls “Witchcraft.” Not Wicca; nobody was using the word Wicca in public yet. But this witchcraft that this guy on TV described sounds really fascinating. How do you go about satisfying your urge to learn more?

Well, you get yourself down to your local bookstore, and you ask the proprietor where the books on witchcraft are kept. And he gives you this really odd look, and takes you into the back left corner where there’s a shelf marked anthropology. You look at a couple of books about Yoruba and Navajo tribal customs and decide that he must not have understood what you wanted, so you go back and say “No, I mean modern witchcraft.” And he gives you an even odder look and takes you to the back right corner, and sure enough, there are books with the word witchcraft on the spines. But the authors are all Father Somebody and the books all talk about demonology and eating babies and other gross stuff you know can’t be right. So you go home.

Now what? Remember, the Internet isn’t going to go public for another 15 years. The publisher who’ll start putting out all those teen-oriented books on Wicca at the turn of the century is still mostly just doing astrology books. And you don’t know anybody else who’s interested in something this weird.

So you phone the TV station and ask them for the contact information to write to the guy who was talking about witchcraft. After being put on hold forever a secretary reads it off to you. You’re on your way!

Well, no. You write to the guy and ask him how to learn about Witchcraft. And if you’re lucky, in a few months you get a letter back that says:

Dear Teen;

Thank you for your letter. Unfortunately, I cannot help you, as legitimate teachers of the Craft do not accept underage students. I recommend that you read books on mythology, metaphysics and parapsychology, and perhaps when you are old enough, a teacher will appear.

Best Wishes,
Joe Authority

So that’s what you do. You immerse yourself in Theosophy and Rosicrucianism and UFOs, you dabble in Zen and go to the new Hari Krishna Temple that recently opened in a slummy part of downtown. You check out mythology books from the library, and discover that the theme of Atlantis runs through them and most everything else you’re reading as well. You go back and read those books on Yoruba and Navajo tribal customs, and they’re fascinating. You learn to meditate and start having really interesting dreams. You and your best friend do telepathy experiments at night when you’re supposed to be asleep and you think you might have read each other’s minds once. You discover an East Indian import store and start buying incense cones. In bulk. (Your mother worries that you might be smoking pot.)

And you graduate from high school, and you go off to college or get a job or get drafted, and in general get on with your life. But you never really forget your fascination with the occult, as all these interrelated studies are called. You keep reading and meditating, and by now you’ve actually found a useful book or two about what you mean by witchcraft, the stuff that guy on TV talked about.

Then one day when you’re in your twenties you’re in a store or at a movie, and a total stranger looks at you funny and asks, “Are you a Witch?” and you find yourself saying, to this total stranger, “Y’know, I think I am.” And the next Saturday night there you are, at this person’s house, or sitting around a big table at a restaurant, and there are all these other people smiling expectantly at you. They start asking you questions. Why do you want to be a witch? What have you read? And if you’re lucky–if they like you and think you might be a good fit for their group–this time you really are on your way.

They invite you to parties and discussion groups where the conversation is always fascinating but it’s never about politics or movies or sports. You find that most of the members of the group have quite a lot of experience in one or more areas of the occult or metaphysics, the ones you’ve been reading about. Most of them not only read mythology but anthropology and archeology, and at least one is an astronomy geek. They practice herbal medicine and make their own wine. They sit around singing old folk songs you never heard of but they all know by heart. Pretty soon you know them, too. And a year or so later your friend, the one who seems to run things, calls you up and says, “Go to the Army-Navy store and buy yourself a dagger. You’re getting initiated Sunday night.”

Fast forward. It’s 2009. Books on Wicca (as it’s now called) are not only easy to find, they’re hard to avoid. And with perhaps a half-dozen exceptions, there’s nothing in them that would look familiar to that 1971 teen. Where are the references back to the rest of the Western Metaphysical Tradition? The old songs and poems that turned out to have the layers of hidden meaning? What about Atlantis, or the starry wheel of the heavens, or the lost lands of Hy Breasal and Ys? What happened to the work of turning the Wheel? Where are the living Gods and the Mysteries? Where is the frisson of awe? Not in these books, that’s for sure.

The Internet is now a commonplace part of life, taken for granted by most of its users, especially its young users, as the place to find information. Google witchcraft and you could sit there for days following links; the only problem is that the majority of site-owners are obviously just parroting books–too often just one book–and a lot of them appear to have been plagiarized from each other. And they’re mostly all saying that Wicca is whatever you make of it, that the Gods are symbolic constructs that you can mix and match to suit your purpose, that initiation is just a mechanism to keep people out of Wicca, and that the main purpose of it all is to make you feel good about yourself.

OliverSved / Shutterstock.com
OliverSved / Shutterstock.com

The Wicca of 2009 is not the same thing as the Wicca of 1969. In fact, to those of us who have been practicing it for a generation or more what’s called Wicca these days isn’t Wicca at all. It’s NeoPaganism. And we don’t understand why people seem reluctant to call it by that marvelous name.

NeoPaganism is the new religion of the Old Gods, celebrating the Wheel of the Year and the phases of the Moon. It may or may not include the practice of spells and other forms of magic, though even among those who don’t practice it the possibility is always there. It’s something anyone can celebrate, anyone can do, and as the old top-down ‘revealed’ religions thrash about in their death-throes, NeoPaganism is uniquely positioned to emerge as the Religion of the People and of the Earth. It’s amazing.

Wicca, on the other hand, is not even necessarily a religion, not in the sense most people mean. All Wiccans are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Wiccans. Rather than working from a palette of the world’s native deities, Wicca is a priest(ess)hood of a specific God & Goddess whose Names we don’t reveal, but Who can be traced back to certain families in one little corner of the British Isles, the New Forest. It engages in specific small-group rites meant to channel Divine energies to humanity and human energies back to the Divine, and thus maintain the cosmic balance. It has links to the rest of the Western Metaphysical Tradition as well as to the history & mythology of preChristian Britain. It isn’t even actually Celtic except in the sense in which Britons of the 19th Century meant it: that is, natively British and wilder than Saxon. It’s no intrinsically better, or more important or impressive, than any other form of Paganism. And it was never meant to have a lot of members or be popular.

The dismissal some Teen Wiccans perceive coming from some Elder Wiccans has little to do with age and everything to do with definitions and attitudes. By everything you know, Wicca is about Mother Nature and Father Sky and worshipping Them. By everything we know, that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Wicca is an occult path practicing both deific and practical magic. By everything you know, Wicca is light-hearted, anyone who says they’re a Wiccan is one, and anyone who leads a ritual is entitled to call themselves a High Priest or High Priestess. By everything we know, the study of Wicca is long and intense, only initiates are entitled to call themselves a Wiccan, and only those ready and willing to write the Gods a blank check are fit to be a High Priest or High Priestess. And because we were here first, with that definition, we’re not likely to change it. If we did, it wouldn’t be Traditional Wicca any more, and we’re duty-bound to preserve the Craft as it was given to us.

That doesn’t mean we can’t have common ground, or that there’s no room for mutual respect. Treat us and our ways with respect, and you’ll be surprised at the result: most of us Old Farts™ are friendly and eager to teach anyone who’s eager to learn. Just don’t expect us to embrace someone–of any age–as a Craft brother or sister, much less a fellow HP or HPS, who hasn’t been through a Traditional initiation, because by our definition that’s what makes a Wiccan. It’s not discrimination, and it’s not aimed at any one in particular, certainly not you. It makes sure that only those prepared for it are introduced to those Mysteries specific to our Traditions, so that no harm can occur on any plane. And it helps to preserve the Craft and its Mysteries, something that’s more important to us than anyone’s feelings — including our own. You think it doesn’t hurt to have to turn nice people away?

We want to make friends with the Teens in our communities, to mentor you within the limits we’re allowed. But for most of us, our experience has been that the majority of Teen ‘Wiccans’ are so certain that they already know everything about it that they reject what we have to say before they’ve even heard it. Even when you say you want to be taught, when we tell you that part of the process is waiting, most Teens are outta there.

And about that waiting: the truth is that many teens are emotionally and intellectually capable of studying Wicca. But the majority of Wiccan teachers still do not accept underage students. Before you protest, as teens so often do, that it’s unfair, please hear me out. Your ability is not at issue, nor your worthiness.

Part of the reason for a minimum age is tradition, which is very important to us. Part of the reason for that tradition is that specific ages have occult meanings. That’s right: Few people realize it, but there are ancient occult reasons why, in Western culture, the age of majority is specifically twenty-one and not twenty or twenty-two.

Part of the reason is concern for the would-be student: it’s very easy to get totally absorbed into something as fascinating and open-ended as Wicca studies and practice. It’s very easy to let it interfere with what you should be doing in your teens: that is, getting your education and setting out on your life as an independent, self-supporting adult. Not only is allowing that to happen not doing the young student any favors, their teacher/initiator is in part karmically responsible if that student never gets their act together on the material level and winds up impoverished.

But another part of the reason for a minimum age is self-protection. Traditional Wicca initiates cross-sexually; that is, male candidates are brought in by female initiates and vice versa. This, too, is traditional, and there are sound magical reasons as well. The law doesn’t care about tradition or magic. Wicca teachers can run afoul of laws about corruption of minors and custodial interference, and there are cultural and often legal assumptions that the only reason an older person could possibly have for befriending a younger person of the opposite gender is sexual exploitation. Especially in what’s often called a fertility religion! Sigh…

But in the meantime:

Don’t Wait.

Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission or approval to begin actually practicing the things you’ve been reading about. Realize that there’s no better time than now, and begin doing it. The best preparation for any practice, after all, is the practice itself. If you have to take books into your Circle and read aloud as you perform the ritual, if you’re not sure you totally understand what you’re doing (by the way — nobody ever does), it doesn’t matter at this point. The important thing is to be doing the practices. The Gods are not going to smite you for flubbing your lines (if they did, my entire Tradition would be in trouble!) and you’re not going to accidentally invoke something awful.

Do it.
Experience it.
Internalize it.
Become it.


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Long ago, long before we were surrounded with the written word and books, printing, file cabinets, ledgers and all the rest that came later, there were a few magical markings made on stone and clay and wood and parchment. And what made them magic was that, if you knew how to read the markings, this secret code, you could say the words exactly as they had been engraved. You did not need a master to recite the tale and teach it. You could read it alone.

By Anne Druthers
Anne Duthers

But the oldest of the clans, the Wise Ones who had always chanted their stories to first learn, then teach the histories were strong in their memories and could tell 300 tales verbatim to pass the bardic apprenticeship. Then there were the genealogies and longer ballads they had learned to speak and recite on command. Years of training and their brains were exceeding sharp.  These old and wise ones feared that this new magic would weaken humanity in the long run, despite the obvious advantages it offered.

You didn’t have to be at a place to know of the event or experience. If you knew the code, you could make the markings, tell the tale, and roll the story up again. Your page, your sheet of parchment, as a silent bard would wait. The story might travel across miles and years to deliver the message to new and eager eyes. Decoding the message was a magic too. Piecing together letter, word and syntax to read about things that happened far away, or years ago,  or never happened at all.

Yet the story, written thus was no whisper game. It would remain the same from first reading to the last. No matter who read it, no matter how often or when, it would be unchanged.

“I never had any large respect for good spelling. That is my feeling yet. Before the spelling-book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling, and so it is possible that the spelling-book has been a doubtful benevolence to us.” ~Mark Twain

During Mark Twain’s life a lot of fuss was made over codifying the English language. An effort was made to take the language that had been Celtic and French and German all jumbled together in high and low forms, to make that language stand still and behave.  It was a time when everything had to be done “correctly” and most of life was looked at in a right vs. wrong sort of way. The way words were spelled was no longer a personal choice. Close was not good enough for the new standardized school master and his spelling book.

In documents writ before CE 1880 or so, you will see various spellings for a word often on the same page and by the same hand. Sometimes, (though not usually) these odd little distinctions in a word or two were more than a personal quirk of the quill. Sometimes there was another layer of code, hidden in the quirk.

Old Witches know that each letter in every alphabet has a hidden meaning. It is hidden in its past. Each word came from a place and a people and a thing and still carries this story in the letters of its word. There is a magic in putting the letters and words together for precisely the effect you mean – whenever it is read.  This is the real spelling.

We may have guessed the Old Ones would still be right in the end. As the magic of spelling became the convenience of the written document, we collectively forgot our memories, ballads, tales and genealogies told from before and before times. And worse yet, today it seems few take the time to even read the tales (let alone commit them to memory). Our magic code has become the chore of schoolchildren and we forgot why it was so cool to begin with.

The question is now, if the letters are always the same, can Witches still spell? Can a thing still be magic if it is common place? Of course! This is where the best magic always is.


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Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, here on Agora!

Prayer is one of those contentious topics in the Heathen community that often stirs up more trouble than good. A lot of Heathens don’t believe in praying at all, while others prefer almost liturgical forms of worship. Most of the time this isn’t a big issue simply because it’s mostly a matter of personal practice than community ritual, but it can still spark quite heated debates when brought up in open forums.

That being said, since I started my mailing list nearly 2 years ago one of the most common requests I’ve received is for ‘Heathen Prayers’ to specific deities. Despite the fact that I’ve never prayed much myself, a lot of the people who follow my work here and on facebook really seemed to want some kind of devotional that they could share with their friends. So, in the spirit of community service, here are the top six deities requested (in order) so far.

Hail Odin, all father, wise wanderer, tamer of wolves, the gray watcher.  Bright eye, the seer who regards the worlds from Ravens wing.  As you once hung for nine days to discover the secrets of teh runes, so too let me find the courage in my pursuit of knowledge.  As you once gave your eye to the depths of Mimir's well, so too let me find the determination to presevere in my quest for widome.  As you once shared your prize and brought the gift of poetry in Midgard, so too let me learn generosity that I may use my knoweldge wisely.
A Prayer to Tyr, the master of war.  You are the champion of justice and lord of honor.  You gave your hand to bind the great beast, Fenrir.  Thus you taught us the virtue of sacrifice.  You who are fated to fall to the wolf of Ragnarok will still march and take the great beast with you into death's embrace.  Through this, you teach us to honor our duties and stand before the enemey without fear.  May I find the courage to stand against the tide when my final battle comes.  May I find the strength to give my all when the community has need.  I hail the god of glorious battle who is called "One Handed" and "Leavings of the Wolf."

Hail Thor, son of Odin, who dwells in Bilskirnir! Called Thunderer, Lord of the Hammer, and He Who Rides Alone.  We who fight in defense of our kith and kin call to you as VeÞormr, the garding of Midgard.  May our courage honor your legacy as we stand together against the tide and prove once more that we will not be broken.  We who march to face our enemies call to you as VingÞorr, the Lord of Battle.  May our strength honor your legacy as we bring down the hammer to shatter the shields of our foes.  We who are left to tend the homestead while our kindred fight in far off lands hail Asa-Þorr, Slayer of Trolls, Harbinger of Storms, and Lord of Prosperity.  We speak your praise in the field with the fruits of our crops.  We sing your songs in the forges with ringing voices of hammers on iron.  By the sweat of the brow, we honor you.  By the blisters of our hands, we honor you.  By the satisfaction of a day's work done well, we honor you.  Hail to the God of Thunder! May your legacy live on in us.

A Prayer to Njordr:  Hail to the lord of deep waters!  The one called the Bearer or Ships, the Master of the Winds, the Merchant's Boon, and the Keeper of the Fathomless Secrets.  Guide me, great Jarl of the oceans, though I be adrift in strange waters.  The mists of doubt have clouded my vision.  Crash your waves upon the rocks that I may hear the coming dangers.  Guardian of Sailors, Fisherman's Friend, reinvigorate my spirit with the smell of the Sea.  Let the wind take me home again, before I am taken by the storm.

Hail Loki, called Lopt, called Hvedrung.  Odin-kin and Fortune Bringer, Word-Smith and Fire Singer.  You who bears the burden of all the lore that should remain unsung.  You are not interested in playing the tunes we wish to hear, nor saying the words that we're supposed to say.  For you are the master of lies and speaker of truths, and your songs were meant to reveal that which we would hide from ourselves.  We are bound by teh masks we wear, thralls to the people our society tells us we are supposed to be.  May the fires of change set us free.

A Prayer to Skadi:  I hail the warior goddess Skadi, who is called Lady of Winter, and the Shining Bride of the Gods.  May I always feel your courage within me that I may act with honor when injustices threaten good people.  For it is you, Bright Lady of the Mountain, who dones all the weapons of war when the weregild must be paid. Let the song of the wolves kindle within my spirit the fortitude to stand against the tide and see that the wrongs are righted.

[Editor’s Note:  I’ve put the text of Alyxander’s payers in the “alt text” of the images he shared above.  If you are visiting the page an unable to read or hear them, please let me know in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do to make sure they’re more accessible.  Thanks!]


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It was a sunny day and I was immersed in the satisfying work of harvest.  The heat of the day was starting to come on and I had taken off my waterproof boots. I wanted to feel the cool soil under my feet as I picked beans.  My farming mentor told me to always pick beans when they’re dry.  If there’s dampness or dew on them it can spread a disease called rust.  So I had harvested the lettuces and the cucumbers first.  The children were playing in the field next to the garden and suddenly the tempo and timber of their voices changed. The clustered around something and called for me, “Mom!”

The cat had caught a bird. It was a male cardinal, bright red and fluttering on the ground.  I will spare you the details, dear reader, but he had moved past the point of being nursed back to health, though he still struggled.  The children watched in fascination and horror as he attempted to escape.  I stared down at that tiny being and my heart ached for its futile struggle.  I needed to get back to the beans and the carrots, and yet, I kept watching.

My cat is a lovely being.  No insult to my previous cats, now passed on, but I think he might be the best cat I’ve ever had.  He is cuddly, good at catching mice, and patient with children and babies.  But this too is part of his nature, this need to hunt and kill.  As pagans we honor the Hunter as well as the hunted.  This is part of nature and I must accept the cycle of life and death if I want to be an honest worshipper of the Earth, but I did not want the bird to struggle any more than he already had.  So I lifted him gently into a bucket and carried him to the back hill where I have my altar to the ancestors.  I placed him on a stump and with careful and strong determination found a rock and ended his life.   It is what I think he would have wanted if I had been able to ask him.

I killed as an act of compassion.

Photo by Melissa Hill
Photo by Melissa Hill

Compassion is much talked about in many religions, but I have found our pagan ones often silent on this front.  Especially those that focus on reconstruction of the ancient pagan ways seem to look to different virtues for guidance.  We have made such progress in finding the face of femininity in our divinity, though we struggle with what it means, many of us embrace the material world, sensuality, and joy in our bodies as part of our religious experience.  I think that these things are truly gifts that we are giving not only to ourselves but to the larger community of religions as well.

I don’t think our work is nearly done.

As ADF Druids we are delving deep into the past and using those strands spun together with science and modern knowledge to make something new that echoes the old.   We have so much yet to learn and discover.  We’ve uncovered the concepts of *ghosti and *xartus – both come from this research and lead us to understand the deep spirituality that our ancient ancestors had.

I would say that compassion is a Good Thing.  It’s been shown that cultivating compassion makes people happier, better leaders, and obviously, it helps those who are the recipient of the compassion as well.  However I think that as a religion we have been missing the boat on compassion.  I have seen many times where compassion would have been a real aid to interpersonal interaction in both leadership issues as well as daily struggles with grove and larger pagan community building.

We’ve released our inner warriors and transformed our selves in the fire and the water.  We have mysteries and wisdom, but do we have compassion?

So I went in search of the strands of compassion.  I wasn’t sure I would find them, but I did.

Compassion literally means suffering with or co-suffering.  In fact Patheos -the very name of this site- comes from the same Greek root word for suffering.  So compassion is an action of feeling.  It is a state of mind, a willingness to be in relationship with someone in difficulty or someone that feels badly.  I began my search with the Vedas because of their geographic connection with Buddhism, a religion that is known for a focus on compassion. The Vedas also connect back to European religious traditions through language and culture.  Those wandering Indo-Europeans traveled all over the Eurasian continent.  You can imagine them a little like traveling gypsies meets Khal Drogo.

Interestingly we find in the Upanishads, an ancient Vedic text, that there are three words that were given to the Gods, Men, and Demons by Prajāpati, the God in Charge. These words were  Dāma Daya and and Dana, which translated as restraint generosity and compassion.  The three were seen to be a set of instructions that were all related and given to the different groups of beings as per their needs.

We could do a lot worse than to embody restraint, generosity and compassion.

Here’s an excerpt from the RgVeda from a hymn to Dana or generosity x.117.3, 5:

He is the liberal man who helps the beggar
That, craving food, emaciated wanders,
And coming to his aid, when asked to succor,
Immediately makes him a friend hereafter
.

The wealthier man should give unto the needy,
Considering the course of live hereafter;
For riches are like chariot wheels revolving:
Now to one man they come, now to another.

The RgVeda was created over a period of time about 1500 BCE.  Generosity has been around for a very long time.  But we already knew that Compassion is an important part of the Eastern religious traditions.  Do we find it in European indigenous religion as well?

Reading the Havamal is worth doing if just for the experience of culture that it gives.  It speaks at length about friendship and how to be both a good host and a good guest.  It feels much harsher than the Vedas.  This is a culture where betrayal is a real possibility, violence is a given, and true friendship is rare and dear.

Havamal 41:                       

Vápnum ok váðum                             Friends must gladden each other
skulu vinir gleðjask                            with weapons and clothes,
þat er á sjalfum sýnst                        which are most evident on themselves.
viðr gefendr ok endrgefendr            givers in return and repeat-givers
erusk vinir lengst,                              are friends the longest
ef þat bíðr at verða vel                      if it endures to turn out well.

Havamal 48:

Mildir frœknir                                   Generous, valiant
menn bazt lifa                                    men live best,
sjaldan sút ala                                    and seldom nourish sorrow;
en ósnjallr maðr                                but the cowardly man
uggir hotvetna                                   fears all sorts of things
sýtir æ gløggr við gjöfum               and the stingy man is always troubled about gifts.

Even in a world where food is scarce and violence is common it is a given that generosity and sharing is important.  But what about compassion?  Is there evidence for the importance of sharing of suffering?

Yep.  I found it. Or rather, her.

The Compassion Tree / Photo by Melissa Hill
The Compassion Tree / Photo by Melissa Hill

The wife of Loki, a goddess of the Aesir who married a trickster descended from Jotuns.  She who holds the bowl that catches the venom dripping from the Skadi’s snake onto Loki bound in the bowels of the earth. There’s evidence in other indigenous European cultures as well, but for today I want to finish with Sigyn Victory Woman.  I first began to think about her when I bought Sigyn: Lady of the Staying Power by Galina Krasskova.   Last winter I organized a Druid Moon ritual for Sigyn and retold the story of her loss and devotion.  I’ve known a lot of people who dislike this particular myth.  The story of how her children were killed and her husband captured and bound; the choice that she made to stay with him in the darkness and alleviate his pain.  I’ve heard it said that she was clearly abused, or co-dependant.  That she had lost her mind.  That she was a horrible example of liberated womanhood.  But it was her choice.  She chose to stay and share suffering.  She showed compassion.

People seem to react badly to her choice.  But I think there is power in that choice.  It’s not a big fancy power.  It’s not the ability to see the future or save the world like Odin.  It’s not even the power to grow apples of immortality like Idunn.  It’s the power to help.   I think that’s why it makes people so uncomfortable.  Unlike so many other stories in the Eddas the solution is not to apply a giant hammer or trick someone with cleverness. It’s just about doing boring work.  She’s the Cinderella of Norse Mythology.  She doesn’t get angry, she doesn’t lose her shit and storm off and demand a husband like Skadi did when her father was killed.  She just alleviates suffering as best she can, and frequently enough gets mocked for her troubles.   Working with Sigyn has been good for me. I don’t like getting angry.  I work from home so that I can take care of my family and when work and family are in conflict, I choose family most of the time.

Sigyn is a goddess I can understand and I think that she’s a goddess that could aid others to find their own inner compassion and kindness.  We live in a world that undervalues such things.   Certainly it’s important to find one’s inner warrior.  I’m a feminist.  I despise racism and sexism. I feel rage at the exploitation of the land and the systematic subjugation of people of color and indigenous culture.   Long ago I made a choice to make change where I am.  I thought about becoming an activist, joining Greenpeace and running off to Change The World.  I marched in anti-war protests, fat lot of good it did.   But I realized, in the end, that the greatest change I could make was in my own life. But that is not glamorous or exciting.  It’s about doing daily tasks.  It’s about using less electricity by hanging laundry on the line instead of drying it in the dryer.  It’s about watching my single mom friend’s kids so that they can survive.  It’s about seeing the needs of the world and stepping up to do the work.  Like Sigyn, I hold the bowl.

Take a moment and consider:  how could you be more compassionate?  How could you share suffering with other beings?  I end with a prayer I wrote to Sigyn and the hope that we can all find it within ourselves to show restraint, generosity, and compassion.

With grace and diligence you work, steadfast one.
Yours is the victory of small duties,
Grey garbed among the ashes.
I call to You who tends the daily task.
Let me be satisfied in helpful action; sustained by aiding others.
Let me be guided by your gentle wisdom
Let me be inspired by your tenacious strength
Bowl Holder, may my words ring sweet in your ears.
May my deeds be offering unto you, guided by your choice.
Sigyn, Victory Woman, please hear my prayer.


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I wrote previously about the Irish Gods in America and mentioned that some people do see the Gods as anchored in one terrestrial space; possibly the second most common thing I hear as an Irish-American pagan is that the aos sí, the fairies, are similarly limited to Ireland and historically Celtic lands. I can only speak here to my own experience and what I have found in studying different folklore, which is that where people from a culture go, their spirits also go.

"William Blake - Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing" by William Blake - http://www.bildindex.de ([1]]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
William Blake – Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing” by William Blake.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
One school of thought on this is simply that the Otherworldly folk appear to people in ways that those people can best understand; another view is that the spirits are influenced by the belief of the people. Personally, I tend to think that while some types of spirits are indeed sedentary, others are pulled or drawn to where the people who honor and offer to them are.

When the Norse settled Iceland, for example, they found alfar and huldufolk there just as there had been in their old home territories. The Wild Hunt is seen in American skies just as in European, although they are more commonly known as “Ghost Riders” here. The areas of America heavily settled by the Irish and Scotch-Irish, like Appalachia, have local folklore that includes traditionally Irish spirits like the Banshee and Will’o’the’Wisp. In a folklore journal from 1894, we find an article about an area of Massachusetts’ local belief in fairies and pixies, the former being lucky and the latter malicious. In all these examples, the people clearly felt it perfectly natural and normal to see and experience the types of Otherworldly spirits from their homelands even in these new places.

"Aasgaardreien peter nicolai arbo mindre" by Peter Nicolai Arbo - Photo of a painting in the Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Aasgaardreien peter nicolai arbo mindre” by Peter Nicolai Arbo.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Local folklore in my area of southeastern New England is not devoid of fairies, and its clear that people here both presently and in past centuries believed the Fey Folk were around. I know of one story of a man who saw fairies in Connecticut in the late 19th century;* he ran a small store in the west part of the state and had a reputation among the local people for seeing and speaking to the Gentry. One day he disappeared, and no one ever found out where he had gone or why, but there were those who said the fairies had taken him.

There is also the story of the Little People’s Village in Middlebury Connecticut, a village of tiny houses. Built about 100 years ago as part of an amusement park attraction (originally called the Fairy Village) it fell into ruin after shutting down and is now the focal point of local folklore which says the Other Crowd inhabit it and can sometimes be heard by visitors. The place is said to be a center of negative energy and the Fair Folk there are said to cause insanity to those who linger too long or offend them. There is one particular object called the “fairy’s throne” and people say if you sit on it you will go mad.

Devil's Hopyard State Park, Connecticut / Morgan Daimler
Devil’s Hopyard State Park, Connecticut / Morgan Daimler

In Connecticut there is a state park, named “Devil’s Hopyard” which has a certain reputation for being haunted; many of the local pagans I know have come to associate this park with the Other Crowd in particular. Why the park is named Devil’s Hopyard is unknown, but some stories say that it’s because the Devil would sit at the top of the falls and play his fiddle for the local witches to dance to. Certainly the park has a long history in local folklore of spirit activity. One old story  tells of a traveler walking near the falls who saw several dark figures leaping through the trees and across the stones; the man fled and the spirits chased him until he reached the nearest town. I have been pixy-led there with a friend, wandering for hours on a well-trodden path unable to find our goal – until we gave up and immediately arrived where we’d been trying to go the whole time. I’ve seen a water fairy there; she lives in a pool near a waterfall and dislikes people. There is also a fairy road that crosses through a section of the park, or perhaps I should say at least one fairy road that I am aware of.

I believe that America is full of a wide variety of spirits from many cultures. I know that my grandfather when he came over from Cork never gave up the practice of pouring out a bit of his beer for the Good Neighbors whenever he drank, and even on American soil never doubted that the Good People would cause trouble if not given their due. This is a belief that has been firmly ingrained in me as well. My own experiences since childhood involved both spirits undoubtedly native to this continent as well as those that seem to have immigrated or otherwise been shaped by the beliefs of the Irish who came to this place, as well as a wide array of other cultures. America is more than just a melting pot of human cultures but in my experience is also a melting pot of spirits, containing a wide diversity, and this diversity seems to go back hundreds of years, since foreigners first began making permanent settlements on this continent.

* the story of Mr. Perry is included, briefly, in the 1938 book “Connecticut: A Guide to Its Roads, Lore, and People”, page 460


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As many people have no doubt have noticed, the theme for this month on the Patheos Pagan channel is “Why I am still…” (insert tradition of your choice). For my version of this, I had intended to include why I am also “Happily a Devotional Polytheist”, but my reasons for being Happily Heathen ended up being more than enough fodder for one post. (Also, I touched on some of my reasons behind why I chose Devotional Polytheism in my previous post at Patheos, here.)

Viking Age jewelry from Birka, at the Swedish HIstory Museum / Cara Freyasdaughter
Viking Age jewelry from Birka, at the Swedish History Museum / Cara Freyasdaughter

Every Heathen’s reasons for choosing Heathenry are different: Alyxander  Folmer  of Wyrd Words argues that Heathenry is a “religion of questions” and supports a skeptical, questioning attitude. Molly Khan from Heathen at Heart, talks about how the Heathen worldview supports her connection to the land, the ancestors, and the Gods.  As for me, I have a ton of reasons–that is why I call my column “Happily Heathen”, after all.

Heathenry is Awesome

Due to this, I’ve decided to make this post a list. I’ll call it my “Why Heathenry is Awesome” list. While you go through this, please keep in mind that I’m not saying that other Pagan traditions don’t have these qualities. I’m just most familiar with Heathenry, and I know Heathenry has ’em.

So without further ado, here are the reasons that, fifteen years later, I’m still Happily Heathen:

  • There is so much to learn. There so many places that one can really delve deep into this tradition–on academic, experiential, artistic, and magical levels. Also, many  relevant and useful things are still being discovered by archaeologists, scientists, and linguists every day. It’s very satisfying to know that I will never run out of ways to grow and change in this tradition.  As we say (only somewhat facetiously) “Asatru/Heathenry is the religion with homework!”
Maynard, Scott. "Those in Glass Houses." Happle Tea. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2015. http://www.happletea.com/>.
Maynard, Scott. “Those in Glass Houses.” Happle Tea. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2015. <http://www.happletea.com/>.
  • The Norse Gods. I love ’em. So complex, so human. So tragic, inspirational, hilarious, and fascinating. They don’t take any shit. They continue on in the face of certain doom with a lust for life and all that is in it. And, in my experience, They are still very interested and active in the modern world.
  • We focus on creating community, as well as honoring the Gods, ancestors, and land spirits. High-powered energy work is great, but that’s not really the goal of most Heathen events. My beau, a relatively new Heathen who’s had decades of experience watching Pagan in-fighting, has pointed out that in his experience, most Pagan groups tend to focus more on ritual and less on community. I’ve been embedded in the Heathen world for so long that it hadn’t occurred to me that other traditions might not make this one of their top priorities.( “What do you mean, there isn’t a potluck?!”)
  • Our ritual style is “low-church”. You can create detailed, heavily scripted rituals if you want, but it’s just not necessary. Mainly, our rituals just boil down to toasting the Gods and having a potluck. (Also, wearing ritual garb is strictly optional. I just like wearing my Viking apron dress.)
  • We tend to be practical and get shit done. For example, Heathens have been filling many of the staffing needs for PantheaCon for years. Generally, if Heathens say that they will do a Thing, they do the Thing. “You are your deeds” being a key part of our worldview.
Runestone from Gotland, Sweden. Odin and Sleipnir / Cara Freyasdaughter
Runestone from Gotland, Sweden. Odin and Sleipnir / Cara Freyasdaughter
  • A version of this religion actually existed at one point in time. Heathenry, in all of its forms, is based on religious beliefs and practices which flourished for hundreds of years up until the end of the Viking Age (and, in some places, beyond then as well). During that time, they developed complexity, nuance, and practical, day-to-day relevance. (Maybe I’m just biased because I originally came at Paganism from an academic perspective, but for me, this has always been a huge draw.)
  • Finally, there’s room for almost everyone at our table–polytheists; archetypists; scholars; mystics; aetheists. I explain this diversity to newcomers by saying that two of our core Heathen concepts are Hospitality and Frith (“peaceful actions and words between attendees”). (The only ones who should have no seat at Heathen theological table, in my opinion, are those who bring in bigotry and external political agendas.)

This is not to say that we all agree on and get along everything. Whenever you have two Heathens together, you’ll get three opinions. Heathens are fiercely independent; that’s just part of the overall our mindset. Also, Wiccans are not the only groups that have had flame wars–we Heathens have our curmudgeonly Lore-thumpers (kind of like Bible-thumpers, but in alliterative verse) and occasional flame wars over whether a given person is living up to Heathen Values ™.  And don’t get us started on UPGs (Unsubstantiated/Unverified Personal Gnosis; ie, insights you’ve had into the details of the religion which are not specifically attested in the Lore); or, even worse, Loki. (Nothing gets Heathens arguing like Loki. As true now as it was in the Eddas.)

Still, all things considered, the benefits outweigh the negatives. Heathenry, for me, continues to be an incredibly satisfying spiritual and religious practice.

Where will Heathenry go in the future?

I’m no longer a scholar of the Heathen religion, just a practitioner. So while I don’t know where Heathenry is headed, I can tell you what I hope will happen in Heathenry in the future, and what I myself am working to bring about.

I hope that the religion continues to grow, with more public Heathen temples and shrines opening up across the world. I hope that more practitioners write about their love for the Gods, ancestors, and landspirits, and the knowledge they have gained in honoring them.  I hope that more and more new people are called to work with all of the Norse Gods, both obscure and well-known, and to become inspired to create and carry on their own version of our tradition. And I hope that, as a result of bringing back some of this old knowledge and wisdom into our modern world, all of our lives become richer. I know my life has been better off because of it.


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All photos courtesy of the author.

“Doors need walls; walls need doors.” These words have been ringing in my mind for some time now.

Walls are built and exist to separate things. They exist to cut things apart, to separate things from one another, to keep things away from a particular space. They need doors, though; doors are deliberately–created access points between spaces, made to open the way and allow certain things through.

A Japanese templ
Hi Barzilay / Freeimages.com

Even when there is no door for a wall, or wall for a door, it is implied. The torii, the  often free-standing gates of Shinto shrines demarcate the line between the sacred and the profane, a wall, though not a visible one. Similarly walls with no apertures, such as the Great Wall of China, have implied doors–implied in the minds of those who they seek to keep out, who wish to create or find passage through them.

 

Bridges and Boughs, Halls and Walls

The confederation of different identities that is styled as the Pagan community has been working hard to create walls, lately. The need for and creation of boundaries is a sign of the maturity in both humans and social movements. We see these walls being built everywhere–in Heathenry it seems that everyone has a little brick wall around their own Inner Yard with very strict and often contradictory rules about who is allowed in. In the broader community, issues such as the acceptance of Christo-Pagans and Atheist Pagans, the potential of division between the Polytheist movement and the rest of the Pagan umbrella, a larger focus on human and environmental rights activism and inclusivity and other recent controversies have been causing a lot of distress.

There are lots of ways that the walls that we build can be helpful. Walls set up on the axis of belief like Polytheist, Panentheist, and Atheist are useful in that they help people understand what sort of basic assumptions fellow occupants are operating off of. Walls set up along the lines of practice, such as Druidry, Heathenry, and Wicca (and yes, many of these have attendant beliefs but in my experience membership in them hinges more off of style of practice than opinion about the nature of divinity) are helpful for those who enjoy a particular style of spiritual and cultural experience without having to be concerned about what they think.

a rustic home in a field
jim / Unprofound.com

They also help us to gain a sense of meaningful identity. To someone who is familiar with different brands of Paganism, simply calling oneself a Pagan doesn’t provide enough information. What do you believe in? How do you practice? What culture (whether modern or ancient) does your practice find inspiration and grounding in? The answers to these things help us to find definitions to our paths, to suggest directions to search in for new inspiration, and to create solid tribal group identities, something that humans crave.

What are the connecting points, the doors and bridges that we create? There are doors between adjacent sections, where commonalities allow us to create meaningful discourse with each other. Sometimes you have to look hard to find a door (like the secret passageway of Jungian Paganism that stretches between Polytheism and Atheism), and sometimes they’re fairly obvious (like the expansive doors in Wicca that lead to the village green of Eclectic Paganism). Sometimes individual organizations and groups create doors; ADF opens gates between the followers of many Indo-European reconstructionist faiths, the Troth creates bridges for all variety of Heathens and Norse Pagans, and Pagan Pride Project tries to provide access ways between all possible potential palaces.

 

Rainbow Bridge Parallels

Alexander Chechetkin / Freeimages.com
Alexander Chechetkin / Freeimages.com

I’ve spent years working in LGBT rights activism and swimming deeply in the waters of the queer community, and I’ve been struck by a lot of  similarities between in the development of both movements. Identities that were once lumped together under a generalized label have begun to grow more distinct as more space is being created for conversations between people who belong to different colors of the rainbow. New terminology is developed as people are educated on the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity. Resentment is felt by long-term social stakeholders in ownership of LGBT identities which manifests through microaggressions and erasure rolling downhill to those who are daring to stand up and define ourselves. Identities are added that people disagree with, largely because the people who claim them feel that they belong under the same roof. There are endless arguments about the politics of respectability, the ways to march the movement forward, and whether different identities might be served better under their own banner. The transgender rights movement, where I’ve been the most focused, is a microcosm of this as well.

Despite disagreements the movement is alive and well. Despite the fact that at times the goals of those with the money and social connections to bring about political change are at odds with those they claim to represent (this is an eternal condition in most social movements and in my opinion is worth eternally fighting against) real change is occurring in the world. Much of it on the ground level, growing up from the seeds sown by the communication and interaction between the diverse parts of the community that leads to more walls being built. Many of these structures that we see today will continue to exist long after the need for them has been surpassed. Someday they make take their places as a museum to remind us of past battles and a social center for those who find comfort in gathering with people with similar interests and inclinations.

 

Our Village, Our Home

I like to think of modern Paganism as a village. The village has a boundary, but it’s a modern village and doesn’t need walls to keep out wild raiders (at least in most places in the Western world). The village is full of houses (though there are a few huts and yurts and tents and maybe a geodesic dome or two) and people are busy building more. No one wants to wall themselves in but many have strict limitations on who can come and and what rules they must follow. The houses cluster into little neighborhoods along axes of lineage, culture, belief and practice.

 

I don’t see a reason for anyone to leave, really. The commons that we share are open enough and if there’s no house that you fit into, there’s surely at least a neighborhood where you could set up your tent. The more we reinforce our homes, the safer our individual spaces will be, and the more doors that we create, the more diversity we will have in our homes but the less we will be able to keep the decorating theme to our liking.

The thing is, we can’t keep people out who want to come in to the village. We have no outer walls or moats, our police force is more like a neighborhood watch (with many of the attendant problems and benefits), and besides, for many of the villagers an inclusive and hospitable attitude is part and parcel of our culture. No one needs to hive off from the movement at large; the more recent origins of our sects and traditions give us a common ground for communication and trade and the growth that follows both of these things.

If you need to find me at home, I’ll be on the woowoo outskirts of Heathen Hights, comfortably seated across from Druid Central on ADF street, in the Polytheist district. I’ve lived on the border between the Kemetic and Roman district before too, but I love wandering everywhere. Whether I’m watching the fire-spinners and landscapers on the commons, walking the back streets where the chaotes and heretics roam seeking cast-off wisdom, toasting in the mead-halls full of boast and cheer and remembrance, singing in the shaded backyard groves with their white-clad druids, or dancing around the sun-bleached open-air altars with their weather-worn attendants, I find fascinating people with mind-boggling stories and good natures. People that I can have brilliant (and often nerdy) conversations with, who I can share the joys and trials of life with, and who I can grow spiritually with.

Good fences may make good neighbors but inclusive common ground builds good community. I like this village and I’d like to see more of us being willing to make it hospitable for anyone who wanders in. Keep the walls clean and strong and the doors well-defined and watched but welcome the strangers in, feed them, and help them set up their tents. You were such a wanderer once yourself. Everyone we lend a hand to becomes a new helping hand among us, everyone we give good words to becomes a new voice to join ours, and everyone we accept in becomes someone to welcome another world-weary wanderer when they stumble in, tired of their endless trekking and seeking the solace of a new home.

Our village can only grow greater for it.

a red roofed village
Koan / Morgefile.com

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My sister and I are spending the weekend at our summer house on the West coast in Denmark. We dip ourselves in the Atlantic Ocean, go for walks with the she-goddess dog Frigg, and tell stories. With and without the cards. Some of our stories revolve around our dead parents, distant ancestors, and inheritance. What power did we get? What weakness? Do we keep secrets? And if we do, how do we let others know about it? For indeed, what’s the use of keeping a secret if, secretly, we don’t suggest to others that we do have one, if not to reveal then at least tell? We both have a knack for psychology – more of the bent kind than the consecrated type, even though sister dearest is a trained, clinical psychologist working for the hospital, whereas I merely flirt with Freud and Lacan in writing. But as we like surprises, we often use the cards to take a reality check and look at the visual stories the cards tell as they reveal the secrets of our blind spots.

Sister Act (Photo: Bent Sørensen)
Sister Act (Photo: Bent Sørensen)

On a few occasions now I have told others about the circumstance of my mother’s death – an odd occurrence – but today we armed ourselves with a pack of cards to test what others have been saying about our mental and physical inheritance.

My mother, Ana (Photo: Romanian Studio, ca. 1968)
My mother, Ana (Photo: Romanian Studio, ca. 1968)

PSYCHOPOMP

When mother died in Romania in 1998, she made my sister promise that before she got buried she’d have an autopsy. As it turned out, according to the doctors, this wasn’t necessary. However, as my sister took care of everything – I only made it to Arad when she told me that mother was not going to live more than a few days longer – she was adamant about fulfilling mother’s wish. But the doctors were also adamant. Autopsy was not necessary, they insisted. So what could a smart woman like my sister do? She arranged it with the undertaker that she had to be present when he came to do the embalming – mother had insisted on dying in her own bed, so the whole formalin affair had to take place in the bedroom. Dictum, factum. After three hours with the corpse and an efficient undertaker, my sister came out of the room (I wasn’t really interested in participating, even though I was offered the opportunity). Her face was pallid. So I asked her: ‘How was it?’ The only thing she said was this:

‘If anyone needs their mother embalmed, cut up to pieces and all that, they can call me. I’m ready to do a high quality job.’

I believed her. And I think that mother would also have been pleased with the compromise solution. Of course, later she told me that she actually had a bit of a problem sleeping the following month, as images of body parts kept interfering with her otherwise unified and whole peace of mind. But it was only for a while.

Since then, people in their eighties who know my family, have been telling us that the women in our family have an amazingly strong psyche. My usual response to this is to say that while I don’t think that this psyche is any stronger than the average, every time I get together with my sister something shifts. For fun and wisdom I made my sister submit to a personality test with the cards – again.

Although I don’t have the habit of locking cards in a certain position, and hence go the pedestrian and rather reductive way of assigning value to these positions according to the narrative that may go like this: ‘This card is you, this card is against you, this card is the advice, and this one the outcome’, I have a classical 4-card positional spread that I find revealing, which she also likes a lot.

My sister, Manna (Photo: Camelia Elias)
My sister, Manna (Photo: Camelia Elias)

THE BLIND SPOT

When we get together with friends, sometimes I suggest that someone has their personality tested, though I always warn about the potential nastiness that can ensue from having to admit to a truth that some may like to keep a secret. We follow 4 cards in these positions, read from left to right:

CARD 1 tells us something about what the person submitting to the test knows about herself. This is, however, something that others also know, and therefore the conscious level of the person’s expression of the self.

CARD 2  discloses what rules the personality from the inside. This is the unconscious level of the person’s self. In other words, this card indicates something that the person herself has no clue about. Nor does anybody else suspect that this is a strong force ruling the person from the inside, exceeding her conscious control.

CARD 3  tells us something about a personality trait that the person is conscious of possessing, but would not like for others to know about. Often this is a nasty card, so I warn anyone out there trying this one out in public that this card may reveal some knowledge that can be disturbing, embarrassing, or surprising.

CARD 4  tells us something about the person’s blind spot. This card reveals what others know about the person we read the cards for, while the person has no idea. In other words, while it is plain to everyone in the person’s circle that the person may exhibit certain traits: good, bad, generous, sarcastic, cynical, and so on, the person herself will be in denial of any such manifestation. This is an equally as potentially nasty card as the one above.

In short, while the mechanics of this spread is simple, the implicit suggestion is that we heed attention to how we act in the world and on what premise. How often do we pose these questions to ourselves, related to what we know and what we don’t, but we would like to know? What do I know about myself that others also know? What is hidden? What do I know about myself, but would rather keep a secret? What do others know about me, which I, however, am unable to recognize?

THE PULPIT

Here’s a concrete example based on the following cards: The Devil, The High Priestess, The Sun, The Pope – with thanks to my sister for allowing me to display her here in this form:

Marseille Tarot, reconstructed by Wilfried Houdoin, Millenium Edition (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Marseille Tarot, reconstructed by Wilfried Houdoin, Millenium Edition (Photo: Camelia Elias)

What she knows about herself that others also acknowledge is that she is the Devil incarnate. She can bind and manipulate. She can channel underground forces. She works with and on the psyche and knows the attractive power of unconscious desire. In the context above, her almost acting as a psychopomp for our mother may well be a manifestation of the Devil in her.

What rules her from the inside is a form of quiet wisdom. She is learned and schooled, and full of discrete understanding of what is. My sister is not aware of this power she possesses, nor does anyone in our family circle know this about her. If discretion is deeply seated in the psyche, then it’s no wonder that it will not manifest to anyone. This card is a good surprise, as this indicates that whatever choices my sister makes, they will be the right ones. It’s quite reassuring to have the archetype of the priestess populating your unconscious. Not the worst that can happen to you.

The next card was a surprise. I asked my sister: ‘If you know you’re like the big Sun in the sky, full of clarity and optimism and the power to share your knowledge with others, why keep that as a secret?’ She said: ‘Perhaps because of the Devil. I may sense, or downright project that others think of me as the Devil, and I choose to act that part, saying in defense: ‘If you think I’m the Devil, or you want to see the Devil, then here’s the Devil. Welcome to some bondage.’

I assured her that I found her work with the underworld beautiful, and that for all I cared she could just carry on. ‘I have my own ways of dealing with Devil,’ I told her when I sensed her anxiety, and then we both reflected on the possibility of others seeing her as the Devil who may not know how to deal with the Devil. ‘Lord have mercy on their souls’, we said almost at unison, and we moved on to looking at her blind spot, The Pope.

‘Oh, the lower rank Devil’, we both said, looking at the numerical value of the cards, as we go from 15 to 5. A whole decan of separation. ‘You preach too much,’ I said to her, and pointed to how she may be unable to distinguish between giving advice and being righteous. Unless, of course, she is the born teacher who underestimates her counseling powers. There is a reason why we call this card, ‘the blind spot’. We both liked the mirroring of imps and disciples in the first and the last card. From keeping the bonded imps in check with the help of the priestess, through the real, yet secret work of casting light on everything, my sister is a good one to know. We nodded and nobody cried this time around.

It goes to show: While the cards have the potential to disclose all sorts of secrets, they also call us to heed attention. But above all, the cards teach us something about courage. The courage of looking inside us and beyond, and all the way to the point of action, and beyond.

Jean Noblet Marseille Tarot, reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Jean Noblet Marseille Tarot, reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy (Photo: Camelia Elias)

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about “relative oddness.” I realize that I must sound crazy as a loon to the folks who do not perceive the world as I do.  Just last week I found myself defending my sanity here on the blog comments. But can I blame them? I mean, witchcraft?…seriously.  I regularly question my sanity and do little reality checks with my peers, just to make sure I’m still on the rails. Some days I wonder if I’m the lunatic; other days I wonder if I’m the last sane person on earth.

Its hard to forget that being a witch, seeing visions, and hearing the messages of the unseen hosts, as we do, was a capital offense not nearly long enough ago. <Ahem:cough> Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition. (1)  Countless people have been executed or locked in mental institutions for being “differently aware,” and acknowledging a weirder reality than the average muggle. (2)

Working at a metaphysical store means that our staff meets all kinds of folks, from all kinds of backgrounds, and they ask all kinds of questions. Much like being a bartender, standing on our side of that battered glass display counter means that on any given day we can be asked to serve the role of priestess, counselor, healer or confessor.  That day we might be what stands between a customer and the ledge. They come to us crying sometimes, or angry, desperate,or terrified. It is our honor to be their safe port in the storm.

Heron at her Store
Heron at her Store

They begin their questions with “this might sound crazy, but…” or, “I know this sounds weird, but…”  My standard responses are, “there are no crazy questions here,” and “weird is relative; we are all weird here.”  I do make a concerted effort, no matter what my customer says next, to arrange my response in such a way as to be neutral, informative and nonjudgemental.  I am long practiced in the arts of straight-facery and subtle correction.  I think I do OK with this task, most of the time.

Aliens? Possibly. Which race, from which star?
Faery? Depends. Terrifying and erotic, didn’t you think?
Ghosts, guardian angels, spirit animals? All par for the course.
If you *actually* released a demon through your Ouija board, NO I don’t think burning sage will be enough; NO I do not vanquish demons; get thee to a Catholic priest!

A Few Definitions:

Paranormal: adjective
Denoting events or phenomena such as telekinesis or clairvoyance that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding. Etymology: para- ‎(“above, beyond; abnormal”) +‎ normal. (3)



Supernatural: adjective
Above nature; that which is beyond or added to nature, often so considered because it is given by a deity or some force beyond that which humans are born with.  Etymology: From Latin supernaturalis, from super ‎(“above”) + natura, “nature; that which we are born with.” (3)

Panentheism: noun
A belief system which posits that the divine – whether as a single God, number of gods, or other form of “cosmic animating force”– interpenetrates every part of the universe and extends, timelessly beyond it. That the divine is both immanent in nature, and has a transcendent consciousness.
Etymology: meaning “all-in-God”, from the Ancient Greek πᾶν pân (“all”), ἐν en (“in”) and Θεός Theós (“God”) (3)

In my panentheistic paradigm where the entire universe is divine, then all these amazing things are my normal. The way I understand the language, words like paranormal and supernatural imply an entirely different paradigm–a more Abrahamic paradigm–and need to be dismissed from the pagan discourse, lest they drag in all their dissonance with them.

 In my humble opinion, there can be no paranormal if all of existence lies on a wide-ranging and relative scale of “normal.”  Just like there can be no supernatural, if nothing can be “above” nature. But that’s just me.

Per my paradigm, nature is a diverse and multifaceted beauty of both seen and unseen, matter and energy, all polarities, a tapestry of divine consciousness the likes of which we are only beginning to comprehend, and while that may be weird to some, I embrace the wyrd-ness. Bottom line: we can all be relatively “right” and that doesn’t have to mean you are “crazy.”

Leveling Up

My normal day at the office is to take students on meditative journeys to explore other spiritual dimensions, past-lives, the heavens and the underworld. They all come back with unique tales of who and what they saw and heard, and as far as I am concerned, they are all correct for them. To some folks, this work is crazy. <shrug> I do believe that people are evolving into a broader awareness, we can just see more now.  Allow me to illustrate…

Imagine you’ve driving down a dark, country road at night, seeing only the plain black asphalt that lies immediately before you. In the lonely quiet you might think you are separate and isolated. Then, you awaken from the illusion of your separateness, like kicking up the headlights to the high beams. The patch of lit road widens, lengthens, and suddenly you notice the road is lined with wonders and perils, and you’re in bumper to bumper, break-neck traffic on a stacked free-way with all manner of spirits, gods and monsters riding your bumper. (Imagine Houston, Texas on LSD.)

Then dawn breaks, and patterns form, the map of the universe unfolds before you, and it isn’t even a car you’ve been driving all along, but a tardis from Dr. Who, rendering time and space fluid and luminous. You can go anywhere you want to go, but you’re on a one-way trip, never able to go home again. Try putting THAT white rabbit back into the hat.  In my world “normal” is spectacular; “natural” will blow your mind. Who am I to question what you are perceiving?  She who is without oddness, cast the first stone!

Since we opened the shop six years ago, I’ve seen a mass awakening into this relatively broader view. From my perspective, humanity is leveling-up! The veil of the apocalypse (6) was ripped away and we are finally seeing the gritty, wondrous, unpleasant truth of things. Call it what you like, there are more and more of us now asking the important question:

Have I gone mad? I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are. ~ Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

And Yet…

All that being said, there are days where I run across people with ideas or behaviors that even *I* think are “crazy” in their wildly unorthodox ways. WOW!  If I think you’ve gone off the rails, that is really saying something!

At Pantheacon this year, I took a workshop with Diana Paxson on mediumship and divine possession, where she made the very important distinction between truly channeling the voices of your gods, and being mentally ill and “hearing voices.” She implored us to be diligent in our reality checks with each other, and discretion in how we act on those messages. Try not to forget that mass murders have happened because “God told them” to do it.

When I’m evaluated the messages I receive, I ask myself if it is in alignment with my core values. Does it encourage me to be a better person, with better health, balance, love, and happiness? Does it live up to the laws of the land? Good taste or sense? The good news about neo-paganism is that we cannot only converse with our gods, we can argue with them. We have free will to say NO.

On being Nonjudgemental

Nonjudgemental: Adjective
Without making judgements, especially on the basis of one’s personal ethics or opinions. (3)

Above, I said I try to be nonjudgemental, and I imagine that you understood my meaning, as this seems to mean that we are accepting of diversity and having compassion for other people. We use this word to imply our unconditional love for our fellow man. So many of us in pagandom are still nursing our wounds of rejection from when someone important in the past found us to be too weird, to “crazy,” too unsavory to love…so now we have this knee-jerk reaction of “everything goes” and it can sometimes make for unhealthy personal boundaries. If I’ve learned anything from paganism it is that unconditional love is NOT the same thing as unconditional relationships.

I use my “personal ethics and opinions” as the scales on which I weigh all my decisions–my judgements–and I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. I call my ethical guideposts Heron’s Four Rules of Witchcraft, and they have so far served me very well. After all this time in the witching biz, I do know this: Just because everyone is entitled to their own ideas, and their own pursuits of happiness, does not mean that all pursuits are equally beneficial.

A Prayer for “Good” Judgement

Johann Jacob Wick, Witch burning, Nuremberg, 1555
Johann Jacob Wick, Witch burning, Nuremberg, 1555

Heron’s First Rule of Witchcraft: Don’t burn the Witch.


Having a well-honed sense of good judgment is vital to safely maneuvering within our society and requires all six senses to do effectively. There are many ideas, behaviors, fashions, lifestyles, etc, that I’ve judged to not be in alignment with my core values; they are unsafe or unsavory to me, so I don’t do those things.

Heron’s Second Rule of Witchcraft: Don’t be the Asshole

However, I don’t want to be the sort of “judgemental” asshole that would impose my ethos as a way of controlling other people. Its also a “golden rule” thing.

 (8) For the most part, it doesn’t bother me in the least to mingle my life with the folks who’ve made alternate judgements than I have. Live and let live, as they say. Then again, sometimes, I choose NOT to be in relationship–nor proximity– with people who are too wildly far afield from what I consider to be alright for me and my children, or for society at large. So, I become the warrior witch and defend the boundaries.

Heron’s Third Rule of Witchcraft: Don’t be the Weak Link

For example, not only will you never find me at a white supremacist event — which is an unfortunate part of pagandom— neither will any known member be invited to dinner at my house. Furthermore, I would get seriously pointy and confrontational about it–should that moment arise. I call this Going Gandalf: you shall not pass….

Heron’s Fourth Rule of Witchcraft: Must be Present to Win

Am I being judgemental about these racists? You bet yer britches! In this case, I am okay with that. This is part of how I live up to my fourth rule of witchcraft: must be present to win. One of my favorite passages from the long form of the Wiccan Rede says: “With a fool no season spend, nor be counted as his friend… (5)”

“Fool” is a relative term, too, and I’ve played the role of the fool a few times, and lost friends <cough:exhusband:cough> because of it.  I have no doubt that they were showing their own brand of good judgement to disassociate with me at the time.  Isn’t “good judgement” a commendable thing people do as a means of figuring out where they fit in the overall scheme of possibilities, to determine what is beneficial for them, as their own reality check against relative oddness?

What helps me navigate this minefield is my defense of personal sovereignty and free-will. Regardless of any judgement that what you are doing is incorrect for me personally, my acceptance of your free-will should be unwavering; you will not suffer at my hand because of where you land within my range of relative oddness. That is my promise..that is how I show you unconditional perfect love and perfect trust.

The Take-Away:

While I may not perceive the world the same way as all my customers, I’m going to lovingly and helpfully coexist with them, even if that is at a distance that I define.  Namaste Away. I also am going to be the reality checker when necessary, being honest when I believe that they have fallen into imbalance, but I’m not knocking on doors, either. If you come into my shop to see the village witch for advice, don’t you want me to be (constructively) honest with you?

Today, I ask myself where I draw the line between relative oddness and “crazy” or “foolish,” and I think that line is when the behavior or idea in question is sourced by fear, becoming anger, hatefulness, dis-ease, destruction and harmful actions.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” ~Yoda, from George Lucas’ Star Wars

Sure, you may have a wild idea, but how are you acting on that idea?  If ever I find myself staring down that line with a customer, then I may see fit to help that friend with a loving release of my flying monkeys (7),  or by finding the psychiatric help or law enforcement needed to prevent further harm.

I love you all that much.

To even flirt with Witchcraft is to welcome a kind of madness. (Or is it to be truly sane?) We are all mad here! Be free in your oddness, my lovelies!  Be the brightly colored, glittering and strange flock of my like-feathered kindred!  Y’all make my strange corner of the world a very interesting place to be and I’m grateful for that.

Blessed Be!
~Heron

References:

  1. “The Spanish Inquisition” is a series of sketches in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 2 Episode 2.
  2. “Muggle” is JK Rowling’s word for “non-magical folk” in her Harry Potter series of novels.
  3. Wiktionary definitions and etymology
  4. Heron’s Four Rules of Witchcraft – My personal blog with the long, winding tale of how these ethical guidelines were revealed to me, and many ways I’ve come to apply these rules to my teaching and practice.
  5. From the long form of The Wiccan Rede (WCC)
  6. An apocalypse (Ancient Greek: ἀποκάλυψις apokálypsis, from ἀπό and καλύπτω meaning “uncovering”), translated literally from Greek, is a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation. In religious contexts it is usually a disclosure of something hidden.
  7. Flying monkeys…you know what I mean…some days mama loves you with a hug, other days a spanking…or a good grounding in your room so you won’t hurt yourself or other people. Witches’ have their ways, dontcha know. 😉

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