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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A dreaming-awake transformative moment: I had three dreams in a row about flying. I don’t remember the details of the dreams, and I don’t need to. Three is the magic number and the Mysteries had my attention: they were gifting me with one of their life-changing lessons, this one about flying.

Image courtesy of SheBard Media Inc.
Image courtesy of SheBard Media Inc.

At this particular time, I was flying a lot, commuting by floatplane from my island home to my City client on a weekly basis. The morning after the third dream, I found myself in the cockpit beside my favorite pilot, a big-hearted man with a quirky sense of humor, flying over the islands as the lone passenger.

Out of nowhere, he slid the control wheel to my side of the cockpit and said casually, “here, fly the plane.” I was petrified, my hands white-knuckle gripped to the wheel and my body ramrod tense. Then he said to me, “Loosen your grip, listen from the seat of your pants, and don’t worry, I am here.”

And I got, in the flash of that terrifying moment, that this was a waking dream of the most powerful kind; the Mysteries were speaking to me directly, through my pilot friend, teaching me how to fly free in life.

Be free: Loosen your grip on life, let go of your clenching, deadening fear; soften your body, listen from your root, from your flesh, it knows how to be and dance with what is; and don’t worry, you are held by the love and presence of God, Goddess and the powers of life.

What a difficult lesson this is. Freedom is what we hunger for most and yet seems most elusive. We have been trained to associate freedom with having more than enough money and things, which only further feeds the rigid fear and control-based state of mind that is the antithesis of freedom.

There is more to my dreaming-awake story. Within a week of my flying lesson, I was again commuting home by floatplane, alone with another pilot, but this time in a winter storm of epic proportions. There was zero visibility and the plane was being tossed about in the wild winds like a child’s toy in the hands of rough-playing giants. Though my first response should have been oh-my-God-I’m-going-to-die fear, it wasn’t; I knew I was still dreaming awake with the Mysteries and that I was being put to the test on their lesson on flying.

So I emptied myself of all thoughts and reactions; I entered my body, deeply, fully, and let it move and rock, soft and open, with the violent turbulence of the plane. I knew, very clearly, that this was a death moment, and that my fear would gain me nothing. Death did not care if it took me rigid and terrified, or supple and present. But my soul did. My life did. And the Mysteries did.

I could choose, now, and in every moment for the rest of my life, whether to live from fear or from freedom. I chose freedom.

Then the pilot said to me, “Do you trust me?” And I said, “yes.” And he turned the plane around, taking us back and safely landing in our place of departure.

Believe it or not, I got in a floatplane the very next day and the EXACT same thing happened, and I made the EXACT same choices. Test and re-test taken. Test and re-test passed.

Life is going to give us what it is going to give us: flights through easy, sunlit skies and turbulent, rock-us-to-our core storms. I don’t need to tell this to you. You know this yourself — that life is a tricky, bumpy business jostling you between very, very good and very, very bad experiences. And yet freedom is there, in every experience, to choose who you are and how you react with whatever life throws your way.

And, in those times when a rocky moment has you in its grip, and fear suffocates your freedom, remember these words from God, Goddess, Spirit, Love, Self, or however you name the Mysteries that guide you: “Loosen your grip, listen from the seat of your pants, and don’t worry, I am here.”


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Native bee on White Sage blossom / Anne Duthers
Native bee on White Sage blossom / Anne Duthers

Drought is nothing new to California summer — or, as the locals call it, fire season. And, my garden plants are now drought tolerant perennial, culinary, and physic herbs with native hedge collections and of course, my ever present roses. As I write, a CDF helicopter cruises the skies looking for stray wafts of wildfire smoke.

New friends are coming over and I prepare not only the house, but also give a glance or two regretfully at the garden. I have not had time to keep it well this year, relying upon Benign Neglect to reign in this drought-y summer season.

This is not the first year we have danced for rain at midnight. In recent years, as the reservoirs got smaller, so did our vegetable garden. I lost enthusiasm for the frequent watering required to grow thirsty lettuce, watermelons and large sunflower seeds, cultivating my first love, native and medieval European medicinal herbs, instead.

Still, when I am feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or blue, I like to spend time in the garden not thinking. Instead, I listen to the garden. By observing the plants, soil and insects of the garden I can learn a great deal. In this way, I sometimes commune with the plant divas.

Plants have each their own divas with personalities quite distinct from one another. If you cannot see their faeries, the difference is often noticeable as a scent or peculiar habit of growth. They will make friends with one another, and can even take a distinct dislike to their neighbors. How awkward would that be?

White Sage / Anne Duthers
White Sage / Anne Duthers

For instance, in my garden, Lemon Verbena has a crush on White Sage. It’s true, but frankly, I don’t blame her. The first time I met White Sage was in the demonstration garden of my alma mater. I rounded the corner and heard angels sing as the sun opened the clouds and touched the softly rounded, large white leaves adorning Sage’s sturdy thigh-high stalks. For years after I sought and coveted this velvet soft touch and scent.  Two years ago, I planted White Sage beside Verbena, and she has understandably become quite wanton in her affections.

Wanton Lemon Verbena / Anne Duthers
Wanton Lemon Verbena / Anne Duthers

Herbs, bound in bundled ‘smudge wands’ and allowed to dry, are a marvelous magickal aide. White Sage is particularly favored for this purpose, and is sadly often poached, denuding its native California hillsides to satisfy the magickal and New Age market. Fortunately, this herb is easy to grow and available from nurseries for planting in your garden, where it will likely do well. Especially if it is not over-watered. If you use this herb, please grow it or know where it is grown.

Like most California Native plants, and most perennial herbs, White Sage is drought tolerant. This does not mean it can go forever without water — but neither can it live in a mud puddle or in poorly drained soil. It means the plant will use the water it receives from Mama Earth, wisely. Salvia is the plant family name of this herb, and this means Saviour. Yes, in that capitalized, biblical sort of way. But, maybe here it just means “the One who saves” as in, water.

The stems are long and woody, with a hollow center that makes it easy for the plant to grow tall using less water, the way bamboo does. At the end of summer, as it grows tall, sage plants grow leggy and begin to fall over. It will root along the stem with sufficient contact to the Earth.

This plant, and many others, may be propagated this way in a technique called “French Layering”. Like french kissing, it comes rather naturally. Just place a clod of soil over the portion of the adventitious vine, or branch, you wish to propagate and allow time for the roots to grow.  Make sure to include the leaf/root bud that is generally located at the leaf joints or plant nodules. Use a sharp shovel to cut the newly rooted branch from it’s mother plant after the first growing season. You will find a hopeful baby plant in your spade.

It has recently been shown, by authoritative scientists in lab coats, that the smoke from white sage smudging can cleanse the air surrounding contagious people, making it safe for loved ones and care givers to be near.  Maybe Arthur C. Clark was right and magick is just science we don’t understand, after all.

As I pass along the garden paths I am confronted by the outstretched flowering limbs of our White Sage. The leggy branches are long and purple. Most of the leaves are gone. I pick up the branches and, asking permission, stand for a moment in their midst. I am surrounded by love. Excuse me… Love.

White Sage / Anne Duthers
White Sage, with arms outstretched / Anne Duthers

Even when hugging a tree, I have never had one hug back. This plant reached out and wanted to give me a bear hug. It was hard to remember that I was gardening. Hard to remember that people were arriving. I didn’t know how to hug back. I stood and stroked the flowers, branches and leaves in wonder.

With flowers spent and seed heads ready, I trimmed the leggy limbs and found another couple of places in the garden for new plantings that may grow here. Perhaps in time I will learn to return the embrace of the White Sage.

References:


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

Patheos is doing a summer series called “Future of Faith in America”. The Pagan channel’s spot will be up on August 26. In preparation for this event, our Managing Editor Jason Mankey has started a series for the month of august called “Why I’m Still a Pagan”. I think this is a brilliant topic, and I’ve really enjoyed the various responses so far. So to that end, here’s why I’m still a Heathen.

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Raidho: The Rune of Journeys and Exploration

I’ve talked before about my rather confusing religious upbringing. My mother is a conservative Baptist, my father is a solitary pagan with some pseudo Wiccan flavoring and Taoist sprinkles. Add to that my Mormon stepmother and Jewish wife and you can start to comprehend how Thanksgiving dinner with the family might get a bit… odd. So with so many other religions playing a significant role in my life, why did I settle on Heathenry?

Heathenry is a Religion of Questions

I grew up nominally Christian, though by age 13 I had become pretty detached from my mothers faith. This was mostly because everyone REFUSED to answer my religious questions. I was even scolded for asking too many questions as it denoted a lack of ‘faith’. I’ve been accused of sounding more like an Atheist than a Pagan on a number of occasions, primarily because I’m a skeptic by nature. I make a point of trying to question everything. I don’t believe in any concept or idea being somehow sacred and ‘unquestionable’. If the Allfather himself came down to Midgard and told me some secret of the universe, not only would I be suspicious of the information but I’d question the source as well. Is it really Odin? Why is he telling me this? What’s his goal? Is it true?

One of the reasons I’m still a Heathen is that I’m not only allowed to ask questions, I’M EXPECTED TO. The mantra of the Skeptic is: “Watch carefully, and be ready for anything.” Among the names of the Allfather are Báleygr and Bileygr. He is called the shifty-eyed, the wavering eye, the flaming eye, the flashing eye: all kennings for one who is suspicious of everything. I’ve never met a Heathen who holds any aspect of their faith as unquestionable. Our own sacred texts are not above critical examination; in fact the texts themselves encourage it!

Heathenry is a Religion of Ethics

Every religion has some kind of code of conduct, but what that code of conduct is based upon and how it is applied changes. I’ve often said that Heathenry promotes Ethics over Morality. Morals are strict judgments on ‘right and wrong’, and are usually presented as a kind of law. Ethics are a set of guidelines meant to encourage proper conduct. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they ARE different. A moral judge asks what you did. An ethical judge asks why you did it.

There are no Heathen ‘commandments’. In the Eddas and the Sagas problems were rarely seen as having a single solution, and were generally taken on a case by case basis rather than attempting to make a single judgment apply to every scenario. The world isn’t black and white; there are no answers that are ‘always right’. Every situation must be taken on it’s own merit and judged independently. As a religion of questions, we are far more concerned with the WHY than the what.

Heathenry is a Religion of Values

The very structure of Heathen ethics and practice rests on a collection of values, like columns supporting and distributing the weight of a structure that could never stand on its own. Our values form the basis upon which our ethics can be explored. There’s the pillar of Frith, and the unwavering support and loyalty of kith and kin. Another is honorable conduct, regardless of whether or not modern society recognizes the value of honor. We value the ability to be self reliant, and to never stop questioning. We base our practice on the shared ideals of perseverance and the importance of holding ones word as their bond.

None of these on their own are unique to Heathenry, and on their own they could just as easily be applied to an Atheist as a Heathen. They’re powerful ideals, but it’s what we DO with them that makes the Heathen community one I really love. It’s how we apply those values to our every day ethical quandaries that makes Heathenry a thing of beauty. It’s the way we constantly question ourselves, and learn to better ourselves by adapting to new situations and information that makes Heathenry a source of strength.

Why I’m Still a Heathen

I live in a culture that promotes moral absolutism and unquestioning faith as virtues, where our beliefs, our politics, our economy, and even our media are all presented to the public as dumbed down ‘yes or no’ questions. Most people simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of anything that falls in the ‘gray area’. Conservative or Liberal. Pro-Life or Pro-Choice. Pro-Gun regulation or Pro-Second Amendment Rights. Theist or Atheist. Yes or No. Black or White.

THE WORLD DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY!

I’m still a Heathen because I believe our traditions have something valuable to contribute to the world. In a society where it’s so much easier to simply buy the party line and only associate with people and organizations that agree with that party line, I believe Heathenry has the power to remind us how to question ourselves. If there was any one thing I would pray that our community could promote to the outside word, it’s that. I am still a Heathen because we remember a lesson that so much of the world needs to be reminded of.


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