Duality and Lack Thereof

 

moon and sun

“When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
When it knows good as good, evil arises
Thus being and non-being produce each other
Difficult and easy bring about each other
Long and short reveal each other
High and low support each other
Music and voice harmonize each other
Front and back follow each other…” – Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching was the first text of any spiritual or philosophical significance that I read after going through the books of the faith I was raised in.  It’s stayed with me, and it’s a good place to go back to.

The passage above sang to me when I first read it.  I read it in Jane English’s translation – I’m not sure how that measures up against other ones, to be honest, but it’s still my favorite – but every version of it calls back to me.  I feel it.

It comes to mind when people speak of duality.  Actually, the whole Tao Te Ching does, with the one perfect yin and one perfect yang forming the Tao.  It’s beautiful and profound and I just can’t buy it anymore.

Recently, there was an article being shared on Facebook about dealing with “Dark” deities.  While I appreciate much of what the author has to say, and even moreso I appreciate the fact that they open with how problematic it is to label a deity as “dark”, I was left with a deep frustration (which really had nothing to do with the article itself).  The fact that we are still labeling deities as “light” or “dark” gets under my skin the way any unthinking duality that we embrace does.

I’m not sure, but I think that it was in discussions regarding gender that the system of duality started to unravel for me.  There are lots of people who identify as men or women.  I identify as a woman, for instance; that’s what I am.  There are also a lot of people who identify as neither or both.  Third-gender, genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, there are different terms for different nonbinary identities in our society.  As soon as I was exposed to the idea it made perfect sense to me, even though as far as trans people go, I’m very binary.

I think that we get taught this binary thinking as children.  I also think that it takes a while to sink in, and before it does entirely there’s a golden period where kids just accept things as they are on whatever scale.  A friend of mine (who is nonbinary) likes to tell a story about how kids get it.  He was on a bus and a bunch of younger kids that were clustered together turned to him and asked,

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

Him: “I’m genderqueer.”

Them: “What’s that?”

Him: “It means I’m neither a boy or a girl.”

Them: “Oh.  Did those piercings hurt?”

I’m not a specialist in child development, so I really don’t know.  I don’t know if there is a point in time where it is helpful to explain things in painfully black and white terms to kids.  I have the suspicion that it’s more for the ease of the parents explaining than the ease of the childrens’ understanding, which strikes me as intellectually lazy, but I also understand that saying that raising children is difficult and a minefield of compromise.

To me, it feels like a deep-rooted damage in human perception of the world.  The idea that things fit into these neat digital on/off, black/white, good/bad, boy/girl, dark/light boxes being drilled into your head because it’s easier to explain the world that way seems like a massive disservice to everyone involved.  It’s also the root of a lot of bigoted, prejudiced, and simply wrong-headed thinking.  Boy and girl aren’t absolute boxes, they do exist, but they’re cluster points that a lot of people seem to fall close to or in.  Dark and light are guidelines and suggestions that we use, but even things that are perceived as “dark” tend to have “light” qualities as well, otherwise in their absoluteness they would be impossible for us to truly engage.

When I encounter and interact with a person, one of the things that I’ve come to do is try to gauge the degree to which they have overcome the painful dualism stamped into their mind in their youth.  Honestly, I consider that to be one of the first major signs of intellectual maturity, and it pains me that so many people are stuck in that mindset about so many things for so much if not all of their lives.  There are just boys and girls.  Things are either good or bad.  There are light Gods, and there are Dark Gods (and sometimes, charitably, the person mentions that there are “grey” Gods, which kind of still casts an emphasis on the whole duality.)  “Nothing is just anything.” is a mantra that has saved my life and sanity many times over.

I don’t think that binaries don’t exist; I just know from my experience that they are reference points between and around which exist larger spectrums, and once we break out of the binary style of thinking about a particular subject, we might notice a whole host of other meaningful reference points that we can use as well.  It frustrates me that so many people make these things into absolute oppositional polarities, and spiritual systems that insist that an oppositional polarity is the basis for the existence of the cosmos and all meaningful or powerful interaction therein make me deeply uncomfortable (I’m lookin’ at you, Kybalion.)  I see it in the insistence on calling on “Male Ancestors” and “Female Ancestors” (and I’m the wet blanket who stands up and offers to “Those Who Are Both or Neither” and makes everyone uncomfortable).  I see it in the insistence that I still see in some ADF rites that there needs to be a Goddess and a God called to “create balance” (even though in theory our organization holds no special favor for any concept of gendered polarity).  I see it in the idea that some Gods are just Dark, and some are just Light, and that you can bottle them up and divide them so very easily.

Maybe some people need to hear things that way at whatever stage in their intellectual or spiritual development they happen to be at, but it still makes me sad and frustrated, because I know that it’s not that simple, and that we’re doing a disservice to the range of wonder and beauty in our creation and existence by categorizing everything into two easy-to-divide but highly inaccurate columns.

I know a couple who raised their child without gender.  They let their kid grow, used neutral pronouns for them, bought them neutral clothes and all manner of different toys.  The kid decided pretty early on that she was a girl, which given that’s what the doctor assigned them at birth, makes them cisgender.  The fact that they (who are actually a fairly conservative Heathenish couple) did this gave me a lot of hope: they weren’t wanting their child to grow up without gender or trying to make them nonbinary, they just wanted them to make their own decisions about who and what they were, leaving their options open, which they did pretty early on.  Watching this process made me really happy.

I like to hope more people can be like that, with their children, with their other family members, with their friends, with the strangers that they meet, and yes, with their Gods.  Some Gods might end up seeming fierce and kind of dark – honestly, the way that Freyja interacts with me most of the time seems to fall into the set of qualities that people seem to attribute to “Dark” Gods, despite the fact that I can think of few who would classify Her that way.  Let them be what they are rather than trying to categorize them; if they fall into a recognizable box, great, if not, don’t try and shove them into one.  It does your own intellect and their identity and complexity a disservice to do otherwise. It also robs them of a bit of their agency (as doing so with humans does) by refusing to acknowledge how they manifest if it falls outside of the neat categories that you’ve formed in your mind.

Let all wights decide what they are for themselves.

nonbinary flag

(Image: A common nonbinary Pride flag.)

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Not Fleeing But Seeking; Also, Ending Up Where?

(Tongue-In-Cheek Warning: This is about the Pagan/Polytheist split thing.  If you’re sick of hearing about it, keep moving).

This post by John Halstead was interesting (and it’s not just because I get so tired of hearing Heathens accuse each other of being Christian).  I think there is something to what he is saying.

I’ve often been confused by Pagans who share memes and sentiments amounting to things like “all religions are bad” and “people who believe in God/s are stupid”.  I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it for a while now, and frankly, this article does put some of it in perspective.  The idea that a lot of Pagans are moving away from the –theism portion of their previous faiths may go a long way towards explaining not only that, but the insistence that Paganism is not “religion” but “spirituality”, the oft-repeated statements of “Nature is my temple” (it’s one of my temples, too, but that’s a bit beside the point here), the wincing that one sees when one suggests the Gods are other than elaborate metaphor, that everything should be made up as we go along… if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know I don’t really agree with those sentiments, but I can understand where they may be coming from if people are coming to Pagan paths as a rejection.

I don’t think that it’s accurate for every self-titled Pagan though; it’s certainly not for me.  What drove me away from the faith that I was mostly raised in was a combination of things: being told that some members of my family’s lives could be forfeit if they didn’t accept the same faith (this was especially painful with my grandmother, who was a good woman), or that they would be condemned to an eternity of agony for disagreeing, the fact that someone who is as queer as I am had no place in the faith and the best I could hope for was a life of self-flagellating repression, and countless other things.  Mind you, I recognize that there  are many of that faith that argue that those things are not doctrine or correct.

What drew me towards Paganism was a love of the mystical and magical and a love of the Gods who I had loved as a child.  I’ve told the story a thousand times: when I was a kid I found a copy of the Choose Your Own Adventure book “The Trumpet of Terror”, which is set in ancient Scandanavia and you, the main character, belongs to a family touched by Odin, and you’re called on to aid in a touchy matter involving none other than Gullveig.  The names of the Gods and powers in that book ignited my blood, sang in my bones, captured my imagination and would not let go.  Likewise, when my mother bought a huge map of the solar system for me I asked her what the planets were named after and got an education on the Roman Gods.  Thereafter I tried to set up altars and worship without really knowing how.  I followed my mother into her new faith when I was a still wee one, but I never lost my appreciation of the faith and Gods that felt natural to me, despite trying to accept the idea that they were all demons trying to deceive us.

Leaving behind the old faith was hard, but not because I believed in its absolute correctness, more because of old habits and fears.  While I was walking into Paganism (specifically Wicca at the time) for years I felt a series of sensations like fishhooks attached to wires being pulled out of my spine, sometimes as bunches, sometimes one at a time, and reckoned it the connections to the God I once worshiped being pulled free, or me pulling free of them as I strove towards the path that made more sense to me.

I am not sure which Goddess it was that replied when I called to “The Goddess” or “The Lady” though I have some guesses (I never felt to comfortable with The God, frankly, and not because the God of my former faith was “male” – despite the pronouns used it was made clear to me at an early age that that they were neither male nor female, so I never thought of them as such).  I wasn’t running from religion, nor was I running from the idea of One God – I was fine with that as a Wiccan, all was the Goddess, and I thought of the various deities as Her many faces.  It was neither the mono- nor the -theism that took me away from my old faith nor the lack of one or the other that drew me to the new one.

When I started being Pagan, I started finding a lot of prejudices and what I considered harmful beliefs, but they didn’t drive me away from Paganism (although, to be honest, they had me on the run from Heathenry specifically for a good long while)  I decided to stay and make a difference by being myself and being Pagan (as I’ve decided to with Heathenry).  I stayed because the beliefs by and large resonated with me and because the practical aspects of that belief and my working within it have been beneficial.  I stayed because if I didn’t, my voice wouldn’t be contributing to it and changing it.

Which brings me back around to the article above.  Should Polytheism and Paganism split apart (if that’s even entirely possible)?  Should Polytheists remain a part of the larger Pagan movement and continue to add our voices to it?  I know there are plenty of folks on both side of that question who would be happier if we didn’t.  A voice within me says that that’s not in my hands, but I know better.  It’s in my hands, it’s in John’s hands, it’s in the hands of everyone in the larger movement that we’re attached to.  We all collectively are the “movement”.  This Pagan movement consists of people, and most of them aren’t loud mouths like myself and other bloggers and authors, they’re folks living it and not acting as mouthpieces for their egos, their Gods, or their causes.  Ultimately that’s what all that recent talk about Pagan laity has been about on some level, right?  The folks who just want to live their paths and faiths?

There are folks like me, who are Polytheists and still identify as Pagan – I straddle both identities, and I have to say I’m stretching in places that I’m not used to stretching as a result of this debate.  Part of me thinks that Polytheists would be better off moving away from Paganism, but the fact is there are lots of Wiccans and Eclectic Pagans who are still Polytheists.  They still believe in many Gods, that they are separate entities, and that they exist outside of our heads (though there are surely parts of them that live within us, too).

Is the question of identity more about Reconstruction and Recon-derived practices?  There may something to that – a lot of Heathens don’t want to be associated with Paganism because they associate modern Paganism with folks with no interest in reconnecting to the faiths of the past.  That is surely not applicable in all cases, or even most for all I know.  A lot of Wiccans still believe that they are connecting to an ancient faith-way and for all I know they very well could be, scholarship aside.  Who am I to say whether or not some ancient prehistoric Mother Goddess or Goddesses are whispering in the receptive ears of modern folk?  That aside, reconstruction that begins with scholarship is different from totally channeled spirituality in a number of ways, despite the fact that all lore was once UPG.

As time goes on I don’t know where I belong.  My times at Brushwood went from free-wheeling, firedance-happy Eclectic Pagan to Polytheist ADF gatherings and Heathen Woo-Woo Bootcamp.  I spent less time at the bonfire and more time at the Runestead, less time partying and more time worshipping, practicing, and studying. I found more fulfillment in that than I had in just smoking pot, drinking, and dancing around a bonfire.  It wasn’t what everyone was there for, even among the Pagans who attended.  I was still welcome at the fire and the public rituals; no one treated me as a weirdo for being who I was.  In other words, despite being a practicing Polytheist, the other Pagans didn’t try and make me feel unwelcome.

I don’t know the answer.  I do know that many of us aren’t running away, but running towards, not fleeing, but seeking.  Regular readers will know that I’m fascinated with identity and the borders of it and its composition.  This particular discussion is important to me, and it may be important to many of you as well.  How we approach this will shape generations to come; even if our names and specific words are forgotten, the ripples we set in motion will continue to build and change the face of things.  While I do believe that honoring the Gods is important for a variety of different reasons, I also think that our social and cultural movements are important too.  Would it benefit both Recon-based Polytheism and modern Paganism for there to be a definite split in our movements?  Would it harm either?  What will we be leaving for generations to come?  We all sense the rumblings and have felt and seen these divisions, and it’s up to us to encourage or discourage them as we see fit.  What do you think?

The Three Kindreds and My Theology

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” I, King, have dealt with the Gods for three generations of men, and I know that they dazzle our eyes and flow in and out of one another like eddies on a river, and nothing that is said clearly can be said truly about them.” C. S. Lewis, Til We Have Faces

In ADF we refer to the “Kindreds”, the three classifications of spiritual beings that we honor and work with in our rituals.  The three categories of Kindred are the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits, and the Shining Ones.  By and large all three have some representation in most Indo-European Pagan cultures and their practice and worship.  I’ll explain how they tie in to my personal theology later; for the moment let me describe them and my understanding of them in general as well as with an eye to Norse Hearth Culture (in ADF we often associate with a particular Indo-European culture for the purposes of study, worldview, and practice).

The Ancestors

The Ancestors are venerated in most cultures across the globe.  The term Ancestor literally refers to those of your physical lineage; those whose blood runs through your veins.  It is widely believed that of all categories of spiritual beings, they are the ones most likely to take interest in your day-to-day activities and the ones who care the most directly about you.

In Heathenry the Ancestors are given a special place of veneration.  They are often those called upon first in any sort of rite as they are kin and Germanic Paganisms hold the value of familial bonds in high regard.  In the Eddas and Sagas we see great importance placed on your direct ancestors as well as those married in to your blood line; all seem to be honored together.

There is a tendency in modern Heathenry to compartmentalize them into Alfar (male ancestors) and Disir (female ancestors).  This is not part of my practice or belief for a multitude of reasons.  First and foremost, as a transgender person I am aware that there are and have always been people who do not identify as either male or female (what we often refer to nowadays as “nonbinary” people).  The sharp gender divide excludes them as Ancestors just as sharp gender divides exclude them from participation in many activities and organizations nowadays.  In addition, I have found far more reference to the Alfar as nonhuman supernatural beings in the Eddas and Sagas (such as Delling, the Red Elf of Dawn) and there have been recent discussions that have suggested that either “Alf” was a synonym for “Van” (one of the primary tribes of Norse Gods) or an entirely different classification of divine beings.  As for the Disir, while they do seem to encompass some of the female dead, human ancestors are not the only figures given that title.  I believe that the confusion arises from the fact that the feminine protective spirits that are the Disir are often inherited or carried along family lines.

In addition, this system leaves little room for veneration of the dead that are not direct ancestors or ancestors by marriage.  There are many dead heroes who are honored throughout the Sagas as well as in our modern daily life and I feel that having no legitimate category for them excludes an important part of human veneration for the dead.

As my understanding of the dead does not fit well within the Hearth culture that I have chosen to practice, I have had to adopt compromises in my practice.  I honor the Ancestors of Blood; those of my family line and those who were married or otherwise bonded to them.  I also honor the Ancestors of Heart; the Beloved Dead, those who I have loved in life who may not have been direct ancestors of mine but who have passed on from this world.  The dead who I have not known personally but whose words and actions have inspired me I refer to as Ancestors of Spirit, or Heroes, and they receive my veneration and offerings as well.

The dead cling to us; we have a unique connection to them in that what we are now, they once were.  The Ancestors surround us, as they have interest in what goes on in the halls of the living.  The Ancestors care about us and respond to us, as we are their current physical connections to this world.  We are their eyes and ears and hands and mouths in both a literal and metaphysical fashion.

The Nature Spirits

It is not unusual to come to a natural place and feel a powerful presence there.  Even when alone, it seems that the very air around you is listening and paying attention to you.  This is a sign of the attention of the Nature Spirits, those spirits tied to locations and aspects of the natural world.

Most Indo-European cultures acknowledge spirits of individual locales.  The Germanic cultures held them in high regard as well, with the Norse referring to them as landvaettir (or land-wights) and making offering to them and attempting to heed their wisdom.

I find this category frustrating because often it seems to be used as a catch-all for those who are neither fish nor fowl, so to speak.  There are many spirits of different types that are spoken of in our mythologies that do not fit aptly into any of the categories provided, and in ADF practice I often see them relegated to the status of Nature spirits.  Among the Germanic and Scandanavian cultures there are many hosts of these beings from the huldafok (or hidden people) to the Alfar (again, the name is used in many different contexts), the mosswives (who lead men to their doom through their comely but ultimately hollow bodies) and the dveger (the dwarves who dwell beneath the earth, misshapen crafters of great skill).

While I understand how many of these beings do not fit well into the other categories, I do not associate them with “Nature Spirits” simply because they (often, but not always) dwell outside the bounds of human civilization.  When I think of land spirits I think of beings tied to particular locations, or those who watch over particular breeds of animal or varieties of vegetation.  I share the world with them, as I walk through their terrain every day; most houses have their own spirits, as well as the land that they are on and the region that they are in.  In addition, there is suggestion among modern spirit-workers who spend time building ties with them that there is some kind of local hierarchy, something that I have experienced in my own practice when working with the nature spirits of the Genesee Valley.

The Shining Ones

“Shining Ones” is a term that we use for the mighty Gods, beings of great power and (often) wisdom, whose wills and powers shake the world around them and change the world.  Nearly every culture has analagous beings, often described in very human terms of tribe and lineage, of personality and connection.

Among the Norse there were two primary tribes of Gods: the Aesir and the Vanir.  The Aesir have been described by some as Gods of civilization; many of their qualities and stories relate to aspects of human life such as sovereignty, poetry, and war.  The Vanir have been described as Gods of Nature, as those whom we know of are venerated in prayers for fertility, prosperity, love, and weather.

I am personally distrustful of the “God of X” construct.  I prefer to try and know a God through lore and direct experience rather than reducing them to what feels like a mail-order catalogue list of attributes that they are called upon for.  Thus the distinction of “Gods of Nature” and “Gods of Civilization” falls flat for me.  The Vanir are Gods who work with more than just the cycles of the world; Freyja is a lady whose powers of magic are well known and whose ties to war are indisputable, Freyja, Freyr, and Njord are all associated with gold and material wealth, and in the one line that refers to him as such Heimdall is said to be skilled in foresight “like the other Vanir”.  The Aesir are likewise more than mere “Gods of Civilization”; Thor’s power is tied to the thunders that shake our heavens, and Odhinn provides breath and is considered by some to be a master of the wind itself, Gefion brings about the good from the Earth and Hodur is often called a God of winter and darkness.  When personal stories and attributes of the Gods are investigated, these simplified tags that we use to describe them tend to lose their significance.  They are all powerful, complex beings in their own rights.

Personal Theology and Understanding

My personal communion with the land spirits has provided me with an understanding and perspective that has helped to tie things together for me.  At one point while sitting with them I asked why it felt like I was two things; why I was sure that my body was of this earth but that there was a part of me that no matter what felt separated from the physical aspects of this world.

Many parts of their explanation go beyond the scope of this essay. However, parts of it helped me to understand the world in ways that I hadn’t before.  It gave me perspective on spiritual matters that revealed an underlying theme in my polytheism.  The spirits claimed explained that the divisions we make are based wholly on our perspective.  Where we see different varieties of spirits, they understand as the same sort of being at different stages of their development and existence.

To the vaettir I spoke with, an Ancestor was merely a spirit who had done time as a human being.  A God was a powerful spirit (or perhaps many spirits who answered to the same name and had similar goals).  A land spirit was a spirit who inhabited a part of the land.  Some Nature spirits were spirits that had incarnated as animals or who watched over plants.  Some spirits fit into parts of the Universe that we as living humans have no connection to or cannot even comprehend.  Different spirits did different things over the course of their existence, and the vaettir alluded to some Great Dance of the spirits, as they changed roles or performed different tasks over time.

Living humans fit in too, part of us is a spirit bound into flesh.  This explains why sometimes dead humans may become Gods, how Gods can become incarnate as humans, how humans may become associated with the spirits of the land, how a living human may feel that they were once a wolf, and many more things.  We spirits change positions in the dance, and while those positions influence our history and other qualities we are not limited to single roles.  We flow endlessly around and through one another, incarnating and discarnating and choosing or being assigned roles by some authority or authorities beyond my ken.

We are all part of the same dance and process, and the inner part of us is shared with the mightiest of Shining Ones as well as the baby born this very moment.  That does not mean that our roles are irrelevant; far from it – they are valuable and powerful and important for us to carry out.  We are separate and discrete entities, except that we may take the same role as others at points in our existence.  We are all different, except that those differences are defined by the functions that we take on.  We are all the same, in that we come from the same place and dance the same dance as the rest of the spirits, though when we clothe ourselves in flesh or other substances the whole of the dance becomes more difficult for us to see.

It is right that we call them Kindred as well as the Kindreds, because we are all of a kind, just holding different positions at this time.  They are our kin, our family, and ourselves.

My Freyja Story

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(A Freyja image that I love because it reminds me of her title of Blotgydia, by Relotixke on DeviantArt)

So, I’ve started a Facebook group called “Virtual Sessrumnir” for other Freyjasfolk.  We’re doing introductions and I realized that my introduction and my story involving Her power in my life and the slow buildup to this new beginning I’ve found in Her was way too long for a Facebook post.  Also, I won’t be able to participate in the popular Month of Devotional Writing Meme that’s been going around with a lot of Polytheists right now because I’m going to be away from wifi for the week that I’m at the Sirius Rising festival, so I thought that I’d at least throw some of the “why” of my devotion to Her.

I’ve known about Freyja and the Vanir and Aesir for much of my life; I was introduced to them through the Choose Your Own Adventure novel “Trumpet of Terror” when I was five years old. I remember asking the librarian at my school for more books about Norse mythology and dinosaurs and got all excited and escorted me to the “big kid’s library”.

After shrugging of the crippling remains of the monotheistic faith that I had been raised in (Islam) I found Pagan practice through Wicca (like you do) and was pleased that the Norse Gods were relatively popular among the Wiccans that I knew, and would work them into my rites where I could. I was vaguely aware of Asatru, and attended a few blots in Niagara Falls but the visiting Godi left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a chill – he had a very specific idea of what folks who honored those Gods were and I surely didn’t fit into it. I spent time exploring various Neopagan traditions from there.

Freyja wasn’t a huge force (as far as I know) in my life until the summer of 2009, when I encountered her through a guided meditation and experiences in Patty’s travelling ve. There was a whole web worth of people that were twined together through her that summer and it ended up changing all of our lives in the long term – we all got what we asked her for in the dark of night in our hearts in that shrine, though all of us had to do things (unknowingly) on behalf of each other before we earned it. This was also when I first had to face my gender identity issues head on – in the meditation Freyja was very straightforward and no-nonsense about it; she saw me as who I was and called me out for hiding it. My gratitude towards her has overflowed ever since and I try to express it whenever I can.

Since then my path has been steered more towards Heathenry although I can’t embrace that label personally (although it’s been applied to me many times by many folks) for personal reasons. Even the Goddess I revered as my Matron before started pushing me in this direction, though it took a while to realize it. “Go to the Gods of your childhood and Ancestors.” I had been told.

I joined ADF when I found out that you could practice Norse-style rites and that there were a lot of people involved in that culture there, and that helped me cement regular devotional practice and give me a good framework with which to begin a more serious study of and relationship with the Gods that I had loved since childhood. I had always been more interested in the Vanir than the Aesir with some exceptions (and the whole Vanatru thing is kind of appealing as a concept and label to me), and my practice represented that. I honored Freyja frequently for bringing the kind of love that I needed into my life, and for teaching me to be myself unapologetically.

Then, towards the end of last winter, I had a serious life change: I broke up with my partner (we were supposed to be married on Midsummer so it wasn’t whimsy, it was a situation that had grown toxic and dangerous) and ended up on a mattress on the floor of a converted storeroom in an apartment that I had lived in years before. I felt like I was falling from a great height with no one to catch me. I remember lying there on my bed, crying, when the light coming in the window changed quality to a rich orange-gold. It felt like it was surrounding me, embracing me, filling me. I went from feeling absolutely wretched and lost to loving myself in ways that I never had before and finding beauty in me that I’d never seen or felt. I felt Her, I knew it was Her. She cradled me in light and warmth and beauty and love. She made me feel safe when I felt that I had no one I could turn to, loved when I felt unloved, and beautiful when I felt hideous. She washed away the pain and fear and self-doubt and replaced it with all of the things I needed.

I had never felt like this before in my life. I asked Her if I could be Hers. The feeling that I got was that I already was, and that all that was left was to formalize it. (Being the sort of person that I am, I did divination and had a couple of others do it on my behalf as well.  All of the results were remarkably positive).  So I did, privately and personally, and my life has not been the same since.

The warmth and love and light are not the only parts of Her I’ve seen since then. She knows too well how I like avoiding looking at difficult and dangerous things. Since then she has made sure that I faced some of Her aspects that I was afraid of. She guided me to experiencing and embracing them through understanding, and I’m grateful that She was so gentle, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. I’ve sacrificed much upon Her altar, sometimes unwillingly, but I breathed through it and trusted Her and was not disappointed for my trust. Though I’m sure that there will be more to give, and more tears (always more tears!) I’ve learned to trust where She guides me, and it feels good to give Her that trust. She’s guided me further, to reach out to my Ancestors and work with them as well, and I’d like to get to the point where I no longer need to lean on Her but can stand on my own and make Her proud.

Wellspring 2015

I was hoping to start this post with something like, “Pagan Church Lady, reporting on location at Brushwood Folklore Center for Wellspring 2015!”  Sadly, I could find no wifi and neither my lovely Fraulein (that’s my laptop) nor my Kindle (I don’t have a name for her yet) were up to the task of connecting to the Grand Interwebs.  It was probably for the best – I wasn’t allowed to hide behind a screen or avoid the notice of others.

Too much went on for me to record how I felt about all of it, so I’m going to give you the highlights of what I witnessed and participated in.  I know that I won’t be able to include everything worthy of note and I’m sorry for what I missed (most notably the Warrior games and Bardic stuff). I didn’t realize how insanely busy I’d be if I decided to participate in everything that I wanted to, but I slept solidly every night (except the night where it dropped below freezing) as a result.

Getting to meet everyone was wonderful.  I often had to tell people that I was “glad to put a voice to the words” since I know so many fellow ADFers through Facebook and their writing.  It was an honor and a privilege to be in good company like that.

So, highlights:

Opening Ritual:

We processed from the crossroads to the ADF Nemeton, and singing, filed in.  The rite was warm and welcoming.  It kind of felt like it was the “Initiating the Rite” “Purification”, “Establishing Group Mind”, and “Statement of Purpose” for the whole festival (for those of you familiar with the ADF Core Order of Ritual).  With the rite’s focus on the Earth Mother and the spirits of the land at Brushwood (which was a theme in many of the rites I attended, which made my happy) it also felt like the “Honoring the Earth Mother” – again, appropriate for an opening since it’s one of the things we do first in ritual.

I got to stand in a circle and sing the portal song with maybe thirty or forty other people while folks whose names and works I’d only read before honored the Sacred Center and helped to open the gates between the worlds.  Although I’ve attended three Groves’ rites now (and numerous large-scale public Pagan rites), there was a power in it that I’ve never experienced elsewhere, and it set a tone for the whole festival.

Stone Creed Grove’s tent

On the coldest night of the festival we were lead by the siren call of voices raised in song (yeah, Druids sing a lot apparently – fortunately there are usually enough of them that they can’t tell that I can’t sing when I join in).  On a frigid night it lead us across the campgrounds to the tent of Stone Creed Grove, where we were welcomed and waved in and joined in as a completely packed tent (I counted over twenty folks at one point) drummed, played guitar, messed with noisemakers, and sang Pagan campfire songs/ritual chants.  The faces were red with enthusiasm and joy and voices were raised in fellowship.

Some of the songs were familiar, and some were new (one of the ones that stood out in my mind out was a song about Isaac Bonewitz’ wake).  The tent was tightly packed – at one point I was sitting between a pair of swinging hips on one side and the violently jerking elbow of a drummer on the other and worried that my head might be pulped if ever the two met (there wasn’t much room to move without being even more awkward), but I came out of the tent later unscathed and refreshed.  The brief time I had in Stone Creed’s tent that night did as much to make me feel at home and part of the fellowship as much as any of the grand rites did.

Hecate Rite

We went to the crossroads, because that’s where we assumed that a rite for Hecate would begin processing.  We were wrong, but one of the clergy came and found us and lead us to where it was beginning.  We trailed through the assembled Druids, picking people up and waving them in for a spectacular twilight rite to Hecate Soteira.  It was interesting timing, as I had just completed a term of devotional service to her, and I felt far more comfortable at the rite than I would have before this past year.

I’ve never been to an Hellenic rite before, and while I don’t feel a pull in that direction it had a beauty and power that I appreciated.  I have a deep respect for Hecate and for the clergy who performed the rite and I’ll never forget the depths and clarity of the sky as we called to Ouranous nor the fading/lingering daylight as it slowly slipped away through the rite.

Norse Kin Meeting

It was wonderful to meet other members of the Norse Hearth Kin and discuss updates and future plans with them.  We discussed the dearth of information available on mainland Germanic mythology (as opposed to Norse, something that we’re still working to track down more sources for), increasing discussion of trance/seidh, magic, runework, and other esoteric practices, Rodney Cox’s Order of the Raven and Falcon (a magical order within ADF dedicated to Odhinn and Freyja) and other things that are slipping my mind (but I’m sure we’ll catch up on).

We also did a blot and trance right after the Unity rite.  It involved working with the places that ADF imagery and Norse imagery overlap particularly well (Flame, Well, and Tree, the Hallows).  I’m used to using Yggdrasil for journey work, but this was the first time for some folks.  It was a private journey for each of us that bore some surprising fruit for me (those who were there will understand).  It was also good to just be doing esoteric work with other Norsey people, Heathen or otherwise.

Seidh Lecture

I had mentioned that I was excited that Patricia Lafayllve was going to be there, and she surely didn’t dissapoint.  She did a presentation on the aspects of seidh that are rarely discussed nowadays (including all of the cursey and negative stuff) – a lot of it read like a list of things that witches and shamans the world over claim to be able to do, which I appreciated.

Another interesting aspect of the lecture was the connection between the Finns/Saami people and seidh.  She discussed places where the Saami were mentioned in Sagas and how their practices, appearance, and how the Northmen felt about them may have influenced both modern and old Northern Pagan faiths.  I can’t wait to read and hear more about it – my roomate Jim and I geeked out about references to the Finns in the Sagas once I returned to Buffalo and I’m sure that there will be more discussions and inquiry sparked by it.

Oracular Seidh

Patty also did an oracular seidh rite.  I always appreciate seeing different styles of trance and variations within traditions.  It was certainly different from the seidh/oracular work that I’ve witnessed, participated in, and trained in myself.  There was no bringing the entire group with her to where she went (she actually asked us very specifically not to follow her), nor were there lots of songs (other than when she called to Freyja at the beginning of the rite).

The answers that I received from my own questions were heavy and have left me pondering and “puzzling ’till my puzzler was sore”, and I’m grateful for them.  I appreciate being able to be there for what I consider an important form of “magical community service” and to witness a skilled seeress in action.

I did walk away with serious amber envy.  I thought I was all Freyja-blinged out with my amber earrings and ring and sunstone bracelet… nope.  Patty had enough amber strung on her apron dress (there we go again with the apron dresses!  One of these days…) to practically form armor, and every other woman with an association with the Lady came with ropes of the stuff (or so it seemed).  I felt very small when the observation was made that amber was a sign of a woman’s wealth in the old days – but then again, most of what I find of it goes to Freyja’s horde anyway (and given my current financial situation, it wasn’t entirely inappropriate).  Maybe I should let myself keep some occasionally, too.

Freyja’s Ve

It’s always threes, or at least it should be – Patricia also brought her travelling ve (basically a shrine) to Freyja.  While I’ve been aware of Freyja since my childhood the serious devotional relationship and dedication to her that I’ve developed lately started the first summer that I encountered that ve (which I believe was 2009(.  It was also involved in many other important wheels turning in my and others’ lives, so I have a history with it and it was good to see it and use it again.

Within the tent is a godpost for Freyja, bedecked with ropes of amber and other bright jewels.  Spread out on a cloth around the post are a wide variety of treasures that people have dedicated to her – jewelry, bottles of liquor, artwork, shiny things, and of course, amber everywhere. Soft rugs and shawls lined the corners of the tent.  I made some private offerings and had some time to commune with her in a place where she is closer than normal.  I also brought charcoal and a cauldron to light it in and offered her some small pieces of amber through the coals. That’s a scent I will never forget – the scent of a sap of a tree millions of years old, sweet and piney and pure, sacrificed to the Giver.  I could never bear to made burnt offering with it before, but like they say, if it hurts, it’s a good sacrifice.

People of the Purple Feather Ritual

The People of the Purple Feather is the LGBT special interest group within ADF.  We had a meeting where we got to introduce ourselves and discuss plans and hopes for the future, and the idea of doing a ritual for our SIG came up.  While it was too late to do something official, a few of us wanted to do something anyway, so Chris from Wild Onion Grove and I spent the next couple of days discussing and planning it and spreading the word.

We were given the stone circle right by Druid Heights to perform the rite, a very public and open place.  As a result we had people join who had just wandered in, unsure of what was going on.  Each of them ended up having something important to contribute, however.

The rite was dedicated to the LGBT dead, and was done in Norse Hearth Culture (calling to and honoring Norse deities for certain parts of the rite, specifically Bragi for inspiration and Heimdall as our gatekeeper).  The rainbow-based invocation of Heimdall was especially beautiful, and we also called to Oscar Wilde as a queer ancestor for inspiration.  When it was time to call the Beings of the Occasion, we each named LGBT Ancestors of blood, of heart (chosen family) and of spirit (those who have inspired us) and called them to join this rite in their honor.  We called to people who have been outcast and confused and hurt, to those whose lives were publicized and to those whose names we’ve never heard, to those who died of violence, of suicide, or of other causes, to those who shouldn’t have had to be alone and might have spent their entire lives feeling that way.  We called to the homosexual people, the bi and pan people, the trans people, the agendered and asexual people, and every color of the rainbow that we could think of, and we each offered water into the great offering bowl for them as part of the Key Offering.  Afterwards we made individual toasts to those who had passed.

For the return flow (the blessings that we receive when we make offering) we stuck our fingers in the Well, the Gate to the Underworld, and asked for inspiration and blessings from the LGBT Dead and sat in meditation to listen and hear if any of them bore messages for us.  It was an especially powerful experience for me as an Ancestor that I’ve been working with for a little while came forward in a big way and made herself heard to me (I’ll talk more about her at another point).

Not an eye was dry, and for an impromptu rite I think we did some powerful mojo.  It felt good to get together with another tribe that I am a part of and celebrate and honor the Dead that we share.  I’ve often wanted for queer pagan space and rites.  I pray that their inspiration and blessings pour out through us into the rest of our communities.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll emphasize it now – especially for our folk, reach out to your Ancestors.  They are grateful to be known, to be celebrated, to be heard, to be honored to be acknowledged at all, and they have so much to give us.  They want to, and they will, and all we need to do is open the way and ask.  You don’t even need to know any of them by name.

Unity Rite

The main rite on the last night was a powerful experience.  Gifts were brought from the various regions that ADFers occupy to honor the land spirits in those places, and many varieties of Ancestors and Shining Ones were called to and honored.  I was excited to see Kirk Thomas (the Archdruid)’s Gate Opening and Closing – I’ve heard that they do it differently on the west coast and that he is the origin of that style, and it was wonderful and powerful to witness in person.  The ecstatic spinning with the robe and staff was very reminiscent of Sufi dances that I’ve seen.

Drawing that connection between earth and sky, Cosmos and Chaos, between us and each other, between all of our groves and solitaries (who were mentioned first in the roll call!) was immenseley powerful, and I felt the web that we worked to reinforce radiating outward from its burning center across the world.  I’ve participating in long-distance linking rites before during my time with the Fellowship of Isis and it’s one of my favorite types of large-scale workings – I like the feeling of drawing our disparate wyrds more tightly together.

I was happy to see the Nemeton in full use.  I’ve been going to Brushwood since ’99 and before this Wellspring only saw it used once before (by Whispering Lakes Grove for Beltaine of 2010).  It’s a beautiful space, but one that is made even more so by putting it to the use that it was intended.

Chenille Canopy

So, I didn’t go. (Long term readers will know that this is something that I’ve been agonizing over).

I am a genuinely (as in diagnosed) bipolar person and those dizzying (and sometimes dangerous) heights are often accompanied with soul-crushing lows, and I was experiencing one of the latter while the Chenile Canopy meeting (ADF’s unofficial womens’ group) was happening.  I was fighting my inner demons of dypshoria and low self-esteem, coping with bad brain chemicals, and couldn’t make myself go to a space where I was afraid that I would have to justify my presence – it happens a lot for trans women in womens’ space.  When we’re not specifically made welcome we assume that we are not welcome at all, because it’s often easier than having to fight for it and be turned away because someone uses an aspect of our anatomy to define our identities.

I do, however, regret not going.

I know that others who I’ve met online have told me that it would be accepting, but it was different to hear it in person.  When I expressed my concerns later I was taken aside by one of the organizers and vigorously encouraged to attend whenever I had the chance.  She explained to me that it is open to anyone who identifies as a woman, and that trans women are never a problem there.  Having someone talk to me about it and convey it in person made all of the difference for me.

I miss womens’ space, and I especially miss Pagan/spiritual womens’ space.  It’s a wonderful and powerful thing and I’ve had far too little of it over my life.   If I ever get a chance again to go to a Chenille event I’ll be there in a heartbeat.  If you’re a trans woman and a member of ADF and have the inclination, please do so also – not only are we very specifically welcome, but our voices are needed there too.  All women, regardless of anatomy, are welcome to be a part of it.

Other notes:

Doing multiple big trance rites in a day means you should be grounding hardcore and all the time.  I thought, “It’s okay, I can take it.  I’ll be fine and it’ll be cool and trippy.”  It was indeed cool and trippy, but I had to be physically guided back to the tent when my limbs stopped listening well and just kind of wobbled in place; I could barely walk.  It was embarrassing and uncomfortable and hope to prepare better next time.

I made a small offering at Isaac Bonewitz’ memorial and felt deeply frustrated that we had been at the same camp at the same time numerous times and I never met or spoke to him.  I’m grateful to him for getting the ball rolling on this, and for a lot of his other work as well.

Sometimes doing loads of spiritual stuff makes me crave the touch of the mundane just a bit.  I found myself thinking at one point, “I need to do something left-brained.  I need to do math or something.”  It probably would have been helpful.

I don’t know if it was just the space and people used to dealing with trans people but I didn’t get misgendered once the entire weekend and I didn’t need to tell anyone what pronouns to use for me; they figured it out on their own.  I had long stretches of time where I was relaxed enough that I didn’t need to think about gender stuff at all.  May it someday be that way for everyone who wishes it so, all the time.  It certainly made me feel comfortable, at home, and not awkward in a way that I’m rarely not awkward outside of queer space (I had ninety-nine other social awkwardness factors but gender wasn’t one!)

Wellspring had so many powerful events and moments that no matter how much I write I’m going to feel like I’ve left things out.  The brewers’ competition, Emerald’s fantastic class on ritual crafting, Kirk’s impressive class on sacrifice and offerings, the fire at Druid heights, the late night, drunken, nerdy conversations, the piquancy of the closing rite and wrapup all deserve honorable mention but even so I feel like I’m not doing it justice.  I’m in love with the land at Brushwood and have been for a long time, and I feel at home with the other members of Ár nDraíocht Féin (even when we don’t agree, and even when we don’t agree very loudly and in each others’ faces) and that’s a new but welcome feeling.  It felt like an unexpected homecoming, a Wellspring of frith and community love and stories (oh so many new stories!) and new friends and family.

I also would like to give a special thanks to the readers who came up to me to chat.  Being recognized like that gave me the warm and fuzzies in a huge way, and I hope that someday soon someone does something that nice for you.

Ghosti!

Why I Am Not An Heathen 2: What Can You Do?

I was surprised by the volume and quality of response to my previous post.  I was truly not expecting it.  Many people both on WordPress and Facebook came forward, often in agreement with some of the points I raised.  Molly Khan wrote an excellent response on Patheos Pagan.  There were no vicious comments, though there was a lot of missing the point in a lot of places, and thus there are some things that I wanted to clarify.

I’m not not calling myself a Heathen as some sort of form of rebellion.  I want to respect the doctrinal guidelines and suggestions provided by the Heathens that I’ve spoken to, both on line and in person.  Some of those guidelines for what is considered Heathen versus what is not include several of the points I raised and more: Havamal must be the origin of your morality or at least considered in every situation, UPG is not to be trusted or given voice or attention, honoring the Gods outside of community functions and community rites runs counter to the spirit of Heathenry, innovation in ritual (i.e. performing religious practices that we are not sure were performed by the ancestors), honoring beings that are considered questionable (including Loki), in some cases honoring the Gods at all rather than the wights and Ancestors as some believe the Gods to be distant, troublesome and non-traditional focuses for veneration, etc.

These are things that Heathens who I’ve interacted with since the early 2000’s (again, both in person and online) have included among the boundaries of Heathen practice, in other words, if you want to call yourself Heathen you can not stray outside of them.  Call yourself Pagan if you wish, but according to some you cannot claim the mantle of Heathenry without adhering to the above and further strictures.

Obviously, not everyone agrees.  I do feel that Heathens have a right to define Heathenry, though.  Of course, it gets sticky when there are self-identified Heathens who don’t agree with all or most of these principles, but by and large the Heathens that I’ve met and discussed it with agree with some of the above.  I’m personally not going to try and join a faith and then tell people that are already practicing it that they’re doing it incorrectly when they have already established guidelines and boundaries for it.

The misogyny, racism, and multiple ‘phobias are things that are definitely worth working against in modern Heathenry.  I’m glad that there are more and more voices speaking up against them, because whether I wear the label or not I’m still going to be coming to your rites and share in mead and offerings for as long as I’m welcome, and would like not to have to deal with that.  Those are the things that I spoke of that “insulted my soul” the most.

So at the end of my last post I said that I would discuss the options that I’ve found, considered, and in some cases embraced.   What’s a wooey, non-doctrinarian, solitary, non-racist, lover of the Norse Gods call them selves?  Under what banners can they come together?  How can they reconcile their beliefs and practices with larger Heathen culture?

Being Heathen Anyway

This by far seems to be most people’s answer.  Unswayed by the insistence that their practice, beliefs, ancestry, virtues, or favorite brand of toothpaste renders them mere pagans or heathens rather than actual Heathens(tm), these bold individuals choose to identify as Heathens, and to Jotunheim with anyone who disagrees.  I’ve heard a lot of people express some variation of this sentiment, including Molly Khan in her response to my original post (linked above).

I appreciate this approach because the culture of a faith can’t change without people who feel differently standing up and speaking out.  The main reason that I haven’t embraced this path myself is that I feel Heathens have a right to decide the boundaries of their identity, faith, and doctrine, and I honestly respect it enough not to appropriate the name if it’s not… appropriate.

Is it?  Who decides who can use that title?  As many are fond of saying, there is no Asapope.  As of now there’s been no High Moot of All Heathens that’s decided what the exact boundaries of that term are.  If this movement lasts more than a few hundred years, there will be.  There might even be one sooner than that.  It might be good for all those to whom it matters to make sure that their voices are heard at yonder hypothetical HMAH.

Just “Polytheist”, Thank You

The other day I was thinking while I was out on a walk.  “Huh.  I wonder if there’s a word for being specifically devoted to multiple Gods.  Kind of like polyamory but for devotional worship.  What would you call it though… poly..theistry?…wait…”

I hate it when what I think is a stroke of brilliance ends in a facepalm.

A fair number of responses to my posts included folks who identified that way.  There’s a growing movement of polytheists who eschew (or at least de-emphasize) a particular cultural focus and respond to the Powers that call to them.  To be fair, I fit that well myself.  I try to commune with the Powers that I do through rites that have some of the appropriate cultural trappings sometimes (I’m generally speaking about European or Egyptian deities here; part of the reason that I rarely work with Gods of living cultures is a desire to try and avoid blatant appropriation when I don’t have proper cultural immersion) – but was there ever a culture where folks simply didn’t call out to their Gods in times of need or thanksgiving?  I know that there are few cultures and faiths where there are no forms of offerings or sacrifice.  Often my prayers and offerings are less umpty-ump alliterative poetry and a mead horn than they are simple gestures of adoration, pleas for help, or offering of gifts.  I don’t don an apron dress every time I want to honor Freyja and Freyr (I don’t even own one, sadly) and in ancient Rome I would not have any right to offer to Jove (as I understand their practices).  That doesn’t mean that I don’t do it anyway.  A lot of these trappings are artifacts of the time and culture that they were in, and the materials and concepts were more accessible to the people who used them.

The Gods seem to appreciate it when you do try to recreate the old stuff, or maybe that just puts us into a better framework to interact with them, or maybe they’re waxing nostalgic (“It’s been over a millennium since I’ve seen a Volva with a proper staff and catskin gloves.  Good girl!”).  Whatever the reason, those touches do seem to help on some level with signal clarity and reception.  However, if our devotion to communion with the Powers is going to be part of our day-to-day life, we need to either wear apron dresses all the time (Which would be totally fine by me.  Yes, I’ve been obsessing over them lately.  Hush.) or we need to adapt our polytheism to fit our culture.  At least for Pagans in the US, that means a culture that accepts that there are many kinds of people with many kinds of Gods and thus no one pantheon (in theory, at least).  For Pagans in the modern world in general, if you’re not part of the dominant cultural faith anyway (which is likely some brand of Christianity or Islam, depending on your neck of the woods) there’s no reason that you should be limited to one pantheon or one form of cultural expression.  There, I’ve said it.  I warned you that I could be pretty darned eclectic.

So just Polytheist works for quite a few folks, many of whom accompany it with “Pagan”.

Other Groups

For purposes of community (and I’m a pretty social person; even when I’m solitary in practice I like having community) I’ve found a couple of groups that work well, and heard of others that I haven’t approached.

I’m a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin or ADF.  ADF was started in the distant mists of the past probably around the time I still thought that the Goonies was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.  It’s been a good community for a Norsey non-Heathen like me.  Individual members and Groves are encouraged to embrace “Hearth Cultures” which are cultural applications to the general framework of ADF rite and practice.  The community for the Norse Health Culture is large, diverse, and well-educated, while generally taking what I’d consider a pragmatic stance towards UPG.   Lore is emphasized as the basis of understanding but no there are no official rules or restrictions on UPG other than it’s not usable for the reading material for coursework.

It’s great for a heretic like myself because there is no policing of private practice, either: official ADF rites have to be public, but what you do outside of official ADF rites has no bearing on whether or not you can perform or participate in them.  It tries hard to emphasize orthopraxy (we all perform the same rites or in a similar fashion) over orthodoxy (we all believe the same thing) and while I don’t feel that it’s possible to be entirely one without the other it does a good job at keeping the policing of belief to a minimum.  ADF does have its own brand of sacred tech that I’ve incorporated into my own work, and its focus on scholarship and excellence make it an organization that I’m proud to be a part of.  Plus, I can be in it, worship the Vanir and Aesir, and not have to conform to Heathen culture.

Pardon me while I put on these goggles and duck behind this blast shield.  Can you still hear me?  Ahem…

Northern Tradition Paganism is what seems to be a loose affiliation of solitary practitioners and a few Kindreds of Norsey Pagan people.  They make the distinction of being “reconstruction derived” rather than strictly reconstructionist, meaning that they start with what they can find and work from there rather than sticking with the basics of what can be reconstructed, which pretty well matches what I’ve seen in ADF Norse Hearth culture, too.  They have an emphasis on personal devotion, shamanism and spirit working.  They also don’t restrict which Gods people worship – they are fine with people worshiping the Jotnar and their kin (though that’s not a requirement – it’s been explained to me that there are NTP people who don’t, but anyone who calls themselves NTP is required to drink when they’re honored at someone elses’ rite, which is just good hospitality/ghosti as far as I’m concerned.)

Throw in that they have a pretty queer membership overall, that their founders/leaders are super-controversial in the Heathen community primarily because of Jotun worship, wild rumors, and not putting up with Havamalier-Than-Thou talk from Heathen Elders, and they make the perfect Heathen boogeyman.  There is no better way to throw a monkey wrench into an Asatru conversation than to bring up Raven Kaldera or Galina Krasskova!

So no one should be surprised that I consider myself Northern Tradtion as well.  Although the idea of making offering to Fenris or Surt or Thrym or Jormugandr gives me the altogether willies, they’re Powers too, and even if they don’t particularly care about humanity, there are humans who care about them, and if I’m at someone’s table and they drink to them I will too to honor my host and be a good guest.  I’ve felt very comfortable with the NTP folks that I’ve met and interacted with and hope that I hear more NTP voices in the future.

Norse Wicca is a thing, also.  I don’t have a lot of exposure to it or a history with it, except insofar as I honored the Norse Gods while still considering myself Wiccan.  If there is an organized tradition of it in any way I’m unaware of it, although I’d be happy to learn and share more.  I don’t connect well to some aspects of Wicca anymore (especially the painful – to me – emphasis on binary gender) so I haven’t considered it an option myself, but I’m sure that there are people who find fulfillment in it.

I don’t know what else is out here, but I’d love it if in the comments here or on Facebook, or on your own blogs or articles discuss the paths that you’ve taken to negotiate this quandary.  The conversation has begun, and I’d like to encourage it to continue, because from the responses that I’ve had it feels like there is a real need.

 Why is all of this even important?  Why put so much thought into it?  Well, I’ve been trying to find community that I resonate with, that I can join, that I can be a part of and that I can be a voice in.  As I’ve mentioned, I’ve found a couple of labels that stick after a few days’ wear-and-tear.  I do feel that Heathenry is often a bit exclusionary, but again, I’m in favor of people setting their own boundaries.  I want to know where I fit in, and it seems now like a lot of other people feel the same.

We need the community builders.  We need the legalists.  We need the loremasters.  We need the Godhis and Gydhjas.  We need the craftspeople.  We need the seidhkon, the volvas, the vitkis, the mad and the touched and the inspired.  We need the people that just want to go to the rites, connect with the Powers, and go home and not think about it.  We need the poets and taletellers.  We need the passionate speakers and activists.  We need the people sitting outside the ring around the fire, occasionally getting passed the mead and acting as the peanut gallery (which is kind of where I’m sitting right now).  When I refer to “we” I don’t just mean self-identified Heathens and their many subsects – I mean all of us who honor the Norse and Germanic powers and/or embrace the richness of Northern European Paganism in all of its contexts and aspects.  If “Heathen” doesn’t apply to all of us, we need a term that does form a proper umbrella, because there are things that we all share, and things that we can all teach each other and it will help us remember that on some level we’re all in this together, Heathen and heretic alike.

That’s that for now.  I’m going to Brushwood Folklore Center for Wellspring tomorrow, one of ADF’s primary annual gatherings.  The inimitable Patricia Lafayllve will be there with her ve to Freya and performing a seidh rite, and the Norse kin have a lunch at some point when the schedule settles.  I also hope to explore my conflicts regarding queer space vs. gendered space, and come back with more answers and questions on that and many other things.  If there’s wifi there I’ll be trying to make blog updates and report on location.  I’m excited – I’ve never been to Wellspring before!

Why I Am Not an Heathen (Though I Kind of Wish That I Could Be)

This (long) post has been a long time coming.  I’ve referenced my feelings about personal background and development in some other articles and have been spending a lot of time trying to explore myself in relation to the modern Pagan movement and Heathenry.  Although the title was inspired by Bertrand Russel’s piece “Why I am Not A Christian” I won’t, as he does, seek to deconstruct the idea of a particular deity.  I will, as he does, explain why the values expressed in the religion in question do not fit mine, and why that leaves me in a difficult place.

Let me begin by explaining that I’ve had a love for the Aesir and Vanir since childhood.  I first read of them in children’s fiction when I was four or five and rapidly advanced to reading more adult storybooks about them.  Later on I discovered source material like the Eddas and Sagas and buried myself in them.  I love the tales and I love the Gods.  However, I cannot love the Gods within the same framework that so many others do as in many ways it (in the words of Walt Whitman) insults my soul.

Havamal

When speaking to Heathens about where they derive the virtues that they form their community on, Havamal inevitably arises as the primary source.  While I cannot (and do not) argue with the value of the Nine Noble Virtues, I have irreconcilable differences with some of the source material.

It starts with the misogyny.  Hearing Har proclaim that “The speech of a maiden should no man trust, nor the words which a woman says, for their hearts were shaped on a whirling wheel and falsehood fixed in their breasts.” (83), and having “women’s bed-talk” and “witch’s flattery” being included in the list of things that none should trust scored me sorely.  I’m a woman of integrity and honor, and sweeping statements about my sex do no credit to my many sisters that stand by their words and honor their oaths and debts.

While we’re on the matter of integrity, allow me to raise this verse: “But hast thou one whom thou trustest ill
yet from whom thou cravest good?  Thou shalt speak him fair, but falsely think, and leasing pay for a lie.”  For some, this may be honor.  The other has breached honor and integrity, after all, both should be allowed to do it.

I can’t sit by this myself.  Whether or not another has been untrustworthy with you, I still consider if false to be false to them.  I know that the Allfather isn’t always known for fair dealings himself, and I take that into account when I read this.  However, I cannot use a philosophy like that as a basis for my own ethical beliefs.

Likewise, there are many verses that caution people against being too trusting.  While I understand them (having been a person who has trusted the wrong sorts of people in the past) they also feel paranoid.  I can’t base my behavior around a document that tells me not to trust people; trust builds trust and integrity builds integrity.

I love Havamal, and much of the advice found within is timeless and sound.  The tale of Odhinn and the runes makes my hair stand on end whenever it is recited (especially when recited in Norse).  However, I feel that that advice should be considered on a case-by-base basis, and not necessarily used as a be-all-end-all guide to human behavior and social interaction.  I think that that emphasis helps to account for the undercurrents of misogyny and xenophobia that I have encountered in Asatru and Heathenry – if devotion to Har’s sayings is unquestioned, the environment that is created will attract many sorts of people that I find questionable.

Dismissal of UPG

There are several problems that can arise from lack of grounding in lore in any polytheist tradition.  It is possible to think that you are honoring the Gods with ancient practices that turn out to be not so ancient.  It’s possible to be mislead by spirits and entities that may claim the identity or name of a deity to gain your attention or trust, and a grounding in the lore helps with discernment in the identification of wights that you deal with.  It’s even possible to look like a complete idiot in the face of scholars (Pagan and otherwise) who know better than you and can fill in the blanks while you trip over words trying to explain or discuss aspects of your faith.

I never met Snorri Sturluson (at least, not that I remember).  I can say that the window that he has provided us into the beliefs and poems of his time are invaluable.  I know that without him countless deities and tales would be forgotten, and as a storyteller and a Pagan I suppose that that makes him something of a hero of mine.

However, I don’t know him.  I don’t know the measure of his worth as a person, I haven’t seen his integrity in action, and I don’t know entirely why he did what he did.  What I do know is that even as a teenager reading the Eddas I recognized Christian influence in the tales, occasionally in a rather heavy-handed way.  I do know that Snorri made some odd claims about the ancestry of the Gods, and I do not agree with his suggestion that all deities were once human heroes.

The fact is, his work, and the Sagas we’ve kept in other ways, and hearsay are all we have to inform us of how people at the time when they were first written down felt about the Gods, and what they knew about the Gods, and what they did about those feelings.  Without this work reconstructionists wouldn’t have made it as far as they have.

I believe that the Eddas and the Sagas should be the first word, but not necessarily the last, and certainly not the most important.  The world that we live in is radically different from the world that those who recorded these things lived in.  We see it through different eyes, hear it through different ears, and filter it through different brains.

Yet some of us feel the call of the Gods and spirits from across whatever barrier of perception or dimension or both separates us.  Among those there are folks like myself, who find that the practices that have been reconstructed do not work as well for us as other techniques that we’ve learned or practiced, or who wish to supplement their practices.

Heathenry involves a degree of cultural reconstruction as well, and the awesomeness of Viking apron dresses aside, there are aspects to reconstructed Heathen culture that don’t fit with every person who honors the Aesir and Vanir.  There are those who don’t feel that we need to revisit age-old mores to create good relationships with the Gods.  There are even those like myself that feel that Gods might be okay with not being honored within a certain cultural context; that they might even care far less about human culture than we do.

I have been and perhaps still am a witch and a seeress and a priestess.  I know many others who fit into those and similar categories.  If I trust the person as a person I will tend to trust their words when speaking about their experiences with the Gods, the Wights, and the Ancestors.  I know that sometimes even honorable people lie, and that sometimes everyone is wrong, especially when feeling for signals from the spirits.

At the same time, if I am to truly believe in the Gods as real beings who really can communicate with us, I cannot ignore the gnosis of my fellow priestesses, seeresses, and spirit workers.  “UPG” or “Unverifiable Personal Gnosis” is often used interchangeably with “MUS” or “Made Up Shit” in modern Heathen discussion and dismissed out of hand.  Even when it is not it is treated with quite a bit of suspicion.

Like the layers of a pearl that form around an irritant, so do religions form around spiritual experiences.  Somewhere along the line, someone called that redgold Goddess “Freyja” for the first time.  Someone heard her voice, felt her presence, and decided to name her “Lady.”  Without that time-lost incident we also would not have the faith we had today, nor would Snorri and others have been able to write record what they had.

All religion starts with gnosis, both personal and shared.  Though the lore states nowhere that Freyja likes chocolate, I’ll challenge you to find a Freyjaswoman or Freyjasman who would argue that it’s not a worthy offering for her.  If someone said something confusing like “Freyja likes being offered bug spray.” I might be skeptical, but if many voices devoted to her spoke up for her love of pesticides I’d have to practice my own discernment and divination on the matter and see if that was part of my relationship with her.

At what point does “UPG” pass the threshold into accepted belief?   In a community where personal spiritual experiences of living worshipers are never considered to be of equal worth to the writings of those long gone, how can our understanding of the Gods evolve?  As our understanding of the physical universe and social realities of humankind evolve, so should our spiritual understanding and awareness.  Chaining this to modern interpretations of static words will put us into the same trap of stagnancy, corruption, and materialism as many other religions.

Rejection of Neopaganism

This takes many flavors and comes about for many reasons, but the majority of Heathens that I’ve spoken with do not consider Heathenry to be part of neopaganism.  Some claim that it is not a new religion, that it is an unbroken tradition (which I cannot answer to but I am always suspicious of those claims).  Some feel that the Gods and Ancestors are dishonored by association with deities and practices of other pantheons and cultures (regular readers know how I feel about that one).  Some claim that Heathenry is different enough in values and practice that Heathens don’t fit in to big umbrella Paganism.

I could take on any one of these individual points, and I understand the arguments both for and against them.  Personally, however, I do identify with the Neopagan community, because there are a great many within it that love the Aesir and the Vanir, the Landwights, Elves and Ancestors.  Our practices may be different, and our individual -theism or lack thereof may cause disagreements, but we all seek to revere the Gods dear to our hearts.  I would rather be exposed to a wide variety of practices and experiences with the Gods that I love, than to be in a strictly formulaic practice that allows no deviation.

The vitriol I’ve seen directed at those who identify as Pagan by those who identify as Heathen is excessive and shows a lack of willingness to assume good will or intent.  The fact that being called “Wiccatru” (a label I’ve seen applied to modern Heathen leaders and scholars who have a mystical or spiritual bent in practice) is considered an acceptable way to dismiss someone’s scholarship and practice brings me sorrow, as the many Pagan paths have quite a bit to teach one another.

Disregard for the Spiritual

As one of the God-bothered, a person who has always had experiences with spirits, I can’t reject or turn away from spiritual realities.  I’ve always lurked about and taken part in religions to help me find useful frameworks and techniques to deal with and make good use of my experiences.  Many of those experiences happen to be with the Aesir and Vanir and associated wights.

Thus it always baffles me when I encounter people who seem very devoted to religion or at least to religious identity but who mock spiritual experiences.  You know, the folks who claim that the runes were never used for magic (haven’t you read Sigridfumal?) or feel that the Gods don’t care about us or wish to interact with us personally (Ottar in the Lay of Hyndla?).  I’ve seen this in the Episcopalianism and Islam of my youth, and I’ve seen it in the Heathenry of my adulthood.  It’s a cultural attitude whose origins I am uncertain of but seems uncharacteristic of the people whose faith we’re trying to reconstruct or build on.  The sagas are full of tales of magick and seers and vitki and ghosts and spirits and Gods.  Why is it acceptable in our tales but not in our lives?

I’ve been told by at least one Heathen that Heathenry is an excuse to get drunk and dress like Vikings (and had pretty much the same words said by others).  If I wanted to get drunk and dress like a Viking I would not come up with such an elaborate excuse; I would have a Get Drunk And Dress Like A Viking Party.  I wouldn’t put work into reading lore.  I sure as anything wouldn’t be making offerings if I didn’t believe that anyone was on the receiving end.  I want a living faith that honors and builds relationships with the Gods and Spirits that I love dearly, not a frat party.

Community Focus (or Solitary Exclusionary)

Time and time again, it has been emphasized to me that Heathenry is community oriented, that without a community there is no purpose to it, that’s it’s not genuine, that’s it’s not right.

How nice for you.

Really, though, it’s nice to have community.  It’s affirming and validating and helpful when you have other people going through the same things with you.  It’s good to have people to be there for you through all of life’s transitions and vicissitudes.

However, not everyone can find communities that they fit into.  I struggle with both the Pagan and larger world community because of my trans status.  I struggle with the trans community because I have a religion that isn’t watered down non-spiritual Christianity or nihilistic modern American Buddhism.  I have to carve niches for myself wherever I go, and sometimes I don’t have that option.  I’m not alone in that, either.  There are a lot of people who, for reasons above or others (including the paucity of available Heathen communities in general) can’t find a Kindred or Hearth to belong to.

So when you don’t have a Kindred should you stop honoring the Ancestors and the wights and the Gods?  Should you just give them the shove and stop calling yourself Heathen because you don’t have a community?  “Well, I was Heathen but my Kindred broke up, so I’m an atheist until I can find another one.  No, following another religious tradition would be ‘drinking from someone elses’ well’, so I can’t do that either.  Just have to wait for another Kindred to form or form a new one before I can be a Heathen again.”

Which brings me to:

Folkish, Tribalist, Racialist, and other words that are used to say, “I’m not racist but…”

You know the story – your spiritual ancestry is carried in your DNA.  Only those whose blood is pure will receive blessing from the Norse Gods.  Only those of Pure European Heritage With Ancestors Who Were Never From Anywhere Else Ever Can Venerate Them.  Also, if you’re from Northern Europe, you shouldn’t pay any attention to any Gods or Spirits that aren’t in the Eddas or Sagas, because that’s “drinking from anothers’ well”.  You have different DNA, and that means that you are totally spiritually incompatible.  They either aren’t reaching out to you, or they are because they want to corrupt you, because foreign things are evil.

After all, the many races of the world are like instruments in an orchestra.  Each musician plays their own instruments; if you try and play the wrong instrument for you, all that will come out is a horrible sound and it will totally screw up the orchestra.  Also, unlike in the orchestra analogy, you can never learn to use an instrument that you are not designated to play at birth by skin color and last name on your birth certificate.

Godhi, please.

The concept of race is a dead one and should stay that way.  The idea that humans have distinct and pure bloodlines breaks down really quickly once you study any one person’s genealogy going back more than a century or so.  Throughout history, people have traveled, met other people, made war or trade with them, and whether it was war or trade also made babies with them.

There are ethnic enclaves that have been geographically isolated for long periods of time (like Tibet was up til around the 1950’s) where it could be argued that “pure” lineages developed.  Their ancestors still came from elsewhere, though.  As a Voudoun priestess once said to me, “It’s okay if you’re white; we all come from Africa, baby.”

I’ve studied my family genealogy.  This fat white girl from suburban America has black and native ancestors within the last two hundred years, and was raised by an Egyptian stepfather in an ethnically-mixed household.  I tan dark enough to look Italian in the summer (if you’re going to go by something as lame as skin color) – I know people from North Africa and the Levant who are paler than me.  I was raised on a combination of hummus, ta’amayah and the Qur’an on one side and white guilt, Tolkein, and liberal Episcopalianism on the other side.  Tell me, what faith do my genes or upbringing want me to follow?

I think that the Gods and spirits care far less about human culture and bloodlines than we do.  I think that they favor who they choose to favor, regardless of their ethnic or genetic background.  These beliefs come from observation and experience, both mine and those of folks who I know.  I’ve had a Kemetic Goddess (who I worship mostly in Her Greco-Roman aspects) tell me in a Norse oracular rite to join an organization that bills itself as Druidic.

As such, I can’t be okay with “racialism”, “folkishness” or “tribalism”.  I’m an educated person of my time who knows that no blood is unmixed, who knows that no “race” is pure or even really exists, and who has enough of a mixed background that were I to limit my spiritual practices only to one tradition I would be leaving out other, important things.

When I formally approached The Ancestors, my Ancestors, as a whole for the first time and asked them what they wanted me to know, I was taken out of myself, or rather back through myself.  I followed and spread out through endless lives like branching worm casts, spreading more and more until I couldn’t count or even pay attention to the details that were passing by me.  All life is my ancestry, every being who has lived has contributed to who I am today.  It’s the same for you, dear reader.  They are all part of you.

However, taking issue with folkishness (aka Heathen racism) is somehow naughty because Frith.  Because we should all be peaceful and safe with one another and trust one another.  Because we need to reach across the aisle and embrace all Heathens, regardless of what they believe.

This mutt, this mud-blooded, racially mixed lover of the Vanir and Aesir has no inclination to do so.  I’ll not share a space with those who discount me, or would discount my sisters or any of my family or loved ones because of their ancestry.  I’ll not drink with those who wouldn’t drink with me (or would because my skin is pale, but wouldn’t with my little sisters because theirs is not).  I’m also not going to pretend that I don’t have a problem with it, or that I think that pandering to folkish beliefs is in any way acceptable to me.  But, because people are afraid to stand up to their own beliefs and cover cowardice with Frith and make peace with people who would take our Gods away because of our ancestry (if they could) I don’t fit with any but the most stringently liberal of the Universalist/Folkish divide.

Not to mention the queer and trans thing.  That doesn’t go over too well either.

So where do I go from here?  What options does this non-Heathen have?  What space is there for a polytheist who wants to honor the Vanir and Aesir (and maybe a couple of the friendlier Jotnar like Gerda and Skadhi) but can’t abide many things that grate upon her in popular Heathen culture?  Stay tuned; my next post is going to explore all of the options that I’ve found and considered.

Druitch? Wuid? Heathgan? Pitch? Part 2

I’m going to allow myself a moment of snobbery: I’m really happy for ADF and all of the groups attached to that organization. Also, for polytheist space online in general.

I joined a group that promised to be a group for socialization for “witches, pagans, and druids”. The amount of fluff there is painful. I think I get out of it the sort of thing that other people get out of reality TV “Whoa, people are actually like this?” Every painful stereotype, overflowing with lack of knowledge or research or lore. Every few days there are requests for love spells and weight loss spells, insane misattributions for deities, and flipflopping between the “I have a 6000 year old lineage. My Book of Shadows was written in Atlantis.” and “Don’t worry about it, just go with what’s inside you, how you do things don’t matter, just make it up as you go along.”

I used to occasionally frequent online groups like that and feel despair and think that, well, that was it for pagans, obviously. I’m proud to be part of an organization that is proud of its research and commitment to excellence.  Look, ADF isn’t perfect, and we as individuals are just as fallible as anyone else, but for everything’s sake we’re trying to get some things right!  The polytheist community in general has been good about being grounded in lore and building on it – carefully – with our lore.

As per my last post, I love Wiccan practice and magickal style.  However, with other polytheists and especially ADFers I have the feeling that we’re doing a whole lot less casting around in the dark.  Maybe over time a beneficial synthesis will come into being, or Wiccan and Wiccan-style Pagans (because for as much as they will deny that they’re Wiccan, there’s usually a Goddess and a God, circles, and quarters being called at very least, and gratuitous pentacle imagery) will start incorporating better research and more powerful streams of past practice into their work.  I kind of hope so.

Druitch? Wuid? Heathgan? Pitch?

I’ve got a mixed past, to say the least. I was raised by a convert to a monotheistic faith (Islam).  I grew up being told that polytheists and Pagans were evil because any God but the big one was really a devil in disguise, misleading people and giving them really kickass powers.  I kind of wanted those kickass powers; I’m not going to lie.  I tried interacting with the jinn while I was growing up in the Middle East, with interesting and varied results.  Not all jinn are devils, they’re viewed as being much like humans in that they have free will and choose their own paths.  I figured that if I dealt with goodly, God-fearing jinn I could get cool powerzzz and not have to worry about my immortal soul. Well, when I dealt with them stuff happened.

That could be a whole series of posts in and of itself – I might relay some of my experiences later.  It’s a shame that I didn’t have better occult training and discipline in my early teens, or I might have developed a very powerful practice.  Of course, the spirits there are far more active than they are here, largely because they’re used to being interacted with while the ones in the States are by and large used to being ignored (and often skeptical bordering on hostile to attempts at contact).  People there haven’t forgotten the jinn, they’re part of every day life in many places in the Middle East, so they still mess with people fairly regularly. Fast forward to me returning to the States for college.  I was supposed to experience a faith that wasn’t my own for an anthropology assignment so I went to a Pagan Coffee night.  I had this fantastic revelation that these totally weren’t evil people and in fact, some of them were super-nice and super-cool and with it.  I ended up taking a year-long 101 class by a very serious teacher, and then training for a year with a British Traditional coven.

I was a little too queer and weird for them (it’s been the story of my life).  So since I wasn’t officially invited to join, I started doing my own rites with others in the area.  I attracted a group and usually ended up leading rites.  My good friend Rose became an unofficial High Priestess and I was an unofficial High Priest who really, really wished people would label her a High Priestess and let her wear the silver moon crown. I loved Wiccan practice.  I loved the feel of power in casting a circle and the energy and presences I felt when calling the spirits of the quarters.  I loved the deep, resonant communion that I had with the Goddess when Drawing Down the Moon.  I developed a relationship with Isis early on for a lot of reasons – I was drawn to her and she had been worshiped as an All-Goddess since the days of her Hellenic and Roman followers like Lucius Apuleius, or perhaps even before that in Egypt.  I integrated some Kemetic things into my rites and felt the ringing, powerful and ancient might of those practices.

There were things that were missing, though, and it took me a while to work out what they were.  Every High Day seemed to revolve around us working some kind of magick and coming away with some new goody or spell, but it didn’t feel like we were giving back at all.  So myself and some other members of our group started instituting the practice of offerings.  We didn’t do physical offerings at first, but we would make an oath to whichever Goddess and/or God was presiding over a particular rite to do something appropriate in their name before the next Sabbat.  This immediately caught on, and the results were tangible and powerful – our relationships with those deities deepened and became more manifest.  We gave small amounts of our cakes and ale to the Gods and Spirits as well.

Something else that was missing was a genuine involvement with spirits and the dead.  There is no specific framework for that within standard Wiccan and Wiccanate practice.  I’ll admit that that confounded me.  I kept trying to approach High Ceremonial Magick for evocation, but I couldn’t stand the Judeo-Christian language; it wasn’t me.  I couldn’t reach back and incorporate the work I had done with the jinn; they lived elsewhere.  I was too afraid to work with the dead, to be honest, so I never reached out to them other than asking deities that worked with them to intercede and aid them.

Well, Rose died.  Other than completely shattering my world (she and I had a relationship that was not easily quantifiable or labelled but suffice it to say was unique and deeper than our bones and hearts) it ended up shattering our group and we all fell out of practice with one another.  Other than the monumental task of hand-copying her extensive Book of Shadows for her husband, I didn’t do a lot of work but the occasional Sabbat with a tiny crowd of friends or very private Moon rites. I started reading more on Isian practice and it filled the void for me.  Not all of it was Kemetic; some was Hellenic, some Roman, and some modern.  I joined the Fellowship of Isis, the work and spirit of which I appreciate, but I became very frustrated with the lack of organization.  It was difficult to find a functional Lyceum or Iseum that would provide the training that FoI advertises as free for all members.  It was a frustrating time spiritually for me.

I ended up moving to Rochester, New York to be with my partner, Maur, who was a member of ADF.  I knew nothing about ADF or Druidry, and just kind of listened to him talk about it and absorbed bits and pieces.  I was so frustrated with the lack of community, though, that I didn’t know what to do. So, when I went to the Sirius Rising festival in 2012, I went with a purpose.  I had done a week-long oracular intensive with Diana Paxson the year before, and I knew that she usually did oracular work as part of the festival.  When she does her oracular seidh she goes between answering questions through raw psychic ability and consulting with entities, often at the request of the querents.  The last querent had received a message about Greco-Egyptian practices, so I asked her if she could speak to Isis for me while she was “in that area”. Isis spoke through her.  There were a lot of manifestations that wowed the crowd – the sunlight got brighter and a nearby radio blared, “Let the sunshine in!” and then stopped.  I asked Her about community, and she told me to find take a journey to find the pieces of Her husband myself, and recreate him.  I’ll spare some of the details because, but later when I asked for clarification on how to find them, She told me to go to “the Groves of the North, the mountains of the East, the deserts of the South and the forests of the West, and wherever you go, you will find Me.”  She then reiterated that the first place that I should go was to the Groves of the North and the “Gods of my Childhood and Ancestors”.

Now, Norse mythology had fascinated me more than any other as a child and I greedily acquired books on the subject in those pre-internet days (before I moved to the Middle East, that is).  When consulting Maur about the “Groves” that he was most familiar with (ADF) I discovered that it wasn’t specifically Celtic – there were individuals and even whole Groves committed to various Indo-European cultures – Norse, Gaulish, Hellenic, Roman, Baltic, even Vedic. So at the behest of a Kemetic Goddess worshiped across many cultures in the ancient world I joined an organization that uses a Celtic word to describe its members (Druid) so that I could worship Norse deities in a structured environment and walk the path to finding and creating a good spiritual community.  Sorry not sorry, traditionalists.

I find myself still casting circles and using quarter calls when working magick.  I incorporate offering and the Druidic Hallows into my magickal rites and spells as well.  I still draw down the moon on occasion, but practice my High Days and much of my daily devotional in ADF’s style.  I still primarily am devoted to and honor a (at least originally) African Goddess while performing modern rites descended on the one hand from High Ceremonial Magick and on the other of modern scholarly interpretation of common themes in Indo-European religious practice.  I can just feel people (including my first teachers) twitching at this.

You know what?  It works for me.  For me, religion has always been about structured practices meant to bring about spiritual experiences and magickal connections.  People who gasp and pearl-clutch about mixing traditions and how no one can ever discover anything or “advance” without following some specific, structured, and ultimately man-made dictum simply haven’t had the experiences I have.  I try to be disciplined and regular and consistent in my practice, and I find that that has a whole lot more to do with successful God-talking and doing of hoodoo (as opposed to Hoodoo) and wondrous, magical, awe-inspiring, world-shaking experiences than following an initiatory ladder created by someone who has never met me.  Most of those systems were created by people who weren’t as multicultural as I am – I was raised Irish Protestant/WASP/(Modern) Egyptian Sunni/American Hippy Feminist who spent days with her Scottish/Egyptian best friend and practically became family to her Indian and Pakistani friends.  Most of those systems weren’t created by people in a world whose secret practices have been blown open by the internet and the marvelous sharing of consciousness altering, reality manipulating techniques from all corners of the globe. I truly feel that in this modern age, cultural context of practice is not as important as it once was mainly because it doesn’t exist anymore.

Culture and identity are changing so rapidly and wildly that what may have worked wonderfully for Upper-Middle class English people in the middle of the last century probably won’t work so well for us.  That doesn’t mean to leap around wildly between traditions – take some time and dedicate yourself to things.  Learn them inside and out.  Grow in them.  For your own sake, though, move on when you’re ready.  Don’t let that fancy ritual robe be a straightjacket.  The most successful witches, sorcerers, Pagans, and mystics and the ones that I admire most have that in common – dedication to practice, and practical open-mindedness. So what am I?  A Witch, a Wiccan, a Druid, a Pagan, a Heathen?  Any one of those fits; it depends on the rite I’m attending, who is going to be there, and what I need to accomplish.  I have grown to be unashamed of my eclecticism because over time it truly has strengthened my magick and connection to the Powers and helped me to refine and find mastery over myself, and that’s what matters to me.

Virtue: Integrity

(Following is my essay on the virtue of integrity, one of the Nine Virtues honored by ADF and one of the most important to me).

Integrity has at least two common definitions.  The first is the quality of being morally upright, honest, honorable, and having strong moral principles.  The second is the quality of being whole and undivided.  For my definition and understanding of integrity as a virtue I find that the second definition will be more helpful.

What do honoring oaths, honesty, and maintaining strength in your own identity and convictions hold in common?  They are all qualities of a person who is whole.  To lie to others by speaking untruths and to lie to yourself by violating your own principles renders you less than whole.  As thinking beings, much of the world and how we interact with it is created by our thoughts, both shared and private.  Rendering those thoughts false in the face of reality devalues them, and makes us less than whole.  Violating the trust that another holds either by not properly representing the truth or by breaking a promise to them devalues the bonds that you hold with that person – and those bonds of trust are as real as anything that we construct and that influences our lives.  Devaluing those bonds erodes both the identity of both the violator and the violated.

Maintaining integrity is a matter of making sure that your words and thoughts match your actions and reality.  It is  is a necessary quality to cultivate to have a healthy and wholesome relationship with yourself and others, and thus is one of the most important aspects of the foundation of community.