Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Happy Solstice!"

One thing I noticed over the holy-days was that a surprising number of people, on twitter and elsewhere, wishing one another a happy Solstice. I'm not even talking about Pagans - Buddhists, agnostics, the non-religious, and those whose affiliations I do not know. Some suggested to one another activities like lighting a fire or going out to dance in the snow.

It was strange, and for some reason quite gratifying. This of course is a religious festival for me, and for many of us, and it's very pleasing to see people for whom it is not a religious festival still getting into, shall we say, the spirit of the season, and feeling moved to do something, to say "Happy Solstice", even if it's not, for them, a religious holiday.

The great George Carlin once said that if he was going to worship anything, it would be the sun. You can see it, it gives you food, warmth and light, and without it you would die. (Sounds good to me.) But in a way he has a point... whether or not you consider this a religious celebration, the Solstice exists regardless. It's an astronomical time that you don't need to be religious to mark and celebrate if you feel like it; the sun exists for atheists as much as it does for people who worship sun deities, or whose religious festivals are linked to the movement of the sun through the sky.

Seeing so many different people taking note of the Solstice and pointing it out - along with good wishes and salutations! - to others of myriad different religions and lack thereof really gives me hope that in the future, we can all celebrate the Solstice as a secular holiday as well as a religious one.

How cool would that be?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This is the holiday post, I suppose. And it's also nearly a year since I started this blog - the first post was way back in January 2011. Well, OK, to be honest it's nearly 11 months since I started the blog, as I started it at the end of January, but nevertheless as 2011 comes to a close one becomes contemplative about the past year.

It does feel like it has been a long time. I'd never blogged regularly before when I started, though I'd tried, so I'm glad it's come this far. I think I owe the "30 Days of Paganism" meme a debt of gratitude for giving me something to post on those occasions when I couldn't think of much of anything to write.

And I'd especially like to thank all of you for not only reading but linking to the blog on StumbleUpon, Twitter and Tumblr. It's because of all of you guys that Hagstone reached 3000 views this month, and I really, really appreciate it.

The Solstice is tomorrow. Summer for me, Winter for many of you, so many happy returns to those who are celebrating religiously at this time of year, and many happy returns for any secular holidays you all may be celebrating as well. I, for my part, will be picking some flowers tomorrow for my altar and celebrating the longest day with some nice fruits, some nice wine, and a ritual I will probably make up as I go along. My secular Eksmas will be celebrated with family and good food, and my Nordic Midsummer I will stretch out to a few days, with a formal blót, oh, probably on the 22nd, but perhaps a day or two later. It is a busy time of year after all.

Joyous Holidays!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reader Question: Greek Paganism

"I love your blog (Seriously, I should be writing an essay but I've been scrolling through your blog, whoops.)
As I was scrolling, I was thinking about my pantheon, as a brand-spankin' new pagan, I've already become comfortable with the pantheon I know the most about and what feels right with me. Which would be Greek Paganism. And I was wondering if you had any information to share with me, or have any reading materials you would recommend?
Also, on a side note...  it's been a family rule that I'm not allowed to burn anything in my room. I have a few electric candles and I was wondering if those had the same principal,  I've seen on the internet that some pagans use them, I was just wondering what your thoughts were.
- Alex"
Hi there! Thanks so much! I love knowing people are enjoying the blog =D and I'm happy to help.

I do have some sources for you! As a Greek Pagan, you are very lucky as there is a wealth of information available in the form of primary texts, art and archaeology. On the down side, religion was practised a bit differently from area to area, city-state to city-state, which can confuse matters.

But anyway, here are some links for you:
Theoi.com - MANY primary and secondary sources, organised by God, hero, spirit or entity.
Temenos Theon - the best site I've found so far for basic info on Hellenic recon. It's straightforward but has great info, and a lot of links to further reading.
This book was recommended by a Hellenic friend of mine and the website also has some recommended reading, links and an Athenian festival calendar. I haven't read the book myself but I do trust my friend's judgement, so it should be a good read.

And of course the main primary texts are Homer (Iliad, Odyssey) and Hesiod (Theogeny, Works and Days). You can read them here if you don't mind an older translation.

I'm not a big fan of electric candles myself. The act of lighting a candle, the way the flame responds and so on, and the presence of the fire itself can't be replicated by an electric alternative. But, on the other hand, part of the reason for lighting candles is atmosphere. If they provide the right atmosphere for you, then go right ahead and use them. It all depends on the reasons you want to light candles.


My friend added her advice:
"My first book introduction (because Kharis wasn't out yet, and Old Stones New Temples was out of print) was actually Walter Burkert's Greek Religion. It's dense, dry, a history book...and utterly important to read.

At some point. It doesn't have to be everyone's first resource, but I think it's an important work to read.

My biggest recommendation is to learn the ritual pattern and then just do ritual. It doesn't need to be very big and fancy, and as you learn, you can incorperate your beliefs and practices into your daily life."
 Thanks hun! Everyone go check out her blog.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Day Twelve: Pantheon (Thor)

I feel I should point out, before going further, that these "30 Days", particularly on deities, do involve quite a bit of my UPG. There's lore-referenced stuff as well, but quite a bit involves my personal experiences with these deities. Sorry for not pointing that out before. As always, click on the "30 Days" tag for other entries.

So. Thor.

Thor, or Þórr if you like, is a big god. Not in the sense that Oðinn is big, but physically very large and tall and broad across the shoulders. He's also good for hugging. Not that he's really a big teddy bear. He's fierce and strong and so on. He just happens to be also good for hugging. Like a real bear, I suppose.

I have this theory that no one can actually dislike Thor. Thor is too nice a chap to dislike. He is Protector of the Small, and we're all small, at least to Thor. He guards our fields and a rolling of thunder is exciting and reassuring and familiar. When I need something against to rest my back, something to keep me upright and ongoing, I think of Thor. I think, "Thor wouldn't let this shit get the better of him" and I keep going. When I need strength and reach for him for reassurance, he is the iron bar supporting my spine.

Compared to Oðinn and Loki he's very straight-forward, and I like that. I'm fond of Thor not because we share things in common but because I can't help myself, because his presence is always so warm and comforting. He is a god of the people, where his father is a god of chieftans and warriors. He's not as perspicacious as his father or uncle, he's not as cunning or wise. But he's not stupid either. He's not simple. He's straightforward.

I asked Thor for his protection when I was overseas. Before I left, really. I asked Oðinn as well, as a Wanderer, and Loki to keep me safe from those who would trick me. I had an uneasy feeling when I was over in England and on my way to London, so I spoke up to ask again for their protection and felt safe instantly. The request didn't need to be made, because the deal had already been struck. That in itself was reassuring and the experience taught me something I theoretically knew but hadn't really grokked about the Aesir.

Thor's Hammer is a, perhaps the, primary symbol of Heathenry. I always feel particularly safe and beloved, and indeed somehow proud, when I wear mine. My Hammer on my altar is one of my favourite ritual tools, and I've mentioned previously on this blog how much I love the "Hammer Rite" at the beginning of a ritual.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Summer and Eksmas

In the Southern Hemisphere, as you doubtless know (unless you are the victim of an unfortunate education system), the seasons are the opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere. I am a Colonial, insofar as I live in a post-colonial country that was once a part of the British Empire and is now a part of the Commonwealth. As such, my ancestors brought their cultural traditions with them from Britain and Ireland to the new Promised Land of New Zealand.

Meaning? Well, it means religious and cultural secular holidays that are associated with particular dates - Easter and Christmas primarily, but Halloween also - are no longer matched up with the seasons. Traditional decorations remain largely the same: holly and snow around Christmas (although, pleasingly, the sun and the pohutukawa are gaining ground here), pumpkins around Halloween, pastel colours around Easter. People sing "Jingle Bells" as if it had a damn thing to do with Christmas. It's annoying, and frustrating, and sometimes I dream of moving somewhere nice like Scotland where the sun doesn't spend four months of the year trying to kill you and cultural holidays are more in line with my religious ones. It's weird celebrating the Summer Solstice when everyone is pissing around saying "Happy Yule!"

I actually love celebrating secular Eksmas* in summer. It's a unique sort of thing. Everybody gets about four weeks off, and spends the whole time lying around wearing very little and drinking gin and tonics or sparkling wine with strawberries in it. People play beach cricket, the entire world seems to relax the fuck out, and the world is pleasant. I even feel this way despite not particularly liking summer. It is fucking awesome, and everyone in the Northern Hemisphere should come down and try it at least once in their lives.

So where does that leave me? Yule on one end of the year, Midsummer on the other, and here I am with my major religious focus at the opposite end to everyone else's major family focus holiday. The eating and drinking and giving of gifts happens in December, not June the way I feel it should, and I celebrate my Yuletide essentially alone. In the future, if I find myself a nice little Kindred or a partner with similar religious leanings, this may change. But for now, well, I am going to respond to my family and community. Midsummer was, for our Heathen ancestors, still a big holiday. There were Things, and Maypoles, and happy enjoyment. There's no reason really I can't marry that with the secular Eksmas of my country.

Too long have I vaguely overlooked Midsummer in my Heathen practice. I've held blót every year, of course, usually to Tyr and sometimes Sunna also. This year, I plan to incorporate more of how summer is celebrated (consciously or not) in my country into my own religious summer celebrations. I'm going to extend my Midsummer for a few days, and incorporate Eksmas into it. It will be strange, but to many people how Eksmas works here would be strange anyway, so there we are. I am a bit of a come-as-you-are Pagan, so this little experiment will develop as I go along, and of course in no way will Midsummer become as important to me as Yule has always been, but nevertheless I am excited to incorporate things a little more each way.

Now, back to Eksmas shopping.

*My reason for "Eksmas" is twofold. Firstly, I watch too much Futurama, and have acquired their pronunciation of Xmas. I am well aware that "X" stands in for the Greek "Chi" and is an initial of Christ, hence Xmas, Xian and so on. Second, I am aware also that the secular holiday of Christmas and the religious holiday of Christmas, while occurring at the same time of year and sharing many symbols, are nevertheless not the same holiday. Out of respect therefore for our Christian friends, I would not want to call this holiday "Christmas" or "Xmas", and so, Eksmas. I hope my reasoning for this is clear and offends as few people as possible.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day Eleven: Pantheon (Odin)

Oðinn is one of those gods that sets the spirit singing, for various reasons. He is utterly magnificent for all he is sneaky and restrained when he wants to be. He is fearsomely marvellous and marvellously fearsome, and I love and admire him very much.

I met Oðinn properly many years ago when I was a silly little chit of a witchling, and asked Apollo for advice on Runes. (Because Apollo is connected with divination, don'tcherknow.) Apollo tactfully suggested I talk to Oðinn about it. So I did.

Oðinn is a very layered god. He and I share a lot in common, which is why I think I like him as much as I do. We both like language, and words. We value wit, wisdom and poetry. We like to wander. We like to learn for the sake of learning.

He has so many sides to him, so many things in which he dips his fingers. Oðinn is a god of war.... and a god who practises an argr form of magic. (That is, ummanly. Shamefully feminine.) He is a Tricky Bastard of the highest order, with a tendency to smile on people in battle until they've reached the peak of their abilities and then let them die so he can add them to his personal army. "Hi, you know that magic sword I gave you that helped you win all your battles? Yeah, I'm gonna need that back now. Have fun fighting that huge great army that vastly outnumbers you. Ciao!" He's also a lover, a leader, the Most Wise, a god with more names than I've had hot dinners and some of them quite fearsome indeed. Ygg, the Terrible!

When I think of him, I acknowledge that he is a particularly frightening deity. Yet when I honour him or speak with him, I do not fear him but feel great love for him. He is patient with me though I've taken so long in learning his Runes. I am happy to do for him what he wants me to do, yet, I'm glad I'm not "one of his" as I hear he's rather harsh with them. I'm more comfortable and happy in his presence than I am with many of his folk. But he is big, and not in the sense of being physically intimidating. More in the sense that you're very aware that he could squish you if he wanted to. I associate a lot with him, more than I do with many gods, in the way of "correspondences". Many of them physical, or ineffable. He's grey and blue, like the sky, particularly dark grey-blue of heavy clouds. The scent of snow in the air. He's wolf and bear. He is winter, and blood on the snow. He's also things that keep you warm on a cold night, like mead, and stories by the fire, and sex. He's the clang of metal on metal and the taste of blood in your mouth.

I see him with grey beard and hair, and sharp eye (the other, of course, not being there), sometimes wearing a blue cloak and his traveller's hat, sometimes wearing a wolfskin cloak. He gave me one similar during a Walk once, and taught me things that day. One of those things is that one wears wolfskin if it is cold if the alternative is freezing. He likes mead, very much, and he doesn't like peach schnapps.

So don't give him any.

(As always, click the "30 days" tag at the bottom there to quickly find my other entries.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I have become involved in something called "The Informed Pagan Project", the aim of which is to provide some assistance to those coming to Paganism for the first time. Paganism is of course rife with misinformation; even people who have been practising Pagans for years are still labouring under misinformation. The aim of TIP project is to grease the wheels a little, so that people don't have to look back at their "fluffy period" and facepalm.

From the website:
The Informed Pagan is a collaborative Pagan community that can be used as a resource for learning more about the various religions and practices that fall under the Pagan umbrella. A place where one can ask any question and expect thoughtful, honest answers, based not only on collective experiences, but currently available scholarly research. [...] We felt strongly that more guidance should be available for Pagans of all types. [...] The Informed Pagan is for anyone who needs a bit of help navigating the world of Paganism.
The organisation hopes to, in time, produce books of essays, devotionals and so on, the proceeds from which will go to charity. (Which charity has not at present been decided upon.) At this point the program is looking for help in the form of questions or topics you feel should be discussed, particularly on the subject of starting out as a new Pagan. What do you wish you had known back then? If you're a new Pagan or still feel like a bit of a beginner, what areas do you want to be better explained? What do popular 101 books always fail to discuss?

Contact TIP Project via the website or via Tumblr, Twitter or Google+.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day Ten: Patrons

What should I say here? I am going to talk about Loki, my fulltrui, and about the Gods of my Hedgecraft. I feel I should mention both although, as I've stated before, the Gods of my Hedgecraft can hardly be called "patrons".

He and She are Gods I consider "Primal", part of the very earth and sky, part of the rain and forest and beating sun. They are good things and bad, but most of all, They are the boundary between life and death and the very drive of all things to live. They are Passion, in all its forms. They are the desperate need to survive: lust, and hunger, and fear. The edge of the knife.

I've known Them for a long time, but my understanding of Them has grown and developed a great deal over time. For the longest time I was bogged down in other people's impressions about deities who may in fact be quite different to Them... and I worshipped Them for years with a very shallow understanding of Them. That's changed as I started to get a better idea out of what I wanted in a personal witchcraft tradition, a better understanding of ecstatic ritual and a more clear idea of how I understand the world.

They're not patrons.... the word doesn't work with Them. But, I think if I were ever to consider myself "priesthood" - and I'm always unsure about that - it would be of these two Deities.

And then there's Loki. He Who Is Always a Question, Trickster, the Cause Of And Solution To All of Life's Problems. He didn't come into my life in a blaze of fire, or announce his arrival with an explosion or something large falling down. He insinuated himself into my life slowly, so that I didn't really realise what was happening. I remained wary of him for a long time but still unutterably fond of him... I'd read stories of him as a child and though now they're lost in the fog of my memory, part of him stuck with me. This story was one I read, and forgot, and remembered again. I got a choice, too, in whether to be his or not. I'm not sure what the choice means... whether it means I can't complain later on, or whether to be truly screwed over you have to enter into it willingly. But for what it's worth I do trust him. I am not wary of him anymore; I am aware of him.

What shall I say of him. He has taught me many things, such as when to laugh, and when to play, and not to take the opinions of others to heart. He has taught me to leap and be brave, to take chances, and to do what makes me happy. There was also a curious instance in which Oðinn took an interest in me and gave me a Lesson, and Loki turned up halfway through rather vexed. They had a Conversation, to which I was not privy, but I suspect he was ascertaining whether Oðinn was not making plans for me that interfered with his own.

The thing about Loki is.... he's so.... It's like he looks at things with different eyes to everyone else. I think Oðinn "gets" him, and a couple of the others, but it's like the way he sees things he's looking at it from twelve perspectives at once and makes decisions that seem bizarre or nonsensical because he's working with a hidden aim, or no aim at all, or an aim that will become apparent to him later. He's incredibly perspicacious and his reasons are his own and are hidden and obscure, and I think sometimes he makes a decision on the spur of the moment based on who-knows-what. If the world's a stage and everyone players, Loki reads from a different script entirely. Possibly the same one, but one with all these notations made by the playwrite: little changes and stuff that don't appear on anyone else's script. He is a Cosmic Fool, the one who makes the gods look at themselves. He is a culture-bringer, and a breaker of stagnation. And he gets shit for it. But without him the gods would be living in a wall-less Asgard without wonderful weapons, and people would be dull little creatures.

I made him an oath once that I thought of as a "bargain", "I do this if you'll do that". But he considered it an oath, and it was, I just didn't think of it that way. So he gets a kiss from me, every day. I don't pretend to understand him or his reasons for doing essentially anything. I just count myself lucky to have him in my life, particularly in a way that, at present, doesn't hurt.

One thing is clearer than most, and that is that he is very fond of his family.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sexism in Neo-Paganism

Look at me, bringing these two blog themes together in one perfect post. This is a subject that makes me grind my teeth, and it's possible you've come across it: the misandry present in some traditions of goddess-worship.

There are some Neo-Pagan and witchcraft writers who have a terrible opinion of men. Many of these writers are straight and married, which confounds me even more. Yet their hatred of men must simmer down there somewhere, in their hidden depths, because they tear men down. They declare them tainted, bad, evil, violent, dirty. Men, to these writers, are perverts, thugs, brutes, with no love in their hearts, no passion, beauty or art.

"[The Goddess] restores aspects of men's humanity, and divinity, which have been sacrificed to an unbalanced and unhealthy concept of masculinity."
 - Phyllis Curott, Witch Crafting, pg 125
"In the wasteland of emotional suppression, the Goddess offers the healing, freedom, refreshment and empowerment that connecting to your feelings will give you. She offers sexuality and eroticism that is whole and integrated into the realm of feelings, instead of isolated and objectified in body parts, magazines, porn flicks, one night stands and strip clubs."
 - pg 126

 Men are inhuman and inhumane. Their identity, their understanding of their own masculinity, is clearly inferior to Curott's own, which of course is not at all unbalanced. Men are emotionally stunted at best, emotionally dead at worst, and can't properly enjoy sex, obviously, because they're so obsessed with boobs and penises and porn. They'll never feel real love without the goddess, let alone enjoy sex with a spouse!

This isn't just insulting, it's upsetting. If this sort of disgusting sexism was directed at women there would be hell to pay. But it's OK if it's directed at men?

I would hate for there to be a culture of man-hating developing in Paganism. It's in Starhawk, it's in Curott, it's in more authors besides and it disturbs me to think of a generation of young Pagans reading this shit and internalising it. I hate to think of girls inheriting a chip on their shoulders about men, thinking they're all violent and hateful, and I hate to think of boys thinking they're horrible people who need a goddess to save them from their "original sin" of being born with a penis. (Or not, I guess, if they're trans.)


Men are awesome. For that matter, penises are awesome. Many of these authors worship gods as well as goddesses, and I don't understand how they can worship a deity and not respect their gender.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November, and Vexations Aired

It is the beginning of November, and that means many things.

First it means that I have three religious holidays upcoming, all of them centred around the beginning of summer, except possibly for Walpurgisnacht, which I haven't really figured out the purpose of yet except to honour Hel, which is reason enough for me to hold it. I like Hel. Then I have the Norse May Day, or Summernights. Then my equivalent of Beltaine. (Still haven't come across a new name for that one yet. But I have until the 8th to think one up, right?) This also means a new blog design, because that's how I roll.

The second thing this means is that everyone is going around saying "Happy Samhain!" and I have to ignore them, because if I don't ignore them I will lose my shit at them instead. It is not Samhain where I live. I don't make assumptions regarding which hemisphere you live in, do I? There are any number of websites who will do a massive focus on Samhain and just mention offhand that, you know, a massive portion of the world happens to be celebrating the beginning of summer instead. But they don't need to go into detail, you can just look back six months to the last time they did a Beltaine post, because who really cares, right? Even the Wild Hunt did that this year. Allllll this stuff about Samhain, and all the southern hemisphere gets is "In addition, Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere are currently celebrating Beltane." Thanks bunches.

I suppose I should count myself lucky I even celebrate something similar to many of these holidays, and I'm not a Hellenic or Kemetic Pagan doing my nut every time someone assumes I give a flying fuck about the Wheel of the Year.

The third thing this means is that NaNoWriMo has begun. That's right, 30 days of novelling fun, in which I may well lose my mind but you will forgive me, I know you will. By the way, if you hadn't heard about National Novel Writing Month, there's still plenty of time for you to join in. This year I'm incorporating an element of spirituality into my novel, which I haven't done before, so that should be interesting. Or a colossal failure. We'll have to wait and see.

On top of this a lot of forums and websites are doing Hallowe'en events, so I've been joining in the fun of all of those. So I have been distracted. But not distracted enough to abandon my dear blog! oh no - especially given how prone I am to procrastination, and how good a blog is at fulfilling that.

I saw mention on an auction site not unlike ebay of a book by Phyllis Curott, and thought of a book of hers I'd found years ago but never properly got around to reading. I dug through my collection (I have about eight books sitting waiting to be read, and I still covet more) and found it, "Witch Crafting". I'm right in the mood for reading it right now, though it's one of those sorts of books that really fudges the meaning of "witchcraft". I'm fairly sure Curott is a Wiccan initiate, but she speaks of witchcraft in a very general way. At the same time, though, she's very firm on the "witchcraft is a religion" front, which, if you are a returning reader, you will know I strongly disagree with.

However, I am determined to enjoy the read. One of the reasons, I think, that I haven't been reading as much as I should is because I have been working on book reviews. These slow down the reading process and make reading more work than enjoyment, which isn't really a good thing. On the other hand, I hate the idea of having a thought when reading and forgetting it by the time I come to review. However, I want to get something out of many of these books on a personal level as well as an intellectual one, and reading with too high a level of critique means some of this passes me by. From now on I think I will read a book through for enjoyment's sake before thinking about reviewing it. Just seven pages into the introduction there are so many issues I've found - using "witch" and "Wiccan" interchangeably, speaking of Wicca as if it is Paganism, flawed history - that frankly I would rather ignore for the present. I'm sure there's something to be gained from this book. These points will count against if I ever do review it properly... already I'm fairly sure I wouldn't recommend it to a beginner because of that degree of confusion they'd likely suffer. And a high priestess should really know better.

I mean, what is this sentence: "Women have found a spiritual home in Wicca because it is the only Western religion that has a Goddess as well as a God". What the fuck, Ms Curott? Does Asatru not exist? Hellenism? Religio Romana? Celtic polytheisms? and more besides? You wrote this in 2001 - how could you not know about these religions?

You see, I let these things upset me, and then I get annoyed and throw the book across the room. I'm sure there's something more to this book if I can learn not to focus on the insulting stuff.

(Oh, good. Various Amazon reviews inform me that this book teems with misandry. Shoot me now.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Day Nine: Deity Gender

A short one, this entry. This is sort of a tricky one. I mean, what is there to say? There are gods who are male and those who are female, and those who are theoretically straight and those who aren't so much, and male gods who don't mind doing "feminine" things and those who won't ever if they can avoid it. You have Athena for the Greeks who's essentially given a male role regarding particular elements of whatever, and a female one in others... Loki turns into a mare. Oðinn practises Seiðr. Thor dresses up as a bride. I mean really. What is there to say?

I mean aren't these concepts essentially established by culture? Even the Lord and Lady of my Hedgecraft are simply Themselves... She is as fierce as He is, His hand is as soothing as Hers.

I think gender roles are culturally or socially driven and inspired, and will differ in that sense from pantheon to pantheon, culture to culture.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An article for your perusal

As I haven't posted in a little while, I thought I'd spread the word on an article someone linked me to on the NaNoWriMo forums.

Abortion Is Not Murder.

It's a rather good discussion on pre-birth development, personhood, moral actions and the bible. I recommend giving it a read. On the down side, the author assumes all Christians are pro-life and aggressively so, which is untrue. I'd venture to say most Christians don't behave as poorly as he implies. It's a great shame because of the quality of the rest of the article; I can only imagine its tone is such because of the over-arching theme of the website.

It's timely, because of a rather disturbing law that has recently passed the House in America. It's not going to pass the Senate and President Obama may well veto it if he has to, but it's a disturbing bill: it means a hospital or healthcare plan that receives government funding for other services can deny a pregnant woman an abortion that would save her life. It's being referred to as the "Let Women Die" bill.

I'm just asking, here - why do Republicans seem to hate women? Why are they so brutally anti-life when it comes to the life of a woman, but pro-life for her foetus or embryo? The unborn get so much protection from Republicans in government you'd think they were a Wall St corporation.

This can't possibly be a conscience issue for these healthcare providers; surely the life of a woman is important and must be preserved. And a senator says this will stop people going into OB/GYN - well, good. If you're not willing to do the job, if you're not willing to perform abortions, then you shouldn't go into OB/GYN.

And all this bullshit when there are actual problems the House should be concentrating on solving. Where are the jobs? Where is the discussion on debt, taxes? Why, for the love of god, are they not focusing more on providing contraceptives? Why this bullshit?

If you don't like abortion, don't have one. The option of abortion is a moral issue, a moral requirement, and it reflects on how women are valued in a society.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Small things in the Heathen experience

There are two things about every blót that I love

They are small things. But, being small, they have become a part of the entire experience of being a Heathen for me. 

The first thing happens before the ritual itself. Sometimes quite a while before. And, to be honest, it is not a part of every blót. But it is a part of many. This thing is the uncorking of the mead. 

It's a ridiculously small thing in its way, because it is not some sort of ceremony for me. I pull out the cork, and that is it. But if you've ever uncorked a bottle of mead, you'll know what I mean. The cork comes out with a thock and the smell wafts out of the bottle. I inhale a lungful of it, and it is a sacred moment, because this smell is the smell of ritual. It is a sacred smell. With that scent I know a rite is at hand, and in a sense it begins in that moment. Subconsciously I prepare for ritual. A sense of the holy comes over me. I suppose it is to be expected; the olfactory sense does have that tendency to induce a certain feeling in one. The body and soul become settled, prayerful, and full of a pleasant anticipation.

The second thing happens at the beginning of every ritual, nearly without fail - although once or twice I have come close to forgetting it. This is the Hammer Rite.

For me it is a very simple thing. I place my hand on my Hammer - one day I should photograph it for you, readers - and ask Thor to bless the rite. Usually I rhyme it; "Mjolnir's might" tends to get a mention, as does the word "night" and the aforementioned "rite". It's an easy rhyme, and it amuses me. And Thor, great and wonderful as he is, does bless the rite. And you can feel it. I feel it like a Hammer-blow; the sensation is as of a hammer striking the earth. There is a sense of finality to it, in a way. It is exceedingly pleasant, and warm, echoing the feelings one experiences in a Thorrablót. One feels protected. It is a great and mighty thing to be blessed by Thor, and I count it among my favourite things not just in my religious practice but in life.

This was meant to be a short entry. Just a few lines. Ah well.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I am a Witch.

I am a witch.

I don't believe in the "threefold law".
      (I think it's a ritual contrivance of Gardner's and meaningless out of context.)
I don't follow the "rede".
I don't use magic circles. Or "compasses".
I don't call upon gods to help me in my spells.
      (Unless I consider it directly related to a deity. It's happened once.)
I don't spell "magic" with a "k".
      (Unless I'm discussing Thelema.)
I don't believe in Karma.
      (Not even the actual Dharmic sort.)
I do use blood in my spells, if I think the spell calls for it.
If a spell or magical act calls for blood, I bleed; I don't use menstrual blood.
      (Unless menstrual blood would be the most appropriate kind.)
I think curses are more ethical than binding spells.
And I'll curse if I need to.
I don't do spells much.
      (There's usually an easier way to get what you want.)
I'd rather take herbs in pill form than tea form.
      (Easier that way.)
I don't go running naked in the woods.
      (Sounds nice, but there are thorns and spiders and so on.)
I am not a vegetarian; I enjoy eating meat.
I don't want children.
I think it's fine to use drugs in your witchcraft. That's your business.
      (The most I use is alcohol, but I'd be open to flying ointment.)
I don't think witchcraft is inherently theistic, or religious.
I don't use an athame, a wand, a pentacle or any tools of that nature.
I am a religious witch, but the gods I worship may not be the same as those you worship.
I don't worship a Triple Goddess.
And I do not think all gods are the same.
I don't respect and love all creatures of the earth.
      (I hate cockroaches. Don't try to pretend you like them.)

I don't assume your witchcraft is anything like mine.
Kindly extend me the same courtesy.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Day Eight: Holidays

Time for another "30 Days of Paganism" entry!

I celebrate the eight general spokes of the generic "Wheel of the Year". And I celebrate them all twice. That makes sixteen major celebrations, with another handful on top of that specific to Heathenry.

Most Heathens don't celebrate that many, I don't think, but I love holidays and I love the sort of sense of community, almost, from celebrating with my gods. On top of that, my Heathen holidays tend to be more human-oriented than my Hedgewitch ones, which are more world-around-me- and celestial-oriented. My Heathen holidays are celebrated either on traditional dates or are dependant on the weather, while my Hedgewitch holidays are wholly astronomical. I do occasionally refer to my Craft-related holidays as "sabbats", though I never meet anyone (living), and though they may have little to do with what other Pagan witches are celebrating.

So, starting with Yule, which is the major holiday in Heathenry. I start of with Mother Night on the night before Yule proper, which is usually the 20th of June. Yuletide stretches for 12 days, though I don't always hold blots on all, or most, of those days. Still, it's a time for battening down hatches. Oðinn is honoured primarily, but because the holiday is so long you can honour whomever you please.
I for my Hedgecraft, I celebrate the Solstice on the proper day, and if possible at the proper hour and minute. I refer to it as the Winter Solstice or Midwinter. I honour my Lord primarily but my Lady plays a role here too, one I am discovering further each year.

Next is a Heathen holiday, Thorrablot. One honours Thor for keeping us safe and whole in the cold part of the year. This is a favourite holiday of mine, a favourite I think of many Heathens, because it leaves you feeling particularly warm and safe. This sort of renews the bonds between you and Thor. It's wonderful.

Next comes Charming of the Plough/Idis-thing. I don't own a plough, so don't actually charm it. I also don't live near any farms, and it's not cold enough here for the ground to freeze. So, I focus my celebration primarily on Freyr and Freyja, and the Disir, and on spring itself. I tend to celebrate when I first smell spring in the air, which may be a little before or a little after the astronomical date.
I celebrate Candlemas as the beginning of spring proper, as close to the astronomical date as possible but I may delay it slightly if spring hasn't come yet. I use the Catholic name as I'm not comfortable with the word "Imbolc" just generally. I don't know how to properly pronounce it and it doesn't mean anything to me. Though this year I started referring to it as "Spring-tide" as well. This is a gentle sort of time, and it is cold though the flowers are beginning to arrive on blossom trees and with daffodils.

Next is the Vernal Equinox. Some years I'll hold a Hellenic ritual for Persephone too, as I'm fond of her and this is a time I strongly associate with her. The Equinox proper I celebrate at the proper time. Equinoxes are a time of balance for me and so I try to get it at the exact minute if possible. There is a switch-over from dark-time to light-time and I'm trying to represent that more properly in my rituals in recent years. My Lord and Lady don't have separate times of the year dedicated to Them, like spring/autumn or winter/summer, but there are particular holidays that stress one of Them more than the Other. This isn't really one of them.
Ostara is at this time of year although I don't tend to use that name. I associate the deity Bede mentioned with Iðunna as it makes sense to me. This is a youthful time, and Iðunna's apples give youth to the gods. I find parallels between Iðunna's primary myth - of being stolen and returned - and the wheel of the year (things growing old, then youth returning). So I honour her on this holiday. But I must admit I'm not particularly close to Iðunna. I may begin honouring other deities or ancestors as well, perhaps Handmaidens of Frigg.

Next comes the beginning of summer. I hold Walpurgisnacht on the night before May Day. It's a time to focus on death and those who have passed away, which seems odd at this time of year, but honouring and respecting death the night before means one can focus fully on life and joy the next day. I like that. I honour Hel, and sometimes Frigg and Freyja as well.
May Day of course is not in May for me, but I haven't found a name I like better yet. Summernights, maybe, as an opposite to Winternights. It is a time of wild abandon. One honours Freyr and Freyja. What's odd is that I'm not even particularly close to these two gods (though our relationship is growing), but they tend to get top billing in a lot of holidays. It's weird. At any rate it's a time of strawberries.
The astronomical date tends to fall a few days later. I refer to it as Beltaine, which perhaps I shouldn't as it has nothing much to do with the Irish holiday as far as I know. I have trouble letting go of the name, though. Hopefully a new one will occur to me as the holiday approaches. More love, more sex, and a welcoming in of summer. Early summer is a fantastic time: it's not yet hot, but pleasantly warm. Blue skies are a novelty, things are green, rich and bright and everything is simply joyful at the arrival of the coming growing season. It's one of my favourite holidays for this reason.

Next up is Midsummer. I use this word for my Heathen holiday as well - "Litha" is apparently an option but I don't like that name. It's a strange holiday for me as far as whom I honour goes. Others like to honour Baldur, which I feel I shouldn't really do as it's my fulltrui's fault he's where he is. I honour Sunna in part, though she seems so far away. When things are a bit open, I tend to go for someone who kind of fits, and whom I don't get to honour much. So Tyr, on this date, because I respect and like him a great deal and because apparently Things were held on this date.
Summer Solstice I try to hold at the proper time. Summer is a very lazy time, for me, for the world around me and for my country in particular as everyone gets about four weeks off at this time of year, and those who take their holidays at other times get four days of stat holidays. The entire country acts like they're stoned and laxxed out for at least two weeks. Everyone walks around half-dressed and barefoot in the sun. It's fab. Food is plentiful, it's too warm to want to do anything but not yet the horrible heat of late summer, there's still enough moisture everywhere and everything just sort of lies there. Animals, birds, plants. Because the sun is at its apex I honour the Lord primarily on this day, though my Lady gets Her due. It's also the time when days stop getting longer and start getting shorter, which is something I focus on.

Next holiday is Lammas. Loaf-mass, that is. I always feel the desire to bake bread, though I don't bake as a rule and wouldn't know how to make bread in particular. So I pop some of those dinner rolls in the oven that come half-baked from the supermarket and need about five minutes to finish baking. So they smell fantastic and are warm and good.
I celebrate my Heathen holiday as Freyfaxi. It tends to be earlier than Lammas proper. As a date that's traditionally connected to the harvest I honour Freyr (plus it has his name in it), but also Thor and Sif. Thor's lightning keeps the soil fertile and Sif is connected to the harvest with the myth about her hair being cut and replaced. (By Loki. Looking at it, we may have him to thank for seasons at all! ha.) As a date when I get a chance to connect with Sif, whom I quite like, I enjoy this holiday.
Lammas proper brings my Hedgecraft closer to the hearth, as a Craft holiday that I connect with home as well as with the world around me and celestial bodies. The baking, and so on. It's also a time when it's getting very hot. After the growing season, everything is tired and parched and ready for the autumn. I celebrate the arrival of autumn and the passing of summer, which at this point I am totally over.

Next up, Autumnal Equinox. This actually tends to come first on my calendar, before the Heathen holiday. I love autumn particularly. The same equinox deals apply as to spring, and I swap my gold altar candle for my black one. Nights are now longer than days, with all that implies.
Winter-finding is particularly connected to the weather. While some holidays depend on the smell of the coming season in the air, Winter-finding falls on the first cold day after the Equinox. I honour Oðinn, as a god of winter and of wisdom, and of the coming cold weather.

Then there's Lokablot, which is rare in the Heathen world and falls on April 1st. It's one of those precious rare holidays that's on the same date in the Southern as it is in the Northern hemisphere, and appears to be the Official Unofficial date for honouring Loki. Lokeans the world over have decided this apparently independent of one another. I drink to Loki on this date, usually shots of something like Cointreau. In its own way it's like a "new year" for me, a touchstone, and I value it highly.

Winternights comes next. The traditional date would be about May 1st but if I don't smell winter in the air or it doesn't feel right I'll delay it. I think it's one of the rarer Heathen holidays, as far as number of people holding it goes, but I like it as another opportunity to honour Hel and the ancestors.
Samhain is one of those holidays I had great trouble bringing myself to rename. I have a couple of ideas that I implemented this year: Old Year's Night and Nox Umbrarum (night of shadows). It's the date I bound myself to my path, whatever it might be, so it's an anniversary for myself in that sense. It's also one of my favourite sabbat of mine and a day I honour death and the dead. This year I stretched it out to two days, in order to honour the dead in their own right on the first day and the Gods on the second.

And then comes Yule again.....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Defining the Witch

A friend and I are what I would term "traditional witches". That is, we draw our practices and spiritual beliefs from folklore and pre-Gardner witchcraft. (I distinguish this from, say, Cochrane's craft, which is not what one would term "pre-Gardner", and like Wicca has much in the way of Ceremonial influences.)

We find that in books on the occult and modern witchcraft, what we do is often ignored. Witchcraft becomes narrowed down to Wicca-flavoured variations, without acknowledgement of more traditional forms of witchcraft. This is partly because there are few of us, partly because what we do isn't very specific. There can be massive variations from witch to witch, and in particular between a traditional witch and a Wicca-flavoured witch. We don't fall within a particular definition, nor is witchcraft inherently religious, nor is it a form of Paganism. We're not trying to criticise these paths, just the narrowing of "witch" in this way, and the lack of variation in many books on the subject. A book on witchcraft is likely to be about a particular form thereof - which is good, but still leaves a gap when it comes to discussing witchcraft in a more general sense.

What we would like is a book about witchcraft as a whole. Not one that uses "witchcraft" to refer to just one path, or even just one religion. Not one, either, that over-generalises across all paths and lumps them into one, to suggest that all witches are Pagans or even theists. We'd like to see a book that discusses many different forms of witchcraft in a proper way.

We aren't sure this book exists. So, we're keen to write one. This will take time, and it will take a great deal of research also. If nothing else, "witchcraft" is an incredibly difficult thing to define. What distinguishes witchcraft from other forms of magical practice, like Ceremonialism? What counts, and what is distinct? Is it proper to call, say, Hoodoo witchcraft? Is one a witch by virtue of practising witchcraft, or is there some moment when you become a witch, or truly realise what it means to be one?

As a part of this, we are very interested in what the witchcraft community at large has to say. If you have answers to these questions, either specifically or more or less covered in a blog post or forum post you've written previously, please let us know by posting or putting a link to it in the comments, or by sending me an email.

How do you personally define "witchcraft"?
What beliefs do you think all witches share?
What practices do you think all witches share?
How does one know when or if one is a witch? Does practising witchcraft make one a witch automatically, or is it something you become?
What was the first time you really felt like a witch?
What specific practices, in their own right, do you consider to be witchcraft?
What topics or issues do you wish were covered in more books on witchcraft? If you were designing your perfect book on witchcraft, what would you want to see included?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Milestone

So, at some point last month the blog ticked over to 1000 pageviews. And I didn't really notice at the time, so I didn't say anything.

But I'm looking at it now, at just over 1100, and feeling pretty pleased about that. I'd like to thank everyone for reading, thank you all for linking me on your sites or on tumblr, on reddit, on stumbleupon. Thank you also for your comments and feedback. It means a lot to hear from you, and to know that you're enjoying what I'm writing.

Thanks everyone <3

Monday, September 5, 2011

Day Seven: Patronage and Deeper Relationships

Because there is a later day for patron deities themselves, I have to think of this as about patronage as an overall concept. Perhaps I'm wrong... here it is, regardless.

When I consider the word "patron", it has, for me, particular connotations. It's not simply a close relationship with a deity... The word directly relates to the form of relationship in Roman culture between a client, or supplicant, and patron. The client makes requests, the patron says "sure, and in return you can do this and this for me" and it is done. Like sponsorship. A bit different from, but definitely related to, a patron of particular artists and so on. So, your patron is someone you represent, someone you serve, someone your actions reflect upon. Someone who is willing to sponsor you in a sense, but to whom you owe in return. And because of where this word came from and its meaning, a patron goddess is still a patron, not a matron, which means something else. (Think a woman in charge of a dormitory.)

It is, indeed, a close bond, and it can happen a number of different ways. It may be a sort of contract that you enter into willingly. One god may pass you onto another - I've actually had this happen to me. On the other hand, you may have no choice in the matter whatsoever, and a god who has claimed you may not take "no" for an answer.

In different religions these relationships will take different forms. Some indeed have different terms for this sort of relationship, and might use the word "patron" sort of as a term more people are familiar with. In Heathenry, there are terms like "fulltrui", which indicates something like "best friend", "most true". It indicates a strong shared troth with this deity. It's more appropriate a term than "patron" because of the different forms Nordic relationships take from Roman ones.

You do not need a patron. I hate that current running under Neo-Paganism at the moment that everyone needs a patron, and that everyone will have one eventually, and even that you're somehow not a proper or "full" Pagan if you do not have one. Many people do not have a patron. A patron is not some sort of requirement, nor is it the sort of relationship every Pagan wishes to have - even Pagans very devoted to their gods. What's worse is that quite a few people have got this idea, either from others or from books, that every Eclectic Neo-Pagan needs two patrons - one male, one female - that they serve in ritual in sort of place of the Wiccan Lord and Lady. I cannot stress enough that this isn't so. Deities from other cultures and religions cannot be inserted into these roles. Being drawn to both a male and female deity is all very well but you have people, now, feeling that they need one of each and that they should worship them together in the same ritual. This can be, y'know, very bad. Particularly if these deities are from different cultures or don't like each other.

Do I need to recount the story of Loki and Selene? I should hope not. All I have to say is that the person in question is damn lucky he asked Selene to his circle and not, Fates forbid it, Athena or Artemis.

Anyway. Deeper relationships.

Deep relationships with my deities are very important for me, and the way I do things. Others may not feel that deepening a relationship is particularly important, so long as they honour them, and that's fine for those people. Me, I crave that deeper relationship. Not with everyone, of course. Some deities I do not honour actively at all, but acknowledge in hailing the gods generally or in passing. Some deities I honour on occasion, but am not close to, nor drawn to deepening those relationships. But I do share close bonds with some deities, and a desire to deepen those relationships further. I'll discuss those deities in detail in later entries.

So! to use myself as an example: Loki is my fulltrui, my close friend, my "patron", if you will. I am also close to Oðinn and wish to deepen that relationship further, but he is not my patron and I don't serve him in the way I would if that were so. (Thankfully - I don't think I'm cut out to be one of Oðinn's! He asks heavy things of his own.)

As an aside, the God and Goddess of my Hedgecraft - of Whom I have spoken earlier - are the only deities in that tradition/religion... as such, "patron" seems a weird and inappropriate word to apply to Them. I serve Them, and seek to know Them, and follow where They lead. Call that relationship what you will.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Actually, I Rather Like Men.

It has been a long time since we've had a "women's issues" post. I think we're overdue one.

Now, I'm not usually a fan of conspiracy theories. And there's one issue that skirts a little close, in my opinion - so I don't like to read into it too much. I don't want to draw the obvious conclusion... or even suggest that it truly damages feminism as a concept, label aside.

But it is an issue that really, really annoys me. It is the concept that feminism is misandry.

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I love men. I get along just as well, if not better, with men as with women, and they are nice to look at, among other things. I am a strong supporter of men's health, men's mental health and issues such as woman-on-man rape (and, for that matter, man-on-man rape) and domestic violence. Violence against men in the home is massively underreported and a big issue for me. We women have woman-only shelters and things to run to, foundations to support us, while domestic violence against men is swept under the carpet.

Feminism is about gender equality. It's not solely about women. But recall, in many countries women could not vote a century ago. Power has stood with men for a long time. So first and second wave feminism focused mostly on the liberation of women from roles focused solely around the home, or as nurses or secretaries and nothing else. We're at a stage now where there are still assumed gender roles, and in many professions there's still a glass ceiling, still a pay gap. There are still chauvinists and sexist pigs in society. But things are significantly better than they were, and the focus now is as much on men as it is on women. 

And not only men and women. We are no longer limited to thinking there are only two genders. Third gendered individuals are all but invisible even today, and must occasionally (or, unfortunately for some, continuously) select "man" or "woman" and conform to it publicly. English, so wonderful in so many ways, has not presented us with a suitable genderless pronoun. I think this change - accepting the third genders as full and equal socially - will be slow and long in coming, not because of any sort of inherent prejudices (although these will exist) but because of the cultural shifting that will need to take place.

I tend to think that the vast majority of women in Western societies nowadays are probably feminists by default. If you choose to live a "traditional" home-maker life and allow your husband to take the reins in all your family decisions, but feel women should be able to live whatever life they choose, I would still count you as a feminist: your choice is your choice, you aren't asking all women to live as you do. It would be hypocritical for me to want to push you to enjoy a similar lifestyle to myself. Similarly a pro-choice woman may never elect to have an abortion herself, yet will support the rights of others to make that choice for themselves. Indeed, I tend to think of most men as feminists as well. Why would they not be? They love the women in their lives. I have to think they accept us as equals both at home and in the work place. I know that this is not always the case, but it is what I expect. It is what I expect from every man I meet. When I bother analysing that expectation, I have to think that it is the best view to take. This should, after all, be considered the norm. As far as I'm concerned, it is.

Feminists do not agree with one another on all issues - see, for example, the rows over whether the sex industry is dehumanising or empowering (or both). There are some women who call themselves feminists that I would consider sexist at best and misandrists at worst. Are they still feminists? One wouldn't want to fall into a "No True Scotsman" fallacy. Yet I do think that feminism is about equality, not about elevating one gender above the other; that would be counter to the ideals of feminism as I understand them. Replacing a patriarchy with a matriarchy would help no one, simply replace one set of stereotypes and restricting gender roles with another. Equality is the aim: the right for any person to be understood as a person, as themselves, not limited by what gender they identify with - or indeed what parts they were born with.

So where does this idea that all feminists are misandrists come from? Is it simply that those women are the loudest? That they are the only women who publicly identify as feminists, so some believe they are representative of feminism in its entirety? Or - in that conspiracy I mentioned earlier - is it some sort of attempt to discredit feminism as a whole?

Personally I want to believe that those who try so hard to discredit feminism as man-hating and hypocritical have no understanding of what feminism is, perhaps have only come across a handful of women who identified themselves outwardly as feminists and were (as some are) disparaging to men and humourless about women. I don't want to think of every person who dismisses feminism as some sort of misogynist. 

We have girls saying they are certainly not feminists. I stand with my jaw dropped - how can they possibly not want to be considered the equal of boys? Of men? How can they blow off feminism on the one hand and demand their rights on the other? Are they not aware that those things are one in the same? Apparently not - and it angers me. It angers me that feminism is associated with being "butch", a man-hater, or a lesbian (as if all three of those things were negative and interchangeable). It angers me that feminists past, their writings, and the rights and social freedoms they fought for that we now take for granted may be disparaged by this horrendously narrow view of feminism.

I don't think we are going to take many steps backwards in women's rights because of this issue. Many people may not think of gender equality as feminism, but will still support gender equality, and that is the important thing. But a pet peeve is a pet peeve, and this is an irritation I will not soon overcome, I fear - and the hatred and scorn levelled at those of us women who do identify as feminists is not acceptable. Especially since those taking the flak are unlikely to hold the views those who are stereotyping them believe them to hold.

Above all, let us not forget that in many parts of the world, women are still fighting for things some of us in Western societies take for granted now. Feminism is not something relegated to the past, clung to only by those women who want to elevate their gender above men. It is living; it is many movements, not just one; it is an evolving concept, relevant now as it was in the 70s. And, I think, more aware of men now than it was then, and the import of freeing men from their own stereotypes and restrictive gender roles. Moreover, equality does not mean we have to be the same.

Feminism is a huge umbrella, with a multitude of arms. (Mixed metaphor. Sorry.) For me, feminism has always been about one primary concept: Women are people.

Further Reading:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Simple Prayers

I find little to like in most published Pagan prayers. Either they are conversational prayers anyone with half a brain could have come up with on their own - something listed as "a prayer for strength" essentially just saying "Oh deity, please give me strength" - or, perhaps as a backlash to this drivel, and desiring poetry over content, they are blatant rip-offs of Christian prayers; the Lord's Prayer and "Now I lay me down to sleep" being the most popular. Of course there are some really good prayers out there, but they're not easy to find.

I've mentioned repeated prayer before, and I think repeated prayer does have to be poetic. A lot of the stuff you find online or even in published books is not a bit poetic, and therefore to me not appropriate for repeated prayer. In fact much of it is the sort of thing anyone would simply state plainly when speaking from the heart. This can be interesting to read, but do people really need that sort of hand-holding when it comes to talking to gods? You can't say "Lady, please grant me a child" or "Lord, please strengthen my spirit" or whatever without it written down in front of you?

I have realised that much of what I simply say to my gods when I kneel before the altar, speaking plainly, is the sort of thing you get in these books. (Heh, maybe I could publish them and make a bundle.) There's nothing wrong with this sort of prayer, I just find it annoying when going out on the internet or in book previews looking for a prayer that is beautiful and poignant, and I find very basic things of a few lines with no substance. Straightforward, sure. Nice enough, too, but not something you'd bother posting in the expectation that anyone would actually recite it. Read it, appreciate it, maybe. But recite it? Can't they form their own prayers?

I do like the simple prayers for interest's sake. I like reading them when others share them for the sake simply of sharing them. I like saying my own, I like tweaking them and writing them down in my book - I may not ever use them again (in fact it would be a bit odd if I did), but because they came to me when speaking to my Gods, they are valuable, with their own insights, however tiny, that I would not want lost. I like most of all that they are rarely if ever just words... so often, they are responses to imagery and imagery returned.

Here is an example. Out of my head and on the page it holds so little of what I felt at the time, but it has its own charms. Or perhaps those charms are noticeable only to me.

Hail Lady of the Green,
Of moss on trees,
Please help lift the worries from my shoulders.
Hail Lord of the Wide Sky,
Of the brown bark,
Please walk with me, and keep me company.
Hail, Green and Brown.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

So You Wanna Be a Pagan

New Pagans - or people just getting interested in Paganism - can easily get a bit lost with all the new information flooding at them. But when a new Pagan comes to a Pagan thread or a website looking for information, advice, a guiding hand, it can be hard to know what to say - not least because Paganism is so big, and unless you already have some idea of what you're looking for, it can be hard to give a person any guidance. A few of my Pagan friends and acquaintances helped me compile a list of important things to understand when starting out, as well as a couple of how-tos and some tips and tricks for navigating the Pagan world.

The first thing to understand is that Paganism is a big religious umbrella. It encompasses a huge number of religious views, not all of which are polytheistic or even theistic at all. You aren't going to agree with every view or hold every belief in common with any other Pagan you meet. One of the reasons Paganism as a whole appears to be so accepting is that there are so few things grouping us all together. Thus if someone tells you something that begins with "All Pagans....", there's a fairly good chance they're wrong. The two things to take away from this are 1) not everyone is going to agree with you, and 2) you will not like every Pagan religion you come across. Oh, and 3) assuming someone's religion is like yours because you are both Pagan may offend them.

The second thing to understand is that you will be doing a lot of reading. Because Paganism is so large an umbrella, and there are so many different religions beneath that umbrella, it may take you quite some time to come across the religion or religions that you want to practise. You may never find one that meets your needs absolutely; you're allowed to be an eclectic Pagan, and piece together your own religion. But either way, you will need to read a lot of different books about different forms of Paganism to work it out. Even if you find the religion for you straight away, the more you read and are exposed to, the more your views may change and evolve. Regardless, you should be fairly well educated about different forms of Paganism, so that you don't inadvertently offend. You will never stop reading. Particularly if you are a member of a reconstructionist religion, but even if you're not, you will be reading lore, and reading over it again in a different translation... you'll be reading books by others of your religion, books by historians and archaeologists.... you'll be reading books by religious anthropologists, books about comparative mythology and comparative religion... maybe even learning the language in which the lore was originally written so that you can read it for yourself. Do not stop reading. Err. But don't feel overwhelmed.

The third thing to understand is that not all gods are alike. Even if you believe that all gods are different faces of the same god or goddess (and this is by no means the most common view across Pagan religions), it's important to understand that an offering that is happily accepted by one god might be taboo according to another. If you're wondering whether an offering is appropriate, ask a reconstructionist of that pantheon for advice (they tend to have good ideas) and look to the lore and culture of that deity. Keep in mind too that if you're worshipping deities from multiple pantheons, these deities will not necessarily get along. It's good practise to keep your worship separate: don't hold a ritual and invite deities from multiple pantheons. Even within a pantheon, it's wise to be aware which deities don't really get along.

The fourth thing to understand is that not all authors and publishers are ethical people. This is one of the hardest lessons, so it's good to understand it right off the bat. There are authors who will mangle cultures to their own ends, who will outright lie, who will treat deities like ingredients in spells. It's important to know first off that just because someone appears to be admired or to have written a lot of books doesn't mean that they're an ethical person and that you should follow their lead. And secondly, it doesn't mean that anything they say has any resemblance to the truth. If you're unsure about an author, ask around. Flick through their work on Amazon or Google books and compare what they've said to objective history. As a new Pagan or an interested Seeker, even a bad author might inspire you or give you some decent information, so it's fine if you read their work... just be aware that there are some awful books out there, and don't become too attached to one book or one person's work, in case it turns out their advice is very poor.

The fifth thing to understand is that not all Pagan religions use witchcraft. There are so many books on various forms of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft that it can seem like every Pagan religion is involved in the craft somehow. This isn't true. While practising witchcraft is essential for some religions like Wicca, in others it is entirely optional, even if that particular religion has its own form of magic. In still others it might be considered impious by some practitioners and so practised by very few. If magic isn't your thing, don't think this excludes you from Paganism. Witchcraft might be common in Paganism but it's not mandatory - and nor do you need to be a Pagan to be a witch. If you do choose to study magic, don't jump straight into spellwork. Make sure you can write a spell before you perform one, start small, and put in some serious study before you start practising.

The sixth thing to understand is that context is important. You might be an eclectic Pagan - most people start out that way, before they nail down what it is they believe and which direction they want to go in. Eclectic Pagans can find things they like in other religions and adopt them for their own practise. But, it's very important to remember that not everything can be taken out of that original religious context. It's essential to understanding what this thing is by looking at it in its wider context of the religion and culture, and even once you've done that, you may not ethically be able to take it out of that context and adapt it for your own use. Runes, for example, can be used by anyone, but you will never understand them without a good knowledge of Nordic cultures and religion, and on top of that, the runes are very sacred Mysteries. If you use them, be aware of this, respect them, respect Norse polytheists, and don't misuse them. There are things from other cultures that can't be respectfully taken and used in this way, so be culturally aware, and be sensitive, wise and respectful of others. This can even extend to the worship of particular gods, as some deities won't accept worship from you if you're not a practitioner of a particular culture. Be aware of this also, and don't take personal offense.

The seventh thing to understand is that gods are gods. They aren't abstract ideas that you can work into a spell or prayer every time you want something. For example, if you would like help in love but you have no previous relationship with Aphrodite, it would be rude to ask for her help out of the blue. If you had friends who only called you when they wanted something, but never gave anything back to you or called you up just to talk, you would grow irritated with those friends. Gods can be the same way; if you only call when you want help, they may lose patience with you. Even if you believe the gods are just archetypes, at least show these archetypes respect. 

The eighth thing to understand is that not everyone shares your enthusiasm. You are new to Paganism. Quite probably, your discovery of this big new world full of information you were previously unaware of is exciting. You may be very enthusiastic. Cherish this enthusiasm: after a while it will wear off, and it's rare to recapture it in quite the same way again. Use it to inspire you in your studies, to inspire you in writing prayers and poetry, to keep you motivated. But keep in mind that, while you have found something grand in suchandsuch a religion or suchandsuch a god, not everyone is open to hearing about it. Think about the way some people speak about, for example, Jesus, and whether it makes you feel a bit uncomfortable or it comes off as obnoxious. You may want to shout your new-found faith to the world, but the world isn't that keen on hearing it most of the time, even if they share your belief, so keep it to journals, to blogs and to appropriate threads in forums, where others can come and share in your enthusiasm if they like, and can avoid it if it makes them uncomfortable.

The ninth thing to understand is that the person correcting you is not trying to insult you. Don't be offended if someone tells you, for example, that you're not Wiccan, or that your sources for your rune work are fatally flawed. They're not telling you that your practices are 100% invalid, just that you've made some mistakes, or perhaps you've been misled. It happens, and as mentioned, it happens a lot in Paganism. (See above.) We all make mistakes - they probably have done, too, and they may have been sucked in by the same bad sources as you have. It's not something you should take so personally. More often than not, this person is trying to help you, as well as trying to preserve something they consider sacred. Really try not to be offended.

The last thing to understand is yourself. Work out what you want out of a religion. Work out what it is you believe. If you don't know, read around on websites, forums, in books, to get more of an idea of what types of beliefs are out there. Try journalling or typing things out online or in a word processor to see what you come up with. What beliefs or values is it important that are reflected in whichever religion/s you choose? What beliefs or values are you willing to modify or change? Which beliefs can you hold separately from whichever religion you choose? Of course, knowing yourself is quite an ongoing task, so just having an idea of what you want and what sort of practise you enjoy, what you're looking for, can help you.

HOW TO....

Form a relationship with a deity:
First, read up on lore about that deity. Don't leave it to websites written by other Pagans, do actually go back to the lore. Even Wikipedia can have some good links and sources. But there are Pagans who accept whatever they read, and what they read might have been made up. So check the lore. Some, like many of the Greek gods, will have a tonne of lore including pre-written prayers and hymns. Others, like Cernunnos, will have next to nothing. So first, read up on what there is to know about that god, to start with. Make sure the god you're being drawn towards is the god you think they are.
Next, make an offering. Make it appropriate; what is appropriate will differ from god to god and from pantheon to pantheon. Express your desire to get to know the deity, perhaps ask for their guidance in doing so and in finding the path for you.
Relationships with deities take time to form, as in any relationship. Be patient and willing to dedicate the time. Be aware also that not every deity will be interested in you, regardless of how fascinating you find them.

Perform a ritual:
Most rituals follow a basic set-up of:
Opening statements,
Inviting the gods/entities/etc. to the ritual, if applicable (you can also ask them to observe without asking them into your ritual space, so to speak)
Stating purpose of ritual
Making offerings (light incense, pour libation, etc)
Meditation, communion with deity, personal prayer etc
Thank guests (gods, powers, entities, whatever) if applicable
Close ritual.
Add to this very basic system whatever you like. Re-arrange it if you prefer. This is a very basic overview followed by many religious systems, and some will place greater emphasis on this or that. You may want to start the ritual by preparing the ritual space; some religions do this by casting a magic circle, others sweep the floor, still others feel that all space is sacred and needs no preparation. You may want to take a ritual bath beforehand; for some religions this is essential. (For example, in Greek Paganism cleansing before ritual is very important, and you should wash your hands if you can't bathe.) Don't worry if your first rituals aren't particularly fulfilling: you're still working things out and you may feel awkward or self-conscious to begin with.


Ask questions. Even if they're stupid questions. It's much more important to get the right information and risk someone getting annoyed with you or laughing at you than to save face and remain ignorant. Buck up, be polite when you ask questions, and most people are happy to help you.

Don't take it personally if someone gets annoyed with you. Most of the time when this happens it's because they have faced the same misunderstanding with a hundred different people and are getting a bit tired of it. Be patient and be polite and they'll probably apologise for it; it's not you, it's just frustration. I'm sure you know if you've made it this far that Pagans don't worship Satan, and how annoyed you might have become at facing that assumption from others when explaining your new-found interest. Empathise. One day you may be in their position.

Don't rush. You don't need to buy an altar's full of stuff and complete your Book of Shadows right now. (In fact, most Pagans don't have a book of shadows.) If you want to start actively practising right away, you're fine with a small candle on a windowsill or on top of a bookshelf. Even if you start writing out a Book of Shadows now, chances are you will change your beliefs or practices as you go anyway, so it will be a waste of money to buy a nice book for it at this point. Instead, keep a folder on your computer or a ring binder with handwritten notes and print-outs so that you can move things around and scrap what you no longer need. On top of that, don't think you need to find the gods you want to worship right away. You will grow and change. The gods will call you in their time; impatience won't speed things up.

Think critically. There's this horrible tendency in some circles of modern Paganism to accept things without question, and to accuse anyone who does not do this of being "closed-minded". Ironically it is often these people who are closed-minded, as they tend to accept any answer at first but then close themselves off to any other possibilities. As noted above, some authors are full of shit. As you go along and learn more, these people will be easier and easier to spot. You don't need to accept what others tell you, you're allowed to ask them where they got their information, and you're allowed to question things. Do, absolutely. Just because someone has 20 years of being a Pagan under their belt doesn't mean they know much more than you: unfortunately, some people stop learning.

It's OK to be new. The vast majority of us came to Paganism ourselves, rather than being raised in Pagan families. It's perfectly normal to be new and unsure. There's no reason to assume you should have a Pagan heredity in order to be a real or valid Pagan, and the word "lineage" within Paganism tends to refer to initiatory lineage for those religions that involve initiation. Remember, too, that we all started out not knowing much at all. It's fine to not know stuff. We've been there, and we remember. Problems only arise when people share information with you, and you don't consider it. (You don't have to believe it - the important thing is that you weigh it up.)

Keep your feet on the ground. There's a tendency in some groups to get over-excited and people start declaring they are the Grand High Priestess daughter of Aphrodite or something. Avoid groups where people seem to make things up, or where there doesn't seem to be a line between make-believe and reality. There are Pagans out there who think of Paganism as a game, or a LARP - play-gans, we call them. They aren't serious about things, they aren't honest. Even among more serious Pagans, there are people who name themselves High Priest because they have a study group, or something, as if the title in its own right gave them any sort of legitimacy. Avoid inflating yourself, as well. Be honest with yourself, be honest with the universe, and keep your feet on the ground. Playing with your imagination and fantasy is fun and lots of Pagans are into it, they LARP or play D&D or MMORPGs... but don't let it cross over into your genuine practice. No one is going to swallow that you are the Lord High Chosen One, sacred King of Elphame, so don't even bother trying.

Some people are private. Religion is a personal thing, and not everyone is going to be open to sharing things with you. Be aware that people sometimes have sworn oaths of secrecy, and may be taken aback by some questions. Others are just not interested in sharing details of something that is personal to them. Respect their boundaries.

Don't be a bigot. Some new Pagans are coming out of bad experiences with other religions, most often Christianity. In doing so, it's natural to feel some bitterness towards the religion you are leaving. Try not to lash out at Christianity as a whole. Regardless of your experiences, remember that painting all Christians with the same brush is not reasonable. It is inappropriate to imply Christians today are the same as Christians who in the past committed acts of atrocity against Pagans (and other Christians). Some Pagans have painted Christians as unthinking slaves or hateful, violent people, and that sort of thing is rude and unnecessary. Aside from anything else, poor behaviour towards Christians is construed as immature.

That's all for now, though more advice may turn up here (or if there's enough of it, in a separate post) in the future. For now, good luck, new Pagans, and don't be afraid to email in questions or post them here in the comments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day Six: Prayer and Reciprocity

Heathenry is a religion in which there is a long and complex tradition of gift-giving and receiving. This is clear from the Havamal, and from the study of runes such as Gebo. (Gebo is one of the reasons I recommend all Heathens spend some time looking at the runes, even if they never plan to use them. They have many lessons for us.) We give, and in turn we receive. If we receive, we offer thanks. We offer gifts to the gods, be they the food from our table, the mead from our horn, time, etc. These offerings, by the nature of the gods, are not and cannot be equal. But they are appreciated. The gods are friends, and are kin, as much as we serve them. Offerings take the form of sacrifice, and as sacrifices, they should be a sacrifice. You give what you have, in the sense that they won't ask something of you that's beyond your means. But don't offer water when you have ale - the gods are your guests if you invite them to your hof or hearth. Treat them with the best of hospitality.

Offerings, in the form of sharing one's own bounty and one's own meal or drink, are not simply offerings of thanks. They are a way in which we share of ourselves with the gods. When we pour to the gods we aren't usually giving something that we aren't partaking in ourselves. Taking a drink and offering the same to a deity strengthens bonds with that deity. It is a form of communing with them - a communion, I suppose - and a holy thing. When an offering is gladly accepted, that is a wonderful thing to feel - a marvellous, moving and sacred thing. Additionally, in a sense, sharing an offering with the gods is a renewing of contracts. Contracts in which we have declared to honour them, and they to aid us, or contracts in which we have made an oath, and so on.

If I'm contacting a god I don't know well, I'll usually feel obliged to give an offering as a thanks for listening to me. With gods I know well I'll pray to them without feeling that need, because we've already formed that relationship. Gods with whom I don't have as strong a bond, or one's I'm meeting for the first time or am barely acquainted with, I'll feel I should make an offering because in a sense I feel I am intruding upon their existence, and should make an offering like a guest bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner, or something.

I very much like the concept prayer, particularly repeated prayer. I have trouble finding ones I like that are easily repeated but I have written a few nice ones of my own. Most published prayers for Pagans are very... dull, something the worshipper should have been able to come up with himself. What I look for out of a repeated prayer is a good lilt and meter (The Lord's Prayer in English has a good meter to it, as an example), and meaning, but an ease and flow to it that means once the words are internalised the prayer can be repeated whilst the mind concentrates on communion with the divine. I enjoy reading beads, and the feeling of them in my hands. In practice, though, I'm more likely to speak from the heart. I consider all verbal, and some nonverbal, interactions with deity as a form of prayer, and much of my prayers consist of conversations of a sort even if they start out with something more formal. I'm also a fan of wordless prayer, wherein communication takes place via images, sensations, feelings, emotions.

I consider prayer to be an important aspect of deepening one's relationship with deities. I know a lot of people are rather stand-offish with deities, even within Paganism which has a tendency towards wanting, or claiming to want, that personal communion with deities. I wonder sometimes whether it's a sort of internal difference between lay-people and semi-priesthood... whether striving towards deepening that bond with individual deities is some sort of consequence or symptom of that sort of mindset or desire.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Hearth

I'm starting a new book, "Way of the Hedge Witch" by Arin Murphy-Hiscock. It's about hearthcraft and home-based spirituality rather than hedgecraft as such, but as that's an aspect of a hedgewitch's craft, I'm nonetheless quite interested to read it. It's been on my "reading pile" for a while, and it's good to dig into a practical witchcraft book after the mental anguish that was "The Spiral Dance".

There are elements in A.M.-H.'s spiritual witchcraft that reflect mine. I do disagree with her in parts (more on that later in the review) but there are parts of it which are a part of my craft, too. This doesn't happen often, and it's exciting to find. For example, in her spiritual craft, the hearth is a sacred space according to tradition, rather than because sacred space is created around it or within it; it's simply sacred in and of itself. (And of course this may apply to other places as well, such as sacred groves, which many of us recognise as being sacred in their own right.) I feel very much along these lines myself, having always felt a... kinship of sorts, a spiritual link to the hearth, even as a child. I have lived the vast bulk of my life in houses with hearths and fire-places and how I should cope without one I do not know.

In coming to - and over the last decade, gradually forming - my personal religious witchcraft (and in more recent years my Heathenry), the hearth has played a growing part as an element of my craft and my spirituality. To begin with, not so much: I started out with rather fluffy, very modern ceremonial-influenced witchcraft, as many do, because it was the most accessible. In time, however, I came back to the witchcraft that had interested me as a child, the traditional, the vaguely-spiritual, folk-religion craft of the village wise woman. My craft is Pagan and therefore differs from that of most witches over the past thousand years, but there are some spiritual elements and folk beliefs that I think have very much been "passed down", so to speak (and not just by the cunning folk).

Respect for sacred places such as standing stones and barrow mounds is one such thing. Sometimes one wonders why more of these things were not toppled, or smashed, but I suppose there have always been people in the places where these things stand who would not have allowed that sort of thing, for whatever belief or reason. Belief in nature spirits such as Jack-in-the-Green is another; what place would these entities have in the context of orthodox Christian beliefs?

The hearth as a focus for witchcraft and spiritual work is one of these things. Part of that will of course be cultural, as the hearth will have remained the place where the family gathered to cook, to warm themselves, to tell stories and play games or do their work by the firelight. It would have been honoured in a sense for centuries without any particular beliefs connected to it, regarding its sacredness or anything else. But I think a part of it too is linked to witchcraft, the hearth as a shrine or a monument, an altar, a place to work magic, a sacred place in its own right, and that this has been retained through the centuries.

I think you can feel that continuum, that connection. There's no end of books that say this is ancient or that is ancient, and often you can tell just by the feel of it that it isn't so. In a way, you can still smell the brand new polish. There's no sense of a continuum there, no sense of age. Compare to recon religions, for example, where there is a sense of age but no continuum; we are groping in the dark and grabbing on to what we can, piecing things together, re-constructing in the purest sense but without any solid idea of what the whole will look like. (Unless we're particularly lucky and have a religion with a shit-tonne of primary texts, I'm looking at you, Hellenism. I've seen your Theoi.com, you bastards.)

Of course, the way I work with my hearth may be totally different to the way a woman five hundred years ago - or yesterday - does it, but there is still the sense of something continuing on. Something that has been done thousands of times, being done again. Things with this flavour to them are what I love to find, the type of things I hunt down in my search for the missing bits and pieces I will need for my own tradition of religious witchcraft. I suspect this is in some ways akin to the sensation of "repeated ritual" - particular, specific ritual repeated by many people across a number of decades - experienced in religions such as Wicca and, hell, Catholicism. (Neither of which I have experienced, by the way.)

But, the hearth. It is still sacred, though now people tend to sit behind computers rather than around the fire. Still sacred, despite not being necessary and essential; we have other ways of cooking food, lighting our homes, keeping ourselves warm. The fireplace could be done away with altogether. But "there's nothing quite like an open fire", and for many people it's one of the things they look for in a new home. The only thing really to compare in the home is the kitchen and the altar or shrine, if one has one. The kitchen might even be said by some to be an extension of the hearth, as it's the place a "fire" of sorts is kept, a place where the food is cooked and people will gravitate to in family gatherings.