Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Solstice, Solstice People!

So, the Solstice snuck up on me this year. 

Usually it's something like Lammas or Candlemas that sneaks up on me. This year it's the Solstice, probably because of all the Eksmas* rush and all the "omg Mayan apocalypse" End of the World crap that has been occupying my mind. 

Solstice falls two minutes after midnight on the 22nd, so I'll just celebrate at midnight. It's actually rather a pleasing time for it to occur, so I'm getting a bit excited. I haven't deliberately celebrated at exactly midnight for a long, long time. I suppose I should do it more often. It's a "border" type of time. Although I suppose it's only a border time because we made it so. Dusk and dawn are more proper border times. But midnight does appeal to one's sense of the dramatic.

I sleep mornings rather than nights, against my wishes tbh but what can you do - and as a result I tend to think of the New Day beginning at dawn rather than at midnight. This has become so ingrained in my mind that I become seriously confused if people start referring to pre-midnight as "yesterday" before the sun has come up. This was an issue when I was in hospital for my appendix at about 4 in the morning, and the doctor kept asking if the pain had started "yesterday" and I kept correcting him and saying "no, it was around 11 o'clock this morning". He gave me very strange looks. I mean I know it's only practical to have a set time for the day to end and the new one to begin, but socially can we change it? It only makes sense that "today" start at dawn.

You know what's been confusing me about the "End of the World" Mayan Apocalypse stuff? There are all these Christian groups who have latched onto it. Why would another culture's End of the World be like yours? Jesus isn't coming back, I mean, you'd get.... I was trying to think of a Mayan deity and the only one Who sprung to mind was Ixtab and that doesn't seem appropriate somehow. Not for the Apocalypse, anyway. 

And the Nibiru-pushers are pretty out-there. We know there's no such planet. Brian Cox said so. NASA said so. It's just a lot of New Age authors trying to make a buck. But the people who piss me off most are the people who say "if the Mayans knew so much about the future how come they're all dead?". They're not all dead, douchebags. The Maya people are still around. OK? So can we stop being cocks about that please. Thanks.

The "ascending consciousness" Age of Aquarius thing bothers me more, somehow. Maybe it's just because I'm such a cynic, but I really do not anticipate anyone "changing". I think when you get right down to it, there are quite a few people who seem to have this idea that their consciousness is already halfway ascended, or something, because they're "aware" of this change in whatever and waiting expectantly for it and therefore must be ahead of the curve. That really bugs me. I mean if everyone is meant to "wake up", what makes you think they're going to wake up in the direction you think they should? What if being an ascended consciousness means being a racist, sexist, abusive violent bastard? My idea of what direction humanity should mentally/spiritually "ascend" towards is probably different from yours, so I would bet mine (and yours) would differ from that of whoever it is that is meant to be installing Consciousness 4.0. 

I really prefer the idea of humanity battling to better themselves as a species rather than magical niceness descending from on high. I like the idea of conflicting opinions, society moving forward by pushing at our own preconceptions. The whole "awakening" I think is kind of creepy, like a mental system update from a suspicious organisation. I don't trust that whole sort of idea. I instinctively rail against it. I want to read the update notes before I agree to anything that changes the very layout of my brain. Maybe it's a Heathen thing. 

I mean think of how long I complained about the blogger update. I am not a person who likes change. (I'm working on that. It's very deeply-ingrained. But I'm working on it.)

But! Enough about the end of the Long Count. That's all so much irrelevance. It is Solstice and it is Summer and the sky is blue and the sun is warm and we haven't had too many unpleasantly oppressive days yet. Which reminds me.... Cyclone Evan is coming for Eksmas.

Now we here in EnZed love a good storm. We'll go down to the beach to watch the storm surge. I have memories of playing in the waves as a kid. We used to get a cyclone every couple of years. They were good fun. Now this one has caused serious damage in Fiji, but by the time it gets here, it won't really be a storm any more. It will be a low. And it will rain. For seven days.

Seven days of rain, over Eksmas and New Years. What happened to the glorious summer Eksmas of the Southern Hemisphere? How am I meant to have my gin and tonic on the deck while gazing at the sparkling sea? I like a good dump of rain as much as the next person but I don't know... you really sort of hope for the holidays to be representations of the season in which they sit. In the UK people think longingly of snow, I imagine. Here, we like stupidly blue sky and beach-cricket. But not this year, apparently. Cue 4 million people having a sulk.

Still, today is bright and sunny, and perfect for the Solstice. I even went outside, briefly. The sea looked very nice from the deck. (I know I sound like a complete shut-in but I burn easily and there's a big spread about melanoma in today's paper and I have a paranoia about cancer.) It's always a pleasing thing to have the sun around on a sun-based holiday, which the Solstice is for me. And tomorrow, Midsummerblót, and I'll drink to Tyr and Sunna.

Midsummerblót is a holiday I have a hard time putting my finger on. But one tries, one keeps on keeping on. Maybe I'll drink to Forseti this year as well. I've never met Him, you know.

*As mentioned previously, I tend to refer to the secular celebration of Christmas as Eksmas rather than Xmas. This is because the X in Xmas is short for "Christ", and I respect our Christian friends who are celebrating Christmas as a religious festival who might be a little annoyed with the related secular traditions using the same name. "What the shit do your celebrations have to do with Christ?" they ask. Fair enough, say I, so I refer to it as Eksmas (because I watch too much Futurama) or occasionally Annual Gift Day. Consequently I end up annoying other people who find "Eksmas" as a term offensive, but you can't please everyone, can you?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

God Musings

As most people will know by now, I worship a Horned God. A lot of people who worship a Horned God are soft polytheists, which I am not. Many others are Wiccans, and the Horned God they worship is a rather specific one with a specific name - again, this does not apply to me. 
I go a bit back and forth wondering whether the Horned God I worship is the god of Wicca. At present I'm fairly sure He isn't. It isn't outside the realms of possibility that one could worship Wiccan gods outside of Wicca, or even that such a god wouldn't require one to join a coven. (Although, fair cop, He may do in the future for all I know! But it would run a bit counter to everything required of me so far.) But I've said all this before.

I'm wondering again, as I read through something talking about Murray, where I stand here. I don't believe Murray's ideas. I don't believe they're based on anything particularly solid. (I mean she seemed like a fab old lady but that doesn't mean the things she wrote were equally fab.) On what basis do I know this God? How did I even find Him - or how did He find me? I reached out into the ether and He was there; was He waiting for me, or did He hear me call?  

It's times like this I wish I had made more of an effort to write down my thoughts and experiences Way Back When instead of just copying notes verbatim from crappy pop-witchcraft books. Take note, newbies: the thoughts and experiences you have, however silly or uneventful they seem at the time, are more valuable in the long run than copying stuff down from library books. Also, date everything. I hate not being able to remember when it was I first picked up a book on witchcraft.

It's hard to read about Horned God entities. That sort of thing is so full of irritations. You have a slew of books taking the soft-poly stance; a bunch that think Herne is a god (he's not); a heap that seem to think Pan and Cernunnos are the same entity; and the rest of them bang on the Murray drum until you can't hear yourself think. I mean, Janicot? "Oh yerss it is a Basque deity" well that's nice, would you like to let us know whence this information came? Oh, you wouldn't? Cheers for that.

I guess it serves me right for not yet having summoned up the courage to read "Witchcult in Western Europe" or "God of the Witches" for myself. For all I know everything is laid out perfectly soundly. Meanwhile dear Valiente, of whom I am fond because she wrote marvellously, insists that no one took Murray seriously because she was banging on about witchcraft being a religion and witches were teh evilz. I'm afraid not, dear. It's not a big conspiracy after all; she was just wrong.
But really all that's neither here nor there. I'm still no closer to really knowing where I stand here, or how I feel about how I got here. I can describe my UPG of my God all day if you like, so it's not like I feel He isn't there - and you never know, maybe it will correspond with yours. Or perhaps we just read the same books, eh? 
That's part of the trouble. A lot of these books that talk about a Horned God strike a chord occasionally, and then do an about-turn and wind up somewhere else. How much did I internalise from these books, and how much was pure UPG? And, when you get right down to it, who is that book talking about? Is it talking about the Gaulish Cernunnos? The Greek Pan? The Wiccan God? Some not-really-real-just-a-metaphor god? The same God that I worship? Another Horned God altogether?

Because to be honest, sometimes when I read these (often but not always soft-polytheistic) Eclectic-Neo-Pagan witchcraft books I wonder if they're just making shit up. Or rather, repeating something someone else made up. Like 80% of these books are just an echo chamber, repeating back to one another everything they've heard from everyone else. 
Triple Goddess, Horned God, pentacle. Add magick circle and mix until holy.

I'm not even annoyed, I'm just sort of confused. I really don't have a good bead on what, or indeed Who, many of these books are talking about. It doesn't help that half of them talk about worshipping "the Horned God", describe this entity in detail (whoever he is) and then sort of toss him out the window and suggest you worship gods A, B and C instead. Or (worse) provide you with a table of different gods to worship in different situations, depending on what it is you want. Which is just sort of weird to me. Why devote a whole chapter to a god in your book and then not really mention that god in all your prayers and rituals? 

I suppose in a way my Horned God is no more nebulous in traceable history than my Goddess. I guess it's the Horned part that really suggests He should have something more of a solid past; He has an element of physical description that She does not really have. I feel like I lean more heavily on UPG for Her.... and then on the other hand, there's something more in the way of just assuming when it comes to the concept of a Great Goddess. Like we all feel there should have been one, way back in prehistory somewhere, even if there turns out to be no evidence for it (not totally convinced re: the porn dollies, myself). A Great Goddess arises in rather a more organic way; it's less of a surprise to me that worship of Her should be adopted, even if at this point I remain unconvinced that the next person is worshipping the same Great Goddess as I am. Whether they are or not isn't particularly important, anyway; we're not worshipping together, so we can be worshipping the same Goddess or different Goddesses and really either way it's just as interesting. 

Speak to me of your Great Goddess, ditheists and goddess-worshippers. Let us exchange notes.

So I'm fine to accept that as a natural element of mankind, the tendency towards worshipping a Great Goddess. For some reason I'm a lot more sceptical when it comes to Great Gods. Maybe it is the "Horned" bit, the physical descriptor. The way people get hung up on calling their Horned God Cernunnos when Cernunnos is a specific deity Who already existed, and is part of an established pantheon. The whole Murray thing, with the "the devil = the Horned God" and all the associated blurred lines and grey areas. When one tosses out Murray's bollocks one is forced to confront many of the ideas she presented; if Gardner nabbed his Horned God from Murray and everyone else's version of a Horned God is derived in some way from Gardner's, does the whole thing fall down? Can we keep small pieces of Murray's ideas and discard the rest without being hypocrites?

This is all just idle thought; while I am occasionally bothered by not having a clear line of history on my God, I've had enough in the way of UPG to not be particularly distressed. I'm not about to throw my worship out the window, is what I'm saying. I am fairly sure He is there. And getting to know Him may be a bit like flailing around in the dark, and sometimes it's very slow going, but that's the deal, and I'm OK with that.

Antlers aren't technically horns, anyway. Does a god with antlers keep them all year, or do they fall off? Since it's always antler-time for some deer species somewhere in the world, does it really matter? Maybe antlered gods just like having antlers on all the time. Maybe consistent antlerage is a symbol of immortality. (Actually, I rather like that idea. Wouldn't work with the Wiccan god, of course.) Or maybe they are equatorial-brand antlers and just don't get shed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pagan Insights #5

A bit late this month. Also, I'm thinking I should give them another name rather than just the numbers as we cycle into the new year. "Pagan Insights, Harvest Moon"? Or do it month by month? I'm thinking it over. I've never been sure about those moon names, anyway. I'm sure they're relevant if you live in Europe or wherever but "Wolf Moon"? There are no wolves here. Or much of anything. There are feral pigs. Feral Pig Moon? 


In Your Own Words
Felt off and anxious again this last couple of weeks which I have chosen to attribute to the summer on one side (ugh humidity) and hormones on the other. I've felt really sort of unsettled in an existential sort of way. So I've slacked on my work, and my prayer, and pretty much everything, in the hopes that if I don't think about it this sort of freak-out will go away. I think it's wearing off.

Post a Pic
But! Despite that I have been meditating most nights, and for the other night's meditation I lit a silver candle for the Full Moon. Here it is: 

New phone = fucking around with Instagram filters :3
Musical Musings
I've been feeling rather un-musical lately. All I've been doing music-wise in the past week or so is playing "Not in Nottingham" on the ukulele, because I've been gloomy and it is easy to play. That's pretty irrelevant spiritually, but I feel it must be said that I do feel a little bard-like when playing the ukulele. I played "The World Turned Upside Down" for Loki once. Hurt my hand like a motherfucker switching from E to B and back again. Anyway, "Not in Nottingham" is easy and satisfying to play, like the ukulele generally. If you don't have one you should get one, they honestly take like an hour to learn how to play, once you get it to stay in tune for 5 minutes at a time.

Action, Action!
So of course I am going to talk about how my meditation is going. And it's going well! I started to stop feeling anxious, and that worked for the first day like a fucking dream and then not so well on other days. But I think part of that was getting attacked by hormones. I have been working through some personal issues and stuff in and around the meditations so I think things are pointing in the direction of "better". If nothing else, I'm enjoying taking the time to stop everything and just sit quietly and have time to myself, even if my mind wanders. I've been mixing it up, and taking notes on how things go and what works and what doesn't.

One meditation I had, a couple of nights ago, I just focused on grounding and feeling like a tree. And as a tree I was thinking about change, how trees change through the year and so on. It's odd because change is one of those things I just think "oh well, change is inevitable etc etc" but actually I hate change, most of the time. I've changed in the past 10 years as have we all but I don't like to think about that. I don't like to acknowledge that I've changed or anything, even though I have, so I don't let myself have the luxury of change. But everyone changes. It's important. That's how couples grow apart, that's how people find new favourite things, new loves, new passions, new homes. Things that used to fit won't fit forever. And that doesn't even have to be a good thing - but it's not a bad thing either. It's just a thing. Everything changes. We all change.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On my Meditation Schedule

Hello all. Sorry, I've been slack again.

I've been anxious (which you may know). This may be because of the warming weather and the bright sun. Summer-SAD, perhaps. But whatever brings it on, it's not really pleasant and it's not really conducive to a happy life. Or a productive one. I sleep poorly enough as it is.

With this extra, radiating nervous energy, and with this horrible anxious, unbalanced feeling, I'm thinking it's time to get really seriously back into meditation. Maybe part of the reason I'm feeling what I'm feeling is "the universe" trying to kick me in the arse again.

So I'm going to get serious this time. No more messing around. Every day, even when I'm tired, I'm going to sit and meditate. 

I'm going to start with grounding exercises, because I want to try to transmute some of this unpleasant  nervous energy into cool, stable energy. But when I start to think about a daily practice, I always want to cast around for different ideas. One of the things I find very interesting is the way people ritualise things: what do people do when preparing for meditation? Do people do it in magic circles, before altars or shrines, outside, on a particular seat or stool? Do people light candles or incense? Do people listen to music? Do people make particular movements, prayers, affirmations before they begin? All this stuff interests me, and if you have any ideas on Pagan or witchcraft-themed websites that have a nice store of this sort of thing (or indeed if you have a particular meditation "ritual" you would like to share) do post a comment. Any meditation plans or courses you've done and enjoyed would be interesting, too - I may not do them,

You'll have to wish me luck, as I'm notoriously bad at doing things like remembering to meditate regularly. You know, I've been very slack at my daily prayers lately, also. That may be a part of why I'm so out of kilter of late. Taking time in front of my altar every night does give me a sense of inner calm and stability.

I think I'll keep a bit of a log of how I've been doing on my tumblr. (Cor lummy, I've just realised I've changed the URL and old links on this blog will be dead. Oh, well.) So I'll let you know of anything interesting I find from day to day on there, and I'll post larger updates here every once in a while. I think doing that will help me keep at it, as well as give me a record to look back on. Besides, I think sometimes other people are interested in that sort of thing. And it lends a greater sense of structure to the exercise. I've talked about how I sometimes long for structure before. I don't really feel like that now, but I suspect it is something I need about now.

So. If you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to find something to meditate over. I'm thinking apples. I don't know why.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hello everyone. You'll be glad to hear I'm in a slightly better mood today.

My blót for Hel the other day went very well, and I think She enjoyed the framboise. I was meant to hold Summernights and whatever I'm going to end up calling my "Beltaine" holiday yesterday, but I was so exhausted after the elections I didn't. I'd only had an hour or so of sleep because I always enjoy the elections in the States, and I didn't want to miss anything. Sleep deprivation is just a fact of life for me whenever I have to get up at a time everyone else considers "normal", so no biggie, but it does mean you end up eating a lot more than usual to keep yourself functional. 

The election was marvellously exciting. I know quite a few Americans, as I am on the internet and there are a lot of them around. I am sure you are the same way. So I was reassuring some of them as we went along and they started to panic at Romney's rising numbers. But Republican numbers always rise to begin with. The Democrats always have California, which is huge. Obama would have won even without any of the big swing states. But the important thing for me, I think, was seeing how many women turned out to vote and put their feet down, and how many women are heading to the senate. Elizabeth Warren! I love her, I really do. I've loved her since I first saw her on the Daily Show, her first segment, when she was nervous and jittery and a little intimidated, but then came back after the commercial break with new confidence and blew everyone away. It's premature, but if Hillary decides not to run, Warren's my pick for the US's first female president.

Really, though. Feminism has been under attack in the US recently, and seeing such a response to the War on Women was really moving. And a possible 51st state in Puerto Rico! That's tremendously exciting for those of us who have only ever known 50. There have been 50 states all my life and decades before it and it has always seemed so set in stone. It's so exciting to think that another star will be added to the flag.

It was a day of excitement and stress and of staring at the little video on the BBC website, streaming the results while the liveblog ticked along updating on the side. All that jittering on top of not much sleep and I was exhausted.

So those first-of-summer rituals will be held tonight instead (incidentally today is a much more "summery" day). In celebration of the changing seasons, a changing blog. Look at all the nice green. It's so pleasant.

I actually rather like early summer, despite my whining the other day. I suspect summer is bad for me on an emotional level, rather like SAD - I get tense, irritable and anxious in summer. It is too bright to go outside, I have a morbid fear of skin cancer (which is very common where I live) and I don't do well in either heat or humidity. In short I shouldn't really live where I do. But I do, so. That's that. 

But early summer has its advantages. The it's-been-far-too-long-since-we've-had-rain cracked earth of late summer is still a long way off. The humidity yet hasn't settled upon the country, and the sun, which at this point is not too oppressive, is tempered by cool sea breezes. The greens are very green. The colours are bright. The birds are happy. And the "holiday season", the long, laxed-out period of midsummer, of lying around doing nothing and sipping cold glasses of alcohol at any time of day, is on the horizon. Christmas and New Years here are pleasing just because everyone is so relaxed and half-naked and just has no fucks to give about anything. Fucks are for February. Until then? Beer, or gin and tonics, and the beach and lying around reading shitty books.

But that's in the future. People aren't relaxed yet. The world isn't relaxed yet. But that's on the horizon, and everyone can see it, and the pre-Christmas rush hasn't yet kicked in so they're all just anticipating summer with a small smile. Colours abound, and ease.

That's early summer. Late summer I can't wait to get rid of, when the heat really bears down and there's no escape from it and everyone remembers they have jobs.

I survived last summer quite well. There have been years I have not. But last summer was, despite the unpleasantness that was Christmas, actually not so bad. It wasn't overwhelmingly hot. So I wonder whether my emotional reaction is more out of anxiety at the coming of summer rather than during the summer itself. It's something I will be interested to observe in myself this year.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pagan Insights #4

In Your Own Words
I have rituals today and tomorrow, and I am so tired. I didn't get enough sleep last night. I kept waking up. And I'm staying up all night to watch the election because, you know, international side-show. I love the commentary on this shit. BBC rocks my world.

But I have rituals to do and I'm so tired. And I have words to write, and I am so tired. And. And it's sunny! God, you guys. I am writing this part of the entry last, like hours after down in Eureka, and so I've been out this afternoon and it was so goddamn bright outside. I wear specs so I don't have any sunnies, and I wasn't really in the mood to take a parasol and the stupid sun hurts my eyes. And then I couldn't even find anything I wanted so I spent all that time slathering on sunscreen for NOTHING.

GOD I HATE SUMMER. Just leave me here in my dark cave to DIE.

Although the sky was a lovely shade of blue and things are all green and the breeze was rather lovely. But jesus christ I need to live closer to the poles. One pole or the other, I mean. Summer, man. Fuck that.

Post a Pic
Gawd. Pics. OK, well, here is a picture from someone else this month. I was looking through my favourites folder and it reminded me of the post I made last week, about the path through the woods. This isn't want the path in my head looks like, but it's pretty, and evokes the same sort of whatsit. 

Musical Musings
What have I been listening to lately, aside from Theatre is Evil.... a lot of Emilie Autumn, actually. I've been a bit slow to get into her new album, but "Girls, Girls, Girls!" is amazing, and so is "One Foot in Front of the Other". None are particularly Pagany but I thought I'd mention them because... well, I don't know, I guess it's interesting to know the music that stirs people. Anyway, on a more relevant note, I'm a big fan of the Mediaeval Baebes. Much of their music is Christian, just because of the time frame they're drawing from, but they have some more general stuff as well. I love them. 
Here is Scarborough Fayre:

Action, Action!
Like every year, I am participating in NaNoWriMo. This year, with an hour to go before the clock ticked over to November 1st, it occurred to me that I should probably accumulate some characters. With no other real recourse, I grabbed some tarot cards and drew out some random cards to be my characters.

And it worked really really well. Like, exceptionally well. Every card was not only bang-on the sort of character I was looking for, but even the quote that came along with it in the accompanying book seemed to sum up the right character for the right role in the right story. It was amazing. I filled out my cast in about fifteen minutes, with figures and roles I hadn't even thought about using. Of course it helped that the deck is a really good match for character work, with the vivid images and the sense of a story to it. I was still very impressed with the ease at which things came together.

My Eureka of this exact moment is that it is Walpurgisnacht and I still haven't bought something for Hel. Am thinking absinthe? but we'll see how things go when I get to the booze shop and see what their prices are. 

Turns out there was nothing there that particularly caught my eye. Looks like red wine or mead for Hel and framboise for Freyja and Freyr tomorrow.

And I don't have anything else to eureke about at the moment, I must confess. Most of my life at present is comprised of writing nonsense at a frenetic pace, and then pausing to obsess about Boardwalk Empire or Downton Abbey. And my studies have suffered for it. I'll feel bad tomorrow, but right now I just want to crawl into a hole and fall asleep.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Runes are magic.

Now, I know many people out there use runes with little to know actual knowledge of what they're doing. And I hope and pray that that lack of knowledge means they can't access the energy of the runes. Because to me - to many Heathens - the runes are big, big, powerful energies. They are Mysteries. 

You can tap into them, and use that energy, but you should be careful as it's not the same as energy you raise in yourself in a spell or a circle. It's an outside energy. A separate energy. It's not a part of you. But you can tap into it, and direct it, so long as you understand what you're accessing. There are some runes in particular that are very dangerous and very destructive, and even the "nicer" ones can overwhelm you. Carve an inlet and you can direct the sea to a degree, but you cannot hold back the tides.

Oðinn won us the runes. There's a general feeling, I think, that He won the runes for all people, not just Heathens, so there's nothing to say the non-Heathens out there can't use them. But I'm guilty, as are others, of occasionally resenting their use, because.... because of Ralph Blum and Sirona Knight, because of people who don't see that they are sacred, because of people who think "Fehu means cattle" is the end of it. So I get resentful, and wish people would leave them alone. But Oðinn didn't win them just for us. 

And sometimes, that.... that bothers me. Non-Heathens can worship Oðinn and many do and fine. But I am always confused, very confused, when non-Heathens with no connection to Oðinn at all pick up the runes. Why would you bother? They're so much work. There's so much study to do. And He won them for us, through His sacrifice. His sacrifice of Himself, hanging for nine days and nights, impaled on His own spear. He won them for us; if you have no connection to Him, no desire to thank Him for that sacrifice, why would you use them?

Some say they are just a writing system. That they're not really Mysteries or energies or anything so who cares. And some don't believe in Oðinn, so they don't care about His sacrifice. And if they're not magic, some will say, who cares if He won them for us or not? They're just a writing system. They're not important.

But the thing about runes. The real thing, really. The thing is, they were a writing system. A writing system, in a place where there hadn't been one. A writing system, for people for whom remembering those who lived before was important. A writing system means everything. With a writing system you can read the name of someone who died a thousand years ago carved into a rock. Someone who died a thousand years ago, of whom every memory has long vanished from the earth - but someone can come along and read his name, and for the first time in a thousand years it can be heard aloud.

And how can you say that's not magic.

This post brought to you by Carl Sagan.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lessons, and Teachers, and Visual Metaphors

Sometimes, when it's been a while since I've felt.... religiousy, I guess, I develop this attachment to the idea of a lesson plan, or program, or structure or something. I suppose it's something of a normal pattern: you lose your drive for a while for whatever reason, your religious practice suffers, and you come back to it with something of a desire to start, if not back at the beginning, then with some sort of program.

Part of it is probably related to some innate feeling that if I have a lesson plan, I'll follow it, I'll get shit done. Which is ridiculous because I've always procrastinated with studying and essays and I never did any of my readings. It's part of the whole "This semester, things will be different!" that you always get at the beginning of the year. Things aren't going to be different. Things will be the same. You'll buy the textbooks in a paroxysm of optimism and never take it out of the plastic wrapping. 

So here I am again, come full circle. Or almost. And despite knowing I probably wouldn't go through with it the way I should, readings and rituals and everything, I still crave the "lesson plan". I've never yet found a system or anything that I actually like. They all seem to be geared for a different sort of person. I had high hopes for the "A Witch Alone" one, but.... it is not a good book, and I think it assumes you live in Britain. And the instructions for the exercises are incredibly lacking. 

It makes me think back to the Pagan Blog Project. In a way (before I got bored of it like 6 months ago) that sort of thing is a good project for new Pagans. You can set yourself a subject each week and research it. Part of it, I think, was just me getting tired of some of what other people were writing. It stuns me that there are Pagans out there who hear the word "faerie" and genuinely think about small sparkly things at the bottom of the garden. Seriously. They'll talk about setting up little houses and so forth, as if faeries were endearing, as if they were something you wanted all up in your shit. No. 

It's been a long time since I posted one of those 30 Days of Paganism entries, too. I should get on that.

I always come back to lessons. I liked university, and the way it was taught compared to college (what Americans call high school). Maybe it's related to how much I enjoy documentaries. And I've always been academia-oriented, to a point. So I always come back to pushing and searching and wondering who or what is out there to give me some structure to get back into things. I tried a mentor once; it didn't work out. He moved too slowly for me mentally, and I had to explain everything, and I didn't give him enough personally (some people just don't understand when others are private individuals), and I think he thought I was unintelligent by way of being younger than he is. He put himself on a pedestal. He would speak to me in a way I wouldn't speak to a small child. I was willing to give him respect as a mentor just as a matter of course, but his manner grew quickly tiresome, and I hated having to slow down to wait for him to catch up, and all other things being equal, he failed me as a teacher. Which was more irritating than disappointing. But in some ways it was as much my fault as his. I came into it with expectations that were possibly too high, and didn't properly inform him of those expectations before we started. So he never had the chance to tell me what he was prepared to do and not to do. And we were a bad match. That's life.

I'm not really a mentorry person, anyway. I knew that before I started. But I set that aside, because it's important to try things out and challenge one's preconceptions. It was right to do it, at least so far as personal growth and personal knowledge go. At least I can say I tried.

I guess that's another problem with teaching programs and lessons generally. The teachers don't always know what they're doing. Particularly if they never had a proper teacher themselves. I think, for part of what I do, at least, a teacher misses the point. In my Hedgecraft, a lot of it is about finding your own way. Exploring the shadows. Looking and listening. The concept of a teacher, especially at this point along the path, is counter to the whole idea of the thing. You'd end up following someone down the wrong way, and have to find your way back. 

In my spirituality, and in some other things, I understand concepts in a very visual way. Not visual learning, or anything - I mean I interpret them through visual metaphor. The path through the woods is a good one, and a common one. Sometimes I think of the path through the woods to see and understand where I am. Once upon a time, I stood in a clearing at the edge of a wood, surrounded by long grass. I knew I would have to set out in some direction or other, and take a well-worn path. There were paths to left and right. I set out through the long grass, and made my own path between them. When things go well, the path through the woods is wide and clear, and the sun filters down through the leaves. When things are hard, when I feel like the Gods aren't listening and I cannot find my way, the path is dark - it is night, or the sky is filled with storm-clouds - and I can barely see my way. The path is very narrow, and roots reach up to trip me, and branches smack me in the face. I stumble often. Now I'm past the woods. I'm in a big, wide clearing. I've been in the clearing for a while. The sun has been shining, but clouds travel across its face. There are more woods on the other side, but I don't know if I will ever enter them. I stand in the middle with my stick, and look at the sky. The path in the woods metaphor is fairly straight-forward, but I'm not sure what the clearing means. That bothers me, because I've been there a while. Am I meant to pick a direction again? Are there other places to go, than through the woods? Do I wait? I guess I wait. I wonder who I'm waiting for. 

And how long I'll be waiting.

It took a long time to travel through the woods. Years. But I walked the whole way by myself. I enjoyed the walk overall, though sometimes it was frightening, and upsetting, and it was dark and I was cold. But I think if I'd followed someone else, ironically, I would have gotten lost. And how difficult it would have been, through the bracken and the mud, to find my way back to the way I'd been going. All paths might, really, be going to the same place, but there are some paths you have to walk alone. And if you choose that one in particular, if you chose mine, for example, I couldn't lead you through it. The point of it is to walk it alone. That's part of the lesson.

At least, to begin with. Now, I'm not sure. Who am I waiting for? Or perhaps it's a what. Perhaps there's something to see, up there in the sky where I've turned my eyes. You can't see the sky in the woods. Not properly. 

I like my visual metaphor. It teaches me things. I guess I'll wait.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On Random Things and Admin Stuff

A non-specific post today. 

I've reached my personal limit insofar as Marvel-related images on tumblr and downloaded tumblr savior to keep them away from my dashboard. I've nothing against those who enjoy the Avengers or anything - I mean, I know it's funny and action-packed and interesting and all that. It's just for me, it makes me uncomfortable, and enough of those pictures of Tom Hiddleston and I begin to find it upsetting. 

I mean... it's just.... like, you wouldn't get Jesus and say he's an alien and shove him into a comic book with Spiderman. (I know there are probably a few weird Jesus comics around but I don't think they're the sort of thing that gets made into a movie by a giant studio.) I fall short of being offended most of the time, but I'm just so tired of it. I feel like in all the Hiddleston bullshit, the Gods are being lost and forgotten.

Not by us, of course. And maybe the Gods are happy just to hear Their names spoken. But when someone says "Thor" there's a whole bunch of people who think "blond guy in the Avengers" and never more than that. There are people who, when you talk of Oðinn's Brother, will correct you and say "actually he's his adopted son" and you're all wtf.

Like I say, I've just reached my limit today. And I've taken steps to avoid this sort of thing in the future, so all is well.

It was windy today. Like super fucking windy, like gusts at 120km/hr windy. It was awesome. I could feel the walls move when I was leaning up against them, and the roof rattled like it was about to lift off. Despite that it's well and truly late spring; the tuis have moved on, the blossoms are falling off the trees, and everything green is greener. At the same time, everyone on various social websites is going nuts about the leaves falling off the trees and their upcoming Hallowe'en. 

I love skulls and shit any time of the year, so it still makes me smile, even if it feels weird to see so many people celebrating it at this time of year. There's always the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror stuff, which is so much a part of my childhood whenever it comes on TV.

It's like Nightmare Before Christmas. That movie is like home to me, in some ways. I always come back to that. Whenever I see a particular scene... but anyway. That's neither here nor there.

I've been neglecting you lately, Dear Readers. I don't really know why. I haven't felt inspired to write about anything much. I've been feeling a bit anxious, too, but I've been stuffing myself with herbal helpers and I seem to be doing better. I tell you, Internet, I'll take depression over anxiety any day of the week. (I say that now, of course. It's easy to say that when you're Doin' Fine.)

But I'll make the effort to be around more, even if I don't have much to say. I've got an email address set up for this blog and I hardly ever check it, which is just silly, and unfair to anyone who has sent me an email.

On more of an admin-related note, I'm thinking of monetising this blog. There are a few of you, you see. I really appreciate that fact, by the way. Sometime last month when I wasn't paying attention we crossed 10,000 pageviews, which was incredibly exciting.  I keep thinking that even if 90% of you use adblocker (which I use myself, and fully recommend as an add-on) I could still make a bit of money here and there. Which would be nice. Because I'm poor. It's something I'm mulling over, but I'm unsure how the whole system works. At any rate, don't be too surprised if at some point ads appear on Hagstone. In the meantime if you like my writing and want to express as much through the medium of cold hard cash, you can do so via the tip jar over on the right or go through my affiliate links to the Book Depository next time you're in the mood to buy a book. I don't get much from 'em but every little bit, you know? Anyway, I know some people don't like ads, so I thought I'd let you all know I was considering it, and if I do end up sticking some ads up here, and you're not into that, there's always adblocker. It's a great program and I don't begrudge you using it in the slightest.

And, off-topic entirely, I notice there is some sort of election going on in the United States of America. I bet you're all sick of it by now, so I will just congratulate those of you who are now old enough to vote. It's always good fun watching the elections on the telly here. Bit of a farce, what? but still so exciting on election day.

Peace, lovelies! Later this week I'll write a bit about NaNoWriMo and I'll answer any emails I might have received.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pagan Insights #3

I'm making Disgruntled Face because blogger went and officially changed all their shit, got rid of the old templates etc. I do not like this new template. I am uncomfortable with it. It looks like a word processor or something and everything's in a different place and it takes extra clicks to check stats and everything sucks grr.

Like I want there to be a way bigger space between the top of the place where you write and where the actual typing appears. It looks super cramped and it makes me uncomfortable. Who the fuck do they have on their style team. I mean seriously, it wasn't broken, why did you have to go and fix it break it?

But anyway. For some reason, I didn't post much this month. That doesn't mean I'm not doing Pagany things, I've just been a little..... consumed by fandoms. Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire, specifically. Also I discovered the Sopranos a few weeks ago. The rumours were true: that is a fucking excellent show.

But it is the Full Moon, and I promised myself a full moon tradition, being the taking-stockness of the PIP. So here we are. I've had thoughts, this month, like "oh I could mention this in the PIP" but I didn't actually take notes because I am a fool.

In Your Own Words
I need to get out more. I spend too much time inside, not enough touching the earth and the trees and feeling the wind and shit like that. I think that's part of why winter always seems to disappear so soon, and why, despite everything being covered in fucking blossoms and the weather warming, it doesn't feel to me like it's halfway through spring.

Post a Pic
This image of Iðun caught my eye this month. It fits my UPG of Her quite closely, particularly the apple in Her cheeks. I honour Iðun at Ostara, having formed the theory that Ostara could be a local regional name for Her. Her primary myth seems to be an allegory of winter and the return of spring, and after all the only details we have on Ostara are from Bede, so it works well enough for me, at least until more is known.

Musical Musings
More Amanda Palmer this month, because I've been listening to Theatre is Evil pretty much non-stop. This one is Lost. The first time I heard this song it caught me off-guard when the chorus changed at the end, turning the song into something quite moving. And once you've heard it once, the chorus will get you right in the feels every time. 
"Nothing's ever lost forever, 
it's just caught inside the cushions
of your couch and when you find it
you'll have such a nice surprise.
Nothing's ever lost forever,
it's just caught inside the recess
of your mind and when you need it
it will come to you at night - 
No one's ever lost forever,
when they die they go away,
but they will visit you occasionally,
do not be afraid.
No one's ever lost forever,
they are caught inside your heart,
if you garden them and water them
they make you what you are."
I don't hear many popular songs that reflect my views of "the hereafter", but this one does, in a way that's weirdly reassuring. As if she actually knows that's the way it is, no one's ever lost forever, so it's OK. And in some ways it reflects a Heathen mindset regarding the dead and the way they watch over us and contribute to us as people as we grow and as we live.
I miss my Grandad.

Action, Action
I held Ostara early, and Equinox late, but for some reason it didn't bother me to do so. My Ostara blót was far too short, and I'm not really happy - I think I owe Iðun something extra. But holding the Equinox ritual late felt rather right in a weird way. That is, the day I held it felt proper. I'm sure I had something specific I wanted to talk about but now I can't remember what it was, so quel dommage I guess.

OK OK so every shitting page of EW&T is like a fucking "no shit?!" moment for me. Every page I read, there's something that interests me, something to make me scribble down some thought or other. Gundarsson suggests Surtr is a by-name, and that his real name is Muspelli, but people didn't like to mention it, hence the use of the name "Surtr". It apparently pops up quite a bit as a personal name, does "Surtr", and since Surtr is like the Untamed Enemy of the World of Fire (Iceland must have been a fucking shock) it would be a bit weird if people were named after him. Etins are discussed as entities with individual natures, rather than a bunch of natural enemies to mankind - some receive worship (and Loki he lists among them), some are friendly, some are not friendly or unfriendly, some bargain in more of a business-like way, some have genuine reasons for their dislike of the Gods (and Fenrir he lists among these), some are just dicks. And water-wights having overall a different temperament to land-wights hadn't occurred to me. Aegir and Ran are listed among the water-wights and I am very much enjoying the discussion. I always take tons of notes when I read this book.

One idea I heard years ago, before I was a Heathen, was from an older man who served regularly in a Navy somewhere, who said he always carried gold with him to throw to Ran, just in case. This gets a mention in EW&T: apparently Ran liked offerings of gold, so you want some on you if you happen to drown. Apparently, if drowned men arrive to drink at their post-funeral booze-up, it's a sign they have been well-received by Ran (and nicely ties together with the song mentioned above).

That's all for this month. I hope you are enjoying these - I quite enjoy writing them, stopping to take stock, thinking of things through the month that I can mention and so on. I'll try to have more Eureka posts that are unrelated to "hey, check out this thing I read" or whatever, but honestly I'm not always inclined to share, so it may just be a place where I post interesting titbits I've come across.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Identifying as Recon

Fair warning: This isn't a particularly polished essay. It's mostly just my thoughts vomited haphazardly out onto the page. It meanders. I'm not altogether sure it even has a particular point. Basically, I saw this book and the discrepancy between how dry the book looked from the title and my enthusiasm for owning it amused me, and got me thinking about people in reconstructionist religions, and how (or whether) we identify as "reconstructionist".

I consider myself a reconstructionist. Of sorts. Most of the time.

Sometimes I temper that and say "recon-derived", because there are a lot of people who will hear the word "Loki" and dismiss you as far as reconstructionism goes. There are also times I think being a recon is too limited. But then a book like the one mentioned above will appear in a bookstore and I will go nuts and plan where I'm going to get the $60 for it. Like it or not, sinking my roots into books and drawing information from them has become a major part of how I build my practice, and each new piece of information gives more layers and richness to what I do, new understanding to what I believe. It's when books with outrageous price tags and incredibly dry-sounding titles get me excited that I realise how much of a reconstructionist I can be.

That doesn't mean I do everything the palaeo-Heathens did. In the first place we lack the knowledge for that to be possible; even if we know what was done we may not have a proper inkling why and that will mean that even if we went through the motions, what we're doing will be different on a deeper level. Perhaps an exceedingly important level. Secondly, Heathenry is and was a living religion, and it changed across time and geography in the ancient world. There are for example suggestions that Tyr was once considered Top God of the pantheon. Palaeo-Heathenry was not static, and nor should it be now. The world is not the same now as it was then. The practice by necessity cannot be the same as it was, and not only would it be foolish to try and make it so, I think ultimately it would leave us spiritually less fulfilled. We live now, not then. We can't block off the world around us.

Living in the past may be one of the issues with recon. I've always been a history buff, and I think that's one of the reasons recon ended up appealing to me so much. I had a long period of personal struggle with it because I worried that becoming and identifying as a Heathen would mean I'd have to eschew all other gods, which was not something I could ever do. For some kindreds and some organisations, yes, you do have to make an oath to eschew all other gods or whatever. But the way some palaeo-Heathens added Jesus to their worship in order to trade with Christians, just one extra god, no worries mate, makes me think this is more of a modern idea (or possibly an Abrahamic one) than an old one. At any rate, the gods have not been angry with me for paying homage to other deities on occasion, so all is well.

One of the issues I tend to see with some of the more short-sighted recons is "the ancients did/believed this, we must also" to the extent that truly offensive things are said. Homophobia is the big one, of course, and unfortunately you don't have to go far to see people spitting vitriolic comments about Gay Heathen alliances and so forth. I see this all the time, even among people who don't seem to be the racist types: "Heathens should hate gays because the Christian writers said the palaeo-Heathens hated gays." But the palaeo-Heathen taboos aren't about being gay. They're about being, shall we say, non-active. They're about being unable to stand up for yourself and take control. If you, like Oðinn, showed you were a hardcore badass mother-fucker in other ways, people would be less likely to comment on the fact that technically seiðr is for gurls. And anyway, who cares if the palaeo-Heathens disapproved of being on the receiving end of sodomy? I'm not going to think you less of a man for it, and I don't see why I should just because they may have.

These undertones of homophobia and racism and blind anti-Jotunn-ism and so on tend to be associated with people who refer to themselves by terms like "hard recon". The ironic thing is that often these taboos are based on poor evidence. The palaeo-Heathens weren't "racist". I mean first of all modern conceptions of race are just that: modern. They wouldn't have thought about race in the same way that we do. Secondly, they were far-travellers and happily traded with a range of peoples. Third, there's evidence of people from far-flung lands who lived in Scandinavian villages. I mean I'm not saying that there were ship-fulls of Don't even get me started on the whole Jotunn issue. The point is that early ideas, sometimes based on outdated scholarship, sometimes based on preconceived biases, can solidify into hardened prejudices, and an unwillingness to read new things and incorporate new ideas. Continuous scholarship is essential in reconstruction - if nothing else than because new information comes to light.

That's not specific to reconstruction at all, of course. You also get those attachments to old scholarship and shaky concepts a lot in fluffiness. In fact this sort of clinging to outdated ideas is just that: fluffy bunny thinking. But the term "fluffy bunny" is more often applied to people wearing sparkly fairy wings at Renn Faires, not people with long beards at barbecues. What is this association between "hard recon" as a concept and a tendency towards racism? It's ridiculous.

You end up with different factions of Heathens who look down on other factions - the way some kindreds sneer at the Troth - and call them "less recon" or even something over-the-top ridiculous like "pseudo-Wiccan". When really, each of these different modern traditions may be just as reconstructionist in their approach as the others. It's just that there's this weird perceived correlation between racism and reconstructionism, or homophobia and reconstructionism, or just generally being a hard-headed fuck and reconstructionism.... And the more hard-headed they are, the more they seem to view themselves as the only authentic and untainted reconstructionists. I don't think there is any real correlation between "conservatism" (ha) and reconstructionism. But people perceive that it's there, so a bunch of people who think of themselves as more "liberal" may be less likely to identify with that term. Even if what they do involves more study every month than a shield-pounding self-described "hard recon" will do in his lifetime.

I think it's some sort of misunderstanding of the word "conservative", as if Heathenry was "traditional" as far as the USA or something went. I mean come on, people. If conservative America had its way there would be bibles in schools, Creationism in the science classrooms, and you'd be run out of town.

Sometimes I shy away from the term "reconstructionist" because of other people maybe that I've run into recently who are louder or angrier than me, for whatever reason, who make me wary of using the term. As if I'm not good enough to be allowed to use it. As if I'm disqualified from recon for viewing a particular fact in a different way than they do, or demanding more information be sought before making a judgement call on something, or because I haven't read as much as them, or because I refuse to be a hateful bigot.

Which is ridiculous. Reconstructionism is a process. And there will always be more information turning up thanks to dedicated historians and archaeologists and so on. I'm not a "better recon" than those from 40 years ago because the information available now might be better than that available in the 70s. We're all just muddling through and doing our best. Well, maybe not all of us. But many of us.

I mean I think in a way, we forget that reconstructionism as a concept is just a methodology, a way to build a personal spiritual practice. That's the key, really. And I favour reconstructionism because it gives me the best access to ideas on which to build that practice. Heathenry has a multitude of spiritual concepts, like fylgja and so on, that give it tremendous depth - ideas that at first glance you won't even notice. It has whole cultures of ideas to absorb. Recon is a way of accessing these, rebuilding what we have into a strong foundation, and building further on top of them. Because of course we can never know everything of what once was.

I've mentioned before how much I'd love to sit down with someone from way-back-then and ask them for explanations of this term and that term and what the difference was between overlapping spiritual concepts. But we can't do this, so we have to use instinct as well as research, UPG as well as lore. Personal spiritual exploration is partly a foil for reconstruction, so we don't get too hidebound, but at the same time, personal work and reconstruction feed into and enrich one another in a way I, at least, think is pretty important.

For Heathenry as a whole, I think it's important to distinguish when we teach or write or pass on information what precisely is reconstructed practice or reconstructed thought, and what is more recently built. The modern tendency to describe a solemn drinking ritual of three or more rounds as a "sumbel" is apparently mostly a modern idea, though similar things are found in recorded blóts. I can't help but feel the muddying of the water between reconstruction and modern traditions will limit new Heathens in the future. I have no problem with branches and organisations, but when branches and organisations teach new traditions and old ones under the same banner of "reconstructionism", that's.... falseness. It limits old ideas as well as new ones. Let's say "this is what we do in our group", not "this is how it is done", in cases where what is discussed is modern tradition, not Heathen-wide concepts.

Maybe this is why I don't feel comfortable identifying as an Asatruar; I feel like this is a branch of Heathenry that's developing a "skin", sort of walls that define it as a particular entity, a particular way of doing things. Which is fine in itself - after all, it has a name. It is a valid branch of Heathenry, and it's not trying to be the entirety of Heathenry. But it is the largest and loudest, and it is described as reconstructionist, and it does have many elements that are new - the NNV for example tend to get mentioned in a lot of books for reasons I don't really understand. And I don't feel like that's for me. Does it have an underlying Americanness that a part of me can feel, but that I can't really identify? (Americanness is not bad. It's just... distinct.) I don't know. Anyway.... while Heathenry is home, there are elements of Asatru that do feel alien to me. Which is interesting, really, more than anything else. I'm not trying to criticise Asatru, by the way. Or say they're not recon. They're as recon as anyone else in their way, and that's the point. We all build on that foundation.

I very much enjoy what reconstruction can give me on a spiritual level, which I think I've discussed before. I love the cultural aspects. I love the concept of discovery, that one can open a book and find in a footnote some really fascinating idea and suddenly an old question has been answered and something that didn't before now makes perfect sense. I love delving into things and visiting a different world - as was then - and how much immersing myself in those books and so on can give to my practice here and now. While eclecticism had a certain element of liberation to it, the foundation of culture and context I think has given me a lot more room to grow.

I've heard someone describe recon as a springboard, but I think of it more like a rich loam. The deeper the earth, the further you can sink your roots, the higher you can reach your branches.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pagan Insights #2

It occurred to me that I could do these on the full moon. I've always wanted something to do on the full moon but never been able to find something I liked. I've never found a full moon ritual that really sat well with me and when I go to think of one myself I find myself at rather a loose end, not knowing what to do or what to say. So I haven't done anything. This isn't a ritual, but it's a way of taking stock and maybe doing that at the full moon isn't a bad thing. (Then again, maybe the new moon would be a better time for it. Maybe I'll give that a go next month.)

In Your Own Words
I feel like things have been difficult lately. I don't even know why I feel that way, because I've no reason to. I've skipped Idis-thing - I waited for the right day, and then when it came I delayed, and delayed some more... and now I wonder if it might not just be better to combine Idis-thing and Ostara and make a goddess-oriented day of it. I try to do it when I smell spring in the air but this year the day really fell when the tuis returned to the kowhai tree in the back garden. You know it's spring when you see them around. Maybe tomorrow I'll pick some flowers for the altar, or something. Or maybe I'll wait until the beginning of September, a little closer to the Equinox, and do something then. But at the same time, though things have been difficult and feel difficult - just to get momentum going, you know? - I'm also feeling renewed interest in shaking off cobwebs and maintaining regular practice of things like meditation. Must be a spring thing. It's past time to open all the windows.

Post a Pic

One of the said tuis. This picture is from a couple of years ago, but it more or less exemplifies this time of year for me. It's a nice treat to have them visit each year, as they sing very beautifully.
I also went and posted a whole heap of images of Odin on my tumblr the other day, and this one was one of my favourites. But hardly anyone else seemed to like it. I love the knowing half-smirk, the feather in his hat brim, the windswept trees behind him.

Musical Musings
This song isn't a Pagan one, or even Pagan influenced, but it struck a chord with me (and is also fucking awesome). It is The Killing Type, the newest AFP single with her band the Grand Theft Orchestra. She wrote in her blog about the verse that begins "I once stepped on a dying bird, it was a mercy killing" and how even though she relieved the creature's suffering, the act haunted her. She concludes she is not the killing type. And I feel much the same in many ways. I like to think that should it come to it, I could kill to eat. I like to think I could kill to defend my own. But I've never been put in that situation. I've been put in a couple of mercy-killing situations, animal-wise. In one I almost gave it a go, was going to smash a mouse with a brick and couldn't do it. In another I didn't even think of it, I put the wee mite in my pocket, took it home and kept it warm until it died. Honestly I'd rather be the woman passing around the mead in the mead-hall and tending warrior's wounds than out slaughtering anything. I mean, can't we just talk things through? But then, killing a person in battle seems much more do-able as an act than killing an animal to save it from suffering. Is it because battle is entered willingly, or maybe because humans are so much more aware of their own death? And nature is harsh and cruel. Still, no need to make it any crueller, I suppose. So much of Heathenry - no, that's wrong. So much of the Heathen community seems to be about being war-ready. I'm fine with being strong and fit, fine with being able to fight, fine with bleeding, fine with carting off the dead. But I'm not the killing type. But then again..... is that unusual? Sometimes I think people who go on about war would be scarred for life if they ever found themselves in one. That those posturing with swords and axes and being Big Tough Heathens would go to pieces if put in a situation of real violence. I don't think I'd go to pieces. I think put in a situation where I would have to kill someone, I'm not sure I could actually do it, and I might end up killed myself for hesitating, and to be honest it would be easier to run off and hide than to end up in that situation. I'm not sure if that counts as cowardly or canny. But I do sometimes feel less of a Heathen for it. That's the stress on the whole "warrior" deal, as if that was the only aspect of palaeo-Heathen culture.

Actually I had a dream once where I smashed someone repeatedly in the head with half a brick because I had no choice. It was super disturbing, because after the first rush of blood, and you have the upper hand, the fight goes out of you and you know you have to finish the job, and it's just this sort of awful thing, smashing this guy in the temple and hoping he dies soon. But that was a dream... I don't mean to imply I truly understand that experience. Still, I woke up feeling disturbed by my own actions.

My Great Grandfather killed a heap of men in WWI and never got over it. He wasn't at all keen on the whole malarkey but they dragged him off to the Somme in the end. I guess he wasn't the killing type either.

Action, Action
Last time I talked about how I'd sucked at keeping up with weekly blótar. Not much has changed, but I'm more aware of the tasks I've set before myself and better at remembering to do them. I didn't hold blót this week but I did burn a candle for Hel, and sat before it and honoured Her. It's good, because honouring Hel more often is one thing I always mean to do and fail to do by the time the next Hel-honouring blót rolls around and apologise for. It will be nice if I can keep checking in and don't have to apologise next time. And I can do more than one a week if I like.

This one is hard. I'm not sure I have many Eureka moments, and when I do they're not always things I like to share. I mean, I had an interesting prayer experience a couple of weeks ago, but it's not something I'm going to write about on here. I had difficulty even putting it in words to record it in my spiritual journal. Oh, here's one: I often ponder on Tyr's parentage, and I was reading the Lay of Hymir or whathaveyou the other day. Snorri I think notes Odin is His father once, but that's not noted anywhere else and in the Poetic Edda the Jotun Hymir is named as His father. We don't know His mother. Interesting that Tyr is Jotun-kin and no one questions that He is Aesir or suggests He should not be worshipped. Tyr is beyond reproach. Yet Loki's parentage is pointed out again and again, and He is named Jotun and not of the Aesir on His parentage alone. If Tyr is beyond reproach it is because He is steadfast and honourable and so on; I mean I love Tyr and hold Him in very high regard. But if one is going to criticise Loki it should be on His actions and not His family because otherwise it's a bit fucking inconsistent isn't it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Christians

I don't know about you, but by and large, I have generally positive experiences with Christians. I've been invited to forum discussions with Christians and found them both kind and polite. I've visited many beautiful churches, all of which have been welcoming places tended to by welcoming people. 

Here are two prime examples of such churches, if you'll allow me to share. 

The first is from the town of Hythe in Kent, England. They get quite a few visitors as the church is exceedingly old, and at the door hangs this message:

One positively weeps at the inclusion of others, the desire to share, and the welcome they provide to everyone. Motherfucking St Leonard's representing for Christ, yo.

 The second is a church in Edinburgh, I believe an Anglican church. When I entered, the priest was having a great time playing the organ, either in practice or just for enjoyment. Either way his pleasure was infectious. At the back of the church was an area for small children to play quietly, and up the front, near the altar:

This, dear reader, is a collection of tenets from a variety of religions that are similar in some way to the "Golden Rule", all lined up together and lit from within. (I mean yes the Rede isn't representative of Paganism as a whole but I am willing to overlook that because of the inclusive beauty of the thing itself. They meant well.) The church, by the way, was beautiful, and I recommend visiting. St John's Episcopal Church. Check out those stained glass windows. Spectacular.

These churches, and others like them, are my predominant impression of Christianity. (Or at least, Christianity outside of the United States. There are only so many Bishop Gene Robinsons to Pat Robertsons. But by and large I choose to dismiss the United States as being a bit behind the times.) It was therefore a surprise, when invited to join in discussion with Christians as I mentioned above, to see them making comments that were insulting and offensive.

They didn't mean to make them, mind you. Not maliciously. That is to say, they didn't mean to offend. But that's part of the problem; they don't understand why the comments offended. They don't practise empathy with non-Christians. Perhaps they think they do. One of them painted his Pagan friends as people who felt they had been "abandoned" by his god, and hurt, and talked about how much he wanted to show them his god's love. Yet I'd wager those Pagan friends of his do not consider themselves the lost souls he imagines them to be. Another described all non-Christians as being unable to properly engage in a religious dialogue because they had no understanding of a spiritual life. I countered this, and explained why it might be offensive to make this sort of comment. His reply? He "knew the truth" and had no need therefore to research into other people's religious practice. His reading of the bible had told him that only Christians were spiritual people, and that's all he needed to know; he believed that, he knew the truth, and therefore anything else must be untrue. 

This outright dismissal of non-Christians genuinely surprised me, because as you see above, I've been conditioned to expect Christians to be kind, welcoming people. These comments were not only unwelcoming, they deliberately shut out of dialogue any non-Christian and dismissed their opinions on the basis of a... I want to say "misunderstanding" but that term seems too polite. The idea that a person thinks ignorance is righteous disgusts me. And I don't consider it representative of their god's supposed love. Be nice to other people, and listen, and help others without expectation for conversion, or I'll consider you a shitty excuse for a Christian because I've seen how good Christians can be. I've seen how Christians can reach out to non-Christians and respect their faiths enough to learn about them, and find in those faiths something to celebrate, and fucking dialogue with people without disrespecting them or their beliefs or their gods. Those Christians show me what is good in Christianity by their actions and while I'm fairly sure I don't believe in the divinity of Christ, frankly I don't think that it's too important when it comes to respecting those who choose to follow his example. 

So get your shit together, unspecified number of Christians. Other Christians are making you look like super-shitty people. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Last week I held my Candlemas. (I've started calling it First Rite of Spring for some reason, which is cumbersome but less inaccurate than "Candlemas" or "Imbolc" would be.) It was pretty amazing, and got me thinking about things like those little moments of formality in ritual that one includes even if one's ritual itself is rather relaxed and informal in tone. Wearing particular items, getting out particular altar decorations or tools, washing, anointing. Things perhaps one does not even think about any more, they are such a part of one's religious observance. I've also been wondering over nudity and why it feels so important an aspect of ritual in my religious witchcraft.

I felt a sudden compulsion, that night, to decorate. For the Gods. My mind turned to daydreams of an altar-room, where I could hang banners and paintings on the walls and set sculptures on shelves. And I managed to spill candle wax on my altar cloth, so I'm in the mood to find another one of those. Something to embroider, perhaps? Or the work of someone else? I think the easiest way to go would be to buy more of the material of my present altar cloth, and then another that would be easier to wash when more wax inevitably spills. And then I got out my paints for another purpose and started thinking it would be pretty neat to paint the altar itself. 

At present, though, no move has been made in any direction. I have left the idea to percolate.

I've been slacking a little on my threefold religious week. That is to say: my idea to do lore study, non-lore study and a formal prayer or blót each week. I still like it as an idea and occasionally remember to actually do it, but too often I've been thinking "oh yeah! I should to that tomorrow" and then forget for the next three days. Weeks seem to run through my fingers like sand or water. So much to do, so much to do. And I end up doing so little. In some ways I feel generally out of sorts and wonder if it's a hold-over from my appendectomy. While I'm mostly healed, I still can't exercise the way I did, and it's frustrating to feel normal and yet be reminded here and there that the healing process can take a while when muscle protests or stitches pull. Instead of a "you're officially better now, get back to life as normal" it's more of a process and it's left me slacking when it comes to picking things up again.

Idis-thing soon. I'm in a place, Heathenry-wise, where I want to start fine-tuning my holiday calendar. I don't Charm a Plough because a) I don't own a plough and b) the ground here doesn't freeze. I don't know why I feel like that second part is important. Anyway, the assimilation of knowledge is a bit of a long slow process when it comes to where I'm at right now. If you've ever wondered to yourself why so many Heathen groups and kindreds seem to celebrate things at different times of year, or have a different number of holidays, this is sort of why.... there's no set text or how-to book that.... actually that's wrong, there ARE how-to books that tell you when holidays are, but then you aren't at a 101 level any longer and you realise that those books are rather simplistic in the times assigned for holiday dates, and really when you look back at the texts it's more confusing, and should you hold Mother Night before Yule or at Idis-thing? And how many autumnal holidays are there? And is Yule held at the winter Solstice or later on when it gets colder? ....yeah. But there's no easy answer to those questions because our sources say different things. The Heathen world incorporated a fair-sized chunk of Europe and a considerable length of time, and things were done differently from here to there. So it's up to you. And being up to you, you sort of have to do all the research yourself and then decide how and when you want to do things.

Meanwhile, Idis-thing. I don't know what I'm going to do this year, quite. Or when; I hold my Hedgecraft holidays according to astronomical dates, but my Heathen ones are mostly season-based. I'll hold Idis-thing when I smell spring in the air. I'm not sure we're quite there yet, but it must be on the horizon. Having said that, I haven't gone outside much lately. I should probably do that.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Tonight I drank with Thor, in friendship, kinship and love. 

This is one of my favourite holidays; Thor's protection in the middle of winter may not be as important here as in other places, but bigods the wind blew strong today. I thought the roof might disappear. Yet, it has stopped blowing now. Regardless, though, of weather, this holiday for me has always been a time to renew ties with Redbeard, and to thank Him for all He does for humanity, and to renew the "contract" by which He gives His blessing and protection. 

It's a particularly wonderful rite, one that has always been an incredible experience for me and others I've spoken to have expressed something similar. The feeling of warmth and protection during the blót is really something else.

Hail Þórr!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Steampunk Tarot Review

 Book: Steampunk Tarot
Author: Barbara Moore (book), Aly Fell (card illustrations)
Subject: Tarot deck & book
Publisher: Lewellyn
ISBN: 9780 738726380
Score: 5/10 (marked down for poor quality card stock)

The first thing I have to say is that these cards really are flimsy. Like, paper-flimsy. I'd heard they were of poor quality, but hadn't expected them to be quite this papery. Most decks of playing cards are a lot more hardy than these. It's disappointing, even though I don't intend to use these as my "primary" deck, because they don't feel as good in my hands. I'm worried about damaging them just by holding them. For that reason alone I wouldn't recommend them to others, despite how charming they are.

In addition to being flimsy they also seem smaller than some of the other decks I own. They don't come with a box to keep them in, either; there is a cardboard box but it's far too large for this deck. You'll have to find another box for them, or keep them in a bag or something. I won't use a bag myself because I'd wager they'd get damaged if I did. Each card has a black border, making the images smaller still, something some people will dislike. I don't really mind them myself, but size-wise I wish the cards were larger because the illustrations are so beautiful.

Overall the deck is bright, energetic and easy to read. It's very much plugged into the Steampunk "Victorian Explorer" drive for exploration and discovery, so it has an adventurous energy, and I like that.

Now, the images. Worry not, it's not 100% brown-and-brass. There are some rich colours here. Most of the cards have something of a story to them, which is something I love. A few don't, and it tells; they're just not as good as those that do, however pretty they are. Some of the cards do tend towards more of a "fantasy" feel than a Steampunk one, which bothers me a bit. The Ten of Wands, for example, is a girl with a glowing staff, the only "steampunky" thing on the card a cogwheel on her hat which just looks out of place. Cogwheels aren't a steampunk requirement, and to stick them on an otherwise un-steampunky card feels like the deck is trying too hard. The deck does do a great job on other cards, though: the King of Wands is a magician, for example, which is perfect. Most of the pages and knights are all females, which is an interesting change. It's a woman-heavy deck, actually, though many of them eschew gender roles. There are plenty of aviatrices and adventuresses. A couple of the cards have a London skyline in the background which makes me wish they'd used smoky city backgrounds more often. They don't stick to Victorian-flavoured Steampunk as is usual; a few cards have more of an Art Deco feel, such as The Star. The backs of the cards are non-reversible, but pretty cool, with all four suits picked out in brass.

I don't feel like they've put as much effort into the male figures as the female ones. They're all more or less similar, moustachioed, serious, dull, which a couple of exceptions. The Fool really throws that into perspective, as there's a male figure with some real personality. The Lovers card isn't really my thing; the figures are nice enough but the angel above them seems out of place. Strength is also pretty disappointing; usually one of my favourite cards, the woman taking the cogwheel from the lion's paw just seems bored and the setting of trees is rather dull. They could have had some sort of Hyde Park menagerie instead, or the lion as a lady's pet; here I'm not really sure what's going on, why the woman is where she is, whether she just found the lion or it is accompanying her. For all they tried to make a story with the lion and the cogwheel (Androcles and the Lion was an obvious influence) it just appears to be a single scene without much depth to it.

Onto the cards I like. The Three of Cups I rather favour; it has three women in a bar, one in a dress, one in a harem-pants getup, and the third in breeches and a waistcoat. It's like some beautiful little lesbian three-way. The Queen of Pentacles is out of her era - she looks rather more Art Deco than Victorianesque - but she's still marvellous, descending the stairs in gold silk with a fan and a lofty expression. The Devil is a great steaming automaton, controlling a man and his apprentice on strings, and I love it. The Page of Pentacles is a gorgeous woman in a greatcoat and buckled boots, stepping in from (or is it out into?) the snow. In contrast to Strength, for example, this card has some real story to it - you might not know what it is, but you're eager to invent it.

The book is small, but sturdy. I wish the cards themselves took after the book more. The images inside are black and white. Each card gets a page or just over, but not every card begins on a separate page. That's not really an issue for me, as there's an image for every card anyway and things are clearly laid-out. Each card comes with a "quote" at the top of the page. For most of the cards these aren't sourced (authors of quotes appear only for the Kings as far as I can see so far), so they appear to be created by the authors, which is fine. (Although one of them contains the phrase "allons-y" which makes me wonder.) They illustrate the cards nicely. There are a few spreads, with wonderful names ("A Most Excellent and Sensible Spread complete with moving parts") but I wish they had created a few more. I love finding new spreads.

Overall, they're a great set but the poor quality of the cardstock just ruins the entire deck for me. It's a great shame, because it's easy to read and beautiful and charming. If they re-issue the deck with better card stock, I'd be tempted to buy it again. Having read a couple of spreads, I would be tempted to make these my primary deck if they were hardier, but they just won't stand up to regular use. I might see if I can improve the quality through lamination or something. But I worry I'll ruin them!

They're good, but they're let down by the card quality. Let down a LOT. I feel quite sorry for the authors, because the publishers really screwed them over here.