Friday, April 27, 2012

I is for Identity

A more personal one, this week. Not that Heathenry wasn't personal, I guess.... First Identity more generally, using the example provided by Wicca. Then for me specifically.

I have an unpopular stance on Wicca. On what it is, on what it involves, on who can (or should, I guess) call themselves a Wiccan. I've gone through a variety of changes in how I deal with the whole concept, and how I speak to others regarding it.

A lot of people who I don't think are Wiccans still identify as Wiccans. They've been told, one way or the other, that what they do and believe is Wicca. And that is absolutely fair. I don't think that what they do and believe is Wicca, but what I do understand is that this is a term that a lot of people identify with strongly. It forms a part of their identity, and when you say "that's not Wicca", people react negatively, because you're shaking the foundations of who they are. Or who they feel like they are. 

And, OK, shaking those foundations, when it comes to spiritual growth, is actually important. I didn't identify as a Wiccan when I found out what Wicca was (as you will read below). I suppose you could say that discovering Wicca might not be related to the widening of my understanding of Paganism, the opening up of my Pagan world, but it certainly felt like it. And it's certainly true that I've had people come to me months or years after an initial dust-up over "The Definition of Wicca" to apologise if they acted poorly, and thank me for whatever initial jolt I provided that made them take a look at who they were, where they were on their path, and where they wanted to go.

That sounds a bit arrogant. But it's true. It's also very moving. I'm not a teacher, I'm more the sort of person who butts in and says "AC-tually, you're wrong...". I mean, I have to force myself not to do this on the bus and so on. (I can't even blame Loki's influence on this one because I'd been doing it for years before I met him.) But a side-effect of being the person everyone loves to hate in those sorts of situations is that unlike a teacher, you rarely see how things turn out. The obstinate person who maintained that Wicca was Cunningham's teachings, or whatever, and stormed off in a huff might have had some sort of personal revelation, and become a Wiccan initiate (or discovered Kemet, or Buddhism, or CR, or become an Anglican priest.... or whatever) as a direct result of my losing my temper in a stupid internet argument. And unless they track you down, you never find out. So it's gratifying.

Where was I? Oh yes. The "Wicca" discussion.

So. I started out being fairly polite, when the topic came up and I inevitably corrected people with what I understood Wicca to be. But there are a lot of people who think Wicca is something you can initiate yourself into, so... it gets tiring. And everyone has the same argument. It starts with "Actually you're wrong, I read it in all these books by these shitty authors" and usually involves "but what about self-initiation?" and "what about those people who can't find a coven?" as if Wicca is going to change the fundamental nature of what it is to suit people who can't get to coven. After a while of dealing with this, of repeating the same stuff time after time, of citing the same stuff only to have people tell you you're secretly a Christian, or call you a fucking bitch, or say "I left Christianity to get away from this sort of thing!".... you get exhausted. You get burnt out. You get frustrated. And you stop caring.

Not about the issue. You stop caring about people's feelings. You forget to moderate what you're saying because you've said it all so many times before that you provide a pared-down version. Quick, short.... and very blunt. So people react poorly. But people have always reacted poorly, so you feel like you have no reason to be polite. No reason to hold someone's hand through it. And when you do come to your senses and realise you're being a dick, you decide to reform. Next time, you think, I will be Nice. And you are. You're Nice. You're as nice as nice could be. You're compassionate, you're understanding. And you still get called a fucking bitch. 

Fuck it, you think. Why should I be nice when people are so horrible? Why should I even fucking try? It takes so much more energy to be compassionate and walk people through the concept, so why bother if the result is someone swearing at you either way?

Actually not having the discussion at all doesn't really occur. For a few reasons... partly because when you know a few Wiccans, and how strongly they feel about people using a title they worked so hard for inappropriately, you feel like you have to shoulder their burden every once in a while. To pull together with them. Because having had these arguments, you know how exhausting it can be. And partly because you were in the same place as these people once, and you know how much wider and better things are when you have a clearer view of them, and it's only fair that other people have this same opportunity. They can take it or they can leave it. And because, honestly, Wicca is a fantastic religion. From the outside, it seems really awesome. I don't want to join it, because there are elements of it that don't mesh with me, but it is still pretty cool, and I hate the fact that what Wicca is has become so totally obscured by completely different religions using the same name.

I'm at a point now where I find it easiest to just assume everyone has the same definition of "Wicca" as me. I respond to all their comments and questions as if they thought the same way about it as I do. If they ask me why I'm responding in such a way, then I clarify. I feel like overall this is more respectful, but it's also a lot better for my blood pressure. By doing things this way I'm not compromising my own views on Wicca, I'm not lying to myself or to others about what Wicca is, but I'm also not correcting people constantly. It's less tiring. I'm not butting in so much. 

I've deviated from the point - I didn't have to explain all that here, I guess. But I did. It's all related to the Identity issue; the terms you identify with become a part of who you are, and losing them is painful. It involves looking at yourself and realising you may have been seriously Wrong. It involves realising you may have been a bit of a dick, too. But a disruption in your personal identity can also lead to incredible growth. You can shed an old skin and grow a new one. I think from time to time, this sort of disruption is incredibly beneficial. That doesn't mean you should thank everyone who has an argument with you or anything, of course. And... maybe overall, not that many people grow. There are some people who are so attached to their old labels of identity that they won't let them go, and they stay static. They grow, but not in the same way. There's only so long you can hold on to a word that doesn't describe you. In the end, you're lying to yourself, and buying into the lies of others. 

Now. Me.

To begin with, I believed what I read; I thought only Wiccans were witches and that Wicca was whatever you wanted it to be. I read that if you felt like a Wiccan, and a witch, then you were one, so that's what I believed. (Oh the follies of youth -.-) I went in chat rooms and told people they couldn't be witches if they weren't Wiccans, because I was a fucking moron. Blah blah threefold law, etc. I can't remember anyone telling me off for it, which only goes to show I was probably talking to other fucking morons.

Then I realised that that wasn't really true, that you could be a non-Wiccan witch, and that there was eclectic Paganism beyond Wicca,. My world expanded a little. But I still thought I was a Wiccan. I started to identify more as a grey witch than a white one; I had always been an "occult" child and had trouble with the idea of the Rede from the get-go. My first idea was "how do I get around it?". I had no intentions of cursing anyone or anything like that, it was just an uncomfortable fit for me. But I kept with it because I didn't know there was a choice.

Then I started to feel like maybe I wasn't a Wiccan - or that maybe I shouldn't be. I discovered websites about "traditional witchcraft". Various types, but mostly the non-Ceremonial, non-Cochrane type, based on spirit work. No circles, no fancy rituals, nothing like that. And most of all, it wasn't related to the Rede. I made tables comparing Wicca to Trad craft, and ticked off the particular things I believed or did. I realised I was much closer aligned to Trad craft than my shitty misunderstanding of Wicca (let alone Wicca itself!) so I dropped the title. I wasn't a Wiccan. I was an Eclectic Pagan and a witch. And it was so incredibly freeing. I had been trying to force myself into a mould that didn't fit for way too long, and the realisation that I wasn't a Wiccan left me able to explore things I hadn't done before. It also meant that when I found out what Wicca actually was, I took to it easier than some as I wasn't identifying personally with the word.

It was around this time that I picked up "Exploring the Northern Tradition" by Krasskova. I'm sure I've gone into all of this elsewhere... but anyway. I picked it up because I felt as an eclectic Pagan I should be studying various different pantheons, even if I never worshipped any of them. There were a vast number and it felt a bit overwhelming, but I had always felt a Northern pull. The Norse gods had always sat next on my List of Gods to Research, after the Greeks. So I had a look. And then turned up, and had a look at me.

From this point it was a bit of a slow change. I incorporated more and more aspects of reconstruction into my practice. Gods I had previously worked with handed me over to the Norse gods; some I still honour from time to time, even now, but only a few. One in particular with whom I had worked closely let me go entirely, which was painful, but I think she did it because her time with me was over. She'd been watching me until I discovered Heathenry and then eased away, finally handing me over and then leaving. But it took me a long time to identify as a Heathen. I hung on to that "eclectic Pagan" identity longer than perhaps I should have, because I wanted the freedom of that eclecticism, and because I felt like I shouldn't identify with the term "Heathen" without being sure. For about two days I toyed with "Wiccatru" before realising it was a harsh insult and laughing about it. 

Of course, the problem with being an eclectic is that you're a bit rootless. You don't have that term to identify with that ties you to other people who believe the same things. If you're a Heathen you know other people who are Heathens worship the same gods in more or less the same way as you. If you're an eclectic, you don't have that. This was the sort of thing that I hated about being eclectic. I wanted that term to identify with. It gives you earth to root yourself in. It gives you an element of stability. I wanted that. But despite wanting that it still took me a long time to realise, yes, I was a Heathen. And having done so, it is as good as I thought it would be to identify with a specific religion, and know other people who identify with it are Folk of the same gods as you. That identity is fucking fab.

But if you've been reading this blog a while, you know there's another branch to how I identify. That other identity is "Hedgewitch". And I get pissy about this one, because for some reason some people think it means "witch who works alone" or "witch who has a garden" or something. Yes hedgewitches work alone, and some of them have gardens, but those things are hardly the defining aspects. If you're a hedgewitch, you cross the Hedge.

Before I had picked up the Krasskova book, I had been reading "Exploring Shamanism" by Hillary S Webb. To my everlasting shame, I had associated shamanism with First Nations and Native American religions. This book told me that instead it was more of a spiritual role and a practice; while anyone could practice shamanism, not everyone was a shaman. A shaman, said the book, fulfilled a particular role in the community. This wasn't a role I had much of an interest in filling, so thankfully I never identified as a shaman. (Which is good, because when I found out that the word was being appropriated and misused I would have felt pretty shitty.) Nevertheless this book both introduced me to a lot of things that... well, that I was already doing. It gave me some extra tools, and opened my eyes to extra ideas, but a lot of it was things I had been doing for years, even before I had discovered witchcraft or Paganism. They had become massive parts of my spirituality, and this book really expanded my understanding of what I had been doing. These things had always been, but then became even more of, an integral part of my craft.

Witchcraft is a big big area. I never felt right identifying as a "Traditional Witch" because the first sources I found about it were very... I hesitate to say fam-trad, but they were all about unbroken lines of practice from pre-Gardner times. Different families knew one another. It was how they identified, and honestly, I respected that to the point where the term didn't feel right to use. (Now, I tend to say something like "my craft is more a traditional type of witchcraft" or similar, even though I've discovered the term is a little wider than I had first thought.) But when you're a witch, and someone says "what type of witch?", you feel like there should be a concise way to answer. A type of witchcraft with which you identify. I wasn't Wiccan, or Dianic, or Seax, or Green, or Kitchen, or any of that. And so I started looking around at different terms. It wasn't that I wanted to find a specific sort of witchcraft to practice, but that I wanted to find a type of witchcraft that matched what I already did. While I searched, I toyed around with ideas. I liked "Border Witch", but never used it publicly because I was self-conscious about it, and felt a tad silly. But I kept looking. I discovered Hedgecraft, and realise it was more or less the Border-Witch term I had been identifying with already. It reflected the primary aspects of my craft. So I went with it.

There are other terms that contribute to my identity, Pagan-wise. First is "polytheist", because it's so central to my faith and practice, and always has been. Another is "animist", which is a fundamental part of who I've always been, but interestingly is not a word I really identify with.

There's the argument that labels limit, and tie you down. I can see where that would be the case, but I think also it gives you a place to work from. When it comes to Heathenry, it did me a great deal of good. When it comes to Hedgecraft... you know, I don't know why I like the term so much, or why it was important for me to have a particular sort of craft with which to identify. I think maybe it was a way of distancing myself from types of witchcraft with which I really did not identify, such as Wicca-flavoured witchcraft. In the modern world of witchcraft, to many people all witchcraft involves circles and the rede and so on. That is a part of things with which I do not identify at all, but in a lot of situations if you say you're a witch, that's what people will think. That's not me, and I really wanted to make that clear, I think. That's why a particular sort of witchcraft, a particular term that I identified with and that described my craft, was important for me to find.

I could talk about general Pagan identity and identifying as Pagan but seriously this is long enough as it is.

There are other aspects of my identity, of course. I'm speaking solely Pagan- and witchcraft-oriented here. One is "woman". Another is "writer", something that I have trouble with too because there's a part of a lot of writers that tells you you shouldn't identify as a writer until you've had something properly published, even though writing is a massive part of who you are.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I hate the new blogger interface with an unholy passion.

I hate it with the burning intensity of a thousand desert suns.

I hate it so much I am thinking of transferring my blog over to Wordpress just out of spite.

That is all.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

H is for Heathen

All right. So I committed myself to writing a post on Heathenry, and I'm going to do it. I'm not really looking forward to it just because it's probably going to be so loooooong and you know. You know how it is, readers.

So. Here we are, I suppose. I'm going to talk about what stuff I think you'd want to know, on a basic level, and link to other things I've written when I've gone into more detail on a subject elsewhere.

This has probably been done better elsewhere and by others, but nevertheless here it is. Enjoy.
(Also blogger keeps fucking up my spacing. What's the deal with that?)


Heathenry is, basically, Germanic reconstructionist religion. The degree to which each Heathen relies on reconstruction for crafting their religion will vary; personally I like the term "recon-derived" because there's a great deal of personal experience that I believe is relevant to the individual. Being hide-bound I think is a mistake. But we're not limited to that; while we can acknowledge our UPG is UPG, and not something anyone else is obliged to accept, it can still form a relevant part of our practice.

"Heathenry" is something of a minor umbrella term and encompasses sects such as Theodism, Asatru and Forn Sed (among others). There are Heathens who go for specific regional variations such as German, Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon Heathenry. Personally, I prefer the more general, as I feel like I can explore the different variations of belief without boxing myself in. Having said that, I do have a growing interest in Anglo-Saxon Heathenry.

Being a reconstructionist religion, we look to the past - through the lore, particularly the Eddas and Sagas; through history; through archaeology - to ground our faith and our practice. Heathenry is a revival; we want to recreate the religion of the Northmen, but we recognise that in doing so we are doing it in this world, not in theirs. Times have changed, the world has changed, cultures have changed. While we look to the past, ours is a living religion, so the past cannot hold all the answers.

Gods, etc.

Heathenry is polytheistic. Though this is the nature of Heathenry itself, there are certainly Heathens who are more agnostic, or who focus their worship on local wights and ancestors and only rarely honour gods. This has historical precedence and is therefore OK.

Non-god spirits of various types are actually an important element of the religion and give it tremendous texture, I've found. There's a great deal on various spiritual concepts to be dug into and uncovered by the intrepid Heathen beginner. Spirits are important, and they were important to our Heathen ancestors - perhaps more important than the gods on a day-to-day level.

I won't spend much time on this section. You know the gods. There's Oðinn, and Thor, and Freyr, and Frigg. And Loki - though a caveat on Loki. You know me, I adore Him. Some others do not. There are claims that Loki was not historically worshipped (which I say is suspect - there's enough post-Heathen folklore that honours or calls on Loki that the idea that he was never worshipped seems a bit ridiculous to me). Others appear to be outright afraid of Him, or viciously angry at Him, or both. He has been called homophobic slurs to my face. At any rate, suffice it to say, it is generally wise, if in the company of Heathens you do not know well, to refrain from raising the horn to Him, just in case. For the most part, though, I think many people tend to just be wary of Him and that is fair enough.

I've written several posts as a part of 30 Days of Paganism on Heathen deities, if you'd like to see my personal take on some of the gods.  


There are forms of magic within Heathenry, but let me start off by saying that not every (or in fact, not most) Heathens are interested in using magic themselves. It's not a major aspect of the religion as it is in some forms of Paganism, such as Wicca wherein every practitioner is also a witch.

Some major forms of magic are:
Rune-magic, in which one inscribes (or intones) a rune to invoke its energies;
Seiðr, sort of what one might describe as "Norse shamanism" just to simplify shit;
Galdr, a type of singing magic (although some people use this term to describe intoning rune-names too);
Spae-craft, which more or less refers to divination.

At this point I would refer you to a totally awesome website about Northern magic that I used to pop into every so often but it appears to be down. Damnit.

The Runes are a topic unto themselves, which I will tackle at a later date, when this PBP rolls around to R. The quick version is: They are sacred Mysteries, that can be invoked to create magic, and can be drawn as lots as a form of divination. Whether or not one uses magic, I think Runes are a fascinating subject to study and that they can give real insight into Heathenry as a religion, so I reckon every Heathen would benefit from spending some time with the Runes, if only briefly.


I've actually gone into Heathen ritual in some detail here. I'm not keen on going over it in detail again; the basic ritual or blót involves sharing a food or drink sacrifice with the gods (or wights, or ancestors, etc). Many Heathen groups also hold "sumbels", formal drinking parties and feasts, which involve three rounds (sometimes more) of toasting. It's said that anything said in sumbel affects the wyrd all present, and in particular an oath you make in sumbel will affect all those present if broken. You will be held to it! and if you break your word, you'll have to make it up to people. A blót you can hold yourself, but a sumbel is more of a group thing, so it's not something I have personally experienced.


Heathen ethics revolve around personal responsibility, honour and hospitality. We take our guidance and inspiration from the Havamal. In Heathenry, there aren't really "rules" as such. Different kindreds will have rules, of course, and acceptable vs unacceptable behaviour. But for the most part, it's essentially more about responsibility and about valued virtues than it is about "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots". One tries to live an honourable life, and to live up to the values of Germanic cultures. (Of course, things like murder and the breaking of oaths are heavily frowned upon. How you act will reflect how you are treated by others, e.g., thrown in jail for the rest of your life.) The focus is on living well, and living Tru.

Some groups codify these values into the "Nine Noble Virtues" or NNV. To be honest, I think this list is pretty arbitrary. It's apparently mostly gleaned from the Havamal but there are some major virtues from the Havamal that are stressed - friendship, wit, moderation - that do not appear in the NNV. I don't really think we need such a simplistic list, when we have the great bulk of lore to draw from and to inspire us.


Heathenry as a whole is more focused on living well than on the possibilities of the afterlife. But having said that, the dead, whether one actively believes they still exist as entities, are an element of Heathen practice. We honour the ancestors, we remember the heroes. There are a variety of beliefs too on what precisely the afterlife involves, be it the warriors in Valhalla or in Fólkvangr, those in Hel, spirits residing in burial mounds, or in mountains, or family spirits who sort of stick around to watch over the family such as the Dísir. Suffice it to say that the dead remain a part of life: referred to, remembered, and loved.

See my entry on the Dísir for more on those entities particularly, and H.E. Davidson's "Road to Hel" for a look at the various afterlife beliefs of the Germanic peoples.

Our sources on afterlife destinations may have been influenced by the Christian recorders, so whether or not there is an aspect of a place of punishment to Helheim is something I for one am highly sceptical about. At any rate, we don't live and act in the hopes of gaining a good afterlife or avoiding a bad one. Heathens live to be remembered well by those living. The Havamal says:
Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die, --
fair fame of one who has earned.

- Havamal 75, trans. Bray
...the idea being that if you live well, then you will live on in the memories of those left behind. This is really the primary idea. Even Heathens who don't necessarily believe in an afterlife seem to adhere to this idea that great deeds, great love, great friendships, bring a sort of immortality.


Wyrd is sort of the Norse version of fate. But fate that's sort of interactive.

I find a metaphor is the easiest way of explaining it. Think of everything like a tapestry. All the people are threads. Certain things are set: you can't control the colour of your thread (your personality) or where you start in the tapestry (your family, your country, the time of your birth), and there's an over-arching pattern to the point where at certain points, your thread has to cross. It has to be at certain places in order for the pattern to work. But aside from that, your thread can wander. As your thread wanders, the secondary patterns form. Once they're woven, though, they're set. You can't undo it if it makes a mess. And everywhere your thread wanders will change those secondary patterns. Each decision you make reflects in the pattern, and if your thread crosses in a particular way, it will mean another thread cannot. So your thread and your patterns affect the threads around you, and their lives, their patterns, their choices. It ripples out, no matter who you are. Your thread and its place in the pattern is your wyrd - or sometimes called your orlog, which is essentially another word for the same idea - and even the gods have one.

This idea may seem a bit "mystic" in comparison to the more "practical" aspects of Heathenry, but it relates to the idea of living well. You can't change parts of your orlog, parts of your destiny. The only thing you can change is how you respond to them. Like the gods meeting their own fates at Ragnarok, will you stand tall and courageous? The Havamal (71) reminds us that it's better to be alive than dead, but if you're going to die either way, die well.

There's no "karma" in Heathenry. Wyrd has been compared to karma, which to me is weird because even with the Western bastardisation of the term I can't see what they really have in common.


The primary days of celebration are Yule (held at midwinter) and Midsummer, but there are others, such as Thorrablót, Freyfaxi, Dísablót, and Ostara. The Troth has an eight-spoke wheel of major celebrations similar to (but not the same as) the popular Neo-Pagan "Wheel of the Year". Aside from Yule, what you celebrate, and how, is more or less up to you; you honour who you honour at each celebration based on what the holiday means to you and/or your kindred. We look to historical precedence, we look to what the Northmen were doing at that time of year, as to how we choose to celebrate. I had great trouble for a long time because I wasn't sure who I was meant to be honouring at each holiday. I had a look around the internet, and realised that different groups were honouring different gods, and for slightly different reasons. In different places, the Dísir were honoured at different times of year, and that's still true today, with different groups choosing different holidays on which to honour these entities or to particularly stress their worship.

I like that. It gives Heathenry an element of "folk religion", of personal variation. I think that lends to it being a "living religion". The important thing is that you take the time to worship, and to celebrate. Having said that, there are some general themes about who to honour when. Freyja tends to get worshipped in late spring and summer, Oðinn in winter.

Some people hold "Days of Remembrance" for Heathen heroes and martyrs, generally on the 9th of each month. I tend to forget about them, to be honest. I don't think it's something many Heathens actively do. If actually remember on the 9th, I'll tend to reflect on the hero in question, maybe read some of their saga or look them up in a book or online, rather than pour a glass of mead for them.

For more, or for some ideas, there are several websites that list various holidays across the year, and speak about who they worship at these times and why.

Groups and Priesthood

The basic group - which I suppose you could compare to the "coven" or "grove" in other religions - is called a kindred. Different kindreds work in different ways; there's no real set rules to how they should be constructed or how they should function, at least not that I know of. Kindreds that are part of a larger group such as the Asatru Folk Assembly or the Troth may have particular rules of structure or behaviour that they have to adhere to for their kindred to be listed as a member-kindred of the organisation. Some kindreds have set leaders, corresponding perhaps to a High Priest/ess in other religions; other kindreds are more egalitarian and different people may lead different rituals.

A kindred will celebrate, feast and worship together at particular times of the year, assembling for holy-days, blóts and rites of passage. Often different members of the group will specialise in particular "Heathen skills" - brewing, smithing, poetry, spae-craft - and contribute these skills to the group and to individual members.

Some Heathen organisations run a priesthood program. But on a basic level, the priest is more or less the head of the household. Heathen priests are called goði (sometimes Anglicised as gothi or godhi) and priestesses are gyðja (gythia, gydhia). The goði or god-person is basically someone who has formed a close relationship with a deity, who leads a ritual and who has a good and thorough knowledge of the lore. Historically, the person leading the ritual was often the chieftain or head of the household, and there is no standard system for what makes a goði across the religion. A person considered a goði in one organisation won't necessarily be considered so elsewhere. In practice it's often a title of affection and respect for the leader of a kindred.

For those interested, Diana Paxson includes a fictionalised kindred in her book "Essential Asatru" at the beginning of each chapter. I have never personally been a member of a kindred and so can't comment much.

Race: Folkish vs Universalist Heathenry

Let's start by saying that some Heathen groups and organisations are racist. Some individuals are racist. Some individuals even use Heathenry as an excuse for their racism. Within Heathenry there are Neo-Nazis. Within Heathenry also there are many, many individuals who are actively speaking out against racism. Heathenry is NOT a racist religion, or a race-based religion. There are however particular groups that may not accept certain people based on their skin colour, ancestry or ethnicity.

There is this idea that Heathenry is an ancestral religion, and that one should only be a Heathen if one's ancestors were Heathen. I think this is silly, firstly because most of my more recent ancestors were Christians, and secondly because I don't see any historical precedence for non-Northern Europeans not being allowed to worship the gods. The Vikings travelled widely and traded happily with all sorts of people. Fostering and adoption were an aspect of the culture, so I have no problem with the idea of adopting someone into the culture. I can see it being more difficult for someone outside of a Germanic, Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon cultural base to acclimatise to the religion, in the same way that I would have a bit more trouble with Greek, Kemetic or Celtic religions, but that doesn't mean it is impossible or that they shouldn't try. 

Our ideas of race, of "White" and "Black" and so on, are quite modern ideas. It's unlikely the palaeo-Pagan Heathens thought about things that way at all, and the more I become acquainted with different European cultures then and now, the more ideas of race seem.... ridiculously limited. And arbitrary. And silly.

Anyway. The term "Folkish" implies that "the folk", that is, Heathens, should be of the same race or basic culture. Some people are Folkish but more or less easy-going about it. Others are very angry and aggressive, hateful people. (It's like in Heathenry, fluff takes two varieties: the ones who ignore history and involve a thick layer of New-Ageism, and the ones who ignore history and turn Heathenry into this giant racist, homophobic hate-fest.) The other end of the spectrum is Universalism: the idea that there are no ancestral or blood ties to the religion and that anyone can join. Personally I'm somewhere between the middle and Universalism: I think that one is more likely to find one's home in a religion that one shares cultural roots with, but if one is called to Heathenry, one is called to Heathenry, regardless of the colour of one's skin or who one's parents are or what country one lives in. Overall I just try to avoid that whole "folkish vs universalist" thing because all the yelling makes me sad.

TL;DR: You don't have to be white to be a Heathen, but not every group will accept you with open arms.

Why "Heathen"?

The worshippers of Germanic gods were called "Heathens" by their Christian contemporaries. Admittedly, this was mostly because they were the only Pagans still hanging around at the time. Other Pagans may well have been called "Heathens" also. But hey. We are resurrecting the word, and claiming it.
I have heard that the word was used back in the 1970s as a Germanic-root alternative to the Latin-root "Pagan", and came to mean this specific Pagan religion. Now many Heathens describe themselves as both Heathen and Pagan, with Heathenry being the name of a Pagan religion. Others still reject the "Pagan" moniker (but I haven't come across many such people, to be honest).

Outside of the context of Paganism, "Heathen" is still used as a synonym for "Pagan" and that's fine. Inside the context of Paganism, if you identify as a "Heathen" you will get a lot of people assuming you are a Germanic recon polytheist. Technically even if you're not, you'd still be right, but those assumptions will be made, so thorough is the association with the term Heathen. Likewise if you lived on a heath you would also be correct.

Some Slavic and Finnish Pagans identify as "Heathens" also. Honestly as far as I'm concerned that's fine by me. As long as everyone's clear about what they mean.

Further Information

This has been a very basic overview. I have tried to keep it general across Heathenry, but there are a lot of variations I'm not fully familiar with. There are aspects of this article that some Heathens will disagree with. And that's fine. I've been a Heathen for maybe five years now, at most, though it took me a while to start identifying as one. I'm only a beginner, and I have a great deal to learn still. At a later date, I may expand this. I keep feeling like I've missed something.
Further major posts of mine on Heathen subjects:
All this and more at the Heathenry tag
Beginners' resources:
"Essential Asatru" by Diana L. Paxson
"True Hearth" by James Allen Chisholm
Poetic Edda (various translations)
Prose Edda (various translations)

Further resources:
"Our Troth" vol. I and II by various authors
"Elves, Wights and Trolls" by Kveldulf Gundarsson
"Gods and Myths of Northern Europe" by H.E. Davidson
"Road to Hell" and in fact practically anything by H.E. Davidson
The many and assorted Sagas

There's much, much more to read and go digging into, but I'm not going to list everything here, at least not today.

Monday, April 16, 2012

H is for Hammer

So, I woke up to discover I had 12 more blogger followers, and my daily pageviews had jumped to 600. My first instinct is to panic and run around flailing my arms. But all the feedback so far has been great, so thanks everyone! :D

So. H is for Hammer.

The Hammer is a primary symbol of Heathenry. The Hammer Mjolnir is Thor's primary weapon, and a symbol of him specifically. I have spoken of Thor before and how he is, in a sense, everyman's god. I find it difficult to believe anyone could actively dislike him. He is just such a good chap! He is also the Protector of Midgard, and of humankind, so for many Heathens it's the preferred symbol for religious jewellery. (The precedence - pre-conversion Heathens wearing the Hammer in response to the Christian Cross - helps also.) When one puts on the Hammer, one feels Thor's protection and favour. It's a good feeling. It's used in decoration, too, such as on banners, altars or drinking horns. Historically the Hammer was sometimes drawn or carved on stones erected for ritual purposes, with a written request for Thor to hallow it, and that sort of use filters down to us. (For the record, I don't do that much, as I am not artistically gifted and just make a cock-up of it.) Some also make "the sign of the Hammer", either ritually, or in jest. This is like the sign of the cross a priest might make in blessing over a churchgoer, but the horizontal bar goes along the bottom of the vertical one. (I have no idea the origins of this practice. It's not something I really do, unless I'm feeling a little amused at myself.) 

A Hammer as a ritual tool - or altar object, or whatever - I think is something of a new thing. It's an aspect of modern Heathenry, but not as far as we know of old-school Heathenry. But I see nothing wrong with that, myself. Not everyone can afford an Oath Ring to keep on one's shrine, so having something like a hammer is more obtainable for many people. And hey, it's long been a symbol of Heathen faith, so it's a pleasant thing to have. Different Heathens and different Kindreds will use it in different ways. It is however an object of hallowing, of blessing, so is often used at the beginning of rites in some way, particularly to ask Thor's blessing.

I have one. I found it on an auction site for $1. Apparently the man listing it had intended to list it for more, but had made a mistake. He was good enough not to hold it against me, cancel the sale or anything like that. I took it as an omen of sorts. It's an aged thing, and it seems to have been used, perhaps in carpentry. For this reason I think there are a few Heathens who would frown on it, as it's not a war weapon but a tool, and one that has been used. It's a fair enough criticism. But seriously guys it has "THOR" written on the side I pretty much HAD to get it. (Yes, I realise "THOR" is probably the brand, but I'm not one to look the gift horse in the mouth.)

So, that is the Hammer that lives on my altar. It is worn, but I rather like that. I like that it had a history, that someone's hands smoothed the handle. I am fond of it, and I start every blót by placing my hand upon it as I ask Thor to hallow the rite. 

The other Hammer in my life is my pendant. It is small, and I think the design is more of a modern one, but I like it. I don't wear it very often. 

I'd like to have more, too. I'm not sure I would wear any on what you might call a regular basis - I wear religious jewellery when I feel moved to do so. I like the feeling of consciousness of the gods or the sacred when I wear a piece of religious jewellery, and I think wearing something full-time would either be exhausting, or would remove some of that feeling of being conscious. But, seeing as this one is small and more on the delicate side, a larger more "grunty" Hammer pendant might be nice too. Just so one has the option.

Here is an essay on the wearing of Mjolnir pendants. It goes into various stories about Mjolnir also, such as its forging. Worth reading, if you're interested.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

101, and Lengthy Metaphors

I'm writing a "Paganism 101" post for my tumblr, and in doing so I'm opening some of the old Ravenwolf books. Why would I do such a thing, you ask? Well, to tell you the truth, I've actually forgotten what 101 might entail. And no one is more 101 than Ravenwolf, as we all know, so that's where I'm going. At the same time, I have my trusty scissors and craft knife; if nothing else, some of her title fonts or diagrams might be useful for cutting and pasting into my own Book of Shadows or other notebooks. Saves learning to draw, amiright?

So, here I am. When you open "Solitary Witch: Book of Shadows for the New Generation" you find (after the deliciously ironic dedication to Hutton and equally ironic comment about practising witchcraft honourably) the first topic: blessings. She just jumps right into it. A totally bizarre thing to start one's book with, but not a totally weird subject for a Paganism 101 post, so why not? I gave Ravenwolf's comments on the subject a puzzled once-over, pushed it aside and wrote something else. In doing so, I got thinking. What is 101? What is the appeal of 101? And why does Ravenwolf have like four pages of her crappy attempts at poetry? I mean is anyone actually going to read and use these "blessings"? 

And it occurred to me. These things are symptomatic. Witchcraft and Paganism are not easy. Whether or not you're a recon, whether or not you're an eclectic, you will be studying hard. You will be also relying a great deal on your own feelings and experiences, and you will be comparing those to the things you've learned from history, archaeology and lore. The difficulties of witchcraft are another thing altogether. Like it or not, unless you consider yourself mostly a lay-person who rarely worships, this stuff takes time and effort.

You're writing a blessing. You want it to sound good, but there are also things that have to be said. You're asking a particular god for their blessing, so you have to look to the appropriate cultural way to organise a blessing. Does it clash with your own personal taboos? How can you respectfully work around that - or should you? Maybe you're blessing your altar. Are you asking a god for help with that, or are you doing the making-holy yourself? If you're blessing it in a god's name, does this mean it's off-limits for worshipping deities they don't get along with, or deities from other pantheons? 

The Ravenwolf-type says "you don't need effort. I've done it for you". Of course, she hasn't done. She's scribbled a few garbled lines of shitty poetry, and tried to make a sentiment best said as simply "thank you" last for six lines. Why. Tell me why.

It's remarkable to look back, actually, on this sort of thing and see how very far she missed the point. In a way I feel quite bad for people who pick up her books and try, for e.g., the Cakes and Ale Communion and don't really feel anything. It's because the ritual significance has been stripped away. Ravenwolf's C&A is a poor approximation of an element of Wiccan ritual, and without the history, without the ritual, it's just... nothing much. It's paper.

This wasn't meant to be a Ravenwolf rant. We all know the problems with Ravenwolf. Many of us are past it - it's just a joke now, we don't really care. The bitterness and anger have seeped away. This isn't about Ravenwolf. I guess it's partly about the way the Pagan publishing world goes about reaching out to the newbies, and partly about a certain number of newbies who.... don't really bother. It's not that they're not interested. They are. They might be really, really into it. And it's not even that they're lazy. Maybe it's that they're afraid. Afraid of the hard work, afraid of how BIG Paganism is and that they might end up lost, or getting into something they don't really understand. Maybe afraid of the gods. Afraid that it's all real. Afraid of what they'll discover when they really start getting into it. But Ravenwolf (and others) are comfortable. Everything is laid out. Do this, this and this and you'll be a Witch, "the fastest growing religion in America today!". 

The issue, though, when everything is laid out, everything is visible... is that there's nothing underneath it. You lift it up and look for its roots, and there's nothing there. Everything has been shorn away. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. "Book of Shadows" takes on a whole new meaning: silhouette but no substance.

My difficulty with writing a Paganism 101 was only partly because I didn't remember any of it. The other part was that Paganism is big.

I love that Paganism is big. You know this. I love all the differences. I love learning about how different religions do different things. It's rich and it's amazing. But I don't want to make any assumptions when it comes to people who might be reading it. What are they into? In which direction are they going? How can I explain, say, how to hold ritual when ritual is held in so many different ways? There are dozens of different ways one might hold a blessing, after all. So, I gave tips. Go forth, I said, and check the ways in which things were done before. Check cultural ideas of cleanliness and holiness. Check taboos. Be aware. 

I posted this, and then I sat back and read over it, and I thought: Is this what people want to see? When they ask for 101 information, is this what they expect to be given? I'm not really telling them much. I'm mostly telling them to go and find out for themselves. In many ways this is what Paganism entails - in fact it's what a lot of religions entail. Going Forth to discover things, one way or the other, for yourself. It's not information so much as instruction. Have I said anything of interest here? Will people read this and think "oh, that's interesting" or will they get annoyed and think "she hasn't really said anything"?

But what can I say? Even posting a list of uses for colours can change in not insignificant ways from one culture to another. I saw someone not long ago associating purple with modesty. Purple! The colour of royalty! I was quite astounded. But that is colour correspondences for you: they change from person to person, from culture to culture. So what's the point? I can't post a list of correspondences. All I can do is say "Make a list for yourself." Or why even make a list? You can access your own feelings about colours (or whatever) any time you like. Writing them down would just be a personal exercise.

So what's the point in 101? What can one say? Where does one start? How can you work within Paganism and its broadness, but give people something they weren't already aware of before discovering Paganism? And, maybe more importantly, when people ask for 101, what are they asking for? 

Reader, if you are new, and seeking 101, please tell me, what is it you seek? Genuinely, I wish to know. What types of things make you happy when you find them? Is it direction you want, or structure, or are you more keen on information? Are you happier with a list of books or with a book of lists?

If people are happy boating around in the Bay of 101, with no intent of ever heading out into the changeable waters of the Pagan Ocean, should I tell them to bother? If people are going to read my advice to go out and look at the lore, and think "no".... maybe they just shouldn't. Maybe there's no point in talking to them at all. Maybe in a few years they'll become atheists again. Or maybe they'll just stay in the Bay of 101 forever, and occasionally glance out to sea with a sense of both wistfulness and foreboding, and see a distant ship.

What do they think about this ship? Maybe to them it's some foreign, odd thing; something they want nothing to do with. It has strange shapes on it, and strange things go on aboard. It's not their sort of ship, and the crew are not their sort of people. Maybe they look at it and think it's actually in the Bay, and they are the ones at sea. Maybe they see a ship that perhaps they'd like to be a part of, but there's so much water between them, and they don't think they could ever get there. So they stay in the Bay, in their little row boat. Or maybe they look out to the horizon and they don't see anything at all. All they see is the Bay, reflected back at them.

Is it best to hail the boats in the Bay? Can we send back messages by semaphore, telling them of the wonderful things we have seen - and will they care, if we do? That is to say, should we bother? There will always be a nay-sayer or three who will tell us no creature could be so preposterous as the platypus we speak of, and we must be making it up. But if they have no wish to sail the seas, they won't go and see for themselves. And if one doesn't disclose, possibly one will be accused of keeping secrets. Like the Good Ship Wicca, that sails to a place that can't be described, and must be visited for oneself. "Secrets for the sake of secrets!" some cry. "It's the same as so many other islands," insist others. But the Good Ship Wicca does not share its maps, and will only take on board people it trusts.

Can you tell how much I am enjoying this metaphor? It is a fucking awesome metaphor. I haven't even started on the Viking Longboats yet. (They board other ships, plunder their gold and rape all their women, obviously.)

I am thinking back to when I was new, and what I wanted from things. I think when I began... I was sure there was a secret somewhere and I wanted to find it. I started with witchcraft, you know. That's what pulled me in. The Paganism became sort of a parallel branch. When I grew tired of the basic crust that was the 101 I knew, I tried to dig and had trouble breaking the surface. It took me a while to navigate back towards a more traditional, more, shall we say, occulty witchcraft with which I found some degree of satisfaction. With the spring thaw the ground became more easy to dig. I have much more digging to do before I find the secret, but I've found some secrets already, and I know I'm on the right track. Sort of. Well, the right general area, anyway. There's no geofizz in this metaphor so it's hard to be sure. And the Paganism thing? Well, that's much easier. People have been here before, and they've started excavating. I know where I am here. There are maps and sketches. It just took me a few years to work out where the dig site was. When I was new, I wanted to dig. I wanted the deep dark secrets. I also wanted them presented to me on a silver platter, but I think the hunger was there. I knew the silver platter was probably not forthcoming, but it would have been nice.

As an aside, I know I owe you a PBP post for this week. Unless I am caught in a fit of blog-writing madness tomorrow it will probably be on Hammer instead of Heathenry because damn I am feeling lazy this week. I also finished my little... charm.... thing, which I will show you anon. It is quite nifty but I'm not sure it is working. Either that or my brain has worked out a way to ignore it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for Gratitude, Gebo and Generosity

I've been doing a lot of reading through Pagan forums today. For the most part, I don't really like what I see. I think many Pagans have this tendency to avoid proper, in-depth discussions. Maybe that's a symptom of the breadth of the Pagan umbrella, but at any rate to the casual observer it really doesn't look like Pagans are all that "serious". Which is daft because when you look a little closer, there are all these pictures of altars, all this dedication. So you wonder, is this people playing at Pagan and having fun ritually? What do you do in these rituals? Or is this just a lack of desire to speak about some of the more heavy topics?

Despite this I know Gratitude is going to be a big one in the PBP world. I actually wasn't going to write about it myself, as it's one of those "soft and squishy" topics I'd rather avoid. But when I was reading through those forums, I was seeing a lot of really.... shallow discussions, and I feel like gratitude is one of those day-to-day things that gives religious practice a little texture. It's not about flashy ritual or about witchy questions or sharing your favourite robe colour or anything like that. So maybe I will discuss it after all. It doesn't need to be soft and squishy. And it's actually terribly important.

I think gratitude is an aspect of most Pagan religions, whether or not is of primary importance. Many Pagans give offerings as a reflection of their love for and gratitude to the gods - if nothing else, we can be grateful for the presence of the gods in our lives. But I'm going to discuss gratitude mainly in the context of Heathenry, because this is where it is most familiar to me.

I feel like all Heathens should spend some time with the runes. Even if you've no interest in magic or divination, some of the rune-poems contain what I believe to be important lessons about Heathen culture and religion.

There's a sizeable number of Heathens for whom the Nine Noble Virtues are terribly important. I know a great many who have no time for them, and would rather just go to the Havamal; I've also met one or two who will say you are not an Asatruar if you don't follow and hold as important the Nine Noble Virtues. One of these virtues is "Self-Reliance". Now it's true that being able to rely on the self is important, but this is to a point. It's not a sign of weakness to acknowledge you can't do everything. You can't do everything. But you don't have to. Most of us live in a society in which there are people who will do things for us, in exchange for a fee, so we don't have to try to be our own electrician and die in the process. Not everyone at the feast is a skald. Not everyone at the feast is a warrior. Not everyone at the feast cooked the damn feast. We contribute together in a society. And when we look at the NNV we see, just as often as self-reliance, talk of generosity. Of hospitality (another NNV virtue). Of sharing with a friend. Of sharing with those in need. And you get more of this in rune-poems, such as those for Fehu and, importantly, Gebo.

Gebo means "gift", and it's tied up with gratitude.

Gebo isn't just the item given, but the act of giving. In Heathenry our contract and kinship with the gods are important, and this act of giving ties us together. It's a Mystery of major importance to us. The exchange of gifts cements relationships, it acknowledges the worth of others, and it is, simply, a pleasing thing to do. For the Northmen, generosity is important. Giving freely. 

Gift is an honour and grace of men / a support
and adornment, and for any exile / mercy
and sustenance when he has no other.
 - trans. Stephen Pollington

 "Gift" here - it could be an actual gift, or it could be the gratitude and the bonds of friendship and kinship between us and the gods, us and the spirits, us and the ancestors. For me, I think it's an aspect of all of these things. The bond we share with the sacred can keep us going in hard times, as can the blessings of the gods. But I think it's also about generosity: about sharing what we have with those who have nothing. I think this is reflected in the tendency in modern Scandinavia towards socialism. What is a gift, and what does it mean? What does it mean to the giver, and the one who receives it?

When I originally studied Gebo (a rune which my mind continually refers to as "Gyfu", its Old English name) my first thought was of a man sent out into exile with a token or item he had once received as a gift, giving him solace and strength in his time of need. Gifts mean more than just the item. They are thought and affection, they are shared time together. 

Men's generosity is a grace and an honour,
A support and glory,
and help and sustenance to any outcast,
Who is deprived of them.
 - trans. R.I. Page

Hospitality is terribly important in Heathenry. The man who can afford to be generous, though he is poor, is the man admired - not the rich miser. 

Even the shape of the rune seems to symbolise bonds built upon the giving and receiving of gifts and of generous hospitality. To feel gratitude is to show generosity; to receive generosity is to show gratitude. And, for my part, one of the most beautiful and spiritually rewarding aspects of Heathenry is simply sharing a glass of mead with the gods. Bonds are build. Friendships are formed. Love is found. We ask for things we need, and pour the mead. We thank the gods for their gifts, and pour the mead. And the act of drinking something dedicated to and shared with the gods is an intensely rewarding and moving experience.

This is all tied up with gratitude not simply because we are thankful when we receive a gift or blessing, but because in Heathenry a gift deserves a gift. If someone is generous to us, we return the favour. Saying "thank you" is good but it is only part of the equation; we return hospitality with hospitality, we thank the gods for their blessings, their love and their gifts with a gift - an offering, a sacrifice, an act - in return. This is an aspect of the whole thing, a major part of the whole tapestry of the religion. Without gratitude, and without Gebo, it falls apart.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Hey all. 

I try to post here twice a week - like, I feel a bit weird just writing one PBP post after another. (Speaking of blog meme-y things, I haven't posted a 30 Days of Paganism in forever. Maybe I'll toss one of those up next week.)

Today has been hot. Like, nasty, sticky hot. My general theme is to hold a Winterfinding on the first really cold day after the Autumnal Equinox; for me, it's about acknowledging the oncoming cold, about pausing and recognition. And, for me, it's a time of anticipation: while I might complain about the cold, late autumn is my favourite time of year, and I look forward to winter. I like fires in the fireplace, and chilly nights, and frosty mornings. I used to love living in Dunedin because of the cold, and the crispness of a late autumn day. Not so up here in the sub-tropics, but it's still not an unpleasant time of year. Except this year because apparently it is the middle of summer again. Ridiculous. I won't end up holding Winterfinding until May or something.

By the way, I've mentioned tumblr a few times - this is my Pagan-specific tumblr and this is my general one, if you wanted to follow me or shoot me an ask or whatever. (I feel sort of odd mentioning it and tying things together in this way, even though I've linked Hagstone a few times on both of those tumblrs.) Tumblr has been good to me: I've seen some links I personally didn't post floating around, and someone quoted a big chunk of the FAQ which was really cool to see. AND NO ONE BITCHED ABOUT MY DEFINITIONS FOR "WICCA" OR "DRUID" which was amazing. I expected to look at the notes and see rage. But no rage! In fact someone mentioned that I hadn't included "panentheism" upon which I thought "what what?!" and had a look and I hadn't, so I went and added it in. I edited a few other bits too. I need to remember, with stuff like that, to keep going back and modifying things, as sometimes I come across new information and need to work that in, correct old errors and so on. Anyway my point is, the tumblr community is pretty cool, cheers to those who have stopped by. ♥

Today has been a day of hideous procrastination. I'm here typing out this pointlessness for you guys, and I haven't written anything or gotten any exercise yet, and it's already technically tomorrow. I'm thinking of making some sort of... gris-gris type thing to hang across from me and remind me to keep on track. I don't even know what it would be yet, I have like a sort of shape of it in my mind, it'd have bits hanging off it and lots of string all tied up in knots, maybe resembling a miniature shamble or something. To drag me back on track whenever my eyes happen to rest on it. "Oh right" I shall think and with its prodding and motivation I shall return to my efforts.

I will give it a try. If it works out I'll let you know. I might even take a picture of it for you. 

This weekend it is chocolate day and I bet you're all excited for the chocolate. Me, I'm going to hold out and buy a whole heap half-price on Monday. (Well that's a lie, I will probably eat some of it on Sunday. I might get a Lindt bunny. Lindt does amazing chocolate and I am fucking mad for those little bells. BELLS.)

Now I shall run away, and get some exercise done before it becomes 5am or something. Expect another PBP post soon. I have no idea what I'll be doing. I think I'll do a big post on Heathenry for one of the Hs, which might take a long long time to write but I am excited to do it. I haven't written a giant-ass post on Heathenry for the blog yet. It'll be good times.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

G is for Gods

I believe in the gods.

I believe in them as actual, living, breathing entities. (Well... I don't know if they breathe as such. You know.) And this was something I believed upon discovering modern Paganism, Way Back When. This was actually a little difficult for me, because everyone I talked to and every book I picked up believed something totally different. 

I remember talking to a friend about rain gods, and whether she knew the names of any. She almost rolled her eyes at me, and said "You know it doesn't matter. Just make up a name. It's all the same." I was affronted. I told her I didn't believe that, and that it mattered to me. But every book was soft polytheistic. Every book was about aspects and names, and that was something I could never really wrap my head around.

Later on, when I started browsing the internet more for information, I joined Covenspace. I don't know what it's like now - I left a while ago, because there were only about three people active on it. (Actually, I see it has changed its name to "witchbook" and changed its style to ridiculously dark. Because apparently black with red pentacles is how you know it's "witchy"...? Paganspace is the same way. I hate this dark theme in Pagan community spaces, it's like they're trying to tap into the 13 year old girl demographic or something. It's hard on the eyes. A little style, please, people? this is embarrassing.) But I had one discussion in particular that sticks in my mind. I had popped onto the page of an older Pagan - one of your general Goddess Worshipper types, middle-aged or a little later. Whatever the conversation was, I piped up and identified as a hard polytheist. 

You know what the response was? She said "don't worry dear, once you've been practising a while longer you'll come to realise all the gods are just facets of the Goddess".

I was pretty offended. But I also felt immensely discouraged, because this was a belief that I was very strong on, and there seemed to be very few other Pagans who believed it. No, I didn't take her condescension to heart and start thinking I wasn't enlightened enough (although I did start thinking that someone who had been practising for 20 years should be a bit more enlightened herself, or at least a little less of a rude bitch). But it was one of those things that upset and annoyed me for a good long time.

Of course, this was before I discovered Heathenry. That was a breath of fresh air. Ha, you know, I had been warned away from Asatru by other Pagans I met in passing. The term "Asatru" had taken on something of a dark sheen; apparently it was harsh, the people were mean, and it was tantamount to black magic. It's quite hilarious looking back on it and the idea other people gave me of the religion. Of course once I got into it it became sort of apparent that Heathens are perceived as mean because little shits are horrible about what they hold sacred, and they get cross. But that's neither here nor there... the relevant thing about Heathenry as relates to this discussion was that, glory be, they believed in their gods as individual entities. 

By this stage I had more or less gotten past my disgust with the Covenspace brigade and started looking into Traditional Witchcraft. I had rejected the label of "Wiccan" and embraced my eclecticism, and felt freed from the restraints of a religion that had never really fit. I was feeling much more satisfied in myself, and discovering a whole bunch of people who were also polytheists made me feel that much better about things. Variety! Happy days.

Anyway. This is deviating. I'm giving a backstory instead of discussing gods. (By the way, I'm only discussing gods because I can't think of anything else particularly satisfying that starts with the letter G.) But, let's go back to the beginning, because there's something important to mention...

I started out with books that thought, and told me, they were about Wicca. I think most people do. As mentioned, I disagreed with the usual stance of soft-polytheism. But I was still presented with two gods who didn't fit into any other pantheon: a Great Goddess, and a Horned God. The books I was reading (gods curse them) presented a prehistoric origin for these deities, one that had survived underground for millennia. I was already vaguely familiar with the "Matriarchal Pre-history" idea, so this seemed like New and Fascinating information. I took to the worship of these two deities alongside others that I learned of and spoke with.

Learning that this was a lie... well, it did bother me, a great deal, but not in relation to the two Deities. I knew Them and had worshipped Them for a couple of years at this point. It didn't really occur that such a realisation might impact on that. But if I didn't agree with soft polytheism, and there was no "Witch-cult in Western Europe", where did that leave Them? Were They the gods of Wicca?

I'm not sure how long it took me to put proper thought into this. Maybe a long time. And of course I have no way to truly ascertain whether They are the gods of the Wica or not. I strongly suspect They are not, from talking to Wiccans and reading material written by Wiccans, but I'll never really know. Perhaps Wiccans worship Them also, but in a different way to myself. 

That hasn't answered the question, though. It only adds another one. If They are not the gods of Wicca, then who are They?

I've always sort of thought of Them as Primal Deities. The Gods who existed before all the other gods. The Gods who speak to us in instinct. Gods of dirt and blood and fire and sex. In a way, like the Protogenoi, but I do not think She is Gaia, nor He Uranos or Eros. I would think of the Protogenoi maybe as "first generation". But this is one of those Mysteries one can only muse over, and never really know.

So... there it is. I am a hard polytheist, but there is also a branch of my religious practice that is reserved for Two Deities only and is in a sense ditheistic.

This leaves me in a strange position. I sometimes frown at people's use of the term "the goddess" as if it is meant to mean something to one. "Which goddess?" is the standard reply. I am never sure who they mean, and vaguely resent the idea that I should both know to whom they're referring and would by default worship the same goddess. But at the same time, I worship a Goddess, one who has no name, or at least no one I've ever been told. To me, She is "The Goddess". Does this make me a bit of a hypocrite? I don't think She is the same goddess these other people are referring to. Maybe She is, maybe She is not, but either way I wouldn't like to assume. So I tend to say "My Goddess" instead of "the", to make it clear I don't assume other people worship Her. Of course, maybe they do worship Her, and they've just not experienced the same Mysteries I have experienced.

The Horned God is a bit of a different thing. Suppose He only appears horned because that is what I expect? Are there dozens of horned gods running around? Or are other people worshipping Him also? On the other hand, I've often suspected that there are a large number of people who try to white-wash the horned god they worship and pretend the nasty bits aren't there, up to and including the blood-stained skin and hard bulging cock (oh my, yes). There are plenty of people who are all about "the goddess" and have very little to do with their corresponding god. Oh, he has as much room on the altar, in many cases, but they always say "goddess bless" and never "god bless". They always talk about their goddess and never about their god. He's pushed off to the side, ignored, and when he's mentioned at all there's a serious attempt to make him "family-friendly". I mean sure he's still "wild", but wild in a civilised way. Everything is done to make him seem less dangerous. This is my perception of a particular group of people, you understand. Still, it makes me wonder. I've read an experience of someone else that corresponded very well with an experience I had with my own God, to the point that I do believe the person in question encountered the same deity. It could well be that many more people worship the same God as I do than the same Goddess.

Then again... someone on Tumblr mentioned a while ago that there are a lot of Neo-Pagans who worship "YHWH in drag". That is to say.... they switch the basic, distant, general "God" shape that was their vague understanding of the god of the bible (rather than, you know, the actual god of the bible) to a generic "Goddess" shape instead. Look at Starhawk, saying things like "when we resurrect the Goddess she has to be in the right shape". As if the gods aren't entities at all, just vague shapeless ideas you can form into whatever you want them to be. This goes further than just those deity ideas -  how many prayers have you seen to Pagan deities that are blatant rehashes of Christian prayers? Our Lady who Art in All Things, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, etc... It's like for a whole bunch of people, Paganism is Protestantism in a skirt. Now your practice is your practice; you want it to be Protestantism: Now With Extra Goddess, OK... but why worship a deity so similar to the one you were worshipping before? And maybe that person on tumblr is quite right.... maybe that woman on Covenspace has never known a deity, and is praying to some distant idea or some general energy rather than a deity. Maybe (and here's the part where I become that arrogant woman who thinks she's Enlightened) they're just scraping the surface of the same Goddess I worship, and if they put in effort and opened their souls, they might understand Her a bit better. But I hate being That Person, and having That Thought. Frankly I find it hard to think that that's the case... really, at this point, I do not think we are worshipping the same entities.

Are a lot of people going through the paces? How many Pagans - even active, practising Pagans - form genuine relationships with deities? and how many are more concerned with archetypes, or spells, or an ill-defined Divine Feminine?

I've never understood soft-polytheism. I didn't to begin with, and I still don't know. I don't really get the idea behind worshipping "aspects" of a deity, rather than just worshipping the deity. And if you're going to worship an "aspect", why is that limited to just the name, vague physical appearance and a few chosen qualities? If you're going to worship Artemis, go all-out and worship Artemis. Wash first to remove miasma, make an offering to Hestia as you start, recite a Homeric Hymn, the whole shebang. Don't couple her up with a male deity in a ritual base taken from Wiccan-inspired materials, as if assuming a sexual relationship between Artemis and any god was just OK. It just seems like a whole heap of work to put in if you're going to be respectful, and if you're just seeing her as part of someone else, why bother at all? Just worship the over-arching deity. I've had someone tell me the specific deities are easier to relate to, but that sort of bothers me more. Instead of shrouding your deity/s in the cloaks of other figures, aren't you more interested in deepening your worship and finding out who these deities you worship really are? Aren't you more interested in peeling back the layers of gauze surrounding them until you understand them? I feel like the worship of "aspects" just adds more layers of gauze.

Of course maybe many soft-polytheists do just that. 

This ended up.... very long. And I don't think it's all that clear. It's probably very confusing. I'm pretty confused, but then it's nearly 3a.m.