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Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Reflections

 Today is New Year's eve and like last year I am spending the day reflecting on the past 12 months. Later tonight I will honor Frau Holle and see the old year out while welcoming the new in, but I find that the best way to let go of the past year is to really look at what it has taught me. Often it seems that there is an underlying theme to each year; in 2011 it was loss and endings. Fittingly 2012 seems to have been about both beginnings and limitations.
   I am not a patient person - once I set my mind to something I tend to put all of my energy into it and I want to see results. This has usually been a good quality, but this past year I found myself repeatedly being in situations were I was forced to go slowly or which took longer than I wanted. This has, overall, been a good thing as I have learned to take life slower and enjoy the experience more while anticipating the end result less. Learning to see limitations in a positive light has definitely been a good thing and I think I am less concerned about other people judging me by what I do or produce, and more concerned with making the most of what I can do.
  This year has also brought several great opportunities related to my writing. I have been putting more energy into this blog, and have also started blogging for a local ecumenical website, as well as being offered an opportunity to blog once a month for another site. I wrote several books this year, from my own poetry book to a children's book on the Fairy Faith, and have a book on Druidism coming out within the next few months through Moon books. I'm definitely proud of all these accomplishments, and I feel that writing has helped me focus myself as well as sharing different views and information with others.
   Spiritually this year's challenges have helped me better understand my own views and faith. Whereas in 2011 I felt rather adrift and lost spiritually I think that has been resolved this year, although it took me being willing to go back to the very beginning of my spiritual path and really take a hard look at not only what I believe and why, but what is the most spiritually fulfilling for me. I had drifted into a place where I was letting other people's expectations and needs direct where I was going rather than following what made me happy. That was a mistake, and while it took some serious misery in 2011 to make me see that, in 2012 I have channeled that in a positive way. It isn't just that I accept my own liminality now, but also that I embraced it.
    I went out yesterday, after my area was gifted with 8 inches of snow from Winter Storm Freyr, and looked up to see a rainbow shining directly above me house. I feel that this can only be a good omen for the year to come and I am excited to see what 2013 will bring.
   What has been the theme for your year? Are you ready to move forward into a new year?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fulltrui - Dedication to a Deity in Heathenry

   Within Heathenry you will see a wide range of approaches and beliefs, from those who don't believe in the Gods at all, to those who see them as archetypes, to those who believe the Gods exist as unique individual beings. In the same way you will see a range of approaches to how we relate to the Gods. At one end there are people who only acknowledge the Gods in ritual, while at the other are those who feel they have a special connection to one particular deity; most people likely fall into the middle of that spectrum. A person who feels especially close to one deity may refer to that deity as their fulltrui (for a God) or fulltrua (for a Goddess) which means, roughly, "trusted friend", and may refer to themselves as a man or woman of that deity - as in Thorsman or Freyswoman. Not everyone approves of the idea of such devotion to a deity and conversely many people mistakenly see it as necessary or required so I thought it would be helpful to discuss what it really is in a historic and modern context. The following is, as always, my own opinions and views on the subject. As someone who considers Odin her fulltrui much of my viewpoint is shaped by my own experiences and understanding of the subject, although my choice to equate fulltrui and dedication may not be shared by everyone. I feel though that having a "trusted friend" among the Gods requires a relationship  of dedication to that deity; its also the best verb I can find to describe the action of being fulltrui.
   First off lets clear up one of the most common errors, that this idea is entirely modern and a hold over from monotheism. Although that argument is a common one against dedication, the idea of being dedicated to a God within a polytheistic Heathen context does have a historic basis. Many people try to argue against the entire idea of being fulltrui with a deity by attacking its authenticity as a Heathen practice, but there is enough evidence of people during the Heathen period who were dedicated to a specific deity to make the concept credible, although not common. We know that there were priests and priestesses dedicated to specific deities, such as the priestess of Frey who traveled the land with an effigy of the God in a wagon (Heinrichs, nd). and possibly the priest who served the shrine of Nerthus which Tacitus discusses in Germania. We also see more ordinary people, if such can be found in the Sagas, who were believed to be especially close friends of a certain God and would take that God's name as part of their own. We also know that it was not simply a matter of a person choosing to focus on one deity, but rather that the deity also seemed to be a "friend" to the person in return. In Eyrbyggja Saga Thorolfr Mosturskeggi who was known as a friend of Thor, a feeling that appears to be mutual as the story calls Thor the astvinr (beloved friend) of Thorolfr (the Troth, 2006). When making landfall in Iceland Thorolfr trusted Thor to guide him to the best place to settle and build his new home by tossing his Thor pillars overboard and following where they landed. Thorgrim Freyrsgothi in Gisla Saga was said to be so loved by Frey that the God would not allow snow to cover Thorgrim's grave.Within mythology even we can find examples of  those particularly favored by a certain deity - Odin was known for this, although his favor might end in a bloody battle death - and we know that there were those who offered excessively to one deity to gain that favor, such as we see in the story of Ottar and Freya. So from this we can see historic evidence of both priests and priestesses of one specific deity and also non-clergy who were considered close friends of a specific deity.
   Now that we have established the precedent, lets look at modern fulltrui. The idea itself is fraught with confusion, both by people who aren't familiar with it and people who should be, and often this confusion is used to try to either dissuade or encourage the practice, which naturally creates more confusion. So I am going to try to discuss some of the most common things I hear and the reality of dedication.
   Someone who is fulltrui with a deity is still a polytheist. Being close to one particular deity does not mean that other deities are not acknowledged or honored, or that the person is actually a monotheist. I am fulltrui with Odin and also regularly honor other Heathen Gods. Having a close connection with one deity in no way detracts from or lessens the honoring of other deities as well. Hand in hand with that, being fulltrui with a deity is not a way to cling to monotheism - I have never been a monotheist and have nothing of that to cling to, for one thing, and for another I have never met anyone who was dedicated to a deity who felt that their deity was the only or ultimate deity. I may be dedicated to Odin but I blot to many other Aesir and Vanir as well, and regularly acknowledge a combination of Gods. I pray for healing to Odin, but also to Eir. I honor Sunna with Sigdrifa's prayer each day. I offer to Frigga, Freya, Frey, Thor, Njordh and Idunna during the year, and regularly offer to the landvaettir and my ancestors. Being fulltrui with one deity does not limit my honoring of others. Think of it as you would human friendship; even when you have one special close friend you still have at least a few other friends that you also spend time with and talk to.
    Someone who is fulltrui with a deity does not think they have a magic phone line to that deity or that the deity is involved in every tiny aspect of their lives, or at least I have only rarely encountered that mindset. There will always be some who believe that their God sends them messages in their cornflakes, or that they must consult their God about what color socks to wear, but the majority of people who are dedicated to a specific deity do not think that their deity cares about the minutia of their life. There may be a sense or feeling of closer connection to that deity compared to other deities, there may be a belief in communication with that deity, especially by those like myself inclined to seidhrwork or who are particularly spiritual, but it is generally perceived as coming in dreams or in trances or altered states. Some people may indeed receive more direct communication more often, but they won't be the ones bragging about it to anyone who will listen or using it to try to prove that they are special. There is a difference between someone who is a mystic and someone who is being overly superstitious or seeking attention. I would never deny that modern people do encounter and communicate with the Gods, and people who focus more on a specific deity may experience this more often, but the idea that someone who is fulltrui with a deity has a direct line to that deity that other people don't is not accurate. We all have that connection to the Gods we honor, whether we acknowledge it or not. Omens, of course, in a wider sense are believed in by many and would not fall into this context; for example I don't know anyone who wouldn't see thunder during a Thor blot as a positive sign.
   Someone who is fulltrui may feel that they serve the deity they are dedicated to or they may not. I know people who simply accept that there is a special connection there and honor that with extra focus on that deity and more offerings, and I know others who serve their fulltrui in a capacity closer to that of a priest
or priestess. As with human relationships no two are ever exactly the same, and that's a good thing. Some people formalize the relationship with an oath and others simply fall into it over time, without any official agreement. For those like me who do feel called to serve, the direction of that service may manifest as a feeling or intuition that certain things are wanted - I began studying seidhr for this reason and also began teaching rune classes from the same subtle feeling, and I got a valknot tattoo after being instructed to do so in a dream; divination can be used to verify or disprove these feelings. The person might also serve by doing things that they feel will honor their fulltrui or can be seen as a type of offering - I have ravens tattooed on my body as a voluntary offering to Odin, for example. In ancient times a person would have become a priest or priestess in a temple or shrine (as in Upsalla or Tacitus's account in Germania) or may have traveled with an effigy of the God, as in the story of Frey's priestess. In modern times this service takes a different form, although I do know one Freyaswoman who serves by maintaining a traveling shrine to Freya at various events.
   Being fulltrui with a deity is not a requirement of Heathenry, nor is it necessarily the norm. The idea that all new Heathens need to find a patron deity to dedicate to is something that is increasingly common and totally superfluous. Modern Heathenry, as a religion, is not based on this idea at all, and in fact for a new Heathen such a focus could have a negative impact on building a feeling of connection with all the Gods in general. Dedication should be an organic process which occurs over time based in mutual responsiveness, not a quest to meet an imagined goal. Quite frankly, since deeper dedication to a deity can prove extremely challenging, I honestly don't know why anyone would seek it out. Ottar offered to Freya to gain a boon from her, and she turned him into a boar and rode him into Helheim to get what he sought. Odin's favored people tended to die in battle in the Sagas to earn their way into his hall as einherjar. Everything has a cost balancing out the benefit.
     Along with that last idea; although it does happen that a person comes to the religion through one God or Goddess, that singular connection should not get in the way of the wider connection nurtured by a polytheistic approach. Some people who are fulltrui with a deity mistakenly feel that all of their loyalty should be focused on that deity, and may even feel guilty for acknowledging or honoring others, but that idea, I think, is foreign to Heathenry. In other words, just because you may feel that Njord led you to find Heathenry doesn't mean you should only ever blot to him. Honoring the Gods is intended to nurture reciprocity with them, and in order for this to create balance and blessing in our lives we must honor different deities who offer blessings in certain aspects of our life. Although having a fulltrui does mean going to that deity more often and for many different things it doesn't negate the wider benefits of having many Gods to offer to or call on.
    Dedication is also not something to be taken lightly. One should never jump into dedication, both because oaths are a very serious matter and because it is, generally, a permanent relationship. If you dedicate to Odin you must be willing to give your life to him, or you should not do it. While occasionally a deity may release a person from dedication its important to remember that in many ways it is not up to us, so we should never assume we can change our minds if we find out we don't like the experience. The Gods are real beings and what is offered, if accepted, is not ours to take back, any more than we can take back mead poured out on an altar. In the same way as Odin offered himself to himself on the Tree, I made myself an offering to Odin; not all offerings are accepted - mine was. It cannot be taken back, or undone. Remember that the entire idea of fulltrui is that it goes both ways; we are friends to that God and that God is a friend to us. We have free will and can choose not to nurture that friendship, just as the deity may not accept our friendship, but once the bond is forged, particularly if oaths are involved, it cannot easily be broken.
   Which leads us to the final point; dedicating to a deity is not a matter of deciding that you really like one particular God or Goddess. It also - I hope obviously - is not about wanting to impress or intimidate people. Many people seem to feel that if they really admire or relate to a specific deity then they should dedicate to that deity, but the reality is dedication is in many ways a calling. Not only must we be willing to dedicate ourselves to that deity but the deity must want and accept our dedication. And sometimes - maybe most times - the deity who calls us will not be the one we expect or would have chosen ourselves. I am very fond of Heimdall and felt a special connection to who he is and what he represents, yet it was Odin who called me - not who I would have expected or chosen for myself. Being fulltrui with a deity is more than just really liking that God or Goddess; its about feeling that the deity is responsive to you and being willing to repay that responsiveness.
    Dedication is a modern concept rooted in past practices. It is something that can be very fulfilling but also very challenging, as reciprocity requires that as much be given as is received. It is a personal connection that exist between an individual and a deity, and in most ways it is significant only to the individual. It does not make you special or a better Heathen, just as not having a fulltrui isn't better or more genuine. Being fulltrui is about putting your trust in a deity, and having that deity respond as your astvinr, a beloved friend; it is about that special connection which is forged with time and commitment, rather than whim.

References
Heinrichs, A., (nd). The Search for Identity: A Problem after the conversion
the Troth (2006). Our Troth, volume 1

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In Memorial ~ Christine Winkler

 On Sunday, December 23rd, one of the strongest, most intense, women I have ever known passed from this world to the next after a hard fight against cancer. In the past four years she had fought and beat cancer four times, but this fifth round proved insurmountable. My life will forever be poorer without her in it, and I miss her very much already.
   I met Christine, affectionately nicknamed "Herb Lady", about 7 years ago through my friend's store. There is no one else quite like her, with her ascerbic opinions and take-no-prisoners attitude. At first I couldn't tell if she liked me or hated me but over time I learned that being blunt was her approach to everything; if she liked something she said as much and if she didn't like it then she made that clear. You never questioned where you stood with Christine or wondered if she was being honest with you. Over time it became an endearing quality and I learned to appreciate her unique approach to life.
   Christine, who was an excellent herbalist, taught me to identify plants, especially herbs, that grew wild in Connecticut. Because of her I know Woody Nightshade when I see it, and can identify Mullein and Mugwort. She also taught me ways to use the things I found, especially for healing and magic. At random intervals she would appear with her arms full of Wormwood, Mugwort or Sage from her garden and talk to me about how to dry and use them. Every year she would bring me homemade smudge sticks, sometimes plain Sage, other times Sage mixed with Rosemary or Lavender, insisting that the plants from her garden were better and  stronger than any sold commercially. Several times she brought me cuttings to try to root out - Black Nightshade, Wormwood, Mugwort - and would hover over me as I tried to properly wrap the cut stems in wet paper towel. Sometimes I could get them to grow for me, and sometimes I couldn't, but she never stopped helping me try.
     Christine was a witch and Hecate-woman. Her recitation of the Witches Rune would raise the hair on the back of your neck and she knew her spellwork like few other people I've ever met. Although I did not always agree with her I had an immense respect for her and learned a great deal about the practical, hands-on, magic she practiced. She could make incense, powder, and spell candles like no one else, and she taught me how to use these things in new ways. Because of Christine I began to think out what I was doing more and make my own ingredients and components, instead of flying by the seat of my extemporaneous pants all the time. In 2006 Christine, who followed a blend of modern Wicca and her own family style witchcraft, asked me if I wanted to be initiated as a priestess of Hecate; this was an enormous compliment from her, as she might occasionally offer to initiate someone she had taught into witchcraft but rarely acknowledged that a person was already a witch; deeply honored I said yes. Although I have no other connection to that pantheon and my own focus is firmly elsewhere, I have never regretted that decision and it led me, eventually, to co-creating a Witchcraft Tradition at Hecate's direction. The ceremony itself was deeply moving and, like Christine herself, not quite like anything else I'd ever experienced.
    Christine made jewelry and spell candles, among other things that were sold at the store. She also often made special things just for me, bracelets and necklaces of stone beads, a ring, and a spell candle dedicated to Macha which she later gave me the recipe for. These tangible reminders of her will be cherished now, as I cherish the memory of every conversation and every kind thing she ever did for me.
    No one else I've ever met had the same inherent concern for helpless or outcast things. When she found a cat, dying from an infected wound, she took him to the vet, even though he was half wild and she had no money to spare on a stray. When she was out of work she began caring for two elderly sisters who needed someone to check on them and handle able bodied tasks around their home. When her ex husband became sick and needed somewhere to stay she took him in, caring for him in his own final days. And she took my friend and I under her wing with a tough love mothering that was impossible to resist.
    In many ways Christine was more like family than a friend. When I had a cold she would pull out a mix she called "nose oil", splash some on a tissue, and make me hold it under my nose - and it never failed to clear my sinuses out and let me breathe no matter how stuffed up my nose was. When I sprained my wrist in an accident she appeared with a quart-sized freezer bag full of powdered Comfrey and not only explained how to make a compress out of it, but insisted I do so immediately and wasn't satisfied until I had my wrist slathered and wrapped to her specifications. Every Sunday that I was at the store she would bring me the newspaper and, usually, something to eat, and we would chat about life and magic. Every year she sent my children cards on Halloween and made them gifts for Yule. For many years now we traded witchy-themed novels back and forth, discussing the plots the way some people talk about popular TV shows. Sometimes we chatted about sewing and where to get the best prices on material; Christine was a talented seamstress who sowed some of her own clothes and made everything from dolls to small bags to use for charms. She talked about her past, her husband, her children, as I shared stories about mine. The night her ex-husband died after his own fight against cancer she called me and told me that she felt that Hecate had come and helped him cross, at the end.
    I and another close friend went and visited her a few days before she passed. She was in pain and on a constant morphine pump, but she was happy to see us. She held my hand and wouldn't let go and tried several times to say something, but we couldn't understand what she was trying to say. We sat with her, watching Dark Shadows on a laptop because it was one of her favorite shows. Several times she dozed off, but we stayed until she woke again. She asked a couple times if I was there, and I reassured her I was, all the time holding her hand. Despite it all when she did speak she retained her unique sense of humor and was obviously still herself; I was glad for that. When we finally  left I knew it wouldn't be much longer, but the news of her passing was still a shock in a very visceral way. I can't imagine life without her there offering advice, lending me witchy novels, and showing me the herbs that grow all around us.
  She was a teacher, a mentor, and above all a friend, and I am a better person for having known her.
   May Hecate hold her; may the Goddess's torches light her way.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Modern Altars

It seems that most modern pagans have or use altars of some type. Sometimes permanent, sometimes transitory, the altar is often the focal point of worship, a place we can connect to our Gods in an active way. A place to go when we need something to focus on, and a place that can act as a base for ritual. This idea is certainly not unique to neopagans, one look at the ancient temples of Greece, Rome, or Egypt show us that altars go hand in hand with some religions. Of course from a Heathen or Druidic perspective the evidence is a little harder to find, mostly due to the difficulty in interpreting archaeological sites. In modern Heathenry and Druidism, however, altars are regularly used and may be simple or elaborate. Some traditions have very specific and detailed altar layouts for followers to use, while others can take a more freeform or organic appraoch to altars; in either case though the altar should be functional and serve the purpose of creating a place of connection.
    I am lucky enough to have several permanent altars in my home, including one that is dedicated entirely for honoring several healing Goddesses; this altar is where I go when doing any healing magic or when praying for healing. I have decided to share my own altars here and hope that others find it useful to see examples of how one person sets up and uses altars in a modern context.
Healing altar dedicated to Brighid, Airmed, and Eir
   Exactly what is on a modern altar and how the altar is used can vary widely, but as mentioned previously, generally each tradition or faith will have guidelines or expectations for the set-up of an altar. Most altars that I have seen will include sacred images, candles, and a place or bowl for offerings, but some may also include a variety of objects and tools. My own altars tend to get very elaborate as I try to include a variety of things that are important to me, but I have seen some that are as simple as a candle and incense burner.
    My Druidic altar is probably the most complex of all the altars I have. It includes images of several of the deities I honor, including the three Morrigan, Nuada, and the Matronas. I also include my ancestors and the daoine sidhe, symbols of sea, earth, and sky, my many wands, a ritual blade, mortar and pestles, and a cauldron. Additionally I decorate each altar for the holiday I am celebrating; for example in the picture of my Samhain altar you will see Jack o'Lantern tea light holders. To represent sea, earth, and sky I have three small cauldrons: one holds shells I have collected at the beach, one holds sacred earth from various locations, and the third is used to burn incense in. The fourth and largest cauldron on my altar usually holds a triple wicked candle, but is also used to burn ritual offerings in. I am very fond of using wands and I have more than half a dozen in different woods and styles; I also have two bronze rituals blades that are used for several purposes including in healing work and for collecting herbs. The mortar and pestles are used for making incense, for the most part. Since we have few details on what, exactly, a Druid's altar in antiquity would have looked like I have given myself a lot of creative liberty in designing my own - the biggest and most obvious difference from what we do know historically is that my altar is inside, not outside in a grove of trees or other sacred place. I do have an outdoor altar, but it is a very simple stone altar, used for outdoor rituals or offerings.

A Druid's altar set for Samhain


Druidic altar
In contrast my Kindred's altar, which takes a more Heathen approach is fairly simple. We have a shelf for images of the Gods we honor most often: Artio, Njord, Freya, Odin, the Norns, Frigga, Thor, and Freyr. The shelf itself has been decorated with Pennsylvania Dutch style Hex signs and runes. On the actual altar there is a drinking horn and cup, an offering bowl, incense burner, smaller offering bowl for food offerings, rune set, and symbolic Mjolnir. 

Heathen altar
In addition to these large altars I have smaller ones, which I call shrines, for specific deities. These generally consist of an image of the deity of the shrine, votive objects, incense burner, and candles. I use these sites to make small offerings, such as incense or candles, to that specific deity. Sometimes I will use these places to pray to or meditate on that deity as well.
Altar to Odin
Finally I have altars dedicated to my ancestors and to the daoine sidhe. These serve the same purpose as the other altars but are very specifically focused. I find that they are excellent for connecting to non-divine Powers and go to them no less often as the others.
ancestor altar



an altar honoring the daoine sidhe

Friday, December 21, 2012

Yule 2012

Happy Yule and a merry solstice to all!


  
    Yule is always one of the busiest times of year for me; as I mentioned last year I have usually approached Yule form a strictly Germanic/Norse perspective but have recently started trying to incorporate more Irish and Druidic aspects. Since the heathen Yule celebration lasts for 12 nights its been hard to work in anything else - which is complicated by the very limited Irish folklore and practices. This year I am going to attempt to juggle four different types of celebration.
   Last night I helped run an open neopagan Yule ritual. We gathered and focused on sending loving energy to any who are suffering, to help heal those who need healing after the tragedies of the last week. We also wove bracelets for ourselves while focusing on goals we want to nurture in the coming months as the light of the sun grows. And of course we lit candles on a Yule log in honor of the solstice.
  Because last night was also Mother's Night in Heathenry my family and I also lit candles for the disir and our female ancestors. We held a small blot to Frigga, offering milk and water to her. We do this in thanks for their protection and also to ask for blessings in the new year. I drew a rune for divination and pulled Othala, which I believe is a good sign of connection to the ancestors, in this context.
  Today, on the actual solstice, I will honor Grian, in a Druidic ritual. My family will light our Yule log at home, and we will hold our annual holiday movie night, which the children are very excited about. The solstice itself tends to be very family oriented for me, which is a nice break in the otherwise hectic schedule of the holiday. For the ritual to honor Grian we will bake a sun cake, as we do for Aine at midsummer, and offer pieces of it to her and to our ancestors and the daoine sidhe. We will also offer her sugar cookies and spiced cider.
     It's my Kindred's 6th anniversary this year so we are planning to hold a Yule blot on the 23rd. this is always a very festive meeting with lots of food and good converstaion after a blot to honor Odin as the Julfather. Each year we choose different Aesir to focus on ; last year it was Freyr, and the year before it was Odin and Frigga together. After the blot we each pull a rune to see what our omen for the year to come is, and I pull one for the Kindred as a whole. My Kindred sister, Mel, is an exceptional cook, so feasting is always something to look forward to, and its fun to watch the kids play and enjoy the celebration.
    In our home this year Santa is arriving on the 23rd as well, with present opening occurring very early in the morning, so on the evening of the 22nd we will be honoring the Julenisse (with porridge). We decided it was important for the kids to have the joy of waking up to presents under the Yule tree and find the idea of Santa very pagan, but we can be a bit flexible on when he comes, looking at a day close to the solstice that we will all be home together. I know that some people who have Odin, as Julfather, come with gifts riding Sleipnir, but by the time I heard of that idea my oldest was already invested in Santa, so we have stuck with what she initially grew up with.
   After this, leading up to New Year's eve, I will also blot to Frau Holle, Freyr, and Thor, as well as make offerings to my ancestors and the land spirits. And of course I will celebrate a secular Christmas with my extended family on the 25th. On New Year's eve, the official end of the 12 days of Yule celebration, I smudge the entire house with juniper, and at exactly midnight I open the front door to let the old year out and welcome the new year in. I also leave out a small loaf of bread, asking for abunadance and prosperity in the year to come. It will be a hectic couple of weeks, but it is always filled with fun and good food.
    I hope your Yule is just as much fun, and wish you all a good New Year.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Rosc - Spoken Spells in Druidic Magic

  In studying the Druids and wider Celtic folk magic one particular type of magic is commonly found - the rosc. Rosc is defined as a rhetorical composition or chant, although the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) suggests that the original term in Old Irish may have been rosg, because rosc cannot be traced further back than late medieval documents (eDIL). It appears in early manuscripts as rosg catha, referring specifically to battle magic, and later as rosc catha with the same meaning; interestingly rosc also means "eye" (eDIL; O Donaill, 1977). The plural of rosc is roisc, although in modern Druidic vernacular it appears as roscanna; roisc do not generally rhyme but rely on alliteration instead (eDIL). Examples of roscanna are usually seen as battle magics, where the speaker is in a conflict and is using the chant to overcome the enemy in some way; however there are also examples of roscanna used for other purposes such as blessing or sleep. In mythology Druids are said to be able to create illusions, heal, find the truth of a situation, advise, interpret dreams and curse with the use of roscanna (O hOgain, 1991).
   Reciting a rosc may be accompanied by specific actions, such as when we see Lugh reciting a rosc for his army, while circling them with one eye closed, one arm behind his back, and on one leg, a type of ritual pose known as the corrguineacht. The corrguineacht itself is usually associated with cursing, perhaps relating the pose to the Fomorians who are sometimes described as having one leg, arm, and eye, although the name corrguineacht is sometimes translated as Crane Posture. O Tuathail translates it as Crane Prayer (O Tuathail, 1993).
   Rosc are also generally spoken in the present tense, a clear difference from most modern magical chants which tend to use the future tense. Generally the speaker of the rosc states what they want as if it already is. When a rosc does use the future tense the person speaking is not asking for something to come to pass but stating that it will come to pass. For example when Amergin invokes the bounty of Ireland he says:
    "Fishful the ocean,
     prolific in bounty the land,
    an explosion of fish,
    fish beneath wave
    in currents of water
    flashing brightly,
    from hunderfolds of salmon
    which are the size of whales,
    song of a harbour of fames,
    an explosion of fish,
    fishful the sea." (O Tuathail, 1993).

    This demonstrates not only the use of tense but also two other qualities of roscanna: the emphasis on descriptive terms and the repetition of the first line, or a variation on it, as the final line. The descriptive nature of roscanna works with the alliterative pattern; along with the repetition of specific lines this reinforces the poetic nature of these chants. Some roscanna, such as Amergin's Invocation of Ireland also follow a pattern of repeating the end of one line as the beginning of the next line (example below).
   Roscanna also rely on the speaker's own personal power, rather than appeals to higher powers or forces. Someone reciting a rosc is using their own energy and will to enforce their words. We can see this in an exerpt from the rosc Mogh Ruith recites against the King's Druids:
   "I turn, I re-turn
    not but I turn nuclei of darkness
    I turn verbal spells, I turn speckled spells,
    I turn purities of form,
    I turn high, I turn mightily,
    I turn each adversity,
    I turn a hill to subside...." (O Tuathail, 1993)
O Tuathail suggests that "turn" in this context means transform, which seems logical. We can see the same pattern of invoking personal power in the "Song of Amergin" whose opening section begins each line with the phrase "I am". Although a rosc can also be used to invoke the power within an object this is still generally done with an emphasis on the speaker's own personal power calling to what they are invoking. Several examples of this are:
  Amergin's Involcation of Ireland
 "I request the land of Ireland
  coursed is the wild sea
   wild the crying mountains
   crying the generous woods
   generous in showers..." (O Tuathail, 1993).

  Mogh Ruith's Magic Stone
"I request my stone of conflagration.
 Be it no ghost of theft.
 Be it  ablaze that will fight sages
 ...My fire stone which delves pain
 Be it a red serpent which sorrows..." (O Tuathail, 1993)
 There are examples of roscanna that rely on invoking a higher power as well, but these appear to be less common. It is possible that the folk magic charms we have today are based on the same principles as the Druidic roscanna, although the modern folk charms more often invoke higher Powers.
  In a modern context a rosc can be used for any purpose needed by the speaker. The generally rules of forming a rosc should be followed: alliteration, highly descriptive terms, repetition, and speaking in the present with personal power. If desired or required specific actions can be included as well. An example of this for protection would be:
   "I am safe, secure, and protected,
    Protected from injury and ill-will
    From danger and destruction
    From all hurt and harm
    My magic is an armor, impenetrable,
    that turns away all attacks
    Turns them to the encompassing earth
    Wide and deep, she takes them
     transforms them from harm to healing
     So that what is sent against me
     Becomes a blessing and boon
     Protected from injury and ill-will
     I am safe, secure, and protected."

References
O hOgain, D., (1991). Myth, Legend, and Romance
O Tuathail, S., (1993). The Excellence of Ancient word: Druid Rhetoric from Ancient Irish Tales
http://www.dil.ie/
O Donaill, N., (1977). Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prayer for Sandy Hook Victims

  Yesterday my state was rocked by one of the most horrific school shootings this country has ever seen. As I followed the developing news story I found myself trying to comprehend the horror that the victims and their families were dealing with. As a former EMT and a mother of elementary age school children I was heartbroken by the entire situation, and like many people I wanted to do something. All over the state there were prayer vigils held last night, and maybe prayer is a normal reaction to the sadness and grief of such an event because I also felt like prayer was the best response I could give in that moment. As the days unfold and we all try to come to terms with what has happened, as the debates ensue about why it happened and how it could have been prevented, I hope we all remember to keep the victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers. While the nation argues over the inevitable issues, 20 families are burying their young children, lost to senseless violence in a place that should be safe for all children, and 7 other families are burying their beloved relatives who died next to those children.
    This is the prayer I said when lighting a candle for the victims and their families:
"Blessed Brighid, goddess of healing,
First to keen in Ireland when your own son died,
You know the pain of losing a child
You know the sharpness of mourning,
Be with those who were killed today
That they might find their way to peace and rest
Be with their families as they weep
That they might find comfort in their grief

Blessed Brighid, exalted one,
Gracious Goddess and saint
you are a light in the darkness
May you light our way today."
 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sacred Symbols

  In my experience many pagans have a sacred symbol that represents their belief, if only to them. These symbols may be somewhat mainstream, like the pentacle, or less well known, like the irminsul, but they all serve as a touchstone of the religion or beliefs the person holds.
Assorted religious jewelry, bronze, at Pandora's Box, Norwich CT
   This past summer the Huffington Post site asked the question What religious jewelry do you wear and why? and asked for readers to submit pictures of their religious jewelry with stories explaining why that symbol was significant to them. After much thought I submitted what might seem an unlikely image, coming from me -
with a short note saying that I have had this pentacle for over 20 years and that to me it represents the interconnection of all things. The picture and explanation appeared in the slideshow accompanying the main article.
    After submitting it I questioned whether it was the right choice; should I have gone with a triskele instead to represent Irish paganism and Druidism? Should I have used an image of my Thor's Hammer to represent Heathenry? Both of these images are very significant to me, and each has a special meaning. The triskele is something that I feel I earned by going through the fostering process with my Druid Order and symbolizes the connection to sea, earth, and sky; the Hammer was a gift from my Kindred sister and reminds me of my connection to the Gods. So why, I asked myself, did I choose as I had? In the end I believe that I picked the symbol I did because it was the first symbol I ever connected to, the first image that was more than just decoration. I bought this necklace with money I saved up babysitting and I wore it every day through high school. It saw me through some very difficult times, and did indeed always remind me that all things are connected. After I moved beyond the religion that it is commonly used to represent I still wore it sometimes for that feeling of connection. In short this pentacle ceased being a piece of jewelry that stood for one faith and became a personal emblem to me of my own inner strength and the comfort I found in something that kept me from feeling all alone even when in many ways I was. Even though I don't wear it often anymore it is still special to me.
    I have a beautiful Thor's Hammer that I wear, and I have a triskele - each is important to me and holds a special meaning. Each symbolizes my faith in different ways. But there is a connection to my first religious pendant that has endured even through changes in spirituality. It's just a simple piece of silver, shaped like a star within a circle, but it is one of the most precious things I own, because to me it will always be a representation of that ineffable connection to the things that matter to me.
  Of course I also have a hammer that I wear as well. The Thor's Hammer appeared historically around a thousand years ago, likely to give heathens something to wear besides the Christian Cross. In modern contexts the Thor's Hammer, or Mjolnir, is a symbol of those who follow the Norse Gods, as well as symbolizing protection and fertility (Thor's Hammer, it's said, was used to bless marriages by being placed in the lap of the bride). Mine is a very modern design and was a gift. Heathens can also use the irmunsul, a Germanic world tree image, as a symbol, or the valknot a triple interlaced triangle design often associated with Odin (the word valknut means knot of the slain and since one of Odin's names was Valfadr it does seem to be a logical connection; there is a joke in modern heathenry that the valknut is the "insert spear here" symbol)
I also often wear a triskele or a tree to symbolize Irish Paganism or Druidism. Both of these are modern symbols, not having been used historically to represent a pagan faith that we know of, but are great representations of those faiths for modern practitioners. The triskele is seen in ancient Irish art, although its true origins are debated; some believe it was adapted off of the Norse valknut, while others think it is an older Celtic symbol. I also tend to favor wearing a tree emblem as it represents Druidism to me and also encompasses the concept of the bile (sacred tree or pole) and world tree. In this way the tree symbolizes both sides of my faith, the Irish and the Norse.
one of the tree pendants I sometimes wear

another tree pendant I sometimes wear 












 It's worth noting that I have gotten tattoos of the symbols I find important including the Thor's Hammer, Valknut, and Triskele, so in some ways wearing them as jewelry is redundant, but I still like the jewelry. In a world and culture were what symbols we wear around our necks are often a subtle - or sometimes not-so-subtle - way to declare our faith publically I tend to appraoch wearing mine as a matter of pride in my spirituality.
  I tend to choose the symbol I wear based on what I feel most in tune with that particular day, and my spirituality being what it is I often wear more than one symbol at a time. What sacred symbols do you wear? What makes that symbol special to you?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reflections on Life and Legacy

 I awoke this past Tuesday morning from a very strange dream, most likely rooted in seeing too many previews for the new movie the Hobbit. In the dream I was traveling with a group of dwarves and an elf - picture the ones from the movie and you'll get the idea - when suddenly there was some sort of attack and everyone was knocked out. The earth began slowly growing over each inert form, seeming intent on pulling them down completely, but before the process was complete another elf appeared and woke his sleeping/enspelled kinsman. In the dream I heard a voice saying "They are never forgotten who have family to search for them, and so this one will be reborn again." Then I woke up, but with a strong feeling, not only of the importance of the ancestors to us, but of our importance to those who have passed. This was something of an epiphany for me, because I had previously tended to see my relationship with the ancestors as one where I looked to them not one where they depended on me.
    My first clear thought on waking was "If I died today how would my children remember me?". I have spent much of the day thinking about that, and about something my husband said to me in a conversation the night before; when I expressed concern about the way I decorate our house being too overtly pagan (being worried that his family and friends feel uncomfortable) he told me not to be a "closet witch". I had never thought before that I was or would be any sort of closet anything; in fact I had prided myself on how open I was with my spiritual choices. It was a wake up call to have him point out, in a supportive way, that I needed to be proud of who I am.
   So I have been thinking about all of these interconnected things, about the way our ancestors need us, about how my children think of me, and about how I change myself for other people. I truly believe these are all related thoughts, because each comes back to the idea of leaving a legacy worth being remembered for. I can even divide them up by past, present, and future - what my ancestors did to earn a place in my memory and devotions, what I am doing with my children and how they will remember it, and what I am doing and will do to shape my life according to what other people expect my life to be. What my ancestors have done cannot be undone or changed, and it does affect how I feel about them now and who I focus more on. What I do now with my own children becomes that same set-in-stone past tense, and I am suddenly aware of how precious each moment with them as they grow is. And I realized that it truly is my choice to live for my own happiness or to live to meet other's expectations. I am weaving my own legacy, strand by strand, from my choices and actions.
   When I look at the past several years I see a life out of balance. I went to college and am within 6 degrees of earning a bachelor's in psychology. I wrote six books. I started blogging and have tried to post 2 to 3 blogs per week, and now I also blog once a month for a local faith and values website, as their only neo-pagan blogger. Two years ago I was teaching at local and regional events, and this past year have been teaching locally. I've been a guest on 2 blog radio shows. I am raising two children, one with special health needs, and am married, as well as participating in or running several spiritual groups. I am clearly a very driven person and I have absolutely no idea how I find enough hours in the day to get this all done.
    But what legacy does it leave? I have no interest in being well known, only in sharing what I know with those who might gain from it, so am I achieving what I want to achieve? Am I giving my children childhood memories of me that are worth cherishing, or am I just getting through each day? Am I doing what I want to do, being who I want to be, or trying to please others? The reality is that I am pushing myself way too hard to meet the perceived needs of other people, rather than simply enjoying my life. In the past several weeks I have been struggling with some health issues that require me to rest; I am failing miserably. I no longer remember how to rest or relax, or simply not do anything. I fill every moment with something, and not always something that is good for myself or my family. And this is not the legacy I want to leave my children at all.
   I am starting, right now, to change how I do things, what I do, and to get my personal priorities in line with my actual desires. I am seeking balance, trying to remake my life - now - into what I want it to be, something that will be personally fulfilling and worthy of remembrance and honoring when I am gone. In short I am trying to live in the moment, knowing that this moment is only a breathe away from being the unchangeable past and deserves to be spent in the best possible way.
    What will your legacy be? Will your life end with satisfaction with how you lived it, or regret for focusing on the wrong things?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pregnancy and Birth in Norse Tradition

  As with my earlier post in August on Irish pregnancy traditions there is not a lot of information to be found on traditional pregnancy practices in the Norse. One possible explanation for this that like many cultures of the time period a child was not seen as person until they had survived a certain amount of time after birth and been recognized or acknowledged by the family, particularly the father (The Troth, 2007). This is logical given the high rates of infant mortality, and also allowed for the newborn to be killed or exposed if it was unwanted, sickly, or unacceptable to the parents (after being officially acknowledged such actions would be treated as murder). Although extremely harsh and unacceptable to modern heathens such infanticide of newborns was a widespread practice in most, if not all, ancient cultures. The result of this for a modern heathen seeking traditional pregnancy practices may be that there just isn't that much to be found, although there is more in the category of birth practices and child blessings.
   One practice that can be found in Sweden was done by a woman in her 7th month of pregnancy. The mother-to-be would draw blood from her finger with a needle and use the blood to draw protective runes on a piece of wood, before spinning three lengths of linen thread (Viking Answer Lady, 2012). One length of thread would be left white, another dyed red, and the third dyed black, while the rune blooded wood would be burned and the ashes added to beer or mead (Viking Answer Lady, 2012). The sections of linen thread were burned apart into 7" threads using a brand from the fire, soaked in boiling salt water, and then left to dry in the branches of a tree for 3 days (Viking Answer Lady, 2012). The threads were carefully saved until the day of the birth when the black threads, representing death and bad luck, were burned and the ashes buried, the white thread was used to tie the cord at birth, and the red was strung with a bead [probably amber] and tied on the baby's wrist for protection (Viking Answer Lady, 2012). This one would actually work just as well in a modern context, although I suppose for those of us that don't spin we would have to buy the needed thread/yarn.
   When it comes to birth there are several practices for modern people that are based on older folklore and mythology. The Troth, for example, suggests making a prayer and offering to Frigga and the disir at the onset of labor (The Troth, 2007). Silver keys are cited as a common charm for childbirth, using the symbolism of unlocking the birth passage and encouraging a speedy and easy birth (The Troth, 2007). A common plant used to make the bed for childbirth is called "Freyar gras" (Freya's Weed) associating Freya with childbirth as well, so that a laboring woman might call on Frigga, Freya, and the disir for support and aid (The Troth, 2007). There is a strong folk tradition in both Germany and Scotland that all doors should be unlocked, as a locked door could block the birth process (The Troth, 2007). The mother might also choose to wear keys, perhaps as jewelry, during labor and should also be sure to untie and unknot everything that she can in her room as knots are also thought to delay or complicate the birth. Even the hair might be kept loose to avoid any possible ties or knots.
    There are also runes associated with childbirth. In Sigdrifumal it says: "You shall know birth runes, if you would give help in birthing, and loosen a child from the woman. You shall rist them on the palm, and on the hand's span, and bid the disir's aid." Of course the actual birth runes being referred to are unknown now but different modern authors have suggested possibilities. Perthro and Berkano are often mentioned as birth runes, and it is possible to make a birth bindrune using Perthro, Berkano, and Laguz, with Perthro opening downward to indicate an open passage for the child (The Troth, 2007). Naudhiz is also mentioned as a birth rune, being associated with need and with the Norns; I have heard it suggested to draw nauthiz on the hands or even paint it on the fingernails to aid in birth. Otherwise the runes chosen can be drawn or traced on the hands of those helping and on the abdomen of the laboring woman.
   Other types of birth magic include galdoring the birth runes during labor, as well as writing prayers or birth spells on paper or parchment and placing it with the mother (The Troth, 2007). The prayers could be written ahead of time by the mother and could include re-paganized versions of older birth prayers. For example, this prayer, though Christian could be adapted: "Virgin Mary, gentle mother, loan your keys to me;
                                                       to open my limbs and my members." (Ellis Davidson, 1998).
 This could perhaps be re-written as "Frigga, mighty Lady, loan me your keys:
                                                        to open my limbs and ease this birth."
   There are different folktales, such as Sleeping Beauty, that reflect the older heathen ideas about the way that the Norns could effect the fate of a newborn. In modern practice perhaps a person would want to hold a blot or similar type ritual to the Norns after the birth to ask for blessings and good wyrd for the baby. It might also be worth considering setting up a small altar to the Norns during pregnancy for a similar purpose. It would be traditional to keep the placenta and bury it near a tree (Viking Answer Lady, 2012). For a modern heathen this could perhaps be done instead by planting a new tree over the placenta. Additionally a modern heathen might choose to adapt the American custom of the baby shower by setting up a small altar to the Norns and asking each guest to offer a blessing for the baby, perhaps written on a piece of paper that could be placed on the altar. This sort of petitioning the Norns for good wyrd for the baby would reflect the older idea of the Norns as weaving the new child's wyrd.

References:
 Viking Answer Lady (2012). Women and Magic in the Sagas: Magic and the Household Arts
The Troth (2007). Our Troth, volume 2
 Ellis Davidson, H., (1998) Roles of the Northern Goddess

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Story of my Odin Staff, or Why it's Okay to Ask the Gods to Help

    One of the physical object that I would describe as my most precious possession is an ash staff hand-carved with images relating to Odin. The staff was made by the amazing Paul Borda, of Dryad Design,  and is something I use in my seidhr work among other things. And yes the staff has a name, but it often is referred to simply as the Odin Staff, and it has gained its own reputation among my friends for personality. I could tell you stories about how it seems to look at people, in a way that unnerves many, or about how it doesn't seem to like my husband who mysteriously ends up tripping over it whenever he is near it, even when the tripping is inexplicable. But I think instead I will tell you the story of how I came to have the Odin Staff and why I believe that it is okay to ask the Gods for help when we feel they are asking us for something....
    About a year ago I had begun thinking of getting a staff to use with seidhr work. The seidhrkona in Eric the Red's Saga used a staff and several modern practitioners have mentioned using one; I found the idea intriguing and was contemplating working it into my own practice. I have a couple staves already, but none of them felt right for use in seidhr so I was tentatively thinking of making my own, a daunting prospect given my past failures in that area.
    I'd been debating back and forth with myself for several months actually about using or not using a staff and making one or not and hadn't made any firm decisions, when in late January of this year I saw a link to an e-bay listing for a staff by Paul Borda. I can't accurately describe the intense and immediate feeling that this staff was meant to be mine. It was overwhelming. I had never been on e-bay before and I had an ingrained mistrust of any online auction sites but I followed the link like Alice diving down the rabbit hole. The staff was beautiful, and it was perfect. Made of ash wood it was intricately carved with an image of Odin, his two ravens, his two wolves, Sleipnir, and the rune ansuz. Odin was holding a horn (I imagined of mead) in one hand, and his spear Gungnir in his other hand. The detail was stunning and I was in love. The price however was prohibitive, so I sadly told myself it was not to be.
  The auction ran for a week. Every day I found myself obsessively thinking about the staff in a way that was not normal. I couldn't get it out of my mind and I found myself fighting the temptation to place a minimal bid on it, even though I had bills to pay. Finally I started to wonder if this was all me or if some of this was rooted in Odin wanting me to have the staff - I realize how that sounds but at this point I could not explain why I was so obsessed with it. The more I thought that it was something he wanted me to have, the more sure I became that it was so, but the rational part of my mind kept interjecting that it could just be my own desire. Why, afterall, would a deity care what kind of a staff I used, even if I was dedicated to him and it was for work I do because of him? I am fond of beautiful things, and it could just as easily have been my own desire talking. Finally I thought of some advice I'd been given years ago by another seidhrworker and Odinswoman that I very much respect. She told me that sometimes the Gods may want us to do certain things for them, and in those cases there is nothing wrong in asking for their help in getting what we need to accomplish what's being asked of us.
   I thought long and hard about this, and about whether there was any possible way I could get the needed money. My family had just filed our tax return and I knew we had some money coming back; this is the only real spending money of any quantity that I have during the year and I already had a list of books and other items that I was planning to get. But I also knew that it had always taken at least 2 weeks for the tax refund to show up in our bank account and that would be long after this auction closed. It seemed impossible for me to work this out on my own in any way.
   That wednesday I stood before my altar, lit a candle, and made a small offering. I asked Odin, if it really was true that I was meant to have this staff or that he wanted me to have it for my seidhr work, that he help me to have the money in time. In exchange I said that I would spend every penny that I had for spending money if it came to that, to try to get the staff, and forego all the other items I had wanted to get.
   I walked away feeling like it was out of my hands now, one way or another.
   The next day when I checked my bank account (to balance my checkbook) the tax return money had been direct deposited. A record 3 days after filing the return. It freaked me right out. I actually went back and triple checked it to be sure it was really there. And then I remembered my end of the agreement and went up and placed a bid on the staff, which I won two days later when the auction closed.
   Even now telling the story it seems unreal, but that is exactly what happened, the way that it happened. And I have had the staff ever since.
  The biggest lesson I got out of this was that it really is okay to ask the gods for help when we feel that they want us to do something. If they really want it then they will help with it (obviously how to tell what they want is an entirely different topic). In the past when I felt that something was wanted of me I always took it as a personal challenge. It is hard for me to ask for help, even divine help, because I always rely in myself to get things done or to work things out, so this was probably a lesson I needed to learn.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Children's Yule Songs, Parodies of Traditional Songs

This first one is a children's version of a parody I did several years ago....

The 12 Days of Yule-tide for Children

On the twelfth day of yule-tide, my family gave to me
twelve holiday movies             
eleven gingerbread houses
ten tumbling tomte
nine dancing disir
eight knitted hats
seven Yule-tide stories
six kinds of stollen
five chocolate coins
four solstice songs
three cups of cocoa
two yule bucks
and a glass pickle in the tree

This next one is dedicated to my 5 year old daughter, who is now officially a drummer...

Little Drummer

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
The old Gods to honor, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we'll give, pa rum pum pum pum
Best blessings to recieve, pa rum pum pum pum

So to honor them, pa rum pum pum pum
We gather together, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to give, pa rum pum pum pum
Except to play my drum, pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So I'll play for the Gods, pa rum pum pum pum, on my drum

Offering music to them, pa rum pum pum pum
Playing from my heart, pa rum pum pum pum
Giving what I can to them, pa rum pum pum pum
The best I have I offer, pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum

I've done my best for the Gods, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

This last one was inspired by my oldest daughter, who last year mis-heard the lyrics to "Come All Ye Faithful" and was singing instead "Oh come we'll honor Odin" in the car. I've taken her idea and expanded it to the full song.

Come All The Faithful

Oh, come, all the faithful,
Joyful greet the Solstice!
Oh, come now, oh, come now
to honor the Gods;
Come and offer to them
Who bless our lives each day,
Oh, come, let's honor the Gods,
Oh, come, let's honor the Gods,
Oh, come, let's honor the Gods,
Together we sing

Allfather and Oski,
Wisdom and inspiration,
Great gift-giving God,
Wandering the world;
Friend of skalds and kings,
Grant us guidance each day!
Oh, come, let's honor Odin,
Oh, come, let's honor Odin,
Oh, come, let's honor Odin,
Kind Yulefather.
 
God of peace and plenty,
Gullinbursti's master
Sing we all together to him!
May Gerd's husband
Grant abundance to us:
Oh, come, let's honor Frey,
Oh, come, let's honor Frey,
Oh, come, let's honor Frey,
The Frithful Lord.

Thunderer, we greet you,
Midgard's defender;
Mjolnir's mighty weilder!
Shield us from harm,
Grant us strength each day!
Oh, come, let's honor Thor,
Oh, come, let's honor Thor,
Oh, come, let's honor Thor,
Wise and brave!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Karma, Wyrd, and Dán, oh my!

  It seems that many cultures have some concept relating to a person's purpose or destiny in life, and in American paganism and its many sub-branches these culture specific terms tend to get used interchangeably, often equated to the term "fate". Fate, of course, is the idea of a predestined or predetermined outcome in life which cannot be altered or affected by human action. Many Greek tragedies, such as Oedipus, are based on this idea which is personified in Greek mythology by the Moreia (the Fates) who create the "thread" of a person's fate, measure it, and cut it at death. Loving semantics as much as I do, I feel the need to point out that the terms equated to fate are not actually equivalent to each other and in fact often have very specific nuanced meanings. I thought it might be good to write about some of the most commonly used words and how I personally understand them, although I have to be clear that this is purely my own viewpoint; I am no expert. However I think even an amateur attempt at explaining the different terms could be helpful and also could provoke some great thought and discussion. I do want to stress though that this is my own understanding of the concepts, based on my research and study.
   First let's look at the most common term: karma. At this point there are two very different ways to understand karma, which may be labeled the Eastern and Western views. The term itself is from Saskrit and means "action" and is a concept found in both Hinduism and Buddhism; this is what I refer to as Eastern karma. Effectively karma is a neutral principle, the result of the sum total of our actions in this life and previous incarnations. Karma is what directs the circumstances under which we will next reincarnate. We can affect our own karma by choosing the actions we take, because all action inherently creates karma, but karma works on a cosmic scale. I like to think of (Eastern) karma as something like painting; each and every color choice and brush stroke, i.e. action, effects the end result. In contrast Western karma takes a more immediate approach, espousing the idea that karma works on a small, fast scale with the effects of our actions appearing not only within our lifetime, but also sometimes in the same day as the action. The Western view also sees karma as a moral principle, with "good" and "bad" karma based on actions. At its simplest this can be illustrated by saying if you do good, good will happen to you and if you do bad, bad will happen to you, rather like a spiritual ATM - put money in get money out, overdraw your account get charged fees. The most common view of this principle works entirely on the idea of an inherent good and bad value system to all actions, and is supported by the idea that either karma itself is a semi-sentient force or that the Gods enforce it. A less common view related this idea to energy manifestation, as a way to explain why the energy we put out returns to us. When discussing karma or when someone refers to karma it is important to know which view - Eastern or Western - they are applying because the two are very different.
   Next we have the concept of wyrd. Wyrd is an Anglo-Saxon word, corresponding to the Norse urd, and means, roughly, "to come to pass" or "becoming"; related to this is the concept of orlag, meaning "from the law".  As it was explained to me, orlag is the sum total of our past actions as well as those of our ancestors - we are born with a fixed orlag based on what has come to pass before our birth. Orlag effects all creation, including the Gods and spirits, as well as people. To quote Bauschatz: "This past includes the actions of all beings who exist within the enclosing branches of Yggdrasil: men, gods, giants, elves, etc..... it is such actions that form the layers or strata that are daily laid in the well by the speaking of the orlag. The coming into the well is orderly and ordered; events are clearly related to each other, and there is pattern and structure in their storage.” (Bauschatz, 1982). Orlag effects us because it is the base form which we move forward, but wyrd is the active principle created by us during our lives, which in turn creates orlag. Every action we take is based on our wyrd and orlag and further creates the wyrd we are then living with. Wyrd and orlag are both flexible and fixed; like water flowing in a river and the bed of the river itself. The river bed shapes where the river flows and directs the water but the water can change the shape of the river bed. So it is with wyrd - we shape our wyrd by our choices but our wyrd creates orlag which in turn directs our lives. Some people argue that orlg and wyrd are the same concept, and that may be so, I just find that it is easier to grasp them as separate but interlinked concepts. The analogy of weaving is often used to describe wyrd, and I tend to see wyrd as the weft and orlag as the warp. Freewill is an important aspect of wyrd, as we always have choices on how to act within the circumstances we find ourselves in.
   Dán is an Irish word that translates as "fate" - and also as gift, offering, craft, calling, and poem (O Donaill, 1977). It is a complex term but is often understood as the fate or destiny that a person is born with. There is a saying that goes "A man won't drown whose dán is to hang" that illustrates this idea that dán is inexorable and inescapable. This term out of all of the ones we are looking at most closely resembles the Greek idea of fate, although the Irish appear to have lacked the personification aspect of fate seen in the Greek.
  Even if we just look at the roots of each word we can see that there are differences in there meanings. Karma comes from the I-E root of kwer which means to do; wyrd comes from the root wert which means to turn or rotate; fate is from the root bha which means voice (I couldn't track down the I-E root of dán). Each root meaning connects logically to the modern meaning I think, and shows the subtle differences between the terms.
   While I can see why it is easier to use the simple equivalents when discussing the different terms I believe that it is better to understand the nuanced meanings of each term. Each one has its own layers and depth which reflect the culture and world view from which they came, and for modern pagans more can be gained by using them properly than by reducing them all to a Greek concept of fate. There is also a wealth of understanding to be gained by studying each term, in depth, individually, which I encourage people to do if the subject interests them.
  

References:
 Bauschatz, P., (1982) The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture
 O Donaill, N., (1977) Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

View of Witches in Irish Folklore

  The final chapter of Kevin Danaher's book Irish Customs and Beliefs begins with an anecdote from the author's youth. He relates encountering an old woman named Nellie while on a family vacation in Clare, who, he discovers later, is known through the area for her herbal cures and propensity to curse anyone who offended her. He ends the passage by saying,
            "On the way home that day I couldn't help thinking that the old lady was very like the witch in the story books; the black cat in the hearth and the heather besom behind the door were just what a witch should have, and when I heard of her cures and curses my suspicion grew. But I soon found out that the classic figure of the witch cleaving the night air on a broomstick with her cat perched on the pillion was not recognized in local tradition. Old Nellie might be a bean feasa, skilled in cures and in divination, or even an old cailleach who stole the cows milk disguised as a hare, but not a witch." (Danaher, 1964, pages 121-122).
  This nicely illustrates a key difference between the Irish view of witches and the more well known continental one. While European lore paints a vivid picture of the witch flying through the night to unholy meetings and using her powers to torment her neighbors, wither crops, and generally spread misery, the figure of the Irish witch is markedly different. While still seen as negative and working against the community the tone of Irish witches in folklore is generally less severe. The most commonly written of way that an Irish witch might vex her neighbors is by stealing the milk from their cows or otherwise bewitching the cattle. This would be accomplished by the witch shapeshifting into the form of a hare and sneaking into the field (O hOgain, 1995). The more sinister view of witches seems to have been imported from Europe at a later time and never took the strong  hold on the country that it did elsewhere, notably in Scotland (Danaher, 1964). Rather we see the idea of two types of magic users, the bean feasa (wise woman) who helped the community with herbal remedies, divination, and advice (especially relating to the fairies), and the cailleach who was envisioned as an old woman intent on stealing the milk from the cows and more broadly a family's luck.
   Irish witches were well known to be able to take the shapes of both hares and weasels. There are several stories of farmers or hunters who are out in the early morning and spot a hare in among the cows, shoot it, and find later that a well known neighbor has been injured, having been the witch shapechanged (O hOgain, 1995; Wilde, 1991).  It is perhaps because of this association that is thought to be bad luck for a hare to cross your path (Wilde, 1991). Similarly witches could take the form of a weasel and it was thought to be bad luck to cross paths with any weasel in the morning, although it was equally bad luck to kill it and risk it's spirit seeking revenge (Wilde, 1991). It should be kept in mind though that as with so many things in Irish folklore it could always be the fairies; indeed fairies were known to take the form of hares as well, particularly white ones (O hOgain, 1995).
   Ireland had very few witch trials over the centuries and these were usually within settlements of those of non-Irish descent (Danaher, 1964). The last witch trial on record in Ireland occurred in Carrickfergus in 1711 and resulted in a conviction and a sentence of the pillory and a year in prison (Danaher, 1964). This seems to reflect the different attitude with which the Irish approached the subject, compared to the far more rabid witch-hunting that went on in Europe. Perhaps because the beliefs about witches were not as severe or perhaps because the belief in the supernatural and use of magic in folklore was so strong even after Christianization, the Irish witch never created the hysteria in Ireland that was the hallmark of Europe during this period.

References:
Danaher, K., (1964). Irish Customs and Beliefs
Wilde, L., (1991). Irish Cures and Mystic Superstitions
O hOgain, D., (1995). Irish Superstitions

Friday, November 23, 2012

An Dagda

  One of the most well known Gods of the Tuatha de Danann is the Dagda. He can be found under many variations of the name and under many by-names, such as Daghdae, Dagdai, Daghdo, Daghdou, Dagdae, Dagdhua, Dagdhae, Dagda Mor, Dagda Donn and Eochaid Ollathair, Ruad Rofessa, Aedh Alainn, Aodh Ruadh Ro-fessa; usually the definitive article "the" is added before Dagda (Gray, 1983; O hOgain, 2006). The name Dagda itself is an epithet which means "Good God", implying a God good at all things. This name is gained during the second battle of Maige Tuired when he promises to do as much as all the other Tuatha De have said they will do in the fight (Gray, 1983). His by-names tell us a great deal about him as well: Eochaid Ollathair "Horse-lord Ample Father", Ruad Rofessa "Red man of Knowledge (specifically Druidic or Occult), Aedh Alainn "Fiery Lustrous One" (O hOgain, 2006). People inclined to look at the Dagda as a more neopagan type Father God should bear in mind the actual connotations of "Good God" as well as the more restricted translation of Ollathair, as there is no direct evidence that he was previously seen as the literal father of the Gods, but rather as prolific. In fairness to that view, however, O hOgain does suggest that the Dagda can be connected to the "Dis Pater" father deity that Caesar claims the Gauls believed they descended from (O hOgain, 2006). Additionally the text of the Cath Maige Tuired provides a long list of names for the Dagda, after he is challenged to give a ride to a Fomorian princess and replies that he has a geas preventing him doing so unless she knows his full name. She asks him three times for his name and on the third request he replies: "Fer Benn Bruach Brogaill Broumide Cerbad Caic Rolaig Builc Labair Cerrce Di Brig Oldathair Boith Athgen mBethai Brightere Tri Carboid Roth Rimaire Riog Scotbe Obthe Olaithbe" (Gray, 1983). O hOgain suggests tha the name Dagda comes from the root Dago-Dewios, a cognate with other Indo-European sky gods such as Zeus, and also through this and  his imagery to the Gaulish Secullos (O hOgain, 2006).
    In some sources the Dagda is said to be the son of Elatha and married to the Morrigan, although he is also known to hve fathered at least one child with Boinn. His children vary by source but are usually  given as Angus mac Og, Cearmait, Aodh Caomh, Conan, Midir, Bodhbh Dearg, Ainge, and Brighid; in one later example Dian Cect is also said to be his son (O hOgain, 2006). His sons often die after trying to obtain a woman who is not available; only Angus successfully marries the literal woman of his dreams Caer Iobharmheith. This may connect the Dagda to the concept of passion or of sexual envy, as he himself fathered Angus on another man's wife. He is also sometimes said to be the brother of Nuada and Ogma (O hOgain, 2006).
   The Dagda is generally described as being a large man, sometimes comically so, with a tremendous appetite and immense capacity. It was said that to make his porridge he needed 80 gallons of milk as well as several whole sheep, pigs, and goats, and that he ate this meal with a ladle large enough to hold two people lying down (Berresford Ellis, 1987). Some modern sources describe him as red-haired, possibly relating to the name Ruad Rofessa, and describe his clothing as a short tunic, sometimes obscenely short. He is considered to be generous, wise, and bigger-than-life in his appetites (O hOgain, 2006). He is often described as immensely strong and able to complete great feats such building a fort single-handedly or clearing 12 plains in a single night.
   The Book of Lecan states that the Dagda ruled for 80 years as king of the Gods after the death of Lugh, but other sources state that he was killed fighting Ceithlinn at the second battle of Maige Turied (Smyth, 1988). This is later explained with a story saying that he took a wound in the battle that took 80 years to kill him, but that is clearly an attempt to unify the varying tales into a coherant whole (O hOgain, 2006).  He was said to be a master of Druidic magic and to possesses several magical objects. It was the Dagda who held the cauldron of abundance brought from Murias, one of the four treasures. He also owned a great club that was so large it had to be dragged on wheels behind him; it is said that one end of the club could kill 9 men with one blow, while the other could heal (Berresford Ellis, 1987; O hOgain, 2006). His horse was Acein (ocean) and the Dagda possessed a harp whose playing changed the seasons. This harp was stolen by the Fomorians and the Dagda along with Nuada and Ogma had to journey to recover it, possibly indicating its importance to maintaining the order of time and the seasons.
   The Dagda is associated with Brugh na Boynne and also with a site in Donegal called Grianan Ailigh as well as Leighead Lachtmhaighe in Clare, Cnoc Baine in Tyrone and O Chualann in Wicklow (Smyth, 1988; O hOgain, 2006). It is said that it was the Dagda who delegated each of the sidhe to the Tuatha de after their defeat by the Milesians, possibly at Manannan mac Lir's suggestion (O hOgain, 2006). The Dagda originally lived at Newgrange (Burgh na Boynne) but was tricked out of the site by his son Angus. He is also particularly associated with Samhain, when he was said to unite with the Morrigan; this is also the time that he united with the Fomorian princess, also gaining her assistance against her own people in the battle.
   In general the Dagda is associated with leadership, wisdom, strength, abundance, fertility, generosity, and Druidic magic. O hOgain posits that the descriptions of him as swift may indicate that he was believed to be a God who responded quickly to his followers, and he also relates him to the sun and solar imagery (O hOgain, 2006). In some modern groups he is associated with the Norse Gods Thor or Odin, with valid arguments for both connections, and as mentioned he may also be associated with Secullos or the Roman Dis Pater. When I honor him I prefer to offer dark beers or ales, and I have also recreated a version of the porridge described as his in the Cath Maige Tuired (although in much smaller quantity). Although I dislike the modern way that authors describe him as "the God of the Druids" I do tend to associate him with Druidic magic and, tentatively, see a symbolic connection between his club and the Druidic staff. I have also come to believe that his comic appearance is a balance for his immense wisdom and power, on some symbolic level.

References:
 Gray, E., (1983). Cath Maige Tuired.
 O hOgain, D., (2006). The Lore of Ireland
 Smyth, D., (1988). A Guide to Irish Mythology
 Berresford Ellis, P., (1987). A Dictionary of Irish Mythology

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Four Treasures

"305. There were four cities in which they [the Tuatha de Danann] were acquiring knowledge and science and diabolism: these are their names, Failias, Goirias, Findias, Muirias. From Failias was brought the Lia Fail which is in Temair, and which used to utter a cry under every king that should take Ireland, From Goirias was brought the spear which Lug had: battle would never go against him who had it in hand. From Findias was brought the sword of Naudu: no man would escape from from it; when it was drawn from its battle-scabbard, there was no resisting it. From Murias was brought the cauldron of The Dagda; no company would go from it unsatisfied,"
     - Lebor Gabala Erenn (MacAlister, 1941)

"1. The Tuatha De Danann were in the northern islands of the world, studying occult lore and sorcery, druidic arts and witchcraft and magical skill, until they surpassed the sages of the pagan arts.
 2. They studied occult lore and secret knowledge and diabolic arts in four cities: Falias, Gorias, Murias, and Findias.
 3.From Falias was brought the Stone of Fal which was located in Tara. It used to cry out beneath every king that would take Ireland.
 4. From Gorias was brought the spear which Lug had. No battle was ever sustained against it, or against the man who held it in his hand.
 5. From Findias was brought the sword of Nuadu. No one ever escaped from it once it was drawn from its deadly sheath, and no one could resist it.
 6. From Murias was brought the Dagda's cauldron. No company ever went away from it unsatisfied."   
   - Cath Maige Tuired (Gray, 1983)

   In modern Irish paganism and Druidism it is not uncommon to hear people talking about the four treasures of the Tuatha de Danann. For many people they have become a template of sorts for what tools to include or for establishing directionality. My own approach is very different, although I do see the value of the four treasures for a modern practitioner. They are powerful symbols and still carry deep meaning; they can tell us a great deal about the deities associated with each one and about the wider values that each treasure represents.
  First, to get my own disagreements with the modern views out of the way, not that I begrudge anyone their own opinion or way of approaching practice. I have seen some people put forth that these four treasures of the Tuatha de Danann represent the tools that we as modern practitioners should use. I disagree with this because I think that viewing them as comparable to the traditional tools of ceremonial magic and witchcraft, the suits of the tarot if you will, is missing the unique value each one held within Irish mythology. It has never made sense to me, personally, to equate the spear to the staff, particularly as the spear was associated with victory in battle. Similarly the sword, while certainly a viable ritual tool, it seems odd to me to use a proxy representation of a weapon who it was said would kill everyone set against it when it was drawn from its sheath; that is an awfully intense energy to be pulling out to create ritual space, rather like using a flamethrower to light a candle. We also know from mythology, folklore, and secondary sources which tools it was likely that the Druids would actually have used: the wand, the staff, the cauldron, and possibly the sickle and Druid's egg (Green, 1997; Freeman, 2008).
   Even more common in modern practice is the idea of using the four treasures to mark out or establish ritual space; this hinges on using four cardinal directions and assigning one to each of the four cities listed in the descriptions above. Clearly the first obvious issue with this idea is that the source material of the mythology does not include any directionality for each city, they are simply listed. Secondly, and the reason I excerpted both sources, is that the cities are not given in the same order between the Lebor Gabala Erenn and the Cath Maige Tuired, making any placement based on the listing order arbitrary. Adding to this is the use of the four directions, as opposed to more or less. Brendan Myers in his book Mysteries of Druidism also makes a good argument for a five-direction approach to sacred space that includes center. To be fair, Alexei Kondrative in his book Apple Branch does offer a good system based on using the treasures and four cardinal points; he uses the etymology of the names of the cities to associate them with the four classical elements and then to directions (Kondratiev, 2003). I don't personally agree with this, as I feel it includes too many outside influences, but it is at least a strong educated guess for those that do want to use this system. It is also worth noting that this idea also relies strongly on using the system of the four classical elements, which there is no evidence the Celts followed; in fact it seems far more likely that the Celtic system of elements would have included more than 4 (see Searles O Dubhain's article here for more on that).
   Now having said all that I do see great value in the four treasures. I believe they can be very important symbols for us both of the Gods who hold them and of some core concepts of Celtic paganism. To me the treasures represent the values of sovereignty, hospitality, defense, and offense, respectively. By meditating on these qualities and their symbols I feel that I have gained a deeper connection to my spirituality.
     "3.From Falias was brought the Stone of Fal which was located in Tara. It used to cry out beneath every king that would take Ireland." (Gray, 1983). The Lia Fail is one of the most interesting of the treasures because it does not belong to any named Deity, but rather to the land of Ireland herself. Interestingly the eDIL gives multiple definitions to the Old Irish word Fal, and these include the stone at Tara, abundance, science and learning, a king, and a fence, hedge, or enclosure, and mentions that Fal was once used as a name for Ireland. While in modern euphemism the Lia Fal is often called the Stone of Destiny I tend to think of it as the stone of Ireland. It represents, literally and figuratively, the sovereignty of the island. In my practice I meditate on it as the expression of the will of the land and of the power of right leadership. As a personal symbol I see it as representing the importance of connecting to and living in right relationship with the land, and listening to her voice.
  "4. From Gorias was brought the spear which Lug had. No battle was ever sustained against it, or against the man who held it in his hand." (Gray, 1983). The spear of Lugh is the next treasure mentioned, a fierce weapon that could overcome any battle. Lugh himself is the many-skilled God, destined to win the war against the Fomorians for the Tuatha de by slaying his grandfather Balor, and also a God who would be king of the Tuatha de. His spear is described as a weapon which no battle can be sustained against, a power that is extended to any who bear the spear. To me I see the spear as having a more defensive energy to it, because of the way the translations word the description - "no battle was ever sustained against it" - in this case the use of the word against has a defensive feel to me (others may disagree of course). When I meditate on the spear I tend to see it as representing the value of a good defense, of standing your ground, and of persevering.
  "5. From Findias was brought the sword of Nuadu. No one ever escaped from it once it was drawn from its deadly sheath, and no one could resist it." (Gray, 1983). Juxtaposing the spear is Nuada's sword, a clearly offensive weapon. Nuada was the king of the Tuatha de when they first came to Ireland and then again after his arm was healed. Unlike Lugh who is described as many skilled Nuada seems to be a much more straightforward God of battle, married according to some sources, to Macha herself a battle Goddess. Although some sources do connect him to healing he is clearly a deity of war and battle, leading the Gods in the epic wars. His sword is said to be inescapable once drawn, and unbeatable. Whereas the spear is described as a weapon against which no battle could be sustained the sword is said to be something from which none escape. I tend to see the sword as representing a good offense, something that we all need to have at some point. Although ruthless, it is perhaps a lesson that any situation which calls for offensive action should be entered into with the intent of winning. The sword shows no mercy, and presents no weakness. In my practice I will meditate on the sword as the attitude needed to achieve victory in any battle, and as the ability to fight for oneself and one's family. I also use it as a representation of Nuada, who I honor.
 "6. From Murias was brought the Dagda's cauldron. No company ever went away from it unsatisfied." (Gray, 1983). Finally we have the last treasure the cauldron of the Dagda. It is not at all surprising to me that the Dagda, a God who himself is associated with great appetite and excess, would be the holder of such a cauldron. It is also worth noting that despite the modern neopagan association of the cauldron with feminine or Goddess energy, it is actually most often associated with Gods in Irish and more generally Celtic myth. The Dagda has the cauldron of plenty, Dian Cecht has a cauldron (sometimes called a spring) of healing, and even a Welsh story about Bran and Branwen that talks about an Irish king who has a cauldron that can revive the dead. Additionally we see the poem attributed to Amerigen "the Cauldron of Poesy" which describes three cauldrons born in every person. The cauldron itself is clearly a very powerful and widespread symbol in Celtic myth. The Dagda's cauldron is one of abundance that satisfies all who take from it, a fitting treasure for one who is sometimes called Eochaid Ollathair, the All-father. I tend to see it as a representation of the qualities of generosity and hospitality, as well as the ability of a leader or head-of-household to provide for those who look to them for support. When I meditate on the cauldron I see it in the light of a source of these things and try to relate that into my own life. I also often end up contemplating the wider symbolism of the cauldron in Irish myth as a provider of abundance and healing. I also personally do use the cauldron as a tool in my practice because I feel the symbolism with it is so strong.
   So these are the four treasures of the Tuatha de Danann. There is a great deal of modern material about them to be found, but much of it is inspired or extrapolated rather than original. For those who want to incorporate the treasures into their own practice this can give you a great deal of freedom, especially if you keep in mind that what can be found in books, no matter how authoritative, is just that author or group's opinion. I tend to reject the two common views of the four treasures and have established my own. That may be the best route, in the end, for every individual to do to get the most out of their powerful symbolism and energy.

References:
MacAlister, R., (1941). Lebor Gabala Erenn
Gray, E., (1983). Cath Maige Tuired
Green, M., (1997) The World of the Druids
Freeman, P., (2008) War, Women, and Druids