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Friday, May 30, 2014

Ethics of Divination

  In most modern pagan paths divination plays an important role. This is true in modern witchcraft and in Druidism, where divination might be used in ritual to predict a group's immediate future or to tell if offerings were accepted. Divination in witchcraft might be used before or after spellwork or more broadly to help a person find guidance or communicate with the Gods and spirits. In Heathenry we see divination used sometimes at baby blessings or namings, where a rune might be drawn to predict the child's luck, or as part of some rituals by adult participants for a similar reason. Besides ritual applications divination is also used more broadly by people seeking answers and looking for insight.

   Although not every Druid, witch, or Heathen uses divination, for many it can be a central tool for the practice of their faith. Divination then is an important thing to consider within a spiritual context and looking at it in this context raises important ethical questions. As a diviner what responsibility do we have to relay the messages we receive in an ethical manner, knowing that divination is an often imprecise and vague art?
   The first way that this can come up is when we are taking omens in ritual and the omen appears as a negative one. If it applies to a person care must be taken in how the omen is relayed so that it doesn't seem overwhelmingly bad, but at the same time we don't want to soft pedal the message so much that the meaning is lost. I've seen both extremes happen, once where a negative omen was given very bluntly in a way that frightened some people, and another time where a negative omen was actually rejected and a second omen taken so that the message would be better. Neither of these is constructive; rather I think we have an obligation to say what we see in a neutral way that shares the content but without passing on a sense of judgment of good or bad. This can of course be challenging if the omen itself is very negative, but even in that case the response can include further divination to find out if anything can be done to mitigate the situation. This is where interpreting the omen comes in and the interpretation should rely on both intuition and an ability to craft the message in a constructive way. Even a bad omen serves a purpose and should be interpreted and considered, rather than ignored or rejected.
    The second way I think that ethics can come into play is when we are doing more general divination and the reading is showing information that is important but will also certainly negatively impact the person hearing it. I have read tarot semi-professionally for over 10 years, and runes for more than 5 and I have had an amazing array of things come up in readings. I've had people ask about infidelity, parentage of children, pregnancy, and serious illnesses - and I've had all of these things come up for people who were not asking about them and had no idea there might be any such problems. What is the ethical thing to do? Do we tell a person a what we see when it might motivate a divorce or initiate an affair? My own approach to this, as with omens, is a middle road. I emphasize the uncertain, shifting nature of any divination tool and the need to really think about and process any information. I talk about possibilities and potentials rather than certainties, but I don't change the actual message of the divination tool, be it cards or runes.
   In the same way we should be cautious about over-emphasizing the positive in a reading. Making a moderately good reading into an extremely great one is not only unfair because it distorts the message but may also mislead the person into choosing an option they mistakenly believe is much better than it really is. Just as with negative messages, positive messages should be relayed in a straightforward manner that emphasizes the changeable nature of all divination.
   In my experience people will ultimately only listen to what they want to hear, no matter what you say or how you say it. But to be an ethical Seer or diviner is important and we should strive to be honorable in how we read for others. Being honorable means being honest and presenting the message without distortion, but also being clear that no message is written in stone. We should be sensitive to the feelings of the person or people we are reading for without letting ourselves be influenced to tell them what they want to hear. In the end we should approach reading for others as we would want someone else to read for us.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wellspring 2014

 I returned home yesterday from my first national festival, Wellspring, an event put on by ADF.  This is ADF's 30th year, and although I've been a member since 2001 I've never attended an ADF gathering before. This year though I was asked if I'd be interested in doing a few workshops at Wellspring and after discussing the logistics with my Kindred sister, decided that it would be fun to go and bring the kids. I put in proposals for a selection of workshops and was set to do three: honoring the Other Crowd as a modern pagan, living Celtic Reconstructionism, and the Hidden Folk in Norse and Irish culture.
Thor shrine in the Runestead

   There was some point then were putting 5 children ages 10 through 1 in a car together for close to 9 hours was a good idea. In retrospect I don't know when that point was, but we did it, and after an epic drive through the night to avoid holiday traffic we arrived at Brushwood. We chose a campsite located strategically close to the bathrooms (5 small children, remember?) and also on the fringe where crying baby at 6 am was less likely to bother people.
  There were a couple downsides to the weekend. We had been warned to be prepared for cold weather; we failed to anticipate it getting down to the mid-40's (Fahrenheit) at night and so did not have enough blankets. The kids were okay, of course, but the adults did not sleep well - and teaching workshops on little sleep makes for interesting times. I may have done an impression of Fonzie from Happy Days in one workshop. We also forgot to pack our bottled water so its safe to say dehydration was an issue.
  That aside I can honestly say Wellspring was an amazing experience. Brushwood itself is a wonderful place with a permanent nemeton and runestead where people can go to worship. I attended a moving Morrigu devotional at the nemeton the first day; during a portion of the ceremony where personal omens were being taken the temperature suddenly plunged so that our breath was a visible plume in the air and then just as suddenly warmed again. Every morning we would walk to these sacred places with the children to do our devotional prayers, which was powerful not only for my friend and I but also for the children.
Nemeton
My oldest daughter especially found the experience to be profound, as there was a small shrine to Brighid she went and prayed at every morning. She feels a strong connection to Brighid, which was made stronger by this devotional practice. I suspect she's trying to think of how to make something like this at home now.
Brighid's shrine
 Speaking of children - Wellspring had a great kids program with lots of fun activities. We'd been a little worried about keeping the kids occupied and happy, but they all enjoyed themselves - enough that they are asking to go back.
   There was a potluck dinner the second night we were there and I have to say I have never had so much fun at a potluck before, even if I was wrestling tired kids most of the time. The food was great, the company was great - Stone Creed Grove kindly invited our rolling circus to sit with them - and the atmosphere overall was convivial. And after dinner the Dragon Ritual Drummers performed, which was amazing to listen to - even from a quarter mile away, in a tent, with a sleeping infant.
  I saw an old friend and was able to spend a little bit of time with her, met several people in real life that I had previously only known online, and made several new friends over the course of the weekend. I think my workshops went well, and I enjoyed the ritual I was able to attend. I certainly wish I'd had more time to spend talking with people but overall I think Wellspring was a successful experience for us, and I came home feeling physically tired but spiritually revived.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Berchta - the White Lady

   Berchta, also called Perchta, is a goddess of southern Germany and Austria who later became known in folklore as a kind of boogeyman who would frighten children. Modern Heathens look to a variety of sources to understand her as a goddess and so the understandings of her can vary widely.
      In modern folklore Berchta/Perchta is seen as a lesser spirit who punishes miscreants and who has an assortment of fairy beings called Perchten who travel with her. Perchten is also a word used to describe masks worn during processions, called Perchtenläufe, to drive out evil spirits (Wagner, 2014). These masks are made of a variety of material and usually take the form of grotesque animals; they appear in two styles, schiachperchten (ugly perchten) and schönperchten (beautiful perchten) (Wagner, 2014). Ugly perchten drive out evil spirits while beautiful perchten bring luck (Wagner, 2014). The ugly perchten are also associated with the Krampus traditions in modern times as the masks are reminiscent of the appearance of Krampus (Muller, 2002).
   In the older material she was almost certainly a goddess, similar in many ways to Frau Holda; in fact some people believe the two are the same being under different names.  Berchta appears in those areas of Germany where Holda does not lending some credence to this idea, and the two are both associated with the Wild Hunt and caring for the souls of dead children (Grimm, 1888). Both are also associated with Yule and with spinning and also have in their retinue fairy beings - perchten with Perchta (Berchta) and huldufolk with Holda. Both Holda and Berchta are also associated with the wagon and the plow and both are associated with witches (Grimm, 1888). However there are notable differences as well, and these are enough to persuade me that the two are separate, albeit likely related, beings.
   Berchta's name means bright, luminous and it is said she appears dressed in white (Grimm, 1888). Berchta received offerings on rooftops and she is associated with specific foods (Heath, 2013). Grimm discusses a fish and dumpling dish as well as oatmeal dish connected to Berchta, which her followers would eat on the last night of Yule (Grimm gives her feast day as either December 25th or January 6th; in modern practice it is usually December 31st); those who failed to observe this practice were severely punished (Grimm, 1888). Berchta was also strongly connected to iron and said to have a nose made of this metal (Heath, 2013). In many of Berchta's stories she is said to be accompanied by either the fey perchten or by the ghosts of young children called heimchen (literally "crickets"), which she cares for; these spirits are said to bring rain to the earth while she tends her own realm, or as Grimm says "while she worked underground with her plough". (Grimm, 1888). Besides being associated with agriculture Berchta is also associated at least tentatively with streams and rivers, as in one story where she sets an arrogant woman to spinning and the resulting thread on its spools is thrown into a stream to give it back to Berhcta (Grimm, 1888). Berchta is known to reward those who help her, usually by giving them the archetypal fairy gift of a useless seeming object - in this case wood chips - which turn to gold. She also punishes those who offend her, typically by cutting them open and stuffing their body with straw, although in some stories she forces them to spin, blinds them, or, as in one tale from Bavaria, she hits a greedy man with an ax (Grimm, 1888). In older material she is described as gentle and generous, a kind Goddess who appears clad in white to care for babies while the adults sleep; indeed Grimm calls her "the White Lady" (Grimm, 1888).
    Some people believe that Berchta evolved from the older Germano-Gaulish goddess Bricta (Brixta) who was a goddess of healing (Heath, 2013). Bricta was known in Luxeuil France, not too far from the border of what is now south western Germany. Bricta may mean either "shining one" or "magic, enchantment" and she was associated with both healing and cursing, and possibly with the river Breuchin which might be named after her (Etymology, n.d.). This means that not only are the names possibly connected in their meanings but both also have connections to water, specifically streams or rivers. If we give weight to this idea then Berchta could also be seen as a healing Goddess in a German heathen context.
  My own journey to honoring Berchta has been a strange one. Last year, as I was working on my health after a couple brushes with near-death I started to have experiences with a being I called the White Lady who answered when I was praying for healing. I had no idea who she was, and slowly figured out that she wasn't any of the deities I might have expected - not Airmed or Eir for example. The closest I came to someone that "felt" like what I was experiencing was Urglaawe's Weisskeppich Frau, but it wasn't quite her. After a while I suspected that she was Berchta, but reading about her I didn't see anything relating to healing; finally though I decided to go with my gut and honor my Berchta as my White Lady and simply view the healing aspect as a unique upg. And just after coming to that conclusion I ran across the idea that Berchta was actually related to or derived from the older Celtic Goddess Bricta who does have healing associations and that really clicked for me. So I honor Berchta in part as a goddess of healing, as well as a deity who protects babies and children and has ties to the Hidden Folk.

References:
Grimm, J., (1888) Teutonic Mythology
Heath, C., (2013) From Fairytale to Goddess: Frau Holle and the scholars that try to reveal her origins. Retrieved from  https://www.academia.edu/3548067/From_Fairytale_To_Goddess_Frau_Holle_And_The_Scholars_That_Try_To_Reveal_Her_Origins
Etymology (n.d.) retrieved http://theses.univ-lyon2.fr/documents/getpart.php?id=lyon2.2009.beck_n&part=159248
Muller, F and U (2002) Percht und Krampus. Retrieved from http://archive.today/g2uJi
Wagner, A., (2014) Perchtenlaufe: Salzburg's pagan heritage. Retrieved from http://www.visit-salzburg.net/travel/perchten.htm

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Seidhr - a poem

 Seidhr

My spirit moves
Inside my skin
Seething, seething, seething
Breaks free, bursting
Out beyond flesh
Shifting, shifting, shifting
My shape changing
Wearing wings, wild
Soaring, soaring, soaring
Clothed in feathers
Clothed in light
Straining, straining, straining
Down to the roots
Of the tree, of the world
Searching, searching, searching
Questions echoing
Answers waiting
Seeing, seeing, seeing


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Creating a German Heathen Cycle of Holidays

  One of my first steps in approaching Germanic Heathenry has been to look at what holidays to celebrate. Up until now I've divided my holidays between the Norse and Irish, with the solar holidays - the equinoxes and solstices - being Norse, so this represents an entirely new approach. I believe though that its important to have a solid idea of what is being celebrated, when, and why because it not only connects us to the cycle of the year but also creates a pattern of offerings and reciprocity with the gods and spirits. 
   If the year is divided into two halves, as Grimm describes, and May begins Summer then we may surmise that November begins winter; this lines up perfectly with my own regional environment so I am comfortable going with it. For my purposes then I have Summer Finding in May and Winter Finding in November, representing the shift between the two seasons; in each case the season that is ending would symbolically be defeated by the one that is beginning. Both also have different associations with the Wild Hunt. So we have just celebrated Summer Finding, Sommer Entdeckung, representing the beginning of summer and defeat of winter. 
   After summer begins we have the summer solstice, Mittesommer or Midsummer, when we honor Frau Sonne at the height of her power. Much like May Day this holiday was traditionally associated with Maypole dancing and revelry.
   We know from Grimm that the elves - alfar in Old Norse or German alpen or elben - were given offerings ceremonially in what he equates to the historic Norse alfablots. We just don't know if this was done at specific times of year, or when there was a need, or regularly. I decided to place this celebration at the beginning of the harvest season because the elves were associated with luck, health, and prosperity - all things that also go well with the symbolism of the harvest. I'll call it Elben Segen, or Elf Blessing. 
    I also wanted to include a celebration that focused just on remembering and honoring the ancestors; autumn seemed like the best time for that, but there was other symbolism already associated with the November 1st holiday, Winter Finding as I call it, that I felt detracted from the focus I was looking for. So on the fall equinox I'll celebrate Erntedankfest - Harvest Festival, Thanksgiving - which like the secular American Thanksgiving will emphasize family and harvest foods, but also include a ritual to honor the ancestors.
  Winter Entdeckung, Winter Finding, on November 1st will celebrate the passage of summer and return of winter. Wodan and Frau Holda will be honored, symbolizing the return of the Wild Hunt. 
  Julfest is a 12 day celebration running from approximately December 20th through January 1st. I've blogged about my yule celebrations before here. This year I will of course be looking at how to shift to a more Germanic approach, like including Holle Nacht, but I think many of the traditions will probably be fairly similar. 
   After Julfest, at the beginning of February, I want to keep the modern Heathen celebration of disirblot, but call it Idisi Segen, or Idisi Blessing. The Idisi are protective ancestral spirits, women who have died but continue to watch over the family line. Its important to properly honor the Idisi and I think its very appropriate to have a holiday just for them. 
   In March, at the spring equinox, I celebrate Ostara in honor of the German goddess of spring. She's an obscure one, but there is enough evidence of her to convince me and I think its important to honor her as the initial force of growth and renewal in the land. I have also previously honored Artio, a Germano-Gaulish goddess at this time. 
   And that brings us back to May Day - Sommer Entdeckung, Walpurgisnacht - which I just wrote about in depth and celebrated. 
    So from what I've gleaned from Grimm and incorporated from modern Heathenry I'm looking at:
Sommer Entdeckung - Summer Finding - May 1st - Frau Holda
Mittesommer - Midusmmer, June - Frau Sonne
Elben Segen - Elf-blessing, aka Alfarblot, august 1st - the Elben
Erntedankfest - Harvest Festival - September - honoring the ancestors
Winter Entdeckung - Winter Finding - November 1st - Wodan and Frau Holda
Julfest - aka yule, the night of December 20th through morning of January 1st - many different Gods and spirits
Idisi Segen - Idisi blessing, aka Disirblot, February 1st - the Idisi
Ostara - March, welcoming spring - Ostara



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sommer Entdeckung - My Family's First Walburgisnacht

   The evening of this past April 30th my family celebrated our first German-oriented May Day. It has been an interesting experience so far shifting focus with the children; their questions are pushing me to clarify and have an understanding of what I am doing that I probably wouldn't worry about otherwise. 
    We dedicated our celebration to Frau Holda and to welcoming back the summer. We invited in our ancestors, the friendly Huldufolk, and Frau Holda. We sang "Winter out, summer in" and I told the children about how we were at a turning point in the year, shifting from winter to summer. The children were curious about the ideas of summer and winter fighting each other and expressed hope that now our weather would finally turn. I pointed out that our local signs of spring/summer finally arriving included the forsythia and azaleas blooming.  We also talked about some of the history of the holiday and its association with witches. We made offerings of cedar to the landspirits, burning them on our altar, and offered bread to our ancestors. For Holda we offered flax seed, because its said that she brought flax to people. Finally we prepared a slice of oatmeal bread with butter and honey as an offering for the Windhund* and left it outside. 
    I had planned to include two things that we ended up not doing because of a cold steady rain: making a May Bush and ritually "drowning" winter. The first is actually a tradition shared by the Irish and one that the children and I have done before - it's always fun. We take a branch from a tree and set it up by the door and then decorate it with yellow ribbons and flowers. The second I read about in Grimm and I loved the symbolism; an effigy of Death, representing winter, is created and then ceremonially drowned in a lake or other body of water. My oldest daughter made a paper figure representing winter and we planned to drowned it in the swamp behind our house. After death/winter is banished we would have sung:
"Wir haben den Tod hinausgetrieben,
den lieben Sommer bringen wir wieder,
den Summer und den Meien
mit blümlein mancherleien"

 (We have driven out Death
  brought back the dear summer
  the summer and the May
  with little flowers of many kinds)
   All of this had to be saved for another day, probably next weekend, which will put it close to the end of the 12 day Wonnetdanz of Urgalaawe. I suppose that's fitting enough.  
  After the children went to bed I did a small personal rite to Holda on my own, committing to one year of honoring her and studying German Heathenry. It seemed fitting to do from one May Day to another. 
Duncan Royale Frau Holda statue


*the Windhund is a hound of the Wild Hunt left behind during the summer who may bring luck, prosperity, and protect from bad weather