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Recently, Osireion celebrated the vernal equinox (spring) with our own version of the Egyptian secular holiday, Sham el Nessim. We held a ritual to honor Isis, piling her altar with the simple feast which would follow: lettuce, smoked salmon, capers, onions, boiled eggs and cream cheese (yes, we like lox and bagels!). Each of us decorated a red-dyed egg with glyphs and used it during ritual, then ate it afterwards. We peeled little spring scallions, “sniffed the breeze” (sham el nessim translated) and nibbled them, and sang to welcome spring – “we see your life in the greening of the land, we feel your love and begin to understand.”
At the same time that many of us were holding various kinds of Pagan ceremonies to mark the equinox, present-day Egyptians were picnicking and doing some of the same things. I hear that Muslim authorities don’t like it, but for most Egyptians it’s a national holiday, involving the eggs, salted fish and onions. Certainly, after such a long winter here in the States, going outside with family and friends to sniff the breeze and have some picnic-innocent fun has been quite welcome....
I've never much been one for religious jewelry, but that doesn't mean I haven't generally got a god or two tucked somewhere or other about my person. You could call them “pocket gods.”
The Norse called them hlutir and carried them in pouches. (Hlutr is the same as English lot, as in “drawing lots,” which gives one something of an idea of their cultural importance.) The witch-wife Heiðr once told Ingimund the Old, while he still lived in Norway, that he would settle in an undiscovered land west over sea, and that the sign of the truth of her seeing would be this: that the little silver hlutr of Frey that he always carried in his pouch would be lost, but that he would find it again buried in the ground when he dug to raise the pillars of his house in the new land. And so indeed it came to be when, years later, he settled in Iceland.
Which pocket-gods I carry depends on the season and the vagaries of my own thought and mood. Shown above are two that are frequently with me, both worked in Baltic amber: a Sun-disc and a Thunder-ax. Sun and Thunder are two of my best-loved gods, and I like to bear their main (power) with me as I go through my day.
I had only been a member of MSN ASATRU for a few months when suddenly one day I logged in and discovered I had been made the group's manager. The previous manager was nowhere to be found. There were no other managers, moderators, or admins. I was a still a near-total net newbie and I didn't know how to make a thread show me previous comments, let alone how to manage an internet forum. I had to learn how to use the back end controls of the time period. I had to learn some html programming so I could put text and graphics on the landing page and other pages, and create live links to photos hosted on host sites (yes, you had to known html to do that back then.)
When it came to actual content, though, I was on firm ground, having been heathen since 1986. I was always seeing newbies come on the group and ask for a beginner's book and people directing them to read the Eddas or academic papers, which can be intimidating even for adult readers, and a lot of the newbies were in their early teens, and just did not have the educational background to understand classical literature or college-level papers.
I started compiling a FAQ file on the group site. The FAQ page eventually became the first chapter of Asatru For Beginners.
At the time, my mom was a public high school English teacher. Sometimes she had free reading time in her classroom, and she kept a rack of books and other reading material for the students. I asked her what the typical American 14 year old boy read for pleasure during free reading, and she said Motor Sports Magazine. That's the reader for whom I wrote my book.
I kept Asatru For Beginners down to 20,000 words because mom told me that many average level teen readers found books longer than that so intimidating that they would not even start them. I kept the book entirely free of footnotes and quotes from foreign languages, both of which were typically found in any given Asatru related paper of the time period, since almost everything available was written for an academic readership. I wrote in American Family Newspaper style, with which I was familiar because I had written for newspapers. I also filled my book with handy lists, so that as the book's owners became more advanced, they would still find it useful. I made my book non-sectarian, which set it apart from any other beginner's books available at the time, the others having been produced by sectarian organizations.
Since I first wrote it, Asatru has experienced some generational change, and some change sparked by the changing technology of the internet. I'm working on a new edition to reflect these generational changes, which I hope to publish in 2017 when the book's current contract runs out. In the meantime, I still think it's the best and the easiest to understand of the beginner's books on Asatru.
“Think what god it may be."
(Ezra Pound, Religio)
In the Baltics, conversion came late and memory of the Old Gods lingered long. Some of Europe's first New Pagan Movements got their start there during the period of national and cultural efflorescence between the First and Second World Wars known as the Baltic Renaissance. Like ourselves, the pagans of Latvia and Lithuania are new pagans, but they have been so for a generation longer than we have, and their experience has much to teach us.
The small (11½ x 8 x 3½ inches) inlaid wooden box shown above, from Latvia, dates to the 1920s. It is a cash box, with interior compartments for coins, banknotes, and bills. The inlaid pattern on the outside lid represents the phases of the Moon.
In 2001, I moved to a house where I could get internet access at home. I had been using the net at the public library, but the time rationing system meant I never had time to learn much. Search engines like Google didn't exist yet, but there was a search capability within the MSN Groups website, and one of the first things I did with my home net connection was join MSN ASATRU.
It was exciting to be able to connect with other heathens, and for the first time I encountered other heathens who lived outside of the USA. An Icelandic Asatruar joined the group and told us we were using Icelandic words wrong and we sounded ridiculous. American Asatruars had been greeting each other with "hailsa" for as long as I'd known any other Asatruars, but now we learned it was grammatically incorrect. Although it was hard to break a habit of using a word I'd been using for over a decade, I started using terms in my own language instead, and adopted the traditional "hail and well met."
Among my other early internet experiences was encountering the word Vanatru for the first time. I considered using it myself because of my dedication to Freya, but ultimately decided to stick with the word Asatru to describe my path because I consider all the gods who live in Asgard to be my gods. I'm very happy with that decision, as since then Vanatru has become its own sect very different from Asatru, and I have broadened and deepened my relationships with the gods of Asgard and have remained firmly committed to Asatru.
It's that time of the week again, when we look around the world to see how religion is affecting and being affected by peoples' lives all over the globe. This week in Faithful Friday we take a look at the intersection of religion and activism—for both good and ill—from the revival of traditional Norse religion in Iceland to the oppression of ethnic minorities for their religious beliefs.