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PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Foundations of Incense: Oak

When I think about making incense cones and sticks, I usually see wood (a base material) as the simplest and most reliable ingredient in the blend.  After all, it’s the base material that provides the heat to evenly burn the other ingredients.  I generally use a simple formula when creating a pure wood incense: 2 tablespoons of wood powder, 1/8 teaspoon of gum binder, and about 1 tablespoon of water.  Simple right? 

When it comes to woods, Oak is a wood seen as sacred by multiple cultures.  It is fairly easy to powder and has wonderful burning properties.  Most of us are familiar with the pleasing smell of Oak burning in a campfire.  These facts make Oak seem like a natural base material to use for many different types of incense.  Occasionally, Nature likes to teach us humility by showing us that we aren’t nearly as smart as we think.  Oak has been chuckling at me for decades, but I think we have finally found our middle ground.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Pilgrimage: Earth

Oxford Dictionaries defines "Pilgrimage" as a pilgrim's journey, or a religious journey or religious expedition. I have gone of several pilgrimages myself, self-described, most likely, but pilgrimages nonetheless. I ventured to Brittany in France and visited Carnac, with its row and rows of standing stones. I visited a number of off-the-beaten tracks places like "Merlin's Grave" (I am pretty sure he wasn't buried there), the Val-sans-retour, the Fountain of Barenton, the Forest of Broceliande, the odd Celto-Christian Church at Trehuerentec. All of these places were known to others, all of them had some history, a few of them had some authenticity.

Last year, at the OBOD Summer Gathering, I made the trip up Glastonbury Tor, indeed an effort and a pilgrimage all in one. To do ritual in a holy places makes the religious journey or religious expedition even more powerful, all the more memorable. The journeys are all the more memorable because they require a journey of distance, of effort, and of time.

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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
A Glastonbury Beltane

Belated Beltane greetings! Or Bealtaine as we call it in Ireland. But this year I greeted the May at dawn in Glastonbury. And not being a morning lark by nature, I indulged in the Irish custom of bathing my face in the May morning dew for the first, and most probably the last time, in this lifetime! It dawned an icy 1.5degree C at our rented cottage in Wells. But the rituals must have worked because the sun came out and I roasted and toasted the winter chill out of bones at the Beltane fire in Chalice Well Gardens later that morning.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_gardening.jpg

 

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Last November I moved out of my apartment and into a house. For the first time in four years I can get out and garden. I've turn
  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    That's great, Anthony. I hope you have a wonderful gardening season!
Thowing Stones: D.I.Y. Crystal Divination

 Give your tarot cards a rest and create a one-of-a-kind divination tool: a bag of crystals you can use to do readings.  It is very easy to do.  Collect stones you have picked up on travels, and keep your eye out for crystals as you go about your daily business.  You can gather up relatively inexpensive stones such as garnets, agates, amethysts, and tiny citrines at your favorite metaphysical five and dime.  Select a favorite velvet bag, and when the need arises, turn to crystal visions for your enlightenment.  Most of us cannot afford diamonds in our bag of crystals, so substitute clear quartz here; for emeralds, switch to peridots, and garnets can substitute nicely for rubies. 

 

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Rite of the Witch-Fire

The Craft is like Fire.

Last weekend the folks from our new daughter-coven came into town for the Rite of the Witch-Fire.

For more than 30 years now, the Fire has burned continuously here at the covenstead.

Now we pass it on.

In the Fire's Presence, we gathered in the temple and kindled from it New Fire. This Fire now burns at our daughter group's new covenstead.

Truly, the Craft is like Fire.

Though you give your Fire away, the giving in no way diminishes you.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Asatru FAQ: Beards

Recently, a heathen US soldier was granted permission to wear a religious beard. This has sparked controversy in the heathen community.

The religious beard exemption in the US army was created for the benefit of Sikhs. Many Asatruars and other heathens think it's wrong for heathens to use this exemption because heathens don't have the kind of religion in which our gods require all their followers to follow commandments in order to achieve a proper afterlife. (In heathen lore, there is only one way into Valhalla, and that is to die in battle. Most of us are going to Hel. And that is not a bad place.) Asatru has no central authority, and so different groups and individuals vary in their practices. One group may wear beards while another group does not. Individuals may be given personal taboos not practiced by the rest of their community. The soldier in question is a member of Norskk, which is an organization within the Forn Sidr sect of heathenry, not Asatru. However, many Asatruars are asking in heathen forums whether they can also get religious beard exemptions, so I am attempting to address that here.

As it happens, I've been working on a new edition of my book Asatru For Beginners, in which I am rewriting a lot of the sections dealing with folkways such as wearing beards to account for the rise of modernism in the generation which passed since I first wrote my book in 2001. During the early part of the revival of heathenry, it was the heathen's task to reconstruct what was, to determine what the actual practices of ancient heathens were, based on "the lore" (written literature), archeology, surviving folk practices, etc. Many heathens went so far as to practice a living-history lifestyle. Some still do, but in recent years modernists have arisen whose task as a heathen is to fit what we already know of heathenry into modern life.

Wearing religious beards, clothing, weapons, and so forth are part of what we call the folkway. The folkway is a way of life based not on holy scriptures but on how our ancestors lived, and the folkway is just as important to traditionalist Asatruars as is the worship of our gods. The folkway is a combination of traditional practices that survived Christianity and were passed down continuously, such as maypole dancing, plus revived practices based on pre-Christian cultures, such as wearing beards. Lore-based folkways were reconstructed as part of the early reconstruction of Asatru. Different sects of heathenry were based on different cultures and time periods, so, the folkways of an Asatruar are different from the folkways of a Theodsman. Different groups within Asatru developed different folkways from each other. In the 20th century, most American Asatruars practiced both the religion and some sort of folkway. Recently, modernist sects have arisen which practice the religion without the folkway.

Because the question of beards in the military is being framed as a question of how similar Asatruars are to Sikhs, let's talk about that. Sikhs grew from Indo-European roots, as did Asatruars. If one goes back far enough into history, there are some shared cultural tropes. Adult male Sikhs wear blades as part of their Sikh ways. Asatruars (regardless of gender) who practice the folkway wear weapons, typically blade weapons but other types are acceptable, to symbolize their free status in the community.

Another part of the folkway which is ancient and similar to Sikh practice is the prohibition against cutting the hair.  Sikhs of both genders do not cut their hair, and male Sikhs wear religious beards. In some traditionalist sects of Asatru, men wear religious beards, and women do not cut their hair. Unlike the Sikhs, in Asatru this is not a religious dictate in that it is not required to achieve a proper afterlife, because Asatru does not have that kind of religious dictate (the word of Odin in the Havamal is advice to humanity, not commandments.) Rather, in Asatru beards are a cultural tradition. While traditionalists might or might not practice that part of the folkway, modernists don't practice any part of the folkway.

There are exceptions to the no-cutting rule even among the most traditional groups in Asatru. Women can remove their facial hair and body hair. Professional warriors, including military, police, mercenaries, etc. retain warriors’ honor even if they cut their hair and shave their beards. The reason for this exception is because of Germanic mercenaries who served the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Germanic tribesmen who served Rome or Byzantium conformed to the standards of Roman soldiers and shaved their beards. They were considered to retain warrior's honor. The Germanic mercenaries had great admiration for the Roman Janissaries. Janissaries were slaves but had warriors’ honor. So there are both practical (they shaved their own beards) and theoretical (they counted warrior slaves as warriors rather than slaves) historical precedent for warriors shaving beards. Even in very traditionalist Asatru sects warriors are allowed to shave their beards. The soldier in question is a member of a heathen sect that looks to Norse sources only, not to Germanic sources, so his group does not acknowledge that exception.

The wearing of weapons, uncut hair, and religious beards in traditionalist Asatru all signify free status. Like most other ancient societies, the ancient heathens had a slave class. Short hair was a social signal of being a thrall or prostitute (this is the reason the cutting of Sif's hair in the lore story was told as a wrong that had to be made right); an iron collar signified the same. In modern society, slavery is illegal, and no one is actually a thrall, even among the Theodish where that word is used for a novice. However, there are people even in modern society who do not have free status. Prisoners of various kinds, including criminals in prison, prisoners of war, and the involuntarily hospitalized, are not required by religious obligations to wear weapons or religious beards or to refrain from cutting or shaving the hair, if they are required to be weaponless or beardless by those in power over them. Even among the most traditionalist, those who do not have free status are neither required nor entitled to have the markers of free status. This is not relevant to the case of the soldier, but has come up before when heathen prisoners request a religious accommodation to wear a beard.

Modernist sects do not practice the folkway, and some traditionalist sects do not practice this part of the folkway either. For those who do, wearing religious hair and beards is just as important as it is for members of other religions who wear religious hair and beards for cultural reasons. The majority of heathens would not say a soldier must have a beard, but that doesn't matter for purposes of determining if the soldier in question has a sincerely held belief, which is the standard that employers in the US adhere to for determining religious exemptions. There is no Asa-Pope, there is no one heathen organization that determines how all heathens must live, and there is not majority rule either. Each Asatru organization, kindred, or individual determines for themselves whether to adopt folkways and if so, which ones.

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