The weather is turning crisp here and the falling leaves are brilliant shades of orange, red and gold. The afternoons are still warm but evening is coming earlier. The rains have not started yet, but winter's shadow is on the land. We are finally in October, which for me means the onset of the busiest season in my spiritual year: the season of the Wild Hunt, which begins now and reaches its height at Yule. Samhain forms a major milestone along the way, but for me (and among Heathens in general) the time when the veil is at its thinnest, and the Hunt at its most active, falls during the twelve nights of Yule. After January 1st, things calm down somewhat, although there are still occasionally forays during the springtime, especially here in the Pacific Northwest, where our springs are often stormier than our winters.
As some of you may be aware, the story of how Odin claimed me is all bound up with the Hunt. Although I am not a hunter myself in an in-this-world way, the Furious Host seems to have lodged itself in my blood somehow, and two years ago around this time of year I formally agreed to ally myself with them and act as a doorway for them into this world.
Some of you are likely sputtering by now, reading this; I hope you haven't spilled your drinks on the keyboard! For those whose keyboards are safe (and are thus, I assume, unfamiliar with the Wild Hunt), the core of the legend is that a spectral band of creatures in hunting garb (be they dead, undead, never human, or all of the above) rampages through the night sky at a certain time of year (see above). This story seems to be deeply rooted in Indo-European culture, and most European countries have their own version of it; it is unaccountably ancient, and just as with the roots of Yggdrasil itself it's impossible to say exactly where or how it began. What this band is hunting is never completely clear in the folk tales, and can range from a woman, to a troll, to a kind of half-woman, half-forest creature known as a moss maiden. The leader ascribed to this band of ghostly riders varies with the country, but in Scandinavia, England and Germany the leader is traditionally Odin, and the Hunt includes, in this particular incarnation, the spirits of long-dead heroes and Odin's dead in general. The Hunt is accompanied by black dogs with red eyes, undead noblemen, and Odin's gigantic eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. Jagermeister, Wilde Jaeger (Wild Hunter), Draugrdrottin (Lord of Ghosts), Valfather (Lord of the Slain)--these are all among Odin's many names that have to do with His function as Leader of the Furious Host. Most of the stories agree that it is dangerous for humans to see the Hunt or be seen by it. Some of the tales advise throwing oneself face down onto the path when the sound of the hunting horns is heard, others suggest various offerings--a piece of steel, a sprig of parsley--that might be useful in deterring the Hunt, or at least distracting it while you get to safety. At first glance and at last, this is a story to frighten not only small children but sensible adults too. The Hunt (along with the frigid Scandinavian winter) is the reason why Yule is traditionally a time for family to gather together behind closed doors by the fire, and to not go out after dark, and to allow the hospitality of one's home to visitors without question, especially during the twelve nights of Yule, when madness reigns in the skies.
The week opens Monday with a waning Quarter Moon in sensitive Cancer (The Cancer Moon is always a waning Moon at this time of year. Do you know why? Studying the cycles of the Moon can bring a lot of insight). Mid-morning (all times EDT), the Sun and Venus move into tense relationship with Neptune and Uranus, respectively. Moodiness, over-sensitivity, tension in relationships are all real possibilities, as are unexpected expenses, issues around self-image, and a general lack of clarity.
But Moon in Cancer in the time of the Ancestors is a great opportunity to not only honor them, but to turn to them for help and advice. Our ancestors are not sitting around waiting to be worshiped. They take an active, conscious interest in our lives, and will help us from the world of Spirit — if they are invited, and we do the work to build a bridge to them. What some people see as "ancestor worship" — ancestor altars and offerings, for instance — are simply invitations and energetic bridges that connect us to the Ancestors. If you don’t have an Ancestor altar, a waning Cancer Moon in October would be a great time to build one! Then, as you begin to work with them, -- tending the altar, letting them know what's going on in your life, meditating, leaving offerings -- watch for the synchronicities that bring the help and advice you requested.
I am a Latin teacher currently (and laboriously) working my way toward a PhD in Classics. I read a lot of Latin texts (in Latin and usually with quite a bit of cussing along the way as I attempt to untangle classical Latin syntax). Fortunately, for the most part, I enjoy this and one of the tangential elements that I find particularly satisfying in my studies is occasionally coming across an interesting reference to ancient Roman [polytheistic] religion along the way. It happens a lot and for all that I am Heathen, not a practitioner of Religio Romana, I find that every time I read about how a man or woman, raised in Roman culture, steeped in its religion honored his or her Gods, I find my own practices enriched.
When I started in Classics I was told (by a PhD candidate) that no one really understands Roman religion. I admit to being a bit taken aback. It always made perfect sense to me: honor your ancestors, honor the living spirit of your city, its genus loci, maintain the proper household and public rituals, and live in a world where everything has its spirit, everything is alive. It made perfect sense to me and I’ll tell you why: for all of their diversity, polytheistic religions – which are indigenous religions-- seem, in my opinion, to share a common thread, one quite alien to monotheistic thought; that common thread is rooted not just in a polytheistic and by extension pluralistic worldview, but in one that is, to greater or lesser degree, animist....
(I'm going to double up for a week or so, and post these notes on Samhain prep at my home site and here. Those of you who are kind enough to read both may feel you're seeing double for a bit. )
As I'm readying myself for this hard and sacred time, I'm reviewing my daily practice and wondering if it is optimum for keeping me focused and open.
Do you have a personal daily practice? Or perhaps I should say a personal spiritual practice--many modern Pagans find it difficult to fit a daily practice into their busy lives....
It has come as a surprise to me, considering my relationship with Odin (the Wanderer and hedge-crosser extraordinaire), but I have been discovering lately that I am far more of a hearth witch than a hedge witch. Don't get me wrong; I do love wandering through the dark woods at night, threading my way through cemeteries, or exploring the Eugene wetlands. I love to explore these liminal places in a light trance state, letting the already-fragile boundaries between the worlds blur so that I can commune with the spirits there. This is part of my practice, and it always will be. (And in the case of the wetlands, I do this every morning on my walk to work, in the early hours when the human world is still barely stirring but the land wights--or land spirits--are awake and going about their day.) But at the heart of my practice, I am a Doorway for my gods and spirits, and to fulfill that function I must be anchored in this world, even as I work at blurring its edges.
I just had an entire week off from my day job, for the first time in years, and found myself spending much of it at my spinning wheel, or gathering supplies to make prayer beads, or in my kitchen learning to make salted caramels, or planning what I will need to begin producing candles and other non-yarn goodies for my Etsy shop. When given a choice between wandering outdoors and busying myself with activities at home, I nearly always choose the latter. Perhaps my physical condition pays a part in this (I have moderate to severe fibromyalgia, and at this point I still work full time so that saps a lot of my energy), but most of the time I find that I would rather be at home, tending a hearth for my gods and for the spirits I honor, rather than out in the world. My trips out in the world fortify and help to shape my hearth; they feed it and strengthen my center. In this I am like Frigga, who puts Her apron aside and rides with Her Husband in the Hunt during the dark half of the year, but the rest of the time concentrates Her efforts on creating a welcoming home for Him to return to after His wanderings.
To get back to the topic of setting up a hearth in your own home if you do not already have one, despite my previous definition of the hearth as a place of fire, there is always the option of interpreting "fire" symbolically. Along these lines, your hearth can be that place that anchors and nourishes your home, that feeds what you love most about it, the "flame" that makes your home a welcoming place. For some people, it would clearly be the kitchen table where the family gathers for dinner to share stories of their day. For some, it might be a place of literal fire, such as the woodburning stove (and do I ever wish I had one!) where herbal oils and brews are prepared.
This time last year, I was looking for somewhere fun to take my sweetie Albert for his birthday. We ended up heading up to Chico for the World Music Festival there. It was a really fun weekend and I highly recommend the event for those who like diverse music and don't like huge crowds. It's smaller and more intimate than other festivals I've attended, and I really felt like I got to connect more with the performers, vendors, and other attendees.
While we were visiting for the festival, an open-air market was happening just outside of town in the more rural farming community where the almond growers make their trade. This was a proper "Hoes Down" kind of affair that felt like a throwback to the festivals of my youth in upstate New York, with folks selling their handmade quilts and rag rugs and knit items, jewel-toned jars of homemade jam and pickles, whimsical yard decor, and a classic car show. I grew up going to events like these in the rural areas around my small hometown of Olean. It was fun to touch that country energy again. Urban farmer's markets in the Bay Area, with highbrow marketing, rapid turnaround, thronging crowds and long lines, are fun and exciting, but they are not quite like these homespun, slow-moving events. Different birds altogether.
I passed a booth where an elderly man was selling a small selection of preserved foods: pickled peppers, beans, and cucumbers. I had been hoping to find a pickled bean vendor, as spicy dill beans are among my favorite snacks. I stepped in to the booth and inquired after a jar of beans: how much? Spicy or not?...
Finally, autumn has come to the Willamette Valley here in Oregon. I say "finally," although summer is brief enough here and most Oregonians would probably wish for a few more weeks of it. Autumn, however, is my favorite time of year and I look forward to it year-round. The early morning crispness has changed to a genuine chill that lingers through more of the day, the acorns have started to fall and the squirrels scamper after them, eager to begin fortifying their nests against the winter. The leaves have begun to turn color and soon their branches will become a canopy of gold, scarlet and pumpkin orange. It is September, and my thoughts turn to my home, my own nest, and to what fortifications I might make now to make it a welcoming and nourishing place in the months to come.
What is the center of your home, its heart? For most Americans, the answer would probably be "the television." However, hopefully that is not the case with the average pagan, and a few of you have probably guessed where I'm going with this: in traditional European pagan cultures from Greece to Scandinavia, the center of a household was the hearth. However, there is room for a little interpretation in what constitutes the hearth for you.
"The Case of the Consulting Shaman and the Crusty Client."
Consider the subtitle a nod to the BBC series “Sherlock.” I’ve recently become a fan after being introduced to the series by one of my friends. I swear, British television has ruined me, just ruined me, but in all the best ways, of course. This particular series is brilliantly written and quite inspiring to anyone who deals regularly with clients of any sort. It’s hilarious. But, before I digress too badly, where did I leave off my last post? Ah yes, with exhortations that my readers arm themselves with a good stiff drink before proceeding further. Ready? Drink in hand? Good, then I shall begin....
You can, as we all know, put four Pagans in a room and get (at least) six definitions of Paganism. So it's not universally true, but it's more-true-than-not and more-true-of-us-than-of-the-general-public that Pagans honor our ancestors. Daughter of a dysfunctional family, I've had to work on this practice. I've reached back into time, through meditation and trance, and developed a family tree that works for me and I've adopted more than a few Ancestors of the Spirit: people whose writings, and actions, and lives "raised" me much more so, in many cases, than did my own blood relatives.
And I would not be who I am today were it not for the spiritual and political DNA that I received from the Pankhursts, from Margaret Sanger, from Susan B. Anthony, from all of the known and anonymous suffragettes, and from Second Wave feminists. And, so, it is, maybe, quite appropriate that I am writing this post on the ninety-second anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Ninety-two years isn't really a very long time. My own grandmothers were young women in 1920 when it became legal for a woman to cast a vote....
No, that title is not a typo. I do mean theoilogy.
Theology, to quote the ever-handy Wikipedia, derives "from Ancient Greek Θεός meaning "God" and λόγος, -logy, meaning "study of." God. Singular. By its very nature, at its very root, the word assumes a single Godhead. As such, I find the term best suited only to those religious systems which are explicitly monotheistic or monistic, eg Islam, most strains of Christianity, some branches of Judaism, and some sects within Hinduism.*
But, it is an ill-fit with explicitly polytheistic or even duotheistic systems, such as some branches of Judaism, some Christian sects, most sects within Hinduism, and the majority of Pagan and indigenous traditions. When I write about the nature of Zeus, I am not engaging in theology -- I am engaging in theoilogy. Zeus is not God Alone. He is part of a vast family of Deities; He is part of a web of relationships and responsibilities, and I cannot even begin to comprehend him outside of that web. Thus, theoilogy, from the Ancient Greek Θεοί meaning "Gods." Plural....
One of the key foundations of modern (and ancient) Paganism is also one of the most contentious. We find it very hard to talk about, it seems, and yet it's fairly key to many people's personal practice. When I've talked about it in the past, it almost seems like I'm breaking a taboo, with the words themselves being 'dirty' or embarrassing. And yet, learning from my passionate and heartfelt Heathen friends, that embarrassment is itself disrespectful, dishonourable and, ultimately, rather foolish.
Who are your Gods and Goddesses? What does Deity mean to you, and how does it influence and affect your Paganism? From the Platonic 'ultimate Male/Female' images (tallying with 'All Gods/Goddesses are One') to the pantheistic, international eclectic transference of pretty much any deity with any other no matter where you yourself live, talking about Deity is a tricky business. Especially because ultimately, nobody can really tell you you're wrong. Or right. Except, perhaps, those Gods themselves.
The Judgement of Paris (Classical)
Today is Lammas-tide, Lughnasadh, the festival of the grain harvest. Across the land, fields full of golden wheat, barley and numerous others have been growing tall, a feast for the eyes as they bend in the breeze, a feast for the birds, bees, mice and other creatures that run between the rows.
In centuries past, it would be entire communities who came out to help with the harvest, threshing, binding and preparing the crop to last them the winter. Fuel is needed for heat, nourishment and sustenance for livestock - without a successful harvest, a lean winter means walking the path between life and death.
These days, it's more the rumble of heavy-duty farming machinery at work that is heard as the harvest is gathered in - but it's no less valuable for that. Despite the knowledge that we can import food, fuel and whatever we need from other places, there's still the essential connection between us and the land as personified in the life of our fuel-stuffs. We celebrate it, we recognise and remember it. Children make corn-dollies, singers remember John Barleycorn.
Words are magic. Words have power. Unlike the octopus, which can communicate by subtle changes in the colors of its skin, or the lightening bug, attracting mates with its glowing tail, our major means of conveying our needs, our thoughts and our feelings are words. We use these to convey our intentions and desires not only to each other, and to our animal companions and familiars, but also to the elementals we call upon to aid us, and to the Gods/Goddesses we worship and serve. If these entities do not understand our meaning when we speak, what we hope might be a miracle could easily become a disaster!
In the Tarot card of the Chariot, a magician (evidently a Ceremonial Magician by his masonic apron, imbued with occult symbols) guides his chariot, which is drawn by two sphinxes without the use of reigns or harness. The charioteer must use only words to guide the mythical beasts: a wrong word, and the magical creatures will pull his conveyance apart. In Paul Foster Case's system of Tarot, based on Quaballah, the card is assigned to Cancer, the crab, a creature encased in a shell. The Hebrew letter assigned to the card, Cheth, means a fence. In essence, the figure, the fenced structure and the Zodiac sign embody the concept of words themselves: units of meaning encased in a shell, a unit of sound. Alter the meaning, and the shell of sound becomes useless. As much as I do not like to quote the Bible, you have the myth of the Tower Of Babel: words may have meaning to the speaker, but their meaning is lost to the listener....
The unexpected death of a friend this week brought into sharp relief the differences between traditions around death and grief, not only between different communities but also between different generations. How we handle the dead and our sorrow shows a lot about our culture.
For the Anglo-Saxons, much of what we know of their material culture -- apart descriptions in poems and histories -- come from discovered burials. But burial wasn't always the norm. We have a magnificent pagan shipboard funeral of a king in the opening lines of Beowulf. For a long time people dismissed it as a rather fanciful thing....