Pagan Paths


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Paths Blogs

Specific paths such as Heathenism, blended traditions, polytheist reconstructionism, etc.

Portable Shrines: Mobile Shrines and Altars

I spent a significant portion of my recent life living in a van, nomadic and driving as far and as often as fuel prices and weather permitted throughout the American Northeast. It was an interesting (and cold, wintery) time, and one born of circumstance, calamity, and character-testing chance. Amongst other things, it challenged my devotional practices, ritual observances and prayer cycles, which for years leading up to that were satisfied in a full-time dedicated Temple. In these months, I learned mobile and slimmed-down tactics, adapted from previously developed short-term tricks for traveling and engaging devotionally in the wilds. Not all religious practices are easily made to move about in small-form. Yesterday, on a social media site, a co-religionist of mine posted an open question to the community, asking about suggestions for and experiences with altar boxes of a portable, easily stowed variety. Below is my (hopefully somewhat helpful) reply, which I share here in case it is of use to others.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Oregon_coast.jpg(an excerpt from my book, Visions of Vanaheim)

As mentioned in my post Who are the Vanir?, the Vanir are more than the Big Name Deities, such as Frey, Freya, Njord, and Nerthus. Vanaheim is an entire realm, full of people, the overwhelming majority of whom were never named by lore. This doesn’t mean they’re unimportant, as we will revisit in a moment. I also understand the Vanir to be elves (corroborated by others), and in private conversations I prefer referring to them as elves (or Eshnahai, which is their own name for their people, “Vanir” is an outlander’s term), though they are not the same entities as the Ljossalfar and Dokkalfar (who are related, but ultimately their own people).

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The Crane Dance: Walking the Worlds

The Labyrinth may be the most well-known and widespread symbol to come out of ancient Minoan spirituality, but it is a static image. What if it were to come alive, to move, to dance? It did so on ancient Crete, and it still does today in Greek folk dances. And the motions of this sinuous dance have many layers of meaning. Let’s explore some of them. Maybe we’ll be inspired to set our own feet moving. 

The Labyrinth-in-motion I’m talking about is known as the Crane Dance or Geranos Dance (the word geranos is Greek for ‘crane’ – the bird, not the construction equipment). The Greeks immortalized it in their version of the Theseus myth. You’ve probably heard the tale of Theseus traveling to Crete as one of the fourteen Athenian youths who were the tribute (that is, the sacrifice) to King Minos and his horrible monster, the Minotaur. The king’s daughter Ariadne gives him a ball of yarn by which he marks his path into the Labyrinth, then uses it to find his way out again after slaying the Minotaur. Having accomplished his heroic goal, he rescues the youths and returns home to Athens. That’s the short version, but it leaves out something Theseus does on the way home. 

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Seeing My Own Death in the Runes

Continuing my story of my personal journey on my heathen path, in college I discovered that I could advise other people with rune readings, but when I read for myself, all I ever saw was my own death. I was still a teenager the first time I foresaw my death, and it scared me. At the time, I was studying Russian Studies and Soviet Political Analysis at UC-Santa Cruz. I wanted to be an intelligence officer after I got my degree. Actually I wanted a military career, but my eyesight and asthma precluded that, and I thought the closest thing I could achieve would be to become an intelligence analyst. I had already been a freelance writer for several years, and those were the two career paths I asked about when I tried to read the runes for myself.

A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:

     “I did a lot of rune readings for myself, friends, and people I met at parties.  Acquaintances brought people to me to read runes for them.  One evening I decided to read for myself and ask about future courses of action.  Was I on the right road?  I asked the runes, “What will happen if I join CIA?” and they said, You will die.  I was frightened, so I asked, “What will happen if I become a writer?”  You will die.  “What will happen if I take some third course of action?”  You will die.

     My fear evaporated.  I laughed out loud.  “Of course.  Of course.  Whatever I do, I will eventually die.  I am not a god.  Of course I will die.  It doesn’t matter what I do, the end is the same for everyone.  So I should just do what I want to do, and let the end take care of itself.”  I resolved to make my decisions based on what I really wanted, and never again ask the runes for advice in deciding a course of action.  In the coming years I would sometimes think of asking for advice making decisions, but I always remembered this lesson, and chose without the runes.”

In a way, knowing about my own death since my late teens has been a positive experience, because it has allowed me to act fearlessly. It's not comfortable knowledge, though. Most of the time I ignore it. What I ignore tends to become an unconscious issue that comes back in my fiction writing, and the question of what prophecy is and what it's for and whether it can be changed is one I'm currently exploring in the heathen mythology based novel I'm currently writing.

About 20 years after seeing my death for the first time, after I had been teaching my Rune Seminar for many years, I decided to make a Rune Seminar video and include sample readings. I got several people I know to be in it, with me doing readings for them. I also figured I might as well do a sample self-reading. I had not tried to read for myself since college, but I thought I was prepared for what I would see, since I knew I would see my own death again. This time I saw more than that. This time I saw past my death, and caught a glimpse of my own afterlife.

Since I became a sworn priestess of Freya in 1989, I had expected to go to Freya when I die. When I read for myself again in my 40s, I saw the face of Odin. I only saw it briefly, but it was unmistakable. There was a light like a white cloud in front of the sun, and his white-grey hair and beard were made of that cloud. He had one eye with a light in it like the sun piercing through the cloudy sky.

I was frightened again. Odin had been my original patron and was the god I had actually intended to swear myself to the day I went out in the woods and ended up with Freya instead. But by this time I had been hers for decades, and I associated an Odin-centric afterlife with death in battle, which is not what I foresaw for myself. Even if I did die in battle, Freya takes half the slain so I could still end up with her. But I saw Odin. I was disturbed thinking I had my vision all wrong all this time and I was with the wrong god or things were not going to happen the way I had foreseen after all. I decided to edit that whole sequence out of the video, and just ignore the whole vision, and file that glimpse of Odin in the place where I file experiences I can't explain and don't want to think about too hard.

Link to Rune Seminar video: http://www.amazon.com/Rune-Seminar-Magicalrealist-Gallery/dp/B003KZ5UGG

I don't have any of my self-reading in the video, I cut the entire thing, because the video is supposed to be an upbeat teaching tool and I didn't want to show myself having a negative experience on it. I actively ignored what I had seen and went back to expected to go to Freya after death. Only very recently have I come home to Odin and know that I saw the truth that day. But that's getting ahead of my story. Returning to the chronological order of my journey, next time I'll write about the day in 1989 when I went out in the woods to dedicate myself to Odin and ended up a Priestess of Freya.

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Fear

Fear. We’re in it all the time. The cancer patients I teach, friends on the financial edge, my husband who has nightmares. A disturbing childhood vision--an intruder climbing a ladder to his room but somehow never reaching the sill--means he hates to be alone in the house. 

I don’t fear death or burglars, just failure and ferris wheels. But that’s been enough to affect many life choices. I don’t drive or have a career (or enjoy amusement parks). I lead classes and ritual, but both make me sweat. I imagine my friends rolling their eyes as I seek reassurance for something I’ve done a hundred times before.

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  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven says #
    Oh what a lovely post! My partner and I have been talking about just this very thing for the past several months. She "faced down"
  • Archer
    Archer says #
    Thank you! For me, it was learning to live with the feeling of fear--not to be afraid of being afraid--that helped me move through

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Pagan Pubs

My friend Jason Mankey turned over the reins of his "Raise the Horns" blog to a few guest contributors. Here's the mischief I got up to - Enjoy the read -

 

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On Fibromyalgia and Spiritual Emergency
Having an illness is not a weakness. It’s not something to be ashamed of. Seeking out help is a show of strength. And there’s a certain grace to the person who finds themselves having to do this over and over again in an attempt to find the key that will unlock relief for them.

 

Let’s stop romanticizing the dangers of things like shaman sickness sending a person out into the wild to freeze to death. Or, at the very least, if we’re going to pretend that we’d be better off in tribal society, let’s look at how our society, our little religious community, treats those who are sick… We still send them out into the cold to freeze to death. Only we do it with shame and perpetuating the myths that modern medicine is never the answer. We do it with turning our eyes away and not speaking up when we’re worried about a friend who seems to be having a particularly hard time…

 

On Spiritual Emergency, Shamanism, Mental Illness, Therapy, and Anti-Psychiatry Sentiment in the General Pagan/Polytheist Community | Foxglove and Firmitas

 

I wanted to share this quote (and the entire post) because it’s important for the pagan/polytheist community as a whole to read.  But I’m coming at this from a somewhat different perspective, that of someone whose shaman sickness/spiritual emergency took the form of a chronic physical illness (fibromyalgia) instead of a mental one.  Except, I don’t know if I can even properly make that distinction, since many doctors refuse to see fibro as a physical illness, even with its primarily physical symptoms; many of them see it as a mental illness, a case of wires being crossed in the brain so that a person experiences pain where there shouldn’t be any.  I understand their reasoning for this: they don’t understand fibro because although there are parameters for identifying it, it doesn’t show up in blood tests or any other sot of laboratory-provable way.  Therefore, they shove it into that great abyss wherein resides all other things that they do not understand: the brain. (This begs the question of whether or not it even matters if fibro actually resides in the brain or in the myofascial tissues, since both are still part of the body.)

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • MoonWillow
    MoonWillow says #
    well said...
  • Jeanine Byers
    Jeanine Byers says #
    As a spiritual person with chronic fatigue syndrome, I greatly appreciate this post!

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