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My Personal Pantheon (The Pagan Experience)

(For Week 3 for The Pagan Experience community blogging project, the theme is Deity and the Divine.)

For newer readers to my blog (and because I tend to forget to make occasional reintroductions like this one), hi, I’m Beth, and I’m a hard polytheist.  What this means for me is that the gods have firm, distinct edges to Them, just like mortal people do, and they are no less individuals than mortal people are. Very occasionally these distinct edges may overlap, but as a rule, in my own doxa and practice, syncretism is not a thing that happens.

I’ve also begun in the past year to self-identify as a Witch (the Traditional or Sabbatic type, not Wiccan) more so than Heathen (I realize that the two need not be mutually exclusive), but more about that in another post. Regardless of what category I fall into, I am a mortal wife of Odin (for more than twelve years now); I married Him back before “godspousery” was even a word, before there were very many pagan blogs at all, let alone “godspouse” ones, and He is the center of my practice and my life. (He does overlap nicely with the “Man in Black” figure of British Traditional Witchcraft–but again, more on that later.)

I live with a mortal wife of Poseidon (Jo), who is my life partner (though not in a romantic way) and sister; she and I support each other in living a monastic lifestyle in which our gods are the focus of our lives. We both have outside jobs, though mine is only part-time due to the fact that my chronic pain issues (fibromyalgia and arthritis, among other things) limit the amount of time I am able to spend sitting and working at a desk. I also run a currently part-time business offering my own handcrafted magickal items (ritual cords, candles, bath soaks, prayer beads, and soon soap, oils and incense), which I hope to grow into a full-time business. We are both writers, and are currently collaborating on a book about sacred marriage/godspousery.

But enough about me; back to my gods. As everyone who has worked with Norse deities no doubt knows, They tend to travel in packs, and if you have one around, there are usually others hiding in the woodwork, waiting to emerge. My own experience is no exception, and so here is a (fairly) brief rundown of the deities who make up my personal pantheon.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Heimdal_durch_die_neun_Wellenjungfrauen_emporgehoben_by_K._Ehrenberg.jpg

Nine maids,nine waves
Asleep upon the shore

...
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And so it is Yuletide

And so it is Yule. Unlike Christmas (and even unlike the Winter Solstice itself), Yule is not a single day, and its arrival is not determined by a single calendar date. It is a dark tide of energy that arises, generally on or around the Solstice, and Yule proper lasts for twelve nights, ending in Twelfth Night (which usually falls on or around Christmas Eve).

Its coming is not always predictable; one can plan for Yule and then feel the tide of energy arrive a day early, or a day late. In this modern era, most people are so harried by the commercialism of the Christmas season that they barely even notice when the tide comes in, if they notice at all. I own an online shop and my day job is in customer service, so I certainly am not immune to the hectic atmosphere that prevails. In the midst of the flurry of shopping and making, it can be difficult to feel the moment when the land whispers to you: “It is now.”

Our ancestors (in the Germanic countries) referred to Yule as Rauhnacht, the “rough nights” or “raw nights.” The Yuletide energy is not a gentle one; it is harsh, glaring, strident, echoing the energies of the Wild Hunt that rules this season. It actually meshes pretty well with the frantic shopping and feelings of desperation and often despair that surround Christmas. It can manifest in irritation and snappishness (tempers have been short in my household all week long), or in a surge of energy that one does not know how to channel. Many people respond to it by feeling the need to retreat from the world, to nest with books or movies—which is actually a wise choice. Traditionally, Yule was a time for gathering a home with families and friends—not just to celebrate the return of the sun, but because it was considered a dangerous time. The roads, the wildness, all of the in-between places were particularly dangerous; there was too much chance of encountering the Hunt, or even being taken by it. Only witches, seidhr folk, sorcerers, and other societal vagrants would choose to be out and about on these nights.

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And so it is Yuletide

And so it is Yule. Unlike Christmas (and even unlike the Winter Solstice itself), Yule is not a single day, and its arrival is not determined by a single calendar date. It is a dark tide of energy that arises, generally on or around the Solstice, and Yule proper lasts for twelve nights, ending in Twelfth Night (which usually falls on or around Christmas Eve).

Its coming is not always predictable; one can plan for Yule and then feel the tide of energy arrive a day early, or a day late. In this modern era, most people are so harried by the commercialism of the Christmas season that they barely even notice when the tide comes in, if they notice at all. I own an online shop and my day job is in customer service, so I certainly am not immune to the hectic atmosphere that prevails. In the midst of the flurry of shopping and making, it can be difficult to feel the moment when the land whispers to you: “It is now.”

Our ancestors (in the Germanic countries) referred to Yule as Rauhnacht, the “rough nights” or “raw nights.” The Yuletide energy is not a gentle one; it is harsh, glaring, strident, echoing the energies of the Wild Hunt that rules this season. It actually meshes pretty well with the frantic shopping and feelings of desperation and often despair that surround Christmas. It can manifest in irritation and snappishness (tempers have been short in my household all week long), or in a surge of energy that one does not know how to channel. Many people respond to it by feeling the need to retreat from the world, to nest with books or movies—which is actually a wise choice. Traditionally, Yule was a time for gathering a home with families and friends—not just to celebrate the return of the sun, but because it was considered a dangerous time. The roads, the wildness, all of the in-between places were particularly dangerous; there was too much chance of encountering the Hunt, or even being taken by it. Only witches, seidhr folk, sorcerers, and other societal vagrants would choose to be out and about on these nights.

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Poetic Inspiration

Although I had not formalized a patronage relationship with Odin on the day I had intended to (see post The Day I Swore Myself to Freya), I received poetic inspiration from him. Some of the poems I wrote definitely felt like me writing them, that is, I was doing the work of writing. Others felt like I was just taking dictation. Some poems were in the heathen style, some modern, and some were ‘filk,’ which was the word among science fiction and fantasy fans for folk music related to the genres. It was my hand on the pen when the poem about the goddess Skadhi came into the world, but I've always felt that it was Odin who wrote it. 

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

     “At an Asatru festival I sang my filk version of a Canadian folksong by the campfire, and Vampyre Mike, the lead singer from the band who played acoustic pagan songs at the Festivals and hard rock in the mundane world, liked “Bajor’s Privateers” so much he sang it over and over for the rest of the festival.  His lady Pasha called to me, “You’ve created a monster!”

Bajor's Privateers was one of the songs I felt that I had actually written myself, although there might have been a touch of inspiration as well. It was a conscious parody of the folk song Barrett's Privateers, and I definitely worked at writing it. The poem Skadhi: Water Cycle was one of the ones I felt that Odin had written and I just noted it down. At this point in my personal journey, in the early 1990s, I was learning the bersarkr tradition (see post The Berserker Trance.) I was working with both animal spirits and with Odin and Freya. As I learned to open and close the door in my mind to admit Odin for the bersarkr trance, I grew closer to him and received more poetic inspiration. This is the way of the warrior-poet.

I received an invitation from Paul Edwin Zimmer to read at the Bardic Circle at Greyhaven. I had published some of his poetry in Berserkrgangr Magazine. I published that magazine mostly for the nonfiction, as a way for bersarkrs and others of similar traditions to connect and share information, but it was also a literary magazine, with fiction, poetry, and art. I published some of my own poetry in my magazine, and he must have liked it. We became colleagues and friends of the sort who gave each other our poetry chapbooks.

There were other heathens at the Greyhaven Bardic Circle, some of whom I recognized from the heathen festivals I had attended. Diana Paxson played the harp. I debuted my poem Skadi: Water Cycle at Greyhaven, and Diana liked it. It was an emotional high point for me for my poem to be appreciated by established authors. 

Of course, I felt that it was really Odin's poem, not mine. I had heard it in my sleep, woken up and written it down. I wondered, how can I take credit for what felt like taking dictation, not creating? Eventually I realized that it was not just my hand on the pen, it was my mind that Odin put this poem in. It was my effort and self-sacrifice that allowed me to open the door in my mind and let him in. (And the sacrifice to study the bersarkr tradition was hideous; more on that in my next post.) So yes, it is my poem, just like any other gift belongs to me once I've been given it, whether it is a poem from Odin or the flesh with which I receive it and write it down, flesh that began as part of my parents, flesh grown by the gifts of the earth through food and water and air, flesh that therefore also comes ultimately from the gods of nature, and yet is my flesh, my body, which I own entire. Everything I have comes ultimately from the gods, and yet is mine: my poem, my body, my breath, my mind, my soul, my life. I would not tolerate anyone trying to take my body or my life or my breath; I would fight. Even though my body is made by eating food, and food comes from the blessings of the gods, it is still my body; my art and writing and song come from the gods, too, but they are mine. Therefore, my poem:

Skadi: Water Cycle
by Erin Lale

Skadi scried the sky one day.
Blue was Baldur's beckoning eye,
Yellow as yew-wood the young god's hair,
The clouds that covered the coming sun.

All the east was ought but gold,
Blue below, the boss-shield snow,
Was Skadi. Sky-scattered clouds
Burned as beauty blazed forth

Down the deep snow-drowned ravines,
White-hot, whelming, whispering secrets.
She melted, and mickle and mild she found him.
So fair his fire she fain would go,

To marry the man, from her mountain home.
He unfroze the ice of her eyrie white,
Meltwater he made her, merry on stones,
Leaping laughing to the land below:

The gardened game-field the gods had made,
Where spirits spent in sport were happy.
A new game now, to net a husband,
Devised they very valiantly.

So fair of foot he fooled the snowmaid,
Niord named, not Baldur,
The gods' game gave to her.
The sun she sought, the sea she found.

To the ocean the icequeen overland went,
Merged at the margin of her married estate
With the salty sea as the sun looked on.
Her tears tended trees of kelp.

With watery waves wove she by day,
Niord's net-knotting daughters.
With women wily washed she by night,
Niord's nine naughty daughters.

Roamed with Ran to rend a dragon,
Long laughed loud jeers
At mighty men their maids never
Would welcome warm and winningly home.

She tried to tear her tears away
In making men meet their deaths,
A special sport a sport to forget,
From Baldur's bright beauty hiding.

But said she, "Sundered from the sun forever?
No more!" As mist, from her marriage-bed
At Ran's rim, she rose and flew,
Glad of a gull's gift of flight,

For Baldur abandoned the briny sea,
For Baldur broke in breakers white,
For Baldur bent her body up,
Climbing coastal cliffs as fog,

Sailed from sea to sundrenched air.
Yet the young god yearned she for
Too high held his head so bright
For a foamy flying maid.

Just one jutting jewelled place,
In all the upper air was there
Could Skadi skiff with skill and luck,
As crystal cloud keeping whole,

On land to lie and live all winter,
On rock and rowan resting, as ice
Spread, for spring to spring her up,
Waiting wan and wantingly.

The craigs and cliffs, kestrel-perches,
The spire-spears, sprite's castles,
The groves of granite growing high,
The meager meadows, less milch than stone,

The piney peaks she pined for strong,
Where first she felt the fiery sun,
Where last she lived a life of joy,
The much-missed mountains of home. 

This poem, along with other poetry and art, is available in the poetry chapbook Renaissance Woman. Link: 
 http://www.amazon.com/Renaissance-Woman-Collected-Poetry-Erin-ebook/dp/B004PLNLX8/ref=la_B004GLACQQ_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417153012&sr=1-8

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Thoughts on the Aesir

Years ago, when my friend Nornoriel's writings on the Vanir as a tribe were first starting to become popular (he was Svartesol at the time; make sure to give him credit if you quote his older work!), I felt a pull towards attempting to write about the Aesir as a people, as a collective, and was urged to do so by Odin (as doing PR for Asgard in general, and not just for Him personally, is supposed to be part of my Job). But I ran into a few challenges, the first one being one of an assumed entitlement: why do the Aesir need PR in the first place, when all of the myths are supposedly written from our/Their perspective, and when the most well-known modern religion established for the gods of the north (Asatru) is literally named for Them?

And yet, Asatru is not specifically about the Aesir per se, as a tribe or a culture (a culture that encompasses more than just the known Aesic deities); it is a religion that also takes in the Vanir-- basically a catch-all for the worship of the northern gods in general. So clearly, the fact that Asatru exists is not a substitute for what I was being asked to do. Also, regarding the myths being from an Aesic perspective, I don't think that's necessarily the case either; they were written from a human perspective, and to a large extent the people who recorded them (the skalds of the Viking era) were not interested in differentiating between the tribes of the gods, so much as in telling a good story. And as much as I find Nornoriel's explorations of the Vanir to be important, engrossing, and long-overdue, they do leave something of a gap. In celebrating the Vanir as the gods of nature, agriculture, passion, and creativity, the Aesir become relegated, in contrast, to what I personally consider the “boring” categories: civilization, laws and their enforcement, teaching—in other words, strictly human concerns. (Both tribes have an equal claim on warfare though, it seems.)

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Yule Advent Calendar (and a belated Michaelmas outing)

Taking a look back into the archives of my personal blog, I found that I first began putting together what I referred to as my “Yule Advent Calendar” in September 2010. (The same year I took my service oath to the Wild Hunt.) Admittedly, advent (from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming”) is a Christian concept, a series of festival dates that mark the progression of the Christmas season. I am not claiming that this custom was borrowed from paganism, but since so many other trappings of the Christian festival year clearly were, I felt no qualms about adopting the advent calendar for my own purposes in marking the series of festivals I observe leading up to Yule. 

This custom of adopting some of the festivals of the medieval Christian Church for my own purposes has since spread into other parts of the year, no doubt under the influence of my adoptive Disir, the group of women I've referred to as the Queens (most of whom were actual Queens in medieval Egnland). Shortly after discovering Michaelmas and Martinmas, I adopted Candlemas and began adding more traditional elements into my celebration of All Hallow's Eve, May Day and Lammas, and I wouldn't be surprised if that trend continues, since the customs and pageantry of medieval England (pre-Reformation) call to me quite powerfully. In most of the festivals I can feel an echo that harkens back to pagan times, as well as to the pagan customs that were slow to die away in the countryside. Whether or not this echo reflects the actual survival of a pagan practice, it enriches the experience of the festival for me and gives me that feeling I so love of being linked to the past and helping to carry the essence of lost traditions into the future.

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  • Jolene
    Jolene says #
    I wish I could have been with you this morning -- I love the cemetery tours that we do this time of year. Sounds like it was a gre

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