In February 2017, I was walking along a road with my friend and fellow author Jodie Forrest. What happened next, she described as an apport, a word I had to look up. It means an object produced during a spiritualist séance.
It was a sunny winter day in southern California. Ravens danced above an open field. There were always ravens around wherever Jodie was.
Welcome back to Airy Monday for the Pagan News Beagle! This week we're covering all the different ways in which pop culture is intersecting with magic, witchcraft, and Paganism, from the religions of Game of Thrones to the recent adventures of Marvel's Thor to the recent decision to remake the 1990s movie The Craft. Check it out!
Across the North, the two preeminent sacred trees of Midsummer's are the ("male") oak and the ("female") linden.
On the linden, whose spicy flowering perfumes the longest nights of the year, more in a future post. But for today, the oak.
The Oak is the tree of Thunder, most virile of gods,* whose thunderstorms rumble spectacularly across the prairies at this time of year—the Ojibway call July "Thunder Moon"—and, they say, "holds fire in its heart." (In his youth, the Horned hid the fire of the gods there after he had stolen it from Thunder's hearth, but that's another story.) Fire drills used to be made from oak, and their "cradles" from linden wood. Extinguishing all the fires in the village and kindling the New Fire from wood on wood is an old, old Midsummer's tradition.
Truly, the Old Gods are everywhere. You can't escape them.
I had been listening to Bach's Goldberg Variations on the radio. “That was American pianist Simone Dinnerstein,” said the announcer.
Dinnerstein (rhymes with “seen”): a not uncommon Ashkenazic surname. But suddenly it was as if my ears had become unstopped.
It's Yiddish for “Thunder stone.” (German would be Donarstein.) There are men named Þórsteinn in Iceland, and Torsten and Torstein in Scandinavia, even today. English Thurston could be “Thunar's stone” (or tún: Thunder's enclosure). It's a name from the Danelaw—the area of England settled by Scandinavians—so it could bear the name of the Norse rather than the English Thunder. But they're both still Thunder.
The way I heard it, back in 1972 the heathens of Iceland petitioned the Althing—Parliament—for federal recognition. The official state church in Iceland is the Lutheran church, and everyone pays tax dollars to help support it, but there are a few other recognized religious organizations that you can designate to receive your money instead. The heathens, very reasonably, asked to be included on the list.
Parliament thought it was a joke. (Hey, it was 1972.) “Odin? Thor? Come on, this can't be serious. Recognition denied. Jeez.”
That night (almost I want to add: ofcourse) the Parliament building is struck by lightning. Lights go out all over Reykjavik. (I should add that thunderstorms are rare in Iceland.)
Some friends of mine own a Baltic imports store: best amber this side of the Mississippi. I was looking at a case of hand-carved wooden items, including some beautiful wooden spoons.
A woman came over and began looking at the spoons. “This one is labeled 'sacred spoon,' but it looks just like the rest of them,” she said. “What makes this one sacred and not the others?”
A reasonable question, certainly. As it happened, I knew the answer, because the owner of the store had told me about it a few days before. “It's sacred because it was carved out of wood from a tree that was struck by lightning,” I told her. In fact, the tree in question had been the oldest and most sacred oak in a grove sacred to Thunder; the oak, of course, is Thunder's tree. Oak struck by lightning in a grove sacred to Thunder: heap big juju.