Archive for the ‘Pagan Blog Project 2014’ Category

If I had to pick, I would say I operate in a Vanic-influenced Anglo-Saxon hearth. My rituals draw on Anglo-Saxon symbolism most strongly, but I work primarily with the Vanir/Wanes – the gods and goddesses of the land and fertility, using their Anglo-Saxon names where they are attested (So (usually) Ing Frea and Freo, but also Njord and Nerthus and Frau Holda. And Hela, who kind of is her own category.). It’s an interesting little mishmash, but it suits me well, and seems to work well in practice. There is considerably more information about Scandinavian paganism in particular, but since they’re essentially sister cultures, I don’t mind borrowing too much. I try to stick to Anglo-Saxon myths where they exist, and branch out from there.

That said, I also do a lot that is “ADF” flavored. I love a lot of the ADF language – Fire and Well and Sacred Tree, flow and flame and grow in me, that kind of stuff. Generic and Neopagan, I am drawn to the poetry because it is easy to remember and it rhymes. (Simple, I know, but it works.) My everyday practice isn’t particularly hearth flavored anymore – it revolves more around fire/well/tree and less around specific hearth practices. I’d like to build more hearth flavor into that practice, but it feels odd to combine the two. I need to find a happy medium. (Perhaps just adding runes would be a good start.) Right now I do Anglo-Saxon “influenced” ADF rituals for the high days, and my personal practice is much more Neopagan Druidry. I’m a bit conflicted about this, because … well, I’m not sure why. There’s no rules against doing this (at least in my personal practice) and if it’s working, hey, why not? I would like to do more personal rituals and not just queue them up for the high days though.

I can’t really explain why I’m so drawn to the Anglo-Saxon hearth over just going with the (better documented, more common, more easily accessible) Norse/Scandinavian one, but for some reason the Anglo-Saxons just clicked with me. I blame Alaric Albertsson’s Travels through Middle Earth book primarily, as it resonated so strongly I pretty much immediately started working in an Anglo-Saxon paradigm.

But I still definitely am a modern Pagan and Druid – I have never been and will (probably) never be a reconstructionist. I’m too firmly rooted in working in a modern context for that. I don’t pretend to be reconstructing anything, only using the history and lore as a way to inform and deepen my practice. So I’m a bit of a hybrid, and that seems to be working out just fine for me.

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(A third G entry for this week, because I thought of it on the way in to work yesterday. Now I’m all caught up with the PBP2014! Yay! On to H!)

Generosity brings credit and honor, which support one’s dignity;
it furnishes help and subsistence
to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.

Gyfu is one of the runes identified in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, and it represents Generosity and Hospitality, and the very important cultural concepts of both. For the Indo-Europeans, the guest-host relationship was extremely important (which I talked about in my post on *ghosti) and provided a lot of the substance of social interactions. It provided for care of travelers, established social relationships, and represented humanity’s relationship with their gods. One’s hospitality was a measure of one’s worth, and it was extremely important to maintain those cultural and social bargains.

As a rune, Gyfu is the “gift for a gift” transaction that comes out of that relationship of hospitality. It is common in ADF to hear that we have given offerings, and we now ask for blessings, “as a gift requires a gift in return”. Not in a manipulative sort of way, but in a way of cultural and social understanding of how the world worked for the Indo-Europeans. This transaction is what is called for in this rune, and it can be representative of needing to uphold your own side of the bargain, or a representation of something coming back to you as a return gift. (No rune is without nuance, of course, so interpreting it in the situation is important.)

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*Ghosti is a concept we hear a lot about in ADF. (The asterisk is used to denote that it is not an attested word, but instead is a linguistically reconstructed word from the Proto-Indo-European language.) Our English words “guest” and “host” both come from this word. Mutual obligations between people are expressed with this concept, as well as the relationship between worshipers and gods.

From an article by Ceisiwr Serith:

*ghosti- is a word in Proto-Indo-European which translates as “someone with whom one has a reciprocal obligation of hospitality.” The English “guest” and “host” both come from this root. That describes the ghosti-relationship nicely. We are both guest and host to those with whom we have a ghosti-relationship; guest on one occasion, and host on another

And the ghosti-principle operates in the relationship between human and divine. We give gifts to the gods, and they give gifts to us. We offer a share of the sacrifice, and they grant us blessings. We are the hosts today, and they are the hosts tomorrow. Sometimes this is called a “do ut des” relationship — “I give that you might give.” It is seen as a cosmic buying off — we pay the gods to get what we want.

There is so much more to it than that, though. It is not a mere business transaction. Exchange is what Indo-European friendships are made of. By engaging in ghosti-relationships with the gods, we become their friends. And since in Indo-European society the king must give more in such a relationship than a commoner, the Great and Shining Ones grant marvelous blessings in return for our more humble gifts.

For me, *ghosti is tied into the virtues that I strive to practice on a daily basis – it is part of piety and hospitality especially, because it defines my relationships with both other humans and the gods and spirits. If I’m honest, I’m not always good at the truly reciprocal form of hospitality with my friends, and I am terrible about remembering people’s birthdays, but I tend to buy random gifts when I find something that strikes me as something that someone I know would love. Or buy them dinner or whatever. I also try very hard to support my friends who are artisans, even when it’s something I could technically make or purchase less expensively elsewhere, because I believe it’s important to support people who are doing and making beautiful things (though that’s less about *ghosti and more about me wanting to support my friends… which I guess is a form of *ghosti in a way).

One of the things that drew me to ADF (and has kept me here) is the idea of a transactional, reciprocal relationship with the gods and spirits around me. I need them and they need me, we mutually support each other through gifts, sacrifice, blessings, and offerings. If I uphold my end of the bargain, they will uphold theirs, in a very mutually beneficial sort of way. This way of thinking just makes sense to me, and it’s been one of the things I was looking for in a religion since before I was part of ADF. Having that relationship, based on mutual respect and “gift giving”, where sometimes I am the gracious guest, and sometimes I am the gracious host, just works for me.

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Grove is the (slightly cliché, I’ll admit) term for a group of druids. It’s the standard operating system for ADF, and the point toward which the majority of ADF ritual is designed. Groves are groups of ADF members who meet regularly and celebrate rituals together at least for the 8 major high days of the wheel of the year.

The heart of ADF, groves provide places of community, worship, and learning. There are currently 75 groves in ADF, spread around the world (though most are in the United States). Unfortunately, while that seems like a pretty big number, and it is constantly growing, there are still big gaps between groves in a lot of the US (and even more so worldwide), so a lot of druids end up as solitaries (and some may even choose to remain solitary even in a place with access to a grove or protogrove).

My local group is a Protogrove – the step before becoming a full grove. It requires fewer people, but the ultimate goal is to work towards full grove status. Groves perform regular community service and provide a space for public ritual and community, fulfilling the vision of ADF to become a public Neopagan church.

Grove-centered spirituality is a different beast for me, since I am so strongly tied to my solitary practice. I’ve enjoyed working in the small group that is my study group, but I still do solitary rituals for high days. My local protogrove is also strongly Irish/Welsh focused, and while I don’t mind doing rituals in whatever hearth culture the group prefers, I still like to have my Anglo-Saxon/Germanic rituals when possible.

Still, plugging into a local Neopagan community, however small they may be, has been useful for me, at least in terms of inspiring me to stick with the practices that I know are important to my work, and in giving me something to help keep me accountable (the study group is really good for that).

I am hoping that our work as a study group will help further the local protogrove and vice versa, and I really do think that the two will work well together, blending their ritual practice with the more academic side of Druidry. And hey, maybe we’ll rub off on each other a bit in the meantime, and start to see more crossover between the groups. From what I have seen of the two groups, they can bring us some of the joy and levity that is so important in a good working religion, and we can provide the reverence and study that form the other half of ADF’s work. I think it will be a good partnership.

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(Catching up on the Pagan Blog Project – it’s been a rough two weeks in the Swamp, so I’m a bit behind. I’ll be trying to get caught up to the G’s this week, so you’ll be seeing several posts, hopefully!)

Fertility is one of the virtues of ADF, and you can read my original essay on the subject here. It’s something I am directly trying to increase in my life (not in the “making babies” way but in the “fertility of mind and spirit” way), especially in my career.

This is a very fertile time of year, even here in the Swamp, where things are starting to heat up and it’s now too late to plant vegetables that aren’t okra or hot peppers. I didn’t put in a garden this year (I ran out of time to get the bed prepared), but I am working on fertility in other parts of my life. Career wise, I am looking for new opportunities for growth and change, as what I’m currently doing for my job isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life. In ADF, I’m trying to turn more attention to fertility of mind, as I work on leading my study group and progressing on the IP. (Right now it is a very scattered effort; I have one or two questions answered in several different courses, since I haven’t had time to really prepare well for any one course all at once.)

These two things are, of course, related – both are ways I’m trying to bring the energy of fertility and rebirth into my life, whether it be as a spiritual practice or as a part of my mundane job.

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Well, I wrote up a whole post about the Earth Mother earlier this week, and scheduled it for Tuesday… and then wordpress apparently ate it. So now I’m going to try to recreate it, which will probably be substandard to the original. But anyway, you get two E posts today, thanks to WordPress not paying enough attention to my earlier post! (Grumble…)

Rev. Ian Corrigan shared a post the other day on the Three Centers of Paganism – Deity Centered, Earth Centered, and Self Centered (not in the “selfish” sense but in the “development of the self” sense). I found it to be really thought provoking in how it reflected the divisions in contemporary Neopaganism (and how those divisions often end up with people getting mad at each other. To quote Rev. Corrigan, “In ADF terms we are good at Deity Centered, hound ourselves about being Earth Centered, and are just starting to develop stuff for Self Centered.” I’d argue that the Initiate’s Path is largely a Self Centered practice, which is part of what draws me to it, but I like that it takes place within ADF’s greater context, which strives to make a place for all three centers of thought.

ADF ritual is, primarily, about sacrifice to the Three Kindreds, but each ritual takes a space at the beginning and end to honor and thank the Earth Mother. In a way, she transcends the Kindreds – she is more than just a Goddess (though many approach her as such) and she is certainly more than just a Nature Spirit (she is, perhaps THE Nature Spirit?).

I usually approach the Earth Mother as Nerthus, the Vedic Earth goddess of the early germanic peoples. She isn’t a happy flowers and rainbows kind of goddess – she is intimidating, a goddess of community peace and sovereignty, and her historical practices reinforce the kind of devotion that her people had for her. From Tacitus:

By contrast, the Langobardi are distinguished by being few in number. Surrounded by many might peoples they have protected themselves not by submissiveness but by battle and boldness. Next to them come the Ruedigni, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suarines, and Huitones, protected by river and forests. There is nothing especially noteworthy about these states individually, but they are distinguished by a common worship of Nerthus, that is, Mother Earth, and believes that she intervenes in human affairs and rides through their peoples. There is a sacred grove on an island in the Ocean, in which there is a consecrated chariot, draped with cloth, where the priest alone may touch. He perceives the presence of the goddess in the innermost shrine and with great reverence escorts her in her chariot, which is drawn by female cattle. There are days of rejoicing then and the countryside celebrates the festival, wherever she designs to visit and to accept hospitality. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms, all objects of iron are locked away, then and only then do they experience peace and quiet, only then do they prize them, until the goddess has had her fill of human society and the priest brings her back to her temple. Afterwards the chariot, the cloth, and, if one may believe it, the deity herself are washed in a hidden lake. The slaves who perform this office are immediately swallowed up in the same lake. Hence arises dread of the mysterious, and piety, which keeps them ignorant of what only those about to perish may see.
A R Birley Translation

When Tacitus says “swallowed up by the same lake” he likely means “ritually drowned”. The only people who could look upon the face of Nerthus were then killed. She’s more than a little bit intimidating!

The Anglo Saxons also had reverence for the Earth as “Mother”, as referenced in several charms, the most famous of which is the Aecerbot – a remedy for a fallen field. It contains both Christian and Heathen elements, but is a good suggestion that for the Anglo Saxons, the Earth Mother idea was strong enough to survive Christianization.

But I don’t just approach the Earth Mother as a goddess. I also approach her as an idea, as an inspiration for environmentalism and “right living” by the land around me. Having a good relationship with my landbase, and being a Druid of this Place – stuff I’ve talked about here before. It’s all important. It’s also hard. It prompts hard questions like “Should I be trying to find a new job (that might not be as good as my current job) so that I drive less and burn less gasoline every week?” and “Is it more important to have a garden or to have sanity and downtime?” and “I want to have an organic lawn, which means it will have weeds – what do I do if I get a letter from the homeowner’s association about the weeds in my yard?” or even “Eating lots of animal protein isn’t the most sustainable way to live, but I lift heavy weights regularly and my body needs lots of protein to recover from my workouts adequately.” Being in communion with your landbase often means tackling hard questions about your energy use, the sustainability of the way you eat, and many other things.

Who is the Earth Mother then? To me she is something bigger and more critical than “just” a Goddess – I relate to her AS a Goddess, but I also relate to her as the Earth itself.

Hail, Earth, mother of all;
Be abundant in (the) Gods’ embrace,
Filled with food for our folk’s need.

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The Pagan Grove has a great post up about Eostre the Goddess for last week’s “E” post. I don’t know that I can do half as good a job as she has done with the subject, so you should definitely go read her post! An excerpt about Esotre herself:

Eostre is a rather elusive deity.  In the lore, She is attested to only by the Venerable Bede in De Temporum Ratione, where he talks about the Anglo-Saxon month of Ēostermōnaþ; claiming it is named for the Goddess Eostre who was honored that month.  Normally, if all the evidence we had for a deity was one post-conversion scholar, I would probably dismiss it.  But the curious thing about Eostre is, though Her existence is not attested to by other authors or place-names, She is rather easy to trace through the etymology of Her name.

According to Ceisiwr Serith, an expert on Proto-Indo-European religious reconstruction based on linguistics, there was probably a PIE Goddess whose name was similar to Xáusōs – in fact, She’s one of the only PIE Goddesses we can pin down.  Her name, and probably Her functions, are the etymological source of many Indo-European Goddesses, such as Eos, Aurora, Saule, and our Goddess, Eostre.  This indicates that She is a Goddess related to the dawn – to the liminal time between light and dark – but it does not tell us anything specific about an association with the spring.  No other Indo-European dawn Goddesses that I could find have specific spring associations.  However, Bede tells us that the entire month (near our modern-day April) was named after Her.  Her association with the season was apparently so strong in Anglo-Saxon England that Her name supplanted the more traditional, and Christian, European name for Easter (variations of Paschal).

I connect to Eostre for the spring equinox (even though her official month is probably in April), as a goddess of spring and of the dawn. She is a liminal goddess for a liminal time – the change between dark and light, winter into summer. I ask for her blessings on my new endeavors for the year and for all the things I plant and grow (even if I plant them pretty far before April).

I have a copy of Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World that I have not yet read, but it’s getting close and closer to the top of the (ever-growing) stack. It focuses on Eostre, Hreda, and the Matrones, and so I am hoping it will be very useful in my personal practice.

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