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Posts Tagged ‘anglo-saxon paganism’

I’ve long thought about writing up the holidays that I celebrate, as an Anglo-Saxon pagan druid with a strong English folk bent. So here you go – the wheel of the year, with the names I call each holiday and what I do primarily to celebrate each one.

  • Yule – greenery, lights, candles, and 12 days of preparation to begin the new year
  • Candlemas – the celebration of the returning light. Buying and preparing candles, cleaning oil lamps, blessing the home with light.
  • Eostara – the celebration of the dawn, the radiant dawn maiden Eostre, and the balancing towards the growing light of the year. Sometimes just “Spring Equinox”
  • May Day – For summer is a comin’ in and winter’s gone away-oh. Celebration of summer, and also of the first harvests of vegetables in Texas, planted back in February.
  • Midsummer – bonfires, grilling, burned herbs for protection, and protection against hurricanes and tropical storms. Purification by fire, dawn and sunset rituals.
  • Lammas – John Barleycorn, the sacrifice of Ing, the first grain harvest. Loaves baked and sacrificed for the blessings of the harvest for the whole season. Sacrifice – personal and as a group – made to ensure the prosperity of the group.
  • Harvest Home – very much a mini-Thanksgiving, this is the height of the harvest, and the middle of the second growing season in Texas. Naming a harvest queen, drawing her around in a wagon to bless the town. The “holy month” of the harvest.
  • Hallows – Ancestor’s night, the welcoming in of winter, the blood harvest and final sacrifice. Celebration of prosperity (hopefully) and of a year well spent. Entering into a liminal time between Hallows and Yule in preparation for beginning the cycle again.

I should note that a lot of this calendar is UPG and modern Neopaganism derived, just with an English-folk flavor to it. It works for me, and makes me feel connected to the ancestors of spirit from whom I draw my practice.

I also observe the Anglo-Saxon Lunar Months, which begin on the new moon – the true new moon, not the dark moon (so 2-3 days after the actual “dark moon”, when the first crescent is visible in the sky). You can find out when those dates are here.

This lunar calendar is given to us by Bede, so your mileage may vary as to how accurate it is, but I find it meshes well with the 8 holidays I celebrate above:

January, Bede explained, corresponds to an Anglo-Saxon month known as Æftera Geola, or “After Yule”—the month, quite literally, after Christmas.

February was Sōlmōnath, a name that apparently derived from an Old English word for wet sand or mud, sōl; according to Bede, it meant “the month of cakes,” when ritual offerings of savory cakes and loaves of bread would be made to ensure a good year’s harvest. The connection between Old English mud and Bede’s “month of cakes” has long confused scholars of Old English, with some claiming that Bede could even have gotten the name wrong—but it’s plausible that the name Sōlmōnath might have referred to the cakes’ sandy, gritty texture.

March was Hrēðmonath to the ancient Anglo-Saxons, and was named in honor of a little-known pagan fertility goddess named Hreða, or Rheda. Her name eventually became Lide in some southern dialects of English, and the name Lide or Lide-month was still being used locally in parts of southwest England until as recently as the 19th century.

April corresponds to the Anglo-Saxon Eostremonath, which took its name from another mysterious pagan deity named Eostre. She is thought to have been a goddess of the dawn who was honored with a festival around the time of the spring equinox, which, according to some accounts, eventually morphed into our festival of Easter. Oddly, no account of Eostre is recorded anywhere else outside of Bede’s writings, casting some doubt on the reliability of his account—but as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “it seems unlikely that Bede would have invented a fictitious pagan festival in order to account for a Christian one.”

May was Thrimilce, or “the month of three milkings,” when livestock were often so well fed on fresh spring grass that they could be milked three times a day.

June and July were together known as Liða, an Old English word meaning “mild” or “gentle,” which referred to the period of warm, seasonable weather either side of Midsummer. To differentiate between the two, June was sometimes known as Ærraliða, or “before-mild,” and July was Æfteraliða, or “after-mild;” in some years a “leap month” was added to the calendar at the height of the summer, which was Thriliða, or the “third-mild.”

August was Weodmonath or the “plant month.”

After that came September, or Hāligmonath, meaning “holy month,” when celebrations and religious festivals would be held to celebrate a successful summer’s crop.
October was Winterfylleth, or the “winter full moon,” because, as Bede explained, winter was said to begin on the first full moon in October.

November was Blōtmonath, or “the month of blood sacrifices.” No one is quite sure what the purpose of this late autumnal sacrifice would have been, but it’s likely that any older or infirm livestock that seemed unlikely to see out bad weather ahead would be killed both as a stockpile of food, and as an offering for a safe and mild winter.

And December, finally, was Ærra Geola or the month “before Yule,” after which Æftera Geola would come round again.

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This World is not Conclusion.
A Sequel stands beyond –
Invisible, as Music –
But positive, as Sound –
It beckons, and it baffles –
Philosophy, don’t know –
And through a Riddle, at the last –
Sagacity, must go –
To guess it, puzzles scholars –
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown –
Faith slips – and laughs, and rallies –
Blushes, if any see –
Plucks at a twig of Evidence –
And asks a Vane, the way –
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit –
Strong Hallelujahs roll –
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul –

Emily Dickinson, LXXXIII

To call this final, capstone essay “Discipline” is oddly suited to the journey I have been on since beginning the clergy student discipline. In fact, over the course of this work, I have changed nearly every facet of my mundane life, including completely reinventing my personal practice, and yet still maintained the disciplines set before me – to pray, to take retreat time. Even in the fallow times, I knew that this practice would sustain me. It sustained me through a new job in a new field, moving, numerous mental health challenges, the death of my 10 year marriage and subsequent divorce, and the reinventing of myself that is ongoing as I step forward into the world unfettered by my previous expectations of myself.

This is not to say I never faltered – in the darkest days of my divorce, there was certainly not a lot of incentive to pray beyond knowing that I needed to pray. But I did it anyway, and coming out the other side of it I find myself having grown and changed in ways that seem both miniscule and radical at the same time.

So what have I done, or come to do over the course of my time as a clergy student?

I have a daily practice – one that has now expanded to include the practice of a daily office. My decision to pray every day, three times a day, has been hugely rewarding to my devotional practices and to my closeness to my gods and spirits. I have a (mostly) weekly practice, where I do a larger ritual that encompasses divination, usually a full core order, though usually improvised. I maintain a once-monthly retreat day, finding solace in my practices according to the clergy student discipline. I keep the high days, often with multiple rituals, both private and with my grove.

I also lead weekly study sessions on various topics, provide care and advice and spiritual counseling to my grove, and provide divination and mentorship to my grove and to a small cadre of new pagans online from all around the world. I’ve given presentations at festivals, written articles for Oak Leaves and for publication in other online spaces, and generally turned from a solitary, sheltered pagan into a public face in my community and online.

In short, I have started “priesting” – to coin the present participle of the noun.

I find it fitting that the rune that has followed me throughout my time as a clergy student is Gyfu – the gift, the rune of hospitality and reciprocity. Through it I have continued to find my space in the community, online, and with the spirits – through the giving and receiving of gifts. I have given good gifts, such as are within my power, and I have received blessings abundantly in return.

My relationship with the Earth Mother and the Gatekeeper has grown as well. They are part of my daily devotions, each receiving a prayer every morning, as well as at my monthly longer rituals.

As an Anglo-Saxon druid, I have an easy connection to the Earth Mother, as we know the Anglo-Saxons revered her. I simply call her Eorþan Modor, which just means Mother Earth. She is the ground on which I walk, and I honor her both in the green spaces around my apartment and in the garden that I grow on my small balcony. I find there is nothing so fitting as growing some of my own food and herbs, that I can enjoy – and then give back as offerings themselves. But she is also a challenging goddess to serve. I see in her remnants of Nerthus, from whom she descends, veiled and mysterious, a peacekeeper, but also demanding of sacrifice. I say to her “may I learn the meaning of true grace through your guidance,” but she is enigmatic at times. Other times she is simply the fertile ground of agriculture, which is so prevalent only half an hour’s drive from where I live.

Finding my gatekeeper was more challenging. There is always Woden to ask for the task, but he remains distant from me. Hama – the cognate to the Norse Heimdall – is another easy deity to ask, but though I work with him closely as the patron of Nine Waves, he never felt right in my personal rituals. I went so far as to ask Modgud – the giantess who guards the gates of Hel – but she was completely unresponsive. So I started looking for unconventional gatekeepers, and realized that the essence of a gatekeeper is their liminality – their ability to exist both in one world and the next, to traverse the worlds and cross the boundaries. So I reached out to Eostre – the Anglo-Saxon goddess who is honored in the early spring, usually celebrated by modern pagans at the Equinox. Her name is cognate with many other goddesses – Ostara, Eos, Aurora, Usas, and the Proto-Indo European *Hausos – in meaning East, and in being associated with the dawn. Her reaction to being asked to walk with me through the gates can only be described as joyful, and so with her help, I speak into the worlds. She is the Guardian of the Gates of Dawn, the radiant maiden of the East, who dances upon the boundary between night and day.

My personal devotional practice is, as began in my Dedicant work, dominated by my relationship with Ing Frea (Freyr/Ingui/Yngvi). As much as this path has been one of becoming a public priest, it has also included the trials and tribulations of becoming his devotional priest as well. I do not know yet what that will entail fully, but I trust in him and his guidance and advice. He is the sacrifice and sacrificer, death and rebirth, the golden god of the grain, the harvest lord, providence and the sacrificial king. In him, my practice is rooted deeply. (Though strangely, his rune almost never shows up in my readings, and when it does, it often indicates harvests rather than Himself.)

Journaling has never been a strong suit of mine, and my omen records are extremely intermittent, unfortunately, due to having lost some of my documentation when my apartment was struck by lightning last May, which took out part of my hard drive – a lesson in backing up your documents to the cloud, certainly. I do know that my journals – most of which are published on my blog – have given me a chance to go deeper into this practice, to own it, and to come into my ownership of it.

This discipline has become a part of my practice of sovereignty, and through it I express myself in the world. I stand at the precipice, having finished the coursework, but not yet applied for ordination, and I find myself returning to the words of Emily Dickinson – this has been a great adventure, one that has been hard, at times exhausting, but always rewarding. It is with much anticipation that I step forward into the sequel, and get to see what lies beyond.

VSLM

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(Catching up on the Pagan Blog Project – it’s been a rough few 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!)

Since I only have two F entries, I’m combining these two goddesses into one post. They are closely tied in the Anglo-Saxon practice, but generally different (as Freyja and Frigga) in the Scandinavian sources. Whether this is from linguistic changes happening in different places, or simply because their worship shifted strongly, or just because we have so few real sources on Anglo-Saxon paganism (and the names are linguistically similar, making it difficult to discern from place-names), I don’t know. However, I definitely address them as two separate goddesses, and I take from both sources for my personal practice.

Freo is a goddess of war, sexuality, magic, and fertility. As one of the Wanes/Vanir, she is closely tied to the land and its fertility, though she is not a typical “fertility” goddess in the way most Neopagans approach fertility (nor is she a typical “love” goddess either, though approaching her for help with love and sexuality would not be inappropriate by any stretch). She’s a complicated character, who knows her own worth and does powerful magic in support of those she loves. She may also be related to sovereignty (especially as it relates to sacred kingship and the land.) She is said to have taught seidhr to Odin, and to take the first choice of those slain in battle to her hall. In her honor, I have a “feather cloak” – a shawl painted with amber colored wings – that I wear when I’m doing particular kinds of trance journeys, patterned after Freyja’s traveling via her feather cloak to search for her husband Odr.

To quote from The Pagan Grove again:

It is my impression that Fréo is a Goddess of the land, but not as much so as Her mother [Nerthus] or Her brother, Ing Fréa. She is associated with those parts of our lives that are still very much tied to our animal instincts: sexuality, hunger, etc. And yet She also calls us to the mystery that lies behind these seemingly simple pleasures, the mystical experience of otherworldly trance and magic that stems from that which is green and growing.

I don’t have a ton of experience with Freo, though I do honor her regularly as part of my practice. She has not made herself directly known to me, but I hope that by continuing my practice I will deepen that relationship. I am also hoping that my work with the ADF Order of the Dead will coincide nicely with Freo’s role in choosing the slain to go to her hall, at least where it concerns my ancient ancestors.

Frige is the goddess I go to for hearth and home. She is a spinner, wife of Woden and queen of Asgard/Ases, and it is said that she sees all the possibilities and futures before her with her gift of prophecy, but chooses to be silent about them. She is represented on my altar with a drop spindle filled with my own handspun wool. She is queenly, but not distant, and I see in my ancestor practice many women who remind me of qualities of Frige. I honor her specifically on Modranicht, just before Yule, with the rest of the female ancestors, when I do a special cleaning and then put aside all housework in honor of the Idesa and Frige, giving them (and myself) a rest from our domestic duties.

Frige/Frigg is the basis for our English word Friday, and she may be related to Frau Holda in the Germanic folklore tradition as well (which makes for yet another F-entry that I should really write).

The stars we know as “Orion’s Belt” were known to the Norse as Frigga’s Distaff or Spinning Wheel (or possibly Freyja’s, though Freyja usually is not usually associated with spinning). As a spinner and fiber artist (I spin, knit, and sew), she is something of a patron of the arts that I follow, and so I try to make appropriate offerings in that vein.

As with Freo, I haven’t had much direct experience with Frige – I make offerings to her, so I feel like I am building a relationship, but I wouldn’t consider it a particularly deep or expressive one. With both of these goddesses, I am hoping that my connection deepens over time.

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Last night some friends and I (Hi Yngvi!) did a group ritual to celebrate Hallows. It went well, minus one quick trip to the kitchen for a forgotten offering, but it brought to mind some of what I miss about previous ritual groups I’ve worked with, and something I feel I’m missing out on as a solitary Druid.

In the Core Order, you do a lot of work to set up a ritual – warding, honoring, recreating the cosmos and hallows, etc. Then you welcome in the Kindreds… and then it seems like there’s a short working where you make offerings to the deities or spirits of the occasion and then it’s right on to the omen and blessing part of the ritual, take everything down and you’re done. The middle part – the actual working in honor of the high day – is fairly short (or nearly nonexistent) compared to the rest of the work.

In my previous work, there was always setup involved, distributed to members of the group (or done by the leaders, depending on the step), but the main focus of the work was definitely on the High Day working – and it was definitely WORKING. There was decidedly magic involved. Maybe because my previous group was Wiccan, and a Witch Turns The Wheel, but I miss that feeling of purpose, and of magic, in my ADF rituals.

I also miss sitting with my groupmates after the working as we discussed the working and all things magical, winding down the energy and grounding. Last night we did a small ancestor toast, but that was really it, and we were on to dismissing the hallows and taking down the ritual. There are definitely reasons for that – some of which I didn’t know before hand (like we were only doing one round of toasting, so I should name everyone in the first round instead of just starting with the first one and then being like “whoops! now we’re done?”). Plus we were short on time. But it still felt like the “guts” of the ritual weren’t the important focus that they could have been. (This is not a criticism of my friends’ ritual skills – I was co-leading the ritual, so it’s just as much my fault!)

I am finally getting to where I have parts of the COoR that I use consistently (though I just got a new ritual template from another Anglo-Saxon Druid, and I’m totally stealing parts of that for my own use), and there are even parts I can improv offhand without a script, but I haven’t found a good way to feel the “magic” of High Day rituals.

Maybe that’s just a difference in focus – the high days are about honoring and giving gifts and receiving blessings, not about actively, magically turning the wheel of the year. The ADF rituals I’ve done where I’ve had magical workings to do – especially my oath rite – have been much more powerful. High days feel more like a ritual of obligation and less like they spring from a magical need. It feels like a Druid honors, offers, celebrates… but a Witch works.

Perhaps I need to work on combining some of my previous path into my ADF workings, and elaborate on the “work” part of the ADF COoR – it’s definitely got a spot built into the ritual format, but it’s not a required part of the high day. As I work out how to meld the Neopagan Wheel of the Year with the Anglo-Saxon holidays (which actually line up pretty well – no surprise there), I think I may be feeding some more Neopagan magical work into the ADF celebratory rituals. I’m more driven to do rituals that have purpose, and “Yay Ancestors, Have a Beer!” isn’t quite the purpose that I need from my rituals.

As much as I’m a working Druid (and intend to continue to be so), deep down I think I may still be a Witch – and a Witch Turns the Wheel.

Blessed Hallows!

 

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I submitted my Initiates Path Intention Letter a few weeks ago, and it has passed from “discussion” into “voting” at this point. I’m trying to take this waiting in stride (though it was hard to have my DP go through review again, this time to see if my work was deemed adequate for the greater work of the Initiate’s Path).  There is a chance I could be denied entry into the program, but I’m trying not to think about that too much.

Over the last few weeks I’ve done a lot of thinking about what kinds of things I want to get out of the IP going forward, about what my expectations are going in. It’s hard, since I have to define my own level of service to the ADF community, but I think I’d like to be part of the web-presence of ADF (since I’m primarily solitary) and possibly work as a mentor for Dedicants as well.

I have also done a lot of book buying, purchasing Anglo-Saxon texts and reference material, with the goal of completing my Indo-European Language course before I start any of the other courses. There isn’t currently an ADF approved list for using Anglo-Saxon for the IP, but since it’s an accepted ADF Hearth Culture, I guess I’m going to forge new ground in that regard.

As well, my good pagan friend here (who is of the Vanatru persuasion, which would probably be where I’d end up without ADF) has joined up with ADF and will be starting on his Dedicant Path work, which is exciting.  We’ll be able to support each other as we go through these classes and challenges.

If I’m quite frank, the Trance I and Trance II requirements of the IP are quite terrifying for me. Meditation I can do, but trance work has always been beyond me. I know part of the process is learning to do it, and learning different methods and what works for you for achieving trance states. As practice for that requirement, I’ve re-upped my Mental Grove practice, and am beginning to build around that hallows towards the outer edges of the low-hanging tree branches, placing doors and arches and entryways into a mist-filled beyond that space.

IE Language will be hopefully fun (I love languages) and allow me to start using Anglo-Saxon phrases in my rituals, a goal I’ve had for awhile. I’m also going to use the Wheel of the Year format followed by Cranberry Protogrove, since it works well, and will honor the biggest patron of my path (Ing Frea) as part of the high days in Autumn. I like the balance it provides, and intend to use this next year’s ritual observances to really get to know these new aspects of the Gods. (I am especially interested in getting to know Frige – she strikes me as a fairly differently aspected Goddess as either Freyja or Frigg, and I’d like to work with her and see if she has guidance for me in the part of my life where I’m responsible for a home).

What purpose this blog will serve in my further studies I don’t yet know. I’ll be posting my Initiates Intention Letter for sure, but I don’t know if I’ll post all of my coursework – but perhaps just reflections on it as I’m progressing. I don’t expect to move through the IP particularly quickly, as it’s much more in-depth and requires a lot more reading and study than did the DP. Plus there’s a good bit more work that I don’t know I’ll be okay talking about until it’s been well past (namely the Magic 1 and Magic 2 work). Some of the classes are extremely scholarly, and I’m already collecting those books as I can find them at my local used bookstore. My “to read” pile is growing at an astounding rate.

It feels good, again, to be (hopefully) starting on this new journey around Samhain – regardless of how long it takes me, I think I will want to finish my studies (and hopefully be accepted as an Initiation candidate) in the fall. It always feels like a time of beginnings and endings to me.

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I’ve not been so good about two parts of my practice recently – both blogging and my meditation time have suffered as my commitments in life have ramped up. Those two things are related, since they both represent time I spend in thought and contemplation about my path (or just about my breath), and I’ve not been doing a lot of that recently. Quite frankly, I think it’s time to swing back that direction. My meditation practice is directly tied in with my daily offerings, so you can imagine that those have been less as well, and frequently have been getting skipped.

I’m not sure exactly where the balance is, but I know right now I’m not on it. I have some health issues going on that are taking up more time than usual, and that means rebalancing my time to make sure I’m making time to do the things I need to do. I’ve also had some personal issues getting in the way of my devotional practice. They’re intensely personal, so I’m not sure I will talk about them much here, but suffice to say it’s been very difficult to maintain a devotional practice with regards to Ingvi Frey lately. I am hoping to get some guidance on that front, but it’s been challenging. I’m hoping that with a bit of guidance I can find a way to do those devotions in a way that is also protective of and safe for me mentally.

My ancestor devotions are about where they were – I’m definitely going through a lot more candles in the kitchen on my hearth lately!

As well, the two books I ordered on Anglo-Saxon paganism have come in, so I am anxious to get started reading them. I think it’ll be good to read something more scholarly after having immersed myself in fiction with the Iron Druid Chronicles. Those were fun – and spiritually interesting – but as with all things, balance is good.

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I finished reading Alaric Albertsson’s Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan last night, and I have to say, I am highly intrigued. This is an easy read, and a charming book, with solid information about the Anglo Saxon path (with common sense advice mixed in) as well as how to take that information and turn it into a modern practice. Albertsson is a member of ADF, so I shouldn’t be surprised to find the ritual structure is familiar, but the book just felt *right* while I was reading it.

This is, of course, especially interesting considering that while I do not have any (known) Norse direct ancestors (I have Germanic ones by marriage), I have ancestors in Britain – and with the usual speculation of how hard it is to date things back that far – to pre-Norman Britain. Granted those might have been Christian ancestors, I have no idea and no real way to tell – I didn’t do the research myself, but it’s likely that their names and records came from church record keeping, so it’s certainly likely.

Still, I felt a real connection to what I was reading. It’s very close to what I’ve already been working with in the Norse hearth (and I don’t know that I’d abandon that entirely), but I may add some Anglo-Saxon flavor into my ADF workings and see what happens. With Midsummer approaching, I’ve plenty of time to work in a ritual that would make sense.

On the other hand, I don’t know how hard a polytheist I am about it – the Gods of the Anglo-Saxons are certainly familiar to someone who has studied the Norse hearth. Do I think Woden and Odin, or Thunor and Thor, or Ing and Freyr, or Freyja and Freo are the same gods or different gods? They have both similarities and differences. The lack of knowledge about the Anglo Saxon culture also seems to lead to a good bit of borrowing from the Germanic myths, just so that there’s enough information to fill out a practice. In that light, I’ve ordered a copy of Brian Branston’s Lost Gods of England to see if I can fill out my knowledge a bit. It’s another approved ADF DP book, so its probably not a waste of time to read. Since it’s out of print, it’ll be a bit before it gets here (the best price for best quality book I could find is being sold by a bookseller in London, so it’s got a trip to make!).

In the meantime I think I’m going to read Albertsson’s other book Wyrdworking, and possibly Diana Paxston’s Trance-portation. (Both of which arrived yesterday! Yay books!) I’ve got a lot to learn, and I tend to read a lot in the summer – it’s quite hot, and I enjoy sitting in the sun with a book and a cool, tasty drink in the afternoons. Bonus points if I drive down to the beach to do it.

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