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Posts Tagged ‘neopagan’

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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Druids have book problems. My reading list for the Initiate’s Path is not anywhere near fully collected, and it’s already stacked up all over my desk (and the floor…) Books, books, more books. Two translations of the Poetic Edda, just to see what the translation differences are. Plus an extra book of Norse Myth retellings so I can read them as modern-language stories. A few study books on particular aspects of Germanic paganism. Add to that books about meditation, trance, magic working, running Neopagan rites, historical paganism and archaeology, language textbooks, and that’s only what I can remember offhand. Granted, I can get some of them from the library, but I am a writer-in-books.

I know, this makes some people batty, and I don’t highlight with horrible colored markers, but I like to highlight with colored pencils, and make notes with regular pencil, especially if something is particularly academic and dense. This means I make very good use of my local used bookstore. (Where my friend Yngvi works. I used to work there as well, actually).

Add to that reading beginning books on other hearth cultures to help my study group, plus reading for pleasure, and I go through a lot of books.

Some of those books (especially fiction books) I tend to stick with my Nook reader, because it’s very portable, and if I need to make notes I can, but for academic reading, even with a note-taking-capability, I tend to prefer dead-tree-books. Also it’s hard to get the kind of academic books I need for ADF as dead-tree-books.

Suffice it to say, though, that I love books. I love reading them, studying them, collecting them. My house is full of them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The Ancestors play an important part in my spiritual practice. Under many names – the Ancestors, the Mighty Ones, the Mighty Dead, Idesa and Alfar – they are one of ADF’s Three Kindreds and an important practice in the Norse and Anglo-Saxon cultures.

The Mighty Ones are the Ancestors, those of our folk who are presently resting in the Land of the Dead. They watch over their descendants and lend their power to aid us. It is proper for every Druidic worshipper to honor her immediate ancestors, her Grandmothers and Grandfathers, as well as the Heroes, those great women and men who are honored by her folk. – The Worlds and the Kindreds

Some articles and references for the Ancestors, particularly the Disir/Idesa/Matronae (Female ancestors and guardians)

Historically, the Norse/Germanic/Anglo-Saxon cultures had strong beliefs about their ancestors being a part of their family’s good fortune. These beings – which are sometimes confused with Nature Spirits after awhile, especially if they are connected to a burial mound or site – watch over their descendents and protect them in life, often interfering to bring good fortune or luck in battle. If you wanted to speak with a particular Dis, you would go out and sit all night on her burial mound, seeking her council (a practice called out-sitting).

In my personal practice, the Ancestors are a part of my daily life. I make regular offerings to a group of Idesa I call my “Prairie Godmothers” – women whose strength and courage helped bring their families to the United States, where they lived as pioneers. Every time I clean my kitchen, I light a candle to them, and make them a small offering of thanks. I want to channel their courage and inner fortitude in my own life, so I invite them in regularly.

I’ve also been called directly (through a blog-friend who does Seidhr) to work more with my dead and spend time with my ancestors. I don’t know exactly what this means, but I have tried to incorporate more work with them into my practice, and to spend additional time with them when I do ritual. I’m not very good at it yet, but I am trying to make this more a focus of my practice. As part of this, I’ve been collecting family genealogy from both my and my husband’s family in a central location in our home. Keeping this information current and easy to reference helps me connect to my direct ancestors. I would like to expand this practice to more spiritual ancestors, whether they be ancients or just other figures in history who can guide me in my spiritual work. Hopefully this will help me fulfill the request to pay more attention to my dead.

I put a lot of stock and respect in the answers I got from Beth on the subject (prompted by my constantly receiving the rune Hagalaz while not seeing elements of destruction and chaos around), so I trust that this is important, both to my ancestors and the mighty dead, and to Hela herself, as the goddess of the underworld. Admittedly, I’m a little intimidated by cultivating a relationship with a Goddess of Death, but I am well aware that my being uncomfortable is either something she doesn’t much care about, or is actively seeking. It’s definitely outside my comfort zone.

I had some particularly interesting dreams about two ancestors of spirit, back when I was practicing Wicca, but I haven’t seen or sought them out again. I need to begin seeking some Anglo-Saxon and Norse ancestors, particularly women ancestors (for some reason I am very drawn to them). I don’t know much else to do beyond granting them offerings and paying attention to them, but as I develop better trance and meditative listening/journeying skills I hope I will have some better ideas of things I can do – and maybe even names or personalities I can begin to associate with them.

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I’ve had a fairly thoughtful week.

For me, adjusting my brain to “think like a polytheist” has been quite the adventure. For someone born into an Indo-European culture, this kind of stuff would be second nature – much like the Protestant Work Ethic is second nature to most Americans (the idea that if you work hard, God will reward you, therefore success means you have pleased God and failure means you’re a lazy good-for-nothing and God is displeased with you/you don’t deserve success). This belief influences all kinds of things, from how we teach our children to how we relate to the poor, but there are two parts that specifically stuck out at me.

First, this kind of thinking is essentially binary – a trait common in Western monotheism. There’s “God’s way” (the specifics of which are hard to pin down) and the Wrong Way. If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy. If you’re successful, it’s Gods blessing, if you’re not, it’s a personal failing on your part. Very black and white. (It also fails to reward people for doing good, by giving all the credit for their goodness/skill to God, but that’s a different post).

Back when I was in college, my rhetoric professor was always challenging us to “spot the third option”. This was an especially fun game when reading the newspaper or any political speech, which relies on creating binaries to sustain the “I’m the good guy, the other guy is the bad guy” image. If you can spot a third option, you can usually spot a fourth and fifth, and the discussions that resulted from that exercise were always way more nuanced and thoughtful and productive than just everyone “taking sides”.

Polytheism is, at its heart, pluralistic to monotheism’s inherent duality. Corrigan (article here) derives this from Nature, where all things are varied, and which – if we use Nature as our expression/model for the Divine, suggests a plurality of divinity as well. There are certainly categories of things, but each thing is both totally individual and yet part of a greater ecosystem.

This all got me to thinking about a lot of things, from the nature of Gods to the problem of “evil” (which I think will have to be its own post).

Overall, though, it’s been an interesting process to realize just how accustomed to dualistic thinking I’ve become, even though I know it’s often fallacious. It’s a big tie in to the virtues, which seem fairly straightforward but are, in practice, highly nuanced as well. (Especially when you consider that each one can be applied differently in different cultures, making it all quite relative.) It’s certainly easier to think in terms of black and white, but I’m finding my model of the world is more sensible the more options it has. It’s also a lot more compassionate (though that may just be my reading of things), which is something I strive for.

The more I look for black and white thinking, the more of it I see as well, which can be a little frustrating if I don’t want to get into rhetorical arguments all the time.

The “problem of evil” is even a bigger issue for me, and reading that article made a lot of things clear up that had bothered me for awhile. It’s rather intensely personal stuff, so I’m not sure how to blog about it, but I’ll see if I can’t figure out a way to approach it in the next few days.

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There’s a good post from Rev. Michael J Dangler about creating and sharing Neopagan and Druid prayers, especially sharing them in shareable graphic format. Go read it! (The prayers are quite nice!) I especially found the response to the National Day of Prayer to be very positive, in light that I don’t usually find that day to be particularly positive as a practicing Pagan.

I’ve always liked formulaic prayers (though I ABHOR publicly praying out loud), and I find them to be a good way to get past the “not knowing what to say” phase of prayer. It also really helps for me to formalize my thoughts in writing before I say them. Which isn’t to say that I don’t (try to) pray spontaneously, only that I get a great deal of value from prepared prayer. I have a lot of emotional baggage around prayers, and writing my own seems to help me get past that a little bit.

I’d like to try to do more written out prayers here in this space – both for practice, and because I like writing them (they’re a bit like poetry), and because I think they add value to my devotions.

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Beltane is the second cross-quarter day in the Neopagan calendar, and occurs on or around May 1st. This is sometimes considered the second most important holiday to Samhain, and is in a lot of ways it’s mirror holiday. While Samhain celebrates death, the ending of the year, and the beloved dead, Beltane is a fertility festival, steeped in the coming new life of the earth and the return of flowers, as well as the promise of a good harvest. I have heard it said that Samhain is when the Otherworld comes closest to joining our world, and that Beltane is when our world is closest to joining the Otherworld.

Ancient Gaelic traditions include building fires and driving the livestock between them to bless them. Many other traditions, like maypole dancing, come from the Germanic cultures, making this Neopagan holiday a good blend of Indo European traditions. The name Beltane is, itself, Gaelic – the Germanic culture celebrated Walpurgis Night. There is a possible connection as well to the Roman festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers, though the festival of flowers was centered less on bonfires and more on flowers and drinking. (Drinking, of course, is likely common to all of these celebrations, but modern Neopagans are warned to be careful about combining alcohol with bonfire jumping.)

In the Neopagan Wheel of the Year, Beltane is when the Goddess and the God are celebrating their fertility and consummating their marriage. Common traditions are creating flower garlands, dancing a may-pole, building bonfires, having sex (consenting adults only), and generally celebrating the fact that Summer is on its way in, and the Earth’s fertility has resumed, and it’s not cold and snowy anymore. Less common are flower baskets (May baskets) left anonymously as gifts on people’s porches (which makes a nice counterpart to trick-or-treating at Samhain). The May morning dew is said to be miraculously healing and rejuvenating, leading to myths about bathing your face in it, or gathering it in special cloths.

Beltane, Walpurgis Night, May Day and other associated holidays are all celebrated widely, even into modern times in a lot of places, regardless of Christianization. In many places, May is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but the same celebrations (like giving baskets of flowers) are simply given new names and continued. In other places, people simply continue to build their bonfires and celebrate the coming of May, regardless of what tradition or religion they might be.

This is, in general, an extremely lighthearted and joyful celebration in modern times. It frequently gets connected with faeries and fey lore, and gives modern Neopagans a chance to dance, sing, drink, and make merry at the end of winter. This year, since the spring has been so cool and wet (and even, in some places, snowy) many US Neopagans are looking forward to Beltane and hoping that the weather will cooperate. Here on the Gulf Coast, the cooler weather has meant that things aren’t growing as fast as they usually do, so my celebration will include some extra oomph for my garden, so that it will be productive and fruitful before the heat of summer!

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Yule is the festival that occurs on the Winter Solstice – the longest night of the year. It is generally celebrated on December 21, though the actual Solstice may happen a day or two earlier or later, depending on how the calendar lines up with the astronomical phenomenon of the Solstice.

The primary Neopagan celebration at Yule is that of the rebirth of the Sun. The Goddess-cycle says that She has been pregnant since the Spring, and the God, her lover, was slain at the harvest, ushering in the darkest part of the year. Now He is reborn and the light returns to the world.  This is also seen as the time when the newly birthed Oak King defeats his twin and rival, the Holly King, to rule for the coming “light” half of the year (the two will switch roles at Midsummer).

Common celebrations include bonfires and all-night-vigils to welcome the sunrise after the longest night of the year. Also common is gift-giving, feasting, lighting lots of candles to celebrate the return of light, and decorations of evergreens, to show the promise of returning spring and green things. This is the turning point of the year from dark to light, and though the coldest days of winter are still ahead, the increasing sunlight is a sign that spring will come again.

There is not a particularly notable celebration in the Celtic hearth culture for the Winter Solstice, though the Ancestors would still have been important at this time of year. In the Gaulish hearth, the midwinter feast of Devoriuros was a celebration of plenty, as well as of the renewal promised by the returning light. The Coligny calendar clearly marks the winter solstice, so there would have been some notation that the longest night had passed. (Our Own Druidry, 62-64)

I celebrate many of the secular traditions in North America that go along with this holiday, many of which have ties to the Neopagan (and older) customs of this time of year. I particularly enjoy baking cookies, giving gifts, hanging evergreens, and lots of candle light to illuminate the darkness. I also celebrate this holiday (and it’s Christian equivalent) multiple times, since each part of my family will have its own gift-giving and celebratory gathering, with a big feast as well.

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