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Last year I wrote this piece on what it’s like being a Pagan with mental illness.

Just ran across this vlog from Thorn where she tackles it in video form, and I thought it was good, especially the pseudo-victim-blamey “Oh if only you were closer to nature/drank this tea/balanced your chakras you wouldn’t be depressed” bullshit that seems to get tossed around a lot.

Though old, this piece on WitchVox pretty neatly writes out exactly what the stigma is against mental illness in the pagan community – especially among covens and BTW groups. (Specifically this line, quoting from a coven’s guidelines for seekers: “if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult individual in the mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not even attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem” which was pretty much exactly what I was told in the phone call where I split off from the group I was in outer court with.)

Rant pants on: I dunno what qualifies as “fully responsible adult individual”. Would it be better if I went off the medications and stopped doing the therapy that has kept me from having a major mood episode in almost a year? Do I need to show you my credit rating and my pay stubs to prove that I have a good job and pay my bills on time? What exactly is a “fully responsible adult individual” if it’s not someone who takes care of their shit (mental, physical, or otherwise) to the best of their abilities?

Full honesty here – I miss my witchy people. I love ADF, and I love the study I’m doing and the group I lead, but it’s tiring being in charge when I’ve only been doing this 4 years this month. Sure that’s nothing to sneeze at, but I’m only getting the training I do myself, and there’s not a whole lot of mentorship that goes on, especially on the spiritual side. And I know I’m building a good group, and we’re working on having more spiritual and less scholarly experiences, but I’ve still yet to experience anything that quite matches a group of skilled Witches in a circle. Druids rarely seem to be “up to something” quite the same way that Witches tend to get “up to something”.

For some reason, it’s just hard to move on from that. I’ve gone through a period of intense change in the last few months (up to and including getting a new job), which has put my ADF studies on hold, and still I go back to the 18 or so months that I spent in Outer Court and wonder what life would be like without the bipolar label.

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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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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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One of my favorite blogs is the one written by Hecate Demetersdatter. She’s a grandmother (a Nonna) and a Witch, and I get a great deal of inspiration and knowledge from reading her tales and posts. Even though we’ve never met, I consider her an elder in my path – someone I can learn many things from, because she’s been doing this a long time, and she knows her stuff and shares it willingly (at least parts of it) on her blog.

She’s the inspiration for my being a “Druid of this place” – of truly caring for and knowing the land I live on, even if I am a youngish Druid, and don’t have years of experience under my belt. (She also loves poetry and ballet, two of my own loves, and so her blog frequently delights me with those as well.)

Anyway, she’s posted a Solstice Tale that I found delightful and thoughtful, and, should you be so inclined, I think you’d enjoy it too.

You can read it here.

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Something that’s come up as I’ve discussed my Lammas omen with various folks on ADF lists and elsewhere has been the phrase “The Gods don’t give us more than we can handle” (or some variation on that phrase).

While I understand the sentiment (and that it is usually well-intentioned and said in such a way that implies I should find it helpful) I just can’t get behind it, for a number of reasons.

First, it makes the Gods out to be assholes. It means the Gods are taking someone they deem to be strong, and giving them a whole pile of unpleasant, traumatic, nasty shit to deal with simply because they can supposedly handle it. Someone once told this to a friend of mine who had recently lost her child to a car accident, and her response was “So if I was a weaker person, my child would still be alive?” And that’s about how I look at it. (This is right up there with “The Gods will provide.” being told to someone who is unemployed. They might provide emotional support, but I’ve yet to see evidence of a check from God to help you pay the rent. You’re better off with Aflac.)

I can understand how, looking back after the fact, a person might come to the conclusion that bad things happened to them, but with their own will, and their own power, and aided by the power of the Gods they got through it and are now stronger. That’s GREAT. That’s the kind of success anyone wants to hear coming out of a terrible story. It’s just the kind of conclusion you need to come to yourself about a situation, and it’s really pretty useless to someone who is in the middle of a great deal of turmoil and strife.  (It’s like telling someone who has just had a horrible car accident and is in the hospital with multiple injuries “well, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” – totally unhelpful, and potentially really hurtful to a person who is looking for someone to be supportive.) If you can come out of a shitty situation and say “wow, that sucked, but I am totally a better person for it” then good for you! But let’s not assume that was the intent of the Gods in the first place.

I also do not, and will not, understand a relationship with Deity whereby I give and sacrifice and try to be as good at *ghosti as possible, only to have them turn around and dump a bunch of shit on my head in the name of a “blessing”. If that’s the kinds of blessings I’m in for, I’ll take my bags elsewhere, thanks.

I don’t “test” my friends and family’s love and devotion to me by putting them through “challenges” where I do mean things and see if they continue to care about me. That’s just cruel.

I know this path can be challenging. I know that self-change, that growth, that improvement sometimes comes with the painful process of casting off the old and growing the new in the self. That’s good, if sometimes painful. Initiations cause change, regardless of what kind of initiation or who is giving it. That’s a healthy process, and (tongue in cheek a bit) that’s why I have a therapist (whom I pay to help me navigate these things). But if my relationship with my Gods is what is causing all the terrible things that have happened to me, from which I now have an anxiety disorder and PTSD, on top of being bipolar? Pardon my saying so, but the Gods can go fuck right off.

Which gets back to that problem of evil. If the Gods aren’t “causing” bad things, or “allowing” bad things (and this is especially true if you have a monotheistic view with an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God), why do bad things happen? Why do hurricanes happen, or car accidents or job losses or cancer or any of the other bad things? I gave up on the idea of an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God because a God who can see those things happening, but chooses to sit by and do nothing is kind of a jerk. If he can’t change those things, then he’s not “God” (in that sense).

So I’ve chosen to give up on the dichotomy of a Good God fighting against an Evil Devil. The Devil doesn’t cause hurricanes (hurricanes are heat engines that disperse tropical heat out to the poles. They’re fairly good at it, and generally have no personal ill will for the people they happen to impact). Nature is nature, and sometimes people are jerks. I don’t need an Ultimate Good God to be fighting the Ultimate Bad Devil for that to explain the world. If s/he is just another force that exists among many forces in the Universe, God doesn’t have to cause bad things to happen, or allow bad things to happen, or even be in charge of transforming the bad things that happen. The so called “problem of evil” goes away. A god can help influence things to your favor, but they aren’t all-powerful, all knowing beings (though they are certainly more powerful and more knowing than most humans). To quote Ian Corrigan:

In any event, the problem of evil only arises if you posit that there is an all powerful, all-good god, which clearly was not the case for pagans. The problem of evil only exists in omnipotent monotheism. It’s not a problem in paganism, it’s just there. “Evil” (something we don’t like) happens because 1) people are sometimes idiots, and 2) some stuff hurts, and there is no power that could make things different. Even the gods don’t control the way the world is. All beings together make the world the way it is, and they each act as individual agents.

Neither do I need to believe in what is called the just world fallacy – the idea that “you reap what you sow” or “you’ll get what’s coming to you” or “what comes around goes around”. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. It apparently gives some people comfort to think that, and I can certainly see how, but for me, it only makes me disgruntled and frustrated. It makes more sense for me to explain it via the existence of chaos, and that humans have free will and are free to be assholes to each other. Maybe there will be punishment for wrongdoing in the afterlife, maybe not. I don’t know if I believe in an afterlife (at least not in the traditional sense) at all anyway, so I’m not sure how much it matters.

What I do believe in is personal responsibility, and having a right relationship with the Gods I do worship (none of whom are omniscient, omnipotent, or unbeatable, and all of whom have fates and wills and likes and dislikes). No matter how you slice it, suffering is part of this world, and I believe it is our job to try to alleviate that suffering where we can – whether it’s the suffering of a fellow human, whose grief we can comfort – or the suffering of the Earth itself, who we can care for and honor and respect and worship through Druidry.

I’ve been through a lot in the (almost) 30 years that I’ve walked on this Earth, and I’ve experienced a fair amount of suffering (as well as a fair amount of privilege, as I am an American, and that puts me in a pretty good spot all things considered). But I don’t “give glory to the Gods” for the progress I’ve made on my mental health – I’m the one doing the work. I believe in being personally responsible for my success, and for my failure. I might ask for the support of the Gods, but ultimately I’m the one that has to do the heavy lifting. A god might help me with my transformative process, but ultimately I’m the one doing the transforming. To use a slightly stretched metaphor, the gods can tutor me all they want, but if I (as the student) don’t actually do the homework? I’ll still fail.

Maybe I’m just really cynical about the whole “but you’ll be so much better of a person when you’re through” stuff. Victimization doesn’t magically confer virtue. I’m not a better person for any of the stuff I’ve been through. If anything, I’m a weaker person for it, because now I have a host of psychological issues that I have to manage, on top of chronic pain. Being a victim of terrible things doesn’t magically make you a better person, or even a good person. Sometimes it makes you a pretty broken person. It certainly didn’t give me huge reserves of great magical power, or a supreme reliance on the Gods, or the ability to hear Them speak, or anything like that (though it did facilitate my leaving Christianity, but there are a lot less traumatic ways THAT could have happened). You can learn to cope with being differently wired, but anyone who tells me this is all a “blessing in disguise” can shove that blessing where the sun don’t shine.

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The Ancestors, as one of the Three Kindreds, are pretty central to ADF. Ancestor veneration was pretty important across the Indo European world, and it’s well documented in the Norse and Anglo Saxon cultures, where some of the strongest protectors of the folk are your disir – the ancestral mothers and grandmothers who looked out for and protected their family line.

Still, it can be hard to get started, as a modern American Neopagan, who hasn’t had a lot of real upbringing around honoring and remembering our ancestors. While we might place flowers on a grave, we don’t typically (as a culture) consult with or do actions in honor of those who have died. Also, not everyone is on the best terms with their actual blood family, and in today’s culture, families are often split up by long distances thanks to jobs, divorce, travel, and all the other things that create physical distance in a way that our earlier forebears would not have understood. I’m also fortunate (and young enough) to not have lost a lot of people who were particularly close to me in my life, so I need to expand my definition of Ancestors well beyond just “my dead grandmother”.

So how do we find the Ancestors in the modern world?

First, I think it’s useful to remember that by Ancestors, I don’t just mean “people who are related to you who died”. (This is especially good if the people who have died that you are related to were unpleasant people with whom you choose not to associate.) Rev. Dangler, in the Wheel of the Year book (p 43-44), breaks down Ancestors into four types.

  • Blood- Kin: These are ancestors of your blood, such as Grandpa Winston above, or your mother, or you sister, or your child. All of these are Ancestors, or would have been considered so by the Indo-European peoples. (DS: I include the ancestors of my husband’s family in this group as well, as they are now part of my family.)
  • Heart-Kin:  These are the close friends with whom there are ties of love, respect, and strong friendship. They are family, even if there is no blood tie.
  • Hearth-Kin:  These are people who have shared your hearth religion, though they may not be close friends or blood-relatives.
  • Mentor-Kin: These are teachers, guides, and friends with whom you sharean intellectual lineage: perhaps you learned something from them that profoundly affected your life, or you are following in their footsteps in learning.

From that breakdown, I include in my ancestors my two martial arts teachers, from whom I learned a great deal and who had a huge influence on my life, both of whom died very suddenly while I was studying with them in college. They are Mentor-Kin, in a way, and from them I learned a lot. When I list my honored dead, I include both of them among the other close people I have lost, because they profoundly affected my life. (I also think at least one of them is absolutely tickled that I’m now a practicing Druid – he’s probably the most interesting man I’ve ever met – a practicing Jew, a master of Tai Chi, a professional ballroom dancer, and an expert in the I-Ching. I can only think he’d be profoundly amused to think of one of his former students as a Druid.)

Of course, I include my family and my husband’s family in my ancestral lineage as well. Both of our families have strong ties to our past and to the people who came before us, and there are pictures all over my inlaws and my parents houses of their various relatives from the past. As good solid Methodists, they’d be appalled if I said it was anything other than good Christian remembrance of their family members, but it does start to look a lot like an Ancestor shrine, especially when you start to include little mementos and tokens belonging to the various family members.

I have recently started honoring my Hearth-Kin as well, lighting candles and incense and asking for their guidance as I work my way towards their practice. I know my religion looks very little like what theirs would have been, but I hope that I can honor them in a way that makes them feel valued and remembered, and that they can be proud of having their beliefs and traditions passed on. As part of this practice, I keep a candle on my “hearth” (my stove) that I light each evening as I am cooking and then cleaning up, in honor of my ancestral mothers who also worked to feed their families. It brings a little sacredness to the daily chore, and helps me remember to see the value in little things done with intention.

As I build on my altar space, I am also adding things that remind me of my ancestors. I’ve had some trouble with this, since I don’t often associate people with specific things, but I’m trying to expand that. I use a coin to represent my Tai Chi teacher, and a guitar pick to represent my Sensei who died, since those were things that were particularly special to them in life – even if they didn’t have a lot to do with what I learned from them. I have pictures of my grandmother and great grandmother, and I’d like to gradually build to have some items and pictures from both my family and my husband’s family on our mantlepiece.

My favorite way to honor my Ancestors, though, is through stories. I don’t know a lot of their stories yet, but I’m learning to ask about them now – asking my Nana about her mother’s story, and about the stories of my husband’s family as they worked their homestead in the Hill Country of Texas. I love to share the stories of the people I know who have died though, about the things that made them special or interesting, and about how they lived their lives in ways that influenced mine. I really enjoy sitting around with family and telling the stories that make us who we are (I’m lucky to be close to both my own and my husband’s family for this).

Hopefully I will continue to grow in my respect for and devotion to the Ancestors as I work with and for them, and do things in their memory. Keeping in mind that I have “hearth kin” ancestors as well as those from whom I directly descend, I want to remember them and honor them as … well, as my ancestors would have honored THEIR ancestors. Without them I would not be here, and would not be the person I am today.

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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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