Friday, December 21, 2012

We're prepping for Jul chez Signy and Sven.  It's even feeling wintery, at least in the mornings when it's been in the low 40s (about 5 Celsius).  Today is the day of the Solstice, so I'll be changing the altar cloth on my personal altar and thinking about my personal devotion to Sol Invicta.

We also have a very special hypostasis of Odin paying a visit.

I found him at the Navy Exchange near my work, and I almost wept.  I've been envisioning Odin as the Gift Giver and Huntsman for a while, and my gosh, this is him!  He even came with his eye obscured the way it is in the picture.  He has pine cones on his coat and he's dressed for the forest.

There's been some talk about how Odin influences our images of Santa.  I also know I heard someone talking about Santa Claus as a modern deity.  This morning, there was this beautiful story on Storycorps on NPR. San Diego truck driver Boyd Applegate tells about what happens when he puts on the Santa Claus costume, and how he first heard his calling.

It's only a couple of minutes.  I heard this story and looked at Sven and said, "He's a priest of Santa Claus!"

This of course means Santa is real.  I'll leave everybody to interpret that as they will.

Happy Solstice!  Happy Jul!  Hail Sol, and Blessed Be.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds

I spent the weekend thinking about a heathen response (not “the” heathen response) to the unimaginably terrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut this past Friday.  I wasn’t sure if I should even attempt to write one, because I intended this blog to specifically not be a current events blog.  Still, I’m a theologian by training, and this is where the rubber hits the road where religion is concerned.

This is a pastoral question.  What can one say about a senseless massacre in which 20 completely innocent children were murdered, along with 6 adults who were by all accounts doing everything they could to protect their charges?  How does one make sense of that?

The Asatru answer is, “You don’t. “  I turned to the Eddas to see what I could find there, and the passages that seemed to echo the situation in Newtown were those concerning the death of Baldr. 

What we see in this story is a community in mourning.  Baldr, the pure and beautiful son of Odin and Frigga, has been senselessly killed.  There’s lots of blame to go around.  Loki killed Baldr for reasons unknown, or Hoedur killed Baldr without Loki’s assistance because he wanted Nanna, Baldr’s wife. Frigga should have made the mistletoe swear not to harm Baldr.  Finally, why did Baldr allow people to throw arrows and other missiles at him anyway?  Was he that proud of his newly-acquired Superman powers?

None of this makes one blessed bit of difference because Baldr is dead, and he’s not coming back.

The community of Aesir and Vanir come to the funeral.  Odin whispers something in Baldr’s ear before they lift him into the boat that will be his pyre.  Nanna dies or commits suicide because she cannot live without her husband, and she is laid beside him to be cremated.  Thor raises Mjollnir to bless the funeral pyre, but a dwarf thoughtlessly walks in front of him so Thor kicks him into the fire in his rage.

This is significant.  Thor, who is known for his holiness, who is bringing the sacred to the funeral, strikes out in anger and another life is lost.  To my thinking, this is something that happens to a lot of us religious folk and clergy.  In the face of intense sorrow we strike out at people over stupid things at the precise moment when we’re supposed to be holy and priestly.  This is a call for us to keep a close eye on our reactions, because if the mighty god Thor can lose it out of grief, so can we.  Grief is more powerful than Thor.

It is also more powerful than Frigga.  Frigga attempted the impossible when she asked for every being in the nine worlds to swear not to hurt her son.  She attempts it again when she has Odin send Hermod to Hel to see if he can bring Baldr back from the dead.  Frigga attempts the impossible a third and final time when she asks every being in the nine worlds to weep for Baldr, the condition for his return.

But again, none of this makes one blessed bit of difference.  Baldr is dead.  He’s not coming back.  Frigga is a mother, though, and one cannot think less of her for trying.  What loving mother wouldn’t attempt the impossible, multiple times, for the sake of her child?

Grief, anger, unanswerable questions, the wish of a parent to move heaven and earth in order to have their baby back.  The mourning in Asgard over Baldr mirrors that of Newtown, or any place that’s seen its children die long before their time.  If we look at the story for comfort, we won’t find any.  The events surrounding the death of Baldr show us that the gods aren’t any more immune from death and sorrow than we are.  We can point to the details on how all of them react to tragedy and see ourselves in the mother who is made irrational by grief, the angry father who will have vengeance at the cost of others’ suffering, the clergy doing or saying something stupid in the heat of their own emotion.  We have gods who understand what we’re going through because they’ve gone through it themselves.  Blessed be.

At this point, someone is probably thinking about how Baldr is going to come back and take Odin’s place after the Ragnarok.  Someone else is also thinking about how Baldr is drinking mead with Hel in her beautifully decorated hall.  Assuming that these two details are true, how likely is it that reminding Frigga of that would comfort her?  Baldr may be content and safe where he is, but Frigga can’t see him or talk to him or share confidences about the future with him.   When Baldr does return to Frigga, it will cost Odin’s life for him to do so.  Frigga is a wise and loving goddess, but she is also a very sad one. 

This brings me to the only advice I can give about the massacre or any other comparable tragedy.  If you wouldn’t say it to Frigga about Baldr, don’t say it to another human about whatever loss they’ve suffered.  Bring a casserole and offer to be there.  Otherwise, take a page from Frigga’s book and remain silent.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Saying Grace

I was never much for “saying grace” before meals.  It was a daily thing at dinner when I was growing up; my parents are very devout and traditional Catholics who continue the practice to this day.  I think that’s why I’ve never said grace very often of my own volition.

This is a shame, because giving thanks for one’s food is probably one of the most basic and meaningful forms of prayer one can offer.  Not to do so is downright churlish.  A stunning amount of work and sacrifice went into what’s on your plate in a web of inter-relationship.  For a pork chop, there was the farmer who raised the plants for the hog’s feed, the plants themselves, the farmer who raised the hog, and the hog itself who died to provide your meal.  This is leaving the people who in turn raised the oranges for the farmers’ breakfasts, or the people who built the tractors used to harvest the plants for the hog’s feed, etc.  Finally, there’s the person who bought and prepared the meal, even if that person is yourself.  Unless you grow and process all your own food, you can’t get away from the fact that you owe thanks to a lot of beings for making sure you had dinner last night.

We know that Thor’s hammer was used for blessing.  When Thor kills his goats so that he, Loki and a poor family can eat them, the hammer raises the goats back to life.  Evidence that this carried over into practiced is evidenced in this anecdote about Haakon the Good, on being presented with a drink:

“The king took it and made the sign of the cross over it. Then said Kar of Gryting, 'Wherefore does the king so? Will he even now not sacrifice?' Sigurd the Jarl answered, 'The king does as all do, who trust in their skill and strength; he blesses the bowl in the name of Thor, and makes the sign of the hammer over it before he drinks'.”

This little story tells us some rather important facts.  First, it tells us that there was a custom in existence of signing food and drink with the hammer.  Second, it tells us that this was done as part of a food or drink blessing.  Third, it points out a rather interesting distinction between a heathen who is performing a blessing over food and a Christian who is doing the same thing.  Christianity is notorious for attributing all good things to God alone, including one’s own deeds and virtues.  In contrast, blessing in the name of Thor is something done by those who trust in their skill and strength.   The partnership between humans and gods is based on mutual respect, and self-respect.  In recognizing our skills and strengths, we attract the blessing of Thor.  We do not humbly thank him for making us skillful and strong, then praise him for doing so.  Hail, Thor.

I’ve tried to remember to bless my food using the words of Havamal, verse 2: “Hail to the givers!  A guest has come.”  Among the givers I include all those mentioned in the second paragraph above.  I haven’t been very good at remembering to do this so far, but I’m going to start making the sign of the hammer as well.  Aside from Thor being a god for strong ones, he’s also one who blesses and waters the fields, so including him in the meal blessing is just simply the polite thing to do.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Posting comments

Admin note:  Sven just pointed out that there were way too many hoops to jump through, including a Captcha, to post a comment on my blog.  That's been fixed.  I hate Captchas and don't want even my worst enemies to be confronted by one when they just want to say, "Cool post, bro."

World-Tree Hugging

We celebrated Thanksgiving with a Reform Jewish friend of ours.  The conversation turned to ridiculous holiday customs.  I mentioned Lupercalia, which had a ritual associated with it so old that even the Romans didn’t know what it meant and thought it was kind of crazy.  Sven asked about “that Jewish holiday where everyone dances around an onion”.  I clarified that that was Sukkhot, that you dance around a near-inedible citrus fruit called an etrog in your booth erected on your Crown Heights fire escape.

Our friend said that no, in his opinion the weirdest Jewish holiday was Tu Bishvat, which I hadn’t even heard of.  It’s the Israeli take on Arbor Day and the recent haggadot for it center around eating dried fruits and nuts, because it is a time to celebrate the fruit harvest.

This reminded me of what I do like very much about modern Judaism, and that is its emphasis on the earth and nature.  Maybe the holidays are out of sync with one’s local weather unless you’re in the Middle East, but they are still about harvests, animal husbandry, and the phases of the moon.  The moon phases at least are universal.*

I thought to myself, “I want to celebrate a religious festival that is about trees.” 

Shortly afterwards I thought, “We need a holiday in honour of Yggdrasil!”

As Sven will attest, I like trees.  I grew up in the northeast, among deciduous forests of pines, oaks, maples, birches and other trees that are also common in northern Europe.  Sven grew up in southern California with palm trees, eucalyptus trees and California maples.  When we visited San Antonio, TX about a year ago all the dense forestation along the highways were completely alien to him.

I’ve written here and there about Yggdrasil in this blog.  When I was thinking about tree holidays, my thoughts naturally went to her—and Yggdrasil is female in my mind. 

(Frigga shrine with Yggdrasil holding incense as I cook.  If you look closely you can see a little Ratatosk at her feet.)

I’ve also talked about the Frigga shrine which in on a corner of the counter in my kitchen.  Beside the Allmother stands a tealight holder that I bought to represent the World Tree.  A friend of mine gave me a tree pendant for my birthday that I also identified with Yggdrasil.   Yggdrasil supports the Nine Worlds, is watered from the Well of Wyrd by the Norns, and was where Odin sacrificed himself to himself for the Runes.  There is mention in the Eddas and other lore about the suffering of the tree as Niddhogg gnaws at her roots. 

As humans poison the oceans, mow down the Brazilian rainforests and pump excess CO2 into the atmosphere, it is easy to mentally personify this destruction as Niddhogg.  While there is no evidence that the medieval Norse worshipped Yggdrasil per se, there was certainly the image of the Irminsul in Germany that was considered dangerous enough to Christianity that Charlemagne had it destroyed.  Saxo Grammaticus says that the Irminsul was worshiped, but given the source, a monk, this claim has to be taken with a shaker of salt.  It does seem that it was an axis mundi, a terrestrial duplicate of the tree that is the center of creation, uniting the nine worlds, and a gathering place for religion and commerce.

Although I haven’t written the ritual yet, this column having popped into my head only this afternoon, what I would want to see is a kindred planting at least one tree that is indigenous to the region and using that tree as a gathering place throughout the year.  I would like the ritual to contain readings about Yggdrasil, the tree planting itself, a blot to the tree-nisse of the area and promises to do one new thing ecologically for the benefit of Jord and Yggdrasil. 

As a stodgy reconstructionist, I know this is an innovation.  The pre-Christian Norse and Germans didn’t have a practice like this, but they didn’t need to.  We’re the ones who are mentally and emotionally separated from nature.  Connection to the ancestors of blood and tradition reminds us of who we were, who we are and who we are becoming.  It is in our interest to ease the suffering of the World Tree and remember that we live in Midgard at the pleasure of Jord.  Hail, Yggdrasil.  Hail the traenisse.  Hail, Jord.

*Yes, I just compared Asatru and Judaism.  They are both ethnic religions now in diaspora.  If you have problems with that, you need to seriously contemplate why.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pagan Stuff

I was browsing around in a thrift store last weekend*, having donated some items.  You never know when you’ll find something amazing that would work well as a devotional or votive item. 

I walked out with a ceramic mug that I promptly forgot at my next stop.  Perhaps this was subconscious, because as I was browsing, I started remembering that Sven and I had, before we moved into our condo, resolved to Have Less Stuff.  While I’m not a hardcore minimalist like Tammy Strobel of the Rowdy Kittens website**, it did get me thinking about Asatruar and our relationship with our stuff.

Asatru—and pagans in general I’ve noticed over the years—tend to have a lot of stuff.  I type this as I reached into my bag for a lip balm and found a Mjollnir at the bottom that I bought to include in a travel shrine for Thor. 

Every Asatruar I know has a lot of books.  I’m no exception.  We also tend to have a lot of firearms, which have their accompanying gun safes, cleaning tools, ammunition, etc.  All of these take up a lot of space and are particularly annoying to move.  Then as mentioned above, there are the shrines and altars.  Sven and I each have an altar, plus we have shrines.  This means statues, horns, candles, lanterns, offering bowls, votives and STOP ME BEFORE I BUILD A SHRINE AGAIN.


So I’ve been writing a lot about Asatru as an earth religion.  This got me thinking about how, if we’re an earth religion, we reconcile that with the material items we collect.  There’s no right or wrong answer.  For myself, I’ve been purging clothes and books.  The criteria has been twofold: do I use this item more than once a year, and if not, does it have a story behind it?

The clothing purge has been relatively easy; if I don’t wear it more than once a year and I have no emotional tie to it because it’s not a gift, historic t-shirt, or vintage, it goes.  I now have more room in my closet.

My books are the issue, although a lot went away.  I did a large purge before we moved into the condo.  My criteria is now if I can’t replace them on Kindle.  Many of these are my textbooks from years of theology school.  I have some art books.  I don’t have as many books on mythology and the occult as I thought I did, and that is definitely an area where I prefer my books as books rather than digits.  Still, many of them are available as digits, and I must say I like having two editions of the Poetic Eddas riding around in my cell phone.

Fiction has taken the hit, so right now most of it is stuff that is irreplaceable.  I’m not going to get rid of my small Tanith Lee collection.  I know I could find a good home for it very quickly, but it’s not available for Kindle and they’re the old yellow-spine Daw originals.  The same goes for my early 20th century fantasy like James Branch Cabell.

The altars and shrines are one area where stuff must be accumulated.  I can’t think of any other way to honour the gods and ancestors.  I suppose one could have a minimalist shrine to the Aesir that consists of a shelf holding items to represent each one, but it would require a very Zen approach to make it spare and striking, not a collection of shorthand symbols.  The ancestors require items; photos, items they owned, and whatever votives one uses to honour them.  Sven has his mom’s nursing badges and some of his dad’s tie clips.  I have my grandfather’s motoring hat and my grandmother’s wooden spoon.

We also like statues, and have them for Thor, Frigga, Loki and our hjemnisse Ted, among others.  Other Asatru we know have little china figures to represent their housewight and the Alfar and Disir.  It just seems to come with the territory.

What I concluded, walking around Auntie Helen’s, is that if something feels like it’s missing from your altars and shrines, you probably need it.  Minimalism and non-materialism calls for one to recognize the difference between needs and wants, but when it comes to dealing with the deities, the difference between the two often blurs.  At the 2011 Pagan Pride event, I found a piece of art that was a dollhouse-sized cabinet onto whose shelves had been glued a Mjollnir, a plastic raven, a tiny drop spindle and a little wooden candle. Inside the one door of the cabinet was a rune chart and a picture of Odin.  It reminded me of Steve’s mom, so I bought it.  Did we need it in the “needs and wants” sense?  No, but we’d feel emptier if we didn’t have it.  At the same time there are plenty of other Norse images and items that would be nice to have, but that’s all the attraction we feel towards them.

That’s my rationale, and I’m sticking to it.  Souls need feeding too.

*Auntie Helen’s Thrift Store, 4028 30th Street, San Diego, CA 92104, raises funds for laundry fluff & fold for people with AIDS.  This is a worthy enterprise and the mens’ clothing there is top-notch because it is donated and sold to gay men.

**  Tammy and her husband Logan moved into a 400 sqft apartment in Portland while their 109 sqft Tumbleweed Tiny House was being built.  They now live on a family ranch in NorCal, and just towed the Tiny House there.  Living the dream, but a little too hardcore SMALL for Sven and myself.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I got my wish!

It's turned chilly.  Well, chilly for San Diego.  It's 62 out right now.  But the California maples in the courtyard where I work changed colour and the big pines have dropped enormous pine cones.  Plus the pumpkin spice items are out, which I've heard several people say is their own signifier of the change in the seasons.  I've gone with a pumpkin spice tea rather than the lattes other people can indulge in, because I really have to watch my weight right now, the Army says so.  (I've started to refer to all the weird restrictions on what standards I must meet and what I can and cannot indulge in as my "ritual purity".)

Monday, November 5, 2012

You are not helpless!

So tomorrow is Election Day in the U.S.  (Don't run!) Sven and I are of the opinion that if voting really could change anything, it'd be illegal.  That being said, we still do it.  In California there is direct voting on propositions, and I feel very strongly about some of them.

While the concept of "civic duty" would not be recognized by the pre-Christian Norse per se, there was still a premium placed on being engaged in the politics around you.  The annual Icelandic Thing was a combination courthouse, election site and the place where all disputes that occurred during the past year would be addressed.

Overall, what was promoted at the Thing was that justice and right prevail.  This being a culture formed of humans this was not always the case, but at least attempts were made.  Participating in the Thing was a standard duty of adult male Icelanders, but as it was only once a year it couldn't be the only societal task carried out.  The Norse were independent and territorial, but they were not isolationist amongst themselves.

In the modern era, voting may be the lowest common denominator of participation in society, but it should never be the only one.  That would be like making brushing one's teeth the only activity related to one's hygiene.  Furthermore, it's easy to get a sense of frustration right now related to a perception of the two major parties as being fundamentally alike or corrupt.

Remember you're not only a citizen of your country but of the planet.  You might not be able to really influence the government around you, although if making a run at local government is something you can do, consider it.

See what you can do to improve your area.  Cleaning up beaches and greenspaces shouldn't just be for hippies and Wiccans; as I wrote in a previous column, Thor is son of Odin and the Earth.  If we claim to be devoted to Thor and/or Odin it behooves us to treat the earth well.

Does something seem unjust to you?  Study up on the subject and be present as a voice about what the issue actually is, rather than what you have been told or "heard somewhere".  Familiarize yourself with city, county and state laws.  I'm always astounded at how many Californians think that because they've lived with their partner for X number of years that they are "common law" spouses.  (California is not a common law state.)  Not bothering to know this doesn't speak well for them as partners or Californians.

Passivity is not for Asatru.  "You are your deeds" is a challenge as well as a creed.  The fact that there is no concrete "afterlife" in the lore shows that how one lives is a more important question than "how one will spend eternity" as some Christian literature says.

So get out and vote (and consider supporting the third parties if you're undecided or unimpressed by the two main candidates).  Ultimately, who wins isn't going to have as much impact on your life as you do.

And that's the motivational speech of the day.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Our kindred had our Winternights blot this morning.  Thor and His Mother (Nature) gave us the correct staging; it started out with a little sun, but grew darker and damper and by the very end it was drizzling.  We had a secluded bit of part to celebrate in and the presence of the nisse was tangible.

As I've written here before--frequently--southern California doesn't follow the prescribed pattern of weather which is reflected in the standard Asatru calendar.  We had apples to represent the harvest and stalks of wheat to represent the Last Sheaf, but the harvest in California never really ends.  Still, we do have cooler weather and longer nights and there are other harvests to consider.

Today we reflected on our ancestors a little more than usual, even though ancestors are the heart of Asatru.  We sacrificed a bread horse to carry our messages and wishes to the Other Side and poured our hopes into the well of Wyrd.

A few funny things happened: Sandi raised the horn for the gods' round and invoked "Hor" accidentally, then proceeded to spill cider down the front of her dress.  Loki made His presence known early.  Then there was the squirrel who figured out right away that the pieces of apple deposited in the trees for the landnisse were his, and he wasn't shy about it.

It's great that in San Diego we can do a Winternights ceremony barefoot.  It really is.  We didn't see any hares, but there are hares living there--we saw their poo!

Afterwards we retreated to a local eatery, Lil' B's.  Little B is one of the two Brians who were restauranteurs in this burg together, until the divorce.  So the Hillcrest location is now no more, but this one exists to assuage our sorrows at that happening.

Next we have a day of remembrance for the Einharjar, and then Jul, which will probably be at our place, because we have a fireplace.  Sven embraces the virtue of hospitality with all his arms and legs and is already making plans.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Digging the Well

What do I want out of Asatru?

This question came to me as I was reading the first chapter of T. Thorn Coyle’s Evolutionary Witchcraft.  Thorn is a practitioner of the Feri tradition, a non-Wiccan magical path.  She describes her journey from Catholicism, to Sufism, Feri, Reclaiming, Gurdjieff and back to Feri again, this time to stay.  She’s made peace with Catholicism, spending her days working at a Catholic Worker Hospitality House.

That should sound familiar to anyone who knows me.  As a result, the advice a Muslim friend gave to Thorn, to dig one deep well rather than 20 shallow ones, rang completely true when I read it in her book.  I resolved to dig the Asatru well very deep, then began to wonder what I hoped to find at the bottom.

The well metaphor is of course more appropriate for an Asatru path than for many others.  The Well of Wyrd is the source of our life’s direction.  There is much debate as to how much of our personal wyrd we can change; I am in the camp that believes that we can change almost all of it, based on our decisions and the responsibility we take for them.

I am digging the Asatru well in order to find a meaningful life that is lived with courage and justice, aware of my existence as a dweller on the earth.  Odin loved the Earth and their offspring is Thor.  Njord and Nerthus came together and their offspring were Frey and Freya.  We are also children of the gods and the Earth, so it is incumbent upon us to act like it.  This bears repeating: We are children of the gods and the earth, so we’d better act like it. Blessed be.

The lore explains humanity as beginning as ash and elm, given mind, breath and energy by Odin and his brothers.  After that, the first two humans were on their own.  The only given in their lives, and in anyone’s life is that eventually their lives will end.  Even the gods are mortal, which is one of the reasons I love the Norse gods so much.  They are more powerful than humans, but they aren’t “better”.  They aren’t “perfect”.  I believe that Odin is aware as much as I am that wyrd is based on decisions and actions, which is why he is learning constantly in order to stave off Ragnarok.  He loves the Earth.  He doesn’t want to see it destroyed.

We are all individually on the same quest as Odin.  Entropy will take its toll, and our decisions and actions should always be oriented towards building up what we can in our lives.  Part of this is living in an environmentally aware fashion, but the much larger part is comprised of our day to day choices.  How do we maintain our own health?  How do we conduct our relationships?  How do we progress in our art and our work?  What do we do to insure that we are always learning and growing?

I admit that part of what I’m reacting to is the proliferation of “NOTW” (Not Of This World) stickers on cars around my part of California.  This is an attitude that is at complete loggerheads with what I want out of religion and spirituality:  “Don’t embrace your life on this Earth; you’re not of it.  Life on Earth is exile.  Real life is what will happen to you after you die.”   I cannot think of a philosophy more conducive to bringing about Ragnarok than that.  May Odin’s wisdom forever increase.  May Thor protect Midgard.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ongoing efforts

In my ongoing battle to connect more to the earth while living in a second-story condo without so much as a balcony, I've planted more herbs.  Sven put a windowbox with some basil and mint in it on the bannister of the outside staircase.  We bought some rosemary and sage plants this weekend and I've transferred them to the windowbox too.  I think I need to add more soil, but it's the best herb garden combination I can think of, unless I added some cilantro.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ancestral Religion

My husband Sven, as I've said many times before, is Danish-American and grew up practicing many traditional customs and listening to his grandpa tell him lore, in between puffs of his Salem and shots of his akvavit.  When he turned to Asatru, he had come home, and I've never seen him happier or more grounded.

I, on the other hand, am the classic all-American, Old Yeller mutt.  I'm a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada on top of everything else.  My mom is from Puerto Rico and her birth certificate reads "mulatto" because she was born during World War II and things were like that then.  My dad is half Italian and half Mexican.

I did a DNA analysis on my mitochondrial DNA and found out that my maternal DNA does not lead back to Africa, which I expected, but to the Americas.  So my mom is more properly a mestiza and her maternal ancestors the Taino people who have now vanished into the genes of their descendants.

My mother's father's people were originally from Burgos in Spain, Celts not Basques.  On my dad's side we know nothing about his father's family, because they were illiterate orphans, and on his mother's side we still have relatives in Puebla, Mexico.  However, they were of French descent, so it starts going back to central Europe again.

So no ancestral religion for me.  I do feel some pull to the Celtic/Gallic gods--the image of Cernunnos on the Gundestrup cauldron is one that I love.  I could (and did) gaze on the fearsome statue of Coatlicue Teteoinanzin in Mexico City for hours.  I was raised with no Italian customs at all; my Italian-American grandfather adapted to Mexican culture instead.

The common denominator is that everybody was strictly Catholic.  So while Stregheria is amazing, powerful stuff, I wasn't raised with anything resembling it.  I didn't find out about Santeria until I was well into my adult years and when I did discover it I described it as a beautiful motorcycle that is way too big and powerful for me.

When Sven reverted into Asatru I was pleased and envious.  The religion began working for me immediately in 2007, when I began studying and working with the runes.  The only thing was, I felt I was betraying my own ancestors.  I can't help not believing in Christianity anymore; my ability to maintain that cognitive dissonance broke down utterly.  I don't want to turn to Mexican polytheism; those gods demand blood, a lot of it.

So when Sannion of "The House of Vines" posted this article by Tess Dawson, it spoke to me perfectly:

 If you are in the same situation, give these techniques a try: honor your own ancestors in deeds and skills, and honor the ancestors of your religion through learning how they honored their own and applying that information in their veneration. I would guess that the steps in this dance are familiar to many in similar situations and to others in mixed families who have ancestors that would have been at war with one another. Only time and practice will tell how suitable both sets of ancestors will find this arrangement.

So I'll continue doing Dia de los Muertos every November, as I have for years.  We have our Asatru altar, which also commemorates Sven's ancestors, over our fireplace in the living room while I have an ancestral altar in our bedroom.  I have my grandma's wooden spoon on it, and I only use it on November 2.  I have her statue of St. Anthony of Padua there, and my grandpa's woolen hat.  I can only hope that they and the other ancestors don't mind my going heathen on them.

The Aesir are pleased by those who venerate their physical ancestors, which reminds me; I need to call my mom.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ain't No Woman Like the One-Eyed God

Someone recently asked about gay men and their role in Asatru.  They had been somewhat put off by the emphasis on sexual differentiation and gender roles in Wicca.  This was my response:

There is certainly sexual fluidity already present in the lore.  While many of them
have been lost, perhaps because of Christian squeamishness, there are
stories of quite a number of the gods being in subservient or
"feminine" roles.  Odin is the Allfather, but in Lokasenna Loki talks
about Odin's having spent time as a milkmaid.  Odin also learned magic
from Freya, some of which may have involved gender-bending.

Thor objects strenuously to being dressed up as not just a bride but
as the beautiful Freya in order to regain his power (hammer).  That
the idea does not come from Loki but from Heimdall is significant.
Loki happily dresses up as a lady's maid in order to go with Thor to
Thrym, but that's Loki for you.  He got pregnant and gave birth as a
mare, so I doubt that anything feminine slows him down after that.

Frey gives away his sword in order to marry Gerd.  He is associated
with peace and fertile fields although he is also remembered as a
warrior king by both the Danish and Swedish royal houses, which he is
said to have founded.  Frey gives us the "total man": a warrior when
he needs to be, a king, a lover and also a keeper of peace.  I'm not a
Freyswoman per se, but I really like him.

I've observed that in Asatru being gay might be treated with some
ribaldness, but I have overall not noticed in being in a cruel way.
We might tease married folks in the same way.  This is only in the
Troth mind you; there are Asatru groups that really value traditional
sex/gender roles and thus see being homosexual as bad for the
reproductive future.  I think we all agree that they are full of it.

Our kindred has 6 females and 8 males.  One of the males is five years
old.  The men tend to be capital-D Dudes who do MMA and shoot a lot of
guns.  We do have gay members and it just doesn't come up in
conversation.  I'm reminded of a column I was reading by a Voudou
houngan yesterday.  He said that Voudou is a community religion.  An
individual may be gay, but since the community and its worship are not
focused on sex in any way (unlike in Wicca) this isn't an issue.

I just finished reading Ronald Hutton's "Triumph of the Moon".  Wicca
is traditionally very focused on sexuality (fertility) and sexual
differentiation, to the point that there have to be separate trads for
gays and lesbians.  The Radical Faeries and the Dianics are the first
two who spring to mind.  Gardner's Wicca started out being
male-dominated, though focused on binary sexuality.  The switch to the
Goddess being more emphasized than the God is a 1970s development.
This has both drawn men to Wicca as well as driven them away.

Asatru does not demand that a god and goddess be worshiped together,
and as hard polytheists we insist that the gods and goddesses are not
"faces" of one God and Goddess.  Choices of patron are very personal.
My husband is an attorney whose patron is Loki.  I'm an Army NCO whose
patron is Thor.  I invoke Frigga when I'm at home; she has a shrine in
my kitchen.

Since Asatru life is focused on deeds, not magic, this also spins our
religion in a way far different from Wicca, but that's another essay,
and already exists out there.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


One challenge that’s come up in our domestic practice is which heathen holidays to celebrate.  The normative calendar seems to be the one posted on the Asatru Alliance website (  This is a calendar of not only seasonally-related days but days of remembrance for Asatru heroes and martyrs as well.  November 9, for existence, is the Day of Remembrance for Queen Sigrid the Haughty.  Who wouldn’t want to celebrate that?

However, when there are numerous holidays dedicated to the Idises, two to Leif Erickson and others that drift in from the Anglo-Saxon and Wicca calendars (Lammas/Freyfaxi), it’s time to sit down and evaluate what to celebrate and what just to note in passing.  We’re a Danish tradition household, so Lammas isn’t one we observe.  Call it Freyfaxi if you will; even though Ingvi-Frey is the founder of Denmark, I really doubt the ancestors had an available calendar that would tell them when August 1 was.

The ones Sven and I celebrate draw from natural cycles, Danish tradition, and the fact that we live in the U.S. in the 21st century.  January 1 might be the last day of Jul (more on this in a later column) but we observe it as plain old New Year’s Day. 

February 14 is given sometimes as “Feast of Vali”, probably because it resembles “Valentine”.  If it wasn’t a heathen holy day, why not just call it “Valentine’s Day” and observe in honour of Freya?  Since Freya is fond of love poems and likes being invoked in matters of the heart, she’d definitely enjoy that.

February 2 is Candlemas/Feast of the Purification in the Catholic and Orthodox calendars and Imbolc in the Wiccan.  I’ve seen some heathens observe this in honour of Frigga, because of the Imbolc connection to sheep and milk.  Here’s an insight; the early days of February are also the time of the Lupercalia, a Roman holiday so ancient that even the Romans weren’t sure what it was about.  What’s important to know about Lupercalia is that it involved sheep, wool, and sheep’s milk.  Frigga can be superimposed on that aspect of Lupercalia, but I am personally not comfortable with that. 

February 2 is also The Charming of the Plow and sacred to the Idises.  Sven is particularly devoted to the Idises, so use this date to honour them.  The Charming of the Plow is, I’ve read, also a day to commemorate the wooing of Gerda by Frey.  If one subscribes to the idea that Gerda represents the enclosed field (gard), this would be the day to get organized to prepare the fields for plowing and seeding, which Frey is all about.

Plus, you have the option of telling your workplace, “I’m going to be out on xday, it’s a religious holiday for me—The Charming of the Plow.”  They’re definitely going to be curious, if they don’t fire you on the spot for sounding like you’re channeling Borat.

Ostara is also one I find a little problematic.  It’s the beginning of spring, which may or may not have escaped the ancestor’s notice; they only really acknowledged two seasons: summer and winter.  The name is only attested to in Grimm.  We celebrate this one because our kindred does.

May 1 is observed in many northern countries, and some heathens do as well.  We don’t.  There is an ancient custom that if you are a heathen and call it Beltane and observe it as a union of Frey and Freya, that Gullinbursti will come down from Alfheim and eat you.  No, there isn’t.  I made that up.

Summer Solstice is a big deal.  Call it Midsummer, call it Summer Finding, it doesn’t matter.  It’s the Solstice.  You can’t miss it.  On the other hand, we don’t really pay attention to the autumnal equinox.

November is full of holidays, some of which have been superimposed on modern ones.  November 11 is Veterans Day/Armistice Day and called the feast of the Einharjar.  We would observe this one anyway, but thinking about it as a day to contemplate the war dead who may be with Freya and the All-Father is appropriate and, I find, uplifting.

Sven and I have recently found out that Jul might be a holiday to reserve for January rather than its current overlap with Christmas.  We’re still discussing how to accommodate this, although I bear in mind southern hemisphere heathens who celebrate Jul in June.  Last year we observed the Winter Solstice, but just because Jul is placed around the Winter Solstice doesn’t mean it has to be.  We might end up extending our winter holidays and inserting more into our own household practice, with appropriate feasting and drinking.  I’m sure no one would mind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Looking for feedback

Really simple...I've been posting since January and the only comment I've received on any of my entries was a joke comment.  If you're reading, talk to me, even if it's just to say hi.  My site numbers say you're all out there, so don't be a stranger.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pagan Pride 2012

Pagan Pride day was this past Saturday here in The Whale's Vagina.  Sven and I are members of a small independent Asatru kindred, and with one member having moved out of state, another accepting a teaching job overseas and some sporadic attendance from others due to ill health or childcare, we had become mildly concerned with its survival.  A number of months ago I suggested a table at Pagan Pride and we agreed that at $10 to reserve a booth space, it was a small enough bet to take, especially since most of us would be attending anyway.

Sven and I also sprung $50 for a 9x9 (hee) sun canopy.  Everyone brought outdoor chairs and we had two folding tables. 

Having that booth was very worth the work and time.  It was very popular.  At one point Sven was left alone for an hour towards the end and he had no fewer than four people who were very interested.  Two others appeared at our Pubmoot the next day.  What drew them in was one of our ladies using a drop spindle, plus the Norse mythology books on our table.  Three of us did rune readings, but I still think that our kinswoman spinning in a traditional method was the most eye-catching thing.

Like most Pagan events, this one is mostly Wiccan.  The ADF had a table, as did a small and strange little Thelemite group that seemed to be Goth early 20-somethings.  Along with us, that was it for the non-Wiccan contingent.  We had a lot of people saying that they'd been looking for an Asatru group but been unable to find one.

I think we had fewer vendors than in other years, but there was very nice stuff.  A full list can be found on the San Diego Pagan Pride website, but I'd like to especially plug Katla's "The Well and Spindle" shop on Etsy.  Katla had a physical booth at SDPP, and it was beautiful.  Hopefully the booth will lead to more Etsy sales.  She makes runes and Viking knit necklaces along with hoodoo oils and sprays. 

My take ended up being a cloisonne Mjollnir in turquoise and red, an altar tile with a Mjollnir on it from Katla's shop, a replacement for the ceramic sun-and-moon pendant my cat broke earlier this year and some soaps.

It was a long day.  Sven, a kinsman and I were setting up at 8:00 am or so, and we broke down nine hours later.  Sven made copies of informational flyers, brought subs for lunch, and other errands.  He is fussy about who he hangs out with, and I knew that he'd declare the event "fluffy bunny", but at one point there were three other godsfearing redneck Asatru males with him, talking about going shooting next week, so that was fun for him.

Next year, we'll have a vinyl banner, informational flyers or cards for how to get in touch with us, and nobody will have to stay all day because that many hours in the sun gets brutal.  We'll have a different team setting up and breaking down.

Hope your weekend was fun and productive as well!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Prayer to Thor #1

I'm currently taking an eight-week course on Reconstruction as Methodology through the Academia Antinoi.  Some of the classes have made me go "hm", one left me cold, but this week is about prayer and it just blew me away.  One of my assignments is to write three prayers to a god.  I chose Thor, who I love, and since the prayer had to request something, this is what I've written:

You are the one who stands between the dwellers of Midgard and the powers of destruction.
You feed the people, bring rain to the thirsty fields, and gather the thralls to yourself.
You strike with skill and never cringe from battling chaos, even on the fatal day of Ragnarok.

SGT R(agnvaldsdottir) asks you for your guidance and example, for your courage, straightforwardness and fighting spirit.  These are what I see in you, and I want to be a model of these myself.

As an NCO, may I show the same protectiveness to those in my care as you do to all who live in Midgard.  Hail!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Further to my last entry

My 94 year old grandmother has had a stroke.  She's compos mentis and can get around with a walker.  She's currently in a rehab facility and my mom is trying to get her into a home closer to where my parents live.  The home is run by nuns.  My mom and grandmother are both very pious Catholics, and my mom's aggressive pursuit of the EWTN version of the religion is one of the things that makes it easier for me to have severed ties with it.

This has left me in a little bit of a bind.  I love my grandmother, I want her to get better and I want her to live closer to my parents.  Asatru only has little bits of lore about healing left.  There's the goddess Eir, "best of physicians", the Merseburg charms and some rune work.  That's extremely sketchy, but humans being humans, the medieval Germans and Scandinavians must have had prayers to say or rituals to perform when a relative or friend was sick or injured. 

It then struck me that it wouldn't be right at all to invoke a goddess or spell for the benefit of a sick Catholic.  After further reflection, it dawned on me that since my grandmother is devoted to Jesus and Mary, as a polytheist who doesn't deny their existence as deities, I can simply pray to them for her! 

This is why renouncing a god or holy figure one revered in the years before converting to paganism is not a good idea.  The gods of your past or not, they're still gods.  Like people from your past who may unexpectedly be interviewed for your top secret clearance, you hope they are at worst neutral on you.  I may not be Latin Rite Christian anymore, but my living family and serveral centuries of ancestors are.  I want my mom to be able to place grandmother close to her, and for grandmother to get better, so off to their patron deity I go.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Meanwhile, over at Patheos.... is a marvelous clearinghouse of religious articles and blogs, from the atheist to the Zen.  The recent "notable atheist who is converting to Catholicism", Leah Libresco, has her online home there.  (She has always been more of an agnostic, and she is only noteworthy because of Patheos and that she is converting to Catholicism, but I digress.)

"The House of Vines" is by genuinely noteworthy Dionysus worshipper Sannion.  Sannion is an ex-Catholic I believe, but even if he's not, he still has the passion for the very mythic, ecstatic and syncretistic side of Catholicism, particularly as it is found in Sicily. (Madonna di Tindari in the casa!)

Star Foster, editor of the Pagan Portal of Patheos, recently wrote a column named, "Why I Reject Jesus".  There's already been two columns in response, both of which are kind of what I'm thinking about what she has to say.  All the links are in the comments, after Sannion's very funny take on it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Heathen Daily

Today’s subject started out being runes and Heathen Android apps (no experience with iPhone here, sorry), but it quickly mutated into being an essay about daily religious practice.

I’ve always been a firm believer in performing some religious action daily.  When I was Catholic it was easy; there is a veritable feast of such practices from short, one-sentence prayers to be chanted like mantras to the massive amounts of text in the breviary.  The Aesir and Vanir deserve no less than the deities (yes, I said deities) of Catholicism, especially since they are friends and ancestors, with us in reality and not outside it. 

To have daily religious practices and what they will be is an intensely personal decision.  Religious actions that don’t nourish your spirituality will do nothing but cause a believer to feel emptier than they would if they were to do nothing.  In fact, doing nothing under the right circumstances may be very helpful! 

This is one of the problems with being in a reconstructionist religion.  Religions that have continued uninterrupted for millennia tend to be rich in daily rituals, from starting one’s morning bathing in the Ganges to reciting prescribed morning and evening prayers to making offerings to various gods and spirits.  Since most of what pagan Scandinavia did religiously on a daily basis is lost or filtered through a Christian lens, modern believers must take what they can from the existing lore or treat bits of knowledge like seeds for growing a practice.

One invaluable piece of lore comes from Odin himself and makes for an inviting, simple and informative daily ritual.  Drawing a single rune in the morning gives a person something to think about during the day and apply to the way he or she will interact with the world.  My rune for today was “jera”, which I take to mean that I will reap what I sow.  I work on a contract basis, so presenting myself well and as someone it’s pleasant to work with is more in my best interest than has been in some jobs. 

Heathen phone apps make having a small ritual easy and instinctive.  When I sit down at my desk in the morning, one of the first things I do is plug in my smartphone.  Once that’s done, I call up the app “Daily Asatru”.  It presents the user with a rune, a verse from the Havamal and a verse from the Voluspa.  The runes can be in order, or random.  I have my runes appear randomly, then apply it to what goes on during my day.  The verses are meant as a mnemonic device to encourage memorization.  “Daily Asatru” is an app that costs a few dollars, but I find it very worth it.

Another app I read about on the blog “Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom” is “Galaxy Runes”.  This one is available in a free and paid version.  You can draw a single rune with a paragraph of explanation that I can take or leave and one of the rune poems.  The paid version does spreads.  There are options for the blank rune and reversed runes, but I don’t use them.

Since the gods, land and building spirits and ancestors are actors in a Heathen world just as other humans are, acknowledging them daily isn’t just a religious act, it’s common courtesy.  I have a copy of Paul Borda’s beautiful statue of Frigga in a corner of my kitchen between the microwave and the greenhouse window.  Beside that is a candle holder in the form of a woman-shaped tree that I identify with Yggdrasil.  Every morning and whenever I’m working in the kitchen I can’t help but greet and talk to Frigga a little.  We’re both very busy, middle-aged, married ladies and I’m happy to have her in my corner.  If I exclaim, “Oh Frigga, look at all these dishes in the sink!” I feel heard and understood.  She also receives little cups of mead and coffee from time to time.

Our hjemnisse gets his weekly cup of gourmet coffee on Sunday mornings when I’m at home.  Sven likes to pour him glasses of vodka and akvavit when he’s having some himself.  As I have written elsewhere, maintaining good relations with one’s hjemnisse (or tomte, or housewight) is an important part of living in a Heathen home.  Neglect your nisse and you may find items going missing, breaking spontaneously, or other signs of his or her displeasure.  A happy nisse, on the other hand, will look after the home, garden, and pets.

A final daily ritual that anyone can do is a salutation of the gods and the ancestors in the morning.  We have two friends who perform this every day.  They are very disir-oriented (disir = female ancestors or foremothers) and have a small collection of little figurines in their kitchen to represent them.  They recite Sigdrifa’s prayer and offer them some coffee.  While my usual morning ritual is to stagger into the kitchen for my coffee and mutter, “Oh, Frigga, give me strength!” or something like that, their ritual is probably far more uplifting.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A bit of theology

This was something I posted on the Troth mailing list about the nature of the gods.

The biggest reason I left Catholicism was that I ceased to believe in
an almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing God.  Not only do I not believe
in one, I don't even want one to exist.  That would be horrible.  To
have such a Being with the personality of the Xtian God is even worse.
 ("I created you to love me and I love you unconditionally, but don't
question My will.  If you survive the unexamined life I demand of you,
you get to spend eternity praising Me forever!  Won't that be nice?")

I spent a few months as a hard atheist in 2008, but I couldn't keep it
up.  I eventually took the nontheistic fallback of there being a
divine Sacred, but it's like water: we are made up of it, it surrounds
us, we need it to live, but worshiping it would be not only crazy, but

Against the backdrop of this eternal Sacred are the gods.  The gods
are persons who embody the Sacred more than we do.  They have
different bodies and live in a different reality than we do.  They can
hear prayers and in some cases grant them, but they are far from
all-powerful and we know they are mortal.  Odin knows a lot, but He'll
be the first to admit He doesn't know everything, hence His travels.

Like anyone else, the gods like having friends and enjoy spending time
with their friends.  As the sagas make it clear, the medieval Norse
saw themselves as friends of the gods.  So we can pray to them if we
like, but the gods certainly will be more present and happier with
people who are generous to Them in return, and welcome them into their
lives as more than just spiritual sugar-daddies.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

All about Loki

There’s a (thoughtful, well-mannered) kerfluffle going on in the Troth about whether or not Loki should be hailed in official Troth sumbels.  As I’ve said before, my husband Sven is a Lokisman, so we’re supporting any effort to include the Red-Haired Stepchild.  We’ve been called on this, once with outright hostility, so it’s time for me to put words to digits as to what Loki means to us and why we hail him.

At the Ragnarok, Loki is going to lead the forces of chaos against the Gods, riding in on his ship built of drowned men’s nails.  (N.B. It will sail from the cruise ship terminal in San Diego Bay.  Full bar.)  He and Heimdall will kill each other, Loki’s son Fenrir will kill and be killed by Odin and Loki’s child Jormungandr will kill and be killed by Thor.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the Ragnarok.  I was raised Catholic, but in the southern United States, so anything that smells like the Book of Revelations gets my hackles up.  Sven has no problems with the idea of Ragnarok except that he and I would be on opposite sides since my Norse deities are Thor and Frigga.  Be that as it may, I prefer to see Ragnarok as a “worst case scenario” which will occur if Odin does not reason out a way to prevent it. 

Sven disagrees, saying, “The way I feel about Ragnarok is that it is going to happen, as it is wyrd for all of us. Whether I *want* it to happen or not is irrelevant. It will happen, and we know how it is going to play out. As such, there necessarily has to be at least two sides to the war. Knowing this, this removes the whole "battle of good and evil" that is portrayed out in Revelation and the Christian faith.”  The phrase “battle of good and evil” is rather key.  There seems to be an inadvertent tendency in some heathens to frame Ragnarok this way.  If Baldr is good and Loki kills him, Loki must be evil.  These are things that need to be carefully considered.  Sven’s solution is to hand out Bibles and tell such heathens to go to church, but he’s a Lokean through and through.

Anyway, assuming Ragnarok as “worst case scenario”, the death of Baldr, if caused by Loki, is going to be necessary for the new world to come.  Baldr is in the one place that is safe for a god during Ragnarok, and ironically it’s with Loki’s daughter Hel.  Furthermore, as cold and frightening as Hel’s domain is, she has decorated her hall and brewed the mead for Baldr, making it as pleasant as she can. 

In his thought-provoking novel American Gods, Neil Gaiman reveals Ragnarok as being the result of Odin and Loki perpetrating a two-man con on the world.  This scenario feels so “right” to me it gives me chills.  Baldr must be kept safe, and the only way to do that is to entrust him to Hel.  Frigga won’t hear of it; even the queen of the gods is a mother, loathe to see harm come to her boy.  Odin and Loki work out the scheme:  Frigga will do her best to avoid the inevitable and Loki will make sure that Baldr meets his wyrd.

There are two further things to point out about the “Loki kills Baldr” story.  First, in the Elder Eddas Loki isn’t punished for killing Baldr.  He is chained to the rocks for airing the gods’ dirty laundry and embarrassing them, as recounted in Lokasenna.  Second, the one who is actually punished is the blind god Hodr.  This seems off until one notices that there is a second version of the story, only hinted at in Snorri but developed by Saxo Grammaticus in which Loki isn’t involved in Baldr’s death at all.  It’s all Hodr, who may not have originated as the blind god he’s usually described as.  In Saxo’s story, Baldr and Hodr are rivals for Nanna, and Hodr kills Baldr for her.  Nanna then kills herself.  The punishment of Loki may be a later gloss, although no one knows for sure.  There is reasonable doubt, as the trial lawyers say.

Loki causes crises, fixes them, and often has to live with the aftermath.  Who got the walls of Asgard built at no cost to the Gods?  Sure, he ended up giving birth to Sleipnir afterwards.  Who obtained Mjolnir, Gungnir, and the other gifts for the Gods?  Sure, he ended up with his lips sewn shut.  Who invented the fishing net?  Sure, he was captured because Kvasir saw that only Loki was clever enough to have created such a thing.  And so on.

Loki is the god of comedy.  I’m of the opinion that Loki has it in for Heimdall because Heimdall, who otherwise has no sense of humour whatsoever, came up with the idea of dressing up Thor as a bride.  Or perhaps he stole the idea.  Usually he’s out there making the gods laugh, often at his own expense.  When it was essential that Skadhi laugh, Loki was there to tie his balls to the beard of a goat and have a tug of war.  I’m sure he was the first one to say the line, “Comedy is playful pain.”  It’s hard to hate the protagonist of so many funny stories.

Sven likes to point out that Loki should be patron of attorneys.  He invented the legal loophole.  He saw to it that the gods got the better out of their contract with the giant who built the walls of Asgard.  He saved himself from decapitation with the observation that sure, they could have his head—but not his neck.  Loki adhered to a weregild judgement while ridding himself of the cursed ring Andvaranaut.  He fulfills his contracts and oaths while his blood-brother Odin often does not.  Still, he’s Odin’s blood-brother, and being Asgard’s Attorney (as opposed to Asgard’s judge, who is Forseti) is possibly why.

Loki is the “trusted traveling companion” of Thor.  Thor is a forthright guy, a working-class god who is as direct and blunt as the hammer he wields.  Together, he and Loki fight giants.  I’ve heard it said that if you have a Lokean and a Thorean, put them together and they’ll be best friends.  This does seem to work for me and Sven.  Loki does seem to have had an effect on Thor; Thor’s resolution of the battle of wits in Alvissmol is something Loki would have come up with.

Loki is a difficult god.  He’s not easy to understand and encounters with him are often painful.   This isn’t surprising when you consider that comedies are usually about themes that are decidedly unfunny. Further to this, Loki is more often than not the catalyst for making sure things happen.  He is the crisis that forces us take action, whether we want to or not.  He’s the blessing in disguise.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summer Is a'Cumin' In

Summer Solstice for the northern hemisphere starts a week from today.  Here in SoCal, the sky is overcast and the temperature is in the low to mid-60s.  Being from the northeast as I am, I try to tie the seasons to hours of sunlight rather than temperature or growing seasons.

“California has four seasons,” says husband Sven.  “Flood, mudslide, earthquake and fire.”

I figure our Norse ancestors would like SoCal because despite these regularly-scheduled natural disasters, you can plant and harvest year round.  This kind of detracts from the religious significance usually assigned to the solstices and equinoxes.

Or does it?  Winter runs from December to March.  During these months, it tends to be chilly and damp; one friend of ours came to San Diego in a little sundress on January to escape the snowy Rockies in Utah.  Oh boy, was she in for an unpleasant surprise!  March is usually more of the same; our kindred ended up having its Ostara celebration indoors with sliding doors open and letting in even more rain and chill and wet. 

April delivers on the promise of Ostara until the so-called “May Gray” and “June Gloom” kick in.  July, August and September are warm, dry and sunny. 

Winter Finding is ironic because October is usually hot, and dangerous because of the threat of wildfires.  It’s also one of the times of year when produce is most available here.  November and December are cool and sunny, and Jul (Yule) tends to be bright and comfortable until the January rains come again.

So while we’re not quite as reversed as our brothers and sisters in Australia, we’re still “off” from what most people consider the seasons.

Last year I decided to get more in touch with nature.  My actions would include, but not be limited to, natural health for myself and mindfulness of what was going on in the changing flora and fauna around me.  This has been paying off.  The hours of sunlight never vary in marking out time.  This is something to be celebrated. 

While heathens don’t usually celebrate Beltane, that being a Celtic holy day, we do in many traditions celebrate May Day.  It was in May that I noticed all the symbols of spring coming up around me.  To my utter delight, the area around my office building and gymnasium is full of hares.  I’ve seen rabbits around aplenty; they don’t have to go to ground in the winter here.  But these were big, bold and brassy hares, twice the size of rabbits with longer ears, longer legs and so, so fast.  They look at human passerbys with utter disdain, knowing they can outrun even our cars.

Here in June plants are in full bloom.  The honeysuckles that grow all over our part of the county have a scent that can range from pleasant to thick and overwhelming.  I had never really noticed them before.  It’s also cherry season and strawberry season, sweetening the month even more.

I’ve resolved to hit my local library and check out some books on California plant life.  I understand there are some palm trees identical to those in the Pleistocene in the canyons to the west of the city.  The only problem with being aware of the environment around me is that I started this so late in my residence here.

Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Unavoidable Book

Today’s column is on confronting the Bible.

Yes, you read that right.

I’ve spent my life as a Catholic who was largely kept there because I was terrified of God the Father.  Over the course of all these years, I collected an awful lot of theology books and Bibles.  I still have them and still collect them, because I can never have enough of the Catholic paranormal.  That’s another topic though.  The fact is that at last count I think I had seven Bibles in various translations sitting on my bookshelves.

In the American culture, it’s impossible to not be confronted with the Bible.  It’s everywhere.  At the moment I’m reading the novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  Since the novel is based on Lincoln’s life, the book that most influenced the 14th president’s writings and thought was the King James Bible.  The excellent PBS documentary series God In America is laden with evidence that the KJV was the dominant force shaping American philosophy, politics, and literature.  When it came to literature, the KJV was the dragon that slew Beowulf.

As heathens, we still live in this book’s shadow, and probably will for at least another century.  If you’ve ever said, “An eye for an eye,” or made a joke during a heavy rainstorm about building an ark, or referred to a “David and Goliath” situation, you’ve shown that the Bible is present still in how you express reactions to the world.

What’s a godsfearing heathen to do?  I’ve known pagans who do their best to purge such references from their speech, but I think such self-censorship is bound to frustrate.  Instead, I would say one should pick up the Bible and read it.

As American heathens, the Bible is a foundational text.  One’s literature shelf ought to hold a copy of the King James Bible expressly for that reason.  It should sit on the shelf between Shakespeare and Jane Austen.  Be familiar with the better-known bits, like the 23rd psalm, the 91st psalm, and the second chapter of Luke, which is so movingly recited by Linus in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.  This cursory familiarity with the King James has been a basic part of every literate person’s education since the book was first published in 1611.

In 2009-2010, I decided to read the Bible cover to cover.  I bought a copy of the New American Bible in hardcover (this is the version used in Catholic churches in the U.S.) and started at Genesis.  Since I’d been to divinity school at McGill University in Montreal, I knew about how the first five books were actually four or more texts woven together into a narrative, and that there had been different but related religions in Israel and Judah.  What I didn’t fully grasp, however, was how much the Old Testament was an enormous spin-job to cover up that the Hebrews had once been polytheists.  Ha’Shem was god over Judah, and his worship eventually overshadowed that of his Israelite counterpart, El.    El himself was a title for other gods, collectively referred to as Elohim.  At least one of these male gods was married to a goddess, Asherah, who was represented by a sacred tree.  The Old Testament is a millennia-old cry to us to “ignore that pantheon in the corner”.

The New Testament to me represented the hijacking of the Gospels by Paul and his ghost writers.  Much ink has already been spilled about that, so I won’t belabor the point. 

If you read the Bible knowing what you’re getting into, you’re more likely to have your faith as a heathen affirmed, not weakened.

I really should have realized what was happening to me when I would read passages such as Psalm 92:10, “to me he has given the wild ox’s strength” and thought, “Why, that’s Uruz!”  and immediately pictured Thor in his chariot whenever thunder and lightning was mentioned.  And if Freya is fond of love poetry, I’m sure she has the Song of Songs in her library.  I couldn’t go through the Bible without seeing the Aesir, Vanir and runes inside.  It made me get a better idea as to why there are carvings from the Eddas in Norwegian stave churches.

The final advantage of being a heathen who is familiar with the Bible (and many are, as ex-Christians) is the ability to debate would-be missionaries and, if one is very lucky, instill a grain of doubt in their minds.  I’ve defused a few conversations by saying, “Yes I have read the Bible, and that’s what made me decide not to be a Christian.”

And if all else fails, you can always draw runes and pictures of Thor in the margins.