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.