Today I think I shall wear a Pentagram

September 5th, 2014

Concerning Wicca, my disillusion (or enlightenment) began in the mid-1980′s when I attended an herbalism workshop presented by Dr. Roberta Comstock.  It was at the point where the presenter was discussing historical elemental theory that I realized everything I’d learned about the elements – earth, water, air and fire – was a lie.  At the time, it was a tiny crack in the dam, but the cracks continued to spread as I looked closer at the beliefs, tenets and practices that I had held dear for years.  Over and over again I found lies that had spread like prairie wildfires throughout Wicca.

It wasn’t until I moved to Pennsylvania, though, that the dam finally burst.  I no longer wanted to be identified as Wiccan.  There had been too many lies.  Too many betrayals by people who I had never met, but who I had trusted and believed in.  Even the word Wicca itself was a lie.  I’d been told Wicca was pronounced WICK-ah, and meant “wise one”.  Now I knew that the Anglo-Saxon word was pronounced WITCH-ah, and had always meant pretty much what it sounds like.

Casting off the fantasies and lies was a liberating experience, and brought me back to my polytheistic roots.  The first witches I met did not believe in only two deities.  It was later that I’d accepted the God-and-Goddess paradigm, and then only because it was what everyone else professed.  The first witches I met did not “cast circles” as a matter of course.  The first witches I met did not even call themselves Wiccan – that was a term they only used in reference to Gardnerian witches.  In stepping away from Wicca, I found more freedom in studying and applying historical Pagan traditions to both my spiritual and my magical practice.  In a sense, I needed to stop identifying as a Wiccan so that I could reclaim my identity as a wicca (male witch).

And I no longer had to be a “wise one” all the time.  Being wise can be exhausting.

I harbored a resentment towards Wicca, or at least towards the lies, but that lessened as the years went by.  I also noticed that Wicca was changing.  It was growing, even as I was.  I encountered Wiccan-identified people who, like me, believed that “the God and the Goddess” were only two of countless deities.  I met more and more people who acknowledged and embraced Wiccan ritual as the modern, Neo-Pagan structure that it is.  I even encountered a few people, like author Christopher Penczak, who understand something about the elements and how they interact.  I began to realize that I didn’t really mind casting a circle or calling on a God and Goddess.  The Wiccan ritual structure itself is no more or less valid than an ADF druid reverencing the Well, Fire and Tree, or a group of Ásatruar standing about in a circle and pouring mead onto the ground.  It was the lies that had gotten to me.  I’m perfectly fine with a ritual that was designed last Tuesday if I’m told that it was made up on Tuesday.  The problem comes when I’m told that it’s an Ancient Celtic Ritual from the Star-People of Atlantis.

As a rule, any mention of ”ancient” is almost guaranteed to set off my bullshitometer these days.

If I were to identify as Wiccan, it would have to be with the Seax tradition for several reasons.  First, because Ray Buckland (the Father of Seax Wica) has never presented it as anything other than a modern expression of spirituality.  It is inspired by Anglo-Saxon culture, but there is nothing remotely “ancient” about it.  And that’s okay.  Religion is not wine, it does not necessarily improve with age.  Secondly, as mentioned, it is inspired by Anglo-Saxon culture, which is the focus of my spiritual path.  The third reason is that Seax Wica is an egalitarian path.  There are no power structures, no degrees or official leaders.

My book Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer is inspired by Anglo-Saxon lore: the Old English Rune Poem, early healing and fertility charms, and English folk traditions.  It resonates with many Seax Wicans, and because of this I was recently asked if I would go to Peru to speak to a Seax group there.  I can’t do it at this time, but of course I was flattered to be asked.  And this past year I was asked to write the chapter on the Seax tradition for Moon Books’ recently released Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On.  Somehow I have become a “go to” person for Seax witchcraft.  I don’t know how this happened, but I’m okay with it.  I could easily practice in the Seax tradition, reverencing Woden and Frige while recognizing that there are many more deities out there; independent deities, not “aspects” of One God and One Goddess.  Of course if we’re going to “call quarters” I would like the elements to be placed in their correct, historical positions, please.  With that in mind, yes, I can say that I am a Seax Wican.  There is no question that my spiritual focus is on Saxon Paganism.  There is likewise no question that I love wiccecræft.

And so today I think I shall wear a pentagram.  Tomorrow I may wear a hammer again, or an image of Woden, but today it will be a five-pointed star.  And if you should call me a Wiccan, I will not object.  Nor will I correct your pronunciation.

As Within, So Without

June 3rd, 2014

In Doreen Valiente’s The Charge of the Goddess, a cornerstone of the Wiccan religion, we are told, “If that which you seek you cannot find within yourself, you will never find it without yourself.”  This is meaningful on multiple levels; one interpretation is that all of the outer trappings and ritual of Pagan spirituality are meaningless if they are not fueled by an inner spark.  Without that essential element we are simply walking in circles, or burning paraffin or pouring booze onto the ground, depending on your path or tradition.  Over the years I have seen far too many people doing this.  It is the reason I wrote To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day.  The inspiration for the book came to me after a discussion with my friend Christopher Penczak.  When it comes to our approach to magic and spirituality, Christopher and I are worlds apart, and yet each of us respects the other.  We were musing about this, and Christopher suggested that it was because we both “walk the walk” (as he put it).  We live our spirituality, constantly, each and every day.

To Walk a Pagan Path was written with the assumption that most Pagans would like to do this, but that some people aren’t quite sure how.  Most books about Paganism focus on rituals, paraphernalia and other outer manifestations of spirituality.  My book, which Llewellyn released last November, looked at how a Pagan person can integrate his or her spirituality into daily life.  It was the most ambitious project that I’d undertaken.  Unlike Travels Through Middle Earth and Wyrdworking, this new book wasn’t about Anglo-Saxon Paganism; I was writing it for all Pagans, and so I needed to compose the text in a way that all Pagans could relate to.  But my target audience was even more diverse than this, because even people following the same spiritual path have their own different interests and lifestyles.

It is for this reason that To Walk a Pagan Path covers a range of ideas and suggestions for the contemporary Pagan.  I knew from the beginning that few people would be interested in every chapter/subject in the book.  For example, one chapter discusses growing a portion of your own food and reclaiming your role in the cycle of taking from and giving back to the earth.  But this requires a lot of outdoor time.  I have Pagan friends – pious, devout Pagan friends – who agree with Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory when he says, “If outside is so good, why has mankind spent thousands of years trying to perfect the inside?”  In the same way, not everyone connects with animals, and so not everyone will appreciate or enjoy the chapter on developing a “familiar” relationship with what would otherwise be an ordinary pet.

This is not only okay, it is good and wonderful, because diversity and an appreciation of our differences is what contemporary Paganism is all about.  It is what distinguishes us from the “my way or the highway” religions.  (What?  You thought it was Jesus?  Have you not heard of Christo-Paganism?)  I like everything in the book, but that’s mostly because it’s my book.  If someone else were to write a similar book, I’ve no doubt the author would include topics and activities that I have absolutely no interest in.

You see, while writing To Walk a Pagan Path, my point wasn’t that you should grow your own food, or develop a familiar relationship with a dog or cat, or bake bread or make a scrying mirror.  My point was that you should do something – anything – after the rituals are over that will continue to manifest your spirituality in your life.  My hope is that the book will encourage more Pagan people to live their spirituality rather than just read about it or talk about it.  How individuals do this will and should depend on their careers, their hobbies, their entertainment and interests and lifestyles.  This is why I gave the book the title To Walk a Pagan Path, and not “To Walk Alaric’s Path”.  It is something you have to find in your own life, and if you cannot see the connection between your daily life and your Pagan spirituality then perhaps you need to dig a little deeper.  Because, as the Wiccans’ goddess says, “If that which you seek you cannot find within yourself…”

 

A Balance of Virtues

May 9th, 2014

I’ve been reading Veronica Roth’s Divergence series.  Set in Chicago at some point in the future, these books describe a society that has divided into five “factions”, each emphasizing and pursuing one virtue.  The factions value either Selflessness, Kindness, Honesty, Bravery or Intellect.  Although the books are marketed as Young Adult fiction, they are the quality fiction that is appropriate and entertaining for all ages.  A warning for guys: At times the novels wander into something approaching the Romance genre when Tobias and Tris interact, but it’s easy to skim over the breathless, touchy, heart-thumping passages.

So far (I’m only partly through Insurgence, the second book in the series) Roth has been weaving a complex and intriguing plot.  The overall theme, however, is that each faction lacks balance.  Each in its own way, every faction has become corrupted or weakened.  Through all of this, the protagonists – who are Divergent, meaning they don’t fit in well with any of the factions – struggle against a failing system.

Roth is a Christian (she makes this clear in her acknowledgements), but her novels reflect a tendency that I see too often in Pagan communities.  We, too, tend to become factions placing (in my opinion) far too much emphasis on one or two virtues.  Sometimes we attempt to formulate lists of virtues, such as the Nine Noble Virtues of Ásatrú, or the nine virtues espoused by Ár nDraíocht Féin.  In practice, however, Ásatrúar tend to emphasize virtues intrinsic to Roth’s Dauntless (bravery) and Candor (honesty) factions, while ADF Druids emphasize virtues seen in the Erudite (intellect) faction.  These are sweeping generalizations, of course.  The ADF Warriors’ Guild certainly values Dauntless virtues, and I have known Ásatrúar who both profess and demonstrate the virtues of Roth’s Amity (kindness) and Erudite values.

The generic Neo-Pagan culture, of course, slides into the Amity faction without a hitch.  Dauntless and Candor virtues can seem incidental, and the ridiculous claims accepted and repeated by so many people are evidence that the Erudite faction’s passion for knowledge is almost anathema in some Pagan circles.  But the Amity virtues?  Overall, and again this is a sweeping generalization, Neo-Pagans excel at Amity.  They want to get along.  They want everyone to have a voice.  And, to be honest, whatever their failings might be, it is this Pagan “faction” that I identify with the most.  This doesn’t surprise me at all.  While reading Roth’s novels, I have been acutely aware that, if I were to live in her fictional world, I would want to be Amity.

But I would really like to see the Amity-like Neo-Pagans give a little more priority to Erudite and admit that Wicca is not an ancient, pre-Christian religion, accept that the name of the Great God Cernunnos actually only appears in one inscription, acknowledge that Tarot cards have no more connection with historical Pagan spirituality than the Monopoly board game does.  I would like to see more priority given to Dauntless, embracing pride in our culture without trying to validate it with fake history and false claims.  I would like to see more priority given to Candor; it’s time we start valuing honesty and condemning deceit.

And throughout our Pagan communities, I would like to see more priority given to the Abnegation (selflessness) virtues.  Almost every Pagan group that I’ve ever encountered could benefit from this.  It is the one area where the Christians have us beat.  True, with them it is accompanied all too often with attempts to “convert” or as a demonstration of their self-perceived superiority, but they DO make the attempt to help others much more often (per capita) than we do.  I would like to see us embrace Selflessness not as lip service because we think it is something we’re supposed to do, but from a sincere desire to build a better, stronger world for the generations that follow us.

But My Chickens Will Stop Laying

March 30th, 2014

As I point out in To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day, caring for the hens we have in the back yard takes no more time than caring for our parakeet.  The difference is that our hens allow us to participate more fully in the cycle of taking from and giving back to the earth.  They recycle bugs and food scraps, turning these into delicious and nourishing eggs, with a by-product of chicken poop that gets composted to renew our garden soil.

So why don’t more people have chickens?  From the questions I receive, one reason is the uncertainty of what to do with an older hen after she stops laying.  I am often asked this, and the answer is two-fold.  I’ve done it both ways, and, for me, either option is equally valid.  Which solution you want to pursue is a personal choice.

ANSWER #1.  You eat the hen.  Perhaps that sounds cruel, but, if done properly, it is far kinder than what has happened to every chicken you have purchased at a supermarket or munched on after driving through a fast-food outlet.  Of course you do have to dispatch the bird quickly, with as little stress or pain as possible.  After killing the hen, scalding it (dunking it into a pot of boiling water) will make it far easier to pluck out the feathers.  Get a book on slaughtering and cleaning chickens.  It really isn’t difficult, at least not compared to other livestock.  But your hen is an old bird, so don’t expect tender flesh; those big juicy breasts in the store came from very young birds.  After cleaning the bird, boil it in water to which you’ve added a tablespoon of vinegar to tenderize the muscle tissue.  Then use the meat in a chicken soup.

Or…

ANSWER #2.  If you are a vegan, or if you’re a bit squeamish, you’ll be happy to learn that there’s no need to ever slaughter your hens.  It’s true that a hen slows down when she gets older, but that happens to all of us, doesn’t it?  However you don’t have to worry about what to do when a chicken stops laying, because they NEVER stop laying.  At least I have never had one “stop”.  When someone says a chicken has stopped laying, what he means is that the bird has slowed down to a point where it is more profitable to replace it with a younger, more productive hen.  But people who keep backyard chickens aren’t in it for the profit (you’ll never produce eggs cheaper than they can under the horrific conditions of a factory farm).  Your old hen will continue to give you an occasional egg, and she won’t slow down a bit when it comes to keeping down the resident bug population or adding manure to your compost heap.  And, besides, she’s so darn cute.

 

Expect Imperfection

September 4th, 2013

I recently read an online post composed by a woman who does not like Pagans and is especially offended by Pagan Pride Day celebrations.  Her local Pride celebration, it seems, is too Wiccan in flavor for her.  To some extent I understood her frustration (public, open Pagan gatherings do often focus on Wicca to the exclusion of other paths) but the woman’s rant completely alienated me.  In the first place, she states that she is “not Pagan”, which begs the question of why she would care one way or another about her local Pagan Pride Day.  Here’s the answer:  She is Pagan, but she’s too much of an elitist to embrace it.  And she is not alone.  There are many Pagans today who claim they are “not Pagan”, although they are clearly not Christian, Jewish or Islamic.  And apparently they also have no access to dictionaries because one of the definitions of the word Pagan is any person who doesn’t follow any of the Abrahamic religions.  By definition, every polytheist is a Pagan.  It doesn’t matter whether or not that person wants to be identified as such – there are also countless closeted queers who don’t want to identify as Gay, but that doesn’t make them heterosexual.

The self-proclaimed “non-Pagan” was horribly offended over the practices of the majority of Pagan people who attend her local Pride celebration each year.  Hmmm…maybe she should follow one of the Abrahamic religions.  Her attitude reminds me of the Jesus Freaks of the 1970′s, who would point their index fingers upwards as they chanted their mantra, “One Way”.  But for Pagans there is no one way.  That, in fact, is what distinguishes Pagan practice from monotheism.  It has nothing to do with which gods you honor.  Does anyone really think Pagan Rome objected to the worship of Christ?  Rome acknowledged 12,897 gods and goddesses.  Why would they object to deity #12,898?  (I made those numbers up, but you get the point.)  Paganism is tolerance for other paths.

Oh, but our “non-Pagan” blogger is sure that the demand for tolerance is nothing short of hypocrisy.  She proves this by pointing out that none of the attendees would tolerate a religion that sacrificed kittens with butter knives.  Ignoring how ridiculous this is, it isn’t a religious issue, I’m pretty sure killing kittens with butter knives would fall into the secular realm of animal cruelty.  Your religion also does not give you license to rape eight-year-old children or to pick off redheads with an assault rifle.

My patience has reached zero tolerance level for people like this who discover Paganism and then lash out because we do not all conform to whatever their romantic fantasies might be.  If you think we Pagans walk around slowly, reeking of dignity and serenity, speaking like Tolkien elves, you are going to be seriously disappointed.  If you think we all relate to our gods and ancestors the same way that you do, you are going to be seriously disappointed.  If you are incapable of putting your unrealistic expectations to one side and accepting us for who we are, you are going to be seriously disappointed.

For the person who is new to Paganism, here is what you should expect:

Paganism is an umbrella term for countless spiritual paths.  This means that most people will not agree with what you believe and how you practice.  It is not something to argue about, although civil discussion is acceptable.  And if you are not Wiccan, let me clue you in, many of the public “Pagan” rituals you encounter will indeed cater to the Wicca crowd simply because they are the majority.  Just try to compose a ritual that is equally meaningful to all Pagan paths.  Until you have done this, do not be so quick to criticize the work of others.  Instead, get involved with your local community and show by example that there are other paths than Wicca.

We did not come out of the box this way.  Even now, the majority of Pagans are “first generation”, meaning that they were born and raised in non-Pagan households.  We come into it with baggage, and it is not always easy to put that aside.  So, yes, you will meet homophobic Pagans.  You will meet racist Pagans.  You will meet Pagans who still essentially worship the Biblical god, only now he is a female goddess.  Given enough time, you’ll meet every sort of person imaginable.  This does not mean you should accept homophobia or racism or any other offensive behaviors.  You can disagree without flying off the handle.  I have a Pagan friend who was very homophobic at one time.  He got better.  So be civil, give other Pagans a little slack, and keep in mind that you have your own baggage, even if you are not always aware of it.  And this leads me to…

Every Pagan is a human being.  We err, which I understand is a very human thing to do.  The best of us are going to do things now and then that will really piss you off.  That is the one thing you can count on.  Expect imperfection as you explore Pagan culture and you will not be disappointed.  In fact, you will discover that we are, overall, a decent mix of people.

Certainly an interesting mix.

Beyond the Hammer

July 9th, 2013

Over the past few decades, the Hammer of Thunor seems to have become the Germanic Pagan equivalent of the Christians’ crucifix or the Wiccans’ pentagram – a generic symbol for everyone who reveres the northern gods.  Known also as the Thor’s Hammer or the Mjolnir, this symbol is worn as a pendant just as the other aforementioned symbols are.  I have even heard people boast of how they never remove their hammer pendants.  What I wonder, though, is whether this is appropriate for people with our polytheistic worldview.

I do not in any way object to the symbol, nor to the god it represents.  I have about half a dozen hammer pendants and often wear them (not all at the same time, of course).  I bought my first Hammer of Thunor around 1978-1979, my second in 1980 and subsequent pendants whenever a different design has caught my eye.  And there is certainly some understandable value in claiming a single, unifying symbol.  Humans are intensely social creatures.  We like to define ourselves in groups, and to display allegiance to whichever groups we are a part of.  People who grew up in or near Pittsburgh are obsessed with wearing Steelers regalia, and I could make fun of them were it not for my Missouri ball cap, my Ozarks tee shirt and other wearable displays of my own “homeland”.  In the same way, the hammer pendant announces that the wearer in some way acknowledges and reveres Germanic gods and traditions.  But, as a polytheist, I do not think we should limit ourselves to Thunor’s weapon as our only symbol.

At the moment I am wearing no hammer.  Instead I have a small stone pendant hanging from a cord around my neck.  On the stone is engraved the image of Gyldenbyrstal, the sacred boar of Ing Fréa.  Since I have a closer relationship with Ing, it seems only appropriate that I wear a symbol representing Him as often or more frequently than other images.  I also have a larger, brass boar pendant that I wear occasionally, but it is heavier and more suited to holiday occasions rather than everyday.  To further display my allegiance to Ing, I have a nice pendant engraves with the rune ing that two of my híredmenn gave me a few years ago.

As a writer, I also have and wear images related to Woden.  (Not that you have to be a writer, of course, but Woden has more significance in my life due to his influence as a god of inspiration.)  One pendant depicts Woden holding a spear; it is the symbol that I wear most often when I want to connect more with Woden.

In the same way, a Pagan with a connection to Tiw could wear the tir rune.  A Pagan devoted to Fréo could wear a cat pendant.

But even the Pagan who has dedicated himself or herself to Thunor could benefit by moving beyond the hammer image.  Since so many now use that image as a generic “I’m a Heathen” sign, those who have a distinct relationship with Thunor/Thor/Donar might derive more of a connection from other symbols of the red-bearded god of fertility, protection and storms.  A pendant with the image of Thunor, rather than just his hammer, would be appropriate.  As an alternate choice, a quartz crystal can represent this god, as quartz crystals were once called “thunderstones” and believed (at least in a folklore sense) to be created when lightning struck the earth.

I am not suggesting the hammer be abandoned; I’m certainly not getting rid of my hammer pendants!  However I do think we should look beyond the hammer when we choose symbols to identify with.  The crucifix may be appropriate for Christians, and the Star of David for Jewish people, because they follow only one god.  For people who acknowledge the reality of many gods and the validity of many paths, an array of spiritual imagery may be more suitable.

A Rose by Any Other Name

June 30th, 2013

A woman recently contacted me to ask whether I would describe her religion as “Witchcraft”.  I replied in the negative and, after discerning that she worships a dualist Lord and Lady, said that I would call it Wicca.  After several messages back and forth it became clear that the woman really, really wanted to call her religion Witchcraft and, for whatever reason, was just looking for someone to argue the point with.

It’s not an argument I have much interest becoming engaged in.  It’s fine with me if she wants to say her religion is Witchcraft.  She can call it Masturbation for all I care.  My point was that Wicca was a more precise term for her spiritual beliefs and practices.

I can understand the woman’s confusion to some extent.  Gerald Gardner, the man who founded the religion of Wicca (although he spelled it with only one “c”, Wica) referred to it as Witchcraft.  But then Gardner made up a lot of what he publicized as “the Old Religion”.  Gardner’s greatest contribution was in inspiring others to seek out the true old religions, and in his legacy of a very modern religion – Wicca – which has been a source of comfort and enlightenment for hundreds of thousands.  One feature of Wicca is that many of its followers (although not all, by any means) do practice witchcraft.  But then the majority of Wiccans undoubtedly masturbate as well.

The problem with calling one’s religion Witchcraft is not so much that it is incorrect, but that it is imprecise.  There are many, many people who practice witchcraft who do not worship a Lord and Lady, do not cast a magic circle, do not call upon the four elements or otherwise follow any part of Wiccan worship.  If someone says he or she is a witch – whether or not the word is capitalized – little information is conveyed.  Is this person Wiccan?  Is he or she a Saxon Pagan who practices wiccecræft?  A Roman Pagan practicing stregheria?  Is this person a Satanist?  Yes, Satanists call their magic witchcraft, and I know many Wiccans will say these people are not “real” witches, but then the Satanists just turn around and say that the Wiccans are not “real” witches, and nothing has been accomplished other than a lot of foolish finger pointing.

Even though Christianity generally prefers to eschew magic (defined as changes initiated by a willworker, rather than by a deity) it is even possible, I suppose, for a Christian or other monotheist to practice witchcraft, because witchcraft is nothing more or less than the skill of using magic.  The superficial appearance of spells vary according to the witch’s spiritual orientation, but the process itself follows basic postulates such as the Law of Sympathy, the Law of Contagion and so on.  The late P.E.I. Bonewits identified some of these in his studies.

But if somebody prefers to say that his or her religion is Witchcraft, I do not have any personal objection.  I think calling the religion Masturbation is a better choice, though.  It is just as accurate, no matter your spiritual path, and it has the potential to attract a multitude of converts.

My, My…Why Sci-Fi?

March 31st, 2013

My next book on Pagan Spirituality, To Walk a Pagan Path, is scheduled to be released this coming November, but there is some question as to which will be available first – that book or my first science fiction novel.

Those of you who have enjoyed my work are likely wondering why I would do something so completely different.  I just received an email today from a man who says he doesn’t understand why I’m writing science fiction “since (my) nonfiction has been Saxon Pagan”.  Let me make it clear that there is no crossover here; my novel Perception has nothing to do with the Anglo-Saxons or their gods, or anything to do with religion at all, really.  In the novel, aliens destroy Earth’s communication systems, military forces and power infrastructure almost overnight.  The story focuses on a small group of people and their struggle to cope with this devastating development.

I have actually been writing speculative fiction for years.  The only thing new or different about Perception is that it is being published.  And this is a good thing.  I hope to gain more of an outlet for my creativity as a fiction author.  If Perception sells well, I already have another speculative fiction novel prepared to send off to publishers.

Why is writing fiction important to me?  Well, because I love writing, but at the same time, when it comes to my Pagan writing, I want to be like the 1960′s sitcom horse Mr. Ed who “never speaks unless he has something to say”.  I do not want any temptation to write a Pagan book just for the sake of expressing myself.  That sort of behavior has produced some of the worst books on Pagan spirituality written in the 20th and 21st centuries.  I am not going to name any titles.  If you’ve been around very long, you know the books I’m talking about.

My fiction will not bring an end to my Pagan writing.  When I am inspired to share something and have sufficient material for a book on Pagan spirituality, I will put together a proposal and see if there is any interest.  I am, in fact, currently working with an idea that could very well be in bookstores within the next 18-24 months.  But what I will not do is compromise myself as a Pagan author.

I hope all of you – or at least those of you who enjoy good stories - will support my efforts as a fiction author.  To those who will be purchasing a copy of Perception and giving my writing a chance, let me thank you now.  I know you will not be disappointed.

Heathenry in 2500 Words or Less

March 6th, 2013

That was my assignment.  Trevor Greenfield, an editor with Moon Books (one of the imprints of John Hunt Publishing) asked me to write a chapter of the book 101 Pagans.  The chapter title would be “Heathen”.  That’s all I had to go on.

I was eager to take on this assignment for a couple of reasons.  First, it will expand the portfolio of publishers I’ve worked with, and that’s a good thing for a professional author.  But more importantly the concept behind 101 Pagans is intriguing.  The book will present contemporary Paganism from literally 101 different viewpoints.  Twenty people, myself included, are writing twenty main chapters or essays for the book.  Each of these will be accompanied by 4-5 shorter essays from other people writing on the same topic.  The short essays will be 400-500 words.  The primary essays will be 2000-2500 words.

And so I set to work describing Heathenry in 2500 words or less.

This was more difficult than I had anticipated, and it gave me a much deeper appreciation of the diversity within today’s Heathenry.  When I wrote Travels Through Middle Earth, I was writing about my own spirituality, my own experiences.  And I had a whole book to cover that topic.  For 101 Pagans I only had one small section in which to describe an array of religious cultures including Ásatrú, Forn Sed, Forn Siðr, Theodism, Fyrn Sidu and Urglaawe.

I had to cut corners, or course, and be as succinct as possible, but I managed to hit all of the major points.  I was even able to mention Seax Wica, which I believe can be considered a variant of Heathen expression.  Realizing that I was writing about the beliefs and practices of many other people, I ran the essay by a couple of Ásatrúar before sending it off to the editor, including Ann Gróa Sheffield (author of Long Branches and Frey, God of the World).  The responses were positive.  Hopefully the greater Heathen community will feel the same.

Having seen the diversity expressed in my own contribution to the book, I am eager to read 101 Pagans when it is eventually released.  I can only imagine the wonder that will be encapsulated in a hundred such essays describing today’s endless manifestations of Pagan spirituality.

Sacralizing the Secular

November 5th, 2012

As autumn arrives we face a string of holidays, some religious and some secular.  Harvest, Hallows, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Mothers’ Night and New Years march along like balloon sculptures in a Macy’s parade.

When the sacred and secular calendars converge Pagans love to adopt mundane traditions as a part of their holidays, and this is as it should be.  It would be sad to see our communities eschew trick-or-treating and Jack’s lanterns at Halloween, or decorated evergreen trees, prancing reindeer and Santa Clause with the coming of Yule.  Some go so far as to claim these secular traditions as “Ancient Pagan Traditions”, but there is no need to do so, and it simply isn’t true.  Most holiday traditions are neither Pagan nor even particularly old.  (Watch the movie Meet Me in St. Louis to see how different Halloween was just a century ago.)

Acknowledging the true age and origins of holiday traditions makes them no less meaningful.  The important thing is to ensure that they are in keeping with “the reason for the season”, or at least not in direct conflict with it.  In our household, for example, the Yule tree (which looks suspiciously like a Christmas tree) represents the Eormensyl, the axis mundi that connects all Seven Worlds.

Almost any holiday tradition can be adopted by the Pagan household, although some are admittedly easier than others to assimilate into our spiritual traditions.  A nativity might seem out of place in most Pagan homes, but if you can find symbolism and meaning in the little barn with the fairy on top, then go for it!

Then there are those other secular holidays, the ones that don’t fit neatly into the NeoPagan wheel of the year, or with any other Pagan calendar, for that matter.  Nevertheless they can still be a part of your ongoing spiritual experience.

On Veterans’ Day give offerings to the spirits of the men and women who gave their lives in battle.  If you have known somebody personally who died in a war this will be especially meaningful, but it is a good time to remember all of the those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

Most Pagans celebrate three harvest festivals – Lammas, Harvest and Hallows – but American Pagans really have four.  Thanksgiving, the final harvest celebration, is a good time to honor Thunor and give thanks for his protection.

Yule brings us the sacred solstice (celebrated by Saxons as Mothers’ Night or Modraniht), followed by a secular New Year’s celebration.  I view New Year’s Eve as the end or culmination of the soltice festivities that began twelve days earlier.  It is a time of endings and beginnings.

And let’s not forget Valentine’s Day!  The chocolates and candy hearts are tasty, but this is also a good time to hold a rite honoring Fréo or, if you are not Saxon, whatever deity or deities in your pantheon are most closely associated with passion and sexual desire.

I was once told by a non-Pagan friend, “I know why you’re always so happy, Alaric.  It’s all the holidays.  You Pagans have Christmas all year long.”  That might be an exaggeration, but there’s a kernel of truth in there.  When you sacralize the secular you allow your spirituality to expand in new and exciting directions, until it almost does seem like you’re enjoying Christmas all year long!

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