Reversed Runes?

May 9th, 2018

I have been asked again about the reversed meanings of runes, interpretations when the runes pulled are upside down.  I think this notion originated with Tarot readings, although even with Tarot reversed meanings are a later adaptation.  Assigning reversed meanings to the runes is demonstrably erroneous.  First, none of the Rune Poems give any “reversed meanings”.  The very idea reminds me of those old rumors of how you would supposedly hear Satanic messages if you played Stairway to Heaven backwards.  Like that song, playing the Rune Poems backwards will only produce garbled mush.  There’s no hidden meaning.  Each rune (a word meaning mystery or secret) is exactly what it is.

As evidence of this, notice that more than a third of the Anglo-Saxon runes (Gyfu, Hagol, Nied, Is, Gear, Éoh, Sigel, Ing, Dæg and Ior) appear EXACTLY THE SAME whether they are upright or upside down.  It is literally impossible to tell if any of those runes are reversed unless the card, chip or stone is marked in some way to show which way is “up”.  If the runes were each intended to have a positive and negative interpretation they would all clearly have a top side and a bottom side.

We are fortunate to still have the runic mysteries (in the Old English Rune Poem for the Anglo-Saxon Fuþorc; the Norse and Icelandic Rune Poems for the Younger Fuþark).  Adding contrived “reversed” interpretations changes any serious study of the runes into a modern perspective only peripherally related to rune lore.

Spirituality and Race

April 12th, 2018

 

I recently heard that at least one right-wing racist group is under the impression I am “pro-Nazi”.  If this tidbit of news has reached you, or should it at any time in the future, let me clarify something.

I’m not.

First of all, even if I wanted to join the club Neo-Nazis are notoriously anti-gay.  They would also expect me to be racist and anti-Semitic and neither of those are really my thing either.  Frankly, how anyone who has read even ONE of my books could think I’m pro-Nazi boggles my mind.

It’s a shame these people latch onto Germanic spiritual paths and try to twist them into something they aren’t.  Anglo-Saxon is a culture, not a race.  Anyone of any race or ethnic background can honor and praise the gods of the Anglo-Saxons.  You may not know this but Woden has a substantial following in Peru, and his followers there have distinctly brown complexions unless there’s something wrong with the color on my computer monitor.  If it were up to me everyone would worship Woden and Thunor and Ing Fréa.  I give offerings and praise to my gods because they are freaking awesome, not because I’m “white”.

I would make a terrible Nazi.  I hang out with men and women of all races.  Last year I joined some Jewish friends for their Passover celebration (because my gods are NOT “jealous gods”).  I find men sexy, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.  I’m sure Neo-Nazis would never accept me in their clique.  Nor do I have any desire to sign up.

 

A New Look for a Great Book

February 10th, 2017

I honestly believe that Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer is the best of my books, and I am not alone in that opinion.  Just last month the owner of one of the nation’s largest New Age stores told me she thought Wyrdworking was the best book about Anglo-Saxon runes available today.  And apparently “the people upstairs” at Llewellyn Worldwide are also impressed by the book, because they think it should be reaching a far wider audience.

Because of this, my acquisitions editor contacted me last year and asked how I would feel about the book getting a new title.  I certainly had no objections.  Back when I submitted a book called Charming the Plow, Elysia (my editor) said the title was confusing and insisted I change it.  That’s why it became To Walk a Pagan Path, which managed to hit the #1 spot for several months on Amazon’s list of Pagan books.  So if Elysia wanted a new title for Wyrdworking, I was immediately on board!

And so there were meetings.  Ideas were tossed around.  I was told that the book would also get a new cover by the talented Kevin R. Brown (who did the amazing cover for To Walk a Pagan Path).  Officially, Wyrdworking went out of print.

This coming September, with a beautiful new cover, my book will be released as A Handbook of Saxon Sorcery and Magic.  If you already have Wyrdworking, don’t worry, you aren’t missing out on anything.  The new version is the exact same book, only with a different title.  The fact is, most people don’t know what ‘wyrd’ is, and so they don’t have a clue of what ‘wyrdworking’ might mean.  Under this new title, my book may reach countless people who would otherwise pass it up.  And some of those people will feel a connection to Saxon wiccecræft.  And some of those people will hear Woden’s call.

And that, after all, is why I write these books.

Blessings of the Green Man: An Activity for Pagan Kids

July 29th, 2016

Here is a way to share your love of Paganism with all but the very youngest children.  When using green onions in a recipe, leave 1½ inches from the root intact.  Let your child put this piece in a small cup of water, roots submerged, leaving the very top exposed to the air.  Several onion roots can be placed in the same cup if you are using more than one.

After this, the child should put the cup in a sunny place.  It does not need to be on a windowsill, but the cup should get at least a few hours of sunlight each day.  Within a couple of days a new green shoot will emerge.

When a shoot is about three inches long, the child should now plant the onion in a pot of soil.  This pot can then be set outside or in a sunny windowsill.  The new onion plant needs to be watered regularly, of course.  When it has grown to 9″ or more the onion can be uprooted, the green part cut up for cooking, and your child can start the root again in a new cup of water.

This simple activity involves the child in Pagan spirituality in multiple ways.  Engage your child in a conversation about Ing Fréa, the Saxon god who rules over plant growth and abundance.  The growth of a new onion demonstrates the eternal cycle of life.  In a world where we have largely forfeited the ability to provide our own food, this can help children begin to reclaim that power.  The child experiences a personal cycle of planting, growing, harvesting, and planting again.

A Celebration of Love

February 13th, 2016

Once again in the early lencten (spring) season, Valentine’s Day brings us a day of celebrating with chocolates, flowers and romantic cards.

Oh, and the recurring claims that it’s a Christian holiday, or that it’s a Pagan holiday, depending on whether the speaker is Christian or Pagan and how he or she feels about Valentine’s Day celebrations.

Really, people, be serious.

How are the so-called Pagan origins of Valentine’s Day remotely relevant today?  What do boxes of chocolates have to do with the Lupercalia?  Exactly how many Pagans set February 14th aside to give offerings to Juno?  (Okay, there are probably a few followers of the Religio who do this, but they’re the exception, not the rule.)  Sure, Valentine’s Day can be celebrated by Pagans – just like Arbor Day, Veterans Day or any other secular holiday – but to say it’s an innately “Pagan” holiday borders on being silly.

As for it being a Christian holiday, are there many Christians out there who even know (or care) who Saint Valentine was?  Is he the patron saint of greeting cards?  The patron saint of chocolate candies?

The truth is, Valentine’s Day is just as Pagan or Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or Islamic or Satanic as you want it to be.  Any religious meaning Valentine’s Day may have comes from you as an individual.  Because Valentine’s Day is simply a celebration of love.  It is a day to rejoice in those who you love, in those who you have loved in the past, and in those who you may love someday in the future.

Faith

February 6th, 2016

Faith.  I know the followers of the Abrahamic religions like to use this word, but I don’t consider my own spiritual views to be “faith based”.  Taking this even further, I don’t think it’s healthy for any Pagans to base their spirituality on faith.

In Heinlein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land, Jubal Harshaw says, “I’ve never understood how God could expect His creatures to pick the one true religion by faith – it strikes me as a sloppy way to run a universe.”  That pretty much sums up how I feel about it.  The cruel and insensitive acts of the Westboro Baptist Church are faith based.  The men who hijacked jets and flew them into the World Trade Center Building were motivated by faith.  Faith, untempered and alone, has caused some of the greatest horrors in human history.

I can’t honestly say that faith has no role in my spirituality, but it is the same level of faith I apply to all other aspects of my life.  I have faith that my truck will start when I turn the ignition key.  I could be wrong, but that’s what usually happens.  I have faith that a friend will return something I’ve loaned.  I have faith in countless little things like this, but none of these are faith based; they are based on personal experiences.

In a similar way, I don’t believe in an afterlife out of sheer faith.  I believe in an afterlife because I have seen and heard and felt those who have gone from this world – both human and animal.  It is something that I’ve experienced.  It is experience, too, that has led me to believe in the gods.  Is faith involved to any degree?  Of course; faith is a natural part of how we relate to the universe.  I have never had a personal experience or interaction with Athena, but then I don’t need that in order to believe Athena exists.  Not when thousands of other people have experienced Athena’s presence over thousands of years.  My belief in Athena is not purely faith based, but rather based on the collective experience of others.

In my opinion, Pagan spirituality should never be a “faith”.  It should be neither a matter of belief nor of disbelief, but of experience.  When our spirituality is experience based there is no need to defend it.  When we cast aside unfounded faith all things are up for debate and subject to change, if further experiences warrant it.  And we should be comfortable with that.

I have faith in this.  For now, anyway.

To Give Thanks

November 16th, 2015

I recently read an article written by a radical Christian urging people to eschew the Thanksgiving holiday because it is allegedly “Pagan”.  In his argument the author cited various harvest celebrations observed by Pagan cultures.

On the flip side of stupidity, I’ve known Pagans who didn’t think we should be celebrating Thanksgiving because it is a “Christian” holiday.  After all, the holiday commemorates the first Thanksgiving, when the Puritans sat down with indigenous Americans, and everyone ate turkey and sang Kumbaya.

The idea of a “Thanksgiving Day” actually did originate with the Puritans, but not the way most people think it did.  Thanksgiving Days were an anti-Catholic reaction to the many holidays celebrated during the English Reformation.  People were just having too much fun, and so the Puritans wanted to eliminate all of those holidays (including Christmas and Easter) and replace them with Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving.  These were not recurring events; they were observed in the wake of disasters (fasting) and victories (thanksgiving).  The first annual, recurring Day of Thanksgiving began in 1606 after the failure of the infamous Gunpowder Plot.  Today it is still celebrated each year in England as Guy Fawkes Day.

It is possible, though poorly documented, that the early Christian (Puritan) settlers and some indigenous Americans shared a feast in 1621, but an annual harvest celebration did not become a tradition in New England until the late 1660’s.  But more than anything else, it is an American tradition.  To call it a “harvest” festival is not really accurate.  Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November, long after the harvest season has ended.

Thanksgiving is exactly what its name implies, a day to give thanks.  In Christian households families will be giving thanks to Jesus.  Here we will be giving thanks to Woden and Þunor.  To argue who should be giving thanks for blessings received is to miss the whole point of Thanksgiving.

The Dark of the Year

November 2nd, 2015

Many Asatrúar and other Germanic Pagans, perhaps in an attempt to distance themselves from Wicca, are quick to assert that they don’t celebrate Samhain.  I wonder if Pagans from other non-Gaelic paths do this.  If somebody wishes me a Happy Samhain, I might reply with “and a Happy Hallows to you” (I would prefer Halloween be used as a general seasonal greeting rather than the more specific Samhain) but I don’t feel compelled to engage in a theological discussion.

No, Saxons don’t celebrate Samhain.  Very few Pagan paths do.  Even among Celtic Pagans, Samhain is specific to only the Irish and Scots.  The Welsh, for example, celebrate Calan Gaeaf.  The Cornish, Kalan Gwav.

But for me to make an issue of it – to explain (when nobody has asked) that I don’t celebrate Samhain – is rather silly, because I essentially do acknowledge the same seasonal change that everybody else is celebrating.  For the Saxons, this season was a liminal time; a transition into the dark half of the year.

This year on October 27th, four days before Halloween, the Blodmonað moon grew full.  Blodmonað means “blood month”, and for the Saxons this initiated a month of slaughtering and butchering all excess livestock that couldn’t be wintered over.  With no Bible to tell them that animals were merely “things” created for their own use, their thoughts must have surely turned to their own mortality amidst so much death.  Further, the Saxons were a Germanic people, and we know that other Germanic traditions celebrate Winternights.  From now until the solstice, the Wild Hunt rides throughout the land.  English lore has numerous references to this Wild Hunt.

In Sweden, Iceland and Germany this transition may have been celebrated at different times, but there is a very good reason why the Saxons would have celebrated Winternights, by whatever name, at the beginning of the “blood month”.  That’s when their British neighbors were celebrating Samhain and Calan Gaeaf and Kalan Gwav.  These various people all lived together on an island roughly the size of the state of Missouri.  They interbred and borrowed artistic styles.  It’s only natural that the Saxons would have wanted to hold their own celebrations at the same time as their Celtic neighbors, even as Pagans today celebrate the winter solstice regardless of how appropriate it is for their own traditions.

Woden rides forth, and life fades from the land.  By whatever name you call it, the dark of the year is upon us.

A Public Apology

October 24th, 2015

While working on Llewellyn’s 2017 Witches’ Datebook my editor caught me perpetuating a grievous error.  For years now I have asserted that the word liða as a name for the months of June (Ærre Liða) and July (Æfterra Liða) meant a “point” and referred to the moment of the summer solstice.

I was wrong.

My editor questioned the assertation and asked for any source(s) I might have to support it.  I couldn’t find anything in the books I have here, so I began to ask around.  Nope, nothing.  My friend Jason found some online references to liða meaning to point or a point, but the internet is hardly a reliable source.  Then Eric Scott of Columbia, Missouri pointed out that Bosworth-Toller (a highly reliable source) defines liða as meaning “gentle” and, in the context of June and July, alludes to the mild winds and temperatures in Britain during those months.

And so I have to admit it.  I was wrong.

It is so difficult for me to say this.  I feel like I have been exposed as the sort of author who perpetuates fallacies without heed to history or heritage.  As if I’m the sort of author who blathers on about the fifth element being “spirit”, or about Wicca being the ancient religion of Europe.  In my defense, when I accepted the definition of “point” for liða, it was the only rational thing I’d seen at the time.  Other definitions made no sense to me (Branston claimed liða meant “moon”).  Nevertheless, I jumped to a conclusion and have ever since perpetuated a falsehood when I’ve spoken or written about Ærre Liða and Æfterra Liða.

The months of June and July were almost certainly named for their mild weather, not for their positions before and after the summer solstice.  I could have glossed over this, but to re-imagine the old ways – to substitute fantasy for historical veracity – is an insult to our Pagan ancestors.  As humiliating as this may be, I apologize for my error.  I was wrong.

The New Ancient Tradition of the Dumb Supper

October 11th, 2015

Last night I attended my first dumb supper this season.  As with all things Pagan, there are some who believe this to be an ancient tradition, and perhaps that’s true in an era where fashions, entertainment and even household appliances are considered “outdated” after only a year or two.  In its current form, the dumb supper is about 26 years old.  Its origins go back further than that, but how much further is anybody’s guess.

For those who may not know, the dumb supper is a ritual of communion with one’s ancestors.  People gather in the early evening at the home of the host, who may or may not have a main dish prepared.  Each participant brings his or her own dish to connect with the ancestors.  It might be an ethnic dish, or grandpa’s favorite casserole, or your favorite dish that your great aunt Sally used to make.  Each person usually explains why he or she brought that particular dish, and a small portion is placed on a plate that will be set out for the ancestors.  The host then invites the ancestors to join in the meal, and all guests prepare their own plates.  When the supper begins, all talk must cease.  Nobody speaks.  As people eat the meal, they listen for the wisdom and comfort of their ancestors.

The original, pre-1989 dumb supper was much different.  It was a sort of spell practiced (usually by young women) in the Ozark mountains.  The details of the spell varied, but the desired outcome was always the same – to determine who one’s future spouse would be.  The supper was “dumb” in the original English sense of the word, meaning mute (the secondary meaning of slow-witted or foolish actually comes from the German word dumm, which just happens to sound a lot like dumb).  Nobody was to speak during the meal.  Sometimes the participants had to walk backwards.  At some point during the supper each participant would supposedly have a vision of a future spouse.

In the 1989 Samhain issue of Green Egg Magazine, Morning Glory Zell presented a creative, revised version of the dumb supper as a ritual for connecting with ancestral spirits.  Morning Glory’s ritual proved to be surprisingly effective.  The first time I tried a dumb supper it was with two close friends, and all three of us were overwhelmed with the presences we felt during the meal.

Today dumb suppers are not uncommon.  They are most often held around this time of year when Pagan folk are celebrating Samhain or Haligæfen or Winter Nights.  Sometimes the details are a little different.  I have been to dumb suppers where the host provided all of the food, and the foods were items associated in Pagan mythologies with death.  But most of the dumb suppers I’ve participated in are exactly as I’ve described, with participants bringing different dishes that connect them with their ancestors in some way.

However the supper is conducted, it can be a profound experience.  Our religious expressions give us plenty of opportunities to speak, pray and chant.  The dumb supper is a time to listen.

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