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April 13th, 2015
Summer is little more than a fortnight away now. Soon the Beltane fires will burn. Historically, May Day celebrations were celebrated throughout England by the Saxons, welcoming in the summer with games and festivities.
Witches make use of a liminal time of year like this. May Day is a good time for seasonal magic focused on growth. It is especially good for prosperity magic. For our ancestors, prosperity was directly related to the fertility of the land. The Saxon calendar celebrates the season with the Thrimilci Moon, or “three-milkings moon”, because cattle were so productive at this time of year that they needed to be milked three times a day. For the pre-Industrial family, this was indeed a time of prosperity. In Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer, I describe how to set up an annual prosperity cycle, but simple prosperity spells can be cast at this time of year also. Be sure to define your goal precisely, though. “Money” is an ephemeral concept, and prosperity spells often fail because the witch did not define a specific goal.
Of course for people in the southern hemisphere it is winter that is just around the corner. The same seasonal principle applies, only south of the equator magic should be directed to things that you want to diminish or release.
April 7th, 2015
The runes are not only a tool for magic and divination; they are mysteries, and those mysteries are revealed to us constantly.
Last night I dreamed that I was working at a restaurant in Kansas City where I was employed from 1977 to 1990. I’ve had similar dreams, but this time, for the first time, I knew that it was a dream. I knew that Mr. Waid (the restaurant owner) died years ago, even as he discussed the bread order with me. I looked around for a wall or desk calendar somewhere to find out what the year was (sometime before 1980, I’m sure), not wanting to ask anyone, because people think you’re weird if you tell them that you’ve come back from the future. I was so glad to see everyone again even though I couldn’t tell them that our time was brief – that some of us would die, and others would move on to other places and professions.
When I woke, my heart was filled with the joy I feel whenever I have one of these dreams. During those years the restaurant became a sort of home. The Waids were like parents to me, older people who were always there when I needed counsel about almost anything. I was young and healthy, and well-paid. And I think, now, how much happier I would have been if I’d more fully embraced the joy of my existence.
Such is the mystery of the wynn rune. The rune often translated as “joy”. Wynn tells us that:
Joy possesses him who knows little want, illnesses or sorrows, and himself has prosperity and happiness and also a sufficient dwelling.
The rune tells us exactly what joy is, because much of the time we tend to forget. In our quest for some imagined “more”, we all too often fail to see and appreciate the good things we already have. And so the joy in our lives can remain unseen until it is lost in time.
March 30th, 2015
Winter melts into Spring, which blossoms into Summer, fading into Autumn and then cooling into Winter again. An eternal circle. But this pattern doesn’t stop with the seasons; it flows through everything.
I was reminded of this over the weekend when I traveled to Columbus, Ohio with my friend Zach to attend a divination seminar. The presenters were Reverend Michael Dangler, Reverend Jan Avende and Shawneen Bear. Although Zach and I left early in the morning, we missed all but the tail end of Reverend Dangler’s presentation. Nevertheless, in the short time I heard him speaking, he brought up several interesting points that I jotted down in my notebook. Reverend Avende focused on the Greek oracle, which was fascinating, and Shawneen Bear talked about finding omens in nature. The seminar was well worth the small entry fee, and wrapped up with a ritual led by the three presenters.
You might wonder why I needed to attend a divination seminar. After all, I co-designed the Martin Rune Deck and have had a book published (Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer) that covers runic divination. I’ve given workshops on using wyrdstones for divining. And although I’ve never taught others about Tarot, I’m certainly familiar with it. Obviously I didn’t “need” to attend the seminar. But in another sense, I did.
Pagan spirituality isn’t a linear marathon. There is no finish line, no point where you’ve arrived. You arrive as soon as you set foot upon your path, but there is always more to the journey. I learned something over the weekend from Reverend Dangler, and something more from Reverend Avende and something more again from Shawneen Bear. Now that I am home, I find myself contemplating the runes once again. I find myself examining even more; my spiritual focus, my mores, my life goals. The circle turns around again, as it has from the beginning.
March 23rd, 2015
This past weekend countless Neo-Pagans celebrated Ostara, and soon millions of Christians will be celebrating Easter. Both of these holidays took their name from a goddess of spring known as Ostara by the continental Germans and as Eostre or Eastre by the Anglo-Saxons. This is the time of year when we can expect to see images everywhere of eggs and baby chicks and bunnies.
It’s also the time of year when we can see all sorts of nonsense regarding the goddess Eostre. In Pagan circles it is not uncommon to hear that the name Easter is derived from the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Never mind that there is absolutely nothing to substantiate this, both names begin with a vowel and in with “r”, so they must be the same, right?
Then there are the people, both Pagans and Christians, who are determined to deny our English heritage. These people point out that there is only one historical reference to the goddess Eostre, from Bede’s De Tempurum Ratione, and so, they say, it is improbable that Eostre was ever worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons. Never mind that there is only one historical reference (by Tacitus) to the goddess Nerthus, and only one or two references to many other northern Celtic and Teutonic deities. The Pagans of northern Europe did not write things down. But it is only Eostre’s divinity that ever comes into question. Instead, say the anti-Saxon contingent, Easter comes from a Greek word for dawn because the services are held at sunrise. Yeah, right. In every other European language people called the holiday Pascua, Pâques, Pasg or some variant thereof. Even in Greece – where people actually speak Greek – the holiday is known as Pascha – but we’re supposed to believe that the Anglo-Saxons decided instead to hunt around for a Greek word meaning “dawn”.
When we brush aside the fantasies and wishful thinking, two facts remain. The first is that Bede (who was a Christian and had no reason or motive to promote a Pagan goddess) recorded that the fourth month of the English year, Eostremonað, was named after the goddess Eostre. The second is that the Anglo-Saxons, after adopting the new religion, held this goddess so dear that they retained Her name for the most important feast day of the Christians’ liturgical year.
March 9th, 2015
I address the timing of magical work in Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer. In my opinion, the most important consideration is the phase of the moon. But I think many people misunderstand the lunar cycle. Most of us, even now, are “first generation” Pagans and most of these (including myself) come from a Judeo-Christian background where positive versus negative is linked to a good/evil paradigm. I’ve known Pagan people who will not work magic when the moon is waning because it is “negative”. But negative is not a synonym for evil. In my experience, the phase of the moon doesn’t affect what a wyrdworker should be doing so much as how he or she should be doing it.
Due to circumstances this week, my coven met during the waning moon for our monthly esbat. We had learned of a man we know who has been diagnosed with cancer, and we wanted to give what help we could. The New Agey way would have been to send positive energy, because sending positive energy always makes everything shiny, warmer and better. I am suspicious of any “one spell fits all” approach, and I believe cancer is one condition that is a contraindication for the aforementioned method. Those little cancerous cells already have TOO MUCH positive energy. Anyway, any positive energy effort would have been working against the moon.
So instead we worked a curse.
Drawing on the withering, negative lunar flow, we cast a curse on the cancer itself. We lashed out at those little cancerous cells without mercy. And so it was that we worked “negative” magic, although the outcome (if we meet with any success) will be something that most people would describe as good. Because positive and negative are not the same as good and evil. Over the years I have found that almost every problem, from a magical perspective, can have both a positive solution and a negative solution. And often the negative solution – the curse – is the more effective approach.
March 1st, 2015
Have you ever met up with a new (or not-so-new) Pagan who is Horribly Offended by someone else’s opinion or actions – even when it does not in any way affect him or her? I’ve encountered this with people who (don’t ask me why) find alcohol offensive at Pagan gatherings. Seriously. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, drummers and dancers at the Heartland Pagan Festival were offered mead to keep their spirits up, but this little perk was brought to an end due to complaints from a tiny but very vocal minority of people who apparently never heard of deities such as Bacchus and Dionysus. I have also encountered people who are Horribly Offended by sex and/or nudity. “You don’t have to be naked to practice Wicca,” announced one self-righteous woman. No, but you DO have to be naked to practice Wicca with a coven that meets skyclad. And may I show you some of this fine (stark nekkid) ancient Pagan statuary?
It’s okay to be offended on some level. I’m offended by a lot of things, but I also recognize that other Pagan people do not require my personal approval to validate their beliefs and behaviors. Frankly, unless it affects me personally, it’s none of my business what other people believe and do. My friend Christopher Penczak commented this morning about something he had read on Facebook:
“It’s a good reminder that we don’t have to like everyone to be in community with them, and that not everyone you like will be liked by all those you are close to. It’s not necessary. Witchcraft and Paganism is not about everybody getting along on a surface level, though I personally tend to favor peace and harmony in community. It’s really about magick. It’s about change and the evolution of the soul.”
Anyone expecting a monolithic culture where everyone has the same ideals and needs is going to be dreadfully disappointed by the Pagan community. You WILL be offended by someone, somewhere at some time. You WILL encounter people who you dislike; people who you would never invite to dinner or go on vacation with. But even the disappointments and the people you loathe have a place in community. Christopher went on to say, “Even those whom we don’t get along with are teachers in some fashion.” This is something I tend to forget, even though it has been demonstrated in my own life many times. There is a long list of people who I have no affection for whatsoever, and yet each has in some way taught me something. Because community – real community – doesn’t pander to our personal feelings and interests. A real community both challenges and strengthens us.
February 23rd, 2015
In Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan, I devote an entire chapter to mead and mead-making. The goal was to encourage more people to explore the art of mead-making by illustrating how easy it is. The instructions I gave were not the best way to make mead. If someone produces an award-winning brew by following those instructions it will be through sheer luck. The instructions were a very EASY way to brew some drinkable mead. I’d met so many people who had considered making mead, but had never tried because they’d heard how difficult it was. Who had they heard this nonsense from? From people who brew mead themselves.
There is a mystique about brewing mead, but this dissipates if people realize that mead-making is something almost anyone can do. To maintain the mystique, mead-making has to be hard. I’ve met people, eager to explore mead-making, who gave up the idea after hearing a speaker at a Pagan festival or similar gathering make brewing into a complicated, even dangerous activity. I call these brewers “disablers”. Their real goal is to discourage people from brewing. For mead-making to be special it must, in their minds, be something that only an elite few can do.
But don’t think disablers are confined to mead-making. Recently a woman wrote a scathing review of To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day, warning about how “dangerous” my instructions for canning tomatoes are in the book. She was appalled that I made it look so simple. I’ve never met the woman, but her “review” told me a lot about her. She enjoys canning vegetables (including vegetables that do require more expertise, but TWPP clearly states that the process I give is ONLY for tomatoes). She also enjoys the attention she receives from people who know nothing about canning, but would find it far less interesting if it seemed easy to do. She is a disabler.
Perhaps I should have mentioned in TWPP how many years I’ve been canning tomatoes without making anybody sick. Or how many other people I know who use the exact same process and have yet to kill anyone. Dangerous? Well, I suppose it could be, in the same way that scrambling eggs could be dangerous.
Speaking of scrambled eggs, the same woman thought it terrible that I suggested keeping a few chickens was easy to do. When in reality it is so very difficult….I’m pretty sure she has never kept chickens herself, or she’d realize how silly this is.
Don’t be a disabler. If you have knowledge or a skill, share it with others and encourage them to explore their own potential.
February 15th, 2015
There is a weekly “Pagan Coffee Night” social gathering at a local restaurant in Harmarville that I attend whenever I can. This past week another man at the gathering took out his Smart Phone, typed the word Pagan into the Amazon website’s search engine, and showed me the result. The very first book listed was To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day. I was astounded and couldn’t wait to get home and try it on my computer. (I don’t have a Smart Phone. My internet access is limited to our home office.) Same thing happened. But what did it mean?
Well, according to people who know more about these things than I do, it means that To Walk a Pagan Path currently has a high ranking in the Amazon e-store. Apparently a lot of people are looking at the book, and hopefully some of them are buying it. If people are drawn to the book, I cannot take all the credit, and perhaps not even most of the credit. It was my savvy acquisitions editor, Elysia Gallo, who had me change the title, which I now realize was a smart move. (Elysia has directed me towards a lot of smart moves over the past six years.) And it was artist Kevin R. Brown who designed the amazing cover. Kevin did the cover for my first Llewellyn book, Travels Through Middle Earth, and I didn’t much care for it, mostly because I don’t know squat about art. I didn’t like the cover – everybody else LOVED it – and I was smart enough to request Kevin to do the covers of my later books. I do think the cover for To Walk a Pagan Path is his best yet.
But whatever the reason, my newest Llewellyn book seems to be generating quite a bit of interest. It feels good to know that people may derive some good from my work. That’s why I write, after all. And, I might as well admit this, it just feels good to be #1.
February 8th, 2015
Ann Gróa Sheffield’s book Frey: God of the World is, in my opinion, the best contemporary work about Frey (also known as Ing Fréa, Yngvi, Freyr). Ms. Sheffield’s book is both informative and factual, and a must-have for the library of any Germanic Pagan.
But the book apparently doesn’t appeal to people who have been fed nonsense by authors and speakers who make up their “facts” as they go along. Recently Ms. Sheffield received a “review” on Amazon criticizing her lack of research. The reviewer was disturbed that there was no mention of Frey as a solar god, and that Sheffield forgot to mention the association of Frey and his sister Freyja (Ing and Fréo) with the zodiac sign Gemini.
The reason there was no mention of the association with Gemini is because there ISN’T any such association outside somebody’s fevered imagination. The zodiac is a Mediterranean construct, which is why the zodiac signs were named for images from Mediterranean mythology (like Gemini, the Twins, which depicts Castor and Pollux). Classical astrology has nothing to do with northern European myths and symbols. And as for Frey/Ing being a solar god, for northern Europeans the sun has always been perceived as a goddess! (Go to the Saxon Paganism section of this website and scroll down to the bottom to find the Our Gods button. That will take you to a list of the primary Saxon gods and goddesses.)
This is why facts matter. Our spiritual experience must and should include personal inspiration, but there is something else we need to connect with, and that something else is reality. Ing Fréa is no more a solar god than Jesus is a cheerleader. To make outrageous statements, to argue against solid scholarship, not only makes the writer/speaker look ignorant, but it reflects poorly on Pagan people as a whole.
Frey: God of the World, by Ann Gróa Sheffield. I highly recommend it, even if the author forgot to mention Frey’s association with patchouli and glitter.
February 2nd, 2015
We’re snowed in here at Holendun and a cold rain is falling as we prepare to welcome in the spring. I mean real spring, of course, not the American, city person’s gee-I-get-to-wear-shorts-again spring. The Old English word for spring was lencten, but English-speaking Catholics usurped it long ago for their fasting observance. So lencten, or “Lent”, became something else and, as we scrambled for a new word to describe the awakening of the earth, many of us also lost our understanding of what this liminal season between Winter and Summer is all about. Spring doesn’t begin in late March. The equinox is the apex of the season, when spring is in full swing. Spring begins now, when the Solmonað moon signals the end of the Yule and the beginning of something….new.
Yes, there is snow on the ground, but the days are growing noticeably longer, our hens are laying again and the earth is stirring beneath the vestiges of winter. Life prepares to burst forth again across the northern hemisphere. The Pagan bard Gwydion Pendderwen (1946-1982) captured the spirit of this time of year beautifully in his song ” On Lady Day”:
When the silent barren winter
Casts its froszen pall
Over trees and grassy hilltops
Rivers large and small
Suddenly, the snow stops falling
And from out of the cold
Comes the form of a fairy maiden
As the legends foretold
Lady day, on quiet lady day
With blossoms in her hair
Comes the form of a fairy maiden
Spreading green everywhere
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