© Copyright Alaric Albertsson & Wolfden Designs 2008 - All rights reserved.
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.
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.
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!
August 31st, 2012
I admit it, there is an underlying purpose for each of my books. There is nothing especially secret about this, and I think almost anyone who looks for it can readily uncover the message that I am trying to make.
For Travels Through Middle Earth the message was that the gods are real. I felt that somewhere along the way Paganism had become (and still is) usurped by pop psychology. For many people the gods were (and still are) little more than decorations for an ongoing party. My hope was that some few would at least consider the real nature of our gods, and perhaps connect with the spiritual world in a more meaningful way.
In Wyrdworking my goal was to encourage Pagans to explore what we actually know about the runes. I know there will be many people who read this second book and then go back to playing around with the Elder Futhark and nonsense like “blank runes”, but perhaps some few will be encouraged to explore real rune lore.
My next book (which does not yet have a firm title) will be no different; there will be an underlying message. I sent the finished manuscript off today and hope that the book will be released sometime in 2013. When it is published, the message will be simple and clear: Paganism is not something you just read about and dream about, it is something you DO. Yes, my third book is about doing. About walking the walk.
The book will begin with a concise, clear “seven step” approach to living more fully as a Pagan. From there the book will go on to explore an array of things to do to integrate your spirituality into all areas of your life. Adapting the “wheel of the year” to your environment as well as to your spiritual path. Communing with the land by growing some portion of your own food. Making ritual candles. Training and connecting with a familiar. From cover to cover the book will be filled with ideas to expand your Pagan spirituality into a true lifestyle.
That will be the message, and it is my hope that some few will find value in it.
May 14th, 2012
He stands in my garden; leaning slightly back with his gaze lifted to the heavens, his arms outstretched joyfully, looking as if he might burst into song.
And he will continue to stand this way throughout the summer and autumn.
I am talking about Jack Barleycorn, the scarecrow we Earendel folk build every year in early May as a representation of the life of the fields. Scott and I have been doing this for many years; long before Earendel was formally established, before we moved east to Pennsylvania. Although details have changed and evolved, the tradition of Jack Barleycorn has been a part of my life for a long time now.
Today that tradition is well defined by years of repetition. When Earendel first gathers on or after May Day we build a scarecrow as a part of our first summer rite. I am almost always the one who sews up Jack’s head. Taren is usually the person who brings and assembles the wood framework for his body. Everyone helps, and everyone critiques our group progress as we fill out Jack’s gluts and biceps and abs with handfuls of straw. When the scarecrow is built, each person comes forward with a small piece of cloth that he or she has embroidered one or more runes on. The runes represent what that person hopes to harvest in his or her own life through the coming year. These cloths are carefully stitched to Jack Barleycorn, who is then processed to a garden where he will stand until the Winterfylleth moon grows full. At that time, six months later, he is burned on a bonfire as an offering to our gods.
Scarecrows have been around for a long time. 2500 years ago Greek farmers carved wooden scarecrows in the image of Priapus, the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite. The Romans later adopted this custom, and Roman armies introduced Priapus scarecrows to Britain.
Our Jack Barleycorn could be thought of as a spiritual descendant of those early scarecrows, and in fact we do stuff extra bundles of hay into Jack’s crotch to give him a well-endowed, Priapic appearance. But the truth is that our ancient Pagan tradition only goes back to the early 1990′s. That’s a funny thing about traditions, they always have to start somewhere. Whether the tradition is twenty years old (like our annual Jack Barleycorn) or twenty thousand years old, somebody had to do it first.
So if you don’t have a lot of ancient, pre-Christian traditions at hand, start a few of your own! Don’t make the mistake that many 20th century Wiccans did of claiming a long and completely fake history for your tradition. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only been following a ritual practice for three years or three hundred years, that practice will gain power in its repetition very quickly. Create a tradition meaningful to you and your folk. It need not involve building a scarecrow. Your own tradition could be staying up all night to see the Midsummer sunrise. It could be making all of your ritual candles on Candlemas Eve.
Whatever you choose to do, cherish your traditions. We are defined by what we do, and Pagan traditions both new and old define the life and vitality of our paths.
March 13th, 2012
This may sound odd coming from a Pagan such as myself. In English speaking countries, Lent is a word used by Roman Catholic Christians for a season of self-deprivation preceding Easter (a holiday that takes its own name from that of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and new beginnings). During this time Catholics forfeit the consumption of meat, usually substituting fish of some kind for that portion of the meal.
But the word “Lent” is like Easter in that it predates English Catholicism, and in fact was not used in any specific Christian context until the 11th century. The word, lencten, or Lent, simply means “spring”.
This use of a word for the vernal season to describe a Christian tradition is unique to the English language. In other languages the words used are open references to the fasting (if you can call substituting one animal for another “fasting”) that takes place in the weeks preceding Easter. In Latin – the language of the medieval Church – the season of Lent is called Quadragesima. In Spanish it is la Cuaresma, and in Italian la Quaresima. German Catholics call it der Fastenzeit. In each of these languages the name means “time of fasting”. Only in English is the time of fasting called “spring”.
We can only speculate why this came to be. It certainly was not because the English had no word for fasting. The Old English verb is fæstan, and, logically, English speaking Catholics should call the weeks of fasting something like Fastingtime, which is an English rendering of the German Fastenzeit.
But the English language has never been logical. We may never know why English speaking Catholics chose to call the pre-Easter weeks Spring instead of (like everyone else across Europe) Fastingtime. Perhaps it was local slang in one of the Saxon kingdoms. Perhaps it was the whim of an archbishop or even a king. All we know for certain is that the word lencten – the vernal season – began to transform into a reference to the weeks of Christian fasting approximately forty years before the Norman Conquest. And after the Conquest it was the common speech of the Saxons that prevailed in naming this period of Christian self-deprivation, not the French spoken by their new overlords. Otherwise the Modern English word would be something more similar to the French Carême, which of course means “fasting”, as the season is called in every other language.
Our modern word “spring” is a descriptive we began using in the 16th century. People would speak of the “spring season”, meaning the time of year when new plants spring out of the ground; when blossoms spring forth on boughs. But the season has a more direct name, a proper name, and that name is Lent.
So I celebrate Lent, in a Pagan fashion, and Easter too, with its symbols of rabbits, chicks, eggs and flowers. None of them related to the death and resurrection of a Jewish man, but all of them glorious symbols of springtime. All of them symbols of se lencten.
February 28th, 2012
Historical veracity or UPG (unverified personal gnosis)? Which should you trust and adhere to?
Okay, that was a trick question, because neither of these is worth very much by itself. It is like asking which is more important, your liver or your lungs? You need them both, of course.
When historical records and archaeological evidence are ignored, when a spiritual path relies entirely on UPG, Paganism can rapidly devolve into an imaginary fantasy. This is when we begin to hear nonsense like “Freya is the Norse goddess of the moon”, or “because of their belief in Maat, none of the ancient Egyptians ever told a lie” (I swear by all that’s holy somebody once said this to me). Fantasy is great fun, but I think it should be confined to movies, books and tabletop roleplaying games. When it creeps into the foundation of one’s spiritual path, worship and reverence become little more than a mockery of Pagan praxis.
We all know people like this. I believe the popular term for them today is “fluff bunnies”.
But the opposite position is no better. When UPG is disparaged and historical proof is the entirety of one’s spirituality, there isn’t much to work with, especially for those of us who revere northern deities. The Eddas? They were written by a Christian, and if we believe them then our gods are not gods at all, they were just mortal Asians who came to Europe long ago and became rather famous. Of course the people who insist on strictly adhering to “the lore” overlook this. They are like the Christians who pick and choose passages from the Bible, only for scriptures they use the work of a man who did not even follow the religion he was writing about.
It annoys me when someone starts whining (as very often happens on Heathen e-lists) about how we know next to nothing about our ancestors’ beliefs and practices – as if this is news to anybody. The whiner usually follows this anouncement with negative comments about what other people are doing – and how they are doing it wrong, because there is no proof that it was done that way. From what I have seen on the internet, it appears that some people live for this. Investing so much time knocking what other Pagans are doing, they must have very sad personal lives.
Yes, there are huge gaps in what we know of PaleoPagan practices. And that is where UPG comes in. Because eventually that unverified personal gnosis will become verified – by our gods, and by our communities. Like our lungs and our livers, we need both UPG and historical evidence if we are to reconstruct healthy, viable spiritual paths for the 21st century.
January 26th, 2012
In the musical Bedknobs & Broomsticks, Angela Landsbury sings:
“You must face the age of not believing
Doubting everything you ever knew
Until at last you start believing
There’s something wonderful in you”
Some of the most passionate beliefs of the 21st century are actually disbeliefs. It seems that we have collectively taken skepticism to a new level; to a point where people are willing and eager to disbelieve anything. There’s nothing new about monotheists desperately disbelieving in all but one deity, or about atheists disbelieving in that deity as well. Now, though, we appear to be conditioned to disbelieve all sorts of things, no matter the contrary evidence.
There are people – intelligent, educated people – who have told me they “disagree” that there were Saxon druids. As if their disbelief somehow obliterates the records of the Anglo-Saxon dryas that have survived in Old English documents.
There are people who do not believe the Holocaust ever took place. Most of these are young people who never knew the men, now dead, who opened the concentration camps and released the surviving victims at the end of WWII.
Just the other day I received a letter from a man who has been wrestling with his “rational doubt” in respect to the old gods. The gods have called to him, but he has been having trouble believing in them. So…you know what I told him?
DON’T BELIEVE IN THEM!
And by this I meant, also, do not disbelieve in the gods, for disbelief is just another form of belief. There is no evidence I’m aware of that belief (and disbelief) are especially significant in any indigenous European religion. What matters are your actions, not your beliefs. Piety is a pattern of behavior, honoring the gods and giving them their due.
Some Christians will claim that their forebears were persecuted in Rome because of their “beliefs”. This is a lie. Why would the Roman government care what they believed? Rome acknowledged literally countless gods and goddesses; one more was like adding a grain of sand to Daytona Beach. No, the early Christians were prosecuted – cruelly, because Rome was often cruel – for their actions. It was their beliefs that they used as an excuse for an assortment of crimes, and their polytheist neighbors were understandably unimpressed.
Yes, I believe in the old gods, but not in the sense of “blind faith”. I believe in them because it’s the only thing that makes sense, given my experiences - and the experiences that thousands of other people have had for thousands of years. It might be more accurate to say that I do not disbelieve in the old gods, because my “belief” is simply acceptance, nothing more or less.
Belief is not necessary or even especially desirable in polytheist religion. What matters is that you set aside disbelief, which, as I have pointed out, is itself a form of belief. Once we get past that “age of not believing”, we really do find that there is something wonderful, not only within us, but in the universe around us.
December 6th, 2011
In November, 2005, I became a member of the international Neo-Pagan religious organization Ár nDraíocht Féin. ADF defines itself as a druidic organization and, in fact, its name is Irish for “Our Own Druidry”. Sometimes ADF seems to have a bit of an identity crisis, as if trying to decide whether it is a Celtic path or if, as it presents itself, it truly does include all Indo-European spiritual cultures.
So far the inclusive identity has always won, and so ADF druids include Pagans from all Indo-European paths: Hellenic, Norse, Irish, Roman, Welsh, Vedic, Slavic and so on. This is why, as a Saxon Pagan, I felt comfortable joining ADF more than six years ago.
However, with or without ADF, I would still identify as a druid. The Celts themselves never used the words “druid” or “druidry”. These came into Modern English from the French language. The Pagan Celts used cognate Gaelic words to describe their priestly-magician caste. Likewise, the Saxons had cognate words for their own druids. In Old English these people were known as the drýes, or drýmenn.
Surviving Old English texts give no reason to believe that the drýes followed a Celtic religion or were of Celtic descent, something that surely would have been mentioned. The drý or drýmann (female, drýicge) was clearly a Saxon druid. We do know that their druidic practices were considered “devilish” by the Christian scribes who mentioned them. One scribe openly described the Saxon druid as ðæt deófles drý (the devil’s druid). We also know that the Saxon druids practiced magic. An Old English text warns, Ðýlæs-ðe se deófol us be dríum máge (lest the devil have power over us by druids), and another, Hí sædon ðæt hío sceolde mid hire drýcræft ða men forbredan (they said that she should overthrow the men with her druid-skills).
“Druid” can mean several things. Today it can refer to any member of Ár nDraíocht Féin, or to at least some members of other modern druidic organizations such as OBOD or AODA. It can also refer to an Irish, Welsh, Scottish or Gallic Pagan who serves his or her community in some way as a priest/magician. And finally, it can refer to a Saxon Pagan who serves his or her community in a similar way.
As a Saxon who has studied and practiced magic for more than forty years, I am proud to be a druid. Proud to be a 21st century drýmann.
November 20th, 2011
Occasionally I am asked what, if anything, is different between what I do and the Seax Wica tradition. There are superficial similarities, and I am on a couple of Seax Wica e-group lists. I can understand the confusion, however there are fundamental differences between my own praxis and that of Seax Wica.
The primary, critical difference is that Wicca is a duotheistic religion. Many Wiccans will deny this – just as the majority spell their religion with two c’s, even though Gerald Gardner and later Buckland spelled it as ‘Wica’ – but Wicca or Wica, as defined by its founder, adheres to Mary Violet Firth’s assertion that there is only one goddess and only one god. With no central authority, there is nothing to stop a self-professed Wiccan from worshipping a dozen distinct deities or from worshipping only one all-encompassing Great Goddess, but neither of these paradigms are truly Wiccan.
Buckland himself emphasizes this in Buckland’s Book of Saxon Witchcraft (p. 21): “Everywhere in Nature is found a system of male and female; because that is the way of the Gods – a God and a Goddess – believe the Witches. No all-male or all-female deity. It is, then, a duotheistic religion.”
I could explain in depth why I am one Witch who does not believe this, but the relevant fact is that I simply do not. I believe in the very real existence of countless gods and goddesses – sovereign spirits – some who I worship, most who I do not. For this reason alone, and for this reason before all others, I cannot define myself as a Seax Wiccan.
The rest of it is more superficial. I do not cast a magic circle before worship, nor do I celebrate esbats. Many of the differences are semantic rather than substantial. On another level, I think that I am less eclectic than the average practitioner of Seax Wica, although that is of course a generalization. Buckland freely admits that Seax Wica is first and foremost a tradition of Wicca and not a reflection of authentic Saxon tradition. In the introduction to the 2005 edition of his book, he says (p. xi): “I was not trying to reconstruct the ancient religion of the Saxons, nor the magic that they employed…What I set out to do was to create a modern form of Wicca…and to make it something with which I, personally, would feel comfortable.”
In contrast to this, I have tried to create a modern, relevant form of Saxon religion…with which I, personally, would feel comfortable! I may have been influenced by Wicca, in the same way that I may have been influenced by my parents’ Presbyterian Christian religion and everything else I have been exposed to over the years, but it is not the foundation of my own Saxon beliefs and practices.
To be honest, it is not beyond imagining to see me someday practicing Seax Wica. It is a positive, life-affirming path. But if that were to happen, I would be something of a heretic, if the Seax tradition can be said to recognize anything like that. I would revere “Freya” by her English title, Fréo, and would acknowledge her and Woden not as the ONLY two deities – not as “the Lord and Lady” – but as the two deities among the Saxon gods who take the most interest in wiccecræft.
In that sense, I could indeed define myself as Seax Wica (or Wicca). But at this time, at least, I do not. Seax Wicca can be said to be a variety of Saxon Paganism, but not all Saxon Pagans are Seax Wiccans.
My Travels through Middle-Earth is proudly powered by
and Comments (RSS).