When a Name is Unnecessary

May 17th, 2015

The other day a man asked me the name of my path, and I jokingly told him it was Bob, because the idea of naming my spirituality with any more precision than “Saxon Pagan” or “Saxon Heathen” seems pointless to me.  He said that he liked what I’ve had to say in my books, and suggested that he might start telling people he follows the Alarician Saxon tradition.  To that I could only respond with two words:

Please don’t.

First of all, Alarician sounds silly.  But more to the point, using that name is sort of contrary to what the Alarician tradition is all about.  If you want to follow a path similar to mine, then don’t box yourself in with contrived boundaries.  I certainly don’t.  Am I Wiccan?  I guess so, if you want to call me that.  My coven identifies as Seax Wiccan, and we honor Woden and Frige as master and mistress of the old ways, but that’s where most of the resemblance to Wicca ends.  We don’t call quarters.  We are true polytheists, believing in many gods and goddesses, not just two.  There’s no question that we’re wiccan (witches) but whether we’re Wiccan depends on your definition.

I’ve also been asked if I’m theodish, which is another label I neither embrace or deny.  Theodish is simply an old word for tribalist, and I’ve met very few people who are more tribalist than I.  Once I decide you’re my folk, you’re stuck with me.  But I’ve never been part of a Theodish-identified group.  I agree with the Theodish position that the tribe is important, but I don’t think a person really has to be part of a tribe.  My inhíred, Earendel, is undoubtedly theodish in spirit, but we are much less formal about it.

So my coven is Wiccan and my inhíred is theodish, but my coven and inhíred aren’t constrained by those labels, and neither term defines my spiritual path.  Nor does “Alarician”, except in the most general sense that I, Alaric, am going to live and worship in the way I believe is right.  I don’t think my path needs to be set aside with its own special name.  I am a Saxon Pagan.  By that I mean I’m a polytheist whose inspiration comes from the early English people.  And that should be enough definition.

Beltane at Holendun

May 4th, 2015

Of course I’m using the word Beltane in a very modern generic sense.  My folk are predominantly Anglo-Saxon in our spirituality, not Gaelic or Gallic or Welsh.  Nevertheless we often use the word Beltane for our May Day celebrations welcoming the warm, bright months of summer, and I don’t think this confuses anyone.

People began arriving around 1:30 in the afternoon.  We caught up on what was happening in everybody’s lives while I sewed up the “head” for our effigy of Jack Barleycorn, and Diane and Jason sewed up small pouches of red cloth for spells we would be working later in the evening.  Our dogs – all of them together – ran around in the house and yard, delighted to have the whole pack together.  Like us humans, the dogs love these tribal gatherings.  Well, all except for Chewie, who lives with Diane.  Chewie’s ambivalent about the whole thing.

When everything was ready we assembled Jack.  This is a long-standing tradition with us.  “Long” meaning since the mid-1990’s, which in Neo-Pagan culture is practically ancient.  Our Jack Barleycorn effigy is a scarecrow, in jeans and a flannel shirt, a representation of the life of the land.  Earlier, while I sewed the scarecrow’s head, Taren cut squares of cloth, and each of us stitched a rune on a cloth to symbolize what we want to bring into our lives.  (No, I’m not telling what rune I chose – that would break the spell!)  After the scarecrow was built, we attached our runes to various parts of his body.  Then he was raised to where he will stand until this coming Hallows.

After this, we went to the fire pit and held a húsel for the elves.  The fire was large and blazing and hot as we gave offerings of flowers, mead and cheese.  And by the time the fire outside burned down, the chicken roasting in the oven indoors was done, and so we followed the húsel with a May Day feast as we watched the original version of the 1972 film, “The Wicker Man”.

In the evening the dynamic of our group changed slightly, for not all of the folk of Earendel are part of my coven.  Those who are gathered under the Thrimilci moon to work magic.  Spells were cast, we gave praise to Woden and Frige, and the circle was eventually closed.  Some very tired dogs went home with their very tired humans, and we soon went off to bed here at Holendun as well.

Summer has come.

May Day

April 26th, 2015

Summer is a-comin’ in!

Today Sunne’s rays of light are almost palpable.  Daffodils bloom throughout the back yard.  The garden is partially tilled now, almost ready for planting tomatoes, squash and corn.  The grass is thick and green.

Next weekend will be a busy time for us here at Holendun.  Earendel, my spiritual family, will celebrate the coming of summer with praise and offerings to the elves.  We will feast and, as we have for years now, we will build a scarecrow representing Jack Barleycorn.  That in itself would be a full and satisfying weekend.

But wait, there’s more, because the Thrimilci moon grows full.  In the Saxon calendar this is the “Three-Milkings Moon”, so called because cattle had to be milked thrice each day at this time of the year.  The name reflects the abundance of the season.  And so my coven will be gathering, as we do each month when the moon is full.  Magic is in our plans, at this inherently magical transition between winter and summer.

What will you be doing for May Day?

Seasonal Magic

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.

Joy Unseen

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.

Eternal Circles

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.

Eostre – The Facts vs the Myths

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.

Glæd Eostre!

Positive vs Negative

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.

Community

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.

Disablers

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.

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