Monthly Archives: December 2014

Reflections

This is my end of the year post, the last one of 2014. This has been a year of changes, that is for sure. No small measure of good memories, and more than a few losses as well.

So I really wanted to look back, and think about where I am going. Just looking back over the posts for this year, I realize I have come a ways in the last year. I have learned quite a bit, but there is still a lot to learn. I often think about going back to school, getting a Master’s degree or something. Then I look at how expensive it is, and I think better of it. Really, if I am honest, the only reason I want to go back to school is to learn. Not for a better job or some far off career, but for myself. Knowledge for its own sake. Yet, there have to be more economical options out there. It is a sad state of things when good minds (mine is alright I guess) go to waste because of lack of financial resources.

Yet, my learning never stops. Call it an initiation or a milestone, something has been happening the second half of this year. A lot of pieces have fallen into place. Something within me is changing, and I wonder where that will take me. All I know is that there is no going back now.

So, thinking ahead, there is a lot of work ahead of me. I have been thinking lately about what I contribute to the community. Where are my strengths, that kind of thing. I love learning new things, but I have been thinking more lately about how to apply what I have learn. How can I put my knowledge to work, not just for myself, but for others as well? That is something I will be considering in the new year.

 

There are a lot of notes and odds-and-ends writing laying about. From this blog and from other places. Maybe there is a book in there somewhere. I just have to start putting it together.

Yet, sometime I feel like I can’t write down everything I have learned. Somethings, like hands on work for example, just don’t translate well to writing. They need to be learned from a mentor, in the real world, not from the written word. That makes me think about teaching again. I used to do some classes before, but they never felt quite right to me. I never felt like I was any good at it. Maybe that is something to consider as well.

As my last words this year, I really do want to thank all my readers. You guys are really what make writing worth while. Sure, I love writing and wouldn’t stop even if you all hated me… Please don’t hate me, I didn’t mean that.

It just that, knowing people enjoy my work really means a lot to me. So thanks a million!

Well, I am signing off for 2014.

See you all in 2015!


Initiations, Bears and Rituals Part 4

The second source I wish to discuss from the article is the Viitasaari Text.  As Haggerty points out himself points out  the Viitasaari Text is a seventeenth century narrative in which a local bishop describes what he has witnessed of local cultic practices. From this text, and a few poems from other sources, we get the basic idea of how bears were hunted. Note the similarities between this basic narrative structure and that of the Kalevala.

” It (the hunt) was done by approaching the lair of the bear and preparing to kill it upon awakening it from its winter hibernation. Once the hunters are prepared the den is broken open and the bear is killed by a single thrust with a spear or later a single shot from a bow or gun.

It is thought that the bear is dazzled by the sudden bright light and shock, which awakens it making the kill relatively devoid of danger if preformed correctly.

The location of the bear is tracked by the hunters while it is near their village. If the bear then makes a winter den nearby, the hunters mark this so they can find the bear later.

It is thought that this practice helped associate the bear hunt, kill and subsequent ceremony with midwinter. The bear also acts as a living source of guaranteed food in the harsh northern winters.”(Haggerty, pgs 43 – 44)

This is a good lead into another piece I stumbled across recently, concerning the bear hunts. It also discusses the bear in context of the Sami.  The author of the article is Brandon Bledsoe. I love the quote he prefaces his article with.

“There is an ancient belief that the bear is in communication with the lord of the mountains and with the sky, and certainly he has from time immemorial been surrounded by an aura which enjoins caution and respect.
-Ivar Lissner, Man, God and Magic, (p.163)”

Bledsoe then goes into a discussion of how the bear rituals serves multiples functions in a society; ”

  1. Religious Level – The bear ceremony is a form of communication with the supernatural world…
  2. Economic Level – This belief-system is the result of a perceived need for reciprocity with nature. Success in hunting and fishing is dependent on the good will of the bear that rules over the reproduction of animals (Shnirelman, 9)
  3. Psychological Level – In hunter-gatherer societies there is a certain amount of guilt associated with killing animals. The level of guilt may be greater when it is necessary to kill an animal that is seen as being more anthropomorphic or rare. The bear ceremony is performed in order to pacify the bear’s vengeful spirit.”

Then the author sets out the hunt as performed by the Sami; ”

  1. Departure for the forest. Bear hunting usually takes place during the hibernatory season, late winter or early spring. Once a den has been located the hunters are assembled, the Noajdde and his drum are consulted, and they then depart for the forest. The one who has located the bear takes the lead. He holds a staff with a brass ring attached to it. A Noajdde usually follows him and precedes the hunter elected to strike first.
  2. The Hunt. The one who located the bear is sent into the den to awaken it. The Sami were known to have used firearms, bow and arrow, lances or spears, and even axes as a means of slaying the bear. The animal was not attacked directly if a spear was being used, the weapon was held in reverse until the beast began its attack and impaled itself.
  3. Birching the bear. After the bear has been killed they drag it out from the lair and begin to whip it with soft twigs or birch branches. “A switch is twisted into the form of a ring which is fastened to the lower jaw of the bear. It is tied to the belt of the principal bear-killer; the latter pulls at it three times singing (joiking) in a peculiar tone that he has become the bears master” (Karsten, 116)
  4. The Bear Master returns. When the hunters return to the sijdda their wives greet them by spitting elder bark juice in their faces. The principal bear-killer brings the ring to his goahte, knocking three times at the door. If the bear is female he calls out s–ive neit (holy virgin), if the animal is male he shouts s–ive olmai (holy man) The bear master’s wife keeps the ring in a linen cloth until after the ceremonial meal.
  5. The Feast. It was customary for the men to prepare and cook the bear meat in a specially erected goahte that no woman could enter. Women must cover their heads and during the next five days can only look at the bear killer through a brass ring. After this prescribed period of three days, the bear’s skin is stretched out in the center of the banquet area where various libations of tobacco and foodstuff are offered to its spirit. After an apologetic speech is given the feast of bear meat begins.
  6. Ringing Him in. After the feast the ring is removed and the women and children attach pieces of a brass chain to it, which is then tied to the bears tail. Next, the ring is given to the men who bury it with the bones. Great care is taken to ensure that the bones are arranged in their original form.
  7. Immunizing the women. Finally, the skin is laid out on a stump and the blindfolded wives of the bear slayers take turns shooting at it with arrows.

This last feature is the most outstanding of the Sami ritual. Special care must be taken to guard women and children against the bear’s vengeful spirit. By shooting the carcass they conquer this fear.”

Really, what can I add here? This article is already kind of long…

The next part of this series will be coming next week.

References;

http://www.utexas.edu/courses/sami/diehtu/siida/religion/bear.htm


Initiations, Bears and Rituals Part 3

Interesting things are afoot, but there is little to say about that at the moment. There is a lot going on, but I am not sure I am ready to talk about it all just yet. So, I move on to the third part of this series.

In his discussion of Finno-Karelian sources, and the Bear Cult; Haggerty has this to say;

“The Bear Cult is scholarly shorthand for a belief system which, at it’s height in the stone age, and into the bronze age, was prevalent not only in Scandinavia and northern Europe but likely extended around the northern zones of the entire northern hemisphere. It is possible that it is the oldest know religion across the Eurasian continent.” (Haggerty, pg 40)

Several sources are presented for evidence of the Bear Cult, of which I will discuss two here. The first is The Kalevala, which was compiled by Lönnrot in the nineteenth century as a national epic, which he created from collected oral poetry as he journeyed across Finland. Here is a stripped down version of one story of Väinämöinen, the old man that is a hero in the Kalevala. I need to dive into the Kalevala a little deeper, but this is one of my favorite stories so far.

” Louhi is a witch and she conjurers a bear to attack Väinämöinen’s village. The old man knows this is going to happen and has the craftsman Ilmarinen make a spear with which he could kill the bear. Väinämöinen enters the forest outside the village looking for the bear. He then recites the charms of a bear hunter before killing the bear, while declaiming responsibility for his actions.

The dead bear is then brought back to the village in such a fashion where the spirit of the bear is still considered to be alive. The bear is accepted ceremoniously into the village as a benign spirit and guest of the villagers. Continuing to praise the bear, Väinämöinen brings its body into a house in the village and treats it with the utmost respect. The bear is then skinned and its meat cooked and a fine meal is prepared which is to form part of a wedding ceremony for the bear’s spirit.

While the preparations are being made, Väinämöinen informs those present of the origin of the bear among the heavens, how it came to the human world and especially of the bear’s relationship to the personified female spirit of the forest. He tells of how the bear got it’s attributes such as teeth and claws.

Once this is done Väinämöinen ritually takes these attributes from the skull of the bear and takes the numinous power associated with these attributes to enhance his own. After the attributes of the bear are transferred to Väinämöinen, he leads the bear spirit away from the village and tells of how he ceremoniously attached the skull of the bear to a pine tree, in a particular position, which was pleasing to the bear’s spirit.” (Haggerty Pgs 42 – 43)

In some way, this story helps to outline a lot of my own practices. I have prayers, rites, and charms for before I go out to hunt. Also, once the kill is taken, I do my best to treat the spirit of the animal with honor and reverence. Respect for the remains as well as the spirit are important, just like the bear in the story. Also, and this is something I will likely develop more later, I am finding that some of these attributes can be adopted for spiritual work.

I think the last part is the most interesting, the skull being attached to the tree. It makes me think about some of the archaeological sites I have read about, especially one in Denmark where a reindeer (I think?) was found attached to a post, near a bog that contained more than a few reindeer remains. Certainly plenty to chew on…

Happy Holidays!

 

 


Concerning Initiations

I really hesitated about posting this blog. It is a little more personal than my normal posts. Still, it feels right, so here we go. Thoughts and advice would be appreciated.

So I’ve been writing about initiations lately, mostly because I have been thinking a lot about initiations. The reason I have been thinking a lot about initiations is that I might just be going through one.

I cannot understate much when I say this has been a year of changes. I started working with my wolf as well as with Skadi. Those two have brought plenty of changes with them. With these changes have come lessons. Some were fine, others were tough ones to learn. Or to unlearn.

That is just the beginning. I got a new job, one I enjoy. My wife and became homeowners. I lost my mother to cancer. Another family member is sick in the hospital with a similar type of cancer. My sister was in a pretty serious car accident. Thankfully she is alright. The car, much less so.

It has been a mental, physical, and emotional rollercoaster for me.

So many threads coming together. All around me, ensnaring me. I feel like a knot in the web.

I was talking with a mentor lately, and he really liked that metaphor. He said to me that, while I might want to separate these things, they might all be connected. They might be part of… whatever is going on right now.

I pulled some cards to try and make sense of what is going on. The one that really stuck we me was a card that covers lies and deception. The question is, of what kind? I am the one being deceived? Is it denial or wishful thinking? It could go either way.

This was followed by cards of reconciliation and me, as the journeyer. I asked for clarification, and pulled the card for empowerment. I felt the message was pretty clear, so I went to put the cards away.

One more falls out as I do, face down. With a great anxiety, I turned it over.

It was the card for initiations.

Sometimes, they get straight to the point.

Really, I am still working on confirming and validating things. At the suggestion of my mentor, I asked my gods, ancestors and spirits for physical confirmation. An omen of some sort, one that was outside of myself. That way, I would know it was the will of the spirits, and not just the ghosts in my head.

I was out walking around our property, making introductions and such, when I came across a pile of plaster and debris. I figured I’d be a good neighbor to the spirits, and pick up some trash. There was a broken sea shell under the plaster. A hawk flew over at about the same time… A Cooper’s hawk I think. I didn’t see a red tail. I took the shell in the house to show my wife. She looks at it, and without hesitation, says; “That’s your confirmation.” She gets insights like that sometimes.

She said to me later she thinks this has been a long time coming.

Honestly, I thought I’d be happier about it. Rather, I feel scared, anxious. I have had plenty of challenges this year. At the same time, the idea of an initiation scares the royal shit out of me. My life is just getting back to some semblance of normal. Now this…

I am working on validations, or rebukes, as the case may be. I have to get a couple of blind readings, to get more of an idea either way. By the way, those that have read this are disqualified from said readings. You know too much…

Don’t take it too hard though, most of you were disqualified by the requests of the spirits… It seems I may have to go out of my comfort zone for a true “blind” reading. Runes have been specifically mentioned as a no-no, from multiple sources. Sorry Sarenth…

It is what it is.

Anyways, I’ll likely be writing more about it as things go on…

 


Initiations, Bears, and Rituals Part 2

We will start with updates. There is a lot on my mind lately. More books forming in my head, and more projects to keep my hands busy. The book I finished recently was based on a similar idea as the Dresden Files and the Kitty Norville books. They will be episodic in nature. I have finished writing the first in the series. I already have the second book forming in my head.

Also, I have been thinking about the trilogy I finished last year. I am thinking about revisiting it, and maybe shifting it from alternative history to full fantasy. I just don’t like it as is.

I have also been playing with the idea of writing some kind of pagan introduction book of some sort. Still not a lot fleshed out in that regard. It might happen, and it might not.

Also, I found out today that my submission for the Walking the Worlds journal was rejected. A little disappointing I’ll admit, but I’ll probably just recycle it into a series of blog entries. Even writing it, I felt there was a great deal more to say.  So it might just appear here with extended commentary.

On to Part 2. Here is skeleton of the relevant narrative from the Völsungasaga;

“Sigurd is the son of Sigmund and Hjordis. After Sigmund’s death, Sigurd is fostered by man called Regin. Regin tells Sigurd that he must kill the dragon Fafnir to acquire wealth and glory as he claims that Sigurd has no independent wealth of his own as it is controlled by the Kings of Denmark.

Regin proceeds to tell Sigurd the story of his family and why he wants Sigurd to kill Fafnir. Sigurd agrees to kill Fafnir for Regin, but only once his father is avenged. Regin makes three swords in preparation for Sigurd. The first two swords break and only the third made with the pieces of Sigurd’s father Sigmund’s sword is sufficient. Once the sword is acquired, Regin leads Sigurd to the lair of Fafnir. Regin runs to hide.

Odin appears to Sigurd and tells him how to kill Fafnir. Sigurd digs trenches to lie in to stab Fafnir from underneath and also for the dragon’s blood to run into. Fafnir is killed with a single stab from Sigurd. However, a brief discussion happens while the dragon dies. Sigurd is granted knowledge of the dragon’s hoarded wealth but also burdens him with a magical curse. Regin rejoins Sigurd and drinks the blood of the dragon, then has Sigurd cook the heart of the dragon for him.

While Sigurd is cooking the heart he tastes some of the blood which gives him supernatural knowledge – the understanding of the speech of birds. He takes the advice of the birds he overhears and eats more of the heart himself to gain supernatural powers, then kills Regin who the birds reveal is going to betray Sigurd. Once Regin is killed, Sigurd takes possession of the hoard of Fafnir including the supernatural Helm of Terror.

After acquiring the wealth of Fafnir, Sigurd travels onwards and meets the valkyrie Brynhildr. After Sigurd has freed her from her bonds Brynhildr grants him supernatural knowledge in the form of runes which she recounts as verse, and then offers further wisdom through normal speech. At the end of the chapter Sigurd and Brynhildr promise to marry each other and then Sigurd leaves.” (Haggerty, pgs 11 – 14)

Once again, we see a slaying of some foe, in this case Fafnir the dragon. Like in the last story, we see the hero gaining knowledge and power from the blood of the dead dragon. Also, at least in material wealth, we see the hero going from no “worth” of his own, as the king has it all, to possessor of a dragon hoard. He also gains supernatural treasure and knowledge along the way. There are interesting parallels between this story and the last. These are discusses more thoroughly in the article itself, and will not be recounted here.

In the next part of this series, we will move a discussion of the Bear Cult, and the sources of Finland and Karelia.


Letter to a New Spirit Worker

The Road, the Walker, and What Comes Next

Dear you,

I can’t imagine what you are experiencing right now because your growth process is unlike any others. This is the first and greatest and perhaps most difficult lesson of all: You walk this path alone. You will have allies and companions and perhaps even friends along the way who will offer support and care but you will always ultimately be alone. This truth is difficult to manage but becoming comfortable with solitude will give you the mental space required to puzzle out the challenges that come ahead. Your longing for teachers and mentors is not just a desire for guidance or meaning or even instruction; it is a desire for validation and empirical support as well as the comfort of someone pointing out what you have done well and what you need to improve on. This will not happen. Whatever teachers and mentors this path makes available to…

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Initiations, Bears, and Rituals Part 1

This series is drawn from the article Initiation Rituals in Old Norse Texts and their Relationship to Finno-Karelian Bear Cult Rituals by James Haggerty. The article itself is a long one, and here I am only discussing selections that are of interest to me. Interested parties will need to read the article for themselves, after all it is not my work.

I wanted to discuss this article because it touches upon a lot of themes and ideas that have been a regular part of this blog. Moving on…

In the article, Haggerty analyses several different narratives, and the possibility that they may represent initiation rituals.

The two Old Norse sources discussed in the article are the Hrólfs saga kraka ok kappa hans and the Völsungasaga. The Hrolf saga is thought to be from the 12th or 13th century, and the Völsungasaga is thought to be based on poetry from the Elder Edda. Haggerty offers summaries of both narratives. To get this series started, here is a stripped down version of the Hrolf’s saga, as a selection from Haggerty’s article.

“Bödvar is the son of a woman and a bear. Bödvar, the younger of three brothers, is the last to leave his mothers home having remained longer to see his dead father avenged. On leaving home he acquires his inheritance, a magic sword, left by his father in the cave where the latter lived as a bear. Bödvar travels onwards and meets first his eldest brother who has the legs of an elk, Bödvar fights his brother amicably and upon losing, his brother instructed him to drink blood from his leg so Bödvar might increase his power. Bödvar continues on his journey and on the way to the hall of King Hrolf he meets the peasant mother of Hottr, a boy she says is being mistreated by Hrolf’s warriors. Having grown in strength, Bödvar eventually arrives at the hall of King Hrolf where he finds the warriors of the king and Hottr.

Bödvar after meeting Hottr takes him from underneath a pile of discarded bones and washes him in a nearby body of water, after which Bödvar sets Hottr on a bench in the hall beside him. When the warriors see this they continue to mistreat Hottr by throwing bones at him and Bödvar, the latter protecting Hottr, catches a large bone and throws it back at the man who threw it, causing his death. This action brings Bödvar to the attention of King Hrolf who makes Bödvar one of his warriors under the agreement that Bödvar and Hottr can sit at the bench nearest to the king.

An animal approaches the hall at Yuletide. Hottr tells Bödvar that this is a regular event and that the beast causes great destruction. Hrolf orders none of his men to go against the animal so they do not throw their lives away. Bödvar, taking Hottr with him sneaks out of the hall in the night to go against the beast, Hottr being too afraid, is left cowering on the heath while Bödvar kills the animal.  After the animal is dispatched Bödvar has Hottr drink of the beasts blood and eat of its heart.

After doing this Hottr feels a new strength and the two prop the animal up as if it were still alive and return to the hall. The next morning, when the king asks who will go against the animal, Bödvar volunteers Hottr for the task. To general astonishment Hottr accepts and proceeds to go against the animal if he can claim a sword named Goldenhilt from King Hrolf. This is agreed upon and Hottr ‘kills’ the animal, while Hrolf reveals he knows the truth, he is pleased that Bödvar has created a strong man out of Hottr. When Hottr has successfully completed the task, he is rewarded by Hrolf with the new name of Hjalti and becomes a warrior of similar standing to Bödvar at the hall.” (Haggerty, pgs 9 – 11)

Bödvar is said to be the son of a woman and a bear. That right there points to animism already present in this story, as well as a connection with the bear. However, it is Hottr that Haggerty thinks is going through an initiation. He starts off symbolically “dead”, being under a pile of bones. He is a man of no social worth, and is the subject of mockery and contempt. However, with Bödvar’s help, Hottr become a man of knowledge and strength, after drinking the animal blood. This earns him his worth, and a place in society. It even earns him a new name, Hjalti. I think the new name, is one of the clear indications that this might be an initiation.

In the next part of this series I will turn to the story of Sigurd from the Völsungasaga. Bear (see what I did there?) with me, as this series is going to be a longer one. I will be looking at narratives, ritual, initiations, and you guessed it, bears.