Monthly Archives: January 2015

On Infrastructure

The Wild Hunt has posted an article on a topic that has been on my mind for some time, the topic of infrastructure in the various interconnected communities of paganism. It reminds me alot of the article I talked about some time ago by Keith Parsons. He claims that paganism will be “non-institutional.” To elaborate on this idea, he has this to say;

“Will pagans build churches and hold weekly meetings, while bored kids squirm, exasperated moms reproach, and anxious dads check their watches to see how long to kickoff time?  I hope not.

As I see it, pagans would form informal communities, like the early Christians. In general, the aim of pagan religiosity would be to return a sense of enchantment and delight in the experience of the natural world…”

Ok, my thoughts on this are kind of mixed. On the one side, I think it is worth re-quoting from the Wild Hunt article.

” “We need Temples. Urgently. It brings us together as a community and we certainly need that. … I can’t imagine anything that would make me happier than to one day go to a Temple with my husband and children and bow before the statues of the gods. I crave so badly for the restoration of Paganism to the glory it once had. There is no structure, and I think we need that. We need structure, we need community.” ” – Hendrik Venter

I agree, we do need temples. Places for community worship, and homes for our gods and spirits. At the same time, I am fairly nature-centric person myself, so I openly question the need for mega structures and things like that. Personally, I am of the line of thought that says that “the forest is my temple,” and this makes me wonder if what paganism needs is large structures like the Hindu temple example?

On that line of thought, here is another quote from the Wild Hunt;

“Not all, over most, Pagans want temples or community centers or libraries. They most certainly don’t want to pay for clergy. For them such things either simply aren’t needed or they’re even seen as a spiritual detriment. “My temple is a forest,” has almost become a Pagan maxim.

Dr. Kimberly Kirner, Department of Anthropology at California State University, Northridge, says, “expanding infrastructure isn’t necessary if we keep a small, home-based meeting model and don’t mind that groups often die rapidly and then reform as something else. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” ”

This hits on a couple of things I think are rather important. On the topic of “my temple is a forest” we need to maintain the natural areas that we deem are our temples. Conservation is a big thing here. Forests need to be preserved, biodiversity protected. If every pagan adopted an acre of public or private land, and helped to preserve it, that would be significant. The Wild Hunt article said there are approximately 1.2 million pagans and heathens in US. That would be 1.2 million acres of land under stewardship. It would be like a pagan equivalent of “Adopt a Highway”.

Personally, I envision a world not unlike the one portrayed in My Neighbor Totoro. Where old trees are also places of worship, and things like stone spirit houses and roadside shrines are a common, as well as accepted part of our society.

The second point is, that the small, home-based model is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in my opinion, paganism starts in the home. We don’t seek out converts, and often our families are also often our communities. This also allows for a multi-generational transmission of traditions and beliefs. This is a really important point, and essential for the survival of our ideas and traditions.

In addition, small groups dying and reforming isn’t a bad thing either. I have been through several groups that imploded for various reasons. All of them were learning experiences, and I will carry those lessons on. In a way, that kind of structure allows for a more fluid and dynamic social network.

At the same time, the home cannot be the end all for paganism. Some of us were not raised in pagan homes, and interested seekers might not be either. Regardless of upbringing, some will change paths, and they will start looking for resources.  That is where the next level comes in, things like local shops and local community. I cannot stress enough the value of local metaphysics shops. We have one where I live called The Wandering Owl, and it is a regular meeting place for discussion, classes, and other resources. This makes a wider network outside the home. That is an important part of the infrastructure that is needed.

In summary, I think we do need infrastructure, and in some ways we are already laying the foundations. The various communities are growing, and they will need support. Newcomers will need access to good information, and methods for transmitting between generations is a must. Many foundations have already been laid, but there is still a lot to do. The question we must ask ourselves, is what form that infrastructure is going to take?


Reflections and Initiations

I just noticed with my last post that this blog is coming up on 100 posts. That is really odd for me to think about. This blog started back in 2011, when I was a strapping young man just out of college. I had big ideas, and I was going to change the world!

Then life happened….

As part of my personal reflection, I have been going back through this blog, revisiting my old thoughts and posts. A lot has changed since this blog first began. I got married, I got a house, I lost my mom. Those are the big ones. Spiritually, I have considered a lot of new ideas, and thrown plenty of old ones out. I have learned, grown, and taken a few steps forward, and a few steps back.

All reminiscing aside, I have been very reflective lately. About many things. To start with, 100 posts. At an average of a thousand words a piece, this blog is probably around 100,000 words, more or less. Now as a writer, I realize that is not a lot. That is only about half my annual word count. But its a big deal to me. Besides, if you think about it, 100,000 words is more than enough for a decent sized book.

Which is one of my projects for this year. I want to get started on that book. No, I’m not going to just recycle my blogs into a book. That is lazy, and insulting to my integrity as a writer. There is plenty of good material in my blogs, and elsewhere, and I am going to distill it all down, recycle it, and see what comes out. I have no idea what the final project may look like. In a way, it will be like a long meditation on where I came from and where I am going.

So where I am going? There is quite a bit of new material on the way. Currently, my notes alone are enough to fill up two months worth of weekly posts, and I am just getting started. There is still plenty of digesting to do, and new resources are consistently popping out of the woodwork.

As far as my spiritual path goes, I definitely get the feeling I have been led to this point. Now that all my confirmations are in place, I think I can say with confidence that I have/am going through an initiation. It is something I am still reluctant to admit. Yet, all signs point to yes. I am still not sure what I am being initiated into, but that is where the spirits are leading me.

Which brings me to the story. I have been doing some journey work to help make sense of everything that is going on. The results have been interesting to say the least. I will start with the first.

I took a doe this year, so I went about the work to make sure it rejoins the cycle of renewal. I followed the doe through the woods, and came to a grove. In the centered of the grove, was two large, and rather strange trees. Yet, as I came closer to them, I realized they were not trees, but old and moss covered antlers. I was standing on the head of a giant deer.

The giant deer was an ancient ancestor, a guardian of deer-kind. The doe pranced joyfully about the grove. The great deer spoke, spoke to my very soul. The voice resonated, echoed, deep with tones of time. The message was that, I owed the great deer a debt. I had to pay a price for the doe I had slain, that because I had taken one under its care, I now owed the great deer a favor.

The big one neglected to say what that favor might be. A bit of a tricky place if you ask me.

In addition, the little doe now is a spirit I work with. I wonder if working with her is part of working off my debt? I am not certain at this point.

I spoke with Skadi after this event, and she said the implications are immense. Basically, if I want to work with other animal spirits, I may have to hunt them. Oh….

That was the first notable journey. The second, started with me launching to the top of a great tree. I launched out the top, and fell down upon a spiked branch, and there I was impaled. As this is not a terribly normal, nor comfortable position, it was a bit shocking. Skadi was sitting on a branch near to me. She asked; “Have you figured it out yet?”

On another branch, dangling his feet, sat an old man. He asked if I had figured it out yet.

On several branches below me, sat others. They also asked if I had figured it out yet.

Now, I know what you are thinking, but it wasn’t who you think. It was not Odin. It was Väinämöinen. It came as a bit of a shock.

Skadi then informed me that I would be working and traveling with the old man for a while. The long and short of it is that he had things to teach me that Skadi couldn’t. I still have my obligations to her, and plenty of work to do there. But now, it seems I am getting more homework as well.

It is rather mind-boggling. The Kalevala, and other Finnish sources, have been on my reading list for some time. It is difficult to see these things as coincidence. Why would this old man come to me just as I start my readings of his stories.

Sometimes all I can do is shake my head at the strange webs I find myself in.

Anywho, plenty more to come!

Coming out of Hiding….

I needed to hibernate for a while, it was necessary. Now, obviously, I am starting to peek my head out again. I am starting to write again, and ignored projects are starting to clamor once more for mental space. So, I am going to start putting words to page once more.

Which, I am sure you guessed, also includes this blog. During my time in hibernation, aside from sorting out some things, I have been reading and doing research. I have two great sources that I am going to be working my way through in the coming weeks/months.

The first is the Kalevala, the 19th century Finnish national epic. It has been on my reading list for some time, so now I am going through it and will share my thoughts here. It is chock full of goodies, to be honest. Being a book, I will be working through it with a series of posts, instead of just one or two.

The second is the Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela. This 669 page work represents thirty + years worth of work by the author, and it is dense. Once again, chock full of goodies. I have not read all the way through it, but just the parts that interested me most. To be honest, I expect to get a good couple of months worth of posts out of this one. It is one of those sources that just “speaks” to you. I have skimmed several parts already that just make me so happy to see another put them into words.

Really, since the FFA draws a great deal from the Kalevala, I think it appropriate that the two sources  are discussed in parallel, if not together. As I write out the next series of posts, I may draw from one, the other, or both.

The first thing about the Finnish sources, is how markedly different they are from the Norse sources. As I have commented before, the Norse sources are the product of a warrior culture. The warriors were the focus of the stories. According the Norse creation myth, one of the first things the gods do is slay the giant Ymir. The Finnish sources are quite a bit different, something I will explore more in the coming posts. So, I leave you with a quote from Sarmela, commenting along the same lines;

” Compared to ancient Scandinavian sagas, militancy and violence are almost totally absent from the archaic poetry of the Finnish people.”

Ah, it is good to be back… Plenty more on the way!

Going into Hiding

I think I am going to take a break from the blog for a while. For those of you that follow this blog, you realize that I do this from time to time. I am not leaving the blogging world, I just need a bit of a break.

The truth is, things are piling up kind of quickly, and I need some time to sort it all out. I am going to do more writing and research outside of the blog, so when I come back to it I will have lots of fresh material for you all.

Also, I am thinking about starting a book based upon a lot of what I write about here. In truth, I often struggle with what to post here sometimes. I often feel like I am just going to spoil whatever book I decide to write, by writing about it here first. But at the same time, books are often more detailed and more in depth then blogs. So maybe it is time to write that book, whatever it may be. I have already started to compose a bibliography.

I also have plenty of other projects to rewrite, edit and publish. So there is that too.

I think more about each day what I have to contribute to the various communities. What are my skills, and my unique strengths. What do I bring to the “table”? That is something I will be thinking about during my brief respite. Just a few preliminary thoughts, I am an idea person. I get great joy out of sorting through information and making sense out of it all. I love learning.

Sure, that is part of the reason I began this blog in the first place. To give me a space to sort through ideas and information. Let’s face it, with the internet especially, there has been an explosion of information, in paganism, and in a lot of other areas. The communities need people that enjoy that kind of thing. People like me, to sort through all the information, and help to pass it on to the next generation.

At the same time, I am also a practical person. Not only do I get a kick out of learning, and making sense of information. I also enjoy putting it to work. To take an idea, and put it into practice. That is also something I enjoy. That is often one of my criteria for “good” and “bad” information. Is it useful? Can it be put to work? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for knowledge for its own sake and loving learning just because. But in some ways, even more than that, I love putting all that knowledge and learning to work. To take an idea, and bring it into the world. There is great pleasure in that.

That is where my creative drive comes in. I love making things, by hand and by brain. I love stories, and story telling. Not just writing, but orally as well. One thought I had was maybe doing a podcast or something. Some way I can work on the oral aspect of storytelling. That is something I want to do better.

To come back to where I started, What do I have to contribute? That is something I am going to be thinking during my few weeks off. I think I will come back to this in February sometime. So I will see you all on the other side.

I will not be going full hermit, and will still be checking this blog regularly, as well as email and other things. So don’t be afraid to reach out to me. Maybe there are things you would like me to consider. Questions to ask, hmmm?

Anyways, see you all on the other side.

Concerning Initiations, Part 2

Alright, so here is an update on this topic. I have had one blind reading so far, and a noted lack of sleep at the current moment. In some way, I was really hoping the reading would show I was full of shit. That this was all in my head, wishful thinking, or what have you.

The results were quite the opposite. While the reader and I share very different paths and philosophies, he compared it to attaining the 2nd Degree in his tradition. While I don’t share the same tradition, I am not even sure I have what might be called a tradition. I’ll come back to that.

As my reader put it, I have learned about the tools, now I need to find out if I know how to use them. I might be butchering the metaphor, but he said it would be something like having my altar/tools scattered in a dark cave with a monster coming to eat me. In short, I am going to find out if I can use what I have learned.

Which is something I have been thinking about lately. How can I put what I have learned so far to work? I am still working on that bit.

Coming back to the “tradition” bit, so far, I have been mostly spirit taught. As I’ve talked before, I really don’t have much of a relationship with the gods. That is not something that comes easy to me. As far as my own path goes, it is mostly defined by my ancestors, and the spirits I work with. The ancestors are pretty much the foundation and the center of my practice, and the spirits are a close second.

As such, driven by my ancestors, my path roams through the spheres of animism, heathenism, paganism, shamanism, folklore, anthropology and other spheres as well. At the same time, I don’t really claim myself to be any of these things. I don’t really consider myself a heathen except in the broad sense, same with pagan. Part of that depends on how you defines those thing, of course. The point is, there is not ONE that fits perfectly. In some way, my path is what I make it. Also, I am still walking it, and that is a journey of discovery in an of itself. In some way, it is MY path, and I alone walk it.

Then there are the dreams. I have not been sleeping well, and the dreams have been part of that. I have no real experience with anything dream related. Generally, I sleep pretty well, and if I dream, it is not something I remember. That is not been the case the last couple of weeks. I am having a lot of dreams. Some are weird and nonsensical. Some might have meaning. I have no real idea. The only thing I know is that I am really tired most days. Really, very tired.

I have been thinking about taking a break from this blog for a bit. I have been being led/pushed in a few different directions lately. It has led me to really rethink some things I believe. I need some time to process, and a weekly blog isn’t receptive to that.

Yet, I haven’t made up my mind just yet. So until next week!

Initiations, Bears and Rituals Part 5

Haggerty discusses the presence of animism in some of his sources, and that is something I do want to discuss.

As Haggerty points out, by proxy of the work of other scholars; “…The wearing of masks allows an individual to ritually take on characteristics of an animal or of a god – whatever the mask represents. There is little reason that this cannot extend to the wearing of animal skins, which is evocative of Sigmund and Sinfjolti running as wolves. Jennbert argues that the line between humans and animals in Old Norse texts appears to be “…ambivalent and capable of being stretched in various ways.” She goes on to suggest that “Hybrid beings and the symbiosis between animal and human could this be expected to play a highly concrete role in rituals…” ” (Haggerty, pg 52)

Ah, so we are talking about animism and shape shifting here. Curiously, I have a couple of deer skins awaiting tanning in my garage right now. From my perspective as an animist, these skins retain a part of the spirit the original animal. As I view things, the body is part of the spirit, the physical part. As such, the skin still retains a connection to the spirit of the animal it once belonged to.

As Haggerty points out; “In both HSK(Hrolf’s Saga) and VS ( Völsungasaga) there is a strong animistic thread running through the narratives. It is the animism which first draws Byock and Sarmela to mention that there could be a connection between the sagas and the ancient Bear Cult. The animism in VS is mostly centered around the narrative episode of Sigmund and Sinfjotli, which occurs earlier in the saga than the slaying episode. Sigmund is Sigurd’s father and Sinfjotli is both Sigurd’s half brother and his cousin. In the story of these two characters there is a theme of animism especially related to wolves. A wolf kills Sigmund’s brothers and provides the means of his escape from capture. The most prominent instance is of Sigmund and Sinfjotli wearing magic wolf skins which transform them into wolves.” (Haggery, pg 50)

To bring the point home, a quote from the actual story translated from Old Norse; “Sigmund and Sinfjolti put the skins on and could not get them off. And the weird power was there as before: they howled like wolves, both understanding the sounds.” (Haggerty, pg 50)

Tada! Shape shifting. Yet, it is not as simple as simply acquiring an animal skin. Sure, as I hunter I have a few skins, I’ve said that already. But here is another consideration. What happens when the spirit has already come to you, and strictly restricts use of its physical remains? The mask idea then becomes more interesting, as some masks are made of things like wood, and not necessarily parts of the animal in question. Connections to spirits are pretty complex, and as much on their terms as on ours. Artifacts, of many types, are just as complex and varied. Sometimes, it is not the material that matters, but the connection the item creates.

That is something worth considering more in the future. As things are, this series is coming to an end. This is the last post in the series, so now would be an appropriate place to reflect. I have put out my thoughts on this source and the ideas it contains. Do any of my readers have any thoughts, questions, or things you would like me to elaborate on?

Let me know!



Initiation Rituals in Old Norse Texts and their Relationship to Finno-Karelian Bear Cult Rituals by James Haggerty

Creation Stories

So, my last post on wolves really got me thinking. Where does this idea that people have dominance over animals come from? Honestly, I can’t tell you where and when it might have originated. However, I was browsing around the internet and I came across an article called; “Creation Myths: Sami Animism and Christianity.”

In the article the author compares and contrasts two different creation myths, but I am sure you guessed that much. What I wanted to point out is that the Bible is a very old text, and a very influential text in the dominant culture in America. And here it is folks;

” Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26) ”

“Dominion over.” Not coexistence alongside of. But as resources to be exploited, to use as we wish. This is a dangerous idea from an ecological perspective, and to say nothing of the ethical, or philosophical issues it might raise.

I have commented before on how narratives shape our experience and worldview. As such, it got me thinking about alternative creation stories, and the alternative worldviews that may result. As such, drawing from the article, I want to look at what we have of the Sami creation story, as well as adding the Norse story into the mix for comparison.

Two different poems are presented in the article as facets of the Sami creation myth. Here, I want to outline only one, called “The Son of the Sun’s Courting in the Land of Giants.

From the article;

“We are told that in the Land of the Son of the Sun there is a dearth of women. The Son (of the Sun) sets out on a quest to claim a bride from a land “to the west of moon and sun” that is filled with precious metals and rich treasure. Sailing with a crew of his best men, they travel for a year before reaching the land of the giants. The Son meets “The Giant’s fair young maiden”

She is smitten by him, but he must first defeat her blind father in a test of finger-pulling. With the daughter’s aid in tricking the blind old man, he wins and gains the right to marry her. The Son and the Maiden are married on a sheet of whale skin, mixing blood and tying knots against bad luck. Her dowry is several chunks of gold and silver loaded in the Son’s boat. The Son and the Maiden know each other physically before they leave.

The couple begins to journey back to the Sun’s domain, but once the new bride’s brothers discover her absence, they give chase. The Son and his new wife outrun them by using her magic handkerchief. Once the brothers are struck by the Sun’s rays, they are petrified and the couple make good their escape. They are married in a traditional Sámi manner… to the Sun’s sons she gave birth.

These sons are the Gállá-bártnit, the ancestors of the Sámi, who later ascended to the heavens and took their place in the night sky.”

For more context, I quote further;

“In the Sámi animistic view, the Sun and the Earth existed first. The Sun is the father of all and the Earth is the mother of all. Between the two of them, they gave birth to the creatures that roam the earth. Every thing was descended from the divine, not just created. They also had a son and daughter. These too were legendary figures, semi-divine and curious of the new world. In searching, the Son found another world, beyond the Sun and Moon. The Sun does not shine here. In fact, the rays of the Sun destroy the brothers of the giant maiden, “…The Suns rays melt them/Turn their foreheads to stone…”  From this we may assume that the sun did not create the giants or the land that they inhabit. Therefore, there are other creative forces for life in the universe, not just the children of the Sun.”

Now, what about the Norse creation myth? This is told, and retold in several places across the internet. For that reason, I selected a quick version from Wikipedia;

” In the beginning, there were two regions: Muspellsheimr in the south, full of fire, light and heat; and Niflheimr in the north, full of arctic waters, mists, and cold. Between them stretched the yawning emptiness of Ginnungagap, and into it poured sparks and smoke from the south and layers of rime-ice and glacial rivers from the north. As heat and cold met in Ginnungagap, a living Jötunn, Ymir, appeared in the melting ice. From his left armpit, the first man and woman were born. From his legs, the frost jötnar were born, making Ymir the progenitor of the jötnar. Most sources identify Ymir’s oldest son as Thrudgelmir, who bore Ymir’s grandson, Bergelmir. The other jötnar are usually unnamed. Ymir fed on the milk of the cow Auðhumla. She licked the blocks of salty ice, releasing Búri.

Búri’s son Borr had three sons, the gods Odin, Vili and Vé. The three slew Ymir, and all of the jötnar (giants) except for Bergelmir and his wife, who were drowned in the blood of the others. From Ymir’s body, they made the world of humans: his blood the seas and lakes, his flesh the earth, his bones the mountains and his teeth the rocks. From his skull they made the dome of the sky, setting a dwarf at each of the four corners to hold it high above the earth. They protected it from the jötnar with a wall made from Ymir’s eyebrows. Next they caused time to exist, and placed the orbs of the sun and moon in chariots which were to circle around the sky.”

All three of these stories present very different ideas and worldviews. In the Biblical version, we see a world created by an all power and all knowing God. All things are subject to his will, and man is the dominate among his creation, being made in God’s own image.

The Sami version, shows a world full of beings descended from the Sun and Earth. As was pointed out by the author of the article, all things are divinely descended, not simply created. Also, as pointed out by the author, there are other beings besides those descended from the Sun and Earth. The “other” giants, which do not seem to be “outside” of the story.

Giants, better than anything, offer a good segway into the Norse story. Here, we have the creation story of warriors, and conquerors. First the world came into being from Fire and Ice, and was inhabited by giants. Then, the might gods came and conquered the world, and set it in order by their own will. By the will of Borr’s sons, Odin and his brothers, was mankind brought forth.

Each of the stories shapes experience in a very different and unique way. The take away from it all is how much the stories we create shape our lives. True or not doesn’t make much difference. Even if a story is entirely fictional, it can still shape our experience into something meaningful.