This is mostly from a discussion group I'm on, and I wanted to post about it here to make sure that my thoughts on the subject are saved, partly for my own future reference, since this seems to be something I keep forgetting.
Threads: Musings from a godwife and heathen artisan
A twisting (and sometimes twisted) exploration of devotion, seership, hearth witchery, and the mysteries of traditional femininity.
(Crossposted from my personal blog, Wytch of the North)
Back when I first married Odin, I did so solely because I was in love and wanted to be loved by Him. I wanted to be His wife, His helpmeet, His home, to make a home for Him in my heart and in my immediate surroundings (wherever those might be). I wanted to be His sanctuary, His refuge, to greet Him at the door with His slippers and a drink when He returned home from work, to listen attentively to the details of His day, to fix dinner for Him. In fact, all of the old-fashioned, traditional marital roles and oaths apply here: I wanted to love, honor and obey, to be bonny and buxom in bed and at board (as the medieval English version of the wedding vows puts it). Insofar as I was able to be, I wanted to be a traditional wife, Odin's little woman. Ten years later, all of the above is still true, and this is still the foundation of our relationship.
Despite being heterosexual, cisgendered, and an ultra-femme female at that, I had never before in my life had these particular wants and desires concerning any male. I certainly didn't have them when I was with my ex, who had castigated me almost daily for my lack of attention to housework, for something that was just not quite right about every meal I cooked, for the money I spent, for how I spoke to his relatives, for anything he could think of that was a fault of mine, as he saw it. I had certainly never envisioned myself being in a relationship wherein I wanted to serve a man—albeit in my case it turned out to be a Man who is not mortal, nor even remotely human. Odin can be many things to many people: Muse, Ordeal Master, Initiator into the Mysteries, Shamanic Teacher, Journey Companion, Seducer, Tormentor. He has been these things for me as well; I have walked down many dark paths with Him, my hand in His, with only His voice to guide me. Yet overwhelmingly, He has been the King—of Asgard, of the slain, of the wild spirits of the Hunt. And the path He has guided me towards, as His wife, is that of Sacred Queenship, of Royal Consort, which is, at its core, a traditionally feminine path, a path of being a helpmeet and support to my King and a resource and conduit for my people, the group of spirits that have chosen me as their queen. Along the way on this path I have been fortunate enough to gain the friendship and guidance of the group of spirits (and a few goddesses) I call the Queens, my adopted Disir, my lineage ancestors who have walked this path before me: Bestla, Frigga, Kleopatra, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Woodville, and the others whom I venerate.
However, this is my path, and as I have said, Odin can be many things to many people, as can all of the gods. I do not deny that He can have as many relationships as He pleases, nor that He can do so with people of either sex or gender identification, nor that He need only do so in male form, even; He is a god, and His limits—if He even has any, in the sense we would understand them—are vast. I don't deny anyone else—regardless of gender, gender identification, or sexual orientation--their right to their own relationship, their own journey with Him (or with other gods), their own unique path. But their paths are not mine, and I cannot speak to them, or speak for them, beyond stating that they have this right.
The other day, on my own blog, I published a blueprint of what a typical weekday looks like for me, in terms of my regular devotions for my god-Husband Odin. This rundown did not include any of the little rituals I do for the other gods and spirits I deal with, nor any of the more involved things I do for Odin on special occasions, weekends, or just because I want to do something extra for Him. It was only a bare bones outline, without any details as to words said or precise gestures involved, but no sooner had I posted it than I really wished I could delete it.Why is that? I wondered (once it had been established that no deleting would be allowed). I think it's because the post at once felt so personal and at the same time didn't seem to accurately depict what my devotional time with Odin really feels like, since any type of schedule, written up like this, is going to read more or less like a "laundry list" of actions. I also doubted whether it would prove helpful to anyone else.
But then one of my friends commented that it helped her to see how a devotional life can be composed of a series of small actions which, taken together, add up over time to so much more than the sum of their parts. I think that's a really good way of expressing it. A bunch of little actions which may not seem so significant on their own—such as brewing coffee or pouring a drink, sweeping around the altar, or taking out your prayer beads on a bus ride—can, over time, feed and nourish the growth of a deep and intense connection. Devotion is the art of training the mind towards focus on the gods, and just as with athletic training, this does not happen quickly or overnight. Bearing this idea in mind, I thought a more general follow-up post, on some things to keep in mind when setting up your own "training" routine or developing it further, might be in order.
Although I have a pretty strong relationship with Odin’s corvid, snake and wolf spirit allies, for several years now He has been urging me to get to know another one of His animal allies, one that people don’t talk about quite as much: Bear. Two of His heiti (or by-names) refer to this ursine connection: Bjorn and Bruni, both of which mean “bear” and derive (like the word “bear” itself) from the Indo-European *beron, literally “the brown one.” (The Greek word arktos names the bear more directly, but this word is believed by linguists to have been replaced with a euphemism in Northern Europe because of a taboo against speaking the name of this powerful, dangerous animal.) In addition to this linguistic evidence, some of the 7th century valknut picture stones found in Sweden and England depict the valknut, human sacrifice, and other Odinic motifs accompanied by bears, and the name of one of the most famously fearsome warrior corps associated with Him, the Berserkers, or “bear-shirts,” was so named because they cloaked themselves in bear fur as well as for their unyielding ferocity in battle.
Bears have haunted the human imagination for thousands of years, and I am no exception; something about Bear has always called to me, even before I was aware of the Odinic associations. Unlike social wolves, bears are primarily solitary, except when mating; one of the largest predators on land, they are not physically graceful, but they are swift and very strong, and once they have you wrapped in their embrace they can be deadly. During the cold winter months, they withdraw to underground shelters, caves and burrows hidden away deep within the forest. It is the bear’s hibernation, I suspect, that has always lent it a strangeness in people’s minds, a mystique: what is the bear doing, during all of that time spent in the dark? Is he sleeping? Dreaming? What does the Bear dream of? What secrets does he bring back with him when he emerges from his sojourn in the underworld? If Odin relates to His people much as an Alpha Wolf relates to His pack (a description I feel is pretty apt), and if He communicates much as does a Raven and glides through the worlds very much like a Snake, then Bear is who He is when He is alone, seeking the mysteries; Bear is who He is as a shaman.
While most pagans were celebrating Imbolc this past weekend, in my household we were doing something a little different. Neither my partner nor I has any connection with Brigid, and while we might be okay honoring a less-than-familiar goddess as guests in a larger group setting, as hard polytheists in our own small rituals at home we tend to stick with deities we have a personal history and relationship with. Since we are also (more or less) Heathen, in our own two-person tradition the beginning of February is time for Ewemeolc. This is an Anglo-Saxon holiday whose name means exactly what it sounds like. That's right: it celebrates the annual lactation of the ewes.
In Anglo-Saxon England, the agricultural year began on or around the beginning of February (a tradition that lingered into medieval times and became Plough Monday, the official resumption of farming work after Christmas). The 7th century English scholar Bede referred to February as “Solmonath,” or “the month of cakes, which in that month the English offered to their gods.” This most likely referred to the AEcerbot (“Field Remedy”) Charm (which we know in a Christianized form from the 10th century Anglo-Saxon manuscript Lacnunga), a ritual to bless the fields for the planting season ahead. It may also help explain why pancakes seem to be a traditional meal for this holiday.
Then as now, however, English agriculture was hugely dependent on sheep, dairy production, and wool, and for the Anglo-Saxons it's likely that the primary significance of this holiday was that it marked the beginning of lambing season. As a handspinner who honors Frigga, this of course suits me just fine and meshes very nicely with both my spiritual and artistic priorities. We first began celebrating Ewemeolc as essentially a celebration of the lambs and their gifts a few years back, and it clicked so well that we even added a second sheep-and-Frigga focused holiday later in the year (in June, to coincide with our local sheep and wool festival).
[Cross-posted from my primary blog by request.]
First, an announcement: as of today, January 1st 2013, I will no longer be available to answer either seidhr or divination questions along the lines of "Does Deity X (fill in the blank, but Loki and Odin are the usual suspects) want to marry me/sleep with me/date me?" or even, "What does Deity X want from me?" in which the unspoken subtext is, "Does He/She want to marry me?" Once again, any seidhr questions or reading requests that follow some variation on this pattern will be refused, and a link to this post given.
This includes any similar questions that I have already tentatively indicated I would try to respond to, as of this date.
The reasons for this decision are many, and frankly they include the preservation of my sanity, since in the past couple of months this has become the most popular variety of question sent my way, not only for seidhr but just randomly dropped in my inbox via email or Facebook, even after I had posted a notice in the sidebar of my blog, months ago now, that I would not be able to answer ANY free questions outside of my regular posted seidhr schedule. Even being in the midst of Yule, the holiest time of year for me, or days before my 10th anniversary in one instance, has not hindered people from doing this or prompted them to consider that perhaps they should wait, that perhaps their approaching me at such a time might be inconsiderate or disrespectful. It has seriously been annoying enough to make me consider putting my seidhr practice on hiaitus altogether for a bit, and I was set to do exactly that until I saw how many people I was able to help in unexpected ways during the Samhain and Yule sessions (this last being one of the primary reasons I began my oracular practice in the first place).
The root of the problem came out during a discussion with Jolene the other night, and was echoed by a recent comment someone else posted to my blog: entitlement. Too many people among the newest crop of would-be godspouses and spirit workers apparently feel somehow entitled to not only have the help and guidance of those who have been on this path for years, but to have it now, on demand, when they are ready and not when the other person is ready to help them (assuming there is such a time; please see further below for more on this).
As if seen through the wrong end of a telescope, blurred and dimmed around the edges, the darkness of December beckons as November draws to its end. For the general non-pagan public in America, December is the brightest month of the year, a gleeful blending of commercialism, family ties, and food comas. For many (if not most) pagans, it is a conundrum of sorts, a season when non-pagan family obligations directly or indirectly conflict with the allure of like-minded spiritual gatherings. Historically, for Europeans throughout the middle ages, especially in northern Europe, it was a time of gathering the family tightly together against the outer cold, of taking in travelers and guests with generosity but caution (for who knew what--or Who--might be wandering out there in the freezing gusts, hobnobbing with the trolls), for lavishly feasting the gods--pagan or Christian, depending on the time and the setting--and the dead, but at a careful distance, ever mindful that the next hand on one's doorknob might not be a human one, that the skeletal scraping against windows might not be the branches of dead trees, that the dead walk this time of year, and that things and People far more dire walk alongside them--or worse, fly through the stormy night skies--keeping careful count of debts accrued throughout the year passed, and demanding Their due.
For me, as for my spiritual ancestors, December is the darkest month of the year, with the traditional twelve days of Yule--the "smudging nights," so called in folklore because you had better be smudging your home with protective herbs against the wild spirits that roamed the long nights--beckoning at its black heart. It is the most precious month of the year for me--for it was in this month that I took sacred marriage vows to my Husband, Odin, that darkest of gods, at this darkest of times. But it is also the most dreadful month. It is a time when the air is filled with ghosts and the trolls spill upwards through the cracks in the earth, freed from their underground lairs to walk among humans.
For me it is, beyond all else, Odin's month--although that is certainly not limited to December. Although I feel and honor Him equally, yet somewhat differently, throughout the other seasons of the year, during the period of late September through the beginning of January we see His darkest face, the face of Yggr (the Terrible One) who sacrificed Himself on the World Tree, the face of Wilde Jaeger (the Wild Hunter) who rides His flame-eyed steed at the head of the Furious Host. Perhaps I am biased, but although I do have special festival days throughout the year for Him, and especially in late September through November, for me December is all about Odin, from beginning to end, even though several of the actual festival days within it are goddess-focused.
I've written before here about how, in our household, Samhain starts early. For us it begins at the end of September, during the week when we've repeatedly lost beloved pets and on the day when, two years ago, I pledged my service to the Wild Hunt. This year, that day was marked with an inadvertent bloodletting when the Hunt, not satisfied with the efforts I had made thus far on their behalf, aided me in slicing open the knuckle of my right index finger almost to the bone with a pair of sewing shears. (Followed, of course, with a expensive trip to the emergency room and several weeks of limited ability to do anything--including typing and crafting--with that hand. The Hunt does not play.)
It continued the following week when I made a trip to one of the city's oldest cemeteries (and bear in mind that here on the west coast, "oldest" means the 1800s, and the most ancient looking monuments, crumbling with apparent age, are not truly ancient at all but merely rain-damaged). I brought with me home-brewed mead and bone meal, to feed the dead, and locally harvested apples for Sleipnir, Odin's giant eight-legged steed. (Eight legs, by the way; have you ever thought about that? Why does He--the horse, that is--have eight legs? Spiders have eight legs. So does a casket, when borne aloft by four mourners. Sleipnir is, indisputably, a horse of death, a steed to carry one to the land of the dead--which, throughout the Norse myths, is exactly what He does.) I discovered an area devoted to the Civil War dead, which startled me because it seemed the wrong coast for that, but the monument statue of a soldier in uniform and the plots of the military dead exuded an aura of welcome for me, a kinship with the "once human" contingent of the Hunt, with Odin's fallen heroes. Here was succor and support, and so it was here that I marked the stones with my blood, freshly drawn from my finger (not the one with stitches!) using a lancet. (The dead were especially interested in and enthusiastic about the mead, by the way!)
The weather is turning crisp here and the falling leaves are brilliant shades of orange, red and gold. The afternoons are still warm but evening is coming earlier. The rains have not started yet, but winter's shadow is on the land. We are finally in October, which for me means the onset of the busiest season in my spiritual year: the season of the Wild Hunt, which begins now and reaches its height at Yule. Samhain forms a major milestone along the way, but for me (and among Heathens in general) the time when the veil is at its thinnest, and the Hunt at its most active, falls during the twelve nights of Yule. After January 1st, things calm down somewhat, although there are still occasionally forays during the springtime, especially here in the Pacific Northwest, where our springs are often stormier than our winters.
As some of you may be aware, the story of how Odin claimed me is all bound up with the Hunt. Although I am not a hunter myself in an in-this-world way, the Furious Host seems to have lodged itself in my blood somehow, and two years ago around this time of year I formally agreed to ally myself with them and act as a doorway for them into this world.
Some of you are likely sputtering by now, reading this; I hope you haven't spilled your drinks on the keyboard! For those whose keyboards are safe (and are thus, I assume, unfamiliar with the Wild Hunt), the core of the legend is that a spectral band of creatures in hunting garb (be they dead, undead, never human, or all of the above) rampages through the night sky at a certain time of year (see above). This story seems to be deeply rooted in Indo-European culture, and most European countries have their own version of it; it is unaccountably ancient, and just as with the roots of Yggdrasil itself it's impossible to say exactly where or how it began. What this band is hunting is never completely clear in the folk tales, and can range from a woman, to a troll, to a kind of half-woman, half-forest creature known as a moss maiden. The leader ascribed to this band of ghostly riders varies with the country, but in Scandinavia, England and Germany the leader is traditionally Odin, and the Hunt includes, in this particular incarnation, the spirits of long-dead heroes and Odin's dead in general. The Hunt is accompanied by black dogs with red eyes, undead noblemen, and Odin's gigantic eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. Jagermeister, Wilde Jaeger (Wild Hunter), Draugrdrottin (Lord of Ghosts), Valfather (Lord of the Slain)--these are all among Odin's many names that have to do with His function as Leader of the Furious Host. Most of the stories agree that it is dangerous for humans to see the Hunt or be seen by it. Some of the tales advise throwing oneself face down onto the path when the sound of the hunting horns is heard, others suggest various offerings--a piece of steel, a sprig of parsley--that might be useful in deterring the Hunt, or at least distracting it while you get to safety. At first glance and at last, this is a story to frighten not only small children but sensible adults too. The Hunt (along with the frigid Scandinavian winter) is the reason why Yule is traditionally a time for family to gather together behind closed doors by the fire, and to not go out after dark, and to allow the hospitality of one's home to visitors without question, especially during the twelve nights of Yule, when madness reigns in the skies.
It has come as a surprise to me, considering my relationship with Odin (the Wanderer and hedge-crosser extraordinaire), but I have been discovering lately that I am far more of a hearth witch than a hedge witch. Don't get me wrong; I do love wandering through the dark woods at night, threading my way through cemeteries, or exploring the Eugene wetlands. I love to explore these liminal places in a light trance state, letting the already-fragile boundaries between the worlds blur so that I can commune with the spirits there. This is part of my practice, and it always will be. (And in the case of the wetlands, I do this every morning on my walk to work, in the early hours when the human world is still barely stirring but the land wights--or land spirits--are awake and going about their day.) But at the heart of my practice, I am a Doorway for my gods and spirits, and to fulfill that function I must be anchored in this world, even as I work at blurring its edges.
I just had an entire week off from my day job, for the first time in years, and found myself spending much of it at my spinning wheel, or gathering supplies to make prayer beads, or in my kitchen learning to make salted caramels, or planning what I will need to begin producing candles and other non-yarn goodies for my Etsy shop. When given a choice between wandering outdoors and busying myself with activities at home, I nearly always choose the latter. Perhaps my physical condition pays a part in this (I have moderate to severe fibromyalgia, and at this point I still work full time so that saps a lot of my energy), but most of the time I find that I would rather be at home, tending a hearth for my gods and for the spirits I honor, rather than out in the world. My trips out in the world fortify and help to shape my hearth; they feed it and strengthen my center. In this I am like Frigga, who puts Her apron aside and rides with Her Husband in the Hunt during the dark half of the year, but the rest of the time concentrates Her efforts on creating a welcoming home for Him to return to after His wanderings.
To get back to the topic of setting up a hearth in your own home if you do not already have one, despite my previous definition of the hearth as a place of fire, there is always the option of interpreting "fire" symbolically. Along these lines, your hearth can be that place that anchors and nourishes your home, that feeds what you love most about it, the "flame" that makes your home a welcoming place. For some people, it would clearly be the kitchen table where the family gathers for dinner to share stories of their day. For some, it might be a place of literal fire, such as the woodburning stove (and do I ever wish I had one!) where herbal oils and brews are prepared.
Ear (Ground) is loathsome to all men,
yet certainly the body will be set upon there,
the corpse grows cold, the soil accepts its pale bedfellow;
leaves fall, pleasures depart, men cease to be.
- Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem
I will be posting a follow-up to my thoughts on establishing a hearth, as promised, but in the meantime life has intervened and supplied a subject matter that has to take precedence, since it's all I can spare any degree of deep thought for right now. That subject, of course, is (as my title indicates) the one that naturally trumps all others: death....
Finally, autumn has come to the Willamette Valley here in Oregon. I say "finally," although summer is brief enough here and most Oregonians would probably wish for a few more weeks of it. Autumn, however, is my favorite time of year and I look forward to it year-round. The early morning crispness has changed to a genuine chill that lingers through more of the day, the acorns have started to fall and the squirrels scamper after them, eager to begin fortifying their nests against the winter. The leaves have begun to turn color and soon their branches will become a canopy of gold, scarlet and pumpkin orange. It is September, and my thoughts turn to my home, my own nest, and to what fortifications I might make now to make it a welcoming and nourishing place in the months to come.
What is the center of your home, its heart? For most Americans, the answer would probably be "the television." However, hopefully that is not the case with the average pagan, and a few of you have probably guessed where I'm going with this: in traditional European pagan cultures from Greece to Scandinavia, the center of a household was the hearth. However, there is room for a little interpretation in what constitutes the hearth for you.
This post is a bit of a tangent from my central focus of Frigga, fiber and wyrd--but, as I hope you'll see, it's only a bit of one, since it does concern, rather closely, the values around which I've built my own spirituality, especially the very Heathen themes of choice and responsibility.
As you can tell from my profile photo, I am a pagan woman who chooses to wear some type of head covering at least some of the time. I've gone into detail on my own blog about my reasons for doing so, but just to recap a bit: I initially flirted with veiling a couple of years back, mostly as an extension of the semi-modest form of dress I had adopted. My partner had already started veiling daily by then as a devotional act for her God (long before the practice became trendy), and I wanted to see whether I too could enjoy some of the practical benefits she reported, mainly protection for the crown chakra and an additional buffer against the thoughts and emotions of others--something invaluable for psychically sensitive people such as we both are.
I also liked the fact that wearing a veil sends a visual signal to others that you are somehow different, set apart from mainstream society. This is in part a cultural signal; nuns wear veils, after all, and as the bride of a God I consider myself to be the pagan equivalent of a nun, more or less. (The "less" part of that statement being because pagans unfortunately have no established system or architecture in place to support this path.) True, most people walking down the street would never mistake a woman wearing a colorful veil, or a hat, or a kerchief, for a nun, but for me it acted as a tangible reminder of my path.
Picture this, if you will: At the edge of a salt marsh--a place of migrating sea birds, violent weather, and windswept tall grasses--stands a castle. It is not a very grand place, not the shining palace in the clouds you might expect, but a rambling old dwelling with some of its rooms half-submerged in the sea. It is known in the old languages as Fensalir ("Marsh Halls"), or "Sokkvabek" ("Sunken Halls"). The one thing these names have in common is water, and they do not conjure up the abode of a celestial goddess in the mind's eye. The only clouds to be found in these rooms filled with brackish green light and bracing salt air are clouds of fluffy white roving. A great blue heron nests in the rafters, and it would be no surprise to find a random sheep wandering through a hallway. In one of the larger rooms, near the embers of a fireplace and a window overlooking the sea, a solitary woman sits spinning, a long, thick braid of auburn laced with grey trailing down her back. She plies a spindle, which whirls faster than the eye can follow in response to the barely perceptible motions of her fingers. Fluffy clouds of fiber are guided from the distaff standing at her elbow, caught up in the twist generated by the whorl, and wound swiftly by deft fingers onto the fat cop, or ball, of yarn forming on the spindle's midsection. Sparks fly from the woman's fingertips as she works, and there is an electric charge in the air, like the pressure that builds up before a storm.