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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Women of the Waters

What do they do in winter, the women of the waters? In our Land of Ten Thousand Iced-In Lakes, do they sleep burrowed deep like turtles or frogs? Do they dream in suspended animation, frozen in ice, like fish? Or do they slowly swim beneath the ice, haunting with their singing the fisherman in his lonely ice-house?

It seems as if everyone knows them: mermaids, nixies, necks, nereids, víly, rusalki, we call them. Every spring, every pond, every lake, has its own, they say, and some lakes many. Old in the land, the Anishinabe—known to the Cree, who spoke a related but unintelligible language, as Chippewa, “mutterers”—call them nebaunaubaequaewuk. Everyone agrees that their beauty is a dangerous beauty.

They take people, and children in particular; in our own day, people are taken. In summer they sing and dance, especially on nights when the full moon floats like a shining lily on every lake. Our attraction is a mutual attraction, and many stories tell of the handsome youth or maid who goes to live with them and is never seen again. Sometimes they marry humans, but such matings rarely end well. Although we reflect one another, in the end, the People of the Land and the People of the Waters are different peoples, other.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Annwyn Avalon
    Annwyn Avalon says #
    Hi Steven, Thanks for the clarification! When I read that I got really excited! I thought you had found a source I had never seen,
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks Annwyn; I'd certainly love to see your research on the subject. I heard this version of the story on a BBC radio article a
  • Annwyn Avalon
    Annwyn Avalon says #
    Lovely article, I have done extensive research on the Lady of Llyn Y Fan Vach, and the Gwragedd Annwn. Can you please cite the sou
  • Anne Forrester
    Anne Forrester says #
    LOVE IT!!! Thanks so very much Steve. Bright Blessings, Helga

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Existentialism Part 2: Choosing Faith

I had been able to confidently say the gods are real because I could feel them as well as I felt other humans and animals. Then, suddenly, I couldn't feel them. Not the gods, and not other people. Not animals, not nature, nothing. This is how it happened:

Trigger warnings: physical health and mental health issues, mention of childhood abuse

It was 1997. I had a life-threatening medical problem, and was given a medicine which included in its listed side effects weight gain and depression. I gained 60 lbs. in 3 months, and I became depressed in an equally rapid and thorough manner. When I switched to a different medicine, I stopped gaining weight, but the weight I already had gained did not just disappear, it was still there. The same was true of the depression. It was still there, and I had to deal with it. 

For me, depression meant not being able to feel the presence of other minds, not the gods, and not other people. Nothing felt real. All the color leached out of the universe. Clear skies were gray, and sunsets were gray, and chocolate was ashes. I was cut off from sensation and physical pleasure.  I started having flashbacks to childhood experiences of sexual abuse. 

None of the medicines I tried got my medical problem under control, I was constantly in danger of death, was in constant pain, sometimes was too disabled to leave my house, I could not work, and had to close my bookstore.

I tried everything I could think of help with both the physical and mental issues, including magic. I called on the healer goddess Eir, not knowing at the time that calling on her would provoke a healing crisis. That meant things would seem to get worse before they got better.

My insurance company canceled my policy, and when I looked for help dealing with the depression and flashbacks, I was going bankrupt and could not access for-profit doctors and ended up having to seek help from the state mental health system, which treated me so badly that in addition to my original problems I developed additional ones. The state doctor prescribed an SSRI antidepressant, which relieved fatigue and gave me enough energy to get things done despite still being depressed, and still being physically ill as well. In that time period, SSRIs did not yet list suicidal ideation as a known side effect. Eventually I found better help; I talk about my healing journey in my memoir, so readers interested in the details are directed to that book. 

In the meantime, I had an experience that I was convinced should have killed me and that my body's sudden, odd resilience was uncanny.

A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts: My Triumph Over Dissociative Identity Disorder:

     "In the days that followed, as I thought about the strange happening, I realized that I had to decide to what I would attribute it:  failure or miracle.  I chose miracle.  I told myself, “Goddess won’t let me die.”

     I still could not feel her presence.  But I chose to believe she was there.  For the first time in my life, I had true faith."

That was a major turning point in my life, and on my heathen path. Eventually, my ability to sense the gods and other people returned, but not until I healed myself with the help of a therapist. I had to get rid of the depression, and the flashbacks, and the panic, and become whole, before I could advance any farther spiritually. When I started being able to feel the presence of the gods again, I felt them more clearly than ever before. But if I had not experienced that, I would never have developed faith, because faith is the choice to believe in the absence of evidence, and until then, I had always had the evidence of my senses.

How we interpret the events of our lives is a choice, just like the existential choice of choosing whether to believe other people, the gods, and our own sensory lived experiences are real. I consciously chose my personal narrative of these events, and I chose this: Freya saved my life.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

There’s something sexy as hell about an anchorite.  A gorgeousness in a bodhisattva.  An allure to an Hasidic Judaism.  Swirling exciting about a Sufi.

When you think about austerity, you probably think about someone else telling you what do to.  You think about shoulding all over yourself.  Be more sexy, your marriage needs it!  Are you eating clean?  Are you giving your child every opportunity possible?  Is your work/home life balance full of awesome?  How clean is your house?  Did you remember to bring brownies to that thing on Saturday?  Home made from scratch of course.  Are you exercising?  Are you making enough money?  Are you meditating?  You should.  You should, should, should —

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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

In my college classes, I often tell my students that in working with people, we need to learn to think in circles, rather than in lines. Circles are strong. Circles are steady. Circles hold the space, circles make a place for others. Circles can expand or contract as needed. Circles can be permeable and yet have a strong boundary. Linked arms in a circle can keep things out and show solidarity. Linked energy in a circle can transform the ordinary into sacred space. Hands at each other’s backs, facing each other, eye level. Working together in a circle for a ritual, change is birthed, friendships are strengthened, and love is visible.
--Ritual Recipe Kit for Women’s Ceremonies digital by BrigidsGrove

Recently I have noticed a lot of offerings for sacred circles and sacred temples and councils of women that b2ap3_thumbnail_Mollyblessingway-190.jpgare all online or virtual. The websites advertising such programs often have beautiful photos of firesides and dancing and I find myself thinking, where is the REAL fire? If we spend all of our time at computers enjoying virtual sisterhoods and looking at pictures of fires, where are our real opportunities to dance by the fire hand in hand? This week, against all odds, I managed to have a meaningful conversation with friends at the skating rink. We talked about the difference between online and face-to-face connection and why online connections can feel “cleaner” and less messy or complicated than face-to-face. It reminds me of my experiences in creating rituals for my family. In the books it looks so easy and fun. In real life, babies have poopy diapers and my sons make fart jokes and my papers blow away and I speak in a snappy tone of voice and things take longer than I expect. It is same with women’s circles. Online, we can look at pretty pictures of flower crowns and crystal grids and flower mandalas and daydream how wonderful it would be to have a real women’s circle, but in real life people don’t always like each other, we interrupt each other, we talk too much or not enough or about the “wrong” things. As the facilitator of a ceremony in real life, portions might lag, people laugh at the wrong times, guided meditations might bring up painful experiences, people stop listening to each other, or they might forget something they were asked to bring. I might lose my place, sing off-key, or get distracted when someone is sharing something important.

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Murray Revisited, or Throwing Out the Baby with the Broth Water

Yeah, yeah, I've read the books, I've heard the arguments, I know all about flawed methodology and bogus historiography. Who takes Murray seriously these days, anyway?

An important element is missing here. People believed Murray's theories for years because they're convincing. They have the ring of likeliness to them.

OK, here we are, medieval peasants. Life is hard. We work our butts off sun-up to sun-down nearly every day, and in a good year we raise enough to get us through to the next harvest. Often enough, we don't, and then we starve. Even in good years, the seigneur and the priest have automatic authority over pretty much every aspect of our lives.

We grew up hearing fireside stories, half-remembered, about the Old Ways and the Guy with the Horns. Yeah, I know Father Guillemet says he's bad, but the priest doesn't know everything, anyone can see that. He's a priest, what does he know about real life?

What is more likely than that on the old days you'd go off to the bonfire in the woods, get drunk, dance and screw your neighbor's wife (or husband) in the bushes? Pleasure is rare enough in life, and you have to take it when you can get it. And part of the fun is poking fun at Authority, especially Authority—like the church—about which you really can't help but feel a certain amount of ambivalence. Mix bits and pieces of decayed paganism with the only rituals that you know—those of the church—and voilà: spontaneous folk-diabolism.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Amen!
  • Sylvie Kaos
    Sylvie Kaos says #
    My sentiments exactly!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Fierce, Sweet, Wise

Mercury retrograde is a time for introspection and examination. This MR, I decided to take this to heart, and experiment with deepening my practice. I know that sounds hoity toity and whatnot, but in reality what it means to me is that I’m looking at how to deal with my PTSD and how it affects my practice. Symptoms come and go, but when it’s bad, I have avoidance symptoms, particularly emotional numbing. If you’re unfamiliar with the terms, avoidance symptoms are the mind’s way of avoiding the emotions involved in the trauma; emotional numbing is exactly what it sounds like; you feel distance, not happy, not sad, just…nothing. It’s not “meh” either, because it’s not indifferent, unless you’d count “well I haven’t engaged in self-mutilation, that’s good, right?” as meh. Mild depression might be a better descriptor.

I have bouts of this off and on, some more severe than others. December 2014 was bad; I had two major deaths in the family that year. My grandmother I expected, because her dementia had been worsening for several years. My father – he had PTSD himself, and he disappeared a year before he died, so there was no goodbye, there was just him, gone who knows where, a stranger on the phone telling me that they had my Daddy at the morgue. So vacillating between depression, mourning, and emotional numbing is how I spent my holidays. Not that it was all bad – Loki’s been very patient with me. For all that people talk about Him, chaos, blah blah, He is a God Who understands grief. I get the impression that sometimes people think if you’re involved with a Deity that your life will be perfect and you’ll never have any problems. No one’s life is problem-free, and being involved with a God does mean that I have better tools to deal with my issues than I’d have on my own. I’m grateful for that.

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  • SunRain MoonFire
    SunRain MoonFire says #
    Thank you!

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Existentialism Part 1: Perceived Reality

How do I know the gods are real? How do I know other people outside myself are real? How do I know I am real?

After experiencing the mysterium tremendum during my initiation and dedication to Freya in 1989, I could feel the presence of the gods. Until 1997, there was no question in my mind that the gods were as real as anyone else because I could feel them. I could feel the presence of their minds the same way I could feel the presence of the minds of other human beings. I chose to believe the evidence of my own senses. That which I perceive as having a mind that can press against mine is real: trees and the spirits of trees, animals and animal totems, humans and human ghosts, the sun and the goddess of the sun.

In today's science, it is possible to induce sensation, vision, and hearing by stimulating the brain-- and I know this because I read about it, which ultimately means I chose to believe what a news reporter wrote about a scientific study because, in the final equation, I believe that what my eye saw was in fact words written by another person and not something my brain invented because of false stimuli. I chose to believe that other people exist and that what I perceive is true.

Whether to believe in what I perceive is an existential question. I think that if I chose not to believe that the things I sense with all my senses are real, I could not function as a human being. I would just sit around disbelieving everything, until I starved to death from not eating the food I didn't believe in. I chose to believe that what I sense is real: that food is real, and I can eat it to sustain my body, which is also real. That when I see an object across the room, that object is real. That when I feel sunshine on my skin, that the sun is real, and my skin is real, and heat is real.  I chose to believe that when I sense someone's mind, what I am sensing is real, whether they are a human, animal, spirit, or god.

Where does one draw a line between "real" and "imaginary?" If one draws that line because of social pressure to disbelieve in gods, one must first believe that other people are real for their opinions to matter. If one senses the gods with one's senses, and disbelieves in them because other people do not sense them, that is putting a faith in other people ahead of one's perceived reality.

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