Pagan Paths


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Paths Blogs

Specific paths such as Heathenism, blended traditions, polytheist reconstructionism, etc.

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The Perils of Writing about Spirituality

I'm so very glad we have the internet as a venue for sharing about spirituality - the community grows as the web widens. But there are some pitfalls and obstacles that limit the extent to which we can really communicate about spirituality online, or on any other platform that involves writing. I grapple with these issues almost every time I write a blog post here.

The nature of blogging, or writing articles for Pagan magazines, or posting in spiritual groups on social media, or even writing books is that of words: we write down what we want to share, and other people read it.

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For some reason, when you work alongside certain deities, outside folks loooooove to come and chat you up about Them. Only, rather than asking questions out of genuine desire to learn, more often than not, it seems to turn into a smug confessional. I’ve even gotten the literal elbow poke to the ribs from folks who’ve never met a Norse God. Wink, wink. Toothy grin. “You know what he’s like right, riiiight?”

It really makes me feel like I’m talking about Geralt of Rivia.

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Easy Ways to Purify for Imbolc, Disablot and Candlemas (or any other occasion)

Just as autumn leaves compost and fertilize new spring shoots, the old and outmoded must be cleansed to make way for the new.

The upcoming holiday, whether you call it Imbolc, Disablot, Entschtanning, Gromnitsy or Candlemas, is traditionally very concerned with a deep purification of the soul, body and space. Purification is a big deal in Northern European practice-- and an even bigger deal if you engage in any type of trance work, like seið.

But how do you start? It’s really not hard or complicated to perform a basic clearing. Physical cleanliness is an important component, and, once that’s done, the energetic cleansing is much easier.

Here are a number of articles I’ve written on such clearing rituals:


 

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Labrys & Horns: A second go-round

At the beginning of this year I looked back over 2019 in Modern Minoan Paganism (MMP), musing about how far we've come over such a short time. Writing that post, of course, led me to look back over the years before that, and some things I need to update.

I started Ariadne's Tribe in 2014 because I was looking for other people who were interested in Minoan spirituality. By late 2015, to my utter astonishment, we had a sizable number of members, a pantheon, a sacred calendar, and a set of common practices. At that point, people started asking me to write it all down in a book so they would have a single resource to draw from.

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The magic of rosehips

Rosehips

 

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Deeper Into the Labyrinth: Exploring Modern Minoan Paganism

Back in 2015, I responded to a request from some members of Ariadne's Tribe by creating an online course in Modern Minoan Paganism (MMP). Thus, Into the Labyrinth was born. The course wends its way through the basics of the MMP sacred calendar. I've taught it every year since then, and even though I wrote the course, I learn something new every time I teach it - that's one of the perks of being a teacher whose students are really interested in the subject.

As soon as that first class was over, those students asked for a second course that delves deeper into some of the deities and practices of MMP. So I dug into our pantheon and our calendar and created Deeper Into the Labyrinth. And once again, I discovered that my students often had as much to teach me as the other way around.

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The Afterlife in Asatru

In Asatru, and many other sects of heathenry, we believe the soul has multiple parts, and that some of these parts can go on to an afterlife, while other parts can be reincarnated. The soul part that corresponds with the personality and memory can go either way, and it can also reach oblivion before being recycled / reincarnated. Other parts of the soul complex can go on, be reincarnated, or just stop. Actions one can take on Earth can affect this outcome. If one is going on to an afterlife, there are many possible afterlife destinations, some of which are here on Earth—which we call Midgard—and some of which are in other worlds / other dimensions.

Some people have been sharing a meme based on a Wikipedia page on one sect of heathenry, "Norse Paganism," thinking that it applies to all sects. It does not apply to Asatru. The page, and the meme, is divided into 4 sections, labeled Valhalla, Folkvangr, Helgafjell, and Helheim. The sections on Valhalla and Folkvangr are not bad. Those realms are the two places where the battle slain go, to Odin in Valhalla within Gladsheim and to Freya in Sessrumnir within Folkvangr.

The section on Hel gets Hel wrong. Hel is not a place of punishment. It's just the world of the dead. Christians used the word Hel to translate their word for the realm of the dead, just like they used the word godh (god) to translate their word for God. Both words ended up having Christian connotations in modern English, but the original heathen Hel had as much resemblance to the Christian Hell as original heathen god has to Christian God. Rather than a place of punishment, Hel or Helheim is the catch-all, or default realm. It is ruled by Hel, or Hela. Hel the goddess and Hel the place have the same name for the same reason that Normandy is the name of a land and a Duke.

Helgafjel is an obscure place name that most heathens don't even recognize. Is it a place within Hel, or a mountain on Earth? It can be argued that all grave mounds are simultaneously on this earth and in the realm of the dead. There is a real place in Iceland called Helgafell, meaning "holy mountain." The place spelled Helgafjel also means "holy mountain," but it may not have been the same place. It may have been in Norway, in which case, it is now named something else, since it no longer appears on any maps. Either way, Helgafjel was a real physical mountain, and the belief in Helgafjel was a local belief in a mountain in which the dead of a particular set of linked families or the dead of a particular locality went. The page is specific to a sect of heathenry where the people lived within sight of the mountain. The meme makers have mistaken it for a generalized belief across heathen cultures (that is, pagan cultures which worshipped the gods generally called the Norse gods.) As a physical place where the dead are said to reside, this then is a type of mound-dead belief, even though there is no evidence the mountain was actually used as a burial site. The dead in a specific mountain, mound, ship burial, graveyard, etc. are specific dead people with names, usually people who lived in the area.

Historically, the line between the mound-dead and the mound-elf was fuzzy. Freyr as king of Alfheim (elf home) may have had an aspect in which he was also king of the male dead ancestors. His sister Freya may have had an aspect as queen of the female dead ancestors, as indicated by her name Vanadis, goddess of the disir (female ancestral spirits.)

Other possible afterlife destinations include the home of Thor, who may have been considered to collect farmers in historical times, although the word used in the lore was a more general word for the non-warrior caste. The goddess Ran collects the drowned dead. Frigga (or Frau Holle) collects the souls of dead children; this is the meaning of Mother Night, when the Dark Mother rides the Wild Hunt. In an earlier time, when Tyr was king, his wife Zisa collected the dead in her war-boat. Gefjon, who may be an aspect of Freya, is said to collect the souls of unmarried women. Many if not most of the heathen pantheon have halls where they house the souls of dead humans.

In historical times, people who wanted to go to a specific god tried to live their lives in such a way that they would be likely to die doing the god’s special thing, such as sailing. Some heathens today also do this, although others believe that devotion to a god as a priest or other type of specialist opens the way to that god.

Naming customs also can affect the afterlife, but it affects the afterlife of the named person, although this is a bit complicated. The soul part in which talents reside is not the same as the soul part that contains memories, so when someone names a child after their grandfather hoping to gain grandfather’s musical talents, that does not necessarily draw the memory part; it is possible for grandfather to both be reborn in his line and stay with his god in the afterlife at the same time. On the other hand, if one names a child after a friend specifically to honor that friend who is still alive, no part of the still alive person’s soul is transferred at the ceremony, but it is possible for part of the soul to arrive later, upon the death of the other party, as the shared name opens the way between them.

Historical heathen cultures spanned a great deal of time over a great many places. Some heathens spoke languages that other heathens from other times and places would not understand. Modern heathens in America usually draw their heathenry from a wide variety of cultures, although some of them can be as local and specific as their European counterparts.

Image: Valknut, fiber art by Erin Lale

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