Pagan Paths


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Paths Blogs

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

b2ap3_thumbnail_Detail_of_antlered_figure_on_the_Gundestrup_Cauldron.jpgWe are animals, just as the other creatures of the world, but we are the only animals that have the ability to consciously and willfully deny our positions in the pattern, the only ones (as far as we know!) who consider themselves above “all that”. We train our children, those most connected to the truth, to deny their animal selves, to be “proper” and “civilized”, when all the world is calling us, begging us, to remember that we too used to dance in the mud, call out in the night, swing through the trees singing the songs of the birds, that we knew for a certainty that elves and dragons and unicorns lived in the forests and mountains (they still do, you just need eyes to see them!). Shake off the shackles of civilization and dance wild like a maenad or a troop of baboons. Sing to the moon and the sun without care for who is listening.

(Nicanthiel Hrafnhild in my book Visions of Vanaheim)

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The elaborately carved entrance stone and roof lintel at Newgrange are powerful symbols of humankind's ability to mark, measure and sanctify time - such as the upcoming Winter Solstice. These evocative images, however, pre-date the Celts by thousands of years, and like the dolmens and stone circles which many associate with 'Celts' or 'druids,' these do not form part of Celtic native culture. There are some Celtic legends which have become attached to some of these sites, which were built by people many centuries before, with undoubtedly different intentions in mind!

However, there are some ancient stones which can 'speak' to us in this day and age about the beliefs and practices of the early Celtic peoples. These are not 'native' stones either in a sense, but they do contain interesting and somewhat 'coded' information about the ancient Celts. I'm referring to stone inscriptions created during the Romano-Celtic period in many parts of Europe, including the Continent and Britain.

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Winter Solstice - A ritual invocation or the coolest band name ever!

A long, long, long time before the word "Solstice" was ever uttered, eons before the ancients looked upward at that shining orb in the sky and said "goddess" or "god", billions of years before humankind realized that some times were warmer and lighter and other times were colder and darker, this planet danced.

For roughly four and a half billion years, give or take a million, the earth has rocked forward and backward. Axial Tilt is the official term for it. Axial Tilt would also make a great name for a band and should I ever decide to get the band back together again, I think Axial Tilt will be the front-runner for the name.

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Sympathy for the Devil

Sure, I love bad boys. They’re sexy, rebellious, often funny, deliciously scary.  But why I really love them? Because they’re honest. Because they know how to suffer. On those days when Facebook is filled with “humble brags” and Pollyanna affirmations, I find myself on the side of those who aren’t afraid to complain. 

 

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Next week my coven will be celebrating the Winter Solstice and instead of writing this blog post I should be writing our sabbat ritual. I'm sure the inspiration will come, eventually, but for now I'm going to continue to procrastinate (and perhaps daydream about an Oak King/Holly King scenario).

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Poetic Inspiration

Although I had not formalized a patronage relationship with Odin on the day I had intended to (see post The Day I Swore Myself to Freya), I received poetic inspiration from him. Some of the poems I wrote definitely felt like me writing them, that is, I was doing the work of writing. Others felt like I was just taking dictation. Some poems were in the heathen style, some modern, and some were ‘filk,’ which was the word among science fiction and fantasy fans for folk music related to the genres. It was my hand on the pen when the poem about the goddess Skadhi came into the world, but I've always felt that it was Odin who wrote it. 

 A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:

     “At an Asatru festival I sang my filk version of a Canadian folksong by the campfire, and Vampyre Mike, the lead singer from the band who played acoustic pagan songs at the Festivals and hard rock in the mundane world, liked “Bajor’s Privateers” so much he sang it over and over for the rest of the festival.  His lady Pasha called to me, “You’ve created a monster!”

Bajor's Privateers was one of the songs I felt that I had actually written myself, although there might have been a touch of inspiration as well. It was a conscious parody of the folk song Barrett's Privateers, and I definitely worked at writing it. The poem Skadhi: Water Cycle was one of the ones I felt that Odin had written and I just noted it down. At this point in my personal journey, in the early 1990s, I was learning the bersarkr tradition (see post The Berserker Trance.) I was working with both animal spirits and with Odin and Freya. As I learned to open and close the door in my mind to admit Odin for the bersarkr trance, I grew closer to him and received more poetic inspiration. This is the way of the warrior-poet.

I received an invitation from Paul Edwin Zimmer to read at the Bardic Circle at Greyhaven. I had published some of his poetry in Berserkrgangr Magazine. I published that magazine mostly for the nonfiction, as a way for bersarkrs and others of similar traditions to connect and share information, but it was also a literary magazine, with fiction, poetry, and art. I published some of my own poetry in my magazine, and he must have liked it. We became colleagues and friends of the sort who gave each other our poetry chapbooks.

There were other heathens at the Greyhaven Bardic Circle, some of whom I recognized from the heathen festivals I had attended. Diana Paxson played the harp. I debuted my poem Skadi: Water Cycle at Greyhaven, and Diana liked it. It was an emotional high point for me for my poem to be appreciated by established authors. 

Of course, I felt that it was really Odin's poem, not mine. I had heard it in my sleep, woken up and written it down. I wondered, how can I take credit for what felt like taking dictation, not creating? Eventually I realized that it was not just my hand on the pen, it was my mind that Odin put this poem in. It was my effort and self-sacrifice that allowed me to open the door in my mind and let him in. (And the sacrifice to study the bersarkr tradition was hideous; more on that in my next post.) So yes, it is my poem, just like any other gift belongs to me once I've been given it, whether it is a poem from Odin or the flesh with which I receive it and write it down, flesh that began as part of my parents, flesh grown by the gifts of the earth through food and water and air, flesh that therefore also comes ultimately from the gods of nature, and yet is my flesh, my body, which I own entire. Everything I have comes ultimately from the gods, and yet is mine: my poem, my body, my breath, my mind, my soul, my life. I would not tolerate anyone trying to take my body or my life or my breath; I would fight. Even though my body is made by eating food, and food comes from the blessings of the gods, it is still my body; my art and writing and song come from the gods, too, but they are mine. Therefore, my poem:

Skadi: Water Cycle
by Erin Lale

Skadi scried the sky one day.
Blue was Baldur's beckoning eye,
Yellow as yew-wood the young god's hair,
The clouds that covered the coming sun.

All the east was ought but gold,
Blue below, the boss-shield snow,
Was Skadi. Sky-scattered clouds
Burned as beauty blazed forth

Down the deep snow-drowned ravines,
White-hot, whelming, whispering secrets.
She melted, and mickle and mild she found him.
So fair his fire she fain would go,

To marry the man, from her mountain home.
He unfroze the ice of her eyrie white,
Meltwater he made her, merry on stones,
Leaping laughing to the land below:

The gardened game-field the gods had made,
Where spirits spent in sport were happy.
A new game now, to net a husband,
Devised they very valiantly.

So fair of foot he fooled the snowmaid,
Niord named, not Baldur,
The gods' game gave to her.
The sun she sought, the sea she found.

To the ocean the icequeen overland went,
Merged at the margin of her married estate
With the salty sea as the sun looked on.
Her tears tended trees of kelp.

With watery waves wove she by day,
Niord's net-knotting daughters.
With women wily washed she by night,
Niord's nine naughty daughters.

Roamed with Ran to rend a dragon,
Long laughed loud jeers
At mighty men their maids never
Would welcome warm and winningly home.

She tried to tear her tears away
In making men meet their deaths,
A special sport a sport to forget,
From Baldur's bright beauty hiding.

But said she, "Sundered from the sun forever?
No more!" As mist, from her marriage-bed
At Ran's rim, she rose and flew,
Glad of a gull's gift of flight,

For Baldur abandoned the briny sea,
For Baldur broke in breakers white,
For Baldur bent her body up,
Climbing coastal cliffs as fog,

Sailed from sea to sundrenched air.
Yet the young god yearned she for
Too high held his head so bright
For a foamy flying maid.

Just one jutting jewelled place,
In all the upper air was there
Could Skadi skiff with skill and luck,
As crystal cloud keeping whole,

On land to lie and live all winter,
On rock and rowan resting, as ice
Spread, for spring to spring her up,
Waiting wan and wantingly.

The craigs and cliffs, kestrel-perches,
The spire-spears, sprite's castles,
The groves of granite growing high,
The meager meadows, less milch than stone,

The piney peaks she pined for strong,
Where first she felt the fiery sun,
Where last she lived a life of joy,
The much-missed mountains of home. 

This poem, along with other poetry and art, is available in the poetry chapbook Renaissance Woman. Link: 
 http://www.amazon.com/Renaissance-Woman-Collected-Poetry-Erin-ebook/dp/B004PLNLX8/ref=la_B004GLACQQ_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417153012&sr=1-8

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Festival Memories

Continuing my story of my personal journey on my heathen path, it was the early 1990s and I was still living in Sonoma, California. I had some great times at heathen festivals Ravenwood and the Ostara gathering in the Marin headlands, and the CAW Convocation.

A quote from my memoir:

      “There were two campout festivals a year, one in the spring on the beach, where we rolled out our sleeping bags on metal cots in an old World War One bunker in the Marin headlands, where we gathered at dawn to ignite a model longship loaded with eggs and nickels and push it into the sea as an offering to the goddess Ran, the other in the summer, where we pitched tents in the redwoods, held toasting rituals called sumbel, and a general rite to all the gods.  At the summer festival, the feeling was very much that the rituals were an excuse to get together, hold discussions with people who actually knew what we were talking about when we spoke of our personal discoveries and academic theories about our religion, and of course to sing pagan songs by the campfire all night, the selections becoming progressively more bawdy as the night wore on.  One year the summer festival happened to be Fourth of July weekend, so we all drove up to the bare top of the hill in a van and sat in the warm breeze, looking across the water to San Francisco.  All we could see of the fireworks display was colored lights in the heavy fog that clung to the City, though the rest of the bay was clear.  Pink, green, blue, yellow, the fog flickered.  We called it “wizard lights” and made jokes about how our primitive ancestors would have interpreted them.  We laughed all the way back down the hill.  I was one of very few who did not pair off for the evening, either with someone they brought with them, or an old acquaintance from other Festivals, or a perfect stranger they would not recognize in the morning.

     Nighttime in the redwood forest, before the music and dancing started up for the evening, held an otherworldly quiet.  Fog came in like muffling cotton.  The torches under the trees cast rings of light through the mist, seeming to splinter into rainbow-edged crystals as from far away came the ancient, dragonish sound of drummers heat-tuning their bodhrans over the fire.  It was a moment of pure magic.  All seemed still and at the same time I saw air moving across the firelight, for the mist off the ocean looked like air grown visible.  The eldritch woods, black against the starry sky, the red flame of torches, the glowing gold mist; it was an elvish night.”

 I also attended pagan festivals as well as heathen ones.
 
A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:

      “Because the heathen group Ring of Troth was based in San Francisco...I also looked for any pagans closer to home, and came across The Church of All Worlds, which was based on... a science fiction novel.  The devotees of Stranger in a Strange Land did not, of course, practice cannibalism, as did the Martians in the book.  Water drinking was their main activity, and nudity as weather permitted.  I did not actually join their group formally, but I did attend their meetings for a time, mainly because they were held in Sonoma.  I was originally attracted to them after attending one of their beach rituals, where the priest invoked the god into himself and I sensed power there.  It seems odd that there could be such eloquence in the mere flaring of nostrils, but that is what I chiefly remember:  when the god awoke within him, tasting the wind as if newly after a long time discorporeate, and then opened his eyes and spoke, I really felt I watched an entity larger than time squashed down to three dimensions.

     "The CAW Convocation was held on some private land north of Sonoma.  I went as a vendor. ... I spread my mummy bag right on the dry summer grass, and left my glasses on so I could look up at the stars before I fell asleep.  It was a wonderfully dry night, and I did not wake up covered with dew as I’d worried.  I joined a small group cooking by the edge of the flat area, looking down into the oak and madrone woods below.  Some fog was starting to roll up the hillside, which if it reached us would turn the whole Convocation dark and cold and wet.  A dark-haired man named Duncain positioned his folding chair facing the fog and announced he was going to stare down the fog bank and save the festival.  Several hours went by, while everyone else cooked, hauled water, put tents in order, and so forth.  Someone asked him to help with something, but he said not to break his concentration, he was pushing away the fog.  At midmorning the bank of ground clouds started receding, and by noon the whole woods below were visible.  Everyone cheered and proclaimed him a successful weather witch, and gave him the eke-name Duncain the Fog Bane, by which he was called from then on.”

Around '94 or '95, after I started studying the Bersarkr martial art and magical tradition, I performed the Bersarkr dance to festival drums one night at the Ostara gathering.

A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:

      “In the evening, when Diana and her group set up for seidh in the bunker and most of the people at the festival went inside to watch, a small number of people were left around the campfire.  Some people started drumming, and I found myself tuned into Angela’s drum.  She was a heartbeat drummer, regular and unchanging as time.  I felt myself caught by the power of her drumming, and I began to dance.  The berserker trance came over me, and I leapt into the air, doing martial arts kicks and then coming back down to land growling and moving to the rhythm.  I got overheated and dumped my cloak and sweater on the table, and I was vaguely aware that I no longer had my glasses on, but I could still see, and that was a peculiar sensation.  Occasionally the drums stopped and I headed for the bench like a spent racehorse, but then they started again, doing a different style, but each time Angela’s drum caught me and held me and the trance returned.  Each time I jumped back up, feeling exhausted somewhere inside but unable to stop, unable even to moderate my movements as I would have if I had been dancing some other way than entranced.  I continued to dance at full force, leaping and gyrating and kicking.

     Berserker folklore says one does not recognize one’s friends while berserk, but I recognized Vlad when he approached within the thirty foot circle all the others had the good sense to give me.  Then he stopped cold and stared at me a moment, and retreated.  I continued to dance.  Then it was over.  I felt boneless as I staggered toward the water faucet to relieve the burning of dehydration.  Then I came back to the picnic tables by the campfire and sat down, and put my glasses back on.  I felt wobbly all over.  “How long was I dancing?” I asked.

     Angela replied, “About three hours.”

     “Hours?!  I usually can’t sustain the berserkrgangr for more than one song.  And why didn’t I have an asthma attack?”

     Angela asked, “Fox?”

     “Lynx.”

     “I thought it was something small and furry.”  She nodded to herself.

     “You saw?”

     “Yes.”

     “Most people can’t, you know,” I said.  “In old stories they say berserkers are shapeshifters, but only the psychically gifted can see the change.  Though I should have expected you could, since you’re such a powerful drummer.”

     “Thank you.”

     It was only then that I noticed the naked man.  He was busily cutting himself on the arms, legs, and chest with a straight razor.

     “What’s with him?” I asked Angela.

     She replied, “He says he’s letting the goddess Diana have her way with him.”

     “Hmm.  I’ve never met a male Dianic before.”

     Through all this, despite getting language back right away, I had had to work at slowly unbending my fingers from their clawed state.  Now the fire threw a loud popping spark and I jumped up and my hands clawed up again.  Vlad offered a sheathed knife as a pry bar to unbend my fingers, and it actually worked.

     “I forgot,” I said, “it’s Loki’s Day.  April first.  He had to show us he was around.”   

At the time, that was not a controversial thing to say. Like in Icelandic and European Asatru, there was nothing remotely controversial about Loki in the American Asatru that I first encountered in California in the 90s.

As I grew closer to Odin while studying the Bersarkr tradition, I started receiving more inspiration for my writing. That's another story, and will be the subject of my next post, Poetic Inspiration.

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