PaganSquare


PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form
Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Heathen

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
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.

Last modified on

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Thunderstruck in Reykjavik

The way I heard it, back in 1972 the heathens of Iceland petitioned the Althing—Parliament—for federal recognition. The official state church in Iceland is the Lutheran church, and everyone pays tax dollars to help support it, but there are a few other recognized religious organizations that you can designate to receive your money instead. The heathens, very reasonably, asked to be included on the list.

Parliament thought it was a joke. (Hey, it was 1972.) “Odin? Thor? Come on, this can't be serious. Recognition denied. Jeez.”

That night (almost I want to add: of course) the Parliament building is struck by lightning. Lights go out all over Reykjavik. (I should add that thunderstorms are rare in Iceland.)

Last modified on
Honoring Both Sides of My Heritage: A Festival and a Road Trip

Continuing my story of my personal journey, in the summer of 1990, after I graduated from college, I finally met other heathens. I went to a heathen festival in Northern California near my home town of Sonoma. I happened to find a welcoming group in its historically most accepting and diverse stage, so I was fortunate that my first encounter with organized heathenry was a group that was totally OK with me showing up in half heathen garb (Viking Age re-enactor clothes) and half powwow regalia (Native American dance attire) which was how I chose to honor both sides of my heritage and spirituality. The Asatru group I happened to encounter welcomed me, and if my being part Native American was even noticed, it was something to celebrate, not something for which to exclude me. My first impression of other heathens was of a fun-loving, friendly group of people who welcomed me with open arms and open bottles of mead.

To summarize the events of the past few posts, 1989 was an eventful year: I became Priestess of Freya, and immediately my father died, I got into a street fight in the Soviet Union, I was in the Quake of '89, and then my randomly assigned college roommates summoned Satan with a ouija board and I had to get rid of him.  Then I faced my most horrible opponent of all: bylaws (I co-founded the official UCSC campus pagan club, Circle of the 13 Moons.)

It had been about a year since my father's death. The chance to find out more about the Native American spirituality he had taught me as a child, directly from him, was gone. I decided to go on a road trip in my truck—my late father’s truck—to find my Cherokee roots. At the time, I did not yet know that dad also had Shawnee ancestors; it took the internet age to find that out. Back then, being of mixed European and Native heritage and trying to honor both sides of my ancestry was seen as more than a little odd. Even the government got in on the disapproval, by having no census category for “mixed” and by only allowing people to choose one checkbox among the standard categories. But since I only met other heathens in person after college, I already felt like I was in a category by myself anyway. As the only heathen among pagans whenever I was in any sort of pagan space, whether the college pagan club or the Spiral Dance or whatever, also having my family Native relationship with the land spirits, not to mention also the Eastern martial arts meditations that had become part of my spiritual practice before I discovered that heathenry was my path, plus all those American celebrations like Yule and Halloween and birthday customs and so forth, plus all the little Austrian family traditions from mom’s family, that was all just me and my path. That was just unique me, on my own path, unlike anyone else’s.

Paraphrasing from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts, about my first heathen festival:

      The Asatru festival showed that heathens really knew how to have a good time, with lots of music and food and jokes and a welcoming atmosphere.  In the daytime there were seminars and discussions, and on the main day a ritual followed by a feast, with plenty of time to see the vendors’ booths and participate in shenai sparring.  Nighttime brought singing and dancing around the campfire, or for those who were curious or had a question about the future, Diana and her women apprentices performed seidh in a tent in the woods.  Seidh was an old word for magic which could mean oracular trance, shapeshifting, or bewitchment; Diana and her apprentices meant it in the first sense.  The remarkable thing about the seidh tradition was that it was specifically a women’s magic, and although men could learn it, it was considered improper for men to do so, unless they either were transsexuals (living as women) or transvestites (cross-dressing as women only for ritual performance.)

That was the old Ring of Troth, before it split into The Troth and The American Vinland Association. It was a very welcoming group of heathens. When I attended the old Ring of Troth's festivals in northern California in the early 90s, there were several other Native Americans in powwow regalia, a few black and mixed race people, several male-to-female transsexuals, and several gay and Lesbian singles and couples. Nobody even considered excluding Loki. Back then, if someone had proposed banning the worship of Loki during the festival, the Trothers would have stared at them like they had two heads, just like European heathens today scratch their heads about that peculiarities of American Asatru. I did not come to realize it until a couple of decades later, but all of those things go together. One can gauge how much racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia there is in an American Asatru group by its attitude toward Loki. How welcome is Loki? How welcome are gay people? How welcome are strong women who expect to be treated equally with the men? Where Loki is welcome, they are welcome. Where Loki is relegated to the sidelines, so are they. Where Loki is hated, so are they. I happened to encounter the Ring of Troth during the time when he was welcome, and so were people like me. It was lucky, or perhaps it was weird (karma/ destiny / the will of the gods / whatever.)

At the heathen festival, I met heathens who would become my lifelong friends. We sang around the campfire all night. Fog rolled in among the redwood trees, those trees that went up into infinity, their tops lost in the dark beyond the campfires over which the drummers heat-tuned their bodhrans. Flame lit up the fog in an orange glow. The night smelled like sea and smoke. We filled it with singing voices and the sounds of drums and guitars and laughter.

I was immediately part of the community. By contrast, when I went to a Powwow, I could dance the Intertribal dances (the dances that were neither competitions nor ceremonies) but I was basically alone in the crowd the entire time. At the heathen festival, I was included in all the activities and ceremonies, and was never made to feel that I was doing it wrong (although I probably was, at that point.) Heathens talked with me freely, and never once asked me my blood quantum.

It didn't matter to the heathens that I showed up to my first heathen festival never having heard the word heathen before. (Prior to meeting other heathens, I had not been using the words heathen or Asatru. In college I had been calling my path Germanic Paganism. Sometimes I called it the northern way, because I followed the gods of Northern Europe; this was long before there was a separate path called the Northern Tradition, but I imagine they probably came to use the word northern for the same reason I did.) I was instantly accepted by the other heathens there, just because I was there, and everyone was part of one big community. In contrast, at a Powwow, everyone is either there with their relatives or there alone, and only the vendors talk to anyone other than their in-group. I felt so much more welcomed by the heathens than by the Natives that it really affected which way I went with my religious life.

Going  to my first big heathen festival and then going on the road trip to Qualla Boundary, the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina, happened in the same summer. I was not consciously choosing between the two paths. I was already Priestess of Freya, chosen by Freya, initiated by Freya, and if there were no other human beings on Earth, nothing would ever change that. I was also already honoring the land spirits the way my father taught me in early childhood, and nothing else I learned about Native American ways would change that, either. I wished to honor both sides of my heritage, not choose between them. Every cell in my body is both Native American and Northern European. That would not change no matter what I found at the festival or on my road trip. However, which path I ended up working with the most did depend on how much I could find about how it was actually practiced and whether there was a readily available group of people that practiced it and were ready to welcome me into it.

Driving, I achieved a state of flow. I connected with the Southwest desert to which I later moved.

 A quote from my memoir ("we" is me and my mom. She invited herself along on my road trip.):

     “When we hit the deep desert, and the broad horizon opened up all around, I felt myself relaxing and expanding.  I had always thought I hated deserts, but I realized what I really hated was Ripon.  Deserts themselves were restful to my eye.

     There is a serenity in the desert.  It is bright, but not uncomfortably so.  The dry air felt good on my skin, and in my lungs.”

 When we reached the Qualla Boundary Reservation, I was incredibly disappointed. Quotes from my memoir:

     “I realized the costumed men posing for photos with tourists were all dressed in Plains Indians garb, not in traditional Cherokee dress... The shops mostly had T-shirts and the kinds of blankets and jewelry made in the Southwest." There was a re-enactor village for tourists and a stage play, both of which showed authentic history and culture, but they were performances, and the people performing were actors, even if they were portraying their own ancestors. It was like a less interactive Renaissance Faire: costumed actors performing for the public, not people living their authentic way.

"I failed to find a single non-Christian Cherokee.  I had been practicing Tsalagi, but I encountered no one who could speak it with me.  After days of this I finally asked a shopgirl if she knew anyone at all who spoke Tsalagi, and she directed me to the museum.  This 'person' turned out to be a machine which spoke a few sentences of Tsalagi when I pushed a button.  It was a cylinder recording kept behind a glass wall.”

There was nothing there for me. There was no path for me to follow, no group to join, nothing to learn that was not in books and museums.

I went camping in the Great Smokies, but the land felt strange and the humidity bothered my asthma. I hiked the Road to Nowhere and back, climbed over a huge fallen tree, followed a tree-lined river to a placid lake and watched the lightning bugs flick on in the evening. The green trees and hazy blue hills receding into the distance were beautiful, but I did not feel a connection to the land spirits.

I was born a creature of the desert. It was to the desert that I wanted to return, and if I was to formally belong to a religion, it would be Asatru. The Asatruars I had found had no problem with me being of mixed race, and I found that what my father had taught me about having a relationship with the land spirits fit perfectly into heathenry, since Asatruars in California were connecting with Native American land spirits anyway, since they lived in American land. I gave up on trying to find anything more of Native ways beyond what dad had taught me.

On the way back to California, we stopped in Missouri and I saw the log cabin where dad was born. I did not connect to the land there either, although I did meet some relatives. Then we passed through the Southwest again.

 A quote from my memoir:

     “Mom and I camped in Sedona in the red desert, at a site known as a spiritual power spot, and a double rainbow appeared over the river in a clear blue sky.  Other than that, all I sensed was people, the spiritual seekers full of longing and the locals full of hucksterism.

     The open desert was another matter.  Once again, as on the way east, I found a peacefulness to the desert that made little sense, logically, since trees and water were the usual things which came to mind when picturing a spot to commune with nature.  However, the most perfect test of one’s logic is whether one can accept data that do not fit one’s theory.  In this place where little lived, where rock stretched from horizon to horizon, I felt most keenly aware of the Life-force.  I loved the desert.”

I had found my place, the desert. It would be a few years after that before I finally moved to the desert in 1995, but from that summer I knew I wanted to live in the desert. I had no connection at all with the land on which my Native ancestors had lived. My connection was to the land I was born in.

I had reconfirmed that Asatru was the path for me. I had driven 6,000 miles round trip, and had come back to where I had begun

 

...
Last modified on

From the Wild Hunt:  Robert Rudachyk is seeking the nomination to become the Liberal Party of Canada‘s candidate for the federal riding of Saskatoon West. What makes this run for office unusual is that Rudachyk appears to be the first openly Heathen candidate to run for public office in Canada.

Last modified on
Call for Submissions: Masks of the High One - a Devotional Anthology for Odin

A little more than a year ago, I put out a call for submissions for Prayers to the Allfather, a book of prayers and rituals for Odin. Well, despite a number of people being kind enough to share my CFS across the internet, I received exactly three submissions. Due to various factors in my life at the time, I just wasn’t feeling equal to writing the bulk of a book of prayers on my own (since when I think prayers, I think poetry, and I am not primarily a poet), so I reluctantly shelved the project for a while.

Then I got to thinking: maybe a prayer book is too limiting. Maybe most other pagans, witches and polytheists out there also shy away from writing prayers for public consumption, either because they feel too personal, or because (like me) they associate them with poetry and feel unequal to the task. Maybe I pigeonholed my own project into the remainder bin.

And then it occurred to me: no one (to my knowledge) has yet to come forth with a devotional anthology for and about Odin. All of my initial foot-dragging on the notion of such a project aside, I finally had to ask myself whether I wanted to be the one to step up to the plate and do this, or whether I wanted to wait until someone else did it, and have to live with the regret.

And so, here we are. Today, on August 30th 2014, I am opening submissions for Masks of the High One: A Devotional Anthology for Odin. Submissions will close on May 1st, 2015.

Last modified on
Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I don't usually work with Odin but your blog inspired me this morning and I couldn't stop thinking about it during lunch so I wro
PaganNewsBeagle Watery Wednesday Community News August 20

Today's Watery Wednesday emphasizes community news from all over our wonderful movement of Pagans, Heathens, Witches, Wiccans, and polytheists. Lots of things moving and shaking today!

On the Norse Mythology blog, we hear from Master Sergeant (MSgt) Matt Walters, who led the campaign to convince the US Air Force to include Ásatrú and Heathenry as options in its religious preference list.

...
Last modified on
PaganNewsBeagle: Watery Wednesday Community News August 6

Lots of community news in our Watery Wednesday post: Heathenism recognized by the US Air Force, two book announcements, remembering Margot Adler and the spiritual experience of surfing. Enjoy your Wednesday!

Literata Hurley announces a call for submissions for "Columbia: A Devotional for the Spirits of America."

Josh Hunt reports on progress made with the US Air Force to include Heathenism and Asatru to list of religious preferences for its servicemen and women.

...
Last modified on

Additional information