A Very Belated Yule

I beg your forgiveness for the lateness of this post — usually I try to get my holiday posts up a couple of days before said holiday, not several weeks after! I’m sure many of you can understand the stress that comes with this holiday season, including occasional flare ups in mental health concerns — which is approximately why I’m running so late on this one.

So since Yule has come and gone, instead of telling you about you can have a more Rokkatru flavored Yule, I’ll tell you what I did this year and what I might change up for next year.
The weekend before Christmas I traveled to visit my family — who does not celebrate Yule and who have no established Yule traditions. While my mother and sister contributed to making dinner, I got busy baking a Yule log cake and cooking up some mulled wine — called glogg in Sweden. Tasty treats seemed the perfect way to integrate some Yule flavor into a family gathering, and as I served out the cake and wine I informed my family what this Yule thing is all about:
Yule is one of many ancient traditions revolving around the winter solstice, or the longest night of the year. Between the summer solstice and the winter solstice, the days have been growing shorter and the night longer. But now, with Yule, we celebrate the return of light and warmth — from here, the days will grow longer toward the summer solstice, when the process repeats.
Traditionally there is fire involved these celebrations, to represent the return of the sun. Unfortunately weather interfered with the bonfire plans I had, so we stuck with candles instead.
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My Yule log from 2018 — featuring a tomten and a yule goat

When I returned home, where my fiancee met me determined to help me round out a patchwork Yule celebration of sorts (which is fair, evidence suggests the old Norse celebrations of Yule were between a week and two weeks of feasting and drinking) we got to work on a Yule log. Sharing the left overs of the cake and cooking up some more mulled wine, we carved an actual log, cut from the remnants a Maypole, to fit three candles, which we burned while we exchanged gifts. When we tried to actually build a fire in the firepit outside to burn the log it was an utter failure but hey, an attempt was made.
The whole celebration ended up being a rather ramshackle one, and ideally being able to have my fiancee join for a family Yule would help remedy this. Yule has a great potential for being a wonderful, cozy holiday shared with loved ones around a fire, delicious treats and healthful meals. But for a holiday celebrating the returning of the light, what can a Rokkatru practitioner do to align the celebration more closely to their path which celebrates the dark?
There are several deities that we could honor during this season — Hela, whose season of darkness and death is coming to an end with Yule, or perhaps any number of jotnar who are closely associated with the earth. This could be a time to do a blot of awakening for Gerdr, who is often interpreted to represent the fertile but cold soil being roused into wakefulness by Freyr, the fertile light and warmth of the sun (a myth which can be re-enacted in spring blots). Yule may be a time to call to Gerdr, give her a blot with sweet offerings in the earliest attempts to cajole the spring out of the freeze.
One could also make the argument that now is a time to hold such a blot to Jord — the earth which has gone into slumber through the cold and the dark, and which will soon be awakening again. Jormungandr, who has been associated with the liminal, the in-between, might be hailed at this time as the season on the thinned veil comes to a close (some traditions see the dark season as a season in which the veil is thinned, only beginning with Samhain but sometimes drawing on for a month or two). Skoll and Hati could again be hailed, for their ongoing chase through the heavens which drives the sun and the moon through their cycles.
If one wanted to do Yule classically, with multiple days of feasting, one could set aside nine days for Yule — each day holding a blot to honor one or more of the Rokkr and jotnar, the deities and sacred spirits of the dark, the night, and the wild. At the marking of the descent of darkness back into light, it seems a perfect time to honor those deities of the dark that we hold dear — to honor them even as we move forward out of the season of the dark and the cold, and move back into the realm of light and warmth.
This, I believe, is what I will seek to do for next year’s Yule.
How did you pass this Yule? Have you introduced any particular traditions to flavor this solar holiday for a darker path? I would love to hear if you wouldn’t mind sharing!

Shadow Patrons (Gods)

In Polytheism, people have a variety of relationships with various Gods. Some have a Patron (Matron), who forms a favorable relationship with them. (Not every Polytheist has a Patron, since each God chooses their level of connection with humans.) A “Shadow Patron” (Note 1) is a God who chooses to have an adversarial relationship with a human.

Why would a God have an antagonistic affiliation with someone? It depends on the Polytheism and the particular Gods. Some people believe that the Shadow Patron works with a person to burn off the bad luck in the Ancestral line. Some Gods want to test the fitness of the person, before They ask any service of that human. For some Gods, that is their nature, such as Nergal of Babylon, who states, “I just break things.”

In my perspective, a Shadow Patron forces you to handle the psychic energy of the hurt or grief. You are forced to cope with your wounds in order to do what They require of you. Since this energy is a form of impurity, it needs to be cleansed. You need to be spiritually ready to do the various sacred acts asked of you by the Gods.

Apollo is my “Shadow Patron.” For me, it is because I do two things that this God is particular about – divination and prayers. In Roman Polytheism, both sacred activities are associated with Apollo, He is particular about doing these religious rituals correctly. Moreover, He wants ensure that I am worthy to do each. Through testing my mettle, Apollo guarantees both to his satisfaction.

Since this God is well-known to force Himself on unwilling females, I actively disliked Him. When I was a teenager, I was the victim of unwanted male attention. Hence, I avoided Apollo like the plague (which is ironic since in Roman Polytheism, He adverts the plague). When I began writing rituals and prayers, Apollo came and refused to leave. Then I started practicing Roman-style divination. At that point, Apollo instructed me on how He wanted these acts conducted. A hard taskmaster, He drove me to hone my craft for both.

As I worked through this difficult relationship, I came to realize that Apollo is my Shadow Patron. Because He wants what I do and say to be the Truth. Apollo takes me places that I refuse to go. He does not allow me to “spiritually bypass.” (Note 2). That means I have to do deep sacrifices for Him, which usually involve things that my injured brain balks at. (Note 3)

It seems ironic that the God of the Sun and of Logic would have me focus on the unconscious realm. I can explain this. Since rituals between the Gods and the community entail a liminal space, preparation needs to be made. In a ritual, the full emotional spectrum of the community is melded into one. That includes the unconscious shadows of each person. All of this needs to be harmonized before the Gods can be contacted.

Furthermore, Apollo rules the Day, which is consciousness. By doing so, He has defined the Night, which is unconsciousness. Standing in the blinding Light, one can see the deepest Night. Why is this important? In divination and in prayer, the force of the hurt, the grief, and resentment is released. This turns Day into Night. The Dark and the Light must be in balance for the Dark holds the Light as the Light holds the Dark. This seeming binary of Dark/Light is not Bad/Good, but a nonduality (Note 4) with shades of Grey between the Two.

In the “Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma,” Gita Baack writes that “resilience is the process of creating meaning out of the contradictions of life’s darkness and light. It builds on the strength of relationships and community.” (Note 5) That is for me, a major reason for Apollo being my Shadow Patron.

Divination and prayers are sacred acts. To perform each, the human communicates directly with the Holy Powers. The Pax Deorum (The Peace of the Gods) has to be maintained between the people and the Gods. This is one reason for Shadow Patrons.

Notes:
Note 1. Shadows are considered to be the archetypes of the darker aspects of life such as the Underworld. A Shadow God could be a God who is of the Underworld or of War.
Note 2. “Spiritual bypassing is a mistaken belief that if we pray enough…eat right, and only think positive thoughts, our life will ascend finally reaching enlightenment.” Linda Star Wolf, “Soul Whispering,” Page 154.
Note 3. I have a traumatic brain injury.
Note 4. “Nonduality” means “non-separation and fundamental wholeness.” It comes from Eastern Religious thought.
Note 5. Gita Baack, “Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma,” P 149.

Works Used:
Gita Baack, “Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma.”
Raven Kaldera, “Dealing with Deities.”
Galina Krasskova, “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands.”
Linda Star Wolf, “Soul Whispering.”

Ascendant II: Theology for Modern Polytheists

The newest title from Bibliotheca Alexandrina is Ascendant II, edited by Michael Hardy. It contains essays from several different authors, including John Beckett, Wayne Keysor, John Michael Greer, Brandon Hensley, and myself.

My article “Applying Cross-Cultural Methods of Myth Interpretation to the Myth of Baldr’s Death” is featured about halfway through the book. For anyone curious about why Loki’s involvement in Baldr’s death is actually essential to the maintenance of the cosmological order, I highly suggest reading that essay.

I actually highly suggest buying a copy of Ascendant II (and its precursor, Ascendant I) because it features polytheists discussing theology in the modern world. Theology is not often something discussed in Pagan and Polytheist circles, despite all the work we do with and for the gods.

You can learn more about the contents of Ascendant II here and you can purchase your own copy of Amazon for $11 here. 

Frith

While frith directly translates to “peace,” it is a word that holds so much meaning inside it that “peace” does not do it justice. Frith and pax are not synonymous. Vilhelm Grønbech states in Culture of the Teutons,

A word such as the Latin pax suggests first and foremost…a laying down of arms, a state of equipoise due to the absence of disturbing elements; frith, on the other hand, indicates something armed, protection defense – or else a power for peace which keeps men amicably inclined (Grønbech 35).

Frith, then, is an actively defensive and protective type of peace. Frith, for the ancient Germanic people, formed the very foundation of the soul itself. Frith was such a vital part of life that it was considered a base necessity and not referred to as a virtue. Because of that, the society formulated around frith became one “based upon general unity, mutual self-sacrifice and self-denial, and the social spirit. A society, in which every individual, from birth to death, was bound by consideration for his neighbor” (Grønbech 13).

Frith was the power that made people friendly towards one other; it was the glue that bound society together. According to Grønbech, “Frith is the state of things which exists between friends. And it means, first and foremost, reciprocal inviolability” (Grønbech 18). That means everyone was expected to act from a place of frith; frith was more important than any disputes that arose.

Disputes could arise; arguments did occur. Frith did not prevent arguments. Instead, frith required that all arguments be held in such a way that people worked toward a settlement that satisfied the nature of frith. The active force of frith guaranteed a solution that resulted in communal peace. As Grønbech states,

Frith is something active, not merely leading kinsmen to spare each other, but forcing them to support one another’s cause, help and stand sponsor for one another, trust one another….the responsibility is absolute, because kinsmen are literally the doers of one another’s deeds (Grønbech 24).

Frith rested on the Germanic concept of unity. In the Western world, the way we are taught the idea of unity today is the same method that was used when Grønbech lived. Children are taught that a stick by itself is weak but a bundle of sticks together are strong – unity is thus conveyed as the addition of individuals to a collective.

The Germanic people did not understand unity in this way; for them, unity was the natural state of existence. Grønbech explains:

The Germanic attitude or mind starts from a different side altogether. Here, unity is not regarded as originating in addition; unity is first in existence. The thought of mutual support plays no leading part among these men; they do not see it in the light of one man after another coming with his strength and the whole then added together; but rather as if the force lay in that which unites them (Grønbech 33).

Frith is the uniting force; it is what creates the cohesive whole. It is because the Germanic people thought of unity in this way that frith became the most inviolable social reality. It is why the family clan was conceptualized as a fence, each member a stave set in the ground and enclosing a sacred ground.

That is where the Heathen concepts of innangard and utangard originate. Innangard is the inner circle; it is the family, the clan, the communities we build. It is where we owe our loyalties. Utangard is everything outside of those structures; it is everything external to our communities that threaten to destroy frith.

Frith is always accompanied by joy or glad-feeling. As Grønbech states,

Gladness or joy is not a pleasure derived from social intercourse, it draws its exhilarating strength from being identical with frith…Joy is a thing essential to humanity. It is inseparably attached to frith; a sum and an inheritance. But this joy, then, contained something in itself…What were the ideas attaching to this joy? The answer is contained in the old world honor (Grønbech 37-38).

Frith and joy are the foundation of honor, and it is the power of frith that makes communities cohesive and joyful.


Sources

Vilhelm Grønbech. Culture of the Teutons, Volume 1. Trans. W. Worster. London: Oxford University Press, 1931.

 

 

All Jackal’s Eve: A Moomas time myth for Kids (And the young at heart)

(Quick note: I didn’t create All Jackal’s Eve, it’s a fun tradition celebrated by some Kemetic families the day before Moomas. I was however inspired to write this as a contribution to the stories and celebrations!)

Every year on the night before Moomas Yinepu (Anubis) and Wepwawet celebrate the anniversary of the Celestial Cow by visiting Kemetic families all over the world. They hitch a golden sledge up to a team of living golden jackals and load it up with gifts and blessings for all those who did their best to live within Ma’at.

There are seven jackals, with one at the front and the rest side by side. Merry little oil lamps🪔 light Their way through the darkness as They sail across Nut’s starry body.

All the while our Akhu celebrate with feasting and parties, pointing the way towards our homes to the tireless golden jackals. If you see twinkling lights in the sky this night you just might be seeing the celebration as our ancestors smile down on us.

Children leave snacks out as offerings to the jackal gods and letters to be read. Yinepu and Wepwawet visit every home and leave presents under Moomas trees and in stockings. The trees represent the sacred evergreens imported into Egypt in ancient times and the bright lights strung on them represent our akhu shining as stars up above.

©Terra Akhert 2019

Gods and Spirits of the Land and Waters

December is the time when Roman polytheists honor the rivers and the hills.

My first experience with a God was with the River God of the Kennebec River in Maine. When I met the Kennebec, She was wild and untamed in spite of being dammed for over a hundred years. (Note 1) (Note 2). My family lived at the meeting of this river with the Dead River at The Forks. Although the Dead River is considered a branch of the Kennebec, it has a different nature. According to my late grandfather (former Maine Guide), this river was called “Dead” since it took so many lives of people trying to travel the river. While the Dead was quiet and menacing. I could sense that the Kennebec did not tolerate humans very much either.

Since then, I have met the acquaintances of other River Gods. The ancient God of the Potomac of Washington D.C. is so primordial that He is beyond language. The New River of West Virginia, although more primeval, is amused by humans and their activities.

One place that I have had direct experiences of land spirits is Western Maryland. This mountainous region has vast forests, meandering creeks, and wild rivers. It was first traversed by various Native American nations who warred with each other. Later the combatants of the French and Indian War and U.S. Civil War left their imprint with battles. Besides this bloody history, phantom beasts, unquiet ghosts, and odd people inhabited the area. (The most famous beasts are the Dwayyo, a werewolf-like creature and the Snallygster, a reptilian-avian creature.) The nexus of all this weirdness is South Mountain, which is an extension of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The strangeness of Western Maryland includes experiencing displacement of time and space. Returning home from Chambersburg (PA), I went through an unknown portal. I found myself navigating my car through a herd of mastodons, which were browsing on spruce trees. Dodging the hairy beasts, I kept going until I went through another portal back to my own time. I later found out that my experience was not that unusual for this area.

Echoing my experiences, Regis Boyer wrote in his forward of “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” by Claude Lecouteux. (Note 3), “We evolve within an inhabited ‘natural’ world, one in which the gods themselves, or the deified dead, are the cornerstone of reality. As a result it is a world that cannot conform to appearances.” (Note 4) Boyer further observed that the “Spirits of the Land” (Genii Loci) have been devalued, starting with Christianity. Even in modern times, the devaluing continues, but the Sacred still manifests Itself.

In examining ancient and medieval customs, Claude Lecouteux concluded that people once understood that they cohabited with the Spirits (Gods). Because of this, ancient peoples performed rituals, listened to oracles and made sacrifices. The folk customs of the medieval peoples such as the “rite of crossing a river” continued to fulfill this contract with the Spirits (and various Gods). Lecouteux continued, “they left us one essential law: mankind should live in harmony with the surrounding nature…. In order to prosper then, we must continue to honor the genii loci.” (Note 5).

Lecouteux interprets the ancients as asserting that the world is neither human nor spirit centered, but is full of spirits. Some are Gods, some are land or water spirits, but none are human. A wise person understands that they would have to co-exist with all of these Spirits, since they will encounter Them at times.

Recognizing the power of the Gods, Christianity sought to tame Them. The Church renamed various Gods as Saints, and built churches by sacred fountains and in groves. Those Spirits (and Gods) they could not tame, the Church called demons, who had been expelled from heaven. Meanwhile, lay people often saw these Spirits as dragons, fairies, or simply “The Little People.” No matter how much the Church (and later Science) sought to de-sanctify Them, the Gods still remained powerful.

The Gods of Water have many sacred places throughout Europe, which are still recognized. The Severn of the U.K. is named for an old British Goddess. The Rivers Boyne and Shannon in Ireland are named for the Gods Boann and Sinann respectively. The healing springs at Bath, England is the sacred place of Sulis, the Celtic Goddess of Healing. The Romans revered the Tiber River as Tiberinus. Each of these Gods received offerings from local peoples.

I, as a Roman Polytheist, do not see rivers, springs, mountains, and forests as aspects of “nature.” For me, They are not part of one divine entity such as “Mother Earth.” Each has their own power. Some heal, some kill, but all need to be respected. Bodies of water have yielded offerings of silver made by people, who understood the power of these Spirits. One does not enter a forest without permission nor drink from a spring. The Land and Water Spirits remain vigilant, ready to assert Themselves even in modern times.

Tourists like to white-water raft on the Kennebec and Dead Rivers. However, these rivers will claim lives as their due. The loggers who once drove logs down the rivers to the mills understood this. They knew these rivers took what was rightfully theirs.

Notes:
Note 1. Gods and Spirits of the Land and Waters include Those of cities, forests, mountains, and streams.
Note 2. The dam was removed in 1997. Since then, She has reasserted Herself as a powerful, wild river.
Note 3. Lecouteux, Claude, “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” translated by Jon Graham. Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015. Lecouteux, who is French, specializes in the study of medieval folklore and magic. He taught at the Paris-Sorbonne University.
Note 4. Page x, Claude Lecouteux
Note 5. Page 182, Claude Lecouteux

Works Used:
Fair, Susan, “Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland.” History Press: London. 2013.
Lecouteux, Claude, “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” translated by Jon Graham. Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Rada, James, Jr., “Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland.” Legacy Publishing: Gettysburg (PA). 2017.

A-Lada Love: A look at Lada, Slavic Goddess of Beauty

Maximilian Presnyakov: “Lada” (“Slav cycle”), 1998.

It is an unfortunate fact that we have lost much of our Slovic practices. When I set out on my journey to learn more about my ancestors and their pagan practices, it was a hard hit to take to know so little is known about it all, especially their use of deities. Mikołaj Gliński put this sad fact best when he says:

Slavs surely had their deities. While many of them can reflect a more ancient shared Indo-European past, it remains disputable whether these gods were worshiped on the whole vast expanses of Slavic Europe (which ranged from the Baltic to the Black Sea) or rather varied depending on the locale and specific Slavic tribe.

However, the deeper you dig in, the more we seem to be uncovering (and recreating).

Thankfully, what we do know about the gods and folktales has given us the knowledge we needed to open up this door that lead to revitalizing the traditional Slavic religion. So, in order to introduce you to the basics, I want to start with a focus piece on the main goddess we focus on in today’s practices: Lada.

Lada is a stunning goddess who truly deserves more credit than she is given. She is not only a goddess of beauty, love, joy, and youth, but also a creation goddess and mother to all the gods. She provides a safe home to many and guards over marriage (many folk songs about marriage mention her in some capacity). 

Many times, if she has a message for you, she comes in the form of a lark. Her connection to all things jovial brings their beautiful song to you, to lift up your spirts when you’re feeling low. When this messenger of hers appears to you, she’s also asking you to look within yourself and go on a journey of self-discovery. Additionally, the lark’s mimicking of other songs and sounds also makes their appearance signal a message from the other realms; listen to how they sound. What are they mimicking…what else is Lada trying to tell you?

Some also connect her with plants with two of the biggest being cherries and peonies. Cherries are considered to be a plant of immortality and combine nicely with Lada’s goddess of beauty and youth aspect. Peonies are for prosperity and good luck, linking it to her side of joy.

The time of the year associated with Lada is spring and summer. Spring brings that rebirth that helps one look within themselves and transform into something greater. Something that I also associate Lada with is the Summer Solstice and Slavic Valentine’s day, which is the day after Solstice. The Slavic Valentine’s day connects to Lada’s love goddess aspect. There is dancing and singing around a fire. One ritual that takes place around this fire is leaping across (carefully!). This is meant to ensure purification and protect against bad energy as well as radiate healing powers. 

If you would like to leave an offering to Lada, she is particularly fond of receiving honey (a symbol of fertility and prosperity) and also responds well to songs sung or played in her honor.

Sources:

Gliński, Mikołaj. “What Is Known About Slavic Mythology.” Culture.pl, 29 Mar. 2016, culture.pl/en/article/what-is-known-about-slavic-mythology.

Warnke, Agnieszka. “9 Slavic Rituals & Customs of Ye Olden Days.” Culture.pl , 9 Nov. 2015, culture.pl/en/article/9-slavic-rituals-customs-of-ye-olden-days.