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!

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

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.

Druidry, and The Hag of the Ironwood

Image by Hellanim

At their roots, druids are magicians (or shamans) who connected to the Earth and can call upon its’ magic in order to counsel, heal, teach, and divinate. In Druidic practice, there are many gods and goddesses that stand out:  Cernunnos, Brigid, Manannan mac Lir, Rhiannon, Lugh…Celtic deities. However, in today’s pagan society, we have created a melting pot of beliefs; blending the old gods and goddesses into even older practices to create something new and beautiful.

This open-mindedness to blending traditions has opened up many doors within modern paganism. If it’s one thing that can be said for certain, it is that our creativity cannot be stifled. So, with this thought in mind, I wish to open you up to a non-traditional goddess that I turn to in my work as a druid: Angrboða—The Hag of the Ironwood, Mother of Monsters.

Not many people will recognize that name and, those that do, would probably struggle to call her a goddess. At her core, Angrboða is a giantess with a name that means ‘announcer of sorrow’. What can also be off-putting to some is her ‘Mother of Monsters’ title, as she is mother to Loki’s three monsterous children; Hel, Fenrir, and Jörmungandr.

But what makes her perfect for druid work is, underneath this harsh exterior, she has an impassioned connection to nature and is a powerful wolf shapeshifter that can teach even the most seasoned shaman a thing or two about transforming themselves. Plus, she is a shaman herself, with an extensive knowledge of magic and divination. And, even though her children are deemed monsters, her maternal instincts rival that of any mother goddess.

Now, as her other (main) title entails, she hails from the Ironwood—a powerful realm known for the giantesses who protect it and the wolves within. While all of them are known to be connected to nature (namely the trees), Angrboða is a leader among them, a high priestess, if you will. And she is always willing to share what she knows with those she deems worthy (especially the lost, the lonely, and those in need of a mother).

However, be prepared to WORK. Angrboða does not take kindly to slacking. She only works with those who are willing to put the time and effort into developing their craft above and beyond what they ever fathomed possible for them. But, once you’ve proven yourself, she will envelop you in a loving and motherly embrace and protect you with the ferocity of her wolf side. As with any deity, showing your devotion through offerings also helps. Some offerings she truly appreciates are raw meat, to appease the wolf, and anything from nature (bones, leaves, sticks, stream water, etc.).

Angrboða truly embodies what it means to be a druid; someone who calls upon the Earth for knowledge and is willing to help those who are desperate for help and healing. So, I hope you will open your hearts to someone new, someone outside the traditional realm of Druidry.  

Hekate, Anubis, and My Brain Injury

My perception of the Gods is that They exist in the Eternal Now. It is the nexus of all time – past, present, and future. It is also the state of “everything is everywhere and always” and “every point of space touches every point of time.” (Note 1) We as humans create in our consciousness, the past, present and future. When the Gods reach out to people, it is not necessarily according to our perception of time. My experience of Anubis and Hekate, two Gods of the Dead, happened that way.

I met Hekate and Anubis together, three months before my life-changing accident. I regard being crushed nearly to death by a faultily constructed wall to be a random event. I do not subscribe to the belief that everything happens for a reason. I see the Universe to be random. I believe that the Gods, Spirits, and everyone else works out each occurrence for Themselves. In my case, Hekate and Anubis decided to use my accident for Their purposes.

At a Pagan gathering many years ago, I attended a Norse seidr (ritual of speaking to the Dead) to ask about my deceased father. As with all religious activities, I prepared by washing and dressing in my formal Roman stola and palla. The seidhr was held at a campground, in the evening. The seidhrwoman sat high on a picnic table, with everyone sitting on either side on benches. Because I came later, I had to sit on the lone chair in between the benches. Covering my head with my palla, I was ready for the ritual. Apparently at the seidhr, I resembled the Goddess Hecate.

After the seidr began, I felt myself going away. The last thing that I heard was someone faintly asking about Anubis. At the time, I did not expect to be possessed by a Deity. Usually when people are to be possessed by a God, they plan for it and assemble a crew to help them. I was an “accidental” possession, totally unexpected by anyone.

I have no memory of what happened after we approached the Underworld during the ritual. I was told by witnesses that Hecate took over my body. The seidhrwoman later told me that she had received a vision of Hecate coming to the seidhr dressed as a Roman.

After Hecate left my body, I was totally out of it. I felt like I had been struck by lightning, dragged for miles behind a fleet of Mack trucks, and run over repeatedly. Dazed and confused, I panicked. Fortunately for me, the seidhrwoman knew what to do to help me. First, she had me drink water and eat some crackers. Then, she spritzed me with lavender. All the while, she discussed the weather with me. Eventually, I came back to my body.

Disoriented, I asked the seidrwoman what had happened. First, she had a prior vision of Hekate attending the seidr. When I came in, I was Hekate come to life. During the seidr, Hekate used my body to talk to the people attending about their Dead.

Later together with the seidrwoman and the woman who had asked about Anubis, we had a private seidr. While answering the other woman’s question, the seidrwoman suddenly transformed into Anubis. After taking command of her body, He commandeered a golf cart. After ordering us in, Anubis took us on a wild ride through the camp. Riding in a golf with a God driving it will unsettle anyone. That is how I met Anubis, the Egyptian God of the Dead.

My experiences that weekend were too weird, even for me. They were things to file away under “interesting stories.” Then my freak accident happened, and almost killed me. At that time, Hekate and Anubis reintroduced Themselves to me.

During my coma and later my brain “fugues,” Hekate and Anubis roamed with me throughout the Lands of the Dead. Not alive, but not dead either, I floated between the worlds like a specter. Wandering about, I met Stellar’s Sea Cow, an extinct mammal, who guided me back to life. Along with Her, was Dire Wolf, a prehistorical mammal, who showed me his worlds of wonder, and Diplocaulus, the boomerang-headed amphibian of the early Permian, who taught me play again. With their help, I came back to the Land of the Living. Still hovering at the threshold, I was hesitant to return. Anubis whispered to me that He was the Key, The Opener of the Way. Before I could react to that, I was propelled through the threshold.

My work for these two Gods is now to help the newly Dead to find the map to their Land of the Dead. (Maps are needed for the Dead to follow or They get lost, wandering hopelessly about.) When I go into a fugue state, I meet the Dead then. Also, I formed a cultus to honor extinct and prehistoric animals. (Note 2)

As I have said, I do not believe that either Hekate or Anubis caused my accident. I do believe that They used my brain injury for Their Purposes. They had reached out of the Eternal Now introduce Themselves before I could understand what They wanted.

Notes:
1. This theory was first described by J.M.E. McTaggart in The Unreality of Time. 1908.

2. I wrote about that in Witches & Pagans #32: Polytheism, July 2016: “That Which is Remembered, Lives: Establishing a Cultus for Extinct Animals.”

Works Used:
Kaldera, Raven, “The Eightfold Path to Altered States of Consciousness.” 2006. Web. http://www.northernshamanism.org/the-eightfold-path-to-altered-states-of-consciousness.htm
Kaldera, Raven, “Spirit Possession.” 2010. Web. http://www.northernshamanism.org/spirit-possession.html