Tag Archives: Paganism

A few Yule Thoughts

Happy Yule!1

This post should go live right at sunset here in Rochester, NY. When it does, I should have about an hour and a half left at work before I run home, pick up Hubby, and head to the covenstead to prepare and share some tasty stew and share in one another’s company. What better way could there be to face the longest night of the year than with good food and good company?

Some days, I think many Wiccans and Pagans (or maybe I’m just incorrectly generalizing from my own experiences) forget the importance of community when it comes to the Sabbats, especially this one. Traditionally, this was the time of year when people in Europe were staying inside and out of the cold as much as possible. They relied on the food stores they had managed to gather up over the warmer months and hoped and prayed it all held out until they could start growing food again. And they relied on one another to make it through that process. If your neighbor was running on supplies, you gave them as much as you could simply because you might need your neighbor to help you with as shortage next year.

To the best of my knowledge, no one is my coven is in danger of running out of food this winter. But we do rely on one another in other ways. At least some of us do tend to suffer from seasonal depression at this time of year, and I think having the group to turn to on nights like this is a comfort that helps us to navigate through the emotional lows. It also hopes give us hope that just like this longest night, this will pass, the days will grow longer, and our moods will brighten along with those days.

That is something to celebrate. Or at least something to think about while we eat yummy stew and ride it out together.

1Happy Summer Solstice to any readers from the Southern Hemisphere. Sorry, but as is my tradition, the rest of the post will focus on Yule, as that’s what I’m experiencing right now.

Musings on Mimir’s Well and Ocular Sacrifices

WellOne of my favorite myths is the myth of Odin’s sacrifice of his eye in order to earn the right to drink from Mimir’s well.  It’s one of the myths that explains how Odin gained his wisdom.

One of the most common interpretations I have heard of this myth — promoted by people like Edred Thorsson — is that Odin gave up his eye and dropped it into the well so that it could forever scan the well’s depths, giving Odin knowledge of the secret wisdom contained in the well itself.  It’s an interesting interpretation, but I’ve never really cared for it.  I came to my own understanding of this myth.

I’d say that my own understanding was greatly influenced by the fact that I lived almost the entirety of the first three decades of my life with strabismus, which caused me to learn a good bit about stereoscopic vision, depth perception, and how important two eyes that work in cooperation are to one’s vision.  When I finally had surgery (actually, the second one, this time as an adult) to correct my strabismus, I learned how messing with your eyes can severely alter the perception of the world around you.  (Imagine reaching for a glass only to realize that it’s several inches further away from you than you thought, for example.)

To me, Odin’s sacrifice seems to be more about a change of the way he looked at the world, giving up old perceptions rather than clinging to them.  To me, this is a powerful mythic message for the rest of us.  To gain wisdom and knowledge, we first have to admit that maybe the things we think we know, the way we look at things, our very assumptions, may need to be sacrificed.  Refusing to let go of these things keeps us trapped and bars us from the new wisdom that is being presented to us.

Interestingly, while doing a quick search in preparation for this post, I ran across a post by Wytch in the North.  In it, she describes a couple interpretations of the myths that come close to my own.  Those interpretations differ in that they seem to see the sacrifice as a shift (or a partial one) from linear/logical thinking to esoteric/creative thinking.  I’m not convinced of that, as I think that a true change of perception that can be caused by the loss of an eye affects both of those categories of thinking.  (I’m also hesitant to draw a huge distinction between those to modes of thinking, anyway.)  All the same, it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s taken a different view of this myth than giants like Edred Thorsson.

Meditation: The Web of Wyrd

I originally received this meditation as a working to do with my coven during our first year together.  I thought I’d share it on my blog.

Cosmic WebClose your eyes.  Breathe in slowly and deeply.  When you lungs are full, hold in the air for just a moment, then allow it to leave your body, exhaling fully.  Then pause and breathe in once again.  Continue this pattern, allowing any tension, negativity, and distraction to leave your mind and body with each breath expelled from your lungs.  Each time you breathe in, draw in light and life and divine blessings.  Allow your body to become filled with these things.

Become aware of fiery red and gold strands of energy that criss-cross all around you and touch you.  These are the strands of wyrd.  See how they support you and make up everything around you.  Appreciate the substance and energy of them.  Study these strands of energy as they flow away from you, connecting to other people in your life.  Family.  Friends.  Coworkers.  These strands are what hold the universe and connect all things together.

Notice how your actions, your choices, affect these strands.  Notice how each choice you make is woven into their web and change the energy that flows through them.  Consider how these changes affect everyone and everything else through their connections to you in this web.  Watch how their choices and changes to the web of wyrd likewise affect you.

After a few moments of studying the web of wyrd and appreciating how it connects you with the rest of the universe, allow the image of the web to fade from your mind’s eye, knowing that it is still there.  Allow yourself to become once again more aware of your body and your present circumstances.  Become more connected to your body as you return to regular consciousness, never forgetting your experience.

Musings on following life-affirming gods

All Your HeartOne of the things that I love about being a devotee of Freyja is that she is extremely life-affirming.  Her embrace of passion and raising the idea of a life lived fully and joyfully to the point of being sacred is something that says, hey this life is more than a mere training ground for the next life.  It’s not something that is to be endured as a test for worthiness.  It is something that is supposed to be celebrated and lived out for its own sake1.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Freyja promotes a purely selfish and narcissistic form of hedonism.  After all, one can enjoy the joys and pleasures of this life and still find a framework for morality — even one suggested by the desire to enjoy such things.  One of the things that I love about serving a goddess who delights in and encourages such celebration of life is that she also often offers advice on how to do so in a way that is good for everyone involved.

Of course, life still has it’s down sides.  Sometimes the tears come.   But one of the things I have also learned is that sometimes, the tears come because of the joys and show just how precious those joys have been.  In some ways, I think that if the loss of the good times don’t drive us to a certain amount of wailing, we should really wonder how good those times really were.

So today, I offer this toast to life.  May you live yours to the fullest and find it well worth living.

1I suppose this is why I tend to gravitate toward a view that reincarnation is a desirable outcome rather than something to be escaped, as I mentioned in another post earlier this week.

Let us bring forth that which has quietly formed in dark places.

Happy Yule![1]

The winter solstice — that point where the sun’s rays are least direct on the Northern Hemisphere — officially takes place tomorrow morning at 5:30 UTC.  For those of us in the Eastern time zone (UTC -5:00), that translates to tonight/tomorrow morning at 12:30am.

The winter solstice marks the longest night of the year and the triumphant return of the light, longer days, and warmth.  To some Pagans and Wiccans, it represents the rebirth of the sun god.  Yule brings a sense of rejoicing, the darkest time following Samhain has is about to pass and the half-year reign of the underworld will begin to wane and give way to the brightness and warmth that is vital to our survival.

However, I think it’s important to remember as we begin to pass back into more light that we need the time of darkness to survive as well.  After all, the growing season and bountiful harvest rely on the gestational period of the dark winter months, just as our own psyches require downtime and decreased activity.

Yule marks the rebirth of light into a fragile, not entirely ready form, but it’s a birth that takes place thanks to the things that have been rejuvenated and seething in the darkness.  And while that fragile light shall grow stronger and eventually overcome the darkness for its time of reign, it will also be nourished by the waning darkness and the slumber it encourages.

So let the light shine in this quiet time, not as a brilliant force to be reckoned with, but as a comforting glimmer and a promise of what is to come.

[1]  Or for any readers who are in the Southern Hemisphere, happy Litha/Summer Solstice.  I hope you will indulge me in the rest of this post, however, as I focus on the mysteries I am currently experiencing/working with.

A book on Pagan minorities.

The other day, Steve Hayes brought the book, “Shades of Faith:  Minority Voices in Paganism” to my attention.  As I’ve been highly interested in the intersectionality between various minority groups, discovering a book that discusses minority people within my own religious community came as a terrific boon.

In her introduction, editor Crystal Blanton describes her own experience as a Black[1] Wiccan High Priestess thus:

I am accustomed to being who I am among those who are different.  I am also accustomed to seeing the world a little differently because my experiences in the world are different.  I am used to being the one that people have turned to when they wanted to ask a question about cultures outside of their own.  This has become a part of what I recognize as a gift the Gods have graced me with; and like the pattern of my life, I have found a path to purpose in being the minority within the minority.

Ms. Blanton acknowledges that some minority people within Paganism have felt alienated within the Pagan community, and I hope that some of the essays within this analogy will provide examples of such experiences.  I am hoping that as a Pagan community builder, I can find ways in which to make my own community more inclusive by discovering needs and issues that I may not have considered before.  After all, I agree with Ms. Blanton’s assessment of how a diversity of voices only strengthens us:

The voice of differences add in an element of harmony to the collective voices of any path or movement.  We are in the human and social movement of spiritual understanding; Black, White, Hispanic, Native or other.  Together we harmonize on a frequency that is powerful enough to manifest divinity on earth and bring spiritual rest to so much collective suffering and pain.  I am honored to be the black key on the piano.


[1]  This is the description that Ms. Blanton chose for herself.  As such, I felt it fitting to use her own terminology.

Pagans, Wiccans, psychics, and jargon

Pentagram with a circle around it

Image via Wikipedia

Emilyperson left a great comment on Friday’s post:

I’m curious, when you first started hanging around Pagans, was there a lot of jargon that confused your young Christian self? I wouldn’t expect you to have been familiar with things like different deities, symbols, and procedures, but does the slang tend to be as far from mainstream American slang as the fundamentalists’?

To be honest, I can’t say as I recall much about my early exposure to Paganism.  It would be hard for me to evaluate how I handled the introduction to Pagan, Wiccan, and psychic concepts and terminology thirteen years ago.  So rather than trying to remember, I’m going to just take a look at how I perceive such jargon now, how it relates to Wicca, Paganism, and psychic phenomena/practices, and try to guess how an “outsider” or “newbie” might perceive and experience an encounter with such terminology.[1]

I think that Pagan, Wiccan, and psychic jargon can be just as offbeat and unusual as fundamentalist Christian jargon.  And to be frank, there is a lot of it, due to the great diversity of practices and beliefs that falls under those collective umbrellas (each one is pretty broad and contains great diversity in its own right).

However, I also think that the jargon isn’t quite as central to the Pagan/Wiccan/psychic identities.  You can learn a lot about all of those things without coming into contact with terms like “chakras,” “arcana,” “ardanes,” and “visualization.”  You can learn a lot of the basics and get a lot of information before delving into such technical, specialized terms.

Compare this to fundamentalist and even evangelical Christianity, where the first step involves being “born again,” which is a jargon-y term.  In reality, I think fundamentalist jargon and one’s knowledge of it is often used as part of the fundamentalist identity and a way to prove oneself part of the “in crowd.”

This brings me up to my second point, in which I think the religio-magical movements I’m now a part of tend to be far better at presenting our jargon to “outsiders” in an accessible way.  This is done both through personal conversations and the constantly growing introductory literature available.

I think this can at least partly be attributed to the fact that these are relatively new movements and that many of the adherents are still converts rather than people who were raised by Pagan parents[2].  As such, they are religious movements that are more geared towards welcoming new members and making everything understandable and accessible, even to the point of often anticipating what terms may be unfamiliar to the “uninitiated.”

Fundamentalists, on the other hand, tend to be more insular and seem to just expect everyone to automatically know what it means to be “born again,” “sanctified,” or “demonically oppressed.”

[1]  It would be awesome if any “newbies” and “outsiders” would pipe up in comments and offer their thoughts.

[2]  This certainly isn’t universal.  I do know a growing number of second-generation Pagans and a few third-generation Pagans.  However, I think we converts outnumber them considerably.

Employment, Community, and Coming Out

Queer Pagan Flag

Image via Wikipedia

Tonight while doing laundry and packing for my trip to Erie, I spent some time listening to Episode 22 of the Inciting A Riot podcast.  Fire Lyte is an intelligent, funny, and charming podcaster and I highly recommend you check out both his podcast and his blog.  For my own post, however, I want to focus on the segment of Episode 22 where Fire Lyte talks about work and the closet.

Fire Lyte makes the sound observation that different jobs allow for different levels of being open about one’s spirituality and sexuality.  I know that as  software engineer, I’m in a position of great comfort.  An old coworker once summed up the engineers’ situations when he commented that he once overheard a conversation between two managers discussing the engineering department on a previous job.  The older manager told his junior, “They’re a weird lot.  But they get the job done, so leave them alone.”  My own experience has verified the truth of that mentality, that most people in charge of engineers are willing to overlook just about any “personality quirk” as long as the person in question proves themselves an invaluable resource.  As such, I can be relatively open about both my sexuality and my spirituality without worrying about my job.  Someone who is in a teaching position or — to go back to Fire Lyte’s example — who is working for children in a governmental capacity may not be so lucky.  To them, an alternate spirituality or sexuality could be a liability to them.

Fire Lyte’s advice on the matter is to be conscious of this, both when making decisions about how out to be in their current job or in deciding what job opportunities to pursue.  This is certainly sound advice from an individual perspective, and I support the idea that an individual’s first concern should be his or her own well-being.  Principles don’t matter as much when you can’t afford to buy food.

However, the down-side to that advice is that it does tend to reinforce the status quo rather than challenge it.  And as an idealist, this is one area where I certainly would like to see the status quo challenged and eventually broken.  To accomplish that, someone somewhere — quite probably a lot of soemones in a lot of different somewheres — are going to have to push their luck and take risks.

Part of the problem, as Fire Lyte noted, is that people have all these strange ideas about Pagans (and gay people), and that if you happen to be the only person that your employer or others know that is Pagan (or gay), then you have an uphill battle to fight, and one that your employer or others in power may not be willing to let you fight.

The problem is, there’s ultimately only one permanent solution to that scenario:  Pagans (and gay people) need to become more visible.  As long as we stay hidden because it’s easier, then people will remain unconfronted with and uninformed about us.  As I said, we only reinforce the status quo.

This doesn’t mean that I think everyone should run out and tell their boss, their neighbors, or anyone else that they are Pagan (or gay).  I don’t think everyone should slap a pentacle or pride flag on their desk at work, their car, or their living room window (my landlord made me take mine down due to a lease violation).  I may be an idealist, but I’m not a moron.  But there are those of us who can take risks — and there are different levels of risk that different people can take — that would go a long way.

There are those of us in jobs where we are secure, either due to the nature of the job or the fact that we are invaluable to our employer.  And I’d encourage those who have been at their job for five years or more (yes, such loyal employees still do exist, though they’re rare) to think about how they might have the job security to push the boundaries a little.  Because the only way we can gain more visibility and more understanding is to be more visible.

I’ll also note that the advantage of having been at a job for a long time before coming out is that you’re an established person.  Rather than being an unknown individual who is a “weird Pagan,” you become a known hard worker who happens to be a “weird Pagan.”  And ultimately, I think that’s what we need.  We need to be seen as full individuals.

As I said, there are different levels of risk.  This most directly translates into different levels of being “out.”  “Coming out” at work can be something as simple as telling a couple of trusted coworkers (or even a trusted manager) in confidence.  The whole office doesn’t necessarily need to know, and even the increased awareness of one or two people can have positive and radical results in the long term.  I’m reminded of the job I had in Ithaca.  During the four years I was there, I kept a picture of my boyfriend on my desk.  The only two people who commented on it the entire time I was there originally assumed it was a picture of my brother.  I politely informed them each that the handsome man was my boyfriend.  The one said nothing more, while the other became a better friend.  I’m not sure what anyone else in the office made of the picture.  For all I know, the others still assumed he was my brother, and I was content to let them assume that.

In the end, each person must make their own choices when it comes to the closet(s) and how “out” they want to be at work, in their community, or in other aspect of their lives.  Each person must decide what level of risk he or she is willing to take, and I would not dream of dictating such important choices to others.  Bu I would encourage everyone to consider again what level of risk they might be willing to live with if it means a long-term improvement for all Pagans (and/or gay people).

Project Pagan Enough

ProjectPaganEnough.jpgWhile checking up on Pax’s blog today, I discovered Project Pagan Enough, a new movement started by Pagan blogger Fire Lyte.  Fire Lyte offers the following explanation for his reasons for launching this movement:

It has become quite obvious over the past few years that the pagan
community likes to talk the big game of being tolerant and inclusive of
all peoples, but seems to lack that tolerance when the person in
question dresses well or is attractive or is otherwise garbed in a cloak
of ‘mainstream.’ This intolerance seems to be derived from a standpoint
that we, as the pagan community, believe we are ridiculed or ostracized
by the mainstream, thus people that look mainstream must be our enemy.

While I certainly agree with Fire Lyte’s observations, I’d note that I’ve seen the reverse in many instances too.  I’ve seen more than one “mainstream” Pagan criticize others for being “too goth” or “too SCA” or “too” many other things.  Unfortunately, one of the universal truths is that no matter what we look like or how we choose to act, we humans tend to be critical and of judgmental towards those who look and behave differently.  And while it would be nice to believe that those of us who have felt the sting of criticism and judgment wouldn’t dream of inflicting those experiences on others, my own experiences and observations have taught me that this is a pleasant fiction that does not match with our unpleasant reality.

With that in mind, I choose to align my blog with principles of the Pagan Enough Project:

  • You are pagan enough, despite how you look, act, smell,
    dress, believe, or are.
  • You recognize that others are pagan enough despite their
    appearance, smell, manner of dress, belief, practice, or other aspect.
  • You recognize that you can have an academic debate on the finer
    points of belief or practice, but that it does not take away from
    someone else’s level of being pagan.
  • You welcome, befriend, and encourage others in the pagan community
    despite their appearance, dress, or other physical or superficial
  • You promise to treat members of other faiths, despite the faith,
    with honest-to-goodness fairness, equality, and grace, not judging them
    or their faith based on the actions of fringe members of their same

I hereby declare that my priority is in following the path laid out for me by my own gods rather than attempting to direct others in the path they are meant to follow.  Finding the path others are to follow is for those people and their gods (if applicable) to work out.  While I may offer insight and advice, I shall offer no more than that.  And I choose to bless those who choose other healthy and beautiful (recognizing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder) ways of expressing their spirituality rather than trying to force them to meet my standards.

Video: How Wyrd Informs My Ethics

I decided to do another video.  This time, my topic of discussion is on how wyrd informs my understanding of ethics.

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of wyrd for almost three years now.  I’ve explored it’s implications for magic, for community, and for justice.  So it’s no surprising that I’d find it an important concept when thinking about my ethics, as well.