Farewell, Hank

A dear friend, Henry Edgar DeBose, died this morning in a car accident while driving to work. I’ve known him for a few years now, having met through a shared hobby.

He was 32. He had three kids; the youngest turned 4 not even two weeks ago. He and his wife celebrated their tenth anniversary a few months ago.

I’ll miss you, Hank.

While I’ve Been Gone

The last few months have been a blur. Truthfully I’m stunned that it’s June and not April anymore. I can’t really tell you what I’ve been doing for the most part, but, whatever it was, I’ve been horribly distracted. I haven’t really been reading my books, doing rituals, attending the Anglo-Saxon Heathen meetup in New Hampshire, reading the Heathen groups on reddit and Facebook, or doing much of anything. It’s a pity.

I can at least say that I have enjoyed Stellaris a great deal. It was oddly nice to be among the earliest people to get some of the hardest achievements in that game. It’s a rare thing that I can earn any at all, but that game really does excite me.

I don’t really have much to offer, but below are some links to things that have been recently posted that I enjoyed. It’s hardly inclusive of the odds and ends that I’ve read over the last few months, though.

Stevie Miller’s “You Should Read Bad Books“:

Do you think Wudan would ever ignore a book because it was “bad”? Do you think He would ever pass by an area of potential knowledge because it was unpopular, or willingly leave any stone unturned where information might exist?

Wodgar’s “What I do“:

When I first discovered Heathenry, I really wanted to snoop around and see what others did, as far as home practice. What I quickly realised is, hearth-cult is exceedingly personal and the minutiae of one’s practice is not transferable from home to home, person to person. Sure, some basic fundamentals are there, but every man’s family is different, their experiences are different and how they approach their dead is inevitably different.

Marc’s “On the Importance of Ritual: Or, Why Taking Communion IS a Big Deal“:

There seems to be an all too familiar seems to be one that is all too familiar to individuals partaking in a religious ceremony in what is actually a religiously mixed marriage:

Being forced to suffer through a Christian ceremony for the sake of familial peace. Or, being forced to suffer through distinct Christian ritual for the sake of familial peace.

I hope to be doing some posts of my own again soon. I have several drafts that are months, if not years, old at this point and a few new ideas that need to be hashed out.

Mothers’ Night Festivities

The ham is cooked. The devilled eggs and potato salad sit in the refrigerator. Bread is baking. Stuffing is forthcoming. An ale is being shared currently while a wine and a mead are in the refrigerator for later use.

Everything is clean. The floors are vacuumed. The shrines are dusted.

Various festive lights are on. Candles will be lit soon. German music is playing, as is traditional for my family. My husband is singing German and Latin songs while he works in the kitchen.

All in all, the night is coming together nicely. I still have over thirteen hours until sunrise and my final offering to Sun. Various things will be burned and offered to the Mothers in the meantime.

Most people are suitably quiet online right now, but Jön Upsal posted earlier. He wrote a short piece for inviting the Mothers to join:

The three Mothers traveled to the table,
They found the feast filling;
Meat from the table,
Bread from the board,
Wine from the cask.

Boons brought the Mothers, bright fortune,
Success for the supper they saw;
One Mother was there,
One Mother is there,
Another Mother will be there.

Look upon us with kindly eyes, oh Mothers,
Bless us for the feast we give.

Have a lovely night, everyone.

Yule

Yule is fast approaching (or is already upon us, depending on your calendar) and I might as well post my plans, such as they are.

Mothers’ Night is on Monday, 21 December, though others are doing it on Sunday, varying based on what one considers the day before the solstice at that point. For me the solstice is approximately at 11:49 PM on Monday, a level of precision that did not exist historically.

The house will be thoroughly cleaned and organised before then. I’m planning on a large meal with my husband; this will involve something with ham, but I’m hardly the cook in the relationship. A full plate will be left out for the Mothers and later placed outdoors. I will give other offerings throughout the night and share stories about my female relatives, all of whom outside the immediate family having passed on.

In the morning, I will blōt to Sun.

It will then be a little quieter for a couple of days with fairly minimal celebration. On 24 December my husband and I will be joining my family for Yule. The night is usually filled with poorly made movies and sparkling cider, as is traditional for us.

On 25 December it will be like most other families celebrating Christmas, despite the sheer lack of Christians in the immediate family. Gifts will be exchanged early in the morning. Snacks will be eaten in large quantities. There is a good chance that a small fire will be burning in the backyard eventually. Later we will have our “dinner”, which, despite its name, is actually just a slightly late lunch and will involve very large dumplings, pie, turkey, ham, and more.

Further partying resumes shortly thereafter with the birthdays of two friends, which I use to share greatly with numerous people whom I don’t often see in one place.

New Year’s Eve will be the last of the major celebrations for me. I will be spending my time with friends farther north and sharing what I can with them.

On the night of 5 January I will be wassailing. If I can find an orchard nearby doing this, I’ll likely attend that. Failing this, I’ll return to my parents’ property and try to coax the lone apple tree to have a harvest later at all, let alone a good one.

Throughout this time I will be leaving offerings of milk and cream to the cofgodas and other wights.

Depending on when snowfall finally happens, I will at some point be making offerings to the Charles River in the hope that flooding will not happen. The flooding of previous years caused a lot of damage to the surrounding plants and habitat, not to mention threatening the bridge that I cross quite often. I would rather not have that happen again.

For the sake of completeness, here are some things that three others have previously said about their Yule plans on /r/asatru.

/u/ceetsie said in the a comment that sadly can’t be embedded:

First, my wife and I are going to stay up from dusk til dawn on the first night of Yule, with a bonfire, food, drink, stories and just spending time with each other. In the middle of the night, we’ll be doing a blot to Odin, the wights, and our ancestors. And when the sun rises, a second blot, for Sunna and our ancestors.

While the following is largely in regards to happenings a few months ago, it does reach its conclusion in a few short weeks:

All of these contain some good ideas that may make their way into my practices here and there. It’s a delight to hear about what others do if only for the sake of comparison and the Yuletide always brings out people willing to share.

Today’s Browser Tabs

It’s been just over a year since I posted my browser tabs. Might as well let everyone see what I’ve kept around in a horrid mess. Let’s count!

  1. Some Controversial Aspects of the Myth of Baldr” by Anatoly Liberman
  2. Völuspá and the Feast of Easter” by John McKinnell
  3. The Swine in Old Nordic Religion and Worldview” by Lenka Kovárová
  4. The Significance of the Rune-Names: Evidence from the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic Sources
  5. English: The Language of the Vikings” by Joseph Embley Emonds and Jan Terje Faarlund
  6. Pagan Survivals, Superstitions and Popular Cultures in Early Medieval Pastoral Literature” by Bernadette Filotas
  7. Rich and Powerful: The Image of the Female Deity in Migration Age Scandinavia” by Rudolf Simek
  8. Thor the Wind-Raiser and the Eyrarland Image” by Richard Perkins
  9. Senses of the Past: The Old English Vocabulary of History” by Catalin Taranu
  10. Meet the Other in Norse Myth and Legend” by John McKinnell
  11. Going to Hel: The Consequences of a Heathen Life” by William P. Reaves
  12. Lutzelfrau” on Wikipedia
  13. St. Lucy’s Day” on Wikipedia
  14. Beating the bounds” on Wikipedia
  15. Rogation days” on Wikipedia
  16. The Winter Goddess: Percht, Holda, And Related Figures” by Lotte Motz
  17. The Sacred and the Holy” by forvrin

Could be worse.

UPG and Mysteries

If there is one thing that baffles me at times about Heathendom, it’s that people with little understanding of history and culture will gladly tell everyone about their UPG and mysteries, while those with a much stronger background in such will almost never discuss them. Periodically this goes so far as to say that all UPG is false and should be discouraged entirely. Others, such as Ale Glad of An Ásatrú Blog, will say that such things shouldn’t be discussed publicly, as doing so would diminish the power of the events.

I can understand why Ale Glad could feel that way. Some things are very private and are only to be discussed amongst close friends and family. But I also think that it’s a disservice to the religion that we don’t discuss anything of what we’ve experienced; we’ve left those discussions to the fluffiest of people who in turn put serious people off. We’re allowing the discussion to be dominated by people who have little interest in learning more and whom many circles would rather not have around. Not only this, but we are likely holding back the religion by not finding commonalities, thus moving from UPG to SPG. This stifles growth potentially.

I honestly don’t know how to fix this. Convincing people to discuss what they’ve experienced can be difficult, although asking directly eventually causes some to talk. Organising this is next to impossible and, as far as I can tell, no one really catalogues anything outside of a few, poor, ill-conceived attempts on Tumblr. When the more well known heathens talk, however, it can have the problem of causing people to follow it blindly as truth; Galina Krasskova is the source of many insanities, for example.

For now I can only talk about what has happened within my family, as short and simplistic as the list may be.

  • In my very early teens, if not slightly beforehand, I was in the kitchen. I happened to look back through the living room and into the backyard. Just outside the window stood a shadow of sorts. I looked at it for a moment, didn’t feel any alarm whatsoever, and went back to what I was doing. It took me a moment to register what happened and I immediately looked back, but saw nothing. In the years after I thought that it might have been Wōden for whatever reason, but I’m entirely uncertain. The skeptic in me compels me to admit that I had been watching a lot of ghost movies at the time.
  • In Summer 2003, my mother, brother, and I were visiting my grandmother in Virginia. My grandfather had died just a few months earlier. These trips happened twice a year and were painful for me; there was no Internet connection and the TV was often dominated with uninteresting news. During this particular trip I managed to secure the living room for myself, allowing me to stay up late and watch Adult Swim. I had been asleep for a bit when I woke up to the feeling of someone sitting at the foot of the bed. I opened my eyes and, instead of the expected darkness, I saw a screaming, gaping, black mouth, two black eyes, and swirling, bright colours. I wasted no time in fleeing to the kitchen and turning every light on. Eventually venturing back to the living room, I found nothing. I slept with the light on for the rest of the week.
  • When my mother was 6, she and her parents returned to Germany and were visiting the Black Forest. Part way through the trip, she saw a black boar walking nearby. No one else saw it.
  • My mother is a part of a group that does shamanic journeying. She can’t stand most people in these groups, but she uncomfortably admits that they see a lot of things in common during their journeys. She’s unsure what to make of this.
  • While my husband and I were getting ready to leave after this last Thanksgiving, my father was packaging some things for us to take home. Two packages were destined to go with us, while a third was put to the side for him. We took our leftovers, but the third package entirely vanished. My brother wasn’t present, my mother wouldn’t hide it, and my father had just placed it on the counter where I had seen it last. He attributed its disappearance to elves, an oddity from a quasi-atheist.

All in all I don’t have many things to report. My family is rather mundane and can in no way claim to have spiritual or magical events happen often. I have no concrete experiences to tell me what the gods might prefer. I haven’t prayed for something unreasonable and suddenly had it the next day. I don’t hear voices, for better or worse.

But I do know that people have learned or experienced odd or interesting things. I can only hope that they talk about them eventually. It would be a great service potentially.

Today’s Browser Tabs

Let’s start something that will both amuse me and help me stay organised.

How many tabs do I have open?

  1. Animals in Saxon and Scandinavian England” — probably open since it was posted in early August and still unread.
  2. Burying the Carnival” in The Golden Bough. Fascinating stuff.
  3. From Fairytale to Goddess: Frau Holle and the Scholars That Try to Reveal Her Origins” by Catherine Heath.
  4. Walburgisnacht by Any Other Name” — there for some references that I need to remember.
  5. Berchta – the White Lady” — also reference material for something later.
  6. The February 2012 archive for Die Braucherei. This is mostly for the White-Haired Woman article, though.
  7. The Brotherhood of Woden. Hilariously bad and incorrect and causes random music to play in the background if the tab reloads, which just recently freaked me out when I hadn’t been near the computer for half an hour.
  8. Revenant” on Wikipedia. This is mostly for the links at the bottom of the page, which proved surprisingly useful.
  9. Waking the Dead in Icelandic Folk Legends“.
  10. The library page for the Temple of Our Heathen Gods.
  11. German legendary creatures” on Wikipedia.
  12. The Discoverie of Witchcraft” on Wikipedia. I wish that more books these days had titles like its full one.
  13. English legendary characters” on Wikipedia.
  14. The table of contents for Joseph Jacobs’ books.
  15. Di sma undar jordi” on Wikipedia. I had never heard of this before and I have enjoyed it immensely, despite how little information is available, even when translated from the Swedish page.

Only fifteen today! Much better than yesterday.

What and How I Practice

Germanic polytheism is a religion that I’ve known my entire life. My mother raised me to understand the holiness of the world and the many gods who form a part of it.

From around 10 to 13 years of age, I would tell people that I followed the Teutonic religion. This didn’t get me very far, as few at that age had any idea what Teutonic meant. I had inherited the term from Stephan Grundy’s Teutonic Religion: Folk Beliefs & Practices of the Northern Tradition. I wasn’t especially well versed in my own religion’s practices; I was functionally agnostic at the time and didn’t know what I was doing. My own ineptitude would earn me scorn from one classmate, a certain Robert, who would not accept my poor responses to his probing questions. This very person would a few years later tear my hammer from around my neck.

I stopped being so open about my religion once I entered high school. I knew that I wasn’t very good at what I professed. Around this time I had learned about the term Ásatrú. I used it sparingly, as I knew that it would get me just as far as my previous term. I dug into more books at this time, including a lot of books on magic. I was enthusiatic, but a lot of it left me uninterested at the same time. None of it was well written. It all seemed so hollow! My acts of devotion, such as they were, died for the most part until my senior year of high school. I was reminded by way of an English assignment of what I had dropped and started learning again.

University prompted me to examine my practices further. Many things were not practical by any means, living with four other guys in Providence, Rhode Island. I stopped saying that I followed Ásatrú and instead used Fyrnsidu, Old English for “old custom”. This hardly mattered at the time, as I didn’t know any other Heathens, let alone pagans, and wouldn’t meet anyone else until I was 21.

These many transitions caused me to look at what I did and why. While I said that I cared for the gods and offered things to them, in truth I did not care much about them. They were distant. After all, would a leader of a nation have any care about a random citizen who wanted help in improving something in his life? Not at all. I wouldn’t understand it yet, but it was my ancestors who received the most attention, if only without specifics, and that I was performing a marginally more historically accurate form of Heathenry.

Ancestors and Ancestry

A great deal of my religious activities is directed toward my ancestors, especially my grandparents, whom I knew in life with the exception of one. I have the ashes of my maternal grandparents at my altar, while the ashes of my paternal grandparents are (allegedly) scattered on my paternal grandfather’s old property in Kents Hill, Maine.

I spent a lot of time learning about my family’s past in my mid-twenties. I loved learning about my ancestors in my teens as well, but it was difficult at best to get information from my parents. My father is a bit of a hermit when it comes to relations with other people, while my mother didn’t know useful details. My own teenage laziness did not help. That finally changed when I was able to afford Ancestry.com and I gathered what I could and learned everything that I could. Ultimately my family tree accumulated 789 people, of whom a vast majority is on my father’s side.

I was shocked to discover that my direct paternal line had been in North America since 1638. Years of rumours had led me to believe that there would be a Welsh ancestor somewhere, too, but such a person was never found within several generations of me. I found remote connections to marginally famous people, including one who married into royalty, though no such people existed in direct relation to me. I located deeds to land long since sold. I learned much.

Ultimately I saw that I had a long connection to New England, just as I did to England through my paternal grandmother (and more distantly through my paternal line as a whole) and to Germany through my mother. All three became very important to me, although I always had a strong sense of nationalism, for lack of a better term, for New England.

In the years since, I’ve worked to make sure that I did better in regards to my ancestors. It was during this time that I received the ashes of my maternal grandparents; my grandmother had been in possession of my grandfather, but she died just two months ago. Near my altar is the flag of Germany. (I also have one of Iceland, which I desperately wish to visit, but I have no relation to that place.) I nurture a sawn log with lichens from a fallen tree; I’ve kept the lichens alive for a while now as my connection to the land here. This tree was damaged during a particularly bad storm and had been in the nearby cemetery; I’ve worked in that cemetery often in order to post data to Find a Grave and taken a particular liking to three individuals there. My items relating to England are rather lacking, I admit, but I periodically receive gifts from friends who visit London and use those where I can.

For my ancestors I burn oats, which is more difficult than it sounds when in an apartment. I try to learn the recipes to meals that they enjoyed in life, where possible.  I hope to build a hearg (Old English, “pile of stones, altar”; cognate with Old Norse hǫrgr) on my parents’ property with stones from their current and previous homes, as well as well from my grandparents’ various homes in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Virginia, if not more.

They are my everything. They’re important in everything. Their decisions made me in every possible sense of the idea. Without them, I would literally be nothing. Their triumphs and failures live on in me. I inherit what they’ve done.

I hope to live up to what they wanted for me, which I never heard directly from them in their lives. I hope to give them great grandchildren sooner rather than later and to teach those children about their ancestors. It is, in many ways, a singular goal of mine.

Gods

In some ways, the gods are more concrete than my ancestors. My family isn’t as firmly set in my mind, for they’re amorphous in their great quantity. My ancestors’ wants and desires blend together over the ages, while the gods have their affiliations, if loosely, that may remain rather consistent.

Throughout my many years as a Heathen, I’ve remained particularly fond of Ing Frēa. My early years were spent referring to him as Freyr; even now he’s often referenced in my head as “Frey”. His importance has been so great that my first tattoo at age 22 was of his associated Anglo-Saxon rune (ᛝ) on my right arm. One of the most influential people in my religious development was Jordsvin, a gay goði of Freyr. I gobbled up whatever I could find on the deity and went to him in times of need. His associations with peace, pleasure, fertility, and fruitfulness of the land remain very important to me. I have a statue and a woodburning of his associated rune dedicated to him.

There are, of course, other gods.

Wōden, whom others in Ásatrú may know as Óðinn, is rather important to me. Many, many people have said that he is a prolific recruiter. This isn’t completely true for me, as I wasn’t recruited by any means, but I can understand how that could be so for others. My parents and both grandfathers are lovers of history and writing. All of them have previously written for personal enjoyment at the least, while my parents also have written for profit. Like them, I have a strong love for history and writing. It was in this that I am not surprised that I may have once seen Wōden on my family’s property in my youth. (As someone who is skeptical to a fault in a lot of things, I don’t always know what to make of that, if it was anything at all.) I have a statue associated with him.

Tīw, known elsewhere at Týr, is not someone whom I’ve ever really experienced. He is for reasons of comparative mythology the leader of the ēse. He is the god of justice, war, governance, and oaths and is, for lack of a less overused term, the sky father. I called upon him once (in conjunction with my ancestors) when I had been wrongly and baselessly accused of a crime. The accusations were dropped a week later once they were seen for how empty they were. Additionally, I swear oaths on a long dagger that I associate with him.

Frīg, often erroneously written as Frīge and cognate with the Norse Frigg, holds a special place in my heart. She is both a mother and a lover. She looks over her family. She is Wōden’s wife. I have prayed to her when I have had  family issues and looked to her for guidance in domestic affairs. I associate with her a drinking horn that has the boutonnières from my wedding sticking out the top.

Þunor, known as Þórr in Norse sources, is the bearded god of thunder, the defender of the common man, and the wielder of an ax (or hammer, depending on other references and comparative mythology). He is the son of the Earth and is associated with oaks. He rides across the sky with his goat-drawn chariot. I have never called upon him directly, but he is included during more generalised offerings. Plenty of others pray to him for good rains or praise him during thunderstorms. I have a statue of him and a small blade with a goat foot for a hilt associated with him.

Earth (< Old English Eorþe), or alternatively Folde (< Proto-Germanic *fuldō < Proto-Indo-European *pelth₂- “broad, flat”; cognate with Old Norse fold and Old Saxon folda), is quite obviously the goddess of the Earth. The aforementioned sawn log with lichens is dedicated to her.

Sun (< Old English Sunne) and Moon (< Old English Mōna) are self-explanatory. I have nothing associated with them on my altar, but I have a copy of the Nebra sky disk nearby.

At this point, I go into more obscure territory or have not found a way to honour the god or hero properly.

Bēow is the (putative) god of barley, to whom I have assigned the attributes of John Barleycorn. I also view him as being largely synonymous to Byggvir. I have nothing associated with him, nor do I honour him, as I don’t grow barley and I know no one who does.

Ēostre remains elusive. Plenty of people celebrate her, but often without any sort of historical understanding. The name shows that it might have belonged to a local deity, which is nice to know, but it doesn’t provide much more than that. How this name came to be so widespread then is another issue, though. Nothing is conclusive.

*Hreda/Hreþe/Hreþa has even less to work with and there’s no consensus by any means regarding the name. This goddess, if there is one there at all, is thus ignored.

Seaxnēat‘s exact role in the world is lacking in extant sources, either as being a “sword-companion” or as a national god of the Saxons. He seemed important once, but there’s little to go by.

Wēland is worthwhile as a god of smithing, but I do not do smithing and any construction that I do perform is far less laborious. I am interested in smithing, so perhaps one day he’ll be more relevant, but for now he goes unnoticed specifically.

Hengest and Hors have no function for me, but they are undoubtedly similar to other horse twins in Indo-European mythology.

There are other possible deities out there, such as Garsecg, Metod, or Fornet, but they remain even more hidden than the others in extant sources. Vague things may be gleaned here and there, but most information comes from a single sentence or etymology at best.

The Land

I would like to say that I honour the land second only to my ancestors, but truthfully I do not. Living in a city and a degree of laziness have stopped me from going out and offering to the land as much as I should.

This is not, however, to say that I do nothing. I offer milk to the wights regularly on my altar, typically alongside offerings of alcohol to the gods. I also paid my respects to the local river for a while and hope to give offerings to it eventually.

Everything else is less spiritually inclined and more of a general kindness. Scraps of food are left outside for animals. Native, flowing plants are grown on the balcony for bees and butterflies. Less directly impactful I use only energy-effecient LED lightbulbs for the most used lights.

While I cannot do too much within a city, I do work on my parents’ property. Large numbers of flowering plants are grown for bees and butterflies. Many vegetables are grown (and often consumed by rabbits before harvesting). Bird feeders are fully stocked. Additional trees are planned alongside the many preexisting ones. A hearg is partially built.

Holidays

Holidays are loosely defined for me and relatively few in number.

The equinoxes and especially the solstices are fun. If it’s a quieter time, candles are lit and small parties are had. Midsummer in particular involves a larger fire on my parents’ property, the burning of offerings, the consumption of alcohol, and other celebrations.

Yule is a magical time for me, as I’ve always had wonderful memories from that time while growing up. Decorations are everywhere, gifts are hidden until the right time, music is played, and the world actually starts to shut down for once. The celebration is started with Mothers’ Night, which for me involves honouring ancestors and cleaning the home.

Outside of these, I have little in particular that may be considered Heathen. I do not celebrate the start of the growing season, nor its conclusion, as I do not grow anything of substance. I have no set time for honouring the elves. Halloween is a purely secular affair in my mind, so no veneer is put over it. Most things are ad hoc.

More loosely I at least take note of important events and people in history. These do not have celebrations attached to them currently, but I keep them on my mind when the time rolls around. They had their impact on history in ways that would have changed my life considerably otherwise, if my life were even to happen at all without certain events, so it behooves me to understand that.

Conclusion

This is the more involved overview of my practices. I am undoubtedly forgetting some particulars, but the framework is there.

As a reconstructionist, historicity is utterly important. While new growth in the religion is needed and must be done for it to survive, a proper foundation must be laid first.  As nearly clichéd as it may be to say, this truly is a religion with homework, just as it is for the other reconstructed religions. More mainstream religions have centuries or millennia of scholarship, spiritual growth, and traditions behind them, while we are trying to bring something very old into the modern world. Many things will survive this transition, some of will go away, and others will be modified, but this will happen regardless.

Many Heathens are first generation by virtue of having converted. Some, such as I am, are second generation. It is during this time that we will make an impact. If we falter in what we do now, future generations may not have Heathenry available to them. We could be relegated to being a footnote in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

So we read and write. We get the word out to the population at large. We get involved in our communities instead of hiding as small groups that are unknown even to other Heathen groups. We do the work so that our children will have an easier time and a fuller experience with our gods and ancestors.

I hope to see more posts like this one from people in the future, not to mention more websites. It would show that our religion is healthier than ever and that we are on any path at all, rather than stagnant and forgotten.