Category Archives: Cultural practices
H: Heathen practices and me
For many years the only definition of heathen was one who was not Christian. If you look in the dictionary you will still find that as part of the definition of heathen. Today however I am not talking about the dictionary definition. I am talking about how it relates to the modern Pagan culture and the culture of Germanic pagans. My heathenism studies have been a major influence in my path and on my craft as a witch.
The heathens of today are often hard to define. For some people it is an umbrella term for an eclectic Germanic recon path. For other people is a very specific tradition with in the label of Germanic religions. I consider it to be a term for an eclectic approach to being a semi Recon based practitioner.
You may be thinking wait a minute you can’t be both eclectic and a Reconstruction can you? When it comes to the Germanic religions it is more possible. There are several Germanic cultures to choose from. You have the Angels and the Saxons, The Danish, The Norse, The Icelandic, the Franks, and several other tribes. Each tribe had slightly different lore. By studying the lore of all the paths and tribes a person can gain a fuller insight into the lore for Germanic paganism.
It is the Nordic lore which we have the most information from. It was also in Norway and Iceland where the religious practices of the Germanic tribes lasted the longest. Several of the sagas that many heathens use as source texts for their practices and understanding of the culture are preserved in a book titled The Sagas of the Icelanders. These sagas tell of the social structure and the social etiquette. From these sagas we learn how they lived. That is why they are excellent sources to use. The other books which provide sagas and lore about the Gods are:
Saxo Grammaticus: The history of the Danes
,Heimskringla: The life of the Norse Kings
Right now I am in the process of reading Heimskringla. I’ve already gotten some information about lore but not a whole lot. Snorri used the same tale about Odin founding the Kingdom of the Norse in both the prose Edda and in Heimskringla. Both tales are very interesting and explain a bit of the culture of the Gods. Yet my preference is for the origins discussed in the poetic Edda.
My Heathen Practice
My personal heathen practice is more related to the magical practices and the crafts. Witchcraft as we know it ultimately came from the Anglo-Saxon culture. There are three primary deities associated with Magic and witchcraft Odin, Freya,and Loki. Many of the books I have read on Traditional witchcraft have had a Germanic slant. That’s one of the things that started my more invested study and practice with Germanic pagan traditions.
Aside from Raymond Buckland’s Seax Wica there are several other traditions of witchcraft which have a more Germanic leaning.. These books along with the Eddas and Sagas has helped me develop and understand how Germanic magic worked and what the culture was like. As a witch I have found this knowledge and information immensely helpful and informative. I have gained much wisdom from those practices. Yet it is not the only part of my heathen practices.
So what makes me a Heathen? Worship of the Aesir, Vanir, and Jotun. I have accepted the Nine Nobel virtues as part of my moral and ethical guidelines. The Germanic tribes had a concept of Fate of sorts called Wyrd. There is a lot about Wyrd I am still trying to understand and evaluate for myself, I am not discouraged by it though.
The Norse were very much a warrior culture. For them it was about honor and the battle. Yes they had head hunting and other practices that today are considered “Barbaric” but to accept the deities with out accepting an understanding of the culture which worshiped those deities is meaningless. Yes. The Germanic tribes were considered barbarians to the Romans & Greeks, but so were the Celtic tribes. It is only by understanding or trying to understand the culture in which the deities were worshiped that we can truly understand how the religion and spirituality of those times worked.
My interest as an anthropologist really plays into why I work so hard to reconstruct what I can. It is actually through historical sources such as the Sagas of the Kings and warriors and the few archeological finds that we have any concept of what that culture was like. The practice of heathenism also plays deeply into my desire to connect to something from my blood ancestry. For me it was sort of embracing a part of my history and understanding where my family origins were.
What my heathen practice entails
I have not fully developed a comprehensive unified product of witchcraft and Germanic paganism. While witchcraft is a part of my worship and practice of Germanic paganism, there is a lot more to it than that. My heathen practice entails doing a specific form of ritual called a Blot to the Gods. It involves prayers and obviously magic.
I am looking into learning more about rune lore so I can try my hand at runic magic. Working with the runes would also allow me to learn the mysteries of the Runes. Rune magic is actually one of the priary forms of magic used in Germanic paganism. It was gifted to Odin after he sacrificed himself to himself on the tree of knowledge and wisdom. There were several sets made I know of one for humans, one for the Gods, and one for the Dwarves.
My practice also entails a lot of study. There is probably more study than worship at times, and that works for me. My worship is actually often times more impromptu than it is for specific holidays or occasions. I have even developed my own ritual structure for their worship which they don’t seem to mind which is a combination of a Blot and a typical religious witchcraft ritual. One of the reasons I study so much is there is a lot of lore to pour over and assimilate and there is also a lot of history and multiple translations of sacred texts to read.
The path to wisdom is never ending. This is just one place you may also be able to find wisdom and truth.
Lore-What it is and why it’s important
Many people talk about mythology and folklore and how they study them to gain ideas and insights about their religious paths and practices. Today witches actually have a plethora of lore that we have access to. For many people this is a problem as there is so much lore out there they don’t know where to go looking for lore and they don’t know what to do with it once they have found the lore. This blog entry is going to cover a few of those concepts.
The goal of this blog is to help witches and pagans know just how much lore there is for them to sort through. Part of that process is going to be giving examples of lore and how I have started to study and interpret folklore. The following concepts will be outlined and discussed in this blog entry:
- What defines Lore
- Where to find Lore
- How to decide what lore to use
- Interpreting Lore
- Why we use lore
- Applying lore to practice
- Writing your own Lore
What defines Lore
There are many different ways that people define lore. For myself I define lore as sets of oral and written stories and practices that inspire the practices of various witches and pagans. Many people often forget that family recipes and traditions are also different types of lore that can be included into their practices. For myself there are family traditions that I have started to incorporate into my practices. For example every year for Christmas my mother makes Meat Pie which is a throw back to her family’s French Canadian roots. As a pagan and witch I have added this to my Winter Solstice as well as my Yule celebrations. Freyr was worshiped by the Franks (French and Yule is his holiday) and meat pie as made by my family mixes beef and pork. So for me baking a pie for the Solstice and for Yule are perfectly acceptable lore additions to my practice.
Where to find Lore
One of the things when I first started to practice witchcraft I found was that there were no specific myths for my practice. While many neo-pagan witchcraft books contain a basic mythos for the sabbats and the wheel of the year I often found that concept to be rather incomplete. There were no specific myths written out that I could find that described the events in the wheel of the year. For a time I went with what was told and figured that was all there was to the concept. Then when I started to actually do more in depth research I found a few authors who actually gave a few of the fairy tales and myths associated with various spirits and analyzed them. Then I started to really look.
So where can you find lore? The answer is every where. There is lore in poetry, songs, plays, little sayings, old traditions that no one seems to remember where they come from, history, and anything far and in between. Fairy tales are rich sources of lore. Myths from various cultures can be fascinating pieces of lore as well. Old stories and tales often considered “legends” often have deep traces of lore in them. Believe it or not the book “Hammer of the witches” along with the accounts of the witch trials are actually full of lore. Some of it can be pure hate based, but there are aspects of gold in there.
yes I did just say that you can use the witch trials as sources of lore. Now why would I as a modern witch even think of using hate based lore? The simple fact of the matter is that the stuff about witches shape shifting is true, but not in the literal sense. The same thing goes about the witches sabbats. Often times there were and still are sexual themes and uses of substances to enhance the ritual trances and achieve unions with the divine. You just need to know how to read and look through the lore.
Deciding What Lore to use
This is a very personal thing that only you can really decide. There have been bits of lore that I have accepted and there are bits of lore I have not accepted for my practice. In the end while I can give you some advice it is a personal choice what you use for the lore that make up your unique practice. No matter what any one else says there will always be something unique about your practice. So now on to how we pick out which lore you will use.
The first thing you need to do is read any and all lore that you can get your hand into. Once you start reading the lore you need to pick up a notebook to write down any and all thoughts that you have after you read the lore. After you read the lore look at your thoughts and your emotional reactions to the lore. If the symbolism in the myths and lore relates to how you view and understand the world than you should add it to your personal collection of lore. If the symbols and the theme of the tale doesn’t relate to your views than you can simply not work with that lore.
Like everything else you need to work with that which makes sense and works for you. One of the first things you will need to do before you can work with lore is have some sort of understanding of your own beliefs and views of the world. If you dont know what you believe you wont be able to gain insight from lore. our beliefs are what form the basis of our practices and the understandings we have about the world around us.
Over the last few years I have spent several semesters studying various stories and myths. One of the things literature classes teach their students is how to analyze the literature that they read. A key thing in analyzing and interpreting lore is being able to back up what you get from the tale. For example I did a paper on Poe’s story “The Fall of the House of Usher” and I compared the story to Poe’s real life and I used it as an example of sickness. Through out the paper I used quotes from the story and his own life to support the views.
When a person starts to interpret lore there are many things that need to be taken into consideration. The first thing is cultural research and historical information. By looking into the history and culture of an area you can gain a better insight as to what they symbols may have meant to the people who originally read or told the stories. By looking at the culture context becomes clear and the meanings of stories become more obvious.
Context is key in interpreting lore. Once you have context you can start to apply personal meaning to the deeper messages and thus start to gain a deeper practice. Personal meaning comes from the reflections and thoughts that a person has after they read or hear the lore. Interpreting Lore is something that takes a bit of meditation and work, but the rewards are worth it.
Why we use Lore
There are many reasons why witches and pagans use and study lore. The most basic reason is that lore provides insight as to why things are done the way they are. Lore can also provide keys for the deeper mysteries that provide the gateway to ascension and higher spiritual evolution. Lore provides understanding to the personalities and the interests of the various spirits. It gives ideas as to what we can use for offerings and what is sacred to these beings.
Applying Lore to practice
In the previous sections I mentioned that one of the uses of lore is to gain an understanding as to what the various deities and spirits may enjoy for offerings and sacrifices. One of the things that is essential to have a successful practice that is very fulfilling you need to have a connection to the deities and spirits. The best way to establish these relationships is through sacrifices, offerings, prayer, meditation, and contact. The best way to learn these things is through reading and researching lore.
Once you start reading the lore you will find some practices and myths that relate to your practice. You take your information gained from reading and your own thoughts and combine the two together. Once combined you are then well on your way to having a nice and well rounded practice that will be supported with references and research.
Writing your own Lore
One of the things I have started to do is write my own lore based on my experiences in my trances. I use these experiences to create the myths that work for myself. I use these myths to round out my practice. It takes a long time of piecing together experiences and rituals to have a setup where you can write lore that works for you.
What counts as writing your own lore? writing poems, stories, and anything that is done in honor of the spirits and deities that you work with. Once you start writing your own lore you’ll be able to really piece together your own practice based wholly on your own personal experiences and nothing more or less. The first and most important step here is for you to write down all your thoughts, experiences and the like.
Additional reading and sources:
Hedge Rider by Eric De Vres
Witching Way of the Hollow Hill By Robin Artisson
Spiritual Guides-Post one what are they and what are the forms they take
What they are and the forms they can take
The overall purpose of this blog is to help seekers find simple advice on how to find their own way. I do this by providing lessons I have learned and by answering some of the most common questions I have been asked in my years of posting on message boards and e-mail lists regarding witchcraft, paganism, and spirituality. To be honest I understand the question as it was something I wondered about myself over the years, but have recently decided I have an understanding of how guides will manifest in a person’s life (and trust me they are not all what you would expect).
The questions I am referring to are:
- “What are spirit Guides?
- What forms can guides take?
- How do I contact them?
- Why do we need them?
This essay is going to focus specifically on the topics of what spiritual guides are and what some of the forms they can take. I figure this would be a good starting point. In order to contact and find out who/what your spiritual guides are you need to at least know what they are and the forms they can take. Next week I will write about why we need them and how to contact them.
Before I continue writing this post I need to explain how I define a guide in my path. The thing is I don’t limit guides to just spirits and other worldly beings that I work with and have contacted. Guides for me can come in the form of authors, teachers, poets, ect. For me a guide is any one who provides you something on a spiritual level that has an effect on the way you view the world.
So that means a guide could be basically anything right?
Yes. However the effect the being has on you should be quite profound. I can’t tell you what to classify as a profound experience. It’s one of those things you know when it happens. If the author inspires you to think about things in a new way they can be a guide. If they give you advice that seems to click with your intuition they are in many cases a guide.
To be honest I have learned somethings about nature simply by watching the world around me and it had an impact on my world view. In that way nature herself would be one of my most important spiritual guides. Yet she is not the only guide I have. I have given a few examples of people you may consider guides, but I think a more direct explanation of each of the examples is important.
I’ll start with the obvious concept of teachers being guides. To be honest one of my guides in recent history has become my first philosophy teacher. He is the one who has basically told me to start writing. He also suggested that I do something with my passion for philosophy, anthropology, religion, mythology, and metaphysics into something I can do with my life. He also said that I need to get into academia.
He has encouraged me to work on my dream. That’s one of the reasons I have started this project. It has helped me work on polishing my writing and getting my thoughts out clearer. It also gets my name and voice out there. Even though this information is given freely, it is still published. The material is still out there and accessible for any one who desires it.
Next you have authors. Many people read a lot of books when they are starting out. I was no different and to be honest I still read as much as I can. I have found that there are some authors who have influenced me more than others. I consider those authors to also be guides as they are providing me with text and information that I have been able to apply to my spiritual development and growth. I have been taking classes with one of those authors who is now a teacher.
If that writers work clicks with you and you suddenly seem to have a better understanding of something you have been struggling with that would be an author I would consider a guide. Now this can be poets, musicians, fictional authors, neo-pagan authors, philosophers, myths or what not. In the end what matters is if the work has an effect on your path and understanding of the universe.
Finally in the physical world you have your role models. To me a role model is someone you look up to and you try to be like. They have inspired you in some way to be the person you want to be, and you feel that they have had an impact on your life. Role models come in all shapes and sizes, and to be honest I have a few myself though if you were to ask me it would take me a minute to tell you one of them.
So far guides have essentially been people who has changed your life in some way. That’s true. They have pinpointed you and helped you out. A guide should never give you the answers and advice you seek directly. They should provide hints or insight into their own struggles or opinions, but in the end you are the one who has to do the work. This is more prevalent when you are dealing with “spirit guides”.
The key term in spirit guide is the word spirit. It has come to the point in the essay where I must actually get into the metaphysical aspect. I am ending with this so I can start the essay with a review of what spirits are and then get onto how to contact them and end with why they are so important.
So what is a spirit?
To me there are many types of spirits. I essentially see them as beings that live in this worlds and in the other worlds that do not have a physical form as we understand it in this world. They are the elves, faes and the ghosts. These are the dragons and gnomes, slyphs and undines, and angels as well. Any being mentioned in lore that does not exist in this physical world but in the spirit world are spirits.
When you deal with spirit guides there are things you need to keep in mind. The first thing is they they will trick you occasionally as a test of your own wisdom and intuition. They will also speak in riddles. Some times there are no words spoken, but you get images or sensations. The communication is going to come in which ever way they feel will get their messages across to you in a way that you will understand. You also have to know that they are no infallible. Spirits don’t know everything and its absurd to think that they do. They may have insight that we don’t due to the nature of what they are and their existence, but they don’t know everything.
Ok. So what forms can spirit guides take?
The most common form aside from an angel is that of an animal. Some people would call these beings your totems, but I do not as totem is a term that applies specifically to a Native American practice. Other paths have other terms for animal guides. Myself I just think of them as my animal guides.
The animal guide or guides you have are typically aspects of yourself that are hidden or that you need to understand. Many people have guides that represent aspects of themselves that they need to face up to and confront, others the animals have special meanings to the person. The first assumption that many people have is that the animal guide will appear in the form of an animal you like or enjoy. The fact is there is no guarantee of that fact. Your guide may be an animal that you hate, and if that is the case there is a lesson there for you.
One form that is common amongst those who follow a more ancestral worship path is to have an ancestor actually be one of your guides. Maybe this ancestor is a recently passed loved one, or maybe it’s a few further generations back. This is an ancestor that has come to help you on your way. In either case if your guide is a family member and not some magnificent being be respectful. To be honest I would prefer to have ancestral guides than an other being as they are actually tied to my blood and my wyrd and thus my fate.
There are angels. Angels are any beings that serve as messengers to the gods. They are intermediaries between the Gods and us at times. They also have wills of their owns at times. They can choose their friends and teach them their crafts. Angels are beings of mass power and should be respected as such.
There are many other beings that can be your guides over the years. Some people believe that Matron and Patron Gods can be guides, but I see that differently. Divine beings are more than guides. They are divine beings and are Gods. They rule many things and have more important things to do than to teach you. They may have lessons for you, but in the end its a riddle what those things are.
The list could go on. I have covered some of the most common guides that people see. I hope that this has been a helpful essay and will provide you with a lot of insight. Next week you will be able to have some technique and tips on how to contact the guides and why they are important. Even if you don’t know your guides right now, you do have them.
Fairy Tales and Folklore: How they work within a Modern Pagan path
Fairy Tales and Folk Lore
For many years my only sources for the mythology of witchcraft as a religion came from the typical Neo-Pagan Eclectic witchcraft books. I felt that they were lacking in many areas. For a time I thought I could force the myths of other deities into the 8 Sabbats I was following as a witch. While the practice worked for a while, it was unsatisfactory. I felt as if the Gods were hearing me, but were telling that there is more to do and elsewhere to look.
For a long time I had considered looking into fairy tales for the missing pieces of the mythology and lore I was looking for. At the time I was of the mindset that fairy tales were for children. After being exposed to the Disneyfied fairy tales for so long it seemed to me that the only reason an adult had to think about fairy tales was for their small children and not for fun.
A friend of mine told me that if I was interested in the path of Traditional witchcraft beyond what I had read in Artisson and other places I should look into fairy tales. He even gave me a few to look into. That was when I first started to consider it. yet at the time I still couldn’t figure out the connection myself. So I waited and the answer did come to me.
Ok. You may be thinking whats the connection? Witches in many fairy tales are nasty things. Why would looking into fairy tales and folklore be beneficial to a new witch or even an experienced witch?
The simple answer is that the lore found with in many folktales about elves and dwarves contain a lot of lore that is applicable to the understanding of the beings that traditional witches work with, as well as witches in general. Many ideas of the Witches Goddess can be found in folk lore and fairy tales. There are hints at what these beings are like, what the role of witches are and why witches do the things they do.
I have found that Robin Artisson’s The Withching Way of the Hollow Hill to be very useful in understanding the importance of reading folk lore and fairy tales. In Artisson’s other book The Horn of Evenwood he also continues to explore the importance of folk lore and fairy tales as sources of a witches knowledge and wisdom. HedgeRiderby Eric De Vres is also another book that goes into details about the importance of fairy tales and folklore.
Those were the Pagan author who have helped me to see the importance of fairy tales and folklore. Last semester in school I took a local inspired fairy tale and folklore class (New England Folklore and Mythology). That class has inspired me to learn more about folklore. I became adept at analyzing and studying folklore for any of the possible myths and fairy tales I have read over the years. This had confirmed my position on continuing the path of a philosopher, folklorist, and anthropologist.
While I am still sorting through and coming to my own analysis of various tales and folklore that I will eventually pass on to my own students, I have started to gain a deeper understanding of the path of the witch and the various roles we have had over the years.
Ok. So what does folklore entail?
Folklore contains local legends and superstitions. I can be simple things that people grow up doing because every one does it in an area but doesn’t know why. It can be legends of people that lived there who were either detested or respected. They can be practices and customs. Folklore comes in many forms.
Many people wouldn’t consider the witch trials to be a source of lore and wisdom for witches. This is actually quite far from the truth. While I have not read many of the transcripts of the witch trials, I have learned much from books which have cited trials as sources for lore and practices. While that was a dark time for witches (and most if not all of the people accused were not witches at all) and the craft, it still has rich history and events that can become a part of witch lore.
Fairy tales by their very nature are magical and thus hold keys to the mysteries of the magic out there. They provide clues to how the magic was worked and those who ruled magic. There were only a few of the adults that ever remembered their entrances into the fairyland, and these became the magicians/witches and the storytellers.
So, I see how they can be useful. What sorts of fairy tales should we be looking into?
That depends on what cultural background you are coming from. Strega witches will use Italian folklore, fairy tales, and mythology to form the basis of their practices. If you are practicing a Celtic form of Witchcraft you would work with that mythology, fairy tales, and folklore setting. If you are an eclectic witch you would work with which ever cultures you chose to work with. I myself use the Germanic fairy tales and folklore most because that is my ancestry, and those have been the tales which have given me the most insight into my own beliefs and practices.
While you should start with a specific culture in mind, that doesn’t mean it should be your only source of information. I also use English fairy tales and folklore. I also find inspiration in rewritten fairy tales and folklore such as the tale of bearskin. I just said you should have a single culture as a starting point.
I have covered why I read and adapt folklore to my path. As for when I first started to use and truly understand the role of folklore and practices in my own path, that is harder to pinpoint. I think it’s started to happen slowly over time since I took that folklore class and started to look at fairy tales in a new light. Still there is much more for me to learn and explore.
There are many great books out there. I suggest starting with Grimms Fairy tales as they are the most well known. It is in the unknown fairy tales found within those books that you might find the most interest in. Once you have done that you can start looking at any fairy tales from any culture. They may still provide you insight.
For moral and ethical tales Aesop’s fables are an excellent source of ethics and morals or important lessons that should be learned. In many ways the very first stories that children are exposed to such as fairy godmothers, and the like will come back to be the source for hidden wisdom and insight found within those tales.
While they may be dark, you should still read them. Darkness and depression are simply parts of life. In many cases in the darker tales the more important lessons are learned. It is not a requirement, but again simply advice. After all life is not all roses and sunshine. Life is confusing and painful. The fairy tales that include those aspects of human life are just as important as the ones that focus on intense happiness and joy.