Gender Roles in Heathenry

There has been a recent resurgence in the discussion within Heathenry on racism and the role it has played, and is continuing to play. This discussion reflects on the way Heathenry is seen, not only by those who are unfamiliar with our ways, but to those who have recently come to Heathenry, as well as those who have been on the Heathen path for years or even decades. Let me be clear: there is no room in my Heathenry for racism.

This discussion has reminded me of a conversation I once had with a fellow Heathen about gender roles in Heathenry following a workshop on Seiðr given by the amazingly knowledgeable and gifted (now dearly departed) Rod Landreth. In the lore, there is a word, ergi, which is an Old Norse term of insult, denoting effeminacy or other unmanly behavior.The practice of Seiðr by a man was considered ergi in the Viking Age, as well as in Icelandic accounts and medieval Scandinavian laws. No one would deny Odin’s prowess as Seiðmaðr, yet he was still called ergi for practicing it.

This, I think, illustrates a long history in western culture of the delineation of the genders, and what happens when those lines are crossed. Women could do certain things that men could not, and in turn, men could do certain things that women could not. Historically, there were usually good reasons for this division. Women cared for the estate because the men were called away to war every season. The logic in this situation is that, if the woman cared for the estate, there would be a consistency of leadership within the household. The women literally held the keys to the kingdom while the menfolk fought to protect it and provide better resources for it.  

From the Viking Age moving forward, as the world changed due to the influence of Christianity, the role of women became more marginalized while the role of men expanded. I’m not saying that Viking women had it good, but they did have a lot more freedoms than many of their descendants (and even contemporaries) had. It wasn’t until the late Victorian period that women would make a push for equality, something that still hasn’t been fully realized in the western world.

Whatever our motivations for reconstructing Heathenry, there is one thing that we must come to terms with: our Heathenry is a modern one.  There is no unbroken line of Heathen practice coming down to us from the early medieval period. With that in mind, we are reconstructing Heathenry in a century very different from the last century it was practiced in. We have cars, computers, the internet…we put human beings on the Moon! Why then must we reconstruct the outdated gender roles of a long dead society in our own culture — a culture that has fought for at least a hundred years to bring equality to the genders? Ergi is an insult. Calling someone a sissy is an insult. Equating somone to the “lesser sex” is meant to be derogatory. When men seek to learn how to weave, to sew, to be stay-at-home dads, society degrades them. “That’s women’s work.” The inverse is also true.  When women seek careers instead of kids, we call them selfish. When women assert that their skills and intelligence are equal to that of men, they’re called bitches and dykes.

This has to stop. To pigeonhole genders into specific roles in this modern age is archaic and ridiculous. Men can be stay-at-home dads. Women can have careers. Men can practice Seiðr. Women can be Chieftans.

2000px-Igualtat_de_sexes.svg

Reflecting on the conversation that spurred this post, I found it surprising and disheartening to find a modern day Heathen that thinks there will always be areas that are “women’s work.” As a woman, I regularly experience gender bias. When I walk into the auto-parts store I have to assure the sales associates that I do, indeed, know what a socket wrench is. When I have to assert that I’m not a simple headed woman, that I actually know how to install my own GDDR5 SDRAM. When I have to fight for my right to control my own body, to insist that I have the right to ask for and receive a tubal ligation even though I have never had children. To hear a man insist that activities traditionally considered to be in the realm of women should remain that way, widens the gulf between the genders even further.

Gender based discrimination is not, generally speaking, something that men have to worry about. I do, however, recognize that men experience gender bias. Ask a dad who’s changed his daughter’s diaper in a public bathroom how many times he’s been called a perv. What I never expected was to hear from a man that he can’t sew, not because he doesn’t have the ability, but because it’s in the realm of women. My eldest brother was taught how to sew. He made really good money in college fixing clothes for fellow students…and met a lot of women that way too.  The point is, there is no such thing as “women’s work” anymore.  Men are just as capable at sewing, knitting, weaving as women. Women are just as capable at fixing cars, grilling meat, and playing sportsball as men. We are past the point of reserving certain mysteries for certain genders. Such exclusionary, sexist beliefs have no place in a modern Heathenry, just like racism has no place in Heathenry. Our Heathenry is not perfect. There is no Heathen Pope, no central organizing authority, and therefore, no “wrong” way to practice Heathenry. That being said, it’s a failing of society as a whole, not necessarily just Heathenry, that particular groups within our society experience marginalization and prejudice.

 

First published 17 Feb 2016 at The Troth Blog

Posted in Asatru, Heathen, Heathenry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Discriminating Heathenry

There has been an(other) uptick, to put it mildly, in the conversation on racism in Heathenry.  One comment that I see coming up over and over again is that, even within Heathenry, we don’t all work with the same definition of racism. Some revert to the dictionary definition (even dictionaries can vary here), some use a more personal definition. Organizations such as the Troth, The Asatru Community, and the Asatru Folk Alliance all have their own ways of defining and approaching racism. This is all very confusing to begin with, without adding the age-old Heathen adage of “You’re not the boss of me, and you’re doing it wrong.” To be honest, I find any kind of discrimination in Heathenry, or anywhere else, to be loathsome.  I experience enough discrimination in the Real World, I don’t want to have to deal with it in the Heathen World.

If you’ve ever met or seen pictures of me, I’m very obviously a white person, so I admit to not knowing what it’s like to be discriminated against on the basis of my skin color. I also admit to having a blind spot as a white person with a middle class upbringing. It simply doesn’t occur to me sometimes that what I say is biased. This is something I am aware of and try to minimize. But not being black/brown/red/yellow/green doesn’t mean that I don’t know what discrimination is.

The first kind of discrimination I ever experienced was based on my gender, and despite all the progress being made towards egalitarianism, feminism will always be something I need. In a society that teaches its girls that if you dress a certain way, you make yourself a more likely target for rape, I need feminism. The simple fact that I get criticized for my decision to be reproductively sterilized means that I need feminism to promote body autonomy, that not only includes my right to say, “don’t touch me,” but to also say “I don’t want kids, ever,” and not be called a bitch or selfish. As a woman, it’s assumed that I can’t fix my own car (which I do regularly), that I can’t understand technobabble (I’ve dismantled, reassembled, and built computers from scratch), and that I’m generally less intelligent than my male counterparts (let’s just say my IQ is higher than Einstein’s and leave it at that). None of these things are ok.  I should not have to be paranoid about walking to my car alone at night. I should not have to justify my decision to not have children. I should not be underestimated because of my gender.

A Discriminating Heathenry

Another form of discrimination that I face is being bi-sexual. I’ve known I was bi since junior high. Obviously, I’ve seen the way LGBT+ people are treated by those that think being lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender is “just wrong.” But, I’ve also seen the way gays and lesbians treat bi-sexuals. “Just pick a side!” they say, or “You’re greedy!”  Until recently I have stayed firmly in the closet because of this. My reasoning was (and if I’m honest, still is) that it’s nobody’s business but my own. I don’t have time to deal with that kind of BS, anyway. Then I met my soulmate. I never kept my bi-sexuality from him. And just because I’m married to a man doesn’t mean that I’m not bi-sexual. I still get all twitterpated when I see ScarJo as Black Widow.  Because I’m in a hetero relationship, I don’t experience nearly as much discrimination as my gay and lesbian friends. But the potential for it is still there, and I am very much aware of the way the things I do and say in public can be interpreted and the dangers that come along with that. This leads to self-censoring, basically, not being able to be myself.

That’s all well and good, Sara, but isn’t this article supposed to be about Heathenry? And so it is.

I don’t self-identify with the word Lokean, but if I’m honest, that moniker fits to a certain extent. It was not my choice to work with Him, but I really don’t have a say in it. He just kinda shows up. Loki is a perfect example of being Other, of being part of two worlds. It’s no wonder that so many LGBT+ Heathens flock to him. He understands the societal marginalization we experience. He understands that we feel broken, that not being accepted in the societies and cultures that we’re members of makes us feel like we have no home at all, to feel so horribly, extremely, isolated. We’ve finally found someplace where we fit in, spiritually and religiously, but then the Heathen community demonizes and makes the God we as Others identify with the most, in to the Heathen Satan. I know Heathens who would rather have you hail Jesus at a sumble than Loki. Yes, Loki is chaotic. This is how we feel inside when society demeans our life choices.  The survival instinct to conform is strong, but it kills us from the inside to not be true to ourselves. Loki is also a catalyst. We are the change we wish to see in the world. A change away from demonizing our differences towards a world that thinks our differences are what strengthen us a people. Our differences are what make us beautiful. Loki helped me through some of the darkest days of my depression. He get’s it. He knows how it feels to put on a facade, to not be able to be your true self. I should not be demonized for working with Him. I should not feel ashamed to honor Him in public. I should not feel like I have to keep my kinship with Him a secret.

There is absolutely no reason why people of all backgrounds cannot be Heathen. Black or white, gay or straight, cis or trans, no one has the right to tell you what you can or can’t be. “You’re not the boss of me and you’re doing it wrong.” I realize that for the most part this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but it is really becoming a mantra for more and more Heathens. What we really should be saying is “I’m not the boss of you, but here’s how I do it.” Our differences are what make us beautiful.

Posted in Asatru, Conflict, Heathen, Heathenry, integrity, Loki | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Greek Alphabet Oracle

I gave a presentation at Fantasia Crystals in Phoenix Saturday July 11 and this PowerPoint contains some of the information I was (hopefully) able to impart on my students.

The Greek Alphabet Oracle

Enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized

Community Before Clergy: My Resignation from Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship

Growing up, I always wanted to find something to be passionate about, something that would make the world a better place.  In High School, I looked to some of my classmates who had found causes to be passionate about with yearning. All throughout my twenties I looked at different causes; the LGBT Rights Movement, Religious Tolerance in a post-September 11th World, the Environment in a culture of Climate Change Deniers; worthy causes to be sure, but all of these causes felt too big, and as a person who tries to stay as far away from politics as is possible, way too political, so I continued my search.

During this time, I discovered a world previously hidden from me.  I was eleven when I left Christianity behind for Wicca, and over the intervening years grew to discover both British and American Traditional Witchcraft and finally, Druidry and Heathenism.  I somehow stumbled across a post for Phoenix Pagan Pride Day (PPPD) on WitchVox and decided to attend, thinking there would be a handful of others there. Well, I was wrong.  There wasn’t a handful of people there, I had discovered a large, diverse, and vibrant community that I had absolutely no idea existed before. While in attendance at my first PPPD, my shy and introverted self, met the Grove of the Rising Phoenix, a Druid group associated with the national organization Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF). Being the skeptic and knowledge hungry person that I am, I decided to check them out and do some digging first.  What I found was everything I had been looking for in a religion: A local group to socialize and study with, the structure provided by a national organization, and a study program to help me learn more about my path and, most importantly, myself. I joined the Grove and ADF about a year later after working up the courage to actually attend a few of their public rituals; I am, after all, an introvert.

Just a few short months after joining ADF and the Grove, my life changed.  I was promoted at work and was relocated from Phoenix to Denver. I bemoaned leaving the community I had found in Phoenix, but vowed to find a community in Denver. As it would happen, working sixty hours and six days a week is not conductive to building a social life, something that even as an introvert, I discovered that I needed and craved. After eleven months in Denver, I resigned from my job and came home to Phoenix in July of 2011. It was the best decision I have ever made. I immediately dove back into the Phoenix Pagan Community and the Grove. I was so happy.  Though I wouldn’t realize it until late 2014, I had found my thing to be passionate about.  My diverse and vibrant community.

In 2012 I started back to school to finish my Bachelor’s Degrees in History and Religious Studies while simultaneously embarking on ADF’s Dedicant’s Path which I finished in 2013. ADF’s Dedicant’s Path is an optional introductory program that gets those members of ADF who choose to take it up, to think about the cosmology associated with ADF, its roots in Indo-European paganism and its existence as a neo-pagan church.  I think, more importantly, it gets the Dedicant to think about what his/her own beliefs are.  In addition, I began doing a lot of volunteering with the Grove, including running for a seat on the Executive Committee, the board of folks who run the day to day operations of the Grove, and learning to come out of my shell and operate beyond my introverted-ness.  Over time, I became instantly recognizable in my community as “One of the Druids,” a distinction which has come to mean someone who can be trusted in a community that had never had something like that, or if they had, it had been a very long time.

During the years after my return to Phoenix from Denver, due mostly in part to my position on the Executive Committee of the Grove, I paid very close attention to the goings on of our mother organization, ADF. It seemed to me that once or twice a year, some scandal or drama broke out in ADF.  One year, an entire Grove withdrew from ADF. It was around this same time that a priest of ADF counseled membership to “pay your dues to keep ADF and the Mother Grove (ADF’s Board of Directors) away from you.” This was a priest ordained by ADF saying this. Year after year, drama after drama, I was getting fed up. ADF was becoming an organization that was leaching money from its membership without giving any appreciable benefits in return. The sense of a national community that I felt when I first joined ADF had quickly been kicked out of me by the toxic nature of the forums that were active, and the moribund nature of those that weren’t.  You’d think, in an organization that expounds excellence and scholarship, that internet trolls would be dealt with quickly and that the Scholar’s Guild (The Scholar’s Guild, for the sake of the Gods!) would not be one of the most moribund forums in the entire organization!  The dream was over. I should have left ADF right then and there, but I held on for the Grove. As a member of the Executive Committee it was necessary for me to be a member of both the Grove and ADF. So I kept throwing money at ADF hoping they would leave me, and the Grove, alone. It was not to be.

In late March 2015, more drama ensued. On its website’s home page, ADF posted a revised and updated Mission and Vision Statement.  In a statement I made on my personal Facebook page, I vented my frustrations.

 

“The very first bullet point states: “Public temple worship with a skilled priesthood.” While this is a lofty goal for a pagan church, your organization is run by VOLUNTEERS. At most, there are maybe half a dozen people in administrative positions who are paid as contractors. This being said; requiring that first, that there is a public temple, is ludicrous. Unless ADF is going to furnish the cash for such an endeavor, local communities simply don’t have the funds to support the planning, building, furnishing and upkeep of a Temple. Second, requiring a skilled priest from among your VOLUNTEER organization is laughable when you don’t even require your membership to complete the [introductory] Dedicant’s Path coursework, but now you want every local congregation to be led by a skilled priest? Surely, you jest. I have helped lead my local grove for years now. Between work, my two bachelor’s degrees, Grove, Kindred, and Community; I barely have time to spend with my family and sleep let alone commit a goodly amount of time to becoming “Skilled Clergy.” You have within the organization, many skilled priests and others who are on the path to becoming clergy. When your organization prides itself on being “As fast as a speeding Oak” then you try to make fly by night changes to the very core of the way the organization functions, without first running such changes by your membership either for vote or comment, you open the door for much of your membership, many of whom have already had it with the politics and bullshit that goes on behind the scenes, to walk out the door and never look back. Congratulations.”

 

As was expected, the Leadership of ADF’s organization did not appreciate the way I exercised my First Amendment rights. This is also when I began to realize that ADF was clinging like moss to a crumbling cliff to the Founder, Isaac Bonewitz’s, original vision for the organization…an organization which had aged three decades in the interim. For an organization that espouses orthopraxy over orthodoxy, this is dangerous territory. Isaac may have believed himself a god and may have set himself up to be the Archdruid for Life (hmm…reminds me of that Julius Caesar fellow…it didn’t work out too well for Rome either), but that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to buy in to ADF on that level.

Now, maybe it’s just me, though I doubt it, but in order for an organization to grow it has to embrace change on some level, and if something no longer positively contributes to the organization, even if that something is the founder’s vision, change needs to occur. I discovered after this “discussion” with Leadership that the membership of ADF has remained relatively constant for at least the past decade. On a line graph, it would look like a flat line. For as many new members as we were getting to join the organization, just as many people were leaving. Membership had flat lined. In addition, those who occupied leadership roles in the organization have done so for at least a decade.  New blood that managed to get into leadership positions either didn’t stay long, had drunk the Kool-Aid, or as I suspect though admit to not having any evidence beyond hearsay, were bullied into toeing the line. This is what a Good Ole Boys Club looks like.

Then in May, a new drama broke out.  I kept quiet for the first few days on this, the most recent affront to the Membership of ADF, after all, I’d just raised a stink about the Mission and Vision Statement, and I didn’t want it to seem as if I was trying to incite dissent.  Then, one of my colleagues posted to ADF’s Facebook discussion group, pointing out to general membership that the Mother Grove had changed the bylaws, the governing document of the organization, without asking for input from the Membership.  In fact, in the meeting minutes it is recorded that one of the Mother Grove members even suggested that such a change (requiring the Archdruid and Vice Arch Druid to be clergy) should be taken to the membership first. From the sixth piece of business of the February 2015-April 2015 Mother Grove Minutes (emphasis is my own):

 

“* Motion to add the question “Should any of the following mother grove positions [Archdruid (AD) and Vice Arch Druid (VAD)] be limited to only clergy or non-clergy?” followed by options for each position as web programming allows…

    * Opinion stated that while feedback is a good thing in general, putting this question on the ballot would be a bad idea.  The MG should be in charge of the criteria of who runs the organization, that is what the members elected them for. 

  * This would bring to the forefront the few with authority issues and negative opinions of the Clergy. 

  * Doing this would be like putting a referendum on the ballot, and even if we’re not bound to follow it, people would expect us to. 

  * Point was raised that by making the proposed changes to the positions of AD and VAD, by a board of mostly clergy members, this would look like the clergy protecting themselves. 

  * It was pointed out that adding the requirement of clergy would shrink the pool of candidates to approximately 30 people, that are their own gatekeepers to whom gets into the group without any input from the membership. 

  * It was speculated that the majority of the members don’t care one way or another, but without asking, we can’t be sure, and this would also possibly bring to our attention any issues that the membership have with the clergy so that can be worked on.”

 

So, in other words, the Mother Grove knew this was a contentious issue, they knew it had the possibility to blow back in their faces if they didn’t take such a monumental change to the Membership first, yet although this particular motion failed, an almost identical motion at the Mother Grove Retreat would pass after waiting for the completion of ADF elections as per the bylaws.

The following is from the minutes of the Mother Grove Retreat March 27-28, 2015 (emphasis is my own):

 

  1. AD and VAD required to be clergy

Motion to require that the Archdruid and Vice Archdruid are required to be clergy…

  • It was pointed out that this could be considered changing elections methods during an election

which is forbidden by the bylaws. Motion was discussed, but a vote cannot be held.

  • Everyone present agreed to this motion in general.
  • It was pointed out that we should have member buy in for this. Without that buy in, it is likely

that it will cause issues with the membership, and perpetuate the idea of the MG and the Clergy being the “old boys network”.

  • The point was raised that we should not fear the perception of the old boys network, it is likely a perception held by a small minority of the membership.
  • Point was raised that this perception issue is because the clergy are gatekeepers for who becomes clergy and for the general member it is a hidden process with no general membership input. This change may be best coupled with requiring the Clergy Council officers to solicit comments from the general membership before approving new clergy.
  • Question was raised if the Clergy Council officers would actually listen to non-clergy members.
  • An idea was raised, and expanded on for adding requirements for becoming clergy that would bring in membership participation. For a new, first circle priest, require the endorsement of 9, non-clergy Pagans. For second circle, require the endorsement of 1 grove. For third circle, require the endorsement of 1 grove not in the local area.
  • It was pointed out that the Clergy Council officers don’t have any firm idea on what requirements can be used to not approve a clergy member. The Mother Grove can give them requirements.
  • It was mentioned that the Clergy Council officers are now asking for video of performances of those that the officers have not seen perform rituals before voting to approve.
  • The ways the AD can be nominated are:

◦ Nomination by the Mother Grove

◦ Nomination by the Clergy Council

◦ Nomination by the Council of Senior Druids

◦ Petition with 50 signatures.

A straw poll to judge support for the requirement was run.

Vote will occur after the elections are over.

 

As promised, after the election, the Mother Grove, without so much as a by your leave, amended the bylaws. The following is taken from The February 2015-April 2015 Mother Grove minutes as the second to last piece of business (emphasis is my own):

 

            Motion to change the bylaws:

   Article 5, Section 3, Subsection 1 Archdruid (AD), add number 8. “The

Arch Druid must be an Active ADF Priest”.

   Article 5, Section 3, Subsection 2 Vice Archdruid (VAD), add number

  1. “The Vice Arch Druid must be an Active ADF Priest”.

  * It was pointed out that this is not the best place to change the

bylaws, it should be in Section 4, Subsection 5, Item 7.

  * Motion amended to be:

  * Change Section 4, Subsection 4, Item 7, qualifications of the AD and VAD

    From:

      Candidates for Archdruid or Vice Archdruid must have their

Dedicant’s Path completed.

    To:

      Candidates for Archdruid or Vice Archdruid must be ordained

members of ADF Clergy in good standing, i.e. Active ADF Priests.

  * Amended motion by Jean, accepted by Kelly.

  * Point raised of what would happen if we lost all clergy due to some

disaster.

  * It was pointed out that if a clergy member cannot be found to lead

the church, is it really a church?

  * Point raised we are limiting who can run, and limiting choice by our

members.

  * Point raised that we may be better served at times by a secular leader

  * It was stated that the Administrator is supposed to take care of the

administrative.

  * It was pointed out that a significant portion of the AD’s job is

administrative, not just spiritual.

  * It was pointed out that this is being done with no input from the

members.  It is likely most don’t care, but a change this large really

should have the input of the members.

    * Motion Passed

 

Judging by the uproar of quite a number of members, clearly, the membership does indeed care. For a number of days after my colleague’s initial post the membership engaged in polite, if passionate, discourse.  Not only was the amendment to the bylaws itself discussed, but the fact that the membership was not consulted with before these massive changes were made. After a day or two of uproar, the Archdruid released an apology on the ADF-Discuss forum, one of the most toxic, troll ridden lists that ADF has. Not only was the apology limited to a single list when it could very easily have been forwarded to all the lists and to the  ADF Facebook group where a great deal of the discussion was taking place, but the Archdruid and the Vice Archdruid refused to take part in much of these discussions.  Of those members of Leadership who did participate, one had just retired from the Mother Grove (after passing the bylaws change) and at least two of the others are the list moderators, so it’s literally their job to take part in and monitor such discussions.

Throughout the various discussions on the ADF Facebook Group, my own personal Facebook page and face to face with my fellow members of ADF, I was insistent that it wasn’t the content of the bylaw changes that most concerned me, but the fact that the Mother Grove made such changes without asking the membership. I compared it to US Congress forcing through an amendment to the US Constitution bypassing the People completely. Now, I’m not overly fond of my country’s legislative branch as of late, but Pigs will fly if Congress ever manages such a breach of trust of its constituents and the Constitution. The fact that the Mother Grove felt empowered to make such changes without a period of comment from the membership shows how corrupt the leadership of ADF has become. Yes, we elect the Mother Grove to run the day to day business of the organization, yes; we empower them to make changes on our behalf. But not this.  This change to the bylaws changes the very fundamentals of the way ADF functions. This bylaw change should have been brought to the membership for consideration.

There were dozens of members who filed formal complaints with the Member’s Advocate asking that at the very least future procedures to change the bylaws should include input from the membership.  I know at least one member asked that the bylaws change be invalidated then submitted to the membership for comment, after which time the change to the bylaws could be reconsidered.  The response from the Mother Grove and the Member’s Advocate was cold. Essentially, the response was: Yes, we did it. No, we won’t take it back. Shut up and stop whining. Very well then.

 

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God[s] entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” –United States Declaration of Independence

 

As ADF no longer represents in any way, shape, or form my beliefs and ideas of what a national organization should be to its members as I have demonstrated above, I resign. I have waited quite some time from the start of the most recent drama.  I did so to give myself time to think about the impact this resignation will have on me, the Grove of the Rising Phoenix and most importantly, my ability to serve my community.  For when it was threatened, I found that thing I was most passionate about. My community.  My tribe. My people. My chosen family.

ADF threatened to impede my service to them first with their implication in both the Vision Statement and then in the bylaws changes, that it takes a priest to serve a community.  I loudly, passionately, and yes, angrily, beg to differ. A priest is more than an education. It is more than knowing the legalities of what can and can’t be done.  It is service to the people and to the Gods you represent. It’s recognition by your community that you serve them in that capacity. You can be forehead-palm-slapped and declared a priest, but if no one trusts you to minister to them, are you really a priest? No. You’re just another holy roller with Reverend before your name. It takes recognition from the people you serve to make you a priest. And the implication that if you are not a forehead-palm-slapped minion of the church, you are worth less than the refuse in a gutter is not only demeaning, but flat out wrong.

I hope someday, the Membership can right the listing ship that is ADF.  I hope someday they can find their way clear of this storm.  ADF fills a vital role in modern Paganism, but I fear the toxicity stemming from the mismanagement of the Mother Gove will be the end of an organization which has brought hope and community to so many. I know there are many who disagree with me, and I respect that. ADF no longer works for me and I hope that those friends that I have in ADF will respect my decision to leave and the reasons for it. However, I know that I will lose people I once called “friend” over this post and this decision. Sometimes, what is best for us is also the thing that hurts us the most.

Rev. Sara J. Gavagan
A Priest of the Pagan Community of Phoenix, AZ

Posted in ADF, Ár, Ár nDraíocht Féin, Clergy, Conflict, Dedicant, Druid, Druidry, Féin, nDraíocht | Tagged , , ,

Ogham – The Irish Alphabet Oracle

I gave a presentation at Fantasia Crystals in Phoenix last Saturday and this PowerPoint contains some of the information I was (hopefully) able to impart on my students.

The Ogham PDF

Enjoy!

Posted in divination, Druid, Irish, Ogham, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Christmas as a Pagan

A lot of my pagan friends give me a “look” when I tell them I celebrate Christmas. Yes, me, a self-proclaimed Gaelic Heathen, a woman who came out of the broom closet at 15 and has been a pagan for almost twenty years, *I* celebrate Christmas. But probably not for the reason you think. I believe that all paths are valid to the person walking it. My path is valid for me, my sister’s path is valid for her, your path is valid for you.  That doesn’t make any of us *wrong* it just means we are different.  I am, above all things, a polytheist. I believe in many gods and I feel it would be hypocritical of me to disbelieve in the existence of a certain god, just because he/she/it is not a god I choose to worship. Christmas is nominally about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, in and of itself not a unique story in world mythology (I don’t mean mythology to degrade Christianity, I call my own sacred stories pertaining to my faith “mythology”) just look at the myths of Mithras, Horus, Baldr, Aengus Mac Og, etc, they are all variations on a theme.

Whether or not you believe Jesus to be the Christ or the Messiah, he and his apostles still changed the world. This new world they initiated two thousand years ago has direct impacts on our modern world. Christianity was a response to the repressive atmosphere presented in the Levant by both the Jews who insisted on believing in a certain way and the Romans who insisted on believing in yet another way, neither of which were compatible with each other.  Christianity grew as a message of Love out of an atmosphere of oppression.  It only took a thousand years for the tables to turn (hang in with me here, I know this sounds like this is headed towards Christian bashing, but it’s not, I promise). After a thousand years of expansion and conversion of the masses, sometimes at the point of a sword (see Charlemagne’s Saxon Wars), Christianity returned to the Levant to reclaim the Holy Land, if not by love, then by blood. These were the Crusades. Now the Christians had come full circle, repressing those who currently lived in the Levant in much the same way they themselves had been repressed during the turn of the era. As the next thousand years progressed, with no infidels to fight (except for the Reconquista), the Christians turned on one another.

Protestants cleaved away from the Catholics in the Great Schism; one of Martin Luther’s main complaints in his 95 Theses was that the message of Christianity had been lost due to clerical abuses, nepotism and the inaccessibility of the scriptures.  Before Luther commissioned a printed vernacular Bible, they were all written (by hand) in Latin.  Just between you and me, Latin is *not* an easy language to learn, especially in an age where the literacy rate is extremely low. Protestantism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism and all the other Christian denominations that spun off from Catholicism after the Great Schism increased the literacy in their areas because the single most published book in the world, the Bible, was now being published in the local vernacular.  This alone is reason enough for me to love Christianity, but it’s not the reason for this post.

Somewhere between the life of Jesus and the Modern Era, due to expansionism, war, and infighting, the message got lost. Somewhere along the line, Jesus’ message of Love turned to Fear.  That’s not the lesson Jesus wanted to be learned, it’s the very thing he was fighting against. The Christian church seems to operate on a message of “If not through Love, then through Fear,” in these modern times.  I’m not saying that all Christians are evil, or inherently bad.  Look at the new Pope (who I think is just fantastic), Francis I, a Franciscan from Argentina who ran on a platform of reform, of getting back to what Christianity really represents, Love. That is the reason for the season, not the birth of Jesus, not rampant consumerism, but L-O-V-E.  That something even this Pagan can get behind.

I am one of *maybe* three pagans in my family. So, during the holidays, all the talk of celebration in my family is about Christmas.  When I was a young, brand spanking new little pagan, it was exciting to secretly not believe in Christmas.  Then I became a teenager and went through my Angry Pagan phase. I *hated* everything about Christianity.  I was absolutely miserable during the holidays not only because I felt that if I spoke out that my views, my religion, would be oppressed, but because I felt I would be ostracized from my family if they ever knew I was pagan. As an avid student of History, I read all about how Christians oppressed other belief systems. It was very scary as a teen to be “other.” Then one day, I blurted out to my mother that I was pagan (at that time, I was Wiccan), she was shocked at first, but gradually came around to acceptance, then from acceptance to support. The more she learned about the beliefs I had chosen to follow, the more she realized that those beliefs fit her world view as well.  Yes, she’s one of the other pagans I count in my family. I was very lucky. I have friends whose entire families disowned them for being pagan, for following their heart, for being happy. As I approached adulthood, my angry pagan phase gradually wore off, and as I now approach my thirties (gasp!) I find that it’s more important to focus on the things that unite us as human beings than what divides us. Thus we come back to Christmas.

Christmas is for me, first and foremost, about family.  I, like many others, I’m sure, don’t necessarily get on with all of my family members, but I still love them. Some of them are staunch Christians, some are more wibbly-wobbly in their beliefs, some are more spiritual than religious, I even have an aunt who converted to Judaism, but Christmas is one of the few times a year when we all come together, not necessarily to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but just to be together as a family, to talk to each other, to catch up on the goings on of our lives, to give our love to one another and eat really fantastically awesome food. It’s not about Christ. It’s about Family.  It’s about Love. That is why I celebrate Christmas as a Pagan. So Merry Christmas, Glad Yule, and Happy Holidays; and tell someone you love them today.

Posted in Baldr, Catholic, Conflict, December, Family, Heathen, History, Jul, pagan, Path, Personal Practice, Protestant, Solstice, Winter, Winter Solstice, Yul, Yule | Tagged , , , , , ,

A Request for Pictures

I recently had a request from a follower on Twitter for pictures of my altar and shrines. Whelp; here they are. (1) My main altar, (2) my Nerthus and Landspirits Shrine, (3) my Ancestors Shrine and (4) my shrine to Oghma and Bragi.

Main altar Crop

Nerthus and Land Spirits Shrine

Ancestor Shrine

Ogma and Bragi Shrine

Posted in ADF, Altar, Ancestor, Asatru, Ár nDraíocht Féin, Celtic, Druid, Druidry, Earth Mother, German, Germanic, Heathen, Heathenry, Home Shrine, Irish, Nature, Norse, Ogham, pagan, Pennsylvania Dutch, Ritual, Shrine, Urglaawe

A Syncretic Wheel of the Year – Samhain and Allelieweziel

After having spent a year diligently observing the High Days in succession to fulfill an oath, I have decided to carry on this observance into 2015.  However, instead of celebrating the Fire Festivals or Cross Quarters as my Celtic holidays and the Sun Festivals or Quarters as my Germanic holidays, I have decided, with permission from both of my hearth culture’s gods as well as the Land Spirits and Ancestors, to celebrate all of the High Days as both Celtic (Irish) and Germanic (Urglaawe).  While the Irish Hearth Culture is an old hat for me insofar as the Fire Festivals are concerned, it will be interesting to hunt for Irish traditions for the Sun Festivals.  In addition, Urglaawe (Pensylvania Dutch Heathenism) is almost entirely new to me and will be fun to explore throughout the cycle of seasons.

With the Dark of the Year nearly upon us, it’s time for me to prepare my Samhain/Allelieweziel celebration.

I normally celebrate Samhain as a three day festival beginning at sunset on October 31. The first night I read from the Battle of Moytura specifically when on Samhain An Morrígan  keeps a tryst with An Dagda before the battle against the Fomorians. The second night is the Feast of the Ancestors and the third night is dedicated to the Sidhe.

This year I will be adding in a celebration of Allelieweziel. The following is from Robert L. Schreiwer, Distelfink Sippschaft, October/Gehling 2010.

A significant volume of oral lore was passed on via practitioners of Braucherei (the traditional Deitsch healing and magical practice) on the importance of October 31, which we call Allelieweziel, within the old Deitsch (Pennsylvania German) culture and in Urglaawe, particularly from those who maintained a Heathen worldview when it came to their healing of the souls of the departed.

Years ago, several Braucheri scholars conducted oral interviews of over 80 practitioners of Braucherei, and the notes that they took from the interviewees who carried Heathen or syncretic views provided a very interesting picture of the importance of October 31.

The first interesting element is the name of the event: Allelieweziel. Christian practitioners of Braucherei did not use this term. While the translation of the term’s meaning is aproximately , “the goal of all love,” or “all beloved (things) end,” we have not found a corresponding term in other German dialects.

The observance of Allelieweziel represents the transition from the light half of the spiritual year to the dark half. Holle’s departure on the Furious Host (Wild Hunt) is reflected in the death of the fertility of the soil. Allelieweziel is the death phase of the life-death-rebirth cycle.

As Holle sets off upon the Furious Host, She is followed by an entourage of the lands spirits and the souls of the recently departed. Throughout the dark half of the year, Holle hunts for stray souls. As She finds them, they join the Furious Host until She brings them to her figurative mill to “grind” them into their next life. Practitioners of Braucherei also use traditional journeying practice to help seek out stuck souls to help them cross over to the mill.

As a principally agricultural people for centuries before migrating to North America, the ancestors of the Deitsch transmitted no information about going to the hall of any deity upon death; instead, human souls follow cycles similar to that of the crops that dictated their livelihood. As such, most Urglaawer belief in a rebirth of the soul within the family stream as opposed to Valhalla, etc.

Another aspect to the holiday is the recognition of sacrifices that males make for the good of the community.Traditionally, as winter set in, culling of herds, particularly males, helped to provide food for humans and conserve resources for the remaining herd. This recognition is underscored by the burning of the Butzemann, or activated scarecrow, by the end of Allelieweziel.

The Butzemann is created from the remnants of the prior year’s crops and is ceremonially granted life on Grundsaudaag (Groundhog Day). He is charged with overseeing his “child” crops for the season. Similar traditions are featured in other cultures. Throughout the light half of the year, the Butzemann is treated like other wights. Offerings and gifts are given to him. Anytime between Erntfescht (the autumn equinox/harvest home) and Allelieweziel, the Butzemann is released from his duties and he is to be burned in order to free his soul to join the Furious Host. The “soul” of the Butzemann is not human; it is one of the crops from which he is constructed, but all living things in Braucherei tradition have souls that are part of the cycle.

It is considered very bad luck to keep an activated Butzemann after Allelieweziel. If the soul of the Butzemann were to depart on the Furious Host, his remaining shell is likely to be taken up by a baneful land spirit, who, now having physical form, would terrorize the countryside. It is not unheard of for parents to tell their children that if they did not get back into bed on Christmas Eve that the Butzemann would “get you.” Similar stories turn up all over Deitscherei.

It is also considered bad luck to wear clothing that was on a Butzemann. People often give warnings about this a look askance; however, in the Colonial era, it appears that vagrants often walked the great distances from town to town seeking work. As their clothes began to wear down, apparently they would occasionally exchange their clothes for those on a Butzemann. For some reason that we have not yet been able to fully identify, this theft is considered to be of a higher Wurt payback than theft of food from farms, etc.

Prior to the Butzemann’s burning, we are to show him some of the remaining crops from which the next Butzemann will be created. This is to thank him for his success and to ensure him that the lineage will go on. Then, as he is burned, he is to be taking with him all of the things that we wanted to banish from our spiritual lives, particularly things that were on our list of resolutions at the New Year. The pyre is to bring about the extinction of those negative aspects of our lives along with any gifts to the deities. As we watch him burn, we honor his work and reflect upon the year gone by.

The time between Allelieweziel and Yuul is considered to be the darkest time: the time between death and rebirth. It is not a time to fear, but instead a time to recognize the need for change within the universe. The end of one thing is a beginning of something new.

The duty of each individual being, whether human, animal, or plant, is to strive to leave the world a better place for our descendants (and us in our next life!) than it was when we came into it. This is the goal of all love. This is Allelieweziel.

Since I had not previously celebrated Grundsaudaag, I quickly made a Butzemann for my garden.  Using corn husks and a instructions found online, I mad a corn husk doll for my Butzemann and placed him in the garden for the remaining week before Allelieweziel.

Butzemann in the Garden Butzemann

While the celebrations are at least calendircally syncretic, they are not wholly integrated.  This is something that I would like to do in the future. Yes, I really do mean to call on Irish gods and Urglaawe gods in the same ritual.  I realize that there are some that think this is taboo or verboten, however, when I pulled runes asking the Gods, Land Spirits and Ancestors about it, the reading was overwhelmingly positive. Your mileage may vary. If at some point, They decide that this is no longer a path that is open to me, I am quite certain They will let me know.

 

Special Thanks to Robert Schreiwer and Distelfink Sippschaft.  For more information on Urglaawe visit www.urglaawe.org or www.facebook.com/groups/Urglaawe/

 

Posted in Allelieweziel, Ancestor, Family, Germanic, Heathen, Heathenry, Holiday, Holy Day, Ireland, Irish, New Year, Pennsylvania Dutch, Ritual, Samhain, Sidhe, Urglaawe | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Best. Assignment. Ever.

Long-time, no-see.  School and life have been keeping me pretty busy, but I thought my History of the Roman Empire Professor’s latest assignment for our class was so cool, I had to share it with you.  Here’s the premise:

After reading Apuleius’ Golden Ass (Metamorphoses) Professor Arena says: “We have seen in Apuleius’ novel some slices of Roman provincial life as well as fantasy and adventure during the empire.  Follow Apuleius’ style and come up with a Roman adventure story, with a common Roman citizen as your protagonist, and set it in the period of the Antonines, the Severans, or the late period of Diocletian and Constantine.”

And this is what I came up with.  Enjoy!

AD 235 near Lugdunum, Gaul

The boy ran. He ran as fast as his little legs could carry him. Down the hill on which the villa sat, across the foot bridge, past the palisade around the governor’s villa and into the forest. The little track would take him to the village, avoiding the Roman road which was becoming dangerous, even for the well protected to travel. The track wound through the trees, still sacred to his people. Once there had been a sacred grove where the Druids would call on the Gods for good harvest, for protection from invaders. Now the governor’s country villa sat where the grove used to be.

Once in the village, the boy ran straight for his grandfather’s home, not bothering to knock he rushed in. “Grandfather, Grandfather!”

Diviciacus looked up from the fire and motioned for his grandson to be still. Children need to learn a stillness, to listen before speaking, to think before acting. The child would clearly not be still as he bounced from foot to foot waiting for Diviciacus to bid him to speak. He nodded and at once, his grandson let tumble a rush of words that Diviciacus found difficult to understand.

“Slowly, child. This old man’s ears don’t hear like they used to.”

“I heard him say it, Grandfather. The Emperor is dead! Killed by his own legion!”

“And how precisely did you hear this, Ainvar, as I remember your mother expressly forbidding you from going anywhere near that villa.”

Ainvar played kick the ground a moment. “I’m sorry Grandfather. I was climbing the oak tree and I heard the Governor read his letter.”

“What else did you hear?”

“Maximinus Thrax is the new Emperor, and he’s demanding more troops from the governor to fight the Germans.”

“I see. Run to Brennus and tell him I wish to speak to him, will you?”

Ainvar took off like a bullet in search of Brennus, the man who would be Archdruid after Diviciacus. Secretly of course. Rome must continue to think they’d rid themselves of the Druids.

“I’m getting too old for this,” Diviciacus said to the empty house.

 

AD 259 Colonia Aggripina, Gaul

Brennus looked over his steepled fingers at the Roman sitting across from him. His graying hair perfectly trimmed, perfectly arranged, every curl just so. His toga was the white of many long hours drying in the sun, the purple laticlave stark by comparison. Gravitas, auctoritas, dignitas his very presence screamed. This was the man who wanted to be Emperor of Gaul.

The Roman Empire had been in disarray since the assassination of Emperor Severus Alexander twenty-four years before, when Brennus himself was still young enough to feel the excitement and the possibilities that the chaos had caused. Twenty-four years and eleven emperors later, Brennus looked at the letter in Postumus’ hand, he was wary of the hope such missives could bring.

“Do you think the people would back a Gallic Empire, Brennus?”

“I think the people of this province will support you, so long as you support them,” Brennus said.

Postumus leaned forward in a conspiratorial gesture. “Will the Druids support me?”

Brennus let no emotion betray his face. “The Druids are long dead, Governor, it’s the legions you need to worry about. Ours and theirs.”

Too many Emperors had been made and unmade by the legions in recent years. An Emperor’s power lay in the strength of his legions and their loyalty.

“With Valerian fighting the Persians and Gallienus on the Danubian frontier, the boy, Salonius is the only obstacle.”

“More assassinations?” Brennus let anger seep into his voice. “And what of the masses of Alamanni and Franks on our borders? What if we require assistance from Rome to push them back?”

Postumus looked out the window at the falling late spring snow. He didn’t have an answer.

 

AD 260 near Augusta Treverorum, Gaul

Brennus watched as Ainvar trained in the yard with the young men who hoped to enter the legions next season. Boys, they were little more than boys, even compared to Ainvar who would count his thirty-second summer this year. Most of them would not come back. Ainvar had been lucky to return to father sons and daughters.

Brennus turned his attention to the fields, where corn ripened in the summer sun. If the weather continued, the harvest would be enough to put a surplus in their stores, something that had been hard to come by in the last twenty-five years. Brennus noticed then, the whirlwind of dust on the horizon. In a moment he knew he would hear the pounding of hooves on the road. News was come to the village. Would it be good, bad or indifferent?
The horse was lathered and pulled up lame when the rider finally stopped at Brennus’ door.

“A letter from the Emperor,” the messenger wheezed, as out of breath as his horse.
Brennus broke the wax seal and carefully unfolded the paper.

Brennus,
     Valerian dead by Persians, Gallienus entrenched on the Danube. Salonius and Silvanus dead by stupidity and Gallic forces, regrettably. Proclaimed Emperor. Details when I see you in Colonia Aggripina. Long live the Gallic Empire.

M. Cassianius Latinius Postumus Augustus Caesar Galliae

This would change everything. No more taxes going to support wars in far off places or to buy corn for people starving in Athens. Finally, all of Gaul was united and free of the Roman machine. Pity, Brennus thought, that my ancestral kinsman Vercingetorix never lived to see it. Or maybe they had just become the Romans and failed to notice.

 

Posted in Druid, Gallic, History, Roman | Tagged , , , , ,

Phoenix Pagan Pride Day

Hey Folks!  Don’t forget The Troth will be taking book donations for our In-Reach Heathen Prison Services Program at the Troth’s Booth at Phoenix Pagan Pride Day this year.  A list of appropriate books can be found at: http://in-reach-heathen.blogspot.com/p/needed-titles.html other types books that are donated will be passed along to allied networks.

Phoenix Pagan Pride Day details: http://www.phoenixpaganprideday.org/

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me (Sara) at thenerdydruid@gmail.com

 

Pass it on!

Posted in Book, pagan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,