Thursday, July 20, 2017

When the Muse is a Bitch, or Why You Really Didn't Want to Live in the Viking Age: Dentistry

Well, the piece on Viking lifespans got me looking at all sorts of interesting stuff. One interesting paper was about the teeth of Viking Age Icelanders.  The researcher made some conclusions that I'd love to share and give my overall impression on it... [READ MORE FOR JUST $1]
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Monday, July 17, 2017

Choosing a God or Goddess from the Northern Pantheons

If you're new to Heathenry (or even if you aren't), maybe you're wondering which gods and/or goddesses are your main go-to deities, or (dare I say it?) patron deities. I've been reading some blogs about this and I figured, as the Rational Heathen, I'd weigh in on the subject.  As usual, your mileage may vary (YMMV) and any advice I give may not fit your circumstance.

But I Already Have a God/Goddess!

If you're a newly arrived Heathen, chances are you've chosen one of the more media-prominent gods/goddesses such as Odin, Thor, Loki, or Freyja. That's all well and good, but they aren't the only ones out there, and they may not fit you.  Also, they're not a "I'm substituting Odin for the Christian god"-type of gods. Odin isn't the only creator-god, nor is he entirely benevolent. All the gods have their dark sides, just like human beings. But they also have their good sides, which can be wondrous and amazing when you are on the receiving end.

If you're a Heathen with some years in Heathenry, you may have found a god/goddess that you like, but maybe are looking for more than one go-to god, or maybe you just don't feel the fit is right.  After all, there's a reason why we're polytheistic, and not monotheistic, right?  All of these are good reasons to explore the pantheon and see if there is another god or goddess whom we can add to our altars.

My Own Experience

Long time readers will know that I didn't choose becoming a Heathen.  Rather, I got pulled in by Tyr and Thor.  While Tyr is my main god, I have several gods and goddesses I show respect to including Thor, Freyr, Freyja, Skadi, Odin, Zisa, and, oddly enough, Loki.  But they didn't just show up all at once and talk to me.  No.  As a matter of fact, some, like Skadi, were very cool to me (pun intended). Skadi and I did have a bit of an introductory period.  I had known her years before I became a Heathen, but it is my experience that she doesn't always come knocking on your door the way other gods and goddesses may do. Freyr did not approach me, either.  I simply opened myself to him.  So, I do have some experience choosing new gods and goddesses.

How Should I Discover a New God/Goddess?

Unless your experience is similar to mine, you'll probably be charting your own course, so to speak. Finding a new god/goddess may be difficult if you don't have a god grab you by the scruff of the neck and shout, "You're Mine!"  (This can be a really disconcerting time in your life, if this does happen.) If you're looking for a deity, you should first do your homework and find out what you can about each god.  Learn what you can from the myths and Eddas.  Does any one appeal to you in some fashion?

The downside to research is that we don't know as much about certain gods and goddesses within our pantheon.  Yes, we know quite a bit about the main players, but there's a lot of guess-and-by-golly when it comes to less-known gods.  Also note that there are some gods who cross over ethnic groups and have different names, but are essentially the same god. Thor comes to mind. He's Thorr in Norse culture, Thunor in Anglo-Saxon culture, and Donar in German culture. But he's also Perun in Slavic culture, Perkunas in Baltic culture, and Perendi in Albanian culture. If you're culturally close to those who worshiped the northern gods, you may want to see if there are gods within your ancestors' cultures that fit, or seem to resonate with you.

Mediation is immensely helpful in this search. You may hear one or more god or goddess as you practice mindfulness meditation.  In this case, feel free to explore the communication.  You don't have to choose the god who shows up, but chances are there's a reason they choose to talk with you while you were receptive.  Be cautious, too, during mediation.  You're receptive to more than just the gods.  Avoid those that give you bad feelings or harmful requests.  Believe it or not, there are spirits that do take delight on waylaying people.

You'll have to choose by what feels right.  This isn't a particularly rational suggestion, but religion is seldom rational in nature. In the end, you must trust you gut-feelings and maybe you'll get rewarded for your efforts with a UPG or maybe even some communication.

Avoid Popular and Simple Explanations for Deities

I hate to be the party-pooper on this, but the gods aren't the Marvel heroes. If you've been drawn to Heathenism because of the Marvel tropes, that's okay, but don't expect Thor, Loki, and Odin to be much like the comic characters.  These are gods who have many dimensions to their personalities, and although we have limited writings about them--many of them colored by Christianity--enough of us have had UPGs to the point where we've seen other aspects of the gods.

For example, Freyja isn't just the goddess of war and sex, (although she is that, too).  She has a very complex role as a goddess.  She takes half the fallen before Odin, thus probably taking the best warriors.  She is a strong goddess who fights, but is still very feminine. She is the goddess of the Seidr, and may be linked to Frigga as the wife of Odin.  She is certainly the most powerful of the goddesses. Your dealings with her may bring certain insights into her personality that you would never find in popular culture.

What About Other Pantheons?

Should you mix and match gods and goddesses from other unrelated pantheons?  What if Freyja and Bast appeal to you?  What if you worship Jupiter, Heimdall, and Wu Xi?  What if you have altars to Christ and Odin? 

Seriously?

Some Heathens will call you out on this as being Wiccan and not Heathen.  They may even give you the sarcastic name of "Wiccatru" for your efforts. Even I am a little taken aback by the mixes. (It's really not the same as mixing some Eurasian religions with our Norse gods because they're alike in a lot of ways.) I'm somewhat hesitant to say "yes, you can," because I don't have a warm feeling about mixing very different religions.  That being said, if you truly feel the calling between two different gods from two different pantheons, who in the Hel am I to tell you what you should do?

However, some religions by their very nature aren't up to the task of "Mix-N-Match" gods. Our gods couldn't care any less who or what you worship, but the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim god isn't keen on other gods in the playbook. Something about "Thou shall not have other gods before me..." springs to mind here.  While I don't believe in that god, I do believe that the followers would have something to say about it.  And seeing as the words are in their holy text to not worship any other gods, it seems disingenuous to worship a Judaeo-Christian god and a Norse god.  But again, that's your business.

I hope I've given you some ideas about the gods and how to start your journey into finding a god or goddess you have a special connection with.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When the Muse is a Bitch, or Heat Waves, Earthquakes, and Other Disasters

Freyr and Summer.  Some days, I get the feeling that the god of summer isn't always kind, even though the dealings I've had with Freyr have always been positive. I'm going to be talking about the danger of this time of year and how I see it from a Heathen perspective... 

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Monday, July 10, 2017

You Wouldn't Survive the Viking Age, so Let's Not Go Back

It's easy to look at a previous time in history and think it would be the perfect time for you to live in.  But honestly, you wouldn't survive the Viking Era, so don't try to recreate it. I know there's a bunch of you out there who are crying "Bullshit!" You're pounding your chests and announcing that you could survive it.

Well, kiddos, you are so wrong.  And I'm here to prove it.  Read on, MacDuff...

Why We Are So Screwed if a Time Machine Sent Us Back

We think a lot about the halcyon days of  our ancestors.  How things were simple.  How people lived together in kindreds for protection.  Some of us has romanticized it enough to the point where we not only try to study the past, but we try to reconstruct and live in it.

Stupid idea.

Could You Survive in the Viking Age?

Let me ask you some questions, and we'll see how well you do on this.  Be honest.

  1. Have you had the common cold, flu, or diarrhea and never during your lifetime took modern day medications of any sort, nor received any modern medical treatments?
  2. Do you have a chronic condition (asthma, arthritis, migraines, high blood pressure, diabetes, Crone's, allergies, Lyme disease, depression, etc) and have never had treatment for it nor taken any medications for it?
  3. Have you never used toothpaste and have you never visited a dentist?
  4. Have you ever broken any bones (other than fingers and toes) and not received treatment?
  5. Have you ever had cancer, malaria, the plague, tuberculosis, hantavirus, or typhoid, and never received treatment for them?
  6. Have you ever cut yourself deeply and not used bandages and antibiotic ointments?
  7. Have you never used antibiotics?
  8. Have you never been vaccinated or treated for a disease medically?
  9. Are you older than 120 years?
If you've answered "no" to all of the above, congrats!  You would probably not survive in the Viking Age.  If you've answered "no" to most of the questions, you probably would not survive in the Viking Age. If you've answered "no" to one of those questions, you probably would not survive in the Viking Age.

If you live in a Western country and answer "yes" to any of those questions (with maybe the exception of #4) I call bullshit, and say you're a liar. (Especially #9, unless you happen to be the  Doctor.)  Sorry kids, but chances are you've had some sort of wondrous medicine that goes beyond the medical knowledge of the 9th century.

Healthcare was Crude, at Best

Most doctors during that time were women. There isn't a lot written about basic medicine, and almost nothing about the types of herbs used. Most wounds had ointment applied to them and bound with some sort of linen bandages.  The real nasty wounds were cauterized with hot metal.  Infection was rampant. Chances are if you didn't die in battle, you'd be meeting Hel in Helheim after you died from infection.

Disease killed children, and one in three would not reach adulthood because of it and other factors. (More later.)

Very little is written about childbirth, but we can assume given the frightening percentage of fatalities I mention later, that a fair portion of women died while giving birth.  This may explain why more men reached "old age" than women.

How Long Did People Live Back Then?

I'd like to say people were tougher back then.  Whether through luck or genetics, our ancestors survived the Darwin crap shoot and managed to procreate before the meanness of the times caught up with them.  Because nearly one third of all Viking children would not make it to adulthood, it meant you had a one in three chance of dying, usually from exotic Viking things like disease, famine, and malnutrition.

Now, let's say you were a young man and managed to make it to adulthood (our version of adulthood at age 21).  By the time you were thirty, assuming you weren't one of the casualties, you'd find that half the men you knew of your age (50 percent) were dead.  If you were a young woman, you fared a little better, losing more than another third (35 percent) to disease, warfare, and childbirth.  Women who managed to live to 41 through 50, would see almost half (45 percent) mortality.  And by that time, 80 percent of all males who would have been in those age brackets were already dead.

Old Age 

If you're a Millennial, you may be thinking that old age is greater than 50.

Fuck you.

I say that with all sincerity because I am older than dirt, by your reckoning.  But you'd be correct in the Viking Age when people generally didn't make it past 50.  Only 5 percent of women and maybe 7 percent of men died then.  That means you had a 95 percent chance of dying before you were 51, if you were a woman, and a 93 percent chance of dying before you were 51 if you were a man in that era.

If you think that 50 is old, it's because you're young now.  Bad news: the years fly by fast and you'll be a 50 year old wondering what in the Hel happened to the 20 year old you were.  To quote Pink Floyd:
"You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun."
--Time, Pink Floyd, David Gilmour & Richard Wright
 I haven't even gotten into the caste system that our ancestors had.  That is a discussion for another day. So, I can say that you probably would be dead by the time you're the age you are now. 

So, don't wish you were there.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Thoughts on America and Who Discovered It

To all my fellow Heathen Americans, I wish you all a happy Fourth of July/American Independence
Day.  (For those outside of the US, I'll admit I'm American-centric.  Deal with it and enjoy the Fourth.)

I've been doing some research about America and our Viking roots, and I'll be talking about a bunch of different subjects over the next few posts.  Why?  Because I can.

Who "Discovered" America?

If you're of my generation (talkin' about my g-g-generation...), chances are you were told Columbus discovered America, and that Leif Erikson may have landed on our shores, but naught came of it.  Columbus was the true hero because he opened the door to the New World for Europeans.  <sarcasm> Never mind those pesky "savages" who lived here for thousands of years. </sarcasm>

When I was old enough to reevaluate what I learned in school, I thought it odd that an entire group of indigenous people were pretty much left high and dry on the "discovery" portion.  I get that our history is largely American/European-centric, since Columbus' discovery really was the beginnings of the modern colonization of the West.  I won't get into the whole exploitation of indigenous people, partially because there is plenty of blame to go around in just about any culture when it comes to exploitation, but largely because that's not what this post is about.

We can say that with Columbus "discovering" the New World, it opened the door for colonization on an unprecedented scale. Although Leif Erikson did indeed "discover" Vinland, and the Norse did have at least one colony at L’Anse auxMeadows, and possibly more, the Norse were without gunpowder and were too few against the indigenous population. I suspect the colonization of the Americas happened not because the Europeans were wiser or had the Christian god on their side, but rather, because by the 13th Century, gunpowder was being used in Europe. (Never mind the Marco Polo connection--but that's for another day.)

It Wasn't Leif Erikson?

It's tempting to say that Leif Erikson was the first European who "discovered" the New World, but that could be very wrong.  He certainly wasn't the first human to discover it. We know that humans came across the Bering land bridge at somewhere around 13,500 years ago from Asia to the New World.  Scientist think a few thousand people managed to get in on the ground floor before the ocean rescinded its offer.

Beringa, or the Bering land bridge, appeared sometime just as the Last Glacial Maximum was ending.
During a couple of thousand years, human migrated across the land bridge before the glaciers had melted enough to finally submerge it. People, being the resourceful hominids that they are, found the New World to their liking and stayed.  Or perhaps when the ocean finally reclaimed Beringa, they discovered there was no going back. These are indeed the first discoverers of the New World, according to modern theories about how humans got here.

However, there is the possibility that people showed up some 20,000 years ago from Europe during one of the Ice Ages when much of the world's water was locked up in ice.  Called the Solutrean Hypothesis, it's considered controversial because most archaeologists believe that the Americas were devoid of humans until 13,500 years ago.

Solutrean tools
Solutreans and their Tools

The Solutreans were a group of Stone Age peoples who lived in Europe. The claim is that the Clovis people were actually Solutreans who came from France at that time.  There are similar tools in France that look like Clovis points. The 20,000 years ago marker was arrived at when a stone ax was dredged up along with mastodon bones in the ocean off of Virginia's east coast. Solutrean proponents claim that the ax and bones were linked and the bones were found to be 20,000 years old.  A carved mammoth tusk in Florida which dates to 13,000 to 20,000 years might also be of Solutrean design.

The hypothesis also focused on genetic similarities, that being haplogroup X, a mitochondrial DNA that mutated from haplogroup N.  This haplogroup is present in about 7 percent of Europeans and 3 percent of Native Americans.  However, there are other haplogroups present that might have come from Europe via Siberia.  In fact, Native Americans have mtDNA from five different haplogroups, all which can be found in Asia, doesn't help the Solutrean argument.  And the haplogroup X might just be a leftover from hundreds of years ago due to intermarriage between Europeans and Native Americans.

So, What Does That Leave Us With?
Clovis points

We know that humans got to the Americas through the land bridge.  That's been pretty much established. Whether they were the first humans to discover the New World is up for debate. There is sketchy evidence, at best, but it's hard to prove a negative and say definitively they were not there. Most scientists stick with the migration after the Last Glacial Maximum because the evidence supports it.  Could there have been a crossing from Europe to the Americas?  Maybe.

I'm not going to say it happened or it didn't, because I just don't know.  It is an intriguing idea, certainly, because humans are infinitely adaptable and are capable of moving around damn near everywhere.  One thing we can be certain of is that today is the American Independence Day, and you need to be careful if you're lighting off fireworks.  So have a safe and happy Fourth of July.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wights, Ancestors, and Dreams

I think I'm getting high off mint. 


I don't think of myself as a particular lightweight when it comes to alcohol or medications.  (In fact, doctors usually have to use several times the amount they think they need for me to be numbed.  And I won't go into alcohol, at this time.)  So, when I was digging up mint out of my garden to replant and possibly sell, I felt a wave of absolute joy from something. I suspect it was a wight of some sort, or maybe an ancestor.  It could've been me getting high off the heady scent of the mint, but I think it unlikely. 

Feral Mint

I had planted the mint several years back in an attempt to rid some other noxious weeds with my more preferable version of a weed.  Out West, we have the unfortunate situation of having constant invasive plants.  The mint, although incredibly invasive, is minimal compared to the other invasive plants, some which are quite poisonous to wildlife and livestock.  At least the mint can be eaten without harm.

The intoxicating smell of the mint, the gentle breeze, and the sun suddenly transported me into several minutes of pure joy.  I swear, I felt hands on my shoulders as I stood there alone.  Then, as quickly as it came, it left, but not before leaving me in wide-eyed wonder over what just happened.

Being Closer to Nature

Our ancestors were closer to nature than we are.  Let's face it, most of us grew up in urban or suburban environments.  A few of us actually lived in rural areas.  Even so, we still aren't as close to nature as our ancestors who had to deal with the good and the bad on a daily basis.  Don't get me wrong: nature can be deadly, and often is.  We, as humans, have learned to keep the bad stuff (as defined by humans) at bay, but unfortunately, we've put the good stuff at arm's length as well.

I moved into the mountains when I could.  I'm not unique that I did this nor that I have a meager ranch of a few acres whence I get a large portion of my meat and some of my vegetables. When I do the work, I get the feeling that this is just a taste of the backbreaking work our ancestors had to endure.  It wasn't romantic or pleasant, but it did come with the benefit of being closer to what this Earth is all about.

Ancestors

Both my parents loved gardening. My mom was a Master Gardener.  Even so, I don't recall her
planting more than tomatoes, zucchini, and basil for food.  My plants are in container gardens (with the exception of mint) because of the rocky ground here, but I have a variety of lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, tomatillos, beans, squash, corn, and herbs, all in containers. Yeah, it isn't in the ground, but it is easy to get to.

I don't know what my grandparents did in terms of gardens.  My dad worked on a farm when he was younger and ate fresh food.  My mom probably did the same.  Her dad was a baker who loved to hunt.  I know little of my dad's side -- I know his brothers were hunters.  I do know some relatives and have some genealogy charts.  Maybe I need to take another look at them.

I suspect that there are farmers and hunters in my ancestors.  At some point, all our ancestors were hunter-gatherers.  So, maybe they would look at our lives and marvel at the easy way we have it, but also the apparent lack of connection.

Odd Dreams

I had an odd dream last night.  In the dream, I was hunting with my husband (not unusual) at a ranch we had never been to.  There were many strange things there, but the oddest had to do with a big pavilion that was set up for hunters.  When you went inside, you were in row after row of cubicles with phones and computers, presumably for those waiting.  Only, everyone in there was dead.  They had killed themselves because they were waiting to hunt, but couldn't.  They were being told to wait, and they could only read while waiting.

None of them bothered to step out of the tent.  None of them tried the Internet connection or computers. None of them took the chance to go out and hunt.  In retrospect, I think the dream had to do with how people are choosing to live their lives.  They are sitting in a row of cubicles until someone tells them they can go hunt, or they go crazy and kill themselves.

I wonder if this is a metaphor for life?  People waiting around in cubicles until they die, never taking the chance of stepping out and hunting, even if they were wrong?  It makes you think, doesn't it?

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Thoughts on the Summer Solstice

I'm not a summertime person, really.  I hate the heat and, quite frankly, there's not much hunting to be
Thanks to Magickalgraphics.
done during the summer and usually summer is the start of fire season here in the West.  Even so, this year I find that I've been enjoying the spring and summer because La Nina has made this summer cool (relatively speaking) and wet for us in the Northwest. So, I'm able to take a breather and actually enjoy the green landscape plus work on my garden. 

But all this got me thinking about solstice from a historical perspective.  So, whether you call it Midsummer, Lithia, or just the summer solstice, I like looking at the roots of the celebration.

Prehistoric Times

There's little doubt that humans in prehistoric times recognized the solstice and celebrated the day with the most amount of sunlight. Stonehenge and Externsteine were places where people could observe and mark the longest day of the year. The altar at Externsteine has a keyhole that lights up at dawn on the summer solstice.  And Stonehenge is definitely a monument to the sun.  The heel stone gateway capture's the sun's rays on June 21st. 

Almost all prehistoric peoples worshiped the sun in some capacity. Bonfires were common both in prehistoric times and later to welcome the solstice. 

Medieval and Viking Times

During the Viking era, northern peoples held a Thing and used the time to solve legal matters and disputes.  Bonfires were common as were visiting wells that were thought to have magical properties. In northern Europe, it was customary to light a wheel encased with straw and roll it down a hill to determine if the harvest would be good or poor.  If the wheel went out before it reached the bottom, it would mean a poor harvest.  Methinks it'd be a good idea to pick a short hill.  Obviously with the droughts in the West, that would be a foolhardy thing to do.  At least I won't be doing that anytime soon.
Thanks to Magickalgraphics.

Midsummer in Sweden

Not unsurprisingly, Midsummer celebrations are alive and well in Sweden.  A direct descendant of the Viking era solstice celebrations, Midsummer is celebrated with feasts, music, dance, the Maypole, and honoring nature.  Not surprisingly, the Church didn't squash the tradition, it merely usurped it and made it the feast of John the Baptist. Midsummer celebrations still has kept their fertility roots, thus hearkening back to the much older tradition.  After all, who wants to let something like Christian conversion ruin a good thing?

My Own Midsummer Celebration

Solstices tend to be a special time for me.  I'll be cooking a pork tenderloin and maybe make some special foods.  I'll be honoring Freyja, Freyja, Sunna, Mani, and Tyr on summer solstice. Perhaps I'll used the time to reflect on what I want to accomplish before hunting season is upon us. I'll make offerings for a safe and fruitful season as well.

I hope you have a good solstice and let me know how you do to celebrate.
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