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Author: The Rational Heathen

Runes as a Divination Tool

Runes as a Divination Tool

Our ancestors have used runes as divination tools for centuries. Whether fashioned from bone, wood, stone, or something else, people relied on runes as a written means of communication, powerful talismans, and a means of learning about the future.  I’ll explore why in this piece.

Obtaining Immortality

Runes — and writing, for that matter — is the human attempt at establishing immortality in a very mortal world. Look at the runic inscriptions we have from our ancestors: they talk about deeds, imbue power into weapons, mark the existence of a person, keep track of goods, or give us a magical formula of some sort.

Even today, humans want to leave their indelible mark on the world. Whether it’s a person who wants to be a published author, an actor appearing on the silver screen, a recording artist, an Internet blogger, or a tagger spray-painting graffiti on a boxcar, all these people are looking to achieve some sort of immortality. The Internet and movies are just another form of media that came from the written word.  Before writing all people had were their memories and oral traditions. Sure, the person learned the story from their parents and grandparents, but over time the stories morphed into something less recognizable by the original teller.  Like an ancient form of the kid’s game “telephone,” original details were lost and new information was added. Only when the stories were written down did we have a record of what the story was at the time it was written. That’s assuming, of course, that the scribe wrote it down word-for-word without embellishment, which generally didn’t happen.

The Magic of Writing

If you’ve been one of my long-time readers, you know I eschew the word “magic.” But in this case, I’ll forego that avoidance. Writing, itself, is magical. Think about it.  We can convey our thoughts, stories, feelings, and beliefs to people we have never met.  To people whom we will never meet. This power is something we take for granted now, but writing has really only been around for a little over 5000 years.  The world’s oldest writing is cuneiform written in 3200 BCE. Scribes developed and used cuneiform to record transactions in the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, which is in present-day Iraq.

Agrarian societies invented writing to keep track of goods, possessions, and taxes.  Writing is a by-product of commerce, which makes sense.  Even Scandinavian/Viking merchants used runes to keep track of their goods.  I would argue that until produce and trade developed, humans had little need of the written language. Sure, there were magic sigils and marks, but until people exchanged money, or at least goods and services, they didn’t have a pressing need for a written language.

How Does “Magic”Divination Work?

Warning!  Personal Unverified Gnosis Ahead!

I believe part of the runes’ sacredness comes from the “magic” of being able to learn from people long gone from the world. How magical it must feel to hear the voice of an ancestor from something written.  The ancestor most likely carved the runes into something more permanent like rock, bone, wood, or metal. This lasted far longer than his or her 40 to 50 years in this world.

Another magical part of the runes is the ability to tap into our subconscious selves.  That part of our mind pays more attention to the world around us. It’s where we often get our insights and hunches.  And it’s more likely what hears the gods when they speak to us. When we touch the runes, our subconscious knows what rune we touched.  The feel of the wood, bone, or stone, the rough cut of the rune, the shape of the rock: our subconscious mind knows what it is even if we can’t consciously identify it.  So, the runes help us find the answer within ourselves and our subconscious observations of the world around us.

(At this point, I can hear purists who believe in magic screaming that I’m full of shit.  Cool. You don’t like what I say?  Bitch somewhere else.  You got the warning above; deal with it.)

Whether you believe that Odin gave our ancestors the runes or not is immaterial.  The runes are here and they possess a quality that we can use to explore our mind and our collective unconscious.  It may serve as a way to understand what our conscious minds haven’t grasped.  And it may be a way to know what is happening in the future.

Block Heads and Block Universes

If you’ve read my piece about free will, I go into the block universe theory and why we may not have free will at all.  Briefly, the block universe theory in physics states that everything has already happened and it’s just our limited perception of time that keeps us thinking sequentially. The past, present, and future exist simultaneously.  Time doesn’t go forward, per se, we just experience it in our limited capacity as if a spotlight is being shown on that particular instant in our lives.

I wonder if people can and do access those other parts of space-time, just not consciously. As a Science Fiction and Fantasy writer, the thoughts are intriguing, certainly.  If we can access the past and future subconsciously, it makes sense that the runes help us do it.

Rune Meanings and Interpretations

My sister gave me a rune set and Ralph Blum’s Book of Runes when I was a teenager. I actually have a first edition somewhere, assuming it didn’t get lost in moving. Whether or not you think Blum’s book is a bunch of crap, you have to admit that it was and still is quite popular. I did some pretty successful runecasts with it, despite its faults.

Even so, I subscribe to the more traditional interpretations, though.  I also don’t believe in using merkstave as a reading, because merkstave was added to make the runes more tarot-like. Plus, there are plenty of negative sides to the runes already–we don’t need more.  I also don’t believe in using the blank rune, because the runes already have perth, which is the equivalent as such.

That being said, because the runes are our gateway into reading into the future with our subconscious mind, my guess is you can have whatever interpretation you fancy and still get the reading right. (I can hear the purists screaming now.)  The main thing is to stay consistent in interpretation, otherwise it’s unlikely you’re going to have a good reading.  I prefer using traditional meanings over others, if , for no other reason than to have consistency.

I would say go with whatever works for you.  If merkstaves and blank runes work, then do it.  If going the completely traditional route works, then do that. Hel, if you find Ralph Blum’s interpretations work, then use those.  Let me know what works for you in the comments.

 

Where Did the Runes Come From?

Where Did the Runes Come From?

If you’re a Heathen, you probably know the story of how Odin hanged himself for nine days and nights on Yggdrasil and obtained the runes.  It’s a great story and one we love telling to explain the overall mystical qualities the runes possess. But, like anything, our stories don’t necessarily tell the whole story of how the runes came into being.  So, this piece looks at the runes and how they evolved.

The Havamal and Archetypes

The Havamal describes how Odin sought wisdom by hanging himself on Yggdrasil for nine days and nights.  He hanged with a spear stuck through him to earn the runes’ wisdom.  For those who follow Christianity, the image is oddly reminiscent of Jesus on the Cross.  Think about it: a god sacrifices himself to himself via crucifixion.  He is stabbed with a spear.  He dies and comes back to life, even before he created the world.

It just shows how the archetypes of ancient legends filter through to today’s most popular religion.  The idea of a crucified god isn’t new, nor is the concept of a god dying and being resurrected.  But that discussion is for another time.  We’re still talking about the runes, here.

Runes in the Havamal

137.
I trow I hung on that windy Tree
nine whole days and nights,
stabbed with a spear, offered to Odin,
myself to mine own self given,
high on that Tree of which none hath heard
from what roots it rises to heaven.

138.
None refreshed me ever with food or drink,
I peered right down in the deep;
crying aloud I lifted the Runes
then back I fell from thence.

139.
Nine mighty songs I learned from the great
son of Bale-thorn, Bestla’s sire;
I drank a measure of the wondrous Mead,
with the Soulstirrer’s drops I was showered.

140.
Ere long I bare fruit, and throve full well,
I grew and waxed in wisdom;
word following word, I found me words,
deed following deed, I wrought deeds.

141.
Hidden Runes shalt thou seek and interpreted signs,
many symbols of might and power,
by the great Singer painted, by the high Powers fashioned,
graved by the Utterer of gods.

142.
For gods graved Odin, for elves graved Daïn,
Dvalin the Dallier for dwarfs,
All-wise for Jötuns, and I, of myself,
graved some for the sons of men.

143.
Dost know how to write, dost know how to read,
dost know how to paint, dost know how to prove,
dost know how to ask, dost know how to offer,
dost know how to send, dost know how to spend?

144.
Better ask for too little than offer too much,
like the gift should be the boon;
better not to send than to overspend.
……..
Thus Odin graved ere the world began;
Then he rose from the deep, and came again.

Havamal, 137-144, translated by Olive Bray

Where Did the Runes Actually Come From?

If we look at the runic alphabet from archaeology, we can get a sense for where the runes came from.  Even so, it’s sort of a mystery how the runes came into being.  We know that the oldest runes, the Elder Futhark, were written as early as 150 AD or CE (Common Era).  But whence they came is as interesting as the story in the Havamal. Runes may have be derived from what are called the Old Italic Alphabets, which includes the Raetic and Venetic alphabets.  These alphabets may have come from a Proto-Indo-European language and made their appearance as far back as the 700 BC or BCE (Before Common Era). You can see the similarities in the Elder Futhark and the Raetic and Venetic alphabets, if you look closely.  Many of the same letters in the runic system are there.

We can assume that the runes and the modern alphabet came from a similar source. The Latin alphabet, the alphabet we use today, was derived from the Etruscan alphabet which had most of the same letters. These letters came over from the Greek language from a Greek colony in Italy, around 600 BCE.  There’s a possibility that this alphabet influenced the runic alphabet as well.

There’s also a hypothesis that the runes may have Germanic origins because of the Vimose Inscriptions. These inscriptions are some of the earliest Elder Futhark inscriptions, and they’re written in Proto-Norse. They were found on an island off of Denmark, making a case for West Germanic origins.

Scholars just don’t know the exact origins of the runes, but they can guess given the similarity of the alphabets.

Why the Runes are so Powerful

Our ancestors ascribed magical powers to the runes, and it’s not hard to guess why.  If you’ve never had a way to keep knowledge available for generations to come other than oral tradition (which had problems with changes over time, and lost information due to untimely deaths), it would seem like magic.  Think how magical it would be to have a way for your ancestors to speak to you.  Those who could write the runes must have appeared to be very powerful shamans to less learned folk.  And those who could read the runes were certainly powerful in knowledge.

As the Rational Heathen, I’m not really into the woo-woo stuff. And yet, I do and have done runecastings. I suspect that the runecastings work through your subconscious–that your mind knows what is going on and you’re in touch with it.  Your fingers pick out the runes that your subconscious knows well.  Perhaps a person who does a runecasting for someone else gets cues that only our subconscious can understand and comes up with a reading that makes sense.

Or, maybe not.

Whether you believe that Odin brought us the runes, or whether you think they evolved from another written language, I hope you enjoyed this post.  Let me know what you think and whether I should write more rune posts.

Happy New Year from the Rational Heathen

Happy New Year from the Rational Heathen

Happy New Year! Enjoy this free wallpaper for 2019!  Just download it and use as your desktop.  Enjoy!  Have a great 2019!

6 New Year’s Resolutions Every Heathen Should Make

6 New Year’s Resolutions Every Heathen Should Make

Well, that title is a bit of click-bait, isn’t it? Seriously though, as Heathens looking into the upcoming new year, we do have oaths, resolutions, or at least, things we’d like to accomplish next year. This is why I’ve come up with six resolutions we, as Heathens, should make for next year. See if you agree with me.

Take Better Care of Yourself

You may think it’s odd for me to tell you to to be selfish and take care of yourself first, but that’s exactly what I’m telling you. Your resolution should be to care for yourself better than you have been caring for yourself. This means getting more sleep, more rest, better quality food, and exercise. Why? Because if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. And if you care for others, i.e., children, animals, elderly, disabled, or sick, who will take care of them if you become sick? No one.

So, you need to care for yourself, in order to care for others in your life. Eat organic foods and less junk food. Exercise at least three times a week, preferably more. If you do get sick, stay home and get well–go to the doctor, if necessary. There are people who depend on you to be on top of your game; you won’t be 100 percent if you’re tired all the time, sick, or out-of-shape.

Did you know that 50 percent of Americans’ diets consist of processed food on average? Yes. All the soft drink, frozen meals, breakfast cereals, desserts, canned foods, and prepackaged whatever isn’t necessarily healthy for you and takes you away from your Heathen roots. I encourage you to buy local foods, which have ties to the land you live in, and will sustain you better and taste better than the shit that comes prepackaged.

Learn a New Skill

As Heathens, it’s important for us to keep our minds and bodies challenged. That means learning a new skill, whether it’s a new craft, a new language, a martial art, a musical instrument, or a new sport. Learning new things not only improves your mental function, it helps postpone the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. When we work on things that our ancestors did such as knife-making, hunting, knapping, leather tooling, farming, raising livestock, weaving, spinning, foraging, gardening, preserving food, and whatnot, you may find a greater understanding and link to the past.

Learn to Meditate

Meditation isn’t necessarily sitting cross-legged and saying “Ommm,” although you can do that, if you want to. Meditation is what is called “mindfulness,” which is being aware of your body and your surroundings. It’s being present within the moment.

Meditation allows you to pay attention to everything around you. It allows you to clear your thoughts and lower your heart rate. It allows you to reduce the stress in your life and your reaction to the stress. And it also enables us to forge a link between ourselves and the gods.

When we clear our thoughts, we open our minds to the gods and allow them to enter. Although they can overcome the constant chatter of our busy minds, they don’t like having to do that. Tyr, I know, isn’t thrilled with dealing with the chaotic “monkey mind” that we all have. He’ll do it when he has to, but he prefers an ordered mind. Loki, on the other hand, is great with distractions.

One good book worth considering is Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. There are other good meditation books as well, so if you’d like other referrals, I can provide them.

Get Outdoors More Often

It’s all too common for humans to become “box people,” as one friend used to call people who never stepped foot in nature. These people went from climate-controlled homes to climate-controlled cars to a climate-controlled workplace, and back again. They had safely encapsulated themselves in boxes that didn’t challenge them. Oh sure, they might enjoy a nice day outside during lunch or on the weekend, but rain, snow, wind, heat? No way.

It’s ridiculously easy becoming maudlin about nature from the 10th story of a high rise, or even on the manicured lawns of suburbia. When you’re out in it, you have to learn what nature requires you to do. That means planning and preparing to be out with it. The wild is not a kind mistress — some areas are downright dangerous for the unprepared. Heathens need to go to those places –wild and natural places–where there is both beauty and danger, and know what to do. I’m not telling you to risk your life, by any stretch; I’m asking you to claim what is your birthright as a creature of this Earth. This requires knowledge, preparation, and skill.

If you’re not ready for a wilderness experience, you need to start small. Go to a park and enjoy the grass underfoot and the trees overhead. Watch the animals, however tame they may act around humans. Take walks more outside. Pay attention to your surroundings. Read about places you’d want to visit and go there when funds are available. In the meantime, learn the national forests and parks in your area. Learn about the wildlife. Become a hunter and angler. The more you learn about nature, the better that knowledge will serve you as a Heathen.

Learn More About Your Ancestors

Love them or hate them, your relatives and ancestors say a lot about who you are. Without them, you would not exist. Whether you were adopted into your current family or whether the family who raised you were your actual birth parents, every Heathen should know where they came from. You should honor those ancestors whom you deem worthy of honoring. If you have no recent ancestors whom you feel are worthy of reverence, that’s okay. Go back further, or choose to honor more distant ancestors in general. Not all of them can be assholes.

Even if you can’t go back very far in your lineage, knowing and understanding the people whom your ancestry belongs to is a good idea. Why? Because you can add and incorporate customs, gods, and practices into your beliefs and honoring. That way, it becomes something more personal to you.

If you’re adopted, honoring the ancestors of your adopted parents can also bring meaning as well. After all, they chose you to be part of their family and kindred. Remember, we’re talking ethnicity here, and not race, because race is a construct. We’re all humans, which means if you were raised Swedish, even if your birth parents might have been Anglo Saxon, you’re Swedish in ethnicity, if not birth.

Learn More About Our Gods and Our Past

Thanks to Hugin’s Heathen Hof for this.

As Heathens, it’s important to read the Eddas, stories about our gods, and important literature that has made up much of what we know about the Heathens who came before us and Heathenry. Learning how to translate and read old manuscripts is a part of it, certainly, but even if you can’t pony up for a course in Old Icelandic, Old Norse, or Anglo Saxon, just reading the translated stories will provide richness to your life and your beliefs. It’s a good idea to do your own research and formulate your own thoughts–lots of recon wankers will tell you what to believe because they have a “theory.” Trust me, you can decide for yourself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on resolutions. If you did, consider buying me a coffee for my hard work. See you here in 2019. May you have a wonderful and safe New Year!

Should a Heathen Teach Their Kids about Santa Claus?

Should a Heathen Teach Their Kids about Santa Claus?

Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle–when you were young, chances are you were told about the jolly man in the red suit who filled stockings and put presents under Christmas trees on Christmas Eve. Even if you were raised pagan or in another religion, it’s hard to imagine a more ubiquitous figure than Santa Claus. So, it’s somewhat tragic that I stepped on the road to skepticism at the tender age of four or so with the disbelief in Santa Claus.

About St. Nick

We pagans love to put our spin on Christmas traditions — Heathens, no exception.  Santa Claus does borrow heavily from the story of Odin and the Wild Hunt, but St. Nicholas was purportedly a Christian saint who was born 280 A.D. 

Known for his generosity and kindness, stories about St. Nicholas and his miracles were popular among Christians. Nicholas could raise the dead, save innocent men from execution,  multiply wheat during a famine, calm storm winds at sea, and even had a good throwing arm that most baseball pitchers would kill to get.  Okay, maybe not the last one. But the story below suggests he had to have an arm to throw gold into a chimney.

This Christian saint is reputed to have saved three daughters from being sold into prostitution by providing a dowry for them. He did it in an unusual way.  He threw a bag of gold into the chimney of their house the first night. The gold fell and spilled into the stockings of the women who hung them up to dry by the chimney.  He did this three nights in a row. On the third night, the father discovered Nicholas had done this good deed. Nicholas had the man promise he would not tell anyone how the daughters came by their dowry.  (Never mind this is the most famous story about him.)

St. Nick’s Popularity

Apparently, old St. Nick became quite popular. Christians celebrated feast day, the day of his death on December 6th, with presents given to the poor. (Morbid that one would celebrate a saint’s death. But, that’s the Christians for you.) Saint Nicholas presumably died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 73. Martyrdom is so overrated.

But, the common folk loved the Saint Nicholas stories. Saint Nicholas was popular even in the medieval era, with many people attributing Saint Nicholas to act of kindness, generosity, and charity. Not to mention gifts. The Protestants tried to do away with St. Nick and substitute Christkindl, the baby Jesus, who gave presents. But Nicholas was too popular, beating out the Christ child bearing gifts. To avoid issues with the Protestant church, Protestants called St. Nick Father Christmas. And Christkindl evolved and the name became “Kris Kringle,” thus giving Santa a new name.

By the way, Santa Claus got his name from a corruption of Sinterklaas from Dutch settlers, who stuck with Saint Nicholas even after the Reformation.

But What Does Heathenism Have to Do with Christmas?

Despite St. Nicholas’s obvious Christian roots, Christmas day was the birth of Mithras, a Persian sun god that was popular around the time of Christ and the new Church. The festivals of Saturnalia and Yule were already firmly established. It made sense to adopt these solstice celebrations and make them into holidays to help convert the pagans.

St. Nick took on characteristics of Odin in Northern Europe. Odin rode Sleipner during the Wild Hunt. Children were encouraged to leave hay in their shoes for the steed and Odin would reward them with a gift. In some places, St. Nick rode a horse to give his gifts. It’s easy to see how Heathens could make the connection between the two.

People being people simply adopted Christmas for Yule, but even kept the Yule name. In places where Thor had been popular, the Yule Goat became popular, and even pulled St. Nick’s cart with presents. The Christmas tree, handed down from Germanic traditions, represents the World Tree to Heathens and obviously a holdover from pagan times. Queen Victoria made the Christmas tree famous when she adopted the Germanic customs. So, as you can see, Heathenism has influenced many of the current Christmas customs.

A Four-Year-Old Skeptic

Unless your parents are hardcore skeptics or complete and utter religious assholes, they allowed you the fantasy of believing in what is commonly termed as make-believe things. We can debate what we consider make believe versus real another day.  When I was four, my sister’s fake enthusiasm for Santa already convinced me, a beginning skeptic, that the guy in the red suit was a lie.  I had inklings that Santa Claus didn’t exist. The logic of so many Santas everywhere you looked didn’t jive with what I saw, and my parents’ explanation that these weren’t really Santa, but Santa’s helpers, didn’t make sense. (Those were supposed to be elves, you see.)  So, the Occam’s razor solution was that my parents were giving me presents and not an imaginary guy riding a sled pulled by eight plus one tiny reindeer.

What Should You Tell Your Kids About Santa?

As Heathens, we’re supposed to be above the whole bullshit lies, but Santa Claus is pervasive. If you have kids, they’re going to get an earful about Santa. If you don’t tell them, their friends will tell them, and they’ll be asking you why the fat man in the red suit isn’t stopping at your place. Telling them that Santa only visits Christians makes him look like an asshole and makes you look like you’re following the wrong religion. Trust me on this when I say that sort of thing makes an impression on kids early in life. You don’t want to be the Grinch even if Santa isn’t really our thing.

We can bring Santa Claus’s image back to his Heathen roots of Odin and the Wild Hunt. Telling your kids that Santa Claus is just the Christian version of Odin and that he’s a wintertime spirit who does not care what religion you are will strengthen their belief in the god as being good. (They can learn about the bad sides of Odin later as they grow up.) This isn’t a lie, because Odin really doesn’t care what religion you are and yes, Santa Claus, despite being Saint Nicholas, has taken on the trappings of Odin.

Celebrating Santa at Christmastime is okay. If the kids figure out that you’re the one handing out presents, be honest and tell them that all parents who celebrate Yule and Christmas do that to honor their gods. Santa Claus isn’t a lie–you are the duly appointed gift giver. And if a child hears that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, the answer is yes, there is, he just goes under a different name.

8 Ways to Celebrate Yule for the Solitary Heathen

8 Ways to Celebrate Yule for the Solitary Heathen

Yule is one of our biggest celebrations as Heathens, but if you’re a solitary Heathen, like I am, you may be wondering how in the Hel you can celebrate it.  So, I’m offering ways you can enjoy Yule, even if you’re a solitary Heathen.

Greet the Sun on the Solstice

If you’re a morning person, you might want to get up before the dawn and greet the sun.  Or, if you’re a crazy bastard, you can stay up and greet the dawn from the other side.  Either way, you get to greet the sun on the solstice.  Write a prayer or poem to the sun and read it out loud, or just maybe say a few heartfelt words to the sun.  Maybe you’re not one for words, but maybe you can read the story how Sunna was put to drive the sun’s chariot each day.  Do what feels right to you.

Honor the Ancestors

Mother’s Night is December 20th — a day when we honor all female ancestors who came before us.  Even if you do not have recent ancestors you wish to venerate, you can offer food, mead, and other gifts to distant ancestors, both known and unknown, thanking them because without them, you would not be here.  You can also offer gifts to the gods, whom many of us look on as our ancestors as well.

Bake Yule Cookies

Nowadays with so many types of cookie cutouts, you’re sure to find cookie cutouts that have no Christian significance.  Snowmen, reindeer, Yule trees, stars, are all pretty common.  Hel, I bet you could make an angel into a Valkyrie easily. Your non-Heathen friends and family members won’t care about the shapes either.

Make Some Mead

If you have any time off this holiday season, it’s time to get some decent local honey and make some mead.  Never made mead before?  What is wrong with you?  Making basic mead is relatively easy, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll be wondering what kept you from making it for so long.  And while it won’t be ready for this holiday, it’ll be ready for spring.  Even a gallon of must makes 5 to 6 bottles of mead, so what are you waiting for?  Here’s a mead making kit for you. 

You also might find this book useful too.

Drink Some Mead

Okay, so what do you do in the meantime while you’re waiting for your mead to ferment?  Why not enjoy some mead?  Don’t have any?  That’s okay.  You should be able to find someplace that carries esoteric wines like mead in your city or town.  Have it ordered, if you really can’t find a place that carries it.  Or order online.  One meadery who will ship is Hidden Legend.

Make a Yule Feast

Just because you’re the only Heathen around doesn’t mean you can’t share a Yule feast with your family and friends.  Invite your friends over on the solstice for a Yule feast, complete with mead.  Bake a ham or pork roast and enjoy the holiday with good friends and family.  Most people have obligations starting Christmas Eve, so having a celebration for the holidays ahead of the total Christmas thing may be welcomed.

Offer a Blot to the Gods

Offer a blot to the gods this solstice.  Write out your prayers or let them come from the heart.  Either way, make it personal and heartfelt.  Remember each god you honor and those who have helped you in the past year.

Remember the Wights

Whether or not you believe in the wights, now is the time to offer the Tomte and the Nisse as well as any house elves porridge (with a pat of butter).  These critters also like milk, cookies, chocolate (keep out of reach of pets), and other gifts. 

Celebrating Yule with Non-Heathen Family Members

Celebrating Yule with Non-Heathen Family Members

Hunting season has drawn to a close, which means Yule is around the corner.  Suddenly, I’m going from Hunting to Yule once we celebrate Thanksgiving next week.  (Yeah, Thanksgiving gets preempted by hunting season.)  So, we celebrate Thanksgiving the week after.  After that, we’re in the few weeks before Yule, which means a busy time.

This year I told my non-Heathen, agnostic, mostly atheist, husband I wanted to celebrate Yule, too.  We were both raised in Catholic families (yeah, crazy) and we were both raised in the Christian tradition of Christmas. So, Yule will be somewhat new to him, and the prayers and offerings will be private.

Why I’m Keeping the Prayer and Offerings Private

Prayer and offerings are part of our beliefs, and yet, it can look strange to those outside of our religion. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my beliefs, it’s just that my husband doesn’t understand or believe in them.  Looking at it from an atheist perspective, I get it. It looks like a bunch of woo-woo to him and it can look like I’ve lost my marbles.  (Maybe I have?)  But I do get it.   Not everyone is going to look on our religion positively, which is why I’m presenting a more secular Yule to my family and not pushing my religion on those who aren’t interested in it.

Having grown up Catholic, the whole religious thing comes off as a way to either guilt someone or as a way to try to recruit them.  I don’t push my beliefs on someone who does not have them.

How I’m Planning to Celebrate Yule

One book I’ve found helpful in celebrating Yule is A Guide to Celebrating the 12 Days of Yule.  It’s worth the four bucks on Amazon to buy the eBook, if you’re really looking for ideas.  It offered some good ideas for me, so it might come in handy to you too.  I’m also blending other celebrations we’ve had in the past.

December 20th — Mother’s Night

I’ve never really celebrated Mother’s Night, except perhaps by baking stuff.  Yes, I’ll be baking cookies and desserts to prepare for the upcoming Yule. I’ll also be offering my female ancestors gifts on my altar.  When cooking, I often go into meditation and focus on my ancestors.  Sometimes, I’ll hear the ones who were closest to me in my mind.  It is a day to honor them, so I do things that they would appreciate.  Usually involves holiday preparations.

The Christmas/Yule Tree will already be up because I think it’s too much to try to get it put up during this time.  Apparently people who put up their Yule trees during Yule don’t have time issues.

December 21st — Solstice/Yule

This is a big day for me.  I will designate a Yule log to burn in my woodstove.  If I can find good twine, I may make it prettier with pine boughs and pine cones. I will put together a venison roast for dinner and we will crack open a mead to celebrate.  I may try my hand at making a yule log cake.  In the late evening, I will hold a blot outside for the gods.  I will also leave gifts to Sunna, Mani, Baldr, Loki, Tyr, and Skadi on my altar.  I may gather the ashes from the Yule log later to smudge the corners of the house for protection.  I will read the runes for the Solstice to get a feel as to what is to come for the new year.

December 24th — Christmas Eve

My family celebrates Christmas Eve and Christmas as a secular holiday rather than a religious one.  Given that we’ll already have the Christmas Tree up, we have another big meal (usually a venison or antelope roast) and more mead.  We exchange presents and open them up.  Again, another blot for the gods and the wights.

I like the Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve for reading.  This is something I’d love to incorporate in my Yule plans.

December 25th — Christmas

We visit relatives in town and deliver presents.  We then come home and have a feast (again).  This time, it will be roast goose.  Usually, I plan on a pork roast in honor of Freyr, but this year, we have a couple of geese in the freezer, so we’ll have a traditional Dickens type of dinner.

December 31st — New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve has never been a big thing with me.  Even so, I’ll probably wait for the New Year and offer a blot to the gods as a thank you for the good things that happened this year and a prayer for a better upcoming year.  I will then read the runes for the upcoming year again.  Often the runes’ message coincides with what I learned earlier.

New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day may see me perform a salt ritual to protect the home and farmstead.

My Yule is Low Key (but not Loki)

Yule will be low key, and I prefer it that way.  It’s 12 days of festivities and of those 12 days, I celebrate at least three with special meals. The blots I choose to do in private.  The offerings will go on my altar and will be either left there, if not perishable, or left outside, if perishable, once I am done with them.  Plenty of critters outside will partake of the scraps.

My prayers are more spontaneous, than anything.  They come from the heart, and I do not write them down.  The salt ritual too isn’t written down, but I call upon the wights to protect the dwelling and barn, and to discourage those wights intent on harm.  It does seem to make a difference.

Celebrating with Non-Heathen Family Members

Obviously all my family members are non-Heathen, so I adjust my Yule celebrations toward the secular as well. The offerings and prayers are done when they are asleep (easy for me to do), and with those family members whom I visit at Christmastime, I focus more on seeing them and making them happy, not the religious side.  After all, Yule is a family holiday, whether celebrating the ancestors, like on Mother’s Night, or simply getting together with family and friends on Christmas. I’ve learned to take everything in stride on holidays because getting worked up about them is too much stress for me.

Let me know what you do for Yule in the comments and let me know if there are any traditions you do that are special.

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Elves and Other Races–Do We Remember The Others?

Elves and Other Races–Do We Remember The Others?

Historians used to look at folk tales and fairy tales as cute stories to tell children, but in light of current evidence, maybe they were true.  I’m talking about other races like the Elves and Wights whom we show our respect. Maybe there is a collective unconscious like Jung proposed.  Perhaps we’re remembering other races through the passage of time?  Stick with me on this, and maybe I can offer a scientific and rational explanation for our stories.

Elves, Wights, and Hidden People

If you’ve been a Heathen for any amount of time, you know that we honor both the Light Elves and Dark Elves. We tell stories about trolls under bridges and we respect the Wights, the spirits of the land (even if we have a hard time believing in them).  So much so that we honor these creatures and tell stories about them.  In Iceland, they even route roads around rocks and move construction projects around areas purported to be homes of the Huldu or Hidden People.

We think and talk about people of an elder race. But what elder races?  Because science confirms that there were “elder races” living during the time Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa and into other lands.  Could our myths and legends correspond to these hominids?

What Races Coexisted with Homo Sapiens?

The first question to ask is what other hominid races coexisted with Homo sapiens.  Although an older article, this New York Times article mentions that Homo erectus may have lived among Homo sapiens as late as 27,000 years ago.  We know that Neanderthals lived among humans up until about 40,000 years ago.  And then, there’s the mysterious Denisovans that we know very little about but know we have some of their genome as as well as Neanderthal. Then, there is Homo floresiensis, those “Hobbit” people, who lived in Indonesia up until about 50,000 years ago.  For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to primarily be talking about the Neanderthals, since we have the most information about them, but these arguments could work for any of the hominids that existed along with Homo sapiens.

Although Neanderthals were our cousins, DNA and archaeological evidence points to crossbreeding amongst the two species. Humans and Neanderthals common ancestors had separated about 400,000 years ago, which makes the interaction between the two species interesting. Unlike Homo sapiens, Neanderthals had been outside of Africa for nearly 200,000 before our ancestors stepped out. Their evolution continued in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world.  Could these be the “other races” our collective unconscious seem to point to?

What Our Ancestors Must Have Thought of the Others

Our Homo sapiens ancestors no doubt had contact with Neanderthals and other races of hominids, but I wonder what our ancestors thought of them.  Neanderthals had bigger brains than our ancestors, had the ability to makes tools, and even had the ability to make art.  They probably had speech of some variety, but their voices were higher pitched than ours.  They buried their dead, or at least cared for the dead rather than leave them where they were or dump them in a garbage pit.

The Neanderthals were heavier set and tended to hunt close up against some pretty dangerous prey, like mammoths.  That meant that they suffered some pretty serious injuries.  Their heavier bodies, bigger chests, and large noses gave them the ability to live in colder climates.  They had adapted to their environment successfully, which probably put our Homo sapiens ancestors in awe.  Homo sapiens had evolved in hotter climates, making the colder climates our ancestors entered a real challenge in a lot of ways.

Did our ancestors emulate the Neanderthals?  Did we learn from them?  Were we at odds with them?  One can only guess what our ancestors thought, but given that there are very few artifacts, other than DNA of the contact, I suspect the contact was more or less peaceful.

What Happen to the Others?

What happened to the Neanderthals, if they were so well adapted to the colder places?  Why did a successful species go extinct after surviving some 350,000 years?  Scientists don’t have all the answers, but they do have clues into why our “elder cousins” may have disappeared.

First, Neanderthals were never in large numbers.  They lived in small familial groups and inbred quite a bit.  The didn’t have the genetic diversity of modern humans — even though we’re pretty much a group of inbred hominids, ourselves, nearly going extinct about three times.  They practiced cannibalism on more than one occasion.  While no doubt our ancestors did too at various times, the Neanderthals didn’t have a large group to choose from.

Lastly, as their numbers dwindled, they probably sought mates outside of their race.  We know modern humans bred with them and that people with ancestors from Europe and Asia have about 2 percent Neanderthal genetics.  This suggests our races did have interactions.  Apparently we could breed and produce viable offspring — at least, occasionally.  Neanderthals were already going extinct, probably from lack of numbers and genetic diversity.

Neanderthals didn’t go extinct all at once, either.  Pockets of them existed in various places until they simply died out or until they joined modern humans.

Are the Others the Basis for Elves, Wights, and Other Races?

Now comes my controversial conjectures. First, let me say that it is just the meanderings of some rather interesting thoughts — you can disagree with me all you want.  But, science has proof of Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Denisovians, and other races that lived during the same time as modern humans, whereas we have no physical proof of Elves.  So, I’m simply connecting the dots between science and lore.  Our legends tell of races that existed before us.  Could the Elves, Dwarves, and other denizens be inspired by these older hominid races?  Could the Elders simply be Neanderthals, eventually dressed up over time so they are unrecognizable?  It’s a tantalizing thought.

In which case, our wights are ancestral spirits of former hominids.  That the Alfar and Disir are indeed ancestors of humans — just very much older. Were they magical?  Given I really don’t believe in the concept of magic, you can make your own inferences and not trust my beliefs, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Changelings

We know from fairy stories that Elves weren’t always benign.  We know that they may switch babies with their own progeny, hoping to fool humans. It’s believed that these changeling stories are in existence to explain birth defects and developmentally disabled children.  This makes a lot of sense on many levels, but I can’t help wonder if changelings may have occurred with other races.  What happened when a Neanderthal and modern human mated, in terms of progeny?  Were changelings a description of what could have occurred if Neanderthals tried to substitute their children for human children in the hopes of giving them a chance to survive?  I don’t know, but it is an interesting thought.

What Does The Rational Heathen Believe?

I really love the concept of Elves and Wights, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m largely agnostic about them.  I’m more inclined to accept that they are a collective memory of past interaction between hominid races rather than accept the lore at face value.  Still, whichever way you consider our stories, the ideas I’ve presented are intriguing.

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Another Flavor of Heathenry: When Perun Comes Calling

Another Flavor of Heathenry: When Perun Comes Calling

I think I have another god I need to consider.  Skadi, Tyr, Loki, Freyja, Freyr, Frau Holle, Odin, and yes, Thor, are all gods and goddesses have had my attention for some time.  But recently, there’s been a shift and I’m starting to learn more about Perun, the Slavic god of Thunder.  And oddly, he feels more familiar to me than Thor.

Who is Perun and Where was he Worshiped?

Perun is the Slavic god of thunder and lightning.  People who lived in Scandinavia, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and other places where the Slavic peoples settled worshiped Perun.  He is obviously a Northern god, who shares a lot of traits with Thor and Odin. He even shares traits with Tyr, being a sky god and a god of laws, thus making him an interesting god to me.

Unlike Thor, Perun is considered head of the Slavic pantheon.  He is a sky god and from what I can tell, he had been the main god for most of the Slavs and the Kievan Rus.

Is Perun Another Name for Thor?

On first blush, Perun is a lot like Thor.  He wields an axe or a hammer; a goat pulls his chariot.  His hammer or axe returns to him after he has thrown it.  He wields lightning and thunder.  His beard is copper and he is incredibly strong.  Like the Norse and Germanic gods, the Slavs look at the universe as a World Tree.  At the roots is a dragon or serpent which Perun will fight.

So, looking at Perun, I see a lot of Thor.  But Perun is also a wise god, like Odin.  So he has some differences. Perun’s ax is no surprise either, given the concept of thunderstones. People believed that Neolithic stone axes and flint arrowheads came from the sky and protect them from evil.  So much so that iron age burials often had stone age axes in them to protect the deceased.

Interesting Story About Perun and Veles

Perun’s enemy is a chaos and forest god (who is also the god of the underworld) named Veles.  Veles steals Perun’s cattle, children, or wife in an effort to provoke him. The story goes that Veles hides from Perun and when Perun sees Veles, he throws a thunderbolt.  Only Veles escapes.  Hence the reason lightning strikes seemingly harmless places.

Veles isn’t necessarily an evil god, but he is a chaotic god.  He often shape changes in the form of a bear or a wolf.  In many ways, he resembles Loki of the Norse pantheon. Perun defeats Veles, but since Veles is a god, he does not die (or is reborn) continues his trouble making for Perun.

Interestingly enough, Christians morphed story of the Perun and Veles battle into Michael the Archangel versus Satan to gain converts. They already had the story from the Bible, they just brought more elements of the Perun/Veles story over to make it more familiar.

Perun’s Existence in History

The earliest mention of Perun is in the 6th Century by the Byzantine historian Procopius in his work, De Bellum Gothicum.  We also know that in 998 CE (AD) the ruler, Vladimir the Great of Kiev converted to Christianity and had the entire population of Kiev baptized. Vladimir had the the very statue of Perun he commissioned earlier as a pagan torn down, dragged through the streets, and dumped in the river Dnieper. The statue was not allowed to return to shore until it went past the rapids.

Certainly there were Perun followers after this time, but it seems that with the conversion of Vladimir the Great, Perun’s days being worshiped widespread were numbered.

So, is Perun the Slavic Thor?

My take on Perun is that he and Thor have very much in common. Both are very mighty and strong gods.  Perun has similar symbology to Thor, but has elements of (the good side) of Odin.  Part of me thinks Perun is a form of Thor and Tyr combined.  In this case, it makes perfect sense why Thor and Tyr approached me.  Given that I have Slavic ancestry (as well as Norman, Germanic, and Rus), Perun may be another god I may call upon.

If Perun is Thor, then he is an accessible Thor to me. Seeing a Perun axe with Tyr’s rune clinched it for me.  I think I’m going to have to honor Perun as well as Thor, Tyr, and the Norse gods.

 

Celebrating Winternight

Celebrating Winternight

I ran into this post by the 21st Century Viking about Winternight, and I got a good feeling about it.  I could understand the writer’s general feelings about Samhain, seeing as I really don’t have much love for the holiday.  But what fired me up was her wording:

For the Ancient Vikings this was a time to celebrate, this was the beginning of winter. They had come home from raiding and trading, winter was starting, and they were going to start the Winter Hunting.

Winter Hunting?  Oh yes, count me in!

Winter Hunting after Winternight

Yes, I know Winternight is something from Stephen McNallen, and while I am not a big fan of AFA, I’m not against the holiday of Winternight, per se. It makes a certain amount of sense to me to mark the end of summer activities and go into autumn/winter activities. Like 21st Century Viking, I’ve never been fond of Samhain, so it stands to reason that something like Winternight appeals to me.  Perhaps what’s missing is Winter Hunting, which I could totally get behind, because I hunt as a semi-subsistence hunter.

I had been in a fairly foul mood recently because the clock is ticking for me to get my animals into the freezer and I lost two precious hunting days due to family obligations. I realize that it’s just fate, and no matter how well you plan for something, life inevitably intrudes.  It’s the chaos factors at play here.  What should’ve been six animals in my freezer are only three because of yours truly, problems with “buck fever,” (look it up) and bad luck. I can look in the mirror every day at whose fault it is–is that Loki behind me?– but one must treat each hunting day as a new day.  Last year, I brought home the majority of the meat, but this year looks sparse.

So, with Winternight, we’re entering the Winter Hunting cycle, and I hope I can make more successful so we’ll have enough food for the year.  Otherwise, I may have to get creative on buying meat.  The warm Indian Summer days evaporated on Halloween, and we’re now in the cold and wet phase of the season.

Hunting, NOT Shopping

For those of you who do not hunt, let me say that hunting isn’t shopping.  You go where you hope there are animals — and you hope you can get close enough to humanely shoot one.  I say humanely because neither I nor my husband want an animal to suffer.  We want a clean, fast kill.

Wild animals generally don’t stand still for you to shoot.  Once they figure you out, they beat feet to the next county–or next country, for that matter.  Having gotten within 300 yards (that’s three football fields) of a pronghorn antelope I was trying to shoot and having the entire herd bust us and run away at 60 miles per hour (second fastest land animal), let me say, it has been more than frustrating.

300 yards.  Sigh.  They looked microscopic in my scope.  They were out of my comfort range, so I didn’t take the shot.  The days I counted on hunting antelope seemed to evaporate quickly.  I just have a few more days and then the antelope season disappears for this year.

When Skadi Helps You Out

So, I’m running late to get to an appointment.  I’m cold, I’m tired, and I’m sore from chasing animals in the back country.  I literally get in the car and am about to turn the key when I look up.  About fifty yards away from the truck is a buck.  A legal buck.  In a safe place with good angles, if I shot him.  The only bad side of the entire thing is that, well, I’m in my truck.  Without my rifle, orange, or tags.  And I’m late, late, late to an appointment.  Oh, and if he leaves, he’s going down a 50 plus foot embankment, and assuming I hit him, I’m going to have a Hel of a time trying to get him out of there by myself until my husband comes home.

What would Skadi do?  (WWSD?)

What would Skadi do?  I could reschedule the appointment, but not the buck.  I got out of the truck and went back inside.  I knew damn well that deer would vanish by the time I got my rifle and orange, but I got them anyway.  I walked out of the house.  He was still there.  I walked down the drive to get a better shot and to ensure I wasn’t going to hit anything I didn’t intend on hitting.  He just stood there watching me.

I aimed and pressed the trigger. No buck fever.  No shaking.  Just me and the buck.  Nothing.  Shit.  I forgot to take the safety off.  Again, lined up on him.  Pressed the trigger.  Loud boom and the buck dropped right then and there.  No fuss, no muss.  I went over to him and was about to put another round into him, only, he stopped moving and died right where he had stood.  I thanked him and Skadi.  As I’ve said, wild animals don’t hang around once they figure you out.  The only thing I could think of was that the slack wind might have kept him from smelling me.  Either that or Skadi wanted me to have him.

Now the Work Begins

After tagging the critter, I went back inside and rescheduled my appointment.  Then, there was the little problem of getting such a big animal to my house.  I thought about gutting him right there, but I really didn’t want a bear so close to my house.  (Yeah, I live that close to the back country.)  So, I drove my truck to him.  Only, he was beyond heavy.  I’m guessing he was close to 200 lbs.  It took me two hours to get him into the house to gut and skin him.  By the time my husband got home, I was finally pulling off the backstraps. It took me three more hours to gut, skin, and quarter by myself because I’m used to doing this with someone else.

So, I have a quartered deer waiting for me to butcher. And blood everywhere.  And I do mean EVERYWHERE.  I had to wash my clothes, hoping the blood would come out.  Hel, I left bloody footprints all over the house.  Thank the gods I have tile and not carpet.

Skadi asked me for the liver, which I will oblige.  Beyond that, I at least have put bullet into animal and came away with more food right after Winternight.  And now I have four animals down, which means I still must get more if I’m to get enough meat for the year.

Winter hunting.  Yeah, it’s kind of like that.