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Honoring the New Year

Honoring the New Year

I started doing research about New Year’s celebrations and ended up laughing at Christian pages that talk about how pagan celebrating the New Year is and how “good Christians” shouldn’t celebrate it.  Whatever, bro.  Tell that to the millions–if not billions–of partiers who are happy to ring in the New Year.

Holy Days of Obligation and the History Behind New Year’s Day Celebrations

Technically, New Year’s Day is a Christian celebration.  Granted, a co-opted Christian celebration, but one just the same.  The Roman Catholic Church couldn’t get past the Roman tradition of celebrating Saturnalia and the the first day of the month honoring the god, Janus, so it co-opted the celebrations and made New Year’s Day the celebration of Jesus’s circumcision. Vatican II made it a holy day of obligation in 1969 to venerate the “Virgin” Mary.  Just so you would go to mass with a hell of a hangover and hear the priest rail against those who indulged the night before.

But to a large degree, those Christian web pages are right.  Celebrating New Year’s Day is technically pagan.  The first celebrations of the New Year happened during Mesopotamian times some 4000 years ago on the vernal equinox (that being their new year.) The Romans celebrated New Year’s on the Ides of March (remember Julius Caesar?) The Romans eventually switched their calendar over to January 1st since that was the day when they inaugurated new consuls and tended to keep track of years by consul terms.

A Holiday for the World

You look at just about any civilization that kept a calendar and you’ll find some sort of New Year’s celebration or observance. The Hindus recognize New Year during different times depending on the region. We Heathens recognize December 21st as our new year where the veil between the worlds are at their thinnest.  The Wiccans recognize Samhain as being their new year.  The Chinese and Vietnamese celebrate their own version of New Year’s sometime between January 20th and February 20th, depending on when their year ends. That’s a lot of non-Christians celebrating the beginning of a new year.

Why Celebrate the Ending of an Old Year and the Coming of a New One?

I think the reason why the new year is so appealing is to turn over a new leaf, as it were.  It’s a time to reflect on the past year and hope for a better year ahead.  It’s as if we collectively want to step back and take a breath from what we’re doing to celebrate the possibilities that lie ahead.  We, as humans, need a time to say good-bye to the old and hello to the new.  Hence, we celebrate the coming of the new year.

Happy New Year, my friends and readers!  I hope 2018 is filled with wonder and magic for you.

Samhain — Or it’s Not My Holiday

Samhain — Or it’s Not My Holiday

Samhain Comments & Graphics
Thanks to Magickal Graphics

My husband asked me if Halloween was a special time for Heathens.  I looked at him blankly, but then I realized that being pagan may make it appear that we celebrate other pagans’ holidays.  I grinned and reassured him I’m not that kind of pagan.  I then pointed out our version of Samhain — if we have a “version,” happens around the winter solstice.  So, like everything in my life, I started researching Samhain.

What Samhain is for the Uninitiated

Thanks to Magickal Graphics

Samhain (pronounced “sah-win” for those who don’t speak Celtic) is the Celtic New Year when the Celts believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and dead was thinnest.  I found that interesting because Heathens tend to think of that time as Winter Solstice.  As an aside, I really do think our Yule is more correct with Mother’s Night, but Samhain a Wiccan holiday, so it’s theirs to argue about, not mine.  It’s also the end of harvest for them, which is probably why they equate it with the end of the year and the beginning of the new year.

Samhain has the characteristic ancestor veneration that we do.  It arrives on the sunset of October 31st and ends on the sunset of November 1st.  It’s celebrated with bonfires (purportedly to keep the sun burning through winter), disguises (so evil spirits don’t recognize the people), and sacrifices and gifts made for the dead.  There is a ritual of leaving doors open so that the spirits of kind ancestors can come into the home and visit.

Where Halloween Comes From

Courtesy of Magickal Graphics

Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church snagged  November 1st  and made it All Saints Day.  All Souls Day is November 2nd.  If I recall my Catholic upbringing, I seem to remember it was a Holy Day of Obligation (Translation: Get your ass to church and fill the coffers.) which was intended to make the revelry around Halloween less popular. When they couldn’t do that, they came up with All Souls Day on November 2nd.  Interestingly enough, people simply moved their pagan celebrations over to November 2nd since it was now Church sanctioned. People dressed up as angels, devils, and saints, and there were parades and bonfires. One tradition started in England which was most likely a precursor to trick or treating was that poor people would go door to door and beg for “soul cakes” in exchange for praying for the household’s dead.

Halloween gets it’s name from All Saints Day.  In England, All Saints Day was known as All Hallowmas from the Middle English word, Alholowmesse, which means All Saints Day.  Naturally, the day before was All Hallows Eve, which soon became our word for Halloween.

Halloween and America

Courtesy of Magickal Graphics

Halloween traditions came over with the Irish in the early to mid 19th century. Going door to door asking for food and money, a Halloween tradition, was soon replaced with trick or treating. Parties soon became more the norm.  To avoid frightening children too much, newspapers encouraged parents to tame the scary stuff.  So, Halloween became a secular holiday by20th century.

Halloween was a community celebration, but was being plagued by vandalism.  By the 1950s, politicians and community leaders directed Halloween festivities toward trick or treating and made it into a children’s holiday.

Nowadays, Halloween is for both kids and adults.   Trick or Treating is still for the kids, but both kids and adults have fun dressing up and partying.

So, What Does This Have to Do with Heathenism?

So now that I’ve talked about Halloween and Samhain, it’s time for me to talk about how Samhain isn’t really a Heathen holiday.  Unless you’re Irish or venerate the Irish pantheon (I find the word “worship” a little too strong), I’d say Samhain doesn’t have any real religious significance for those who follow the Norse gods. I find the idea sweet — venerating the ancestors — but we do this already during Álfablót and Disablót. Depending on what you read, Álfablót could be celebrated on Halloween, but honestly, what we know about Álfablót tends to make it more of a private holiday with the family, rather than being a huge community party or trick and treating.

Courtesy of Magickal Graphics

I’m Not a Fan of Halloween

I’ll be honest with you: I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween because of the overtly commercialism.  I sigh and shake my head when I pass by homes with Halloween lights and even inflatable ghosts and ghouls because, let’s face it, its commercialism rivals Christmas.  Which isn’t a far off statement.  It’s the second biggest holiday behind Christmas with Americans spending some $6 Billion USD each year on the holiday.  That’s billion with a B.  And one fourth of all candy sales over the year is Halloween candy.

Now, you might point to Christmas and say the same thing on how commercial it is.  Yeah, but I celebrate Yule, which is vastly superior, in my book.  Also, I like Christmas caroles, even though many are modern, relatively speaking. The fact that today’s Christmas is a 19th century contrivance doesn’t necessary bother me.  But that is for another time.

Álfablót

Álfablót is usually celebrated at the last harvest. Which could be at the end of October.  When I think about harvest, I generally think about it as being something in late September or even early October.  The closest thing to Álfablót we might have in American culture might be Thanksgiving.  I really don’t think of it as Samhain or Halloween, but maybe you do?  I’d like your thoughts on it.

What to Do as a Heathen

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate Samhain as a holiday.  It doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate Halloween as a holiday.   We’re the party-hardy kind of religion to begin with, so I think it’s quite appropriate to celebrate either if you want to.  I’m pretty certain that Northern pagans didn’t say “oh, I’m not celebrating that because it’s not traditional” when it came to holidays. Now, if you’re a recon, you may be thinking something different, but seeing as I’m not, I don’t have a problem with it. 

How Heathens can Celebrate Easter with Christians

How Heathens can Celebrate Easter with Christians

If you’re like me, chances are you have Christian relatives who celebrate some form of the Christian holiday of Easter. If you’re the only Heathen in your family, you may get an earful about what is considered the most holy time that Christians celebrate.  Still, unless you’re looking to cut ties with your family–and I don’t recommend that–you may be looking for ways to enjoy the Easter celebrations.  If you’re a Heathen who loves to get into fights with family members over Christian holidays, or at least not willing to put aside your differences for one or two days, this post isn’t for you.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can get involved with minimal headaches.

Put Your Pride on the Back Burner (or Don’t be an Asshole)

Unless you have an extremely open-minded family/extended family, most of them are going to take a dim view of you not being Christian.  I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. They’ve been indoctrinated into the Christian belief system, and it’s unlikely you’re going to change their minds. You’re going to the Christian hell, and that’s all there is to it, (unless they can persuade you into the fold/back into the fold), and they really don’t get why you would worship pagan gods.  At this point, all you can do is grit your teeth and hope to get through the Christian talk without losing your cool.

That being said, understand that this is a Christian holiday, even if they took on the pagan trappings surrounding it.  Easter is considered to be more important to the Christian religions than Christmas, so realize that you are the outside here. It is you who is extended the olive branch, not them.  So, don’t expect for them to understand/accept you being Heathen in their most holy time.

Because this is their most holy time, mentioning the appropriation of Eostre’s holiday at the Easter dinner is probably not going to do you any favors. Yes, they eat ham, which honors Freyr, but let it slide. Yes, they decorate eggs.  Yes, they associate chicks and bunnies with Christ’s death and resurrection, but pointing out the incongruity of it all won’t cut it. If we want to maintain the peace in our celebrations, it is better to sit and listen rather than fight a foolish battle. This is their Easter–not ours, so let’s respect their religion, just like we’d want them to respect ours.

So, What Can You Enjoy?

At this point, you’re wondering what you can enjoy out of Easter.  There are a lot of cool things you can do and still be part of the Easter celebration.  Here are some of the things I recommend.

Egg Coloring

We color eggs for springtime, so there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy coloring eggs with your Christian family. Talking about spring and its renewal, as well as the cycle of life, is fairly safe.

Easter Egg Hunt

Why not hold an Easter egg hunt? Put together some of those plastic eggs and fill them with goodies. Hide them and watch as your family searches for them. You’ll all enjoy it.

Chicks and Bunnies

Whether live, toy, or simply drawings, the images of chicks and bunnies are pretty much safe territory.  You may want to talk about the Oschter Haws which was brought into Pennsylvania by German settlers. Avoiding the Urglaawe references, your Christian family may be delighted to learn that that’s where the Easter bunny who laid colorful eggs came from.

Easter Candy

Easter candy originates from clever marketing by candy makers in the 19th century to capitalize on an untapped market. There’s no reason for you to mention this, nor is there any reason why you can’t have some yummy candy in pagan symbols such as rabbits, chicks, and eggs.

Easter Brunch or Dinner

Never turn down a good feast, even if it’s in honor of a god you don’t follow.  All the trappings are Heathen, or at least, pagan, so enjoy spending time with family and friends. You may want to even bring some mead so your family may enjoy something a little different than the traditional grape wines. Toast to your family and to those family members who are no longer with you. You’ll be honoring the ancestors and still not offend your family.

Talk about Family, both Present and Past

Speaking of family, strike up a conversation about your family and your ancestors. Talk positively about them, or if someone in the family knows a particularly good story about an ancestor or a relative who is alive, encourage them to relay that story.  As the good Doctor says, “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.”

Listen to Your Family, Even if You Disagree with Them

If your family starts talking about Christianity, listen to them. You don’t have to agree with them, but when they tell you about their faith, they tell you about themselves. Ask questions. Ask why they believe what they believe, and don’t argue with them over their beliefs. You may discover that your mom believes in the Christian god because she finds comfort in a god who promises to care for her. Or your dad might actually not believe in the god but goes to church because the family does it. Or maybe your cousin is an atheist at heart.  You can learn a lot about your family just by listening.

Go to Church with them

This suggestion is somewhat dangerous when it comes to family, not because you’re likely to change your faith, but more likely because you may offend or get into an argument with a family member. Some Christians, most notably Catholics, have rules against participating in sacraments such as the Eucharist (the bread and wine) because they believe you must be of their denomination to participate. (It has to do with transmogrification, but that’s another long post.)

Why go to church with your family?  Well, first it puts you on the same page as your family members so if they discuss the sermon, you know what was said. Secondly, you can see Christianity with all its pagan influences.  Third, churches often have amazing artwork that is worth seeing.

Just sit and watch as they go through sitting, kneeling, and standing routines. Listen.  It may seem worthless, but in a way you are gathering intelligence about this religion. That way, you understand your family’s behavior a bit better.

Take Time Out for Our Gods, Wights, and Ancestors

I’ve given you ideas for keeping the peace with your Christian relatives.  But this isn’t about Heathenry, it’s about keeping the peace in your extended family. Before you join in the Easter festivities, make an offering to the gods, especially Frigga and Frau Holle, the wights, and your ancestors for a peaceful gathering. And thank them after the day for their help, especially if things went successfully.

Hopefully, I’ve given you ideas for staying sane around Christians during their holiday.  If, in the end, you do decide to try out some of these ideas, I’d be interested to learn how they worked out.

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Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

I got in a conversation with another pagan on Huginn’s Heathen Hof, and he had a different outlook on the whole Christianity versus Paganism argument.  It hit me as having some merit, so I’d thought I’d explore it more in depth.

The Argument

The person who put forth this argument to me was a Heathen and a Gnostic. (Let that sink in a bit before dismissing it outright.)  His basic argument was that Christianity at its beginning had nothing — no holidays, no formal sacraments, etc, — so it took from other religions.  In fact, it took so much from pagan religions that the pagan religions actually triumphed.  I’ve been mulling it over for some days and while I don’t think it’s entirely correct, I think it has some merit to at least think about.

Christianity at its Core

Christianity is, at its core, a death cult. It focuses not on rewards in the here and now, but after one dies. It even focuses on the gruesome torture and death of their god. While I think that knowing where you’re going when you die is important, I think that this life is just as important on how we live.  Yes, Christians do focus on how well behaved they should be because they will receive a reward in “heaven,” but honestly, it takes a fear of eternal punishment to behave correctly?  Think about that for a bit.

The major holiday that Christians have recognized since its inception would be Easter, that is the day when Christ allegedly rose from the dead.  We know that Easter arose from the Passover festival, around which Christ was allegedly crucified.  Easter follows Passover.   But we know that it took the name Eostre, and it may have borrowed the pagan trappings of festivals during that time, presumably to make it more palatable to the audience.

Yule and Christmas

We do know that Christmas was pretty much taken from pagan midwinter festivals, celebrating the celebrating the god of agriculture for a full month starting a week before the solstice.  We know that Christmas wasn’t instituted until the fourth century CE when the Church thought to take those midwinter festivals and sanction them.

return of the sun.  While us Heathens can lay claim to Yule, we aren’t the only ones that had midwinter celebrations.  The Romans had Saturnalia, which was spent

The Puritans actually banned Christmas (and the saints) because they recognized the pagan origins. For about 25 years England under Oliver Cromwell made Christmas illegal.  That joy was brought over with the Puritans who made Christmas illegal.  Such was the control of the Puritans that anyone found in Boston exhibiting the Christmas spirit during the years 1659 to 1681 could be fined. What a great bunch.

Incidentally, the Christmas tree came into vogue with Queen Victoria, taking the customs of her husband’s homeland.  The Christmas tree popped up around the 17th century in Germany have its, …ahem, roots in paganism.

Plenty of pagans have pointed to Odin’s ride, Slepnir’s eight legs changing into eight reindeer, and other similarities, that suggest Odin is Santa Claus, so I don’t need to go through that argument.

Harvest and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, itself, is more of an American holiday that was celebrated in New England for some time before Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863.  George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, thus putting it on the table, so to speak, when it came to having a national day of thanks.  A quote from History.com:

Autumn Comments & Graphics
Image by Magickal Graphics

“As an annual celebration of the harvest and its bounty, moreover, Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents and millennia. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Finally, historians have noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before Europeans set foot on their shores.”

We have our own celebration of Harvest Home, so saying that Americans “invented” a harvest festival like Thanksgiving isn’t truthful.  Now, we did put our own spin on it, but in the end, it is the celebration of family and home, as well as harvest.

The Days of the Week

The months are named after Roman months (gods, Caesars, and numbers), but the days of the week were Roman names changed to our gods, with the exception of Saturday because people probably thought Ymirday might not catch on.  (Yeah, I know the story is that there’s no German equivalent to Saturn who was an agricultural god slain by Jupiter, but that’s another story for another time.) So, when we say we’re meeting someone on Thursday, we’re meeting them on Thor’s-day.

Saints versus Polytheism

Becoming Polytheistic was easy after being Catholic for me. Any religion that allows veneration of saints actually lost to the polytheism.  Even the Episcopalians have the saints and the time I went to an Episcopalian mass proved to me that they’re Catholics without a pope who allow divorces. We know that some saints were actually gods that got incorporated into the ranks of saints to make the religion more popular (such as Saint Bridget).  So, yeah, in some Christian religions, we got some of the gods and goddesses in.

Catholics will tell you that they do not worship saints. That is true at the highest level, but the line gets mighty blurred with the veneration of Mary and other saints.

So Did Heathenism Win?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I would argue yes and no.  In the long run, we still have the Christian god, complete with all the stupidity that has subjugated women, condoned slavery, and given us plenty of hangups due to the “do this or you go to hell” mentality.  I’m not saying that heathens were morally superior as we had slavery and human sacrifice, but most of us are willing to make the change in the right direction.

By the same token, we got our holidays and other pieces infiltrated into Christianity. People who celebrate the holidays are often celebrating the secular holidays rather than what their church would like them to celebrate.  Sure, they keep Jesus in Christmas, but seeing as the whole nativity scene is pretty much made up, and seeing we really don’t know much about the historical Jesus, or even if there was one, we can call it a myth and be done with it.

What it does say to me is that Heathens can celebrate those so-called Christian holidays and feel good about putting their own spin on things. At least, that’s how I look at it.

Added for Clarity:

The point the person made was that arguing whether or not to worship Christ was irrelevant because basically Christianity took all the trappings from pagans anyway. We can argue semantics, but that was his point. I was willing to consider his belief and came up with a yes and no observation. I rushed the conclusion, which perhaps I shouldn’t have done, but I wanted to get the piece out, late as it was.

That being said, I think he does have a point. Is it Heathenism under another flavor? No. Our gods are not revered, although one might be able to point out some obscure saints the Church may have created to appease Heathens. Is Christianity the same as it was when it was conceived? No. It is mostly pagan with the foundation of the Abrahamic faith. Depending on your beliefs in Asatru and Heathenism, you can argue that what parts of paganism was added is superficial. Maybe so, maybe not. I just found it an interesting opinion, and one I couldn’t completely dismiss.

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July!

Do All The Things!

Do All The Things!

One thing I don’t seem to have gotten over very well is my Catholic need to martyr myself.  (I can just see Tyr shake his head in exasperation when when I do this) — if the Lord of Swords thinks it’s folly to overextend myself, I suspect it is folly.

But the holidays are a great time to overdo everything, including overextend oneself.  But as Loki constantly reminds me (and yes, somehow Loki pops in to remind me to self-care– more on that some other day), there’s no way I can possibly care for anyone else if I don’t care for myself first.

(At least, if you’re going to have psychoses, have useful ones where the gods talk some sense into you to do things that are good for you and those around you.)

Anyway, Back to the Holidays…

My mom used to put on a big shindig every Thanksgiving and Christmas.  When my ancient Mother-In-Law moved to our town, I channeled my mom and tried to put together celebratory meals. The reality was far from wonderful. My husband and I hunt and hunting season chews up Thanksgiving handily. While I am grateful to Skadi and Ullr for our meals, hunting takes up a lot of energy. Having Thanksgiving later than the prescribed day helped, but by the end of it, I was channeling my inner bitch.  I was exhausted, overworked, and feeling overwhelmed.

Loki reminded me to self-care.
I threw something at him.

Sick Critters, and Life Intrudes

To make matters worse, the weather got evilly cold. The Jotun were here to plunge us into temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.  Skadi granted us more opportunities to hunt. A bunch of my livestock got sick and no matter what I did, they remained sick.  So, I finally got a veterinarian out. Blood draws and plenty of medicine.

Then, there was the little matter of butchering the deer we got the week before. Usually I would have it all cut up, but with the amazingly brutal weather, the quarters froze right up.  So, I could thaw them out and butcher them at a slightly more leisurely pace.

I still need to take care of the skins, even though they’re salted.
I have writing work and other work to do. My plants in the greenhouse are questionable now.  I finally get around to watering them anyway.

Got a bunch of food that needs to be preserved still.  Managed to get the dehydrator full with squash.

Loki reminds me to self-care.
I whimper.

I have this blog and three others to write. I have assignments to get done.  I have to make money somehow…

To Drag this Back on Point…

The problem that we as humans deal with is what society constrains us when it comes to things we must do. Sometimes, we take what we perceive as obligations when in fact, they’re simply man-made constructs. We do things because we were taught to do them, whether or not it makes sense for our lives.  As much as I love Tyr, he has enough control over my life with physics, the laws of nature, and the laws of men. Chasing after some perceived societal norm around holidays when it stresses me out isn’t healthy.  Hence, Loki steps in and whines about my lack of self care.

That’s why when my husband pointed out that doing a dinner thing wasn’t working for me, I needed to step back and rethink what I was doing.  I was trying to follow my mom’s style, which isn’t mine. Holidays, as wonderful as they are, need to be something that aren’t done “just because that’s how we do them.”

Whether celebrating Thanksgiving/Harvest or Yule/Christmas, we as humans must make them joyous occasions and not stressors in our lives. Loki reminds me that being human means being fallible.  That means that sometimes we can’t do “all the things, all the time.”  Tyr agrees.  Which suddenly has reduced the stress in my life.

I still have all the other things to get done, but somehow, the gods make them a little less frenetic. Probably because they don’t judge me on what I accomplish in the minutiae of my daily life. Not like the Christian god purportedly did.

Thanks, and hopefully this rambling post made sense to you.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll listen to your inner Loki and remember self care as well.