So, if you’ve ever read from this blog you might have noticed that I am obsessed with the Indo-European interconnection of cultures. I tend to focus on the languages and religions Celtic, Germanic (Norse) and Indic branches since those are the ones which effect my studies and religious persuasion. When I say “focus” I mean more like “geek out” and constantly try to figure out why certain things are the way they are. The other day I was driving to work (for some reason this is when all my great ideas hit me) and stumbled upon an idea.
The Norse myth of the Æsir–Vanir War has been theorized to be a mythic telling of what Dumézil calls “the war of functions” referring to the three “functions” of IE society (magio-juridical, warrior, and artisan). This war of the functions is often linked with the immigration of the IE peoples into new lands and the “battle” that ensues between the IE deities and the native ones, the Æsir and Vanir respectively.
Now, it is important to note that the Vedic and Nordic mythologies are very closely related. For examples compare the Vedic tale of Yama’s death to that of the Norse Ymir. Further the Purusha sukta links well to both the Norse stories of Ymir and the Hávamál tale of Odin taking up the runes.
But if these two traditions are so closely related why did the Norse culture center on a militaristic way of life versus the Vedic (later Hindu), focus on duty and ritual?
That’s where my theory comes in. I argue that the Æsir–Vanir War was not a mythic memory of IE incursion but rather an allegory for a very real social upheaval that occurred very early on in the formation Germanic society. I believe that the “second function” (the warrior caste) of the Germaninc culture overthrew the “first function” (the magio-juridical caste). Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that the gothi (priests, an inherited position) could be chieftains but were still subject to the local warrior jarl (rulers, based on accomplishment) and the fact that seidr (magic) was considered beneath warriors (and men in general).*
*Odin was considered the god of seidr thus being the major exception but more often than not, the practice was associated with the Vanir gods
**This post is subject to editing over the next few days so keep checking back
A quick note: This is a blog that I have been trying to write for a long time now. Every time I think I have it down I go back to the drawing board; scratching what I have and starting over. Thanks to Sam Webster over at Patheos Pagan Portal and his recent post on sacrifice (see “Toward the Pagan Restoration of Sacrifice”) I think I have the kick in the pants I need to sit down and finish this post. So I hope this time I can convey my feelings on this subject fully and respectfully. Remember, it is okay if we disagree but it is not okay if we refuse to listen. Further, the “apology” to which I refer in the title is not the “I’m sorry” kind of apology but rather my defense of hunting.
A while back I found myself in the middle of a huge debate on a pagan forum and it’s stuck with me ever since: can a pagan be a hunter too? I am here to tell you “Yes!”
See, I come from South Georgia (the American State not the former Soviet one) and around here hunting is a way of life. I can remember growing up in a house that boasted antlers and boars’ heads mounted on the wall and getting my first bow in third grade with a deer anatomy target. I’ll never forget the morning my father shot a deer from the back porch of the house and we ate venison that night for dinner. Just like I’ll never forget my first kill, a Marsh Hen (Rallus longirostris or R. elegans) I shot off the front of a john boat poled by my step-father while his father goaded the birds to jump by “hollering” (shouting for those not accustomed to the Southern vernacular). However, just a year or so after that first kill I gave it all up. I stopped eating meat which meant I stopped hunting since one only kills what he is willing to eat, a rule I learned when I was very young.
I became very disinterested in the hunting culture in which I was raised; sure I was still going out on the boat whenever my step-dad and his father went to harvest waterfowl but I never cared to raise my weapon. I went along with them because the river is gorgeous at sunrise (even if it is only 25 degrees F) and I knew that my step-grandfather was not long in this world so I wanted to hear his stories and learn his knowledge. So why am I now defending hunting? Because I am called to take up the bow again.
As many of you know, I am a dedicant of the Horned God (particularly the aspects of Cernunnos, Odin and Shiva who I call my Triple God) and one major commonality among the Horned ones is that they all have a relationship to the hunt. Cernunnos is known to many a modern pagan as Lord of the Hunt (this can be tied to English folktale of Herne the Hunter), Odin is said to lead the Wild Hunt , and Shiva appears in the Mahabharata as Kirata, the wild hunter. Now don’t get me wrong, I do not want to hunt because my gods do but I believe I am called to hunt. I have been given a family history of hunting, I was born and continue to live in areas where the hunting is plentiful, and I have the drive.
Further, hunting is the ritual I crave. Lacy and I are not very ritually focused in our everyday lives; we don’t work in much magick and we take the Holidays as days to relax more so than to host elaborate circles. Yet, hunting magick is the oldest form of magick in the world and it requires rituals that extend year round. For instance, this summer I am gearing up for dear season, even though it does not begin until September. I am doing all I can to profile the dear that live near me, learning everything about them from where they spend their days to what foods they prefer. I am also in the process of making a bow to use in this year’s hunts, aging the wood for a lunar cycle before I begin the careful shaping which will enable me to place food on the table. I have plans to watch the sunrise on my hunting grounds every day starting a month before season starts and extending to at least the end of season, whether or not I ever lose an arrow. Should the gods see fit to grant me a kill, the animal will be treated as a holy sacrifice; granted a swift death and a portion of the meat will be given back to nature and always treated with respect.
To me hunting is the most pagan thing in the world: an ancient ritual of life and death, an active prayer to the gods that I may sustain my life and a union of man and nature. Again, this is my view of pagan hunting and I know others exist. If you are against hunting I would like to hear why please tell me in the comments!
Call me odd if you like, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of the gods. While driving to work the other day I realized that answering some of life’s big questions may not be as hard as I once had thought.
1) Q: Who came first men or gods? A: YES
Let me explain. First off, I will go on record as saying that I don’t believe in the idea of “creation” per say (that would denote a linear view of time and I’m all about some cyclical time progression since it’s more wibbly wobbly and timey wimey) but there was definitely time (archaeology points to around 300,000 years ago) at which people realized that the Deity existed and that’s when the gods started to come into being. This is where my soft polytheism comes into play, I believe that the gods are individual beings but are also derived from a greater common energy (Deity); this is much the same way I view humans, distinct beings but still made up of the same energy. The moment that humans noticed Deity they began to see the various aspects of it; the friend, the lover, the farmer and the warrior, and thus the gods were born. Slowly we have created their tales but at the same time the gods have lived these tales and no story is without a truth. That brings me to the next question…
2) Q: Are all gods distinct beings from us? A: Not at all!
We humans are born story tellers (don’t believe go ask a three year old you know to tell you about their day) and our favorite subjects are the people around us. So why should it surprise us to think that all the gods that we know and love were once no more than mere mortals like you or me? I don’t mean just that they took a human form (as many gods are known to do) but more that most of the gods may very likely have been deified humans. So to say that Odin is the giver of the runes may be a mythological memory of a great man that created the writing system of a language (I also have another theory with this example but I’ll get that in a minute).
3) Q: So are all the gods simply folk memory? A: Not necessarily
Just because some gods are deified men and women doesn’t mean they all are. Some are personifications (deifications?) of abstract ideas like the Roman goddess Libertas or the America’s matron goddess Columbia. Others are deifications of the land itself like Britania, Gaia, or Njord. And even still are deifications of actions or things Odin (possibly derived from the word oðr “mind” thus my stipulation that Odin may have been a mortal or he could be the mind itself when attributed with the discovery of the runes) or the Green Man/Sylvanius. But the biggest factor in “creating” a god is getting people to go along with it and that means that all gods are products of the times and places in which they are worshiped.
4) Q: So, does this mean our religions are just a bunch of hooey? A: ABSOLUTELY NOT
I saw a meme the other day (unfortunately I can’t find it now) from the Graham Norton Show where Graham was talking about a conversation he had once that went something like:
G: Do you believe in [insert religion here]?
W: Oh no! That’s just a made up religion!
G: Made up religion…as opposed to?
While I am sure he was being silly (he is a comedian after all) the point is valid. In some way or another ALL religions are made up, what isn’t false though is the feeling one gets from that faith. When I was a Christian I was once asked what I would do if the bones of Jesus were found and my answer was simply, “Keep doing what I’m doing, it works for me.” To me religion isn’t and shouldn’t be perfect but it should be perfect for you.
Finally, the biggest question of all is actually the most simple to answer.
5) Q: What is the meaning of life/why are we here? A: To do what we are meant to do.
Okay, I know this isn’t an extremely satisfying answer but it’s the truth. While I don’t believe in predestination, Wyrd/fate/dharma are a big thing to me just as they were to our Indo-European ancestors. The idea of the Norns’ tapestry is the best way for me to explain this; it is said that at the beginning of this world the Norns wove a tapestry of everything and recounted major events in the lives of all of the beings of all nine worlds. These things must be met but the actions that lead to these things are fluid and dictated by you. This is similar to what Krisna has to say about dharma in the Bhagavad Gita when he tells Arjuna in chapter 11 sloka 33 that “…all your enemies are already defeated by me, you are but my instrument.” So the purpose of our lives is to live well (by whatever standard you measure yourself) and to fulfill our purposes.
That’s if for the day.
Peace and Blessed Be /|\
This week has been a tough one. It is never easy losing a friend, and it is tremendously worse to have to say goodbye to a parent (even if not a biological one); yet this is what I have had to do this week. My mom and I were very close to my father’s second wife (the one before my mom); her sons are my brothers and they are my mom’s boys too, and she was my mama. Her passing has brought the reality that is mortality into the forefront of our, my mom and my, collective thoughts and I think I am handling it better than she is.
However, this morbid contemplation is not meant to bring you down, but rather lift you up! Enter, The Tao of Pooh. The ToP is probably my mother’s favorite book not written by Stephen King and is one that, to be honest, I merely skimmed. Yet, while I was talking to mom I turned to it as a tool to help her find her self. In order to get away some of us meditate, some go for a walk, my mom reads and so I told her to turn to the ToP.
She was worried about not being more like Mama S and she, like so many of us do, worried that she would have little to look back on should it (may the gods forbid it) all end tomorrow. I reminded her of Pooh, or P’u rather, the uncarved block, that which is and is perfect in it’s being. P’u/Pooh does not fret about how he stacks up to another but only focuses on being the best block/bear ever. I’m sure by now I’ve lost some of you but trust me, if you read the ToP you’ll understand. Now, Mama S was the epitome of Pooh, she was her and nobody else and so is my mom (and so is my wife). And who doesn’t love a big ol’ Pooh bear?!
After that conversation I went and picked up my own copy of the ToP and I am reading it again. Only this time I’m paying more attention to the page than before. Already I have unlocked some of the magic that my mom knew lay in these pages and I am sure to find more. The biggest revelation so far has been simply letting go, taking everything in stride. Sure, life is sour sometimes but in the long run this is a great existence to have.
So, will I run off and be a Taoist now? I’d argue I have been one all along and you might be too. If you love the simplicity of life, the dirt and mud, the little black storm clouds, then welcome to the Tao.
Peace and Blessed Be /|\
Bees get a lot of attention these days it seems and usually it has to do with death: either our cell phones are going to kill them all (see here) or they are going to kill us all first (as in here). We, as a society, seem to have forgotten that bees are more than just agents of death, they bring us honey (and that makes mead for which I am thankful), they pollinate our flowers and fruits, and they defend our goddess.
There is an old English/Scottish (there is a debate on the true origin) saying, “Ask the wild bee what the Druids knew,” and presumably the bee knows. Why? Because the bees are wise beyond time and they represent the mysticism and magic of the Druids.
Bees make honey. (Insert *duh* here) So what? Well first off honey is magical and I don’t just mean it’s taste, honey is a mixture of pollen, nectar, and other plant material all made by bees. Also, as I said earlier, honey makes mead which is the drink of the gods, literally. Mead is consumed in vast quantities by the gods of the Norse, Greeks and Celts and is often connected with receiving secret knowledge (Odin’s tale is my favorite). Honey is also been proven to be really good for you; from sore throats to flesh wounds honey is a wonder drug made entirely by bees.
Bees are pollinators and are often seen as a blessing on flowers and fruit, an apple tree for instance will most likely not produce an apple without a visit from the bees. They are part of the natural order of things, spreading their secrets from tree to tree and making fruit as they go. Today, many farmers pay big money to have Beekeepers come in and pollinate their crop, so remember, when that wild bee comes into your garden not only is she (all members of the worker caste are female) passing on pollen and blessings but she’s also saving you lots of money too!
Many people shy away from nature’s beandrui (druidesses) because of their potential to sting. Honey bees (Queen bees excluded) have a barbed stinger that are meant to become lodged into an attacker’s skin and continuously release venom. Since a fair amount of their internal organs are either ripped out or shifted in the attack the bee then dies. Further, if an intruder enters, or damages, the hive bees can release a pheromone that causes the entire hive to swarm making collecting honey extremely dangerous. Bees are willing to die to protect their queen and their honey and not just in a quick skirmish, bees have been known to follow attackers for miles (granted this is mostly true in Africanized “killer” bees) but tend to be quite peaceful when just flying about making their distinctive song.
So, what can we learn from bees? We can learn to see the magic of nature and how even the gods need the smallest of creatures for their greatest feats. We can learn the secrets of the trees and flowers, and through them watch the Wheel of the Year go round. And we can learn that, even though peace is always preferred, defending our Queen/Goddess and our beliefs to all ends is sometimes necessary. So next time you happen across a bee, meditate on what she is trying to tell you or, better yet, ask her directly.
Peace and Blessed Be /|\
A well known song in an unknown verse,
this I will sing for you.
An unknown son of a well known time,
flexible as the yew.
For in me are all the incarnations of the shining ones
and I am of the incarnations of those who on Samhain come.
For I have been oak and I have been ash
and though I’m in present, I was also in past
and I have been beast and I have been man
and I lived in sea as well as on land.
A well known song in an unknown verse,
this I will sing for you.
An unknown son of a well known time,
flexible as the yew.
So my blog posts have essentially halted and I am sorry for that. As the year turns closer to Yule, so too does my school and work schedule get more and more stressful. However, I found time to write this little song and thought I should share it with you.
I have also just put the finishing touches on a paper that might be of some interest that I will be posting later on this week.
Thank you for stopping by to visit and check back as I am promising a longer post later this week!
Peace and Blessed Be /|\
Let’s face it, we are all extremely busy. Gone are the days where, after working a full time job, you could come home to maybe some light house work and a book. Now we’re always on a computer or phone and usually the screen is showing us something that will, undoubtedly, effect work the next day. For instance, as I write this article I am thinking about the homework I have to finish before my 10am appointment tomorrow, how much work I want to do on my thesis paper, what classes I need/want to take next semester and about a dozen other things related to work/school/physical therapy. So how is it that I manage to make offerings to the gods every day? Just a hint if you answer planning ahead and scheduling, you are so very wrong (ha! scheduling!). No, some days I don’t make it to any of my physical altars, though it is preferred. On those days I escape to the altar in my mind.
Having a mental altar is awesome; it doesn’t need to be cleaned, I’m never missing my lighter and is completely customizable whatever the occasion. However, it does not replace have a “brick and mortar” (and pestle) altar. What it does do is allow you to carry your worship with you without the need for a “pocket altar” and let’s you make offerings when they are needed, not just when you can get home.
For example, Wednesdays are very hectic for me. My day starts at 6:30 when Lacy gets up to head to work and it ends usually about 10pm when I get home. I’m typically out the door before I am awake enough to summon the energy for morning ritual and I get home with the sole intention of crawling in bed with a book for thirty minutes before I pass out; thus on many Wednesdays the physical altar gets left behind and the Mental Altar gets used. I have a break in my classes around lunch time and it’s typically devoted to stuffing my face while doing last minute homework. During this time I take a few minutes to meditate and follow (loosely) the steps involved in the Core Order of Ritual (COoR): First I center, this comes first mostly because this is a mental exercise. Typically I combine my centering with purification rite of taking nine deep breaths. Next I picture my altar, decorated for the occasion. Yesterday, I was asking for strength and wisdom so the altar was dedicated to Lugh and Brighid and the altar contained the things reminiscent of both them and my need. I remember the other kindred as well; the land spirits all around me and the honored dead in the other worlds. I said my prayers and offered only thanks. Doing all of this in five minutes, I came to and went about my day but without losing that feeling that I had done my little part in helping to maintain order, in my life at least.
What do you think? Is keeping an altar in your mind a good practice? Do you have your own ways of keeping up with offerings on those crazy days?