Odin’s Ordeal

The Hanged Man tarot card, drawn by Pamela Coleman Smith
The Hanged Man tarot card, drawn by Pamela Coleman Smith

Odin is one of the Norse Gods, a warrior king who becomes a magician through ordeal and personal sacrifice. I didn’t know very much about him before last October, when I attended Hecate’s Sickle pagan festival in the U.S..

Except, I knew enough to spout off on facebook that he would smite Soldiers of Odin, a white supremacist group using Norse imagery, who had started chapters in Vancouver, where I live. I said things like Odin is the Allfather not the Somefather, and that as a Norse person (I have Norwegian heritage) and a lifelong Pagan, I oppose and resent the usage of my mythology and gods to promote hatred.

Someone was listening. And it probably wasn’t the white supremacists.

A few months later, I was in a car heading to Fort Flagler state park for the festival, this year themed on the Norse gods. My grandfather was Norwegian, and I’ve always known that I ought to know more about the gods of my heritage. We listened to Norwegian Pagan music in the car. I brought my set of deer-antler runes that I’d had for years and hadn’t yet learned how to read.

We were waylaid by the Ocean goddess of pirates and sea-farers on our way, getting stalled by a freakish set of ‘coincidences’ to wait through two sailings of the ferry to take us to the island, and then having to assert our very-unCanadian ire to avoid getting cheated of passage on the third.

When we arrived, because of the delay and another odd set of miscommunications, we ended up in Ran’s hall, the barracks floor belonging to the Norse goddess. We were field-recruited to Her hall, and obviously she wanted us there. I was later to find out why.

I was in my element. It seemed like all the rituals were a great fit for where I was in my life and I participated in my usual deep, earnest and focussed way. In the course of several rituals, I surrendered feelings of being a fraud as a musician, released unworthiness, and reached out to my ancestors to help me grieve a recently dead relative. I had an important conversation with Ran (through Her priestess) as well. I was feeling a bit… well… cocky, by the second to last day. Or maybe just full and completed by the deep work and connection I felt.

That night, we watched a sacred drama that enacted Odin’s losing his eye, and then hanging upside down, wounded, on Ygdrasil, the World Tree, for nine days to be receive the wisdom of the runes.

Later I would learn that Odin traded his right eye for the right to drink from a pool of wise-blood or a wisdom well, depending on telling, that imparted wisdom and the divine gift of poetry – a different way of seeing. He also performed the inverse ordeal to rejuvenate himself through the power of the runes.

About an hour later, I was attending an outdoor ritual in the dark. Someone called for us to kneel before the fates, the Norns. I was wearing a fancy long velvet dress I did not want to ruin, and so I rather unpoetically crouched before the fates. And then my middle aged legs started to ache while a long speech was proclaimed to the kneeling and crouching crowd. I decided to stand up and move to the edge of the crowd where I would not be blocking anyone’s view, ever the polite Canadian.

If you remember that cartoon with Wile E Coyote where he stepped out from the edge of a cliff onto blank air and hangs there for a moment till he realizes there is nothing under his feet? That is what happened to me when I steped through the back row of the crowd and the ground disappeared beneath me.

I hit my head hard and my hands light and rolled over onto my back. A medic was called and I lay there feeling stunned, but basically fine. It wasn’t till I got up that I learned the left lens of my glasses was broken and my forehead was bloody and swollen up into an egg.

One of my ‘boat mates’ from Ran’s hall, who had been a search and rescue worker before having a serious injury of her own, escorted me back to Ran’s hall, and helped me ice my forehead. 

And a mystery was revealed. My glasses had broken into the shape of a bindrune – a magical working made up of two runes, used for magic or protection. 

At a norse pagan festival.

In sacred space.

At a ritual dedicated to the Norns.

Who are the dispensers of runes.

The priestess of the eldest Norn Skuld (“that which should become, or that needs to occur” ) interpreted the bindrune as coming from two runes – Algis – protection of the Gods, and Tiwaz – (or Tyr, after the god of war, law and justice) tactical genius, courage, bravery. In combination, this bindrune meant that I either had already, or would come to achieve something great, that would bring me great honour, and which was protected by the Gods. Later on I learned that this bindrune is virtually identical to the life and death rune or the Wendehorn. The wendehorn symbolizes life and death or the hieros gamos (sacred marriage) of male and female, or the tree of life.

From all of this divine coincidence, I figured the Gods were sending me a message, and that I’d been meant to take this fall. My head hurt a bit. It wasn’t until a week or so later that I learned I’d had a serious brain injury, and I spent the next three months recovering, in fear of losing not only my brain, but my livelihood.

I learned this: If you get a head injury such that you get a goose egg, lose consciousness or vomit, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars, go directly to bed, quietly, with no mental effort (ie: not on your phone), for two days. Your brain in an injury is like a plant uprooted. It instantly looses it’s ‘root system’ of vessels bringing in glucose to feed it and give it energy, but just like a plant uprooted takes time to wilt, you don’t know your brain has been cut off from it’s food supply at first. If you use your brain as little as possible for the first few days, the damage won’t have as big an impact, as your brain will ‘wilt’ less, by needing less energy and holding on to what is already present longer. The brain then takes several months to regrow it’s roots, during which time you have no mental endurance, having headaches and mood swings whenever sugar runs low. No alcohol, no sugar spikes followed by damaging low-sugar crashes, and constant resting interespersed with short periods of activity are the ticket.

About a week and a half later I had developed constant headaches, confusion, forgetfulness and sudden crying jags. It was like having intense PMS and Alzheimers simultaneously. I went to an information session for persons with traumatic brain injury and when I left to go to the washroom, I literally could not find my way back to the room. I stood in the hallway, crying.

I had work for clients to finish, so I stopped doing everything else, and worked a half hour at a time, with breaks sitting in a dim room with my cat in between. I was unable to drive, and held on to the hope that if I just did everything right, I’d get my brain back.

I’d lost the thing the most important to me, my intellect. I was hugely relieved to discover that I could still think (and work) at close to the capacity I was used to, but only in short bursts. I wore earplugs constantly as background noise was impossible to screen out and made me confused and quickly exhausted.

Given the severe impact on my life, I wanted reassurance that all of this really ‘meant something’ and wanted to make sure I learned whatever lesson the gods were giving me at such a high price. But given that my brain was so compromised, I wasn’t certain I was really getting it.

I called on two of my good friends and Pagan brothers for pastoral care during this time. They came over to my house, and ate with me, listened to my story. My brother Seumas said – “you’re over thinking it – (ha!) – you fell upside down, lost an eye (symbolically through the broken glasses lens), got a rune (the wendehorn), and now you are hanging on the World Tree. This recovery is your ordeal to earn the runes.”

“I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.
No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,
downwards I peered;
I took up the runes,
screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there.
Hávamál (Old Norse ‘Sayings of the High One’) Carolyne Larrington translation

I read, in very short passages at a time, during many sleepless nights (insomnia is another effect of post concussion syndrome), the myth of Odin from a book of mythology I had been given by my brother almost 20 years before. I spent many long boring days alone, with little company, emotional and mentally exhausted, lonely and still. My cat, sitting purring in my lap through the long days and nights, was a great comfort to me.

I remembered that I had experienced a serious head injury as a 13 year old, and developed compassion for that young girl who had recovered with far less resources and understanding than I had now. I realized that my forgetfullness, and inability to ‘push through’ frequent bouts of mental exhaustion after intense experiences may have been caused by that injury. I realized that the coping methods I had for making sure I didn’t forget important things while I am forgetful, and I am often forgetful,  were probably rooted in that time and injury. I discovered some of these coping methods I had discovered on my own, were the same recommended for coping with a traumatic brain injury, and was proud of my teen and young adult self. 

I learned that it was okay to be ‘stupid’ and confused, and to ask for help when I was injured. I’ve learned how to take breaks to prevent getting overtired, which may allow me to do more overall.

But you know, I don’t know that I’ve yet learned, or realized I’ve learned, anything indespensable, or the One Great Truth that will justify my injury. I want to say that I’ve recieved an inestimable gift of great spiritual value, but I don’ t know if I have, at least not yet. Perhaps that is not how life works. Perhaps rejuvination ‘re-youthening’is in many learnings at once. 

I don’t sleep well. I really never have.  My doctor has been great, and has put me on a medication that keeps me from sleeping too lightly and waking too easily. It helps.  I do still feel like I’m never fully rested, or connected to that deep well of spiritual knowing I have been able to access in the past, so I know I’m not fully reemerged.

I’ve become much more focussed on my own healing lately, and recently have begun having post traumatic flashbacks again after many years, from some horrific childhood experiences. They are nothing I didn’t know, in vague terms, had happened, but the visceral detail makes it far too real. I’m no stranger to witnessing my child self’s story and allowing it to change me, but like recovering from concussion, it’s a very lonely business.

The ordeal, brain wise, is mostly over. My brain allows me to work a full day, do and learn music and connect with others again. I’m finding myself able to learn the piano again, to write, to work, to meditate.  I’m re-emerging like a sprout in spring, not ready to bear fruit, but on the path.  It won’t really feel over till I feel the rejuvination of the runes within me, or wisdom or something. But springtime and being in progress will have to be enough for now. 

Prosperity Magic

I’m known among my friends to be ‘good with money’ and also to have ‘freakishly good luck’ with money and work. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do have a strong intuiton for what works in prosperity magic.

One of the best ways I know to review and deepen what I know about a topic is to teach it to others. In the process of preparing to teach a class on prosperity magic in May, I’m reviewing what I know, adding practices and themes from others, and trying them out.

Types of Prosperity Magic

Most types of prosperity magic fall into a few main categories: cleansing, clearing, blessing, envisioning and creating focussing objects. They operate on the general magical principles of making oneself worthy to recieve good things, clearing out the unwanted to make space for the good to flow in, blessing what is already good so it will increase and inviting or summoning good things in. The following is the first in a series of posts about prosperity magic, beginning today with cleansing magic.

Cleansing

Cleansing as used in prosperity magic is a practice of purifying and cleaning to reaffirm one’s worthiness to accept good things. There are a wealth of cleansing practices. Many are physical and some are based in changing thoughts.

Cleansing prosperity magic can take the form of:

  • Ritual bathing with salt or prosperity herbs or essential oils such as basil, mint, or orange.
  • Affirmations
  • Sweeping a space with a broom in a counter-clockwise (widdershins) direction
  • Bathing significant objects in sunlight, salt, seawater or sacred water
  • Burying significant objects in soil to allow negative energy to ‘ground’ out of them
  • Washing a space, items, yourself or others in a conventional way, with the intention to cleanse them energeticallly as well as physically.

I love how common cleaning tasks, such as mopping the floor or cleaning the bathroom, weeding or pruning the garden or tidying inside or out, can be made more meaningful by being transformed into magical cleansing. We do this by doing the work mindfully, with the intention of cleansing. Sometimes I will put on ritual music while working, or say a mantra in my head such as “I am cleaning to make ready for good to come in.”

Cleansing Prosperity Magic – Ritual bathing in practice

A few days ago, I ran a ritual bath. I tidied the bathroom, brought in fresh clean towels, and added salt and bergamot essential oil to the bath, along with some rose for self-love and chamomile for calm. I cast a circle, Wiccan style, and entered the bath with the intention of cleansing myself and making myself ready for good things to happen. I scrubbed my body with handfulls of salt, and then did some personal work, witnessed by the Gods in sacred space about releasing a significant experience that had left me feeling unworthy. The result was feeling both physically and spiritually cleansed. Then I undid the stopper of the bath and let the bath water run out with everything I was releasing into it, and sat in the receding water until the tub emptied, before devoking the circle.

Ritual Bath

Baths created specifically for sacred bathing are found in ancient temples such as this one in Qumran in Palestine. The practice is still very common. (Click on the photo for photo source and credit)

Better Paganism Through Composting and Tree Planting

Is environmentalism part of Paganism? Part of Wicca?

Many Pagans believe strongly that environmental conservation is a necessary part of their devotion to the Goddess. However, if you go to Pagan festivals where there are many traditions represented you’ll find that others do not.

I was going to write this all not-judgy, and neutral, analysing the difference based on whether people believe in the Gods as literal beings or abstract concepts, or whether you are a religious Pagan who integrates your spirituality into your everyday life, a ceremonial magician interested primarily in energy workings and magick or a celebratory or ‘mead and cape’ Pagan. This is true, but in my opinion, not very interesting.

The thing is, I’m very solidly in the religious, the Gods are real camp and so it’s hard for me to understand how someone can sincerely believe the Earth is sacred but not feel the need to make their actions both inside and outside sacred space match those beliefs.

If find that I am much more motivated to do a thing if it’s part of a devotional practice. In service to Mother Earth / Gaia, I compost everything I can, participate in my city’s recycling program, have a solar panel on the roof of my house that heats water for bathing, and abstain from using household or yard chemicals that are harmful to the water and soil like bleach and pesticides. I believe my religion requires this. I have chosen not to birth any children, which saves our overpopulated Earth from lifetimes and generations of human consumption.

But I’m also a bit of a hypocrite. I eat meat, which is one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gas emissions (particularly beef, because cow burps contain a lot of methane). I also drive a gasoline powered car, albeit a gas-sipping smart car.

All of us make choices according to our values and our willingness to sacrifice for our Gods.

I think its far better to start and be imperfect, than to do nothing at all. In that light here are some environmental devotions for Pagans to start with:

Plant trees – Plant trees in your yard or other land you have access to if you can. It could be a live Yule tree you ritually plant each spring. Growing plants pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, preventing it from contributing to global warming. The trick is, though, that when those plants rot or burn, they release the carbon dioxide again. In order to keep the carbon dioxide out of circulation as long as possible, plants that will live a long time and therefore have a body that will not rot for a long time are best, making trees a good choice.  For every bonfire or campfire you have, make sure you take responsibility for that CO2 you released by  planting a fast growing tree to remove it again.

Compost – How the plant and animal matter you discard rots makes a difference to what kinds of gasses are released and therefore to how harmful that rotting is. Composting releases CO2 (carbon dioxide), which contributes to global warming, but that same plant or animal rotting in a landfill, where it is usually buried underground without oxygen, rots in a different way that releases methane. Methane does a lot more harm from a global warming persective. Think composting is a lot of work? Check out my composting for lazy people post.

Planting and Composting are Very Pagan

There are lots of things you can do to honour Mother Earth, but I find planting and composting to be a good fit for Pagan devotional practice. Tree planting works well for new beginnings magic, atonement, recognizing births or prosperity magic. Composting connects us to the life-death-life cycle, and the recognition that what we let go, can come around to nourish us. It can also make concrete the process of letting go of what  no longer serves us and ties us back into the full circle of nature.

Composting for Lazy Witches

No-Effort Composting

Rodent Proof ComposterComposting doesn’t have to be hard. I have composted for 30 years, and here the simplest, lowest work way to do it in a city yard.

Buy the biggest composter that you can afford and have space for. In composting size matters. The bigger the diameter of your composting chamber, the faster your material will compost.

A purchased composter will likely be made from nylon or plastic and have a perforated bottom. These are designed to be rodent resistant. Get some zap straps / zip ties and secure the base tightly to the body of the composter and secure any hatches in the sides or base closed. This will help prevent rodents from getting in to your composter, which is the reason most people are afraid of composting all the materials they can.

Put everything that will rot into your composter – meat, coffee grounds, citrus, cooked food, food-soiled paper, animal manure, everthing. Don’t turn it, stir it or aerate it. If it gets dry (which slows it down), put some water in it. If it smells, put some dry plant matter like leaves or paper on top of the pile.

Hate cleaning smelly compost buckets? Me too. I buy paper compost bags and then just throw the whole bag in the composter. You can buy plain paper ones that will line your compost bin, or wax lined ones that you can used without a bin.

Don’t worry about your composter getting full. It will rot and the pile will reduce on its own.  I’ve lived in my home for 15 years and have had to empty my composter once. If yours does get too full, it’s probably too dry or you haven’t been putting your leftover food in it as well as leaves. If you fix that and wait a few weeks, it will shrink down again. If it is truly getting food, getting a second composter will allow you to give the first one more time to shrink. It will also let the composter ‘finish’ so you can use the soil.

Other benefits of composting are:

  • You are preventing methane (a very powerful greenhouse gas) from entering the atmosphere.
  • Your garbage will no longer be smelly
  • You will have some nice soil to put on your garden.
  • The Goddess will know you walk your talk when you say the Earth is sacred.

And doesn’t that feel good?

Spring Mysteries Festival Review

Spring Mysteries Festival Poster 2018
Spring Mysteries Festival Poster 2018

I have attended the Spring Mysteries Festival, hosted by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, many times. It’s really refreshing to be at a large complex multi-day ritual, that is so devotedly and competently done.

Some festivals are the land of the Party Pagan, whose main interest in festivals are in costumes and mead (1). While there are definitely attendees who fit this mold, this is a festival that isn’t shaped for that purpose, something that is a relief to me. Sometimes it feels like the more religious Pagans are few and hard to find. Based in this experience, the sincere dedication to ritual that deeply engages the gods and the participant, clearly and well executed in this festival is a joy.

As an ecstatic tradition Pagan and lesbian, my interest in the extremely heteronormative streams of Paganisms has been limited. The ATC has in the past been steeped in this valid but not-for-me stream of Paganism. I recall attending a non-mystery ritual there years ago which I had to leave mid ritual because of a requirement to direct energy opposite to the ways the Gods meant for me.  However, I was delighted, having been away for several years, to return finding that there was room for me and others like me to participate fully without having to compromise on how our energy runs.  All acts of love and pleasure, indeed.

So what actually happens there? Well, it’s a mystery. I can’t actually tell you much about the rituals – which are, well, a mystery. The nature of mysteries is that they don’t translate well to descriptions without corresponding experience.  To protect the power of this particular mystery, I’ve given my oath not to.

However, here is how the festival is described on the church’s website:

 

Since 1985, Aquarian Tabernacle Church has been continuing the Eleusinian Mysteries originally held in Ancient Greece. These mysteries, held every year in honor of Demeter and Persephone, explore universal concepts and truths from the perspective of the seeker of hidden knowledge. Our Priests and Priestesses spend 3-4 months preparing for the festival, working with the energies of the Gods and rehearsing the ritual drama that is presented over 4 days for hundreds of people each Easter Weekend.
Though the main portions of the event focus on Greek deities, there are many workshops and other groups that bring a plethora of alternate ways to explore, including the general mysteries of women, men and those who identify as a mixture of both energies. There is also a vendors space, with many often-requested items and trinkets to take home, and plenty of space for conversations or introspective moments.
Everyone who attends will come away transformed and with wonderful memories of their time in Eleusis.

What I can tell you is that it was personally profound for me, and that a Pagan with a sincere interest in opening her heart to the Gods will find much to nourish her there, as it did me.  You get out of it what you contribute, as is true of most things magical. It’s deepened my engagement with several of the Gods on a personal level, and with my matron Goddess in particular. I have attended at times of transition in my life and found it very valuable in seeing the way forward.

With group dormitories (old army barracks) it’s a good festival to go to with your coven. It’s also reasonably accessible for elders, but make sure you let them know about any mobility difficulties when registering. Children can be accommodated and there are some child-friendly activities, particularly during the day, but there are aspects of the core ritual which are for adults and older teens, and which take place late at night. 

(1) If you love to celebrate your mirth and reverence in party pagan style – The Gathering for Life on Earth is a low cost festival you may enjoy. Note the location for GFLOE is not accessible to elders and those for whom stairs are a barrier.