A Toast to Autumn


Autumn, born in August, Summer’s clout preeminent, finally, you come into your own. Like a young maiden presented at her debutante ball, we see you now: still young, still green, but a force with which to reckon. Summer yields to your power. This is your day, your right of passage. May you take the reins of Nature’s chariot that Summer may retreat into sweet slumber. 

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Naturalistic Paganism: My Home, Not My Box

Perhaps I was too hasty in my recent spiritual declarations. I am prone to embracing the latest idea of my fancy with exclusive enthusiasm and a belief that it is the idea to end all ideas. But it never is. I am fickle. I hate boxing myself in, but I also hate never being able to come to a definite conclusion or decision. I try to sweep away all my past fancies under the rug as if they never happened, but I know I fool no one. I want to do and feel and explore everything without limiting myself, but I also want to find myself, my true calling, my identity, my spirituality, somewhere amidst the experiences. 

When I first announced my departure from hard polytheism, I said that I do not mean to abandon the metaphysical, but merely the specificity of woo-driven (i.e. supernaturalistic) paganism. By specificity, I mean belief in the existence of beings and forces exactly as they are described in manmade myth. Even soft polytheism is too specific for me. I need not apply arbitrary supernatural explanations or naturalistic assumptions in order to experience and appreciate the intangible mysteries of the universe. 

I meant it when I said that I have found my spiritual home in the natural world, but the curious don’t stay home all day. I only recently stepped into spiritual naturalism and the novelty of it has had me in a state of limerence. Naturally (pun semi-intended), I have been happy to box myself in. My boxes always feel amply spacious in the beginning. But sooner or later, my explorations lead me to the walls and I seek my escape. Only this time, I don’t seek permanent relocation, only open borders. 

Deep Time: One More Dial on my Wheel

The more I explore Naturalistic paganism, the less inclined I feel to hold onto lingering superstitions. I still enjoy speculating on the supernatural and remain agnostic, but my spirituality has found a more personally fulfilling home in natural world. If there is a supernatural world, I trust that I will learn of it in good time. Until then, I intend to embrace all that I can of the natural world while I have an Earthly body in which to do so. 

Ironically, I feel more open to spiritual experience since turning away from the supernatural. I am no longer bound by vague deity relationships, orthopraxic rules of semi-reconstructed hearth cultures, or anything save my own code of ethics. I am free to explore and experiment without fear of offending the gods. If there are gods and if they are offended, well that’s on them for being so superfluously elusive. 

With such freedom, however, comes a lack of direction. I am inspired and motivated, but a little lost all the same, so I took a break from formal ritual and Sabbat observance to sort myself out. The first thing I did was revisit my personal wheel of the year. It’s focus on micro seasons and phenology already provides me with a head start into less deity-centric practice, but there is always room for improvement. One aspect I’ve always appreciated about the cyclical observance of the year is the extent to which my observances can vary from year to year as I map the wheel onto other wheels of the greater circle of life and existence. There is so much worth celebrating and no reason to limit myself to the usual. 

Inspired by a recently renewed interest in prehistory, I’ve added cosmic and deep time to the ever increasing set of dials on my personal wheel. I am crazy excited about all the new celebratory possibilities this new dial presents to me. February is always a good time for soup in the cold Rockies, but now I can call my February Sabbat soup a primordial soup! You have no idea how amused I am by this. Or how about my fish for the Spring Equinox? I used to think salad an appropriate choice for this Sabbat, but it’s simply way too cold in March to appreciate a salad. Now I can celebrate the bursting forth of life with toasty tasty fish in recognition of the Age of Fish!  What goes better with a fresh loaf of baked bread than honey? I put honey on my August Cross-Quarter bread regardless, but now? oh boy you guys, NOW –  it’s because this Sabbat aligns with the time when the first honey bees arose. Is this not simply amazing? And oh gosh, how much fun I can have decorating my altar each new season with all these new ideas! 

For the next year, I will engage in deep contemplation of each period and epoch as they arise on my wheel. I intend for my Sabbat observances to focus on deep time while my micro season observances remain focused on local climate and phenology. At the conclusion of this year of contemplation, I will transfer my deep-time wheel to my Book of Spirit.

Cosmic and Deep Time Wheel:

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Micro-Season and Lunar Wheels:

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Note About Lunar Wheel: I name each lunar cycle according to the season in which the full moon falls; consequently, I do not use all 24 moon names each year.

I have so much yet to sort out before my spirituality finds stable ground again, but it seems I am more enthusiastic when in exploratory limbo, so there’s that….¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Taking My Paganism in a New Direction

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I’ve been staring at my screen for sometime, trying to decide where I want to begin, but I can’t think of anything better than: “I am no longer a hard polytheist.” So, why didn’t I just come right out with it? Why the hesitation? I suppose it’s because I wanted to soften the blow. Not so much for you, the reader, but for myself. Because to say “I am not” is to leave a hole, which “I am” must fill in. But I don’t know what I am. And so I have been holding onto my polytheism as a child continues to hold onto a security blanket long after it’s truly needed – with a false sense of dependency. That is, until now.

After holding on for so long, I finally experienced the dreaded spiritual burnout and knew it was time to let go. So I did. I opened a text document and began just as described above. After that, and to my surprise, I felt immediately better and inspired to start anew. The hole that I feared ins’t so much a hole as it is a fresh pot of soil. I feel cleansed of all that has been holding me back, and ready to continue growing. 

As for what I am now, I suppose I am somewhat of a Naturalist Pagan and neo-Animist, but not ready to commit to any labels just yet. I trust science above all, but I have experienced so much that cannot (as of yet) be scientifically explained that I remain open to the possibility of supernatural phenomenon.  What I am giving up is not the unexplainable, or even the metaphysical, but rather, the specificity of woo-driven theistic paganism. I want science with just a dash of woo, not the other way around. 

I am still working out how much to change of my current practices to fit my new path, but I am enthusiastic to begin. Stay tuned… 

Where My Paganism Has Led Me. 

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Image Credit: NASA

I started this blog while in the midst of completing my Dedicant Path work with ADF. Before joining ADF in 2015, I was an on-and-off again eclectic pagan with no formal practice, filling in the gaps with spiritually-empty agnosticism. Though my practice is now regular and structured, I am still in the process of tweaking it for the best fit. I don’t imagine this process will ever end, but perhaps the changes will become less frequent.

I have chosen a hard-polytheistic orthopraxy, but my beliefs about the divine remain agnostic. In the end, it matters not whether the gods I call on are independent beings, semi-independent beings, manifestations of my mind or archetypes. I use the language of hard polytheism regardless of which belief I am leaning more towards at any given time. Whatever the source of deity, it communicates with me and guides me along the path of self-improvement.

Upon beginning the Dedicant’s path, I was anxious to get to know all the deities of my new hearth culture (and a few from the Norse for good measure). My personal pantheon underwent several changes during the first two years until I finally felt at home with one that was more focused on celestial bodies (Sunne, Mona, Eorthe) than on anthropomorphic deities. Even the language I use to honor the sun and moon has become less anthropomorphic. I initially referred to the moon, for example, as Mona’s ward rather than as Mona himself. I wasn’t consciously aware of this development until I developed an interest in planet and star veneration outside the earth-moon-sun trio, and I realized I had already been on the path to astrolatry all along. 

My personal pantheon still includes Woden, Frigg, and my gatekeeper and first patron, Thunor. This too was an organic development for which I later understood significance. Woden and Frigg can be thought of as the archetypal God and Goddess, though I interact with them as if they are independent beings. Thunor is the one who led me onto my current path, who wards and opens the gates to the Otherworld, and whose hammer is the symbol of my faith. In other words, he symbolizes and grants access to my spirituality. It’s as if my non-theistic side worked on my behalf while I pursued hard polytheism. I am now left with a pantheon that could easily adapt to a non-theistic approach if it ever needed to.

My practice also includes veneration of nature spirits. Of all the otherworldly beings, nature spirits are the only that I’ve never struggled to believe in. I suppose this is because I am vehemently animist. The nature of deity is beyond my comprehension, but the various various manifestations of the same animistic essence that resides in us is easier to wrap my head around. The universe is alive and worthy of veneration, from the smallest unit of matter to entire galaxies.

Last, but certainly not least, are the Ancestors. I am as agnostic about the afterlife as I am about deity, but I value the wisdom preserved in the memory of a life well-lived. I honor my ancestors by recalling their lives and leaving my mind open to contact should any part of them live on in another form. I sometimes like to believe that deity is nothing more or less than the spirits (merged, independent, or something in between) of the dead. And perhaps that the nature spirits, who can be fickle and seem to live outside of our human-constructed morality, are the spirits of non-human dead. Agnosticism doesn’t keep me from speculating. 

My current practice involves dedicating to a specific deity, spirit, or related group from my pantheon each month or semi-month. When the honored being of the month is a celestial body other than the Earth, Moon, or Sun, I extract lessons that can be applied to my life from a study of its historical, mythological and scientific significance. My dedication to other beings takes a similar, but more personable approach. My motivation is always spiritual growth and self-improvement, but I approach my primary patrons with the understanding that our relationship is reciprocal and with the assumption that they are autonomous beings with agendas that may or may not have anything to do with my own. 

 

 

My Year of Divine Consciousness

I celebrate the return of the sun on the third night of Yule; that being the night following the first day that was longer than the previous day. I prefer to “confirm” that the day’s are getting longer before I rejoice. In other words, I don’t count my eggs before they hatch, as the old saying goes.

Once I have borne witness to Sunne’s renewed strength, I ask her what her return heralds for the coming year. This is the first year in which I have practiced this method of yearly-omen taking, but I plan to maintain it as a tradition going forth. I take my monthly omens from Móna (the god of the moon), so it seems appropriate to take yearly omens from Sunne.

This year, it turns out, is the year of ᚩ (Ós). Ós is the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of the Elder-Futhark ᚨ (Ansuz).

OS (The God) is the creator of all language,
widom’s fountain and consolation of sages
and every man’s joy and trust.1

After receiving the rune omen, I proceeded to come up with a theme for 2018 that embodies the essence of it. In the past, I’ve let my yearly omen set a tone for the year and act as a lens through which I interpret various events, but I’ve never actively used it to set my intentions or resolutions.

I really like the idea of a New Year’s theme in place of a resolution, so I decided to go that route this year. It took me some time and contemplation to come up with a word or, rather, a noun phrase that worked. I considered “communication”, “divine inspiration”, and “awareness”, among others, but none of these really captures the entirety of Ós. I finally settled on “divine consciousness,” having also considered higher/heightened consciousness. “Consciousness” assumes awareness and “divine” assumes a higher state of it. “Divine consciousness” reminds me that the breath of divine inspiration flows through me and that I, though not a god myself, am the result of an unbroken chain going back to the divine source. Concequently, I have access not only to the guidance of the gods, but also to that of my ancestors. My focus this year will be on developing, accessing, and learning from this state consciousness.

Because this is a theme and not a resolution, I have no objective goal to meet. I imagine it would be difficult to objectify progress in heightened states of consciousness anyway. But the theme will inform my monthly intentions, interpretation of future omens, and over all spiritual journey this coming year.  It’s going to be an awesome year!

Footnotes:
1. From the Old English rune poem as translated by Alaric Albertson

My Morning Devotional

I never thought I would make it to the point where I write my own devotionals. But with all the druids participating in #prayeraday this month, I felt motivated try my hand at using my own words.

I begin my devotional as usual, lighting a candle as I say a Flames of Unity chant. The words I use for this are not the ones I find in most sources around the web. I first came across this chant on one of the ADF Facebook pages, but have not seen it written the same elsewhere.

I end all of my devotionals with closing words inspired by the Carmina Gadelica and as modified by Ozark Pagan Mamma:  “As it was, as it is, as it evermore shall be, with the ebb, with the flow, blessed be.” I absolutely love this closing.

Without further ado, here is my current morning devotional:

*Light Candle*

Kindled from the great flame
Kept by prudent skill
Living on our common hearth
That these flames be one!

Earth Mother, as the light of dawn brings color to your horizon once more, I greet this new day in reverence of your power and beauty. I thank you for your support in this rite as in all things. Hail to you Great Mother!

By the fire of the gods,
May my spirit be kindled
That I might follow a virtuous path towards enlightenment.

By the deep waters of the Ancestors,
May my mind be asperged
That I might receive the wisdom of those who have gone before.

By the sacred tree of the cosmos,
May my body be rooted
That I might be as one with the spirits of land, sea, and sky. *

By Fire, Well, and Sacred tree,
I send my love, thanks, and devotion to the Kindreds Three!
May I navigate this day with Their guidance and be worthy of Their blessings.

Love and Peace to all beings!
As it was, as it is, as it evermore shall be
With the ebb, with the flow,

Blessed be.

*at this point, I will ask via pendulum if any of the Kindreds have a message for me that day. I will then draw an omen (or omens) accordingly. I always take omen during major rites, but I think it is overkill to expect a message every single day. Asking if there is a message for me in advance helps to reduce the static that often accompanies daily omen-taking.

Feel free to use and modify this rite for personal use. Please give credit when sharing publicly.

The First Day of Autumn

Today is the day of the Autumn Equinox. The exact time of the astronomical event is 22:02 UTC (That’s 2:02pm Mountain Time for me). According to Google (and to my brother for whom Google is never wrong) this is the first day of Autumn. Although Google certainly has creepy mass mind-control powers, I don’t get the impression it has convinced most of the U.S. that this is the first day of Autumn. Popular culture seems to be in agreement that Autumn begins either on September 1st or after Labor Day at the very latest. Starbucks, another mass-mind control powerhouse (lol), delivers Autumn with the arrival of the Pumpkin Spice Latte on the first of the month. The overlords of fashion dictate that we wear no white (read: Summer) clothing after Labor Day. Validating pop-culture Autumn are the dependable scientific minds of the Meteorological community, who, for ease of comparing seasons year-to-year, define Autumn as a static three month period neatly consuming the months of September, October, and November.

And then there’s me. A rebel among rebels, welcoming Autumn in August. My fellow Indo-European-based pagans should be with me on this, but it seems even among my own kind, I am not well supported. Undeterred, I continue to follow my own path. My logic blends phenology with ancient custom. The seasons are not as static as the ideological meteorologists would have them, but phenological seasons are a bummer to keep track of.

I, like the meteorologists, quite like a cut-and-dry static model for the seasons. As a pagan, however, I can’t help but notice that the seasons themselves don’t adhere to unequivocal models. They vary each year, but unlike the calendar dates of the solstices and equinoxes, phenological seasons cannot be calculated in advanced, nor can phenologists agree on an exact start date even after the season has begun. Way to be elusive Mother Nature! XD Even if we could pinpoint the exact first day of a season in a particular area, the date would be different in every region. Social species that we are, standard dates for celebration bring us together across long distances.

My first method of approach to seasonal reckoning was to stick with the ancient Celtic calendar (according to which seasons begin on the cross-quarter days) and back it up with the logic that, despite the weather, the longest days of the year should encompass Summer, the shortest, Winter. And yet, I couldn’t help but be distracted by both conflicting weather and conflicting opinions. What to do?

I decided to continue as I had been, welcoming in the seasons at the cross –quarters. At Hlæfmæst (Lammas), I call for Autumn. I bid it to hurry along because I have missed it so. Similarly, I may ask a particular season not to leave yet, because I am not ready. Not that I expect Mother Nature to adhere to my every whim, but the idea of it is in line with the way ancient pagans prayed for longer or shorter seasons per their agricultural needs.

As I welcome the onset of the phenological season, which may or may not begin right away, I consider the “official” start of a season to factor in the length of days as well as the cultural atmosphere. In August, Autumn themes begin to appear in the media, harvest decor creeps into shops around town, and people begin preparing for the onset of the full season. Autumn weather or not, the signs of Autumn appear in August, whether in the balancing length of days (which straddle the equinox) or in the cultural environment.

I may have been wrong to call August unequivocally Autumn in the past, but so too are others for calling it Summer. I witnessed Autumn begin while Summer continued. The cross-quarter months are liminal months. The secular world, too, acknowledges this liminality with Groundhog Day in February. If everyone is so confident that February fits squarely in Winter, then why the superstition concerning groundhogs and early Spring?

The cross-quarter months contain the endings ~and~ beginning of seasons. By all means, wish me a happy Autumn anytime in September, but don’t tell me that it didn’t begin in August or even that Summer is finally over now, as late as the equinox. My liminal-months model, while closer to Nature, still doesn’t box Her in.

ADF Dedicant Path: Book Review #3

Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2009. Print.

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Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan provides pagans new to the path with a brief introduction to the practices of modern Anglo-Saxon paganism. While the author, Alaric Albertsson, references ancient practices and history for context, his focus is on modern practice. He is careful to note that the information he presents reflects the practices of his own inhīred (a group of practicing Saxon pagans) and is neither universal, nor indicative of exactly what ancient pagans would have done. Topics covered include cosmology, deities, altar set-up, Holy Tides, ritual format, and mead-making. Although broad rather than deep, the material covered is just enough to get the aspiring Saxon pagan onto his or her feet with a living practice.

The most frequent criticism of this book is of its cursory nature. Indeed, no topic is covered in depth. Instead, the text (hopefully) whets the reader’s appetite for more, provided that Saxon paganism is the right path for them. Someone new to paganism, Saxon paganism, or both is not looking for a heavy coverage of lore and history.

The to-the-point manner of this text is most-likely why it is recommended reading for ADF’s Dedicant Path (DP) program. The DP program does not assume that new members come into it knowing what hearth culture is right for them. This book is intended for those who are initially drawn to or curious about Anglo-Saxon paganism and who would like to get started with active practice right away before delving in deeper.

I appreciate this book for what it is, but by they time I got around to reading it, I was already certain of and decently well-read in my hearth culture. I came into the DP considering Norse, Saxon, and Gaelic hearth cultures. I purchased this book right away along with several others and used it for reference occasionally, but found myself fully immersed in the world of the Saxon pagan long before I picked it up for a proper read-through. For this reason, I sometimes disagreed with Albertsson, but my biases in no way negate the merit of this text. My disagreements were not over matters of fact or “correct” methods. For example, I recognize Hrethe as a different deity than Hertha/Eorðe, while Albertsson introduces her as the as Hertha. Scholars do not agree on this matter, so either view is viable.

Although short on scholarly details, I highly recommend this book to any pagan wishing to get their feet wet with Saxon pagan practices. Lore and history is certainly important, but at the heart of any polytheistic religion is a relationship with the gods, ancestors, and nature spirits. This book will get you started with building such a relationship, while providing just enough detail to set it apart as uniquely Anglo-Saxon.

 

ADF Dedicant Path: Book Review #2

Clifton, Chas S. Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2006. Print.

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Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America follows the rise of Wicca and other neopagan religions from their beginnings in the early 20th century to the present day, with especial focus on developments in the 1960s and 70s. While the story of Wicca itself is the driving force of the text, Author Chris Clifton could hardly ignore Wicca’s influence on and by other pagan religions, thus resulting in a well-researched comprehensive text chronicling the growth of many of the biggest Neopagan religions to take root in American soil during the 20th century.

This text takes a much needed comparative-studies approach to American pagan practices. Studies of pre-Christian, European pagan religions are necessarily comparative in nature, so too should be the studies of the neopagan religions inspired by them. There is an unfortunate tendency for followers of non-Wiccan pagan paths to distance themselves from Wicca as much as possible. It is this distance which Clifton successfully bridges by demonstrating how Wicca has touched, however indirectly, all American Pagans, from the “traditional” witches claiming a pre-Wiccan lineage to the reconstructionist Heathens who refuse to associate with the broader pagan umbrella, much less Wicca.

Although Clifton gives more attention to some (non-Wiccan) religions than others, with reconstructionist-based paths receiving the least of it, the over-all scope of the text is impressive for its size. Clifton, in fact, addresses this very issue in his introduction by means of a clever island analogy wherein he concludes that “to tell one story . . . is to tell many stories” (4). And hence, the story of Wicca becomes the story of American Paganism. Or rather, the story of a British mystery tradition which makes its way to American soil and evolves into the nature religion we recognize it as today.

I highly recommend this book to all Indo-European-based Neopagans, Wiccan and non-Wiccan alike. Don’t let preconceived notions or biases put you off. I, myself, came to this text with little enthusiasm. Had it not been recommended reading for my Dedicant Path studies, I may never have picked this book up on my own. I hope that my review can convince others not to pass this one by!

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