Monthly Archives: July 2015

My Thoughts on Incense

Incense and spiritual rituals go together like calculators and math. There is some math that you can do without a calculator. You can even be really stubborn and insist on doing as much as you can without one – but at some point, it’s no longer practical if even possible.

This is how I feel about incense. I am trying to be stubborn and figure out all manner of ritual and offering techniques that don’t require it, but try as i might, I keep running into a “need” for that noxious health hazard.

Incense has a long, continuos history of use in almost every religion across the globe, but does that mean it’s necessary? I tend to validate my beliefs and practices by taking note of trends which transcend time, culture, and geographic space. If the collective human mind finds merit to it, there must be something there.

However, some cultures break away from parts of the collective as new information becomes available to them. Smoking (tobacco or anything else) used to be the thing to do (for ritual, meditation, or just because). It still is a thing today, obviously, and that’s all fine and well – but health conscious people no longer partake.

The most common place to find incense is in New-Age stores, where a large portion of customers are vegan and/or keep their mind and body healthy through yoga and meditation, the latter of which frequently involves the use of incense. Sure, they can keep their windows open, or not use it every day, etc. – but why is it necessary at all? There are other, more healthy, methods of aromatherapy available if scent-induced calm is its only purpose.

When it comes to religious ritual, it’s not only about the aroma. It’s also about a sacrifice to the gods. Technically, the smoke itself is the sacrifice, but to me, I feel like I am making a sacrifice of my health by inhaling some of it. Even if I only burn it as long as absolutely necessary for the ritual – I have to wonder, do the gods really want me to inhale all this crap for the sake of sacrifice? I really don’t think so. There are plenty of other offerings that the gods accept (especially in liquid form). I’ve heard  that smoke makes offerings more accessible to the deities, which might make sense, but then does this mean that other offerings are pointless?

So far, I’ve reasoned out using incense for meditation or sacrifice. That leaves purification. Incense, including sage and herb bundles for smudging, is used to purify a space. I find this slightly ironic. I’m purifying the space by suffocating my pets? If I have to open the windows in order to purify my house after “purifying” with something else, then I don’t see the point. However, in the case of banishing negative energies, one might reason that the noxious fumes are just as noxious to the bad things as they are to me – so of course they are going to get the heck out of the way. In that sense, incense might as well be likened to pesticides. Sure, it kills the bugs – but it slowly kills us too.

Before you write me off as a complete killjoy – I don’t hate incense. I’m trying to reduce my exposure to it, but I absolutely love the smell of nag champa. It reminds me of my grandmother’s house. I keep boxes of it in my closet so that the smell gets on some of my stuff. Sometimes, I’ll burn it unattended (I know, bad bad…) so that I can return to the left over aroma without having to experience the smoke. It’s not entirely a matter of health, though. Yes, I am health conscious – but I like a cupcake as much as the next person. We are all going to die and no one lives such a perfect life to keep themselves as healthy as possible to the end. Some people abstain from pleasures, but this too is unhealthy.

Health aside, incense smoke causes me physical discomfort – especially to my eyes. It’s terrible. I can’t enjoy being around it, healthy or not, unless I am outdoors. My last ritual I did outdoors and I used incense, it was lovely. I even had the smell of it in my hair all day. But I can’t always do my rituals outdoors.

I recently purchased some core-less pure incense sticks – supposedly they cut down on the irritants. If I can tolerate them, I may try to use them occasionally for some of my offerings – but I still don’t understand why I should have to. As far as making offerings to the fire for my ADF rituals – rather than use a censer and charcoal – an oil burner seems sufficient. Oil or potpourri is transformed by the fire of a candle, so it should be a suitable substitute. Consecrating the sacred center is where I’m still on the fence. All the ADF ritual guides suggest incense in addition to asperging. I don’t see why I can’t just do the asperging. Or why I can’t use fire – pick up one of the candles and circle it around the area.

In the end, it’s really up to me, though it’s hard to break a tradition and feel like I’m still doing it “right.” It’s also hard to force myself into tradition against my better judgement.

If I can find an incense that doesn’t irritate my eyes too much, I will use it from time to time as one of the guilty pleasures I allow into my life, but I won’t do it because I have to or because I think the gods require it of me.

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Wordpress Absconded With My Customization

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Please excuse any random changes to my page as I try to sort out the issue.

My blog was working just fine before dinner. I did nothing to it since the customizations disappeared. The customizer tool is not working either. If I try to put my header image back, it won’t save. Neither will a change to the back ground color. I tried a couple other themes to see if the problem was unique to the theme I was using. Gah. So frustrating. Computer generated hocus pocus :/

Pieces of Me: Tea!

“Tea! That’s all I needed. A good cup of tea. A superheated infusion of free radicals and tannin. Just the thing for heating the synapses.” — the Tenth Doctor

Why exactly the doctor refers to tea as containing free radicals – I really don’t know. Perhaps his brain was still regenerating 😮 Moving on then – Tea! I love tea! I used to drink coffee everyday, throwing in the occasional cup of bagged green tea from time to time, Eventually, I started replacing my evening coffee with green tea. Sometime towards the end of 2012 I thought I’d see about loose leaf tea. several teapots and 400+ different teas later, I’m still learning more about wonderful Camellia Sinensis and coffee has taken the back seat. Yes, I have tried over 400 different teas. I keep them all logged in a spreadsheet so that I don’t lose track of what I like or don’t like (good tea is too expensive to accidentally repurchase a nope) I don’t drink herbal tea often, but I like peppermint, bamboo, and hibiscus teas sometimes. I don’t like chamomile at all, which is sad since it’s in so many herbal tea blends. I’m also not a huge fan of “dessert teas” (heavily flavored teas from places such as Teavana, Della Terra, or David’s Tea), but there are exceptions. I love window-shopping for pretty tea-wares, but I try to keep my own collection small and practical (I don’t have enough space to collect too much stuff). Here are some of my tea-wares:

Glass Teapot

Glass Teapot

tea-for-one set

tea-for-one set

12oz glass teapot

12oz glass teapot

teacups and strainers

teacups and strainers

Yixing clay pot

Yixing clay pot

My favorite mug

My favorite mug

Kyusu

Kyusu

Gaiwan and tea cup

Gaiwan and tea cup

Why I Am Not an Heathen (Though I Kind of Wish That I Could Be)

Well, I think I’ve decided what I’m going to call myself: a rogue Heathen. I want the Heathen title, but I don’t want all the “true heathen” connotations that go with it. (I do what I want 😉 )

Pagan Church Lady

This (long) post has been a long time coming.  I’ve referenced my feelings about personal background and development in some other articles and have been spending a lot of time trying to explore myself in relation to the modern Pagan movement and Heathenry.  Although the title was inspired by Bertrand Russel’s piece “Why I am Not A Christian” I won’t, as he does, seek to deconstruct the idea of a particular deity.  I will, as he does, explain why the values expressed in the religion in question do not fit mine, and why that leaves me in a difficult place.

Let me begin by explaining that I’ve had a love for the Aesir and Vanir since childhood.  I first read of them in children’s fiction when I was four or five and rapidly advanced to reading more adult storybooks about them.  Later on I discovered source material like the Eddas…

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ADF Dedicant Path: First High Day Essay (Summer Cross-quarter)

The August Cross-quarter is known as either Lughnasadh or Lammas in neopagan circles and is celebrated on or around August 1st.

Although Lammas and Lughnasadh fall on or around the same date, they are not, according to Alaric Albertsson, necessarily related” (169). Lughnasadh refers to the celtic god, Lugh (who is not a fertility god) and is, among other things Lugh-related, “a funeral festival commemorating the death of Tailtiu, the mother of […] Lugh” (Albertsson, 169). Lammas, on the other hand is associated with the god Ing Fréa, a harvest god, and is very much a harvest festival. Nevertheless, blending of the two traditions has occurred over time, such as with the association of the term “first fruits” with Lughnasadh, despite, according to Albertsson, the expression’s Anglo Saxon origins. Today, both Lammas and Lughnasadh are associated more or less equally with the first harvest.

Common traditions that prevail today include baking the season’s first loaf of bread and making corn (or grain) husk dollies. Corn husk dollies were traditionally made from the last sheaf of the the harvest in order to preserve the spirit of the grain. They would be saved until the next planting season, whereupon they were plowed into the soil with the new grain seeds. Today, it is most common to use them simply to adorn an altar.

Works Cited:

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

I’m Pretty Tired, I Think I’ll Quit School Now

I’ve been in school for a very long time. Not continuously; there have been breaks, but the breaks were always with pending school in mind. School has always been my happy place. It didn’t matter if I was in a private school, a public school, a homeschool (I was homeschooled for a short while), or a university. I have simply felt at home surrounded by academia.

You might ask why I needed school after the required years were over. Can’t I study on my own? Why yes, yes I can. I’ve never had a problem with independent learning. But I like the school environment – the checkpoints I have to pass in order to get various rewards (stickers, grades, etc) and level up.

I often think of my life as one big video game RPG (yeah, I’m weird). I translate even the smallest mundane tasks into important quests in my head and imagine that I need to finish said task in order to obtain another piece of the map, or whatever it is that I imagine up at the time. This gets me through many unpleasant errands and chores, especially those in bad winter weather, when I don’t feel like going out.

School was an easy way to realize a portion of my life-game outside of my imagination. I didn’t have to pretend that I was leveling up, because I really did.

I started college at 17 as a physics major. My parents agreed to pay for no more than 4 years of college, so it was important that I was efficient with my time there. My first semester was wrought with drama and unfortunate events, so I took the next semester off to get my stuff together. I had changed my major to art just before the end of my first semester. My parents weren’t terribly impressed. As good parents will do, they worried about my future and the practicality of an art degree. They tried to compromise and suggest that I do graphic design instead of froo froo studio arts. I tried to compromise their compromise and suggested animation. I applied to a graphic arts school for animation and was accepted, but another series of setbacks and drama prevented me from going (probably for the best). I don’t think I’d be too happy in today’s animation world. I preferred pencil and paper drawing, not computer tech magic (incidentally, I stopped drawing after this didn’t pan out). My interest in animation was also tied to an interest in film making in general. I considered majoring in film at the local university, but there was a waiting list. I compromised with English thinking “hey, maybe I can be a screen writer.”  As you can see, my “efficient” first four years wasn’t starting out so efficient. My parents were unsettled about my flighty interests and lack of career-oriented plans, but they still guaranteed four-years of funding. Somehow I ended up making a deal with them that I would finish in the originally allotted time (despite the semester set back) in order to secure their confidence in me that I would, indeed finish. So I completed my English degree in 3 years time, making liberal use of summer classes and 20+ credit hour semesters. I also worked part time, so it was quite a challenge. But I did it. And I did it all with stellar grades. I would have had a perfect GPA if not for my first mess-up semester in physics.

Oh, physics. How I love you. How I hate you.

No one told me to major in physics. I wasn’t following orders from my parents. I really wanted to study physics. I had been certain that I wanted to be an astrophysicist since I was 14. Before that, I wanted to be a marine biologist. Either way, science was my jam.

I had skipped a grade before entering high school, but I didn’t skip ahead in math. So, when I started college, I had no calculus background. This wasn’t so unusual. Many students enter college without having taken calculus in high school. But it kinda mattered since I wanted to take the calculus-based physics class, the honors version no less. Other students had successfully taken calculus and physics concurrently and I though I was good enough to do so as well. That didn’t work out for me. A combination of non-academic related issues and my damaged pride (no longer the smartest fish in the pod) led me to give up.

After I graduated, I immediately regretted not following through with physics. I was full of what-ifs. I met my future husband a few days after graduating. He proposed a few months later and agreed to help me go back to school. A year went by before the marriage, and then another semester of waiting before I began my physics studies again. This time, I finished. Not without a lot of stress and effort, mind you. I struggled the first few semesters. Again, life got in the way of my focus. Getting married, moving to a state that I absolutely hated, and thousands of miles from my family – it was a lot to adjust to. But I carried on and eventually got the diploma to prove that I did it. I can even proudly say that my final semester grades in physics were all As. I waffled about continuing to graduate school or teaching high school physics. I was enrolled in a teacher training program for a year, but that didn’t work out. I decided that completing the physics degree was more about proving to myself that I could rather than planning for a future in it (although, I still have moments when I wonder what-if). By the time I finished physics, I was sorely missing literature and humanities studies. I immediately enrolled for a double major in anthropology and German. Now that I was all on my own for funding (no more grants and no more family), I needed to consider efficiency again. Anthropology had to go. I finished German short of three credits to a degree (through no fault of my own – the school just left me hanging and I would have had to put off graduate school for a year just for those three nagging credits, so I let it be).

Well, here I am, finally in graduate school (finished my first year in Comparative Literature) and finally feeling like Forest Gump when he was done running. Is it graduate school in particular or just school? graduate school is certainly something else, but I think I would have loved my time here a lot more when I was younger. I’m just tired now. I’m tired, and I want to do something else besides school. I feel like I will disappoint some people. My husband and some of my other family was hoping I’d get a Ph.D. But I’m really tired. And I’m getting too old for this. I **am** too old for this. I want to enjoy life a little, rather than be tied down by a thousand after school assignments and such. I want to come home and watch TV without feeling guilty for having more important things to do.

I’d like to have more time for my hobbies too. Perhaps even open an Etsy store or start a tea business. So many other things I want to do and school is no longer one of them.

I still have a year left of my Master’s program. I’m going to try to stick it out. I’m getting paid as a TA and tuition is covered, so I might as well. But we’ll see. I’m definitely not going for a PhD though.

ADF Dedicant Path: First Oath

Technically this the third week since I began, but as I said, I am not necessarily following along week/by week. Also, since the third week is supposed to fall on or around a High Day, it doesn’t make sense to rush right now since the next High Day isn’t until August. I’ll probably spend the time between now and then getting a head start on the required reading.

Today, I  performed my first solo ADF-style ritual. I followed a script from the DP guidebook. The purpose of this ritual was to make the following oath:

I, [Shelley], before this assembly, declare myself to be a Pagan, a seeker of the Old Ways, a worshipper of the Elder Gods. 

With this holy oath I set my foot upon the path, the Druid’s Way, and I vow to make my dedication plain. 

I vow to seek virtue in my life, to do right by my kin, my friends and my community, I vow to make my Paganism real, by keeping the rites and works that call to me. 

I vow to deepen my understanding of the Ways through study to fill my mind with the truth of the Elder Paths. 

These things I swear to the Gods, with those gathered here as my witnesses. So be it.”

I am still waiting on my custom oak altar (I can’t wait!) and I have very little in the way of proper altar tools, my rudimentary set up wasn’t so bad. I set it up outside beneath the tree in my back yard, so that the tree could act as the required representation of a tree (I am planning to get an artificial bonsai sculpture for my indoor altar). I wanted to make my oath outside regardless of whether or not I had an indoor altar set up. It just felt like an outside sort of ritual.

I meant to take a picture of my altar when it was outside, but I forgot. So I took a picture of the table and items I had on it after I brought it back in. Thor was definitely present during the ritual. it started to rain as soon as I stepped outside. It also became windy such that I couldn’t keep a candle lit. I burned incense instead as a representation of the fire. To receive blessings, I used a matcha bowl that my husband gave me as a gift. I haven’t yet used it for matcha and it has been sitting around in its original box for some time. I’ll probably keep it now as a permanent altar vessel (perhaps as my well).

altar1

The runes I used to draw the omens were a set I have had since high school. I thought it was strange that the guide book made no mention of required divination tools, but it was included as part of the ritual. Im glad that I happened to have a set of runes already. As you can see in the picture, the three that I drew were: Hagalz (disruption), Eihwaz (defense), and Inguz (fertility).

I haven’t used these runes since I first bought them and I can’t remember anything of how to properly read them or if I was supposed to pay attention to the orientation of the rune. Fortunately, all three that I drew have the same orientation upright and upside down.

According the the text I have, my omens can be interpreted as follows:

Halgaz – indicates “a pressing need within the psyche to break free from constricting identification with material reality and to experience the world of the archetypal mind.” The text goes on to explain that Halgaz is the “Great Awakener.” As such, I might feel that I am “coming to my senses” or “emerging from a deep sleep.” Furthermore, “the onset of power may be such as to rip away the fabric of what [I] previously knew as [my] reality, [my] security, [my] understanding of [my]self, [my] work, [my] relationships or beliefs.”

The disruption to my life might be minor or severe, but a change is coming in some capacity.

Eihwaz – “speaks to the difficulties that can arise at the beginning of a new life” and suggests that I exercise patience when dealing with obstacles. I shouldn’t act needy for or lust after a desired outcome. In other words, this rune “announces a time for waiting.”

Inguz – “embodies the need to share, the yearning to be desired, a search after similarities. The completion of beginnings is what Inguz requires.” This rune indicates that I “now have the strength to achieve completion, resolution, from which comes a new beginning.” In terms of fertility, the traditional meaning of this rune, I am to “fertilize the ground for [my] own deliverance”

Basically, it sounds like a change is coming my way, that the challenge will be to exercise patience as I wait for the pieces of my new life to come together and that what I need to concern myself with at this time is preparing for a new beginning.

I Do What I Want

It’s about time that I stop acting like a scared little sprite. Seriously, Why am I so worried about what the rest of the world thinks? Ok, so I get it – We are a social species and yadda yadda, we have to care just a little about how others think. But good grief, I’m driving myself nuts trying to maintain approval from everyone whose anyone.

I have no problem telling my husband all the time that “I do what I WANT!” And yet I can’t do the same in the face of anonymous intimidating strangers? If you knew my husband, you would wonder what my problem is. He can be intimidating. He gets pretty snarly at me when I say I want a pet rat some day – and yet, I hold my ground (I do what I want!). So why is it so hard for me to be myself to the rest of the world?

I was more or less comfortable referring to myself as a heathen until I realized how insanely protective many “real” heathens are over their name. Apparently if I am not an obsessive reconstructionist with a condescending temper towards UPGs, I shouldn’t be calling myself heathen and spoiling their high and mighty name. Whatever dudes. Ill call myself whatever I want and Ill do what I want. Honestly, I don’t have any particular desire to call myself a heathen over any other pagan name. I just don’t like having to justify every single word I use to describe myself. I’m currently following the ADF path, but I am not a druid. It just seems like the right path for me at this moment, which covers most of what is important to me spiritually.

I was so excited to get my first Mjolinr necklace; until I discovered the prevalence of racism amongst heathens. I’m not too worried that others will think I am racist wearing it considering how dominant my mediterranean genes are. Although, I am still a “privileged” European – so I dunno. But I am afraid of the folkish aryan sort giving me a condescending look out in public. What is wrong with me though? I actually care if one of those sort look down on me? Gah, I should be looking down on THEM. Get it together here Shelley!

And as for my spiritual crisis the other day (if you’re looking for the relevant post, I’ve taken it down, sorry folks). I’ll give honor to whatever deities I want. I don’t need anyone’s approval. I don’t need to be told how or when I am allowed to honor particular gods (the gods have to come to you, not the other way around) or which particular gods I am “allowed” to honor.

No, I don’t mean that I am going to do whatever I want to the point of eclectic cherry picking. I believe in a decent historical grounding to work from. But UPGs are a significant part of spirituality in my book and if mine tend to go against the grain, so be it.

I am curious how much of the anti-Rökkr mentality of modern Heathens is resultant from Christian indoctrination. Why are the Hellenistic pagans so much more accepting of chthonic deities while the heathens are trying to set up a distinct good vs evil dichotomy? Isn’t the latter a Christian construct? Sorry if I’m coming across as anti-Christian here. I don’t mean to do that either. But, for my own purposes, I’d like to clear myself of the Christian imprint on my worldview and pagan practices.

This is *my* life and *my* spiritual path. I don’t need permission to follow my own path.

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