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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. 

 

 

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ADF Dedicant Path: Eighth High Day Recap (Midsummer)

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This Midsummer high day marks my one year anniversary with the Silver Branch Golden Horn grove and it is my eighth high day as a Dedicant. I have come a long way since I first showed up for public ritual a year ago, nervous, anxious, and entirely ungrounded. This year, I felt exceptionally grounded, which resulted in a more meaningful and pleasant experience than I have ever had previously.

We celebrated Midsummer on the Saturday before the solstice.  It was a 100 ºF day, but the shade under our grove of trees made it bearable. Our patron and gatekeeper this high day was Heimdall. Although an unconventional choice of patron for this day, I thought it wonderful that we honored him outside of his usual gatekeeping duties. Because the June moon is known, among other names, as the strawberry moon, and because it would be full on the solstice, I made a personal offering of strawberry shortcake to Móna. The strawberries were extra special because they were my very first garden produce. they were tiny and I only had three in total, but I was proud of them nonetheless. I have been struggling to get a garden growing this year, so I also offered a strawberry to the nature spirits as a thank you for my first fruits this year.

The ritual, overall, went very well. Despite a few loud vehicles and seedy sorts hanging around in the park near us, we all felt a lot of positive energy raised during ritual. The Kindreds, too, were pleased, according to the omens. We asked the Shining Ones for a message about the upcoming summer season and received Raido, the rune of journeys both physical and spiritual. We asked the ancestors what lessons there were to learn at this time and received Elhaz, a rune we also received last time and one that calls for spiritual development. We asked the Nature spirits how we can live in harmony with them and received Ehwaz, the rune of trust and teamwork. All of these omens were interpreted as positive. In other good news, myself and fellow grove attendee Rae were admitted as official members of the grove on this day.

 

ADF Dedicant Path: Eighth High Day Essay (Summer Solstice)

The summer solstice is known variably as Midsummer or Litha. As the longest day of the year, celebrations usually involve honoring a sun deity and building bonfires to represent the light and heat of the sun. It is also a popular tradition to gather herbs for medicinal and magical use, since they, like the sun, are thought to be at their most potent (Wodening, 112).

At Midsummer, the Earth is in full bloom, and green is the reigning color. Some believe this is when the Green Man, or Oak King, is at the height of his reign, while others believe the Holly King takes over at Midsummer. No matter which version of the myth you subscribe to, there is no denying the significance of the Green Man at Midsummer.

Similar to the spring and autumn cross-quarters, Midsummer is thought to be a time when the veil between the worlds in thin. But where the autumn cross-quarter is dedicated to the Dead and the spring cross-quarter to the witches, Midsummer is for the Fae. This may explain Shakespeare’s season of choice for his fairy-centric play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Works Cited

Wodening, Swain. Path to the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism for Beginners. Huntsville, MO: Wednesbury Shire, 2012. Print.

ADF Dedicant Path: Nature Awareness 2 (Essay Prep.)

I began my nature awareness task by following Dangler’s advice to locate a special nature spot to visit regularly. I selected the nature preserve where I like to go jogging. It was an area I was already familiar with, but I hadn’t previously taken the time to really get in touch with the nature there. The nature-awareness activity forced me to explore the area outside of jogging, take note of the flora and fauna there and just experience the environment without my headphones on. This pursuit started out alright, but as soon as the weather became cold, I stopped going. I found it easier to visit my own back yard during the winter than I did the nature preserve. When the weather warmed up again, I explored a few other areas away from home and returned to my previously-selected spot a few times, but I found that my bond with the Earth Mother was strongest in my own yard. At the end of the day, the nature I found out and about in the city wasn’t much different from what I had at home already. Everything around here is still “city” no matter what natural-sounding title they give to the place. So I returned home and started forging a bond with the land spirits on my own land. I did a small land-bidding ritual and took up the task of gardening for the first time in my life. Even though only a few of my seeds sprouted and a cute baby rabbit ate most of my only kale plant, my time spent working the land has increased my bond with the Earth more than any other activity over the past year. The Oak tree I recently planted in my front yard is the most meaningful symbol of my new-found connection with the land. This weekend, I intend to purchase several starter plants for my garden in hopes that they work out better for me than starting from seeds. After all, my transplanted blackberry plant is still hanging in there. I have plans, when time and money allow, to make my own yard the natural retreat that I seek and which the city parks have denied me.

Questions from Dangler’s Through the Wheel of the Year:

1. Where does your trash go?

It goes to one of two landfills.

2. Are there options for recycling that you’re making use of? Why or why not?

I make use of my city’s single-stream recycling, which offers a major perk of convenience. I have struggled with pretty severe OCD-related anti-hoarding for much of my life. This results in a compulsive need to dispose of excess stuff in my environment as soon as possible. When recycling was a more obscure concept (i.e. no idea where to go, sorting confusion, not many people did it, etc), saving stuff to recycle until I could figure out where to go with it was nearly impossible. I tried, and during my better phases succeeded, but over all it became a huge source of stress. I especially struggled with cardboard boxes. Oh my word, those boxes. Once the internet took over as shopping-place-of-choice, boxes were everywhere all the time. And I threw them away. Then I would feel terribly guilty about not recycling them. The single-stream recycling program has alleviated so much of that anxiety.

I still struggle with items that can’t go in the curb-side bin — especially clothing. I am much better about this as of late, however. I keep my giveaway items in a bag to accumulate for as long as I can bear it, then I ask my husband to take it to a thrift store. Knowing that I can count on him to take my giveaways almost as soon as I ask alleviates much of my stress. I don’t have to worry about fitting it into my own schedule, which is usually what leads me to dump my unwanted stuff in the nearest trash bin. I know it sounds silly. When I am in a more stable state of mind, I can’t figure out what my problem is.

As for other forms of recycling that I make use of, I tried to recycle plastic bags for a while. Believe it or not, I was holding onto all the bags until I could take them to the nearest store to recycle. This was easier for me to handle than clothing recycling because I already make trips to the grocery store as part of my regular schedule. Unfortunately, my husband and I both noticed how much trash was mixed in with the bags at the place I usually went to. I doubt anyone takes the time to sort it out before recycling. I’ve also heard rumor that some retail stores don’t actually recycle the contents in bins labeled “recycle.” Even if I just went with it and hoped for the best, the bins were often overflowing when I went, so I couldn’t use them. I’m trying to figure out an alternative for the bag situation. I try not to use too many bags in the first place. I need to get better about bringing reusable bags with me to places. I do like to have some plastic bags on hand at home because I reuse them myself for various things. I should probably figure out alternatives for that as well, but you know – baby steps.

3. Are there steps you can take to help reduce the amount of refuse you create?

Besides what I already mentioned in question 2, yes, there is still so much I can do. I read stories about people who produce hardly any waste and I aspire to be one of them, but it’s a slow going process. I want to start composting and my husband is on board with that idea, so hopefully that will be my next eco-friendly step.

4. What happens to your wastewater?

It goes to a wastewater-treatment facility, where 95 percent of the pollutants are removed before being sent into the South Platte River.

5. What rivers are nearby? Do you have a connection to them? What sort of

connection?

The South Platte River is the major river of this area. A park near the river is one of a small handful of nature-spots in close proximity to me (i.e. within a 15 minute drive). I have taken walks by the river and filmed one of my recent youtube videos by it. My walks are usually pretty short because when it’s not too cold, there are too many bugs. I have yet to become familiar with all the seasons in the park and I am hoping to find just the right one to really appreciate the area without being too distracted by cold or bugs.

6. Describe the basic climate of your area. Is it often wet and rainy? Dry and

sunny? Wet and sunny? How has this affected the kinds of plants and

animals in the area?

Denver has a semi-arid climate and more sunny days than one would expect for a city near the Rocky Mountains. Apparently, we have enough sunny days to put Miami to shame. Incidentally, I remember sitting in a class last year when my professor remarked how the sun here is particularly obnoxious – that in no other place was she so blinded by it so often.

The most prevalent wildlife in the Denver-metro area includes geese, coyotes, and prairie dogs. The nature preserve where I go jogging is a coyote habitat and there are several open-space prairie dog habitats near by. Closer to the foothills, near Boulder, the diversity of wildlife increases. According to the city of Boulder website, there are 59 documented mammal species  and 100 species of birds in the area.

7. What visible effects have humans had on the natural landscapes around

you?

I am sure there are more sophisticated answers to this question than my own, but to me the answer is as simple as urbanization. Everything is city here. They could do so much more to make the parks in the area better retreats from the surrounding metropolis. There are too many industrial areas and boring open spaces with uninspiring views of even more city. Unless I go to the foothills near Boulder, there is no escaping the urban-industrial ambience.

8. Where do the winds usually come from? Are there different winds at

different times of the year?

The winds come primarily from the South except in April, they decide to mix it up and come from the North. :p

9. What major crops are grown in your region? Why are these particular crops

grown here?

Hay, corn, wheat, sunflowers, potatoes, cabbage, onions, peaches, apples, and cantaloupe are the major crops in Colorado.

10. Where does your power come from (i.e. nuclear, solar, coal, gas, etc.)?

46% Coal, 24% Natural Gas, 12% Wind, 12% Nuclear, and the rest from an assortment of other sources.

“Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” and Book Magic

I just finished watching the 7 part mini-series, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If you haven’t seen it, you must! It’s based on Susanna Clarke’s novel of the same name. I haven’t read the book yet, but I intend to.

The story is set in an early 19th century England where magic is no longer practiced, or so everyone thinks. The two title characters, Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange, are practicing magicians who make it their mission to restore magic to England. Strange is briefly Norrell’s apprentice until the two part ways due to ideological differences.

Mr. Norrell has an impressive library of magical texts to which he is extremely attached.

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He relies on these books for his magical practices and, although Jonathan Strange is prone to doing his own thing when it comes to magic,

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even he can’t escape books entirely. He has to bring a whole trunk of them to the battlefront after joining the army as the King’s magician. Everything any magician could ever want or need to know is assumed to be in a book somewhere. Towards the end, when out-of-the-box thinking is called for, Mr. Norrell quite firmly asserts that he “can’t just make up magic.”

I have mentioned here and there in my musings that I am drawn to book magic. Yes, I get that doing your own thing sometimes can be empowering and lend to overall spiritual growth, but I am discouraged with all the negative press that book magic gets. As always, I find that I was born into the wrong era for fitting in. This is the age of the individualistic, self-empowered witch. The advice to “write your own spells,” “don’t rely on props,” and “just follow your intuition,” is everywhere. It’s in the memes that pop up on my Facebook news feed, it’s in the very books that I am not supposed to rely on, it’s in the blog posts of the more experienced witches whose advice I ought to be taking. It’s even in my most recent lesson from my Kitchen Witch course. My homework is to intuitively come up with my own correspondences (herbs, colors, etc) for all of the High Days.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going rogue from time to time. I am, in fact, looking forward to my correspondence project. But I have Mr. Norrell’s love for books. Books *are* magic, especially those written on the topic of magic and that contain pre-written spells or lists of correspondences. The words on the pages are magic via the power they accumulate each time a magician uses them. The way I feel when I imagine opening a very very old and dusty book of magic is one I can’t describe adequately. Of course, I have my own Grimoire and it will collect these same magical energies over time. But the energy of a communal spell book is even greater.

I spoke about this very topic in one of my recent YouTube videos:

Skip ahead to 7:55 for the relevant discussion.

This argument holds for prayer as well. Even moreso for prayers than for spells is an insistence on from-the-heart-only prayers. The best I can ever do when it comes to heart-felt correspondence is more along the lines of babbling than anything that resembles a prayer. And that’s fine. I talk to my Gods all the time. But when it comes to anything artistically written, I don’t have the talent. I’ve written a few things here or there, but it’s not something that comes to me naturally. My preference for pre-written prayers is based more on need than anything else. I was really happy to come across the following in support of pre-written prayers:

In many cases, this attitude [against set prayer] is, itself, not authentic. Neo-Paganism is cursed with a number of problems that have their roots in the childhood practices and beliefs of its members. Since they belong to a religion formed mainly of converts (a situation that is, fortunately, now changing), neo-Pagans have a bad tendency to react against their early religious background, which, in most cases, is Christianity. They seem to believe that Christianity is a religion of rote repetition, whereas Paganism is, by nature, spontaneous. This does both Christianity and Paganism a disservice. The repetition of a memorized prayer is not necessarily a mechanical thing. It involves a relationship between the pray-er, the prayer, and the one prayed to. This relationship is expressed through the words of a prayer, perhaps, but each prayer event is no more identical to those before than each performance of a particular piece of music is the same as another. Ancient Paganism, for its own part, had set prayers. The Rig Veda is a collection of prayers that acquired canonical status. In Pagan Rome, following set prayers was so important that an assistant with a prayer book stood next to priests, whispering the proper words to them. There is, thus, definitely a strong Pagan tradition of set prayers. And why shouldn’t there be? Our circumstances aren’t that much different from those of others— we mourn, feel gratitude, desire to praise, want to make requests. Why should each of us have to compose a prayer each time we need one? I happen to be good at writing prayers. I’m a lousy plumber. If there is a plumber out there who isn’t good at writing prayers, why shouldn’t we avail ourselves of each others’ talents? Most important of all, there are times when we want to pray, but words fail us. I think here of mourners at a Catholic funeral praying the rosary. Locked in their grief, they fix their minds on words they know by heart. They no longer need to think; they give themselves over to mourning and are comforted. It would be a shame for Pagans not to have the same gift.

Serith, Ceisiwr (2002-06-01). A Book of Pagan Prayer (pp. 65-67). Red Wheel Weiser. Kindle Edition.

So, I just want to say, yay books! #teambookmagicforever \(^^)/

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ADF Dedicant Path: Ancestors (Essay Prep.)

First, a little update on my DP plans. When I started this work, I was still in graduate school. Because of my busy schedule, I postulated that I wouldn’t finish the DP within a year’s time. When I left graduate school, I thought I might be able to complete the DP by Lughnasadh. By this time, I had fallen off the track of Dangler’s Through the Wheel of the Year, though I referred to sections of it as they seemed relevant. Recently, I decided to look back through that guide book and weed out the weeks I either skipped or glossed over. I have now worked up a new weekly schedule that will have me giving my Dedicant Oath on Harvest Home. Even though completing by Lughnasadh is possible, I didn’t want to feel rushed. I also want time to engage more with the optional material in Dangler’s text.

Now that I am backtracking slightly, some of my posts will involve revisiting concepts rather than being introduced to them, such as this one on the ancestors.

The Dedicant Manual, Our Own Druidry includes helpful introductory kindred attunement work that I already did early on in my path, though I didn’t do a write up for the corresponding week in the guide book.

Before I started the DP I had almost no interest in my ancestors. I am ashamed to admit it, but it is what it is. When I thought of ancestors, I only thought a generation or two back. I thought of the early 20th century and how little interested I was in this time period. My disinterest in 20th century culture led me to a disinterest in my ancestors as well. I forgot to think of them as individuals, with their own hopes and dreams and personalities, some of which might match up with my own.

My mother is the genealogist in the family. She is and was always telling some family history story or another, and I used to pay little attention. My disinterest in the 20th century is only superseded by my disinterest in most of American history. When I heard my mother’s stories, all I heard was a generic version of an American history lesson.

I always felt bad for not paying attention. I knew it was wrong to pay no mind to my own family history. But I couldn’t, for the life of me, force myself to be interested. I can’t tell you exactly what has changed, but I am interested now. The DP and wishing to deepen my spiritual practice in general had something to do with it, but I was slowly opening up to my mother’s stories before I found ADF. Beginning the DP only motivated me to increase my focus on this new interest.

I will probably never be the genealogist that my mother is, but I have a new appreciation for my ancestors nonetheless. I still struggle with disconnect from time to time. Paying attention when the story is about an ancestor whose lifestyle is too unrelatable or undesirable to me takes some discipline. But that’s OK. I don’t need to feel a bond with every single ancestor. Some of them will feel closer to me than others. This is no different than our interactions with other humans in general, family or not.

My interest is definitely at it’s highest when my mother speaks of someone from the 18th or 19th century. Sometimes I wonder if my attraction to certain places or dates, when it transcends superficial curiosity, indicate a past life there. There are a select few places and time periods I feel so drawn to that I almost feel like I am in a dream currently and will wake up to return there. It’s not a desire, it’s a very uncomfortable feeling.

Since paying active attention to my mother, I have learned so many wonderful things about whom I am related to. I’ve always known that I am related to General Daniel Sickles, who donated his self-amputated leg to a museum, to the guy who invented the dishwasher but no one knows it because his company owned the idea, and to assorted Spanish and Italian pirates on my father’s side, but only because these were the stories repeated most often such that they had to stick in my head eventually.

Now, I actively seek out family history. I’ve learned that I do, in fact have an Icelandic ancestor. All along, I though I had absolutely no connections to the Nordic lands. I am the 37th great granddaughter of Gróa Þorsteinsdóttir, who married a Scottish Earl and thus ended my connection to Iceland. I am very very Scottish, from both my mothers and father’s sides. haha. I’m also related to the Polidori and Rosetti Families. In an old document from my great grandmother, it appears I am a direct descended of John Polidori, though I am aware he didn’t have children. The document isn’t so clear and some of the names don’t perfectly match the public records. I am descended from one of his nieces or nephews, most likely. For those of you who don’t know, John Polidori wrote The Vampyre and is credited with beginning the modern romanticized vampire genre.

In addition to learning the stories of my ancestors, I’m also beginning to collect their photographs, for those who have any. Here are a few of them:

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Ireta Pyle

Ireta is my maternal grandmother. She went by Lorraine, her middle name, which is also my middle name. I hardly knew her though. She had Alzheimers when I knew her and died when I was still very young.

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My paternal great grandmother, Aurea. She used to make beautiful dolls, three of which I have.

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My paternal grandmother Martha. She’s still with us, but this picture is too beautiful not to share. I spent much of my childhood with her and my grandfather. We are very close ❤

I am really happy to finally be forging connections with my ancestors and including them in my spiritual practice.

 

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