Wicca, Brosatru, Queerness and Magic

Someone recently asked a bunch of Wiccans whether s/he/they needed to be re-initiated due to being trans. Whether the discarding the identity one had had when initiated meant the initiation itself was negated. Fortunately, the question was raised in safe space, which enabled positive responses in a tiny attempt to heal the hurts done by others.

This wasn’t in the US, where being trans seemed to have caused hysteria for some cisgendered folk when they want to use a public toilet. The questions also arise elsewhere. Western Europe is not a bastion for LBGTQ rights – those that exist have been hard-won, and are still incomplete. Just as an example, look at the long road to same-sex marriage in the UK.

The Legal Position

The Sexual Offences Act 1967 provided for a limited decriminalisation of consensual homosexual acts that took place in private, at home, between two people aged over 21. (At the time, the age of consent for hetreosexual relationships was 16.)  These restrictions were overturned in the European Court of Human Rights in 2000. The 1967 Act extended only to England and Wales.  Same-sex sexual activities were legalised in Scotland  on the same basis as in the 1967 Act, in February 1981, and in Northern Ireland in December 1982. The age of consent for gay sexual relationships was lowered to 18 in the UK in November 1994. Equality of age of consent was finally achieved January 2001. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 permitted single sex couples to register their relationships legally. Same sex marriage was finally enabled in England and Wales from March 2014, and Scotland from December 2014. Same sex marriage in Northern Ireland has been blocked by the Democratic Unionist Party using an extraordinary legal measure.

Trans rights are much further behind. In 1970 a court case removed the rights of trans people to marry when it was decided that a post-operative transsexual was considered to be of the sex they were assigned at birth.

Prompted by court rulings from the European Court of Human Rights in 2002,  the UK passed the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which effectively granted full legal recognition for binary transgender people from 4 April 2005. It’s possible now for trans folk to change their legal gender in the UK, though the process is humiliating. Trans people have to present evidence before a legal panel and must have transitioned two years before the recognition (GRC) is issued. The small crumb of comfort is that sexual reassignment isn’t necessary. Non-binary gender is still not legally recognised in the UK.There was still a problem with marriage, though.  In England & Wales, a GRC isn’t issued unless an existing marriage is ended or the spouse consents.  Once the GRC is issued, if the couple wished to remain in partnership, they were able to have a civil partnership from 2004 or marry from 2014 (except in Northern Ireland). Scotland, unlike the rest of the UK, doesn’t permit the spouse to have a say over their partner’s gender.

Two Spirits, ergi and magic

Much of the online stuff about trans, from a pagan point of view, comes from the US.  There, a number of different tribes had differing views to sexuality and recognised more than two sexes – often far more. Anthropologists tended to label non-binary Native Americans as berdache but this term has been withdrawn as it comes from a Colonial language and has negative connotations. The current preferred term is Two Spirits.This experience is replicated in other cultures, around the world. Try this interactive map to explore a few:
Within neo-pagan circles, cross dressing shading into trans is commonly associated with shamanic practices. Again, these frequently refer to non-European cultures, such as Native American in the US. I want to share a little about one indigenous to Northern Europe. Heathenry is commonly associated with a cult of virility – the whole Brosatru thing.  Among the Vikings, ergi (‘poofter’) was an insult that could be thrown at a man who showed too much interest in women’s work, including seid magic. However, one of the foremost of the aesir – Odhin – plays against that by engaging in seid. In Ynglinga Saga, Snorri says that Freyja first taught seid to the aesir. He says of Odhin (Heimskringla 7):

Odin understood also the art in which the
greatest power is lodged, and which he himself practised; namely,
what is called magic [seid].  By means of this he could know beforehand
the predestined fate of men, or their not yet completed lot; and
also bring on the death, ill-luck, or bad health of people, and
take the strength or wit from one person and give it to another.
But after such witchcraft followed such weakness and anxiety,
that it was not thought respectable for men to practise it; and
therefore the priestesses were brought up in this art.

In Loki’s Flyting (a contest of insults) in the Poetic Edda, Loki says of Odhin:

But you once practiced seid on Samesey,

and you beat on the drum as witches do,

in the likeness of a wizard you journeyed among mankind

and that I thought the hallmark of a pervert

The insult is made to counter Odhin’s insult against Loki that he spent eight years as a woman and bore children. This is a tale that hasn’t come down to us. However, he know the tale of Loki bearing Sleipnir after mating with a stallion. Taking it in the ass was normally an ultimate act of ergi, yet Loki silences Odhin by accusing him of something worse – an involvement in seid.  Reading other texts, it’s clear that Odhin is one of the gods up to his neck in magic. So in the Heathen tales we have a god who has changed shape (and does so often) and carried children, and another who practices women’s magic. Not quite the gods a Brosatru might be expected to revere!

Practising seid was a dangerous business, due to prejudice:

Eirik Blood-axe expected to be head king over all his brothers
and King Harald intended he should be so; and the father and son
lived long together.  Ragnvald Rettilbeine governed Hadaland, and
allowed himself to be instructed in the arts of witchcraft, and
became an area warlock [seidman].  Now King Harald was a hater of all
witchcraft [seid].  There was a warlock [seidman] in Hordaland called Vitgeir; and
when the king sent a message to him that he should give up his
art of witchcraft [seid], he replied in this verse: --

     "The danger surely is not great
     From wizards [seidworkers] born of mean estate,
     When Harald's son in Hadeland,
     King Ragnvald, to the art [seid] lays hand."

But when King Harald heard this, King Eirik Blood-axe went by his
orders to the Uplands, and came to Hadeland and burned his
brother Ragnvald in a house, along with eighty other warlocks [seidworkers];
which work was much praised.

(Harald Hárfager’s Saga, chapter 36) The words in square brackets are from Dr Jenny Blain’s own translation in her book Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic pg 112.

Wicca

Saying someone needs re-initiation after transitioning has a crazy logic of a kind. If I’ve got this right, it might be along the lines of “When you’re initiated as a man, the power is passed by the HPS. So, now you’re a woman, it must be re-done as the power must be passed to you by the HP.”

One small problem – the point about initiation is to pass the power.  Each initiation, each degree, is a single event that creates a spiritual shift. If it were a continuing need, we would all have to be constantly re-initiated.

What may be troubling those who say “re-initiate!” is the same thing that afflicted our parliament to pass exceptions for trans folk in same-sex marriage in England and Wales, forcing someone who transitions while married to divorce or obtain their partner’s consent in order to legally change their sex. Just as that was purely and simply to prevent same-sex marriage by the back door, I suspect any cries of “re-initiate” are along the same lines – let’s prevent same-sex initiation by the back door.

Too bad. It’s over. The initiate has come to the attention of the gods. The power has passed. Transition is a different kind of process; a different initiation. It may take place on the physical, emotional and psychological planes but it does not alter spiritual reality. Only legal records.

 

 

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Brosatru

About five years ago, I started to come across Brosatru. I only had a name for it recently. On the Heathen Facebook groups I haunt it manifests itself fairly innocuously as an obsession with weaponry, dressing up, tattoos, and the TV series Vikings. It’s shallow and innocuous and Heathens tend to be relaxed about it. Oh, there’s the occasional moan about the way it’s taking over so many Heathen fora but this type of Brosatru is tolerated. Some of them start engaging at a different level and some don’t. I can never decide whether they’re better or worse than the new Heathens who don’t seem particularly interested in the way Heathenry differs from the eclectic wiccan-influenced paganism they’re used to, and (among other things that make us oldies bite our tongues) eschew genuine ancient or modern Heathen festivals in favour of the Wiccan Eightfold Wheel of the Year.

If these were the worst that the rising popularity of Heathenry threw at us, we could just relax into being grumpy old Heathens and moaning that the current generation just aren’t serious about Heathenry. Unfortunately, Brosatru takes a more sinister turn.

Heathenry has always been dogged by the spectre of extremist right-wing politics. Everyone thinks of the Nazis, of course, and they did us all a disservice by rendering the one Heathen symbol  of good luck and health unusable by modern Heathens in the West. The fylfot is found on Iron Age cremation pots and is carved into churches in the UK and elsewhere. The strange views about the ancient Germanic religion began before the rise of the Nazi party. Look up the Thule Society or Guido Von List.  The latter is a forerunner of modern esoteric views of the runes.

We all know it didn’t end in the 1940s. that it’s still with us. Well, that’s the dirty end of Brosatru. That’s the end that still seeks to provide white supremacists with an identity. I won’t call it a religion because there’s some uncertainty whether they view it that way. If pressed, the religion will frequently be a mishmash of esotericism. It’s just a set another form of Viking cosplay, though one that is spread through prisons and unpleasant racist forums such as Stormfront. No, I won’t supply a link to that.

In the end, every Heathen in the UK or the US has to make a choice whether they label themselves folkish or not. Not that the folkish Heathens/Asatruar will accept the label of racist. The arguments I’ve come across centre on every culture having a folk culture native to that religion. So far, so good. The corollary may be explicit or hidden: that people should stick to their native culture. Their culture gives them insights into the old ways of their culture that outsiders don’t possess. And that, of course, is a statement that means Heathenry is really only for white people of Anglo Saxon descent. Another big give-away is the attraction Odhin has for this type of Heathen/Asatruar.  Almost universally, they will call themselves an ‘Odinist’ or be a member of a group that has ‘Odin’ in the title or claims to be dedicated to THE ALLFATHER.  That’s the way they always seem to refer to him. In the UK, the Odinic Rite hid its racism from its website, where it preferred to display its esoteric concepts of Odhin as the perfection that every man should strive to attain, while Loki is a form of the Christian devil.

Something that’s changing of late is that I see pagans throughout the pagan communities, on both sides of the pond, waking up to the fact that racists don’t conveniently confine themselves to Heathenry. That they exist in every corner of paganism. OK, Heathens might have a certain unwanted expertise in smelling it out and repudiating it, but now that’s a skill everyone needs. Perhaps, rather than tarring our whole community with suspicion, it will mean other pagans join the fight.  And you know – I somehow don’t think that racist in the wider pagan community will come in an easily identifiable Brosatru-type package.

 

 

 

The Heart and the Feather – dealing with complaints of sexual abuse

The ‘Missing Stair‘ is a brilliant analogy about sexual predators that is taking central stage in many pagan discourses, possibly better known in the US than the UK. It’s a very useful and necessary tool to raise awareness about how and why predatory behaviour may end up being ignored, and accusations dismissed.

As it’s territory that’s well covered elsewhere, so I want to turn to a different subject: the problem of safeguarding justice on both sides. This is, if you like, the second stage. The one that comes after the stage of everyone agreeing on the need for a Code of Conduct and not dismissing accusations, even if they’re made against a well-known and well-respect figure. This is about how one handles accusations in order to be fair to everyone.

I’m sure some people reading this will be getting annoyed already. So perhaps I’d better present my credentials. Back in the early 90s I was selected by a trade union committee covering a fair chunk of England to become an expert in Equal Opportunities. Scroll on a few years and much training from a specialist lawyer and barrister, and I became a para-legal in the field. Then I worked with management to find softer solutions that were less stressful for everyone – to deal with problems so that going to court wasn’t needed. That didn’t mean being soft on perpetrators, just trying to avoid a form of nuclear fallout. I joined a specialist management team to explore all options, helping to set up and train dedicated “first port of call” workers in our offices who would help those who had experienced harassment or abuse… and to help those accused of it.

You see, I had worked on both sides as a para-legal. I’d represented people of both genders whom I suspect of bad attitudes that they really needed to change, that had brought down on them reactive behaviour from others that resulted in – quite frankly – personal messes that spilled out into the industrial environment. That dragged in all their colleagues. I was a specialist in trying to deal with such messes. I designed and ran awareness courses for managers and trade union reps. I maintained the training of the “first port” workers, arranged the training and briefing of investigators into complaints of harassment and abuse, negotiated every type of associated procedure you can think of, and spent the rest of my time mediating solutions to near-intractable problems. And, if that wasn’t enough, a spent a few years working as complaints manager for the longest established pagan organisation in the UK, designing codes of conduct and acting as an investigator.

Generally, designing codes isn’t a problem. The problem is operating them. And the biggest problem with operating them lies with one issue: how to deal fairly with a complaint.

If one makes the assumption that all accusations are untrue (or true), then everything is simple – but also unfair. For example, two good male friends of mine have suffered complaints against them. Let’s take A as an exemplar. A was accused of rape. The alleged incident took place without witnesses. Now, I knew A was the last person to have committed such a crime but – thankfully – I wasn’t involved in this. In fact, there were ulterior motives for the accusation, but none of that came out as there was no formal complaint and no investigation. It was all a matter of spoken and written allegations to anyone who was willing to listen. The complaint was assumed by many to be true because of two common but mistaken attitudes:
(1) “there’s no smoke without fire” and
(2) no one in their right mind would make such a complaint unless it were true.

Now, hopefully you agree with me that the law (or a code of conduct) has to protect everyone. So, if an accusation has been made against someone, it should be tested before being acted upon. Are there witnesses? What do they say? Are there previous complaints about the same behaviour from the same person? What was the outcome of those? Is there any evidence to support the allegation? What are the details?

As anyone who has been an investigator (and I spent many periods in my life a professional investigator, manager and trainer of wannabe investigators) knows, people lie. There are certain indicators of lies being told, most of which can be boiled down to vagueness or ‘I forget’. So detail is important. If you’ve ever watched a TV crime drama you’ll know how much of the solution comes from checking the details. This should hold for any accusation that has the power to destroy a person’s reputation within our communities. So, where’s the a code of conduct, those who have to administer it should also be aware of the basic tools for examining the evidence in order to come to a conclusion about whether or not a complaint may be true. without that, the rush to remedy one wrong – the missing stair syndrome – replaces it with a new wrong.

If there is a code, there should be an attempt to test the information before coming to a conclusion, and trying to base that conclusion on the evidence, rather than on personal prejudice. That doesn’t imply any harshness – such testing can be done with sensitivity and sympathy. Someone can be genuinely in distress, but that doesn’t mean their complaint is true. Someone can be lying or hiding something they don’t want to divulge, but that doesn’t mean their complaint is untrue. People are complicated. And, because people are complicated and things are rarely straightforward, trying to be fair means giving the accused person the right to know the details and to answer them.

Let’s take an example. Annie’s son has been bullying Brenda’s son for months. Brenda confronts Annie, who refuses to do anything. In fact, Annie goes to the police to (falsely) accuse Brenda of hitting her. The case goes to court but Brenda is only told the accusation is that she hit Annie. she isn’t told when or where or how, and is given no means to defend herself. In court, she is not permitted any representation.  The jury are asked to make a decision based on looking at the two women and listening only to Annie. Annie brings two or three friends to court to say they, also, have been hit by Brenda. Again, Brenda is not permitted to know the details and the police have not checked them in any way. I’m sure everyone hearing that would think that this process is entirely unfair to Brenda.

Now, I want to be fair to Brenda. The problem, of course, is that (a) to be fair to both parties, an investigation should be carried out – but professional training for this sort of activity is rare, and without that, prejudice tends to creep in. And (b) if a code is fair to all parties, and the investigations are impartial and unprejudiced, then the conclusion will often offend the complainers. and their friends. And, once that happens, everyone resorts to gossip.

Another problem is that often, complainants don’t want to go ‘on the record’. They want to make their complaint, to be believed, and for the person they complain about to be punished – all without their name being mentioned. As you can see (if you’ve read this far) that means they don’t want the accused to know the details of the complaint, in case s/he subjects them to more harassment and/or threats. I’ve seen that happen, too. But if the evidence isn’t presented to the accused, we’re back to Brenda.

If you think I’m going to come up with a solution to all this mess, you’ll be disappointed. Neither I nor any expert I talked to had one. Oh, we issued instructions to everyone during an investigation not to gossip, and we did all we could to protect the accuser and his/her friends and allies against harassment – but you can’t protect someone from snubs and worse, in the workplace. And the same goes for the pagan community. The sad truth is that finding a solution means compromise on both sides. I’ve worked on mediations that have broken my heart and – after hours of intensive work to gain an agreement – left me ill for hours. And no one was really satisfied because a compromise often means getting the bare minimum of what you want. But sometimes, that’s all there is.

So, no – no solutions. We do not have Anubis’s scales to measure what lies in the hearts of those involved in a complaint. All I’m doing is raising awareness of some of the issues I haven’t seen discussed much. However, if you want to read one excellent conversation (within the LARP community) that touches on these points, try this.

Nature Worship

One of the ‘essentials’ deemed to characterise paganism is nature worship. This is another fun area where language gets in the way, between monoculturalists and recons, at least in the UK. I can’t speak for the US.

So I got into a conversation about this, recently. It began with someone posting a link to a medieval work that is fascinating. It’s by an 11th century German Bishop and it’s pretty similar to other clerical fulminations against pagans. Because it includes a list of penances, it details specific sins and the penance to be given for each sin. This means outlining common forms of folk magic and witchcraft practiced in that time and place.

To my eyes, it echoed things I’d come across in Anglo Saxon texts and other Christian edicts against folk religion pagan remnants. The problem was, that someone felt it provided evidence for ‘nature worship’. I skim through it and can’t see anything that leaps out at me. so I ask, which bits? this is what I’m pointed to:

Burchardp53

OK, reasonable enough at surface glance, if one is inexperienced in dealing with these texts. But the problem is that this is being filtered through the mind and worldview of a medieval Christian bishop. What he’s describing sounds like Christian-speak to me.

Now I’m not a medievalist, but one of the first things I did when I became a pagan was to read Prof Ronald Hutton’s works. He’s a historian, and he never commits himself to express an opinion that the text can’t support. I prefer that. I prefer to distinguish between what the evidence tells me and what I choose to believe. I like to know the difference. Yeah, I know – it’s kinda weird. Especially for a pagan. 😉

So, I say: Although those things are part and parcel of Heathenry, by then they were surely a part of folk religion, rather like the various customs attached to Hallowe’en, Christmas or the New Year these days? The acts tend to linger even where all religious significance has fled, at least for 90% of the population. Most of the remaining 10% are the Christian priests railing against the practices, much as you see reports occasionally of modern priests going off on one against yoga in church halls, or astrology.

So the person I’m talking to decides to define worship. A very reasonable thing to do, in the circumstances. They explain what worship means to them, which comes down to awe and reverence and the observance of ritual acts to express that. A nice definition and one I have no problem with. If that’s one’s definition, then surely reading that stuff about observing pagan customs at certain times means worship and sure-fire evidence a continuing pagan religion. Doesn’t it?

Well, call me a skeptic, but…

Now you’re wondering where I’m coming from, aren’t you? OK. It comes down to importing our meanings into someone else’s actions. The first amazing thing I encountered, when I started studying theology, was that different words are used in very different ways in different times. Cultures change and word usage moves quickly. Over the years, I’ve seen a number of documents relating to bishops, monks, priests and popes trying to dissuade or threaten old time Heathens and Celts from engaging in the old-time practices. Some of those practices continue today, such as clootie trees. Some are associated with practices foreign to Anglo Saxon peoples today, such as mound sitting and feasting the dead (though that’s still practised in Baltic states, halfway between Slavic and Heathen religions).

Worship is an old Anglo Saxon word meaning (broadly) ‘worthy of respect’. The medieval clergy did their best to ensure that Heathen ways were not regarded as ‘of respect’. From the outset, they tried to sever the ties with the ancestors, by making graveyards into places to be feared, rather than places to consult (and share food with) one’s elder kin. Here’s an example of that from the late 7th century. ‘Punishments for heathens and others who turn from the Church of God’ :

If anyone, in ignorance, eats or drinks by a heathen shrine they are to promise never to do so again and to do forty days penance on bread and water. If it is deliberately done again, that is, after a priest has declared that it is a sacrilege and the place of demons, the offender shall do penance on bread and water for thrice forty days. But if it is done to glorify the idol the penance shall be for three years.

There is at least one similar invocation against priests who help, by blessing food and drink at graves. And you’ll notice how ttalking with and respecting one’s ancestors has been reframed in Christian-speak as an idol. It’s a short step from there to a demon, and so graveyards become shunned. But there are many steps on the way and, during that process, actual worship – something done knowingly in honour of a god or other unseen being (my definition) – dwindles down to superstition – something done without knowing the reasons, because you were taught that it either creates good luck or averts bad luck. Just for an example – were you aware of how and why graveyards came to become spooky when you walk through one and shiver?

The point is this: the existence of practice (which lasts longer than belief) is no evidence of belief. Celebrating certain festivals, such as Christmas, is a common thing in most modern Western cultures, but it’s no evidence that those who celebrate it are Christians. Even worse if we were to judge the depth of that imaginary religious belief by the numbers of family and presents, and amount of food and drink. Ritual is not evidence of belief.

We understand that. Every year, when the Churches cry out against the commercialism of Christmas and asks everyone to remember the ‘real’ Christmas, we understand that the Yule logs and Christmas trees and drunkenly attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve are not worship of anything. Even if the Church tells us it is. At Christmas the demon is the modern one of commercialism, whereas for Hallowe’en many priests descend to more medieval language.

But that still doesn’t make trick-or-treaters demon worshippers. That’s all in the mind of the priests, not the participants.

Let’s go back to astrology. Many Christians are extremely attached to reading their horoscope. That doesn’t make them pagan or even non-Christian – but some clergy will label it both pagan and worshipping the stars. I’ve never encountered any daily horoscope readers willing to claim they worship the stars, but to that clerical mindset, anyone that refuses to lay something aside on being told it’s not Christian is engaging in idolatry by worshipping something other than Christ. And it must be worship, or else they would give it up.

So I become a bit cautious when reading a clerical sermon or essay within that mindset, which was common in medieval times. I am having to rely – in effect – on the description given by a fanatic fundamentalist Christian who believes that’s straight devil worship. Just because the guy giving the description says it’s devil worship, doesn’t mean there’s a devil or that there’s any worship going on – in the sense he means, anyway

If you ask me what I think was going on in the minds of those who carried out these acts – stripped of the Christian description of it. For 90% of them, I think it’s exactly the sort of thing that drove my mother to avoid walking under a ladder; or those who deliberately stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve to ‘see the New Year in’, often by sending someone out into the night with certain artifacts, to return to the house after midnight in order to guarantee good luck for the household. I’ve asked the questions about “where do you think the luck comes from?” or “Why does this thing have to be done in that way? Who says it has to be?” and been told (in effect) that that’s the way it is. Some people become irritated or flustered when asked how their folk beliefs marry up with Christianity but that doesn’t mean they are worshipping (in the case of the New Year’s Eve ritual) coal or money.

We have no idea what was in the mind of those who carried out such rituals a thousand years ago. I would love to believe they knowingly did this understanding they represented a remnant of pagan practices, and they did these things for that reason.

One argument put is that most people were closer to nature, back then, and so it is reasonable for nature worship to have continued. And that reading of worshiping the stars and the sun is an expression of that. But this is a modern mindset. It assumes that all people shared the modern nature=good concept. however, we cannot push that back into earlier centuries. They thought differently, then. As recently as Victorian times, given the choice, millions abandoned nature to live in the city slums.

Yes, the folk back before the Industrial Revolution were dependent upon nature. I agree most people worked the land and even those who didn’t would have had lives governed by the cycle of growing food. I’ve spent most of my adult life living in rural areas, listening to the farming programmes and even visiting farms. As a Heathen, I spend a lot of my life living by a lunar calendar, closely observing the natural cycle around me. The Heathen worldview is deeply embedded in me – a worldview that is greatly attached to the natural world, but which would resist any attempt to label that as ‘nature worship’.

In my experience, many of those who talk about worshipping nature aren’t the people who depend upon it for their lives. The pre-Christian pagan peoples of Europe – Celtic, Heathen, Hellene, Slavic or Roman peoples didn’t express a worship of nature. They saw the world as alive with hidden folk and gods, and their relationships of respect were with those wights and gods who might make their hard lives easier. Their relationships were to *people*, and this is marked by the Heathen word wight, which originally covered the gods, hidden folk, animals and humans. These days, it’s reserved for the hidden folk, but not back then.

Their rituals – such as the Anglo-Saxon Æcerbot or an equivalent Roman ritual to Mars – were designed to persuade the gods and hidden folk to help them control the land and their fates. The church in medieval times (and parts of it still, today) call that ‘idolatry’ and worshipping the sun or moon or stars or whatever. That’s a simple weapon for the priesthood to smack heads with. It doesn’t mean those accused of it actually worshipped nature, any more than it means dressing your child to go out trick-or-treating is worshipping the devil.

It’s a matter, as ever, of trying not to export one’s own beliefs and assumptions into another culture.

Yeah, more easily said than done. 😉

Pagan Monoculture – say ‘pagan’, mean ‘witch’


I grow tired of the number of times I see this, on pagan fora. And I am always taken by surprise – why, after all these years, do so many still equate ‘pagan’ to magic, Wicca etc? Are so many new pagans still ignorant of the breadth of traditions within paganisms, and that they don’t all believe the same things? How does this happen?

There’s a forum I’m on which has ‘pagan’ in the title. Let’s call it ‘Pagan Education’, as its title implies that.  Yet 99% of the comments there seem to derive from the monoculture of pop-wicca i.e. a paganism built upon what are perceived as Wiccan practices and beliefs, even if the beliefs aren’t generally held by lineaged Wiccans within the UK. The monoculture assumes that, if some pagans aren’t part of all of it, at least they share ‘essential’ beliefs. Things like the Wheel of the Year, worship of nature, and worship of gods.

Nope. Either nope – as in the festivals – or nope as in ‘not the way you do’. At that point, bafflement sets in for the pagan monoculturalist.

Perhaps we’re back to there being such a critical mass of ignorance among pagans, many of whom never seem to look outside their own beliefs, that it so eliminates any voice expressing difference that those voices fall quiet. This has happened to me. If you’re black, living in what society and with different experiences to everyone else, after a while you realise that the only options are either to shut up or to turn into some funfair exhibition.  “Oh, it’s just X banging on about Y again. Ignore her.”

Let’s go back to the ‘Pagan Education’ forum.  I guess I began to feel I might have been misled by the title of the group when the leaders kept posting stuff that talked about ‘traditions’ when they seemed to mean Wicca/trad. OK, I’m used to being a lone voice, and the name of the site clearly expressed the desire to share information between pagans, so I expressed the recon line, as I tend to do if talking mainly to monoculturalists. After all, Heathenry’s not exactly a minority within the pagan community, these days.

Nope. Everyone continued to chat away about witchcraft.

The leaders of the group seem intent to put out at least one post a day, designed to engender comment and discussion. It’s a great idea – shame about the fuzziness. After observing the phrase ‘the Craft’ being thrown around in a few of these posts, I initiated a thread, asking what people mean by the phrase?

As expected, everyone seemed to have a different idea. Oh, there were one or two voices I’d seen and respected on other fora who put forward the idea it might be lineaged Wicca, but they were largely swamped by the opinions that ranged from witchcraft – any – to (I kid you not) any and all pagans, including Heathens.

You know, there are times when I’m almost pleased to be the lone recon voice on a site. Had there been a few more Heathens – or CR, RR, Hellenismos etc etc – there might have been a small ruckus at being labelled ‘the Craft’.

Move on. The monoculturalists didn’t get it, though lineaged Wiccan friends did – and fell about laughing. “It’s absolutely meaningless!” one exclaimed to me, in private. “Everyone means something different!”

The worst occasion I saw on that site was when one of the leaders asked for recommendations for books for a new pagan. 99% of the recommendations were the usual culprits – Marion Greene, Scott Cunningham, Vivienne Crowley etc.  One or two of us asked what path the new pagan might be interested in? One person recommended a book that explored different paths – and received a dismissive response. I suggested mythology might be good. No one was interested. Another –

Wait. Let’s just rewind on that. Here’s a group purporting to be for Pagan Education and no one is interested in mythology? OK, so what I’m seeing here, in a number of threads, is that pagan = witchcraft and pagan education = leading people into magic.

Guys, it simply is not so. Worse still, you are now part of the problem, in that the name of your website is part of this lack of meaning that makes words useless. Like ‘the Craft’. If pagan = witch, then what becomes of the word ‘pagan’? What word can be used in its place?

I begin to understand why so many recons simply turn their back on the word. They feel that pagan=sub-Wiccan monoculture that excludes them, so they may as well exclude it. Because no one wants to listen. No one is actually interested in what our pre-Christian ancestors wrote about the gods. No one wants to know that there are very many different forms of paganism, all rich and vibrant and exciting – and not a monoculture.

Working with Loki

The Golden Age by Yoann LosselThe Golden Age by Yoann Lossel

 

A couple of days ago I attended a talk given by someone in their 20s, about “Trickster Gods”. I put that title in inverted commas not to indicate it is a title, but to indicate it failed to live up to my expectations. I might have expected mention of Hermes, Anansi, Brer Rabbit, Odysseus, Gywdion, Lugh, Maui, Eshu/Legba, or Krishna.

Nope.

Instead we had a heavy dose of stuff copied from the internet, plus multiple mentions of Loki and passing reference to Coyote and Raven. Not at all what I’d hoped for, as I’d come to learn (or so I hoped) from a fellow practitioner.

A friend said after the talk “I doubt she’s ever met Loki. I doubt she’d interest him.” To which I could only respond “Oh, she might. But not for the reasons she thinks.” And not at all the sort of interest anyone in their right minds would want.

If that sounds smug – believe me, it isn’t. I’ve worked with Loki for over a decade. I pay his tax, as I call it. I know he always wants his fun.

I can’t make a journey without something unexpected or downright weird happening. I can’t depend I will get anywhere on time – or even arrive. The same thing happens with technology or countless other things that interest him. It’s not as though I don’t deliver. I spend my life writing fantasy thrillers in which he’s the main character. I offer him expensive booze far too often.  I’m always talking about him. In fact, you might think he owns me… but he doesn’t. And in return, he plays his tricks. They’re part and parcel of the relationship. First it’s the charm; then the seduction; then the tricks. And if I’m not willing to accept that, it’s better to call it a day and find someone else to work with.

And if all that sounds as though working magic with him is a dicey business… oh yes. But when he agrees to take an interest in a working, he delivers. In spades. It’s just that it might not be exactly in the way you thought of.

Now that speaker got one thing right. She said that trickster gods are dangerous. She even had a scary font to emphasise the point. But then she went and ruined it all by saying it was great to call on them to help with a working because their energy was powerful. And you could offset the danger by calling on another, safer, god, to provide balance.

Yeah. Right. Like gods are there at the click of human fingers just lining up to do whatever the human wants, at their command, with nothing in return.

It isn’t just trickster gods who are dangerous. ALL gods are dangerous. No, they don’t need us to “wake them up” as the speaker had it. They don’t need us at all. For some unknown reason, some of them want to interact with us. Some even wish to be generous and benign. Others are strict. And some… well… I wouldn’t want a relationship on any terms with some.

So let’s get this right. If we ask (ASK, not demand or summon) a god to help us, and we know they have a certain reputation, then we should damn well realise that it’s highly unlikely we’re going to be able to limit them taking what they want. Or, if we do try to curb their fun too much, then there’s no point trying to convince yourself they are helping you work any magic. Because they won’t.

One may as well believe that the fay are tiny, attractive adolescent females with butterfly wings. Yeah. Take a look at Yoann’s picture at the top of the page. He’s got it right.

You want to know what working with Loki is like? It’s like the time I found myself walking the edge of a volcano, listening to the seductive voice tempting me to jump right in “The spell will work better that way.”

Well you can. And I’ve no doubt it will. But he won’t respect you for it. If you even recognise what “you” is any more. Because it won’t be the same “you”. And, incidentally, the spell worked just fine without doing that. Lightening fast and effective beyond my imagining.

Or then the was the time I helped out a friend by clearing their house (at their request) of bad stuff. I was left unable to move for hours. And the friend’s marriage broke up within 2 weeks. It happened that the friend is very happy. I’m not so sure about his ex-wife, though.

And then there was the time I was asked to help a friend clear other bad stuff from their house. Oh yes. After three years of not being able to do it herself, that worked. But he had a whale of a time with that one. All sorts of supernatural shenanigans, including the ghost of a wolfhound. Well, we should have seen that one coming. 😉

That’s all Folks!

Classic_bugsbunny

 

 

 

A Ritual for Thor

Tor såsom Freya” by Carl Larsson (1853-1919) and Gunnar Forssell (1859-1903) as described above. Photograph by User:Haukurth. – The image is found on page 105 of Fredrik Sander’s 1893 edition of the Poetic Edda. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Tor såsom Freya.jpgCandlemas

Like many Wiccans, we don’t feel the need to call this Imbolc. It seems to have been celebrated as Candlemas by the early covens, and may have been popularised as Imbolc by the publication of the books later compiled into “The Witches Bible” by Janet and Stewart Farrer. They wrote these in the early 80s, shortly after moving to Ireland, and the rituals are transformed to point towards the ancient Celtic religion.

Anyway, our links with Bride have become tenuous and we were looking for something else to do. In the end, we settled on Thor. There is a link, in that Iceland has celebrated a day for Thor around this time since the second half of the 19th century. Besides, Thor is a lovely god, so why not? We decided to act out the comic story told in Thrym’s Tale. Though it wasn’t written for the purpose, this would be a great piece to use if you want to find something that’s missing or take revenge for theft. 😉

An Updated “Lay of Thrym”

Narrator: One morning Thor woke up to find that his hammer was missing. He was not pleased. He stomped around and called for Loki.

THOR: LOKIIIIIII!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LOKI: What is it now? Whatever it is, I’m not being a mare again. Not for anyone.

THOR: My hammer’s missing. We need to find it.

Narrator: So Loki and Thor went to see Freya.

THOR: someone’s taken my hammer and Loki’s going to help me find it.

FREYA: Fine. Whatever. Anything I can do to help, just tell me. Just don’t try any funny business with me, OK?

LOKI: Funny business? Moi? How can you say such a thing? I just need to borrow your feather cloak to go spying.

FREYA: That’s fine. Take it and fly!

Narrator: So Loki flew off in the form of a hawk. He wandered the worlds and talked to all sorts of people until someone told him to try the ettin, Thrym. So he flew to Ettinland and found Thrym weaving magic into his sword. Loki landed beside the giant.

THRYM: Well, well. Look what the wind’s blown in. What are you doing here, Troublemaker? Have the gods sent you to sort something out again?

Narrator: Now Loki had had plenty of time to cook up a story designed to persuade Thrym to hand over the hammer.

LOKI: Oh nothing. No one sent me to do anything. I’m just doing some research. I’ve heard that someone’s making hammers and trying to sell them as Thor’s. I don’t suppose you’ve bought one, have you?

Narrator: Then Thrym smiled a very unpleasant smile indeed. He wasn’t born yesterday. Everyone knew Loki.

THRYM: A copy? Damn! I’ll just have to destroy it, then.

LOKI: No, don’t bother. Just give it to me and I’ll dispose of it.

THRYM: You think I’m an idiot? If you want it back, you need to give me something equal in value. I’ll take the beautiful Freya. And don’t even think of cheating me. I’ll run you through without a moment’s hesitation. And don’t think you’ll find it, either – I’ve hidden well. Even well enough to hide from you.

LOKI: Really? Underwater, then?

THRYM: You think I’m playing twenty questions with you? Just bugger off and get me Freya.

Narrator: So Loki threw on the cloak and flew back to Asgard. Thor was watching on the battlements and seized him as soon before he could even fold up the cloak.

THOR: Did you find it?

LOKI: Do you want the good news or the bad news?

Narrator: hearing that, Thor let out a mighty groan, because he could see where that was going.

THOR: <mighty groan> Is there any good news?

LOKI: Well, I know who has it. The ettin, Thyrm. He’s willing to give it back in exchange for a small payment.

THOR: That’s brilliant! What’s wrong with that?

LOKI: Well…. the small payment is Freya.

Narrator: Thor did not take this well.

THOR: What??????????????????????????????? Oh, that’s that, then. Why don’t we just go and kill him and his whole family and be done with it?

LOKI: Just give me a few minutes. I’m sure I can think of a way to present this….

Narrator: So Thor and Loki went to see Freya again.

LOKI: Freya! Just the person! Time to go shopping for that special dress. I’ve found exactly the right man for you.

FREYA: What…? Why…? When did I ask you….? Oh no! Is this another one of your schemes? If you think I’m going to let myself be ransomed again, you are off your trolley. Don’t even go there.

LOKI: No, no! No dragons, this time. I promise! No ransoms. Well, not for you. Just a wedding. Seriously.

Narrator: Loki looked so sincere Freya almost fell for it.

FREYA: I just know I’m going to regret this. But I’ll bite. Who is this wonderful god?

Narrator: Thor started laughing though he tried to disguise it.

THOR: He’s not a god. He’s an ettin.

Narrator: Freya was not happy. Freya was distinctly not happy.

FREYA: An ettin?? Are you out of your cotton-picking mind?? A GIANT??? You think I’m desperate or something???

LOKI: Now, Freya, sweetheart. Your brother was perfectly content to marry a giant. Thor’s wife is an ettin. Both my parents are ettins.

THOR: That might not be….

FREYA: Case proven, I think?

Narrator: seeing that Freya wasn’t about to go along with Loki’s scheme, Thor sighed. Time to think of something else. So he called on all the gods to help. They argued for eight days. Then Heimdall the Wise came up with a plan.

HEIMDALL: Right, we’re going to have to fool Thrym into surrendering the hammer. A marriage is the perfect opportunity. Once the ceremony is over and the feasting ended, he’s going to have to place a hammer in the bride’s lap for the blessing, and what other hammer is he likely to use? So all he needs is the bride.

THOR: all well and good, but Freya refuses.

FREYA: Damn right. Leave me out of this. You notice the hammer only comes after the wedding ceremony? No chance.

HEIMDALL: You misunderstand me, cousin. I wasn’t thinking of you. I had in mind someone else entirely.

Narrator: the gods were all agog. Who could Heimdall mean? Heimdall was happy to explain.

HEIMDALL: what better bride than Thor himself? The wedding will have no effect on two men. All we need to do now is to dress him up in the right clothes.

Narrator: Then everyone fell about laughing at such an idea. Except Thor.
THOR: Dress up like a woman? Not on your life! You can forget that! I’m not giving everyone the chance to call me a big girl’s blouse!

LOKI: Oh right. So shall we hand Asgard to the ettins now? Or shall we wait until they beat the shit out of us?

Narrator: So they dressed Thor up as a bride, with the works: dress, veil and all. And Freya loaned her precious Brisingamen, to convince Thrym he was marrying her. Meanwhile, Loki dressed up as a bridesmaid. Then Thor harnessed up his goats and drove the two of them to Thrym’s kingdom. Thrym heard them coming and was delighted.

THRYM: She’s coming! I’ve got riches a-plenty. I’ve got golden taps and diamond studded shoes and champagne every night in the hall. All I needed was a treasure like Freya to make it all worthwhile. Sister! Time to pull out the wedding gifts!

Narrator: So Thor and Loki arrived, and gifts were exchanged. Thrym presented Thor with beautiful dresses, while Thor and Loki gave handsome red dresses and shirts to all the ettins present. The wedding followed, and then everyone went to the feast. And what a feast! Thor did his usual. He consumed:

ALL: twelve ostrich drumsticks
Eleven lambs done leaping
ten Texan beefsteaks
nine bowls of goat stew
eight crates of strong ale
seven bowls of baked beans
six whole turducken
five rounds of cheese
four pigeon pies
three North Sea cod
two giant squid
and a porker roasted whole on the spit!

Narrator: But I think Thrym was most worried by the baked beans.

THRYM: That’s some appetite! But not exactly what I expected from Freya.

LOKI: Ah, but she hasn’t eaten for eight days. She’s been saving herself for this wedding.

Narrator: Thrym was so stricken with love, he tried to raise the bride’s veil and kiss her. But he shrank back when he saw Thor’s gaze.

THRYM: That’s some Medusa stare! It’s scarier than my mother-in-law, and that’s saying something! She could turn a man to stone with that!

LOKI: She’s ready for bed, that’s all. She’s been awake for eight nights thinking of you. Time for the blessing! Bring the hammer!

Narrator: So Thrym brought in the hammer and laid it in Thor’s lap.

THRYM: My darling, I have been dying for this day.

Narrator: That made Thor laugh.

THOR: That’s truer than you think!

Narrator: Then Thor took his hammer and struck Thrym dead. And his sister. And all the wedding guests. And then Thor and Loki rode back to Asgard, taking with them the rest of the wedding feast and all the gifts.

LOKI: Well, you can’t say they weren’t warned. We did give them all red shirts.

THOR: I don’t get it.

LOKI: It’s a nerd thing. Don’t worry about it. Have another squid.

 

© Alexa Duir 2016. Please do not copy without asking me first. 🙂