Ushering in Spring

Well, it is finally starting to feel like Spring again – and on cue no less!

I was lucky enough to get 4 days off this weekend, which afforded me time to do everything that I wanted to and then some. We made all of our scheduled family appearances, and still found time to relax and enjoy the rapidly improving weather.  I also made offering to Ēastre- Eftnīwung, the Renewer, in hopes of  ensuring a prosperous Summer to come.

The final day of our weekend saw us driving an hour north to a set of ponds that we enjoyed visiting last Summer. It’s a nice setting, with two adjacent ponds that are separated by a narrow strip of walkway, almost like a figure 8. The ponds are home to some ducks, gulls, and some crows, but the most impressive residents are definitely the nesting pair of great blue herons. The herons are dinosaur-like and imposing when you come across them walking along the path, though they are fairly skittish and take flight before you can get too close to them.

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It looks a lot less Summer-like than it actually was, I swear

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I’ve been to this place a few times and have yet come across another human being, so it seemed like an ideal place to drown our corn dolly and scatter the year’s collected offerings that I’d put aside. I spoke a little about my intentions to do this in my ‘lætest scēaf’ post that I wrote back in October.

It was odd to stand there and watch the dolly float away on top of the water, as if I were attending some sort of weird, aquatic funeral. I guess that is sort of what we were doing – attending the death of Winter. We stayed a while longer, enjoyed the scenery and then headed home feeling a sense of accomplishment.

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The corn dolly as it floats away among the seeds and grains

Even if the dolly itself didn’t truly house all of the growing vitality of the previous Summer, the symbolic gesture of collecting and releasing it creates clear rifts in mundane time and provides a chance for renewal each year – a renewal we so desperately crave here in the frozen North.

Water and Liminality

In the following article, the liminality of water will be explored and related to Fyrnsidu-specific application. Prior to this, it may be of some service to the reader to explain what liminality means.

Liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning ‘threshold’ or ‘doorway’. Liminal is that which occupies the transitional space at a boundary or threshold[1]. Geographically speaking, bridges, springs, crossroads, caves and rivers possess liminal characteristics and function as a gateway to new or different locations[2].  When one enters the mouth of a cave, they are leaving the outside behind and entering a dark, subterranean world and when one crosses a bridge, there is a clear distinction between the area of origin and the destination.

Liminality transcends geography and can also be used to describe transitions in time or status, with New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day being a prime example of a liminal period between two distinct years.  Likewise, the period of twilight represents a liminal period between day and night.

States of liminality are not necessarily held exclusively by periods of time, but also by certain beings, who are also considered ‘between’, or liminal in nature.  Ancestral spirits occupy space both here and not here, simultaneously.  Deities who are psychopomps – those that are guides to the departed dead – too are liminal, as they traverse both the realm of the living and the realm of the dead.  Among the quintessential liminal Gods in antiquity are Janus, the Roman God of doors and thresholds, and Hecate, the Greek Goddess of the crossroads.

With this basic understanding of liminality we can now explore the historical qualities of liminality in water.

Native British Examples

Even in the most mundane way, water possesses qualities of liminality, as its surface divides terra firma from the aquatic realm. Water’s liminal aspect was not lost on ancient peoples, and water-sites are among the most common locations of deposited votive offerings into rivers, lakes, bogs and wells. Finds throughout Celtic-speaking Europe suggest a widespread belief in water as a gateway to the ‘Otherworld’. This belief seems to predate the Celtic expansion, as many of the offerings stretch back as far as  the late Bronze Age[3]. Aquatic British finds are particularly common, with the river Thames being the site of several notable discoveries. The Waterloo Helmet, the Battersea Shield and the Wandsworth Shield were all dredged from the Thames and appear to have been placed deliberately as votive offerings.

In Old Hunstanton, Norfolk, a timber circle named “Seahenge” was discovered in what was once a salt marsh and is dated to the 21st century BCE. It consisted of a timber enclosure with a centrally located tree stump. This stump had been purposely flipped upside down, exposing the roots to the sky where the tree would have otherwise been, symbolically growing into the water and earth. Although Seahenge’s purpose is debated, Francis Pryor suggests that the upturned tree likely acted as an axis-mundi, a sacred centre which connected the terrestrial realm of the living to the aquatic realm of the dead[4]. This idea is found elsewhere in ancient religious symbolism, where trees, pillars and mountains were perceived as sacred centres and provided a means of communicating with the divine[5].

Another site which is suggestive of a native British belief in water-as-threshold, is Aquae Sulis. Located in what is now Bath, Somerset, Aquae Sulis was home to a thermal spring which locals believed possessed curative powers.  During the first century BCE, Aquae Sulis and the surrounding area was ruled by a Celtic tribe called the Dobunni who believed the spring was sacred to the Goddess, Sulis and made offerings to her in placation[6].  This practice continued into the Romano-British period, where Sulis was syncretised with Minerva.  Approximately 130 tablets have been found in the sacred spring of Sulis which petition the Goddess to exact curses on behalf of her devotees[7]. The curse requests range from disruption of a good night’s sleep, to bodily harm and eventual death.

While votive offerings left in bodies of water, holy wells and other aquatic cults can be found throughout the British Isles, this phenomenon is most pronounced in Wales. The Anglesey Hoard, found at Llyn Cerrig Bach, is easily one of the most impressive water deposits ever found in the United Kingdom.  Hidden within the peat were swords, spears, daggers, scabbards, shields, chariot harnesses and fittings, animal bones, two bronze cauldrons, a trumpet, iron chains and bars used for currency[8]. This shows a clear continuum of practice and suggests a liminal regard for water that was widespread throughout the Isles.

While this does not constitute the totality of water-related deposits or lore found in either Wales, England, Scotland or Ireland, it is beyond the scope of this article to cover the plethora of sites and folklore in-depth. Suffice to say, the aforementioned examples are not isolated incidences and are suggestive of a larger, widespread cult practice that has existed in Britain for millennia prior to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons.

Southern Scandinavian and Germanic Examples

Water being viewed as a threshold to the ‘other’ is not restricted to Celtic-speaking people, or proto-Celtic areas, however.  A number of deposits have been found in Denmark, which suggest a shared conception of liminality.  Peat bogs in particular seem to have held a special significance and votive deposits appear to stretch as far back as the Neolithic period.  Ceramic vessels filled with food, sacrificial animal remains and axe-heads were counted among those things deposited in Danish bodies of water. Pots containing foodstuffs were  typically found in open bodies of water, whereas the ritual deposition of axe-heads seems isolated to peat bogs[9].  The Bronze Age saw an upsurge in ritual depositions of a more refined type. The lurs, discovered in 1797 at Brudevælte Mose in northern Zealand, exemplify the grandiose deposits associated with Bronze Age peat bog finds[10].

The period directly preceding the Roman Iron Age and the Iron Age itself had their share of peat bog deposits. Zealand is a place of particular importance to this study, as there are a number of scholars, including Chadwick and Davidson, who believe Zealand was the site where Tacitus’ account of Nerthuz occurred. In his Germania, Tacitus describes Nerthuz, an Earth-Mother deity worshipped by the Suebic tribes. In his account, the Goddess’s likeness makes its rounds on a wagon and during this period, men do not take up arms, instead feasting and rejoicing in her presence. At the very end of his account, things take a less joyous turn as Tacitus describes the ritual washing of her effigy by slaves, who are subsequently drowned as sacrifices[11]. This piece of evidence is of particular importance, as Tacitus lists the ‘Anglii’ (the Angles) among the tribes who worshipped Nerthuz.  Considering the Angles were among the three predominant Germanic tribes who settled post-Roman Britain, it is possible this idea of water-as-gateway traveled with them.

In terms of distinctly Anglo-Saxon examples, we have little to work with. Though we are lacking in the votive deposits common in pre-Germanic Britain and southern Scandinavia, we can still observe like ideas in Beowulf.

In Beowulf, the water plays a key role in dividing the land of living men from Grendel’s aquatic underworld. According to Lecouteux, Grendel fits all of the criteria of being a revenant. Grendel emerges from the fens and marshes, is larger and weighs more than any man, devours the living and emerges at night.The fact that Beowulf also feels the need to decapitate Grendel after he is already dead also fits with European revenant lore. Lecouteux draws parallels between this idea of the dead returning from the marshes and Tacitus’ earlier account of criminals being cast into bogs as punishment or as sacrifice.

Discoveries of cadavers in the peat bogs of Jutland and northern Germany confirm this fact and show that the return of these dead men was particularly dreaded. Out of the twenty-one bodies collected at these sites, four had been impaled inside the pit, four others may well have been, and one had its head shattered and wrapped in linen[12].

This idea of the dead emerging from bogs and marshes is suggestive of a belief in water as a gateway and, as Lecouteux rightly points out, may have travelled with the Anglo-Saxons from their former home on the Danish peninsula.

Grendel’s Mother’s lair is also found at the bottom of a lake and as such, Beowulf must penetrate the surface in order to reach her realm. This realm is referenced as ‘ælwihta eard’, or all-creatures land, which suggests it is dark, paranormal place, apart from the land of living men[13]. Beowulf’s battle with Grendel’s Mother, which takes place beneath the surface of the lake, adheres to the physics of fighting on land. This too is suggestive of an alternate reality reached through a watery threshold. It takes the titular hero the better part of a day to reach the bottom of the lake – a lake which we might conclude is actually the Underworld. 

As with Grendel, Grendel’s Mother cannot be harmed with conventional iron weaponry, a common trait in revenant lore. Only with the assistance of an heirloom sword, ealdsweord eotenisc , or “the work of giants”, is he able to decapitate Grendel’s Mother and win the day.

Post-Conversion Survivals

Now that we have covered, albeit briefly, pre-Christian examples of water liminality, we can move onto post-conversion survivals. Surprisingly, after the adoption of Christianity, the practice of well and spring worship did not cease and was instead preserved through the worship of saints. Holy wells and sacred springs played an integral role in the hagiography of the saints, who acted as replacements for preexisting deities connected to those locations.  People still visit holy wells throughout the United Kingdom to benefit from their curative properties, leaving coins, pins and rags as votive offerings. This idea of do ut des via votive offerings can still be seen in the concept of ‘wishing wells’ and fountains, where pennies are offered in exchange for wishes granted by a supposed power which dwells in the water According to a study conducted by a marketing agency called, Teamspirit, one in five adults regularly throws change into wishing wells and fountains. According to their calculations, western people spend just under 3 million pounds sterling (3738000 USD) each year, which works out to 31 pence ( roughly 50 cents American) per person[14].

Another survival of importance is that of well dressing, as is practised in Derbyshire and Staffordshire into the modern era. While there is no consensus as to the origins of this particular tradition, there are those who suspect it began in pre-Christian times as a decorative offering to the Gods[15]. In well dressing, flower petals, beans, seeds, mosses, berries, lichen, bark  and small tree-cones are used to create mosaic images which are pasted onto wooden frames covered in a soft clay. The finished mosaic is then affixed to a particular well or spring, where the (typically Christian) images can be viewed by all in the community[16]. In A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Christina Hole provides a detailed description of well dressing and its possible origins.

Springs and wells have always been venerated, from exceedingly remote times onward, because water is a basic necessity of life, and to our forefathers it seemed a mysterious and spirit-haunted thing. A lively spring which brought fertility to the land where it flowed, and to men and beasts who depended upon that land, was once almost universally supposed to be the dwelling place of some powerful spirit to whom prayer and sacrifice were due.”

Water being considered awe inspiring and a separator of realities has not disappeared in modern times, instead evolving and flowing like the water itself.

Contemporary Fyrnsidu Praxis: A Conclusion


In this final section, we will attempt to tie the previously mentioned ideas of water liminality to contemporary Fyrnsidu practice.

In our explorations, we established that the conception of water-as-threshold was not limited to Celtic-speaking peoples, as is usually accepted by modern Heathens. The ancient people of Southern Scandinavia observed a similar practice and this practice appears to have followed their descendents as they migrated to England.

Considering the extent to which well and spring cults survived and flourished throughout the subsequent centuries, even in areas where the native British population were not known to have kept a foothold, we can posit that the Anglo-Saxon migrants either adopted the belief or had a shared belief in the liminality of water of their own.  

As modern practitioners, this leads to the question of how we can incorporate this belief into contemporary praxis. If we are to accept water as being the doorway to which the ‘other’ is accessed, then placing a prominent water deity in a liminal / chthonic role, akin to Roman Janus, would be most appropriate. In the theology of the Lārhūs’, Wada oversees all bodies of water, great and small. It is for this reason that we have placed him in a position of liminality, where he can be invoked at the beginning and end of each ritual as divine gatekeeper. Working in tandem with Frīg as hearth-Goddess, this role provides a much-needed service of intermediation on behalf of the devotee, where Wada is invoked to “open the gates” between our world and the next and Frīg ferries the offering to its intended recipients.

It is also obvious from the information gathered in this work, that votive offerings placed into bodies of water are indeed appropriate for the Fyrnsidu practitioner, especially when dealing with deities associated with liminality or the underworld.

In conclusion, liminality as it pertains to the water \ chthonic cults survived massive cultural changes and religious conversion in England. As such, it has been made an integral part of contemporary Fyrnsidu praxis according to the Lārhūs Fyrnsida and will continue to evolve and inform conceptions of liminality and the Underworld as we progress as a distinct religious expression.

seahenge2
Seahenge

[1]Oxford English Dictionary
[2] Joseph Henderson, in Jung 1978, 152
[3] Cunliffe, Barry (1997). The Ancient Celts. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. p. 194.
[4]Britain B.C: Neolithic & Bronze Age henges, tombs and dwellings
[5] Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrandt. A Dictionary of Symbols. Penguin Books: London, 1996. pp.61-63, 173-175
[6] Cunliffe, Barry. The Roman Baths at Bath
[7] Wilson, Roger (1988). A guide to the Roman remains in Britain. p. 109.
[8]Janet and Colin Bord, Sacred Waters: Holy Wells and Water Lore in Britain and Ireland, 1985
[9] Ritual and Domestic Life in Prehistoric Europe, Richard Bradley
[10]http://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-bronze-age/the-lurs-of-the-bronze-age/the-lurs-from-brudevaelte/
[11] The Germania, Tacitus
[12]Lecouteux, Claude. The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind (2009). Inner Traditions International
[13]http://www.uky.edu/~kiernan/iconic/GrendelesHeroicMother.htm#2
[14]http://uk.reuters.com/article/oukoe-uk-britain-wish-idUKL2825321520061130
[15] Christian, Roy (1976). The Peak District. British Topographical Series. David & Charles. pp. 206–7
[16] Hole, Christina. A Dictionary of British Folk Customs

Concerning Mægen

In the following article we will explore the concept of mægen, comparing it to similar, metaphysical concepts in order to glean a more rounded understanding of how it might be understood by modern practitioners of Fyrnsidu.


MÆGEN
 (neuter noun)
MAIN, might, strength, force, power, vigour, efficacy, virtue, faculty, ability[1]


Within the Old English corpus, mægen is used to convey both
physical and metaphysical force. Modern scholars have typically employed ‘luck’ as a gloss for mægen when attempting to find suitable modern vernacular, and in so doing, reduced mægen’s definition to that of a fortuitous happenstance.

In his seminal work, We Are Our deeds, Eric Wōdening digs deeply into mægen as a metaphysical concept and explains it thusly:

“At the very least we know all living things possess it, from bugs to men to gods (the asmegin, which Þunor has in abundance). Mægen could be transferred from person to person; hence we see kings lending their men spēd (another word for mægen) before they went on any important venture. A man could also lose mægen through various circumstances. Finally, mægen could be manipulated through the various metaphysical arts, such as galdor and seiðr.”[2]

Drawing on this view of mægen as a pervasive, metaphysical force, we are now able to extract from comparable concepts such as Iroquois orenda, Polynesian mana, and Chinese qi, to explicate mægen as an important facet of the Anglo-Saxon religion.

Orenda

In Iroquoian and Huron religions, orenda  is the spiritual force inherent in all things. It pervades both the animate and inanimate, and all activities in nature were seen as the  “ceaseless struggle of one orenda against another, uttered and directed by the beings or bodies of his environment.”[3] Orenda is the power behind divination and prophecy, as well as blessings and curses. A seer or shaman with a wealth of inherent orenda was more adept at casting spells and warding against malefic entities. Likewise, a hunter with strong orenda was able to overcome his prey if the creature in question’s orenda was lesser.  Natural phenomena also possessed orenda, as storms were said to be the consequence of orenda exerting itself. Otgon is the term applied to orenda when it is used with malicious, malign intent.

“That life is a property of everybody whatsoever — inclusive of the rocks, the waters, the tides, the plants and the trees, the animals and man, the wind and the storms, the clouds and the thunders and the lightnings, the swift meteors, the benign light of day, the sinister night, the sun and the moon, the bright stars, the earth and the mountains thereof — is a postulate fundamental to the cosmologic philosophy of savage man ; and, as a concomitant with this, primeval man made the further assumption that in every body of his self-centered cosmos inheres immanently a mystic potence of diverse efficiency and purpose, by the exercise of which the body puts its will into effect, and which sometimes acts independently, and even adversely, to the well-being of its director or possessor.” [4]

Mana

It should be noted, because mana is attached to a variety of different peoples with differing theological beliefs, it is beyond the scope of this article to touch on each and every variation individually. For simplicity’s sake, we will give a blanket overview, based on mana’s shared attributes among Polynesian peoples.

In Austronesian languages, mana is defined as ‘power, prestige or effectiveness’, and is the spiritual force which exists in the universe. Like orenda, mana is not limited to persons, as inanimate objects, governing bodies and places can also possess mana.  For instance, the Hawaiian island of Molokaʻi is said to possess an abundance of mana, and many battles were fought between tribes in an attempt to obtain it.

Mana can also be received through deed and action[5], as well as through warfare, birth and sex. Joan Metge describes one’s mana as a “lake filled by several streams”, in which each stream is representative of a different means of obtaining more mana.[6]

“Mana was the practical force of the kawai tipuna at work in everyday matters. In the Maori world virtually every activity, ceremonial or otherwise has a link with the maintenance and enhancement of mana.”[7]

In Melanesian culture, mana can be gifted within inanimate objects which are imbued with mana through magical means.  If a successful hunter gives an amulet as a gift, the recipient is believed to receive a portion of their luck and vigour[8]. In this way we can identify similarities between Melanesian exchanges and underlying reasons behind the Germanic gift-cycle.

Qi

In traditional Chinese culture, qi is the active life-force or flow of energy that permeates all things and transforms the cosmos into a cohesive, functioning mechanism. Through careful practice and advanced learning, one could succeed in extending their qi, projecting it from the body.

The Chinese philosopher, Mo Di likened qi to a vapour, which could be emitted from the body and visibly manifested in clouds. He also suggested that a person’s qi needed protecting from the elements and could be maintained through adequate nutrition. The Confucian school produced a number of philosophers who tackled the concept of qi. Most notable among them was Mencius, who suggested exercise of moral capacities could enhance qi, while external forces could damage or diminish qi.[9]

Yuan qi is the vital principle inherited at birth, according to Chinese medicine. The yuan qi one is born with is considered finite and exhaustible. According to Manfred Porkert, this vital essence can be conserved, but will ultimately be exhausted at the culmination of a life.[10] In this we can draw a comparison between qi and mægen, as well as qi and the Anglo-Saxon concept of orlǣg.

“Heaven (seen here as the ultimate source of all being) falls (duo , i.e., descends into proto-immanence) as the formless. Fleeting, fluttering, penetrating, amorphous it is, and so it is called the Supreme Luminary. The dao begins in the Void Brightening. The Void Brightening produces the universe (yu-zhou). The universe produces qi.”[11]

Conclusion: Understanding Mægen

Although this does not represent an exhaustive list of like-concepts, it certainly serves to provide a foundational understanding of mægen through comparative study. Core attributes that we see in qi or mana, we also see in Hindu prana and the Stoic conception of pneuma, which is suggestive of a base universality in terms of a pervasive metaphysical force.

In Fyrnsidu, this metaphysical force manifests as a form of a “might” or “power”, which can be increased through renown and deed, similar to the Maori concept of mana. Mægen can also be increased through the exchange of gifts, through offering (do ut des) to the holy powers and through association with individuals or groups who possess mægen in abundance. As in yuan qi, mægen can be inherited. Ones mægen at birth is determined by the collective mægen of the family one is born into. Likewise, naming an infant after a lord or warrior whose mægen was plentiful may also impart some of that mægen, with the name becoming a gift unto itself.  

Mægen can be lost through misdeeds, or direct association with those who commit them. Poor rapport with the Gods, or offerings that are not well-received by them can result in loss of mægen as well. A man or a tribe who is rich in mægen will find success, good fortune and renown, while the opposite can be said for those lacking in sufficient mægen.

Bearing this in mind, we can view mægen as the exerting force underlying all action within Fyrnsidu. Offerings are made to the Gods, the Gods return blessings in the form of mægen, the mægen produces fortuitous outcome and we repeat this process for further blessings. Such is the gifting-cycle.


[1] Bosworth, Joseph. “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online.” MÆGEN. Ed. Thomas Northcote Toller and Others. Comp. Sean Christ and Ondřej Tichý. Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 23 Feb. 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2017.
[2] Wōdening, Eric. “We Are Our Deeds: The Elder Heathenry, Its Ethic and Thew.” White Marsh Press, Baltimore Mariland. Second Edition 2011.
[3] Hewitt, J. N. B. (1902). “Orenda and a Definition of Religion”.40 AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST [n. s., 4, 1902
[4]Hewitt, J. N. B. (1902). “Orenda and a Definition of Religion”. American Anthropologist.
[5] http://www.maori.org.nz/tikanga/default.php?pid=sp98&parent=95
[6] Joan Metge In and Out of Touch: Whakama in a Cross Cultural Context (Victoria University Press, Wellington, 1986) 68 [In and Out of Touch]
[7]https://web.archive.org/web/20100522222543/http://www.justice.govt.nz/publications/global-publications/h/he-hinatore-ki-te-ao-maori-a-glimpse-into-the-maori-world/part-1-traditional-maori-concepts/mana-and-tapu#171
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mana#In_general_usage
[9] Lau, D. C. (2003). Mencius (Revised ed.). Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.
[10] Porkert, The Theoretical Foundations of Chinese Medicine MIT Press (1974)
[11] Huai-nan-zi, 3:1a/19

 

Wyrtlar: Stonecrop

Stonecrops (Sedum spp.) are a hardy type of ground-cover succulent, native to Eurasia. There are also two species of stonecrop (Sedum lanceolatum and Sedum divergens) native to North America.

The name ‘stonecrop’ descends directly from Old English ‘stāncrop’, and is referenced once in Bald’s Leechbook, once in the Herbarium and twice in the Lacnunga MS. References to ‘stāncrop’ are typically thought to refer mainly to sedum acre (a short, densely-leaved varietal), though there is speculation that ‘stāncrop’ was used as a gloss for creeping jenny as well.

In Lacnunga (143), stonecrop is listed as an ingredient in the treatment of babesiosis in sheep.

“If sheep be afflicted, and against sudden murrain: black hellebore, lupin, wolf’s comb, fennel, stonecrop; make them into dust; put it into holy water; pour it into the afflicted sheep and sprinkle on others three times.”

In Lacnunga (178), the seed of stonecrop is listed as an ingredient in the treatment for a whole host of ailments, including; rash, inability to urinate , cramps and dizziness.

In The Herbarium Manuscript V (139) it is referred to as ‘aizos’, where it is said to cure headaches, pain of the eyes, foot disease, serpent bite, diarrhoea, flux of the innards and intestinal worms.

“This plant which one calls ‘aizos minor’ and by another name… is produced on paths and in stony places and on hills, and on old burial mounds, and from one root it sends out many small boughs and they are full of leaves, small and long and sharp and broad and very juicy; and this plant’s root is useless.”

In Bald’s Leechbook (67), stonecrop is prescribed for ‘devilsickness’, where it is put into a mixture of holy water and ale.

“Again hassock, hawthorn, stonecrop, lupin, fennel, boarthroat, cropleek, pour out likewise.”

The most common uses for stonecrop in the Old English medical manuscripts is for stomach ailments, ulcers/rash and scurvy. Stonecrop is high in both vitamin A and vitamin C, so its use in treating scurvy certainly has merit.

The Romans,too, utilized stonecrop for medicinal purposes. In Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, several varietals of stonecrop are listed as treatment for headaches, goitre, herpes, gangrenous ulceration of the cheeks, inflammation of the eyes, burns, gout, spider bites, roundworm, dysentery, diarrhoea, excessive menstrual flow and weak eyes.

There seems to be a third kind of sempervivum that has little leaves, thicker, similar to those of portulaca, and rough. It grows among rocks. It is warming, sharp, and ulcerating, dissolving tumours applied with goose grease. It is also called portulaca agrestis, or telephium, and the Romans call it illecebra.”

Stonecrop was also used by the Natives of Western Canada for similar ailments, suggesting its efficacy. The First Nations people of British Columbia ate the leaves both raw and cooked  as treatment for diarrhoea and used the stems and leaves on wounds, ulcers, minor burns, insect bites and for general skin irritation. The juicy leaves were also used as a source of liquid when fresh water was scarce.

As with other succulents, stonecrop was seen as being able to protect against lightning strikes when planted upon a roof.

24f8fc93c08bff45ed7149cc06351b84


Sources:

Stephen Pollington, Leechcraft: Early English Charms Plantlore and Healing

Bald’s Leechbook

The Herbarium

The Lacnunga Manuscript

Pedanius Dioscorides (trans. Tess Anne Osbaldeston), De Materia Medica

Lone Pine Publishing, Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada

Civility and Criticism

It has been ages since I’ve written on here, and to my adoring public (all 3 of you), I do apologise. You’ve probably suffered many a restless night in my absence, wondering what had become of me.

Marcus and I have been revamping the Lārhūs Fyrnsida website and working on a corresponding curriculum, hence my relative inactivity here and elsewhere.

Now, onto the topic at hand.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of civility and proselytisation  lately. If there is one thing that reconstructionists, like myself, are regularly accused of , it’s incivility. We correct, criticise and are generally argumentative folks. While I agree that civility is good and is sometimes (read: often)  lacking in Heathen discourse, I think it’s important to understand the why of civility. In a Heathen context, incivility puts undue stress on the Hearth, the Sibbe, the Folc and colours your reputation and those associated with you accordingly. To be Heathen is to remember you do not act alone.

But there is a fine line between incivility and perceived incivility. One of the most frequent retorts I’ve seen to criticism is “you can’t judge me,” or that judgement is in some way an uncivil thing to do. Heathens judge people, we judge people based on their actions and practices using accepted ritual action and tradition as a metric. We rely heavily on reputation and the judgement calls associated with a person’s or group’s reputation. If a person’s luck seems bad, or their practices are completely at odds with ideas of purity, sacrality, whatever, does it not make sense to make a judgement and distance yourself accordingly?

The second common statement I see is, “if you criticise people, they will leave Heathenry.” I have very mixed feelings about a statement like this one. As Heathens, we aren’t really out there on a mission to save souls and preach the gospel according to the Gods, or something. Yes, I want to see better Heathens appear and grow, but I think a part of growth is accepting that you don’t know everything and that others might know more than you. As the Yogi, Sadhguru said in one of his lectures, “You will know your guru because he will not agree with you and push you into places that make you uncomfortable.” I’m paraphrasing there, but that was the general idea, anyway and I wholeheartedly agree with it. It’s quality over quantity with regard to new Heathens, at least in my mind.

So where am I going with this? I guess I’m saying that civility is good and cohesion and order are good, but criticism and judgement are not what I’d consider uncivil. Quite the contrary, really. Criticism and judgement are both inherent to Heathen ideas of reputation and educational growth respectively.

But hey, you don’t need to listen to me, maybe I’m not your Guru.

My Gēol

Well, another Gēola has come and gone and the world is born anew.  Family was seen, foods were eaten, gifts were exchanged and elements were braved. Everything considered, it was a good, albeit busy, holiday season.

Although I worked late into the evening of the 20th, I still managed to find time to make my yearly Modraniht offering to the Idesa (the ancestral Mothers). When I do my rituals, I tend to plan and get into the right mindset beforehand, but due to time constraints, things were a little more rushed and haphazard than I typically would have liked. Such is the plight of the modern devotee, I suppose.

On the 24th, I made offering to our Hearth-Patroness, Frīg-Heorþweard. This, unlike the offering on the 20th, went very smoothly and I felt as if it was well-received.

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The following two days were a blur of visits and hearty meals. My mother prepared duck for our visit with her, as she does every year, which was a highlight. There are few things I enjoy eating more than a well-prepared duck during the holidays. 

As I had the remainder of the week off work, I spent it relaxing and watching documentaries about dinosaurs (I’m cool like that). My wife had to work, so there wasn’t much else to do, if I’m honest. I did however make a trip into Toronto to meet up with friend and fellow Lārwitan, Marcus Armenius, who was visiting from Buffalo, NY. Conversation was had and strange Hungarian-Thai fusion foods were consumed. It was certainly nice to be able to connect with him in the real world.

On this final night of Gēola, we made our annual pot of wassail.

While traditonal wassail contained alcohol,  we always opt for a non-alcoholic, local cider, since we don’t really drink all that often.  We boil it in a pot with some cranberries, cinnamon sticks,  cinnamon powder, star anise, black and green cardamom pods, cloves and nutmeg. Last year we added a squeeze of lemon for a hint of tanginess, but I forgot to do that this year. Once it comes to a rolling boil, we turn it down to simmer and serve. The longer it simmers, the more flavourful it becomes.

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And with that said, it’s time to begin again and step out into a bright, new year. May this cycle be even more prosperous than the last.

Seaxlēoþ

Upon sea-mount comes he
seax-kin, sword-kin

A name celebrated
In the bones and barrow

On spear’s edge tossed,
this wave-washed warrior

Salt-tempered son,
upon Seaxland shores strode he

Wilderness tamed,
heathlands hewn and harvested

Earth worked and tilled,
by iron-hard hands

And with iron-hard might,
bodies lay broken, blade-bitten

Cleaved wide by stony-edge,
Seaxnēat’s war-work wrought