Of Wuduwāsan and Wild Men

The “wild man” is a folkloric figure who appears often as a motif in medieval European artworks and literature.  In these depictions, he is frequently portrayed as hirsute, brutish and uncivilized, attributes which lend themselves well to the “wild man” moniker. While there are many theories as to the origins of the wild man motif, the possible connections to earlier, pagan genii (deities or guardian spirits of a person, place, etc.)[1] is of paramount importance here.

Wuduwāsa (Middle English: wodwo, Modern English: Woodwose) is a word employed in several Old English vocabularies as a gloss for a satyr, faun and silvanus.  The wudu element of the compound corresponds to the Old English word for ‘wood’, while wāsa is of an unknown etymological origin[2].  While the etymology may not provide us with much in the way of clues pertaining to the wuduwāsa’s (pl: wuduwāsan) pagan origins, we may be able to glean more insight into their pre-Christian character through studying similar beings and their role in their respective religious traditions.


Satyrs and Fauni

In the Greek religion, satyrs were a group of beings which accompanied their leader, Silenus and the God, Dionysos in their bacchanalian processions. Their connections to fertility were clearly illustrated by their large, permanently erect penises[3], ram’s horns and in the earliest depictions, their goat/horse-like hooves and tails.  As Dionysian beings, satyrs are said to be fond of the physical pleasures of the world, revelling in sex, drink and music. Satyrs are often depicted alongside the maenads, who they vociferously pursue in an attempt to satisfy their lust.  Though this act appears at first glance as playful freedom, Sheila McNally suggests that this was not the case, quoting several depictions where the lustful satyr is rebuffed by a hostile maenad, or where the maenad is effectively abducted and raped by her pursuer.

“In an art full of eroticism and abduction sexual conflict is rare, and Dionysiac revelry produces most of it. The supposed release gives rise to unparalleled tensions. We might conclude that the Greeks felt the most natural sexual relationship to be one of hostility, only restrained by the contracts of civilization. The depictions of conflict between satyr and maenad are not, however, ubiquitous enough to support that interpretation. They are limited to specific situations and reach a climax at one period: the end of archaic and beginning of classical art. There are two probable reasons why the deviation has not been adequately examined. In the first place, the evidence consists solely of scenes in art. In literature hostility may be directed from outside toward Dionysos or his followers, but they do not fight among themselves. In the second place, even among works of art the scenes of conflict are the exception, not the rule. The most striking examples are a few red-figure vase paintings executed between 500 and 470 B.C. The majority of Dionysiac scenes are indeed as carefree as one could wish.”[4]

Satyrs are commonly depicted holding a thyrsos, a large stalk of fennel topped with a pine cone associated with Dionysos. According to Ioannis Kakridis, the thyrsos acted as a symbol of phallic fertility and hedonism, with the stalk being representative of the shaft and the pine cone being the “seed”[5].

In Roman religion, fauns were half-man, half-goat beings of a particularly amoral disposition. Unlike their Greek counterparts, fauns were less sex-crazed and more prone to trickery and deceit. In Republican era ideology, fauni are representative of pastoral life and the farmer, via Virgil’s works- the
numina of rustic peoples.

In Aeneid Books VIII-XII, woodland fauns are represented as being born from the trunks of trees and from hard oak. In this depiction, the fauns are associated with pre-agrarianism and pre-civilization and Virgil refers to them as indigenae “indigenous inhabitants”, suggesting that belief in fauni was both ancient and indigenous[6].

“These woods were first the seat of sylvan pow’rs,
Of Nymphs and Fauns, and salvage men, who took
Their birth from trunks of trees and stubborn oak.
Nor laws they knew, nor manners, nor the care
Of lab’ring oxen, or the shining share,
Nor arts of gain, nor what they gain’d to spare.
Their exercise the chase; the running flood
Supplied their thirst, the trees supplied their food.”[7]

In the Republican-era, fauni appear as disembodied voices that echo within the natural and rural landscape.  Regarding this interesting quality, Di-Giusto posits that it may be evidence of fauni belonging to a “higher class of divinity”, invisible to those who encounter them, and perhaps more akin to the spirits of the place.[6].

Fauni were associated with Faunus, God of woods, plains and fields, presenting a juxtaposed image to that of Greek satyrs and Pan. While this particular tangent would serve as interesting reading material, it would likely do little to elucidate the character of wuduwāsan further. Suffice to say, Pan and Faunus were both deities who, like their followers (the satyrs and fauns respectively), represented fertility and rustic abundance. As a rustic deity, Pan was rarely worshipped indoors in man-made structures, but instead in caves and in grottoes[8].


Silvanus

Silvanus is the Roman tutelary God of forests and fields. As Roman society progressed, Silvanus went from being the menacing God of unreclaimed wild spaces on the fringes of society to that of woodland pastures, gardens, boundaries, villas and parks[9].  Silvanus’ role as a God of the natural landscape and its inherent fertility is also illustrated through his syncretism with Faunus, both of which possess goat and lupine theriomorphic tendencies. Faunus’ lupine nature is asserted by Ovid, who suggests Pan/Faunus as the central figure of the earliest Lupercalia celebrations[10].  

Silvanus’ iconography is difficult to pin down given its changeability and fluid nature. P. Dorsey states that “Ancient deities were complex religious entities with many seemingly unrelated or contradictory sides, overlapping more often than not with those of other divinities.” [11]

Roman engineer Dolabella stated that Silvanus was the deity responsible for setting up the first boundary markers used to delineate the organized farmland from the wilderness outside. He also indicated that each estate was home to three Silvani, suggesting a plurality as opposed to a singular deity. A Silvanus Domesticus (Silvanus of the home), Silvanus Agrestis (Silvanus of flocks and farmstead) and Silvanus Orientalis (Silvanus of the estate boundary) are listed as the genii loci who preside over the typical Roman homestead[12].

Silvanus Orientalis was given the title of salutaris, or “salutary”, because he was considered a benefactor of the home.  He is the spirit of the forest, the silva, and likely the multitudes of beings that dwell within it, as the Indo-European suffix -no implies sovereignty[13].

His functions are implied in the many epithets associated with his name. Pecudifer, Lactifer, Glandifer, Poncifer, Cannabifer, Linifer mean, respectively, “He who encourages the reproduction of flocks,” “He who produces milk,” “He who produces acorns,” “He who produces fruits,” “He who makes the hemp grow,” and “He who makes the trees grow”[14].  In his Etymologiae, Isidore of Seville gives him the name rusticorum deus, or “God of the peasants.”

In Latin works, Silvanus is regularly depicted as a kindly, bearded old man who carries the trunk of a cyprus tree[15]. This depiction is mirrored in medieval and Renaissance images of woodwose who are regularly depicted carrying clubs or the uprooted trunk of a tree.

Leshy

The nature sprite of Slavic folklore combines both anthropomorphic and demonic traits, manifesting as a very large or very short, hairy man akin to the woodwose[16].  In some depictions, the leshy (Russian: Ле́ший, Belarusian: Лешы, Polish: Leszy, Czech: Leši, Serbian: Лешиј, Croatian: Lešij, Leši) [17] appears with goat legs and hooves, reminiscent of Roman Faunus.  In others he is depicted as an old, grey-bearded man dressed in a white or in a coniferous green cloak[18].  Leshy are shapeshifters, able to transmute in size and shape at will- transforming into both bird and beast. They are exceedingly territorial, with felled trees and frightened animals considered the result of their calamitous territorial disputes[19].  Each tract of woodland is thought to be home to a single male leshy and his family. Similar to the of the fauni, leshy are frequently encountered as disembodied voices in the forest, but are seldom seen, which is suggestive of an incorporeal entity as opposed to that of a corporeal one[20].

Leshy are avid tricksters and, like the fauni, are known to lead hapless travellers astray. While this might suggest an inherent malevolence, this view is tempered by stories of leshy shepherding woodland creatures, protecting them from hunters and striking mutually beneficial deals with humans who rely on the forest’s bounty. If the human end of the deals are met, the leshy would help the hunters trap animals, keep watch over beekeeper’s hollow logs and protect shepherd’s flocks and ensure the health of cattle[21].  Wolves and bears are often among the leshy’s entourage and, like the woodwose, they are said to carry clubs representative of his rulership over the forest[22].


The Medieval Woodwose

By the twelfth century, the woodwose became a common fixture of roof bosses and as supporters of German coats-of-arms. In Lombardy, woodwose were referred to as salvan, or salvang, both of which are derivatives of Latin, Silvanus. In Tyrol and German-speaking Switzerland, the wild man was known as Fange or Fanke, which derive their name from a feminine form of faun[23].

Dorothy Yamamoto demonstrates that the Medieval wild man was the embodiment of fears pertaining to cultivated space of mankind and the wilderness beyond it.

“In the wild man the dividing line between the centre and the periphery seems to have vanished altogether. How can the prevailing discourse cope with him? The region he inhabits has always been one of absorbed speculation, and also of profound anxiety, since his presence within culture suggests that the membrane between humanness and otherness is frighteningly permeable- that there might, in fact, be circumstances in which men might lose their humanity, and revert, or sink, to the level of beasts”[24].

There are several later folk traditions which may have been remnants of an earlier, pagan practice. In Grisons, Switzerland, peasants reenacted the capture and binding of the “wild man”, demanding his secrets in exchange for his freedom. This practice is reflected in earlier accounts relayed by Xenophon, Ovid, Pausanias, and Claudius Aelianus, where shepherds captured Silenus or Faunus for much the same purpose.[25]

Conclusion

Now that we have explored lore pertaining to satyrs, fauni, Silvanus, leshy and woodwose, we can attempt to piece together a completed picture of what the Anglo-Saxon wuduwāsa may have looked like, and how they might be incorporated into modern Fyrnsidu practice.

Based on the examples above, we can posit the role of wuduwāsan as that of genii loci of both boundaries and of wild, uncultivated space. Based on comparisons to satyrs, fauni and later depictions of woodwose, the wuduwāsa was likely thought of as hirsute, or bestial in appearance, able to assume the form of various woodland creatures. Wuduwāsan were also likely able to change their size at will, or disappear completely, becoming nothing more than a disembodied voice.

Wuduwāsan were deities associated with fertility, via their associations with Silvanus and the Dionysian procession – a comparison which is suggestive of an unbridled, unpredictable nature.  As amoral beings concerned more with the well-being of woodland creatures than of men, the wuduwāsa should be approached with prudence.  While entering into a reciprocal relationship with the local wuduwāsa is likely possible, as is illustrated in fauni and leshy lore, the risks of angering the one may outweigh the potential gains.

If offerings are to be left for wuduwāsan, it may be advisable to stick to those propitiatory sacrifices typically associated with Silvanus, such as: grapes, ears of grain, milk, meat, wine and pork[26].  These sacrifices should be left in wild, liminal spaces like caves, grottoes or the hollows of trees – preferably oak or pine.  Due to the leshy and Silvanus’ role as protectors of cattle, offerings of beef might be ill-advised.

While it may be unwise to assume a singular, Anglo-Saxon deity akin to Pan, Faunus, or Silvanus, given the evidence above, accepting a broader group of woodland genii loci, based on comparative study, and survival of the later medieval woodwose is more tenable.

Vischer_Wilder_Mann

 



[1]
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/genius#Latin
[2] Bosworth, Joseph. “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online.” Wudu-wása. Ed. Thomas Northcote Toller and Others. Comp. Sean Christ and Ondřej Tichý. Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 13 May 2017.
[3] Dictionary of Greek Mythology by Hellenica.
[4] McNally, Sheila. The Maenad in Early Greek Art
[5] Kakridis, Ioannis. Ελληνική μυθολογία Εκδοτική Αθηνών 1987
[6] Di-Giusto, Tammy. Faunus and the Fauns in Latin Literature of the Republic and Early Empire. University of Adelaide, Discipline of Classics. Faculty of Arts. October 2015.
[7]http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/aeneid.8.viii.html
[8] Horbury, William (1992). Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press
[9] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Silvanus-Roman-god
[10] Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 1.32.3–5, 1.80
[11] Dorsey, Peter. The Cult of Silvanus: A Study in Roman Folk Religion. (1992)
[12] Dolabella. ex libris Dolabellae, in “Die Schriften der rômischen Feldmesser”, edited by Karl Lachmann, Georg Reimer ed., Berlin, 1848
[13] Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices. (pp.50)
[14] Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices. (pp.51)
[15] Virgil. Georgics I.20-1
[16] Anglickienė, Laima . Slavic Folklore DIDACTICAL GUIDELINES (pp.137)
[17] Krinichnaya, Neonila Artyomovna. (2004) Русская мифология: Мир образов фольклора [Russian Mythology: The World of Folklore Images]. Akademicheskii Proyekt. Moscow. ch. 3, “Leshy: Totemic origins and the polysemy of images”
[18] Anglickienė, Laima . Slavic Folklore DIDACTICAL GUIDELINES (pp.137)
[19] http://mythandlore.blogspot.ca/2012/04/leshy.html
[20] https://www.britannica.com/topic/leshy
[21] Anglickienė, Laima . Slavic Folklore DIDACTICAL GUIDELINES (pp.138)
[22] Green, Gary. The Slavic Pagan World:Slavic Pagan Beliefs, Gods, Myths, Recipes, Magic, Spells, Divinations, Remedies, Songs. (pp.121)
[23] Bernheimer, Richard . Wild men in the Middle Ages, Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1952; New York : Octagon books, 1979
[24] Yamamoto, Dorothy. The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature
[25] Bernheimer, Richard . Wild men in the Middle Ages, Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1952; New York : Octagon books, 1979. (pp.25)
[26] Horace. Epistles II.1.143

Concerning Dweorgas

In the following article we will examine Germanic dwarf lore and how these beings might fit into Fyrnsidu cosmology.

In Anglo-Saxon Sources

While dweorg/dweorh appears a number of times in Old English glossaries, the most significant example appears in the Lacnunga manuscript metrical charm, Wið Dweorh. The charm, which translates as Against a Dwarf is a ward against illnesses caused by dwarfs, which Edward Pettit equates with fever.[1]

The metrical charm is translated into modern English as follows.

“Take seven little wafers, such as those used in worship, and write these names on each wafer: Maximianus, Malchus, Iohannes, Martimianus, Dionisius, Constantinus, Serafion. Then sing the charm that is given, first in the left ear, then in the right ear, then over the top of the head. And then let a virgin go to him and hang it on his neck. And do this for three days. He will soon be better.

A spider-thing     came on the scene
with his cloak in his hand;     claiming you for his horse,
he put his cord on your neck.     Then they began to cast off from land;
as soon as they left the land     they nonetheless began to cool.
The beast’s sister     came on the scene;
she stopped it,     and swore these oaths:
that this should never     hurt the sick one,
nor any who tried     to take this charm,
nor any who should     speak this charm.
Amen. Fiat.”[2]

In this example, the dweorg is clearly a being of malefic intent who is capable of causing sickness and bodily harm to mortals. While Pettit’s assertion is that Dweorg is analogous with fever, Matthew C. G. Lewis argues it may constitute an entity which causes sleep paralysis, akin to the Germanic Mara (OE Mære).[3] Lewis speculates that the reference to a ‘spider-thing’ alludes to a binding feeling common to episodes of sleep paralysis. As this is an article dealing largely with the metaphysical aspects of the dwarf as it pertains to Fyrnsidu, we will not traverse further down this rabbit hole, suffice to say it elucidates possible characteristics and capabilities of dweorgas and like-entities as purveyors of physical oppression.

In Norse Sources

In Vǫluspá, dwarfs are described as being the product  of the bones of Blain and the blood of Brimir, both of which are considered bynames of the primordial giant, Ymir. In the Prose Edda, the connection to Ymir is more concrete, as the dwarfs are purported to be maggot-like creatures who grew in the flesh of the giant. Over 100 names are given for dwarfs in both Eddas, with four in particular being given a cosmological role as beings who hold up the sky and are named for the four cardinal directions. [4]

Depictions of dwarfs in Norse lore are often complex and confusing, with significant overlap occurring between dwarfs, elves, giants and trolls. Scholars have noted the similarities between dwarfs and Svartálfar (dark elves), as both are listed as residing in Svartálfaheimr, suggesting a coupling of sorts.[5]

This similarity is further established between elves and dwarfs by their shared propensity to cause ‘shot’, a type of malign, metaphysical pain. The term ylfa gescot (elf-shot) appears in Wið Færstice, an Anglo-Saxon metrical charm designed to ward against a ‘sudden stitch.’ This use of ‘shot’ appears to have been a shared Germanic concept, based on its inclusion in later German, Danish and Norwegian texts.  Alvskot (elf-shot), trollskot (troll-shot) and dvergskot (dwarf-shot) all appear in later Norwegian usage , effectively blurring the line between elf and dwarf and their perceived malefic abilities.[6]

Norse dwarfs, like their elfish counterparts, were frequently associated with the dead and liminality. In Ynglinga Saga, dwarfs are guardians of a doorway through a mountain which leads to the realm of Oðinn, a gateway which Lotte Motz suggests is a doorway between worlds.[7] Lecouteux corroborates this belief in dwarfs being related to the dead, suggesting that those who suffer a premature, violent or unusual death are likely to be transformed into revenants or dwarfs rather than elves.

“This last name refers to a very specific characteristic of dwarves: the sun blinds and petrifies them. Undoubtedly even more interesting are the names that clearly show that dwarves represent a mythical vision of the dead, or, at the very least, that they have a very close bond with the dead. Here are several of them: Dáinn (“Died”), Nár and Náinn (both meaning “Corpse”), Frosti (“Cold”), Funinn (“Decomposed”), Dvalinn (“Torpid”), Hornbori (“Pierced by a Horn”), Haugspori (“The One Who Enters the Burial Mound”) and Búinn (“Readyfor-Departure,” i.e., for burial). To this list we can also add Nýi (“Dark”) and Niði (“New Moon”), since this planetary body is that of the deceased, and Ái (“Ancestor”), which clearly indicates the transformation of the dead into dwarves. Furthermore, the natural habitat of the dwarves is the lithic realm, which is of course that of the deceased.” [8]

Continental and Later Medieval Sources

Nowhere was the image of the dwarf more diluted and confused than in continental Germanic folklore. It was there that the dwarf (OHG: twerg, twerc, MHG: twerc, zwerc) was used as a gloss for a number of supernatural beings. In the Middle High German glossaries, zwerc was used as an amalgam for wiht, schrat, pilwiz, pumilo, nanus/pygmaeus and pilosus. Due to the fact that zwerc and schrat were conflated and the word schrat itself subsumed incubus, succubus, silvanus/silenus, fanus/panes, larva, penates and satyrus, studying the unique features of the continental dwarf has become a laborious exercise.[9]

The comparisons to schrat and pilwiz are of particular interest here, as both can serve to buttress lore regarding dwarfs. In the most ancient glosses, schrat is glossed as larva and monstrum, or “dead one” and “revenant” respectively and as Lares mali, “evil Lares.”[10] These glosses are suggestive of a maleficent, or at least amoral genius loci, similar to the beings described in Wið Dweorh. They also corroborate Lecouteux’s claim that dwarfs were likely viewed as revenants who had died tragic or untimely deaths.

The comparison to pilwiz (MHG: Bilwiss , Bilwiz, MLG: Belewitte) also provides confirmation that dwarfs may have served as genii loci, or house spirits prior to their power being dimished by Christian writers.  In his lyrical poetry, Wolfram von Eschenbach refers to the Wilwis as an elf-like being able to shoot magic arrows called Bilwizschuß, “Bilwiz-shot” which can cause paralysis in humans. Grimm also provides the term pilbisbawm, or “Pilbis-tree”, a tree which is said to house an elfish genius loci.[11]

Like the dwarf, pilwiz was a term which held many meanings, depending on the time period and geographic location, though, As Lecouteux says of genii loci in Demons and Spirits of the Land, “their shape, names and appearances were protean, but their role, duties, and localization remained unchanged.”

Dwarfs in a Fyrnsidu Context

Now that we have explored pertinent Anglo-Saxon, Norse and continental dwarf lore, we are able to assemble a more complete image of dweorgas[*] and how they might be approached by practitioners of Fyrnsidu.  

As we saw in all three sections, dweorgas can be dangerous entities, possessing the ability to cause illness and paralysis by way of magic, if slighted. Dweorgas are also likely those who have suffered a premature or violent death, which may explain their latent erratic and malefic behaviour.  They are seemingly able to oppress their victims during sleep, exerting their powers in the form of nightmares and sleep paralysis.

As genii loci (tutelary spirits), dweorgas are connected to specific geographic locations and homes. Though propitiatory offerings can and should be made, entering into a reciprocal cycle of do ut des would be both dangerous and ill-advised. As the dead are liminal beings, offerings might be placed in a nearby body of water or doorway in placation.

Dweorgas are also chthonic/infernal beings akin to the Dii Manes of the Roman religion, so gestures of appeasement during especially liminal periods of the year (Gēola, Winterfylleþ) are advisable to halt their encroachment.

unnamed (1)



[1]
Edward Pettit, Anglo-Saxon Remedies, Charms, and Prayers from British Library MS Harley 585: The Lacnunga : Introduction, Apr 2001
[2]Karl Young,  https://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/young/ky-chrm.htm
[3] Matthew C. G. Lewis, Dreaming of Dwarves: Nightmares and Shamanism in Anglo-Saxon Poetics and the Wið Dweorh Charm.
[4] Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology(2007:67–68)
[5] Simek (2007:305), Orchard (1997:35), and Hafstein (2002:111)
[6] De Vries, Jan. Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, I, pp.296-7
[7]
Motz, Lotte (1983). The Wise One of the Mountain: Form, Function and Significance of the Subterranean Smith: A Study in Folklore. Göppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik
[8] Lecouteux, Claude. Garden Dwarves and House Spirits
[9]Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices. (pp.55-6)
[10]Lecouteux, Claude. The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices. (pp.111)
[11]Grimm, Jacob. German Mythology 1st volume (2nd edition), Dieterichsche bookstore, Göttingen (1844), page 441- 446
[*]The plural form *dweorgas is used here, though there doesn’t seem to be an existing plural form. The ‘as’ ending seems likely when we compare other masculine nouns with similar endings.

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

17968012_445293182484731_550290084_o
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 need 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.

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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.