Goddess of the Hearth: Frīg Heorþmōdor

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In the following article I will attempt to reconstruct a Fyrnsidu-specific hearth Goddess by looking at similar, Indo-European deities and extrapolating accordingly.

The Greek and Roman Hearth Goddess

In ancient Hellenic religion, Hestia was the de facto goddess associated with the centre of the home – the hearth. According to Robert S. P. Beekes, her name is analogous to ‘hearth,’ ‘fireplace,’ ‘altar,’ or ‘oikos,’[1][2] positioning her as a personification of not only the hearth’s flame, but the domicile itself. The idea that her area of governance extends beyond the literal flame and encompasses the family unit is supported by the synonymical use of oikos, a word which in ancient Greek referred to the family, the family’s property and the house proper, depending on context [3]. Hestia also governed the various functions of domesticity associated with the hearth, such as the preparation the family meal and the baking of bread [4].  

As a fire deity, Hestia acted as Goddess of the sacrificial flame, receiving prefatory offerings during domestic and public rites and sacrifices of wine at both the beginning and end of feasts [5].

“Hestia, in the high dwellings of all, both deathless gods and men who walk on earth, you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honour: glorious is your portion and your right. For without you mortals hold no banquet,–where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last . . . Hestia, you who tend the holy house [temple] of the lord Apollon.” [6]

Like Demeter and Dionysus, Hestia’s preferred sacrificial victim was the pig. According to Daniel Ogden, piglets were significantly cheaper than adult pigs, goats and sheep and were therefore popular in preliminary and purificatory rites- especially those rites where the sacrificial animal was burnt whole and not consumed [7].

If Hestia’s hearth-flame was extinguished in the home, it was considered a dereliction of domestic and religious duty on the part of those responsible for tending it. The same applied to Hestia’s public flame, or pyrtaneum, which, if allowed to die, signified a failure of the entire city-state [8].

Hestia’s cult was very much a female-centric one, with domestic duties related to her cult typically falling under the purview of the female head of the home. Evidence of civic priesthoods related to Hestia are considerably sparse, however, a sparsity which may be the result of there having been so few public shrines and temples dedicated to the goddess. Instead, Hestia had her place in all temples and shrines, whether domestic or public [9][10].

Roman Vesta possessed many of the attributes associated with Hestia. Like Hestia, Vesta was the hearth’s flame personified, she protected the hearth, home and family unit, and neglect of her fire was considered an affront to both the goddess herself and to social order and cohesion. This is exemplified by Vesta’s temple, which was rounded to represent the cosmos and had a domed roof, or tholus, which was intended to represent the canopy of the heavens [11]. The idea that the Vestal flame, both domestic and public, represented the earth’s centre in miniature is corroborated by Ovid, who tells us, “Vesta eadem est quae Terra,” or “Vesta is the same as Earth,” and “subest vigil ignis utrique,” or “Each contains an everlasting fire.” [12][13] This view buttresses Eliade’s theory that the home, templum and shrine were all imago mundi, sacred centres from which all cosmos radiates [14].

Much like Hestia, Vesta received first and last prayer during ritual- a fact which is supported by both Ovid and Cicero.


“Hence, too, I am of opinion that the vestibule took its name; it is from there that in praying we begin by addressing Vesta, who occupies the first place”
[15]

“They held that Janus is the leader in a sacrifice … [Vesta’s] power extends over altars and hearths, and therefore all prayers and all sacrifices end with this goddess”[16]


Vesta and Janus were invoked so often during ritual, Pliny the Elder noted that their names had become synonymous with the act of prayer itself
[17].

Vesta was something of a contradiction, being both an unmolested virgin and phallic mother goddess simultaneously. Not only was the hearth’s fire symbolic of her, but the divine phallus, the fascinus, was as well. According to Schroeder, this seeming contradiction in the goddess’s character may have been the result of her being directly associated with the penetrative act of inserting a stick into a hollow log to create her ritual fire [18].

While Janus presided over the doorway, Vesta governed the threshold, or limen. It is for this reason that new brides refrained from stepping on, or kicking the threshold of the home – a tradition confirmed by Plautus, Servius and Catullus [19][20][21]. This liminal aspect would offer explanation as to why she played such a pivotal role at the beginning and end of all Roman rites – she governed the threshold between the world of men and the world of the Gods.  

Vesta, the Di Penates and domestic life were celebrated during the festival of Vestalia [22]. At the beginning of the festivities, the penus Vestae, or Vestal sanctum was opened to the public and barefoot women would walk in procession to the temple where they would make offering to the goddess on behalf of themselves and their families [23][24]. Donkeys were decorated with floral garlands and pieces of bread – acts which were done to honour the animal whose bray had interrupted Priapus’s attempt to rape the goddess[25].

“Something of ancient custom has passed to us:
A clean dish contains the food offered to Vesta.
See, loaves are hung from garlanded mules,
And flowery wreaths veil the rough millstones.
Once farmers only used to parch wheat in their ovens,
(And the goddess of ovens has her sacred rites):
The hearth baked the bread, set under the embers,
On a broken tile placed there on the heated floor.
So the baker honours the hearth, and the lady of hearths,
And the she-ass that turns the pumice millstones.
Red-faced Priapus shall I tell of your shame or pass by?
It’s a brief tale but it’s a merry one.”[26]

Once the festival was concluded, the curtain to the penus Vestae was closed for the year and the temple was subsequently swept in an attempt to remove any unholy pollutants [27].

Brigantiâ, Brigid and St.Brigid

Given the sheer range of Celtic-speaking peoples, we are provided with several viable options for a “Celtic” hearth goddess. For the sake of conciseness, we will limit the focus of this section to a singular deity and her offshoots – Brigantiâ.

Brigantiâ, whose name translates to ‘the high one,’ [28] was typically equated with Roman Victoria and Minerva through interpretatio Romana. In a stone-relief found at the Roman fort at Blatobulgium (Birrens, Dumfriesshire), Brigantiâ is depicted holding globe of victory, a spear and wears the headdress typical of a tutelary deity [29]. The inscription at Blatobulgium is one of seven dedicated to the Goddess, all of which are found in Britain. An eighth, possible inscription, found on a Celtiberian coin, reading: ‘BRIGANT_N’, may be suggestive of parallel cult outside Britain [30].

brigantia
Brigantia relief from Birrens. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Scotland


Gregory of Tours provides us with a depiction of the Goddess, “Berecyntia,” whose image was carried by wagon throughout the commune of Autun to bless the “fields and vines”. According to Edward Anwyl, the Berecyntia recounted here may be Brigantiâ in her guise of corn-goddess.


“The natural conservatism of agricultural life, too, perpetuated many practices even into comparatively late times, and of these we catch a glimpse in Gregory of Tours, when he tells us that at Autun the goddess Berecyntia was worshipped, her image being carried on a wagon for the protection of the fields and the vines. It is not impossible that by Berecyntia Gregory means the goddess Brigindu, whose name occurs on an inscription at Volnay in the same district of Gaul. The belief in corn-spirits, and other ideas connected with the central thought of the farmer’s life, show, by their persistence in Celtic as well as other folklore, how deeply they had entered into the inner tissue of the agricultural mind, so as to be linked to its keenest emotions. Here the rites of religion, whether persuasive as in prayer, or compulsory as in sympathetic magic, whether associated with communal or propitiatory sacrifice, whether directed to the earth or to the heaven, all had an intensely practical and terribly real character, due to man’s constant preoccupation with the growth and storage of food for man and beast.“ [31]

While information regarding Brigantiâ’s personality is decidedly sparse, we can  look to the Gaelic Goddess Brigid and her Christianized counterpart, St.Brigid of Kildare, to better support our understanding of her as a hearth goddess.  

J.A. Macculloch suggests that Brigid, like Belisama and Sul, was a goddess associated with feminine craft, domesticity and the cult of fire, which calls to mind the earlier, Greco-Roman roles attributed to Hestia and Vesta.

“The Celtic Minerva, or the goddesses equated with her, “taught the elements of industry and the arts,” and is thus the equivalent of the Irish Brigit. Her functions are in keeping with the position of woman as the first civiliser—discovering agriculture, spinning, the art of pottery, etc. During this period goddesses were chiefly worshipped, and though the Celts had long outgrown this primitive stage, such culture-goddesses still retained their importance. A goddess equated with Minerva in Southern France and Britain is Belisama, perhaps from qval, “to burn” or “shine.” Hence she may have been associated with a cult of fire, like Brigit and like another goddess Sul, equated with Minerva at Bath and in Hesse, and in whose temple perpetual fires burned. She was also a goddess of hot springs. Belisama gave her name to the Mersey, and many goddesses in Celtic myth are associated with rivers.” [32]

The cult of St.Brigid shared similar characteristics with that of Vesta and Hestia, in that we are presented with a cult centred around a perpetual, undying flame tended by virgins.

“At Kildare, in Leinster, celebrated for the glorious Brigit, many miracles have been wrought worthy of memory. Among these, the first that occurs is the fire of St. Brigit, which is reported never to go out. Not that it cannot be extinguished, but the nuns and holy women tend and feed it, adding fuel, with such watchful and diligent care, that from the time of the Virgin, it has continued burning through a long course of years ; and although such heaps of wood have been consumed during this long period, there has been no accumulation of ashes.” [33]

While Gerald of Wales’ account is clearly hagiographical, it is difficult to ignore the obvious, pre-Christian flavour of this particular cult. In his writings, he also provides us with a brief, physical description of the fire and area immediately surrounding it. Once again, we are presented with a sacred space that utilizes circular boundaries and is tended by women –  a motif which might draw its inspiration from the same ancient paradigm as the Aedes Vestae.

“This fire is surrounded by a hedge, made of stakes and brushwood, and forming a circle, within which no male can enter ; and if any one should presume to enter, which has been sometimes attempted by rash men, he will not escape the divine vengeance. Moreover, it is only lawful for women to blow the fire, fanning it or using bellows only, and not with their breath. Moreover, by virtue of a curse pronounced by the virgin, goats here never have any young. In this neighbourhood there are some very beautiful meadows called St.Brigit’s pastures, in which no plough is ever suffered to turn a furrow.” [34]

The hearth and fire appear prominently in folk customs associated with St.Brigid and her feast day, a celebration which coincides with the Gaelic festival of  Imbolc. Máire MacNeill tells us that these folk traditions were largely practiced near the dwelling-place, where “The social unit taking part is the household or, at most, the youth of a townland.” [35] On the eve of the feast, the household was prepared for the Saint’s arrival, with most goings ons centred around the locality of the hearth.  In some cases, a spot was left vacant at the dinner table for the visiting saint, in others, a bed of straw was left beside the hearth so that she might stay the night [36].

In Scotland, a form of divination using the hearth’s coals was performed during the early morning of St. Brigid’s Feast.

“The Women then level the ashes on the hearth, smoothing and dusting them over carefully. Occasionally, the ashes surrounded by a roll of cloth, are placed on a board to safeguard them against disturbance from draughts or other contingencies. In the early morning the family closely scan the ashes. If they find the marks of the wand of Bride they rejoice, but if they find ‘lorg Bride,’ the footprint of Bride their joy very great, for this is a sign that Bride was present with them during the night, and is favourable to them, and that there is increase in family, in flock, and in field during the coming year. Should there be no marks in the ashes, and no trace of Bride’s presence, the family are dejected. It is to them a sign that she is offended, and will not hear their call. To propitiate her and gain her the family offer oblations and burn incense. The oblation generally is a cockerel, some say a pullet, buried alive near the junction of  three streams, and the incense is burnt on the hearth when the family retire for the night.” [37]

In this propitiatory sacrifice we see a very clear pagan act, one which is very much centred on the hearth and its dealings with divinity.

In Ireland, the tradition of ‘raking the fire’ was practiced, wherein the fire was raked so that the coals would remain hot until morning, while avoiding nocturnal conflagration. The hot coals would then be used to reignite the mháthair tine, or ‘mother fire,’ the next day and a special prayer would recited during the act of re-ignition.

“I rake this fire like everyone else,
Brigid below it with Mary on top;
Twelve angels of the angels of graces,
Protecting my house till dawn.” [38][39]

Catháin notes the connection between ashes and embers relating to fertility rituals in Celtic cultures, claiming that the ashes taken from Midsummer bonfires were ritually deposited in fields to encourage crop fertility and growth. The belief that fire was able to encourage fertility and ward against impurity is exemplified by the following excerpt from Rawson’s Early History of Sexual Art.  

“Evil spirits could be repelled by both men and women exposing their genitals to them; and at the famous Celtic solstice bonfire festivals women used to stride over the fire, exposing their vulvas to the beneficial influence of the flame, and blessing it with their own power…” [40]

The sexual aspect of Brigid’s cult is reminiscent of Vesta’s role as phallic, fertility goddess and may speak to a shared conception of fire as the seat of both passion and of creation. According to Nagy, ancient peoples considered the friction caused when lighting fire to resemble the friction created during sexual intercourse. This procreative property was extended to lightning bolts, which were believed to impregnate trees and rocks with fire when struck [41].

Gabija/Matka Gabia

In Baltic nations, we are presented with a similar hearth goddess to those listed above. In Lithuania, she is called Gabija, in Latvia she is known as Uguns Māte, or “mother of the fire,” and in Poland she is recognized as Matka Gabia. In all cases she is recognized as the keeper of the home and the provider of prosperity and fertility. Each day a small portion of each meal was sprinkled into the flames as offering to the Goddess – with her favoured offerings being salt or bread. Until recently, it was customary for the woman of the household to prepare a small prefatory loaf of bread for Gabija when baking [42]. In this act we see a common motif concerning the obvious associations between the hearth and baking. We also witness the same act of “first offerings” being afforded the hearth goddess, much in the same vein as both Vesta and Hestia.

Though Gabija was largely represented anthropomorphically as a woman clothed in red, she could also manifest as a stork, cockerel or cat. If a stork nested on the roof of a house, it was believed to be a manifestation of the Goddess who had come to ward against fire and lightning strike, and protect the hearth, family unit and village community. This connection is unsurprising given the stork’s propensity for building their nests precariously on rooftops and on chimneys [43].

If angered, Gabija would “go for a walk,” and burn down the dwelling. It was for this reason that people were wary of stomping, spitting, or urinating on a fire to extinguish it [44] and why Baltic peoples practiced a similar ritual to that of Gaelic peoples in gently covering the coals at night [45][46]. A prayer was then recited, which calls to mind the earlier account associated with Brigid.

“sleep fire, Gabija come close to the fire.”

Like Brigid, Gabija’s cult was subsumed into that of a saint, albeit less obviously and less fully. St. Agnes is a particularly popular saint among Lithuanians and is the protectress and guardian of fires. It is common practice in recent times to ask both Gabija and St.Agnes for their protective services in the same prayer, showing a clear syncretism of the two characters. Agnes is often depicted holding a roll of bread and during her feast day, salt, bread and water are consecrated in all Lithuanian churches. Pieces of this consecrated bread were shared amongst family with the remainder being placed in “honourable spots” in the home. In Southern Lithuania, salt is used in the place of bread and is sprinkled as offering into the hearth’s fire. Consecrated breads and salts were thought to provide luck to those who possessed it and it is for this reason that pieces were given to sons and husbands as they left home for war [47].

The Fyrnsidu Hearth-Mother

Now that we have explored Greek, Roman, Celtic and Baltic hearth goddesses, we are better equipped to extrapolate a corresponding Old English deity.

If we are to choose an Anglo-Saxon deity best suited to a hearth-centric role, Frīg springs readily to mind. Her Norse counterpart, Frigg, is commonly associated with the distaff, weaving and other crafts related to domesticity [48] and she possesses an obvious fertility aspect, which the etymology of her name alone implies [49]. If we are to follow that the split between Frigg and Freyja was a later development, one that the Anglo-Saxons did not recognize, then Frīg may well have seen the same virginal-mother contradiction in her character as Roman Vesta.

If we are to provide an epithet for Frīg which might distinguish her as being directly related to the hearth, we might use an Old English compound such as, Heorþmōdor (Hearth-Mother), Heorþweard (Hearth-Ward), or Hlǣfdige (Mistress of the Household).

Placing Frīg in a liminal, threshold capacity similar to that of Vesta and Hestia would require offerings be made to her at the beginning and/or the end of all rites and prayers and require she be afforded a proprietary role over the sacred space in the home. Considering most modern homes do not contain a literal hearth, worship of Frīg-Heorþmōdor may be conducted at the family wīgbed (altar), in conjunction with one’s household Gods. Candles or an oil lamp might serve as a suitable substitute to a large, open flame.

In terms of iconography, we are provided with a variety of options. We know that the cults of Hestia and Vesta were largely aniconic and that anthropomorphic representations of the Goddess were added later. The Fyrnsidu practitioner may opt for an aniconic cult,or one that simply utilizes fire imagery. They might also depict Her zoomorphically in the guise of a stork, boar, or pig. If represented anthropomorphically, Frīg might be depicted holding a loaf of bread, a distaff, or other accoutrements associated with domesticity and abundance. Frīg might also be clothed in red, much like her parallel, Matka Gabia.


Imbolc/ The Feast of Saint Brigid and the Feast of Saint Agnes fall at the beginning of February and coincide with the beginning of Spring, while Vestalia took place in June, so an offering exclusive to the Hearth-Mother might be well-suited to one, or both or these dates.  Appropriate sacrifices to the Goddess might include bread, water, salt, pork, votive pigs/boars, various grains and incense.

 


Sources

[1]R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 471
[2]https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Hestia
[3]Davies, J.K. Society and Economy. In Lewis, D.M.; Boardman, John; Davies, J.K.; et al. The Cambridge Ancient History Volume V: The Fifth Century B.C. p. 290.
[4]http://www.theoi.com/Ouranios/Hestia.html
[5] Evelyn-White, Hugh G. Homeric Hymn 29 
[6]Homeric Hymn 24
[7]Bremmer, Jan. N., in Ogden, D.  A Companion to Greek Religion. 2010
[8]Burkert, Walter . Greek Religion. 1985
[9]http://www.theoi.com/Ouranios/Hestia.html
[10]Cicero, De Natura Deorum II. (trans. Rackham)
[11]Archaeologia, Or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Volume 49, Issue 2
[12]Valpay, A.J. The Classical Journal, Volume 15 .1817
[13]Ovid, Fasti VI
[14]Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane pp.43
[15]Ovid. Fasti
[16]Cicero. De Natura Deorum II
[17]Pliny the Elder, Natural History
[18]Schroeder, Jeanne Lorraine. The Vestal and the Fasces: Hegel, Lacan, Property, and the Feminine.1998
[19]Plautus. Casina
[20]Servius. Eclogues
[21]Catullus. Carmina
[22]Theodor Mommsen. History of Rome, Vol.1
[23]E.M. Berens. A Hand-book of Mythology
[24]Brulé, Pierre. La Fille d’Athènes : la religion des filles à l’époque classique : mythes, cultes et société
[24]Ovid. Fasti VI
[25]Ovid. Fasti VI
[26]Ovid. Fasti VI
[27]Marouzeau, Jules. Revue des études latines. 2006
[28]https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/b%CA%B0%C3%A9r%C7%B5%CA%B0onts
[29]Green, Miranda. Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins, and Mothers New York, pp 195–202. 1996
[30]Olmstead, Garret. The Gods of the Celts and Indo-Europeans. 1994
[31]Anwyl, Edward. Celtic Religion in Pre-Christian Times
[32]Macculloch, J.A., Religion of the Ancient Celts. 
[33]Gerald of Wales. The Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis XXXIV. Revised and edited with additional notes, by Thomas Wright M.A., F.S.A. & c.
[34]Gerald of Wales. The Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis XXXVI. Revised and edited with additional notes, by Thomas Wright M.A., F.S.A. & c.
[35]MacNeill, Máire. The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of Harvest. 1962
[36]Catháin, Séamas Ó. Hearth-Prayers and Other Traditions of Brigit: Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 122
[37]Carmichael, Alexander. vol. I, Carmina Gadelica. Hymns and Incantations. 1928
[38]Carmichael, Alexander. vol. I, Carmina Gadelica. Hymns and Incantations. 1928
[39]Catháin, Séamas Ó. Hearth-Prayers and Other Traditions of Brigit: Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 122
[40]Rawson, Phillip. Early History of Sexual Art, in Rawson, P. (ed.) Primitive Erotic Art, 1-76.London. 1973
[41]Nagy, Gregory. Perkunas and Permit. In Antiquitates Indogermanicae. Studien zur Indogermanischen Altertumskunde und zur Sprach- und Kulturgeschichte der indogermanischen Volker 
[42]Gimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddess pp.203
[43]https://phys.org/news/2013-08-poland-stork-friend.html
[44]Trikūnas,Jonas. Of Gods & Holidays: The Baltic Heritage. Tvermė. pp. 85–87. 1999
[45]Gimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddess pp.203
[46]Johnson, Cait. Earth, Water, Fire, and Air: Essential Ways of Connecting to Spirit
[47]The Feast of St.Agnes. Ðv. Agota  III,5
[48]Enright, M.J. The Goddess Who Weaves: Some Iconographic Aspects of Bracteates of the Fürstenberg Type
[49]Bosworth, Joseph. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary OnlineFrig. Ed. Thomas Northcote Toller and Others. Comp. Sean Christ and Ondřej Tichý. Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 2 Dec. 2017.

A Special thanks to Marc Beneduci and Selgowiros Caranticnos for helping me scrounge up information on Vesta and Brigantiâ, respectively.

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A Midsumor Prayer to Hengest and Horsa

Oh, supernal Gods revered
Sunbǣras, Hengest and Horsa
They who draw Sōl upon her path through the heavens
divine Steersmen of the sun-barge

So as the wheel of the year doth turn,
so too do I petition thee in the hope that
you bestow your blessings upon us,
to myself, to my household, and to my kin
and provide fair weather and plenty in the coming months

A gift for a gift
I give and I dedicate
May this offering find you well
May this offering be well-received

suntwins

Current Thoughts & Reheathening Charms II

This is a follow-up to a post I made back in September called, Reheathening Charms I, found here.


I’ve wanted to write something for this blog for a couple weeks now, but couldn’t manage to gather my thoughts sufficiently enough to put them into words. Every time I think I’ve stumbled on something worth talking about, I hit a dead end or lose interest in the project entirely. I’ve had this odd feeling – an inexplicable pull- driving me to customize our hearth cult and to reconstruct deities necessary for that customization. It’s as if there are deities here that need to be sought out and given worship and they won’t take no for answer. As we progress as a household, more functions will need to be filled and more numinous powers will need to be recognized.

Hopefully, in the coming days I’ll be able to sift through the plethora of notes and excerpts I’ve been collecting and post something substantial to that effect. In the meantime, I’ve come across a set of charms worth sharing here.

Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor by Ruth E. St.Leger-Gordon had been sitting on my bookshelf for months on end. When it came in the mail, I read about a quarter of the way through the book,  got pissed off at the author’s tone of superiority and her constant mockery of the subjects she was interviewing, and subsequently forgot I owned the book at all.

Today I cracked open St.Leger-Gordon’s book again. I’m still not fond of her approach, but I realize that she, like her contemporaries, is a product of her time. While her biased commentary is indeed annoying, the folkloric accounts recorded in the book are still worth exploring.

Two charms of comparable wording are recorded as cures for a sprain. The first, recorded in William Crossing’s Folk Rhymes of Devon,  is presented thusly:

“Bone to Bone and Vein to Vein
And vein turn thy rest again
And so shall thine
In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost”

In the second sprain charm, taken from a collection of old papers found at Marystowe, we are presented with a very similar formula to the one charm mentioned above.

“Marrow to marrow and bone to bone and sinews to sinews and skin to skin. 
In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost I cast this sprain away.
Amen. So be it.”

According to the author, the final lines of these charms are reminiscent of, “as I will, so mote it be,” found in Rosicrucianism and neo-paganism- a recitation of forceful words that serve to shape reality in the witch’s favour.

The charms above represent a clear synthesis of Pagan and Christian ideas, though the pagan elements can easily separated from their Christian veneer. While some readers might question whether the non-Christian elements represent anything more than rural folk-magic, similarities to the 10th century Second Merseburg Charm suggest it may be a survival from a much earlier period.

Phol and Wodan were riding to the woods,
and the foot of Balder’s foal was sprained
So Sinthgunt, Sunna’s sister, conjured it.
and Frija, Volla’s sister, conjured it.
and Wodan conjured it, as well he could:
Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain,
so joint-sprain:
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
joints to joints,
so may they be mended.
[1]

Comparing the three charms, we can see an obvious similarity in their wording and are able to reconstruct a charm of our own without the Christian overlay. Our charm for sprain might look something like this:

“Marrow to marrow
Bone to bone
Sinew to sinew
Blood to blood
And joints to joints, 
As I will it,
so may they be mended”

 


[1] Fortson, Benjamin W. Indo-European language and culture: an introduction, Wiley-Blackwell. (2004)

Al-RaziInGerardusCremonensis1250

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 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

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.