Bards and Books

The Pagan Blog Project: B is for Bards and Books

People often don’t understand how something fictional can be life-altering, let alone hold more truth than the newspaper.  The same can be said in a religious setting.  I mean really, a person from outside your faith, or an atheist outside of all faiths, views every holy book or story as fiction.  And then there are pop culture pagans who very literally have taken more modern icons – characters from books, movies, and video games – and use them in a setting of worship and devotion.

I’m not a historian, so I’m not going to go into elaborate detail about the history of bards and books, but let’s look at them in this context for a moment.  Before the written word, you had storytellers (a bard being a specific type of storyteller).  Imagine that you have no television to show your family or friends just how incredible the sunset over a foreign land is, or the terror and strain and ever-blessed victory of battle.  But you need them to feel what it is like, even if they can’t see it.  All you have are your words.  The same was true for telling legends of the gods and heroes.  Stories aren’t always told for their factuality, but to draw the listener into it, so that in a moment of awe and amazement they may feel that spark of divine insight and inspiration within them.

That spark of inspiration is what I worship, which is entirely why pagan labels don’t suit me.  It flickers and flies this way and that, rarely to be found in the same place twice, shifting form and feeling as it goes.  At first I found it infuriating, as a fault of my own.  Now I chase it in joy.  I have stopped trying to name it, but love it all the same.

And that is what I imagine listening to a bard’s tale must be like.  Historian as well as storyteller, drinker of the mead of poetry, he was the voice through which that divine inspiration would reach out to the people.

Books carry a similar burden now.  In some ways more challenged than the bard, who at least could sing or play an instrument or put on some kind of visual show, the book has only its words to rely on and must trust the reader in good faith to be paying attention.  And those who do are often extremely rewarded in a good story.  Instead of the detached experience of watching a screen, one can be in the story, feel what the characters are feeling.  And sometimes, that spark of inspiration will dance for just a moment on your heart.

I struggle with labels because as I read, I often say, “Ah, yes, this speaks to me,” then turn to another book, and, “Yes, this too.”  I find the divine in stories told over and over again, by different titles and with different characters throughout all the ages.  And in those stories I find the divine, singular or multiple, within or all-encompassing.  As tricky as it is to put a label on myself, I can not begin to try and label that.  When I try, by calling it by one deity’s name or another, it’s like trying to put an adult’s foot in a child’s shoe.

This is how I’ve come to a beginning understanding of the Allfather.  Wandering, thirsty for knowledge and beautiful words, charming and raging.  And just as many others have lifted their faces through so many stories.  Sometimes the stories don’t have a face, and I return to that nameless chasing which I so enjoy.

I thank storytellers for bringing us to life.

Bugs

The Pagan Blog Project: B is for Bugs

Those who have followed me on Tumblr for awhile know that I have a slight obsession with bugs.  In fact, I have a tag for anything bug-related because I post them often and I realize not everyone shares my enthusiasm.  But really, what’s not to like?  They are beautiful, necessary, freaking cool, and endlessly fascinating.  They’re so different that in some ways they seem like little aliens, or rather they make everything else feel alien because their functionality is so plugged in to the rest of the ecosystem that our world would be vastly different without them.  Take the crisis over the honeybee population decline as an example.

The significance of arthropods is not a new thing.  Ancient peoples also saw the goings-on of our tiny planet cohabiters which led to insects and spiders taking significant roles in mythology.  Native American mythology has more examples than I can put down, spiders and bees figure prominently in Greek mythology, crickets and mantids among many others appear in Chinese stories, scarabs and scorpions are everywhere you look in Egyptian mythology, and let’s not leave out all the bugs responsible in the seven plagues of Egypt (whichever version you’re reading).

I had intended to list specifics, but time being an issue today, instead I’m going to recommend a book if you are interested in reading more about it: Insect Mythology by Gene Kritsky and Ron Cherry.  The charts in the Kindle version get a little messy, but the information is good regardless.

In folk traditions, the habits of insects have provided insight on the ways of nature, but have also brought about divinatory meanings and even superstitions.  Here’s a few you may or may not be familiar with:

  • Ladybugs are a sign of good luck.  If one lands on you while you are sick, it is said to take the illness away from you.
  • A cricket singing nearby is a sign of good luck and protection.
  • Many insects are known to be able to signal an oncoming storm.  If bees and butterflies are not in their usual place in your garden, best be prepared for some weather.
  • Finding a spider on you means money is coming your way.  Spiders are mostly considered signs of good luck.
  • In Chinese folklore during the Chou Dynasty, placing a cicada-shaped piece of jade on the tongue of a deceased person was believed to bring about resurrection via reincarnation.
  • If you are lost and meet a praying mantis, it will show you north by pointing with its front legs.
  • A while moth is said to be the soul of a loved one.  Moths overall tend to be associated with souls and spirits as well as communication.

There are so many more, a simple Google search will keep you busy for hours learning how insects are viewed throughout the world and centuries.

But what about magic?

I tend to fancy myself a bug witch.  I find a lot of power in insects and spiders, and it has more to do with their functions and behaviors than with beliefs in any particular mythology.  So if I’m going to work a spell, I consider what it is I’m wanting to accomplish and then match it to an appropriate insect.  In other words, I use bugs as magical correspondences, like others would use colors, herbs, stones, etc.

A picture will work fine, an actual specimen is not necessary.  If you do happen to find an insect molt, exoskeleton, wing, or other piece, consider keeping it for future use.

Here are some common spell themes and insects that would be appropriate in combination:

  • Protection: Beetles, or anything with a tough exoskeleton.  I mention beetles specifically because of the elytra, or hard shell, that protects the wings underneath.   Many species also tend to be fairly territorial of their space and/or mate, another aspect beneficial for protective work.
  • Beauty, either physical or in the sense of positive change:  Butterflies are great for this.  While most people see them as pretty, these beauties of the order Lepidoptera undergo a complete metamorphosis, meaning that they have four distinct stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, adult.  Most other insect orders don’t do this.  So if you’re wanting to make a change for the better, a butterfly might perfect for you.
  • Motivation, hard work, success:  Ants or bees.  You can’t go wrong with either of these diligent workers.  If you want to turn this into a money/finance spell, bees may be your better choice, as their hard work results in honey for us to harvest and also enables our crops to grow.
  • Love, attraction:  Many insects are known for their mating calls.  My personal favorite is the cicada.  I adore the sound of their choir in the summer.  The males are the only ones who sing, and in locations inhabited by multiple cicada species, these insects develop a different range so that the females are attracted to the correct males.  What’s better, cicada husks are easy to collect in the summer if you have some in your area.  Just look for the little brown shells clinging to the sides of trees.
  • Setting action into place or changing your fate:  Look to the weavers.  Spiders have had long associations with luck and fate and for good reason.  Imagine you are a spider on your web.  You feel everything that touches it, even the subtlest of wind currents.  You can change your web how you please.

Again, there are dozens of other examples, but these are just a few to get you thinking.

If you find yourself drawn to a particular insect, read a lot about it.  You’ll probably find a lot of things you can use it for.  Since I am so fond of cicadas, I use them for many kinds of change spells.  Their life cycle is very suitable to this.

I hope this has given you some idea of why bugs are just so awesome.  As little creatures that are so in-tune to the workings of the natural world, it makes sense that we work with them in a way to make the changes we seek through magic.  Even science has turned to insects to solve problems, like naturally combatting agricultural issues.  We certainly can learn a lot from them as well.

Anonymity

“Hidden Identity” by victoriaemmathompson, via DeviantArt.

The Pagan Blog Project: A is for Anonymity

Many people complain about the overall feel of the online pagan community from just about every perspective.  Some people think it’s too “fluffy,” others say it’s no substitution for an in-person coven or kindred or what-have-you, many people comment on how the smallest issues (often created around a misunderstanding) escalate into curse wars.  The list goes on and on.

But one thing that an online pagan community provides which is difficult to find in real-life scenarios is anonymity.

Anonymity can be a blessing and a curse, for sure.  There are many who use the anonymity the internet provides to intentionally hurt others with their words.  It is also very easy to misunderstand something when the majority of the interaction is in text.  The writer could type something a little sloppily, the reader may misread something, and in all cases you’ve pulled out vocal tone and body language, two extremely important elements of clear communication.  For the purpose of this entry, though, I want to focus on the positive aspects of anonymity.

When I signed up on the Facebook group for the Pagan Blog Project, I was really hesitant to say anything at first because I was in fact using a fake name.  I was afraid I would be judged for not being an “out” pagan.  But I was quickly put at ease when a number of others joined up who all said much the same thing.  We were in positions where we could not tie our “real life” identities to our spiritual beliefs and practices.

This means that to even get started on a pagan path, we have to find a community where we can be a little more secretive.  Online communities are perfect for that.  If anonymity is required to keep family or professional friends from finding out about your spiritual leanings, this is the place!  Or if you live in an area where your life could actually be in danger for following a different than “normal” path, the anonymity of the internet provides a safe (enough) setting to learn and grow.

Here’s a tangent for you.  From time to time I see people start on lectures to those who keep their beliefs a secret, saying things like “you shouldn’t deny your gods” or “if they won’t accept you for being pagan, you shouldn’t have them in your life anyway.”

That’s a fat sack of crap.  There are many reasons why it may be wiser (and more spiritually fulfilling) to not rub your beliefs in everyone else’s face.  Let’s start with the family scenario.  I love my family.  They love me.  My dad used to be a pastor and is still generally Christian but pretty open-minded.  My mom is grassroots Texas folk Baptist.  I don’t really know how else to describe her.  On one hand she believes people who don’t follow Jesus are going to hell whether or not they are good people, and she can’t imagine any other possibilities of an afterlife except heaven or hell.  On the other hand, she is so loving and personable.  I know lots of people don’t understand how one could be both, but she is.

When I started studying paganism and really felt that it was going to be my long-term path, there was a stretch of months where I really fought with myself over whether or not to open this conversation with my parents.  And then I realized something.  I’m a 30-year-old woman.  I don’t live with my mother.  I’m capable of supporting myself and making my own decisions.  I don’t need her approval for being who I am.  And what’s more, my mother expects as much of me.  What do I really need to prove by dumping this on her?  She isn’t in the best of health, and for all I know she would live the rest of her years thinking she had failed as a mother and being extremely sad at the thought of me burning in hell or something.  Why in the world is it my place to put that on her?  Even worse, what if I shook her own faith that she is extremely comfortable in, now that she’s nearing the end of her life?  That would be extremely selfish of me.  Yes, of course there’s a chance that she would just be fine with all of it, and one of these days we may breech that subject for real, but right now, what’s the point?

I spent another couple of weeks letting that sink in, and now it doesn’t bother me at all that I choose to keep this secret from her.  I am confident in my decision for now.  What’s more, keeping my practices and beliefs more private has proven to be more fulfilling to me.  I’m not constantly worried about having to make everyone happy.  I just do it.

This leads me to my last point about anonymity:  Protection.

In the above example, anonymity is not only protecting me from backlashes from family and people who know me at work, it’s also in a way protecting them.  But how else can anonymity be protective?

How often have you read the instructions for a spell that told you to get one of the following:

  • Hair or other “personal effects” or “belongings” of the person whom the spell will affect
  • A photograph of the person affected by the spell
  • A piece of paper with that person’s name on it
  • The birthdate (and even time) of the person in question
  • Something requiring the address of the person (either dirt from their land or eventually putting something on their property)

This list could be longer, but you get the drift.  While most people aren’t going to want to screw you over via magic or cast an elaborate love or will-bending spell on you, if someone really wanted to, and had any of the items from that list, that would make it a lot easier.  With the internet, the most someone can do is screw up your online persona.  Sure, there are probably people out there who can do quite a bit more with just as little information as your screen name or Tumblr, but it would still take more effort.

Now, I generally don’t piss off enough people for this to be a personal concern, but many times when I hear about pagan groups, especially covens, there’s almost always that follow-up reference to “Witch Wars” that just makes me sigh and be done with it.  Part of that is my natural inclination to work by myself, but if that were the only way to learn anything, you’d have to suck it up and do it anyway. 

Luckily, there are tons of resources for a starting pagan online.  Do you need to be cautious?  Absolutely.  Anonymity also means people can throw incorrect information around with no consequence, and at worse it allows otherwise-civil people to adopt much harsher online personalities.  But if you can put on your thick skin and your truth-seeking lenses, remaining aware that you are here because you do not have all the answers and accepting that you never will, there is information all around you.

I do think that an in-person group has huge advantages, especially when talking about something like magic and energy work, and the personable nature of sharing religious experience.  But paganism is just so big, and online anonymity lets you stretch your legs down a few different paths before sticking to one without the social pressures of a local organization.  Once you’ve started to understand where you are and who you are, you are much more prepared for making decisions about the kinds of groups you would like to invest your time and energy in.

Uruz and the Bull

uruzbull

While out trying to do some very frustrating errands today, my path led me to a shop that I wouldn’t have gone to had the random frustrations not led us there.  It was a stop to help me and my partner cool down, an art and carving shop with fair trade merchandise.  I hadn’t planned on getting anything really, I mostly wanted to have my partner look at some of the gecko woodcarvings they had.  But I kept feeling the nudge to go poke around various areas.

We had checked out and were about to leave when I spotted a pile of batik art leaning against a wall.  Out of curiosity, I went to check it out, and there I found my bull.

The bull is my closest understanding to the rune Uruz seeing how aurochs aren’t exactly around anymore.  It shows up so often when it’s time to get something done, no excuses.  This guy’s face is pretty much telling me that, and the coloring is also perfect.  It’s like he’s walked right into that place I put myself when I feel completely alone and out of sync with the world and is like, “I know it sucks, but it’s time to get up and do something about it.”  Uruz especially has been a recurring rune for me, and as such I couldn’t pass this piece of art up.

Again

The Pagan Blog Project: A is for Again

About two years ago, I threw myself into paganism without much of a foothold to start with.  There was no community that I knew of for me to be a part of, there were no pagans in my family, none of my friends were pagan.  I didn’t have a real grasp of the direction I wanted to go, a path to follow.  I didn’t even know if “pagan” was the word I was supposed to use for what I was looking for.  All I had to go on was a stack of used Llewellyn books, Google, and an empty abyssal feeling in my chest that I knew needed to be filled.

It was chaotic but easy starting out.  I read through some of the books I’d found (a lot of Scott Cunningham for the most part), took some notes, got a little more comfortable with terminology, started doing my best to observe Sabbats and Esbats, doing small spells here and there.  But something about all of it wasn’t really falling into place.  It was interesting and enjoyable, but not really fulfilling, and still extremely directionless.  I decided rather quickly that Wicca was not going to be the correct path for me.

Six months later, I got into the Tumblr pagan sphere.  What an educational clusterfuck that was.  The little globe of knowledge I thought I had got swatted out of my hands and shattered on the ground pretty quickly.  And that was fine and necessary.  I sat back and read for awhile after that, looked at how different people moved within paganism, magic, spirituality, all of it.  And somewhere in among all the arguing and randomness I did start finding things that called to me.

The main one was Heathenry, which was also my first exposure to reconstruction-based polytheism.  A couple of others were Kemeticism and Luciferianism.  Now, at this point I was very concerned with labels because they seemed to be flying around all the time.  Heathenry was the one I always seemed to go back to.  Kemeticism was and is awesome to learn about and study but proved to not really connect to me.  Luciferianism worked well with my views (and still does), but it’s more of a philosophy and inspiration for me rather than a religion.  And Heathenry has its claws in me.  It’s like something is etched on me that I can’t see but I can feel.

Even so, I didn’t feel like calling myself “Heathen” was completely accurate either.  Yes, I’ve spent the better part of a year learning the runes and their meanings.  I’ve read the myths and learned a lot of the history.  Of all the deities I’ve tried to connect with, the Northern pantheon is the one that seems to actually reach back for me, or in some cases straight up not leave me alone.  But the culture surrounding Heathenry and even the more general Northern Paganism kept turning me away.

In October, I stopped everything.  I stopped practicing magic.  I stopped studying.  I stopped praying.  I stopped even talking to or thinking about the deities.  I had to cut some things away to find what was important, and I had to cut them away for a very long time.

And, gradually, as the winter moved in and snow blew over the plains of my usually warm and brown Oklahoma, and the ice incased the trees and our homes, I once again felt the tapping of someone wanting to be listened to again.  I don’t know if it was myself doing the tapping or someone else, but it’s there.  It’s time to go back.  Let’s do this again.

But this time will be different.  I’m going back with a bag of tricks from the places I’ve been.  I’m going back with someone walking with me.  And I’m going back with both of us knowing that I get to pick where we go.

And the best way to choose a path is to get rid of the things obscuring it.

On New Year’s Eve, as the moon waned to nothing, I rang a bell through my house, then followed it with a path of smoke.  I then packed away all of my magic tools, all of my devotional items.  I cleared the path so that I could look farther down it.

Now it’s time to go wandering.