Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Frau Hulle

On the Schellenberg between Heimbuchenthal and Wintersbach there used to stand a stately castle. In the courtyard of this castle there grew a beautiful linden tree. The tree was very tall and the saying went that as long as the linden stood and stayed green, the castle would also bloom. Woe betide though if the linden were to be destroyed for then the castle and its inhabitants would also meet the same fate.

In this castle, there once lived a great lord and his two sons. The eldest son was tall and handsome and the youngest was short and ugly who, in childhood sadly broke his leg and was from then on known as 'Twisted Jakob'.

The lord of the castle was old and sick. Sensing his end was near, he called his sons to his bedside. It was not easy for him to speak, his voice was weak and shook with each word:
'My firstborn, from this day forth, I give you my castle and this wooden coffer filled with gold. Swear to me though that you will always keep our dear Jakob by your side and that you will always be a good brother to him. Make sure all his needs are taken care of!'

With an earnest face, the eldest son gave his word that he would take care of his brother and on that self same day, their father began his eternal sleep.

The old lord was hardly in the ground before the eldest brother broke his word and increasingly came to treat Jakob worse than the day labourers did. No longer would Jakob be allowed to sit at his table to eat nor live in his castle. Instead, the poor Jakob was cast out to sleep in the stall with the horses and eat with the dogs from a bowl.

It didn't take long for Jakob to decide that it would be best to leave his hardhearted brother as soon as he could and so one morning, Jakob went to his brother and said:
'Give me my share of our inheritance, I want to go into the wider world and try my luck elsewhere.'

The new lord of the castle however gave him nothing and just had Jakob thrown out of the castle.

Defeated, Jakob wandered into the surrounding forests and came to rest completely exhausted under a tree, where resting his head on his knees he cried bitterly. When he finally looked up, he caught a glimpse of an old woman on a spinning wheel. Strange. Jakob had heard no sound of her coming. With the nodding of her head, the greyhaired woman peddled the spinning wheel. Jakob had no idea that it was Frau Hulle that was approaching him.

The good hearted old lady wanted to know why Jakob had been crying so bitterly.
'What do you care of my fate. You can't help me.'

Frau Hulle replied:
'You're 'Twisted Jakob' from the Schellenberg castle, aren't you? I know you and your wicked brother. I can help you if you trust me.'

Her words went straight to twisted Jakob's heart as they were the first kind words he'd heard since his father had passed away.
'My brother forced me to eat with the dogs from their feeding bowl! And when I went to ask for my portion of the inheritance, he threw me like a beggar from my father's castle!'

The old lady comforted him:
'Come with me, after exactly three years, we'll go to see your brother again. Perhaps he'll repent in the meantime and give you what's rightfully yours.'

Jakob agreed immediately and Frau Hulle took him with her to her house and Jakob quickly became her indispensable helper. In the summer he cultivated her flax field, cut fence posts in the winter for the vineyard farmers and sail masts for boatmen. Frau Hulle was occupied for the entire time with her spinning wheel.

In the spring, the pair brought their wares to the Main to sell. If Jakob found it became too difficult to carry the fence posts and sail masts because of his lameness, then the good Frau Hulle would take them from him with her scrawny arms and throw them into her shoulder basket as though they were little more than bails of straw. Between Hasloch and Faulbach there was a stone on the way where they would stop to rest each time and in the place where Frau Hulle would lay down her shoulder basket, there are indents in the path from the weight of that load that are still there to see to this day.

Jakob did all he could for Frau Hulle and she taught him everything that there was to know about farming, so that in the end, he understood the land better than one who was born a farmer.

When the three years were up, Frau Hulle told him that they were going to see his brother that day and immediately picked up her distaff, put on her shoulder basket and together they set off for the castle.

When they arrived, they found the wicked brother sitting lazily under the linden tree. Seeing their approach, he asked them what they wanted. Frau Hulle's voice was authorative as she spoke:
'You know exactly what you are guilty of when it comes to your brother. Today we want you to finally give him his rightful inheritance!'

The firstborn brother arrogantly replied:
'If you don't leave and go back to where you came from, I'll rip your wobbly head off and as for 'Twisted Jakob', I'll lame his other leg!'

The old lady was so angry, she took her distaff and stabbed it into the linden tree. At that moment the birds flew away and from the roots to the highest branches the tree began to tremble – from the roots to the branches, the life's blood of the old tree began to drip onto the floor. Soon, the leaves turned brown and fell off.

Frau Hulle shouted:
'Unspeakable one! As with the linden tree, so shall it be for you and the castle too!! You will whither and nevermore know luck!'

With those words, she and Jakob turned and left the castle.

As predicted, so it happened and the castle began to wither away little by little as the linden tree had. Every storm brought the fall of a tower or wall, the rain soaked the roof tiles away and soon the roof trusses became dilapidated. The servants no longer wanted to live in the castle and in the end, only the lord was left living in the cellar where he would sit on his wooden coffer keeping a jealous watch.
At midnight, on the feast of St Martin (11/11) there was a great storm and the withered linden tree finally fell – exactly on the cellar door, blocking the exit. The wicked brother pushed with all his might but the door would not move even the smallest amount. As the the Schellenberg had already been abandoned by all who had lived there, there was noone left to hear his cries for help and so he was left to starve to death on his chest of gold.

Frau Hulle however, knew exactly what had happened and the day after the death of the firstborn son, she went into the courtyard, cleared away the linden tree and opened the gold chest. She divided the brothers' inheritance exactly and put what was rightfully Jakobs into her large purse. At the exact moment when she left the cellar, it collapsed in on itself and she went back to her house.

There, she spoke with Jakob:
'Now, each person has what is his, just as your father decreed. Take what is yours, however being a nobleman no longer has meaning for you. Become a farmer and you will be blessed with yet more luck. Live well and you will never see me again.'

Jakob took his leave and from the money, built a beautiful farm on the Hunsrueck mountain range near Altenbuch. He married a nice lady and fathered many sons and daughters. His barn saw no pestilence and his fruit trees stayed free from caterpillars. Nor did a single hailstorm come over his fields. At harvest time, sometimes Jakob would find that the work had already been done when he came to his fields early in the morning. The sheaves would already be cut, bound and put into piles. His neighbours would then puzzle over who had done such a good thing for him but only Jakob knew that it was Frau Hulle that she was still by his side.

When his first son was born, the happy Jakob decided he should try to find Frau Hulle to tell her of his luck and so he took to the road. He searched the whole day but could find neither the little house where she had lived, nor valley where the little house had been. In the evening, tired he set out for his farm again.

In the end, Jakob died at a very good age. His farm and courtyard still stand to this day and are owned by a farmer by the name of Hunruecks-Philipp.

From the book 'Es Spukt in Franken' by Michael Proettel,
Translation by Catherine Heath

Introduction To The Anglo Saxon Magico-Medical Healing Traditions

(This is something I wrote after a member of a forum I'm on PMed me and said he didn't understand a lot of my references)


Britain in the early 5th century was a very uncertain place to be. The Roman legions were returning to Rome and the Pax Romana that the Romano-Britons had lived by for around five hundred years began to crumble. Civil wars broke out and the Picts, long held at the northern borders of the Roman empire, began to pose a significant security threat. In light of this, the British invited warriors from the peoples that would come to be known as Anglo Saxons to defend them. Mostly the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. They were to be the ‘foedorati’, or paid muscle for the Britons, a practice they had learned from the Romans.

This would turn out to be a fateful decision on the part of the Britons. According to the British cleric Gildas, these ‘foedorati’ mutinied in 442AD due to lack of payment and after much fighting, eventually went on to invade and settle the area that came to be known as England.

England was a rich land for the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, it was good land for growing crops and they sorely needed that. Due to climate change in the 5th century, their homelands had become wetter, flooding often and it had become increasingly difficult to grow crops.

How much the culture of the Germanic invaders was to supersede the culture of the Britons is still a matter of intense debate with the ‘traditional’ view leaning towards the Anglo Saxons annihilating the Britons and driving them to the Western and Northern areas of the island and the newer theories based on genetic evidence, grave evidence and linguistics take the view that it wasn’t so much of a complete annihilation of the Britons. Rather a merging of cultures.

However regardless of the various theories surrounding the Anglo Saxon migration and settlement of England, the Anglo Saxon period was to be significant in many ways. This essay will focus on one of those ways – that of the Anglo Saxon magico-medical healing traditions.

I would like to stress to the reader that this essay is merely what it says it is, an introduction. It is by no means exhaustive and it is written by a person with a love and a passion for the topic as opposed to a scholar. Having said that, I hope you find this subject just as interesting as I do and if you spot any errors or you can think of something that it would behoove me to add, please don’t hesitate to contact me and let me know.

What is meant by the term ‘Magico-Medical’?

In the modern western world, we tend to have a fixed idea of illness as being a physical thing and therefore only treatable by medical means. When we fall sick, we go to the doctors, the doctor may do some physical tests and then prescribe a form of treatment .

This is a drastically different view from what we know of how the Anglo Saxons saw illness and the treatment thereof. For the Anglo-Saxon without modern medical knowledge, medicine revolved not only around the use of herbs, but also tended to include a magical component.

This magical component, is quite surprisingly found not only in cures believed to have originated in the Heathen period, but also in very overtly Christian cures as well. The Anglo Saxon Christians really did not seem to have a problem with the concept of magical healing charms when they called upon the Christian god or used Christian sacraments.

Why focus on the Anglo Saxon healing traditions?

One of the things that some scholars believe the Anglo Saxons to have adopted from the Britons was the idea of a literary tradition. The tribes that made up the Anglo Saxons are believed to have had an oral tradition whereas the Britons had a very developed literary tradition. This was something that the Anglo Saxons adopted and took to like ducks to water. They went from an oral culture to one that wrote pretty much everything down. They were quite unique among the Germanic peoples as well because they were the only ones to record their healing practices in detail and not only that, but they recorded them in an instructional fashion so that people might benefit from what they believed to be good cures.

Were they good cures? Can I try them out at home?

The writers of the various Anglo Saxon healing manuals obviously thought so however as with all old herbals, it is best to be very cautious in trying out the treatments. Some herbs that were recommended for various illnesses are now known to be dangerous, some are best as ‘wound herbs’, some have unpleasant side effects and some are abortive. It is best to only use herbs that you know and have researched however that’s not to say that the charms cannot be adapted if you so wish.

How did the Anglo Saxons see sickness?

Well we know that the Anglo Saxon Leeches (medics) didn’t just work from northern European lore, we know that books such as Pliny’s ‘Natural History’ and Old English translations of Apuleius’s ‘Herbarium Apulet’ and the ‘Medicina de Quadrupedibus’ were known in Anglo Saxon England and so we have to assume that the Anglo Saxons would have been aware of the four ‘humours’ theory.

The theory of the Four humours centres around the idea that a person is made up of four ‘humours’ or liquids of the body (blood, phlegm, red/yellow bile and black bile) and that balance has to be sought between those humours in order to maintain good health.

The second influence on the way that the Anglo Saxons saw sickness were Judeo-Christian sources that basically gives the interpretation that all human suffering was attributable to human evil and was a way for god to test a person’s faith or punish them for previous sins. This school of thought held that prayer, intercession of the saints and sometimes pilgrimage was all that should be needed for a cure. In the very strictest form of this view, even herbs were to be shunned in the search for relief. Obviously judging by the amount of material that was written about healing charms, not everybody took this view.

The third influence was naturally that of the healing traditions that were native to the Anglo Saxons. From what we can tell from the sources, the Anglo Saxons recognized three kinds of cause for illness.

The first is invasion of the body from an outside source. This could be anything from a wound from a weapon or a serpent bite to being ‘elfshot’ (elves were believed to shoot darts or arrows at people) or hit by ‘flying venom’ loose in the land(infectious disease).

The second cause was believed to be anything that subtracted from the ‘wholeness’ of a person. This could be a supernatural being that would attack a person, poison them but feed off their vital force at the same time thus leaving them sick. It is worth noting that there are links between the Old English words for ‘whole’ and ‘health’. To heal someone is quite simply to make them whole again.

The third cause of illness was believed to be a disturbance in the balance of the body. This could be treated by taking steps to restore and re-affirm the true balance. Some of these conditions were linked to ‘deoflas’ (Christian devils) or ‘ylfe’ (elves).

What are the key points of Anglo Saxon magico-medicine?

Anglo Saxon magico-medicine tended to mix an extensive use of herbs with magical aspects such as narrative charms (another word for a verbal charm is ‘galdor’). These charms are called ‘narrative’ because quite simply, they tell a story of wounding/sickness and cure. One excellent example of this is the charm ‘Wið Fæstice’ (against a sudden stitch – elfshot):

Against a sudden stitch: feverfew and the red nettle which grows in through a building and waybread; boil in butter:
“Loud were they, lo loud, when they rode over the mound,
they were fierce when they rode over the land.
Shield yourself now that you may escape this evil.
Out, little spear, if herein you be!
Stood under linden, under a light shield,
where the mighty women readied their power,
and they screaming spears sent.
I back to them again will send another,
a flying dart against them in return.
Out, little spear, if herein it be!
Sat a smith, forged he a knife,
little iron strong wound.
Out, little spear, if herein it be!
Six smiths sat, war-spears they made.
Out, spear, not in, spear!
If herin be a bit of iron,
hag's [haegtesse] work, it shall melt.
If you were in the skin shot, or were in flesh shot,
or were in the blood shot, or were in bone shot,
or were in limb shot, may your life never be torn apart.
If it were ’sir shot, or it were elves' shot,
or it were hag's shot, now I will help you.
This your remedy for ’sir shot, this your remedy for Elves' shot;
This your remedy for hag's shot; I will help you.
It fled there into the mountains. . . . no rest had it.
Whole be you now! Lord help you!”

Then take the knife, dip in liquid.

- Lacnunga 134-135

Some of the charms in the various Old English texts include acts of a clearly magical nature but don’t have an accompanying verbal formula. One such example of this is to be found in Bald’s Leechbook – Book III:

‘2. For swollen eyes, take a living raven, take the eyes out of it and, still living, bring it into water, and put the eyes on the neck of the man to whom they are needful, he will soon be hale.’

Taking the eyes of the raven in order to cure the eyes of a person has absolutely no medical benefit however when one considers how reputedly sharp-eyed ravens are, it becomes obvious that this section of the second charm in book III of Bald’s Leechbook is a form of sympathetic magic.

In certain charms, repetition of certain acts and prayers is an important factor. The most common numbers that I have found for repetition in any kind of discernible pattern seem to be the numbers three, four, seven and nine.

Three seems to be ‘the magic number’, from a survey of the Lacnunga text, out of the one hundred and ninety-four charms contained within, twenty-nine of them have the number three included. Seven of those charms pertain to the dosage of the herbal substances, one of those charms recommends that the treatment last three days. The rest recommend that the galdor or prayers used be chanted three times. Sometimes, this is three different prayers chanted three times.

The number four is found in two charms in the Lacnunga and both involve curing infectious diseases, or ‘flying poison’.

The number seven occurs twice in the Lacnunga and is linked to purification and holiness. Charm number ninety-three recommends that seven sacramental wafers be inscribed with the names of the Seven Sleepers from Christian legend. As the charm is against dwarves and the Seven Sleepers were said to have slept in a cave without aging, it would make sense that those in fear of dwarves would call upon what they perceive to be holiness that was untouched in the dwarves’ domain. The second mention of the number seven pertains to purifying an infection. The word ‘dwarf’ seems to have been polysemous for the Anglo Saxons and could also refer to forms of illness.

The number nine occurs fifteen times in the text. In nine of those examples, the number nine is used in conjunction with treating skin growths or inflammations. In one of the examples, it’s part of a blessing used before drinking, sometimes the number nine also refers to the length of time that a treatment should be carried out for. One of the most interesting charms in which the number nine is significant is charm number one hundred and sixty-two which involves counting down from nine as a way to symbolize the shrinking process.

‘Against a swelling: “Nine were the sisters of noðþ; then the nine became eight, and the eight to seven, and the seven to six, and the six to five, and the five to four, and the four to three, and the three to two and the two to one, and the one to none”; this shall be the treatment of a swelling and of scrofula, and of a worm and of every evil; sing “ benedicite” nine times.”

One of the most striking things about a lot of the charms in the various Anglo Saxon texts is the use of various Christian sacraments and prayers as the magical component in the charms. There are mentions of sacramental wafer, the housel-dish, blessed wine, holy water, chanting the ‘Pater Noster’ a certain number of times, the ‘Benedicite’. Some charms such as the three prayers given in charms sixty-four, sixty-five and sixty-six are to be sung three times over a drink ‘and the man’s breath shall go wholly into the liquid while he sings it’.

One charm that demonstrates the use of Christian sacrament and tradition in an Anglo Saxon magico-medical context is charm number ninety-three:

‘Against a dwarf: one must take seven small sacramental wafers such as one offers mass with, and write those names on each wafer. Maximianus Malchus Johannes Martinianus Dioysius Constantinius Serafion. Then again the charm that is stated hereafter must be sung, first into the left ear, then into the right, then above the man’s pate; then have a virgin go to him and hang it about his neck, and do likewise for three days, soon it shall be better for him.

In came a spider creature/he had his mantle in his hand, said that you were his steed/laid his thong on your neck and they began to travel out of the land/as soon as they came away from the land, then their limbs began to cool/ then came in [?]’s sister/then she finished and swore oaths/that this should never ail the sick/nor whomever might understand this charm/nor whoever might intone this charm. Amen, let it be. Here are leechdoms against eruptions and swellings and deadly illnesses of every kind. Twenty-Eight.’

What can we learn about Anglo Saxon Heathenry and magic from the magico-medical traditions?

Anglo Saxon charms may seem quite Christian in nature however we can maybe extrapolate and piece together some of the methods and beliefs that the Heathen Anglo Saxons had from other Germanic sources. Some of the correlations, such as the use of numbers for certain purposes may be indicative of previous significance and associations to the Heathen Anglo Saxons. Some of the charms are quite explicit in their Heathen content too, especially the Nine Herbs Charm’ or the charm that counts down in order to shrink a swelling or the famous Acerbot (Field-Remedy) invocation:
Erce, Erce, Erce,
Earthen Mother.
May the all-powerful, eternal ruler
grant thee
acres fruitful
and flourishing,
and strengthening,
in high condition,
in bright abundance,
and the broad
and the white
and all
earthly abundance.
Grant to him,
eternal ruler
(and his holy ones
who in heaven are),
that his ploughing be protected
against any and all enemies
and it be guarded
against each and every evil,
against those spells
sown through the land.
Now I bid the ruler
who shaped this world,
that neither the conjuring woman
nor the cunning man should
make any changes
to the words thus spoken.
Hale be you, earth,
mortals’ mother!
Be you growing
in the god[dess]’s grasp,
filled with food,
useful for folk. “

When examining these examples from Anglo Saxon charms, one good way of ascertaining how much is Christian and how much comes from older material, is to try and see if there are any other sources that back up the concept or ritual as being older.

One example of another text backing up this idea of worshipping an earth mother is Tacitus’s ‘Germania’:

‘There follow in order the Reudignians, and Aviones, and Angles, and Varinians, and Eudoses, and Suardones and Nuithones; all defended by rivers or forests. Nor in one of these nations does aught remarkable occur, only that they universally join in the worship of Herthum; that is to say, the Mother Earth.’

Another thing to keep in mind when examining sources, is who you are reading. This can be really important because nothing is infallible. Authors have biases and spin really isn’t a new thing.

Of course, the sources don’t always back each other up. For example, in Nordic mythology there are nine worlds on the world tree, however the ‘Nine Herbs Charm’ tells us that there are seven:

‘Chervil and fennel, two of great might
The wise Lord shaped these plants
While he was hanging ,holy in the heavens
He set them and sent them into the seven worlds’

Just as a matter of casual interest, this area of disagreement between the numbers seven and nine seems to have continued to the present day between German speakers and(quite confusingly) English speakers. For example, in Germany a cat is considered to have seven lives, whereas in England it has nine. A German speaker might say that they are on ‘cloud seven’, whereas an English speaker would say ‘cloud nine’.

What is the ‘Nine Herbs Charm’?

The charm that came to be known as the ‘Nine Herbs Charm’ is made up of verses 8o and 80 of the Lacnunga. It is a narrative charm that addresses each of the ‘power’ plants in turn giving their attributes and the story behind their power.

“Remember, Mugwort, what you made known,
What you arranged at the Great proclamation.
You were called Una, the oldest of herbs,
you have power against three and against thirty,
you have power against poison and against infection,
you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.

And you, Plantain, mother of herbs,
Open from the east, mighty inside.
over you chariots creaked, over you queens rode,
over you brides cried out, over you bulls snorted.
You withstood all of them, you dashed against them.
May you likewise withstand poison and infection
and the loathsome foe roving through the land.
'Stune' is the name of this herb, it grew on a stone,
it stands up against poison, it dashes against poison,
it drives out the hostile one, it casts out poison.
This is the herb that fought against the snake,
it has power against poison, it has power against infection,
it has power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.
Put to flight now, Venom-loather, the greater poisons,
though you are the lesser,
you the mightier, conquer the lesser poisons, until he is cured of both.
Remember, Chamomile, what you made known,
what you accomplished at Alorford,
that never a man should lose his life from infection
after Chamomile was prepared for his food.
This is the herb that is called 'Wergulu'.
A seal sent it across the sea-right,
a vexation to poison, a help to others.
it stands against pain, it dashes against poison,
it has power against three and against thirty,
against the hand of a fiend and against mighty devices,
against the spell of mean creatures.
There the Apple accomplished it against poison
that she [the loathsome serpent] would never dwell in the house.
Chervil and Fennell, two very mighty one.
They were created by the wise Lord,
holy in heaven as He hung;
He set and sent them to the seven worlds,
to the wretched and the fortunate, as a help to all.
These nine have power against nine poisons.
A worm came crawling, it killed nothing.
For Woden took nine glory-twigs,
he smote the the adder that it flew apart into nine parts.

Now there nine herbs have power against nine evil spirits,
against nine poisons and against nine infections:
Against the red poison, against the foul poison.
against the yellow poison, against the green poison,
against the black poison, against the blue poison,
against the brown poison, against the crimson poison.
Against worm-blister, against water-blister,
against thorn-blister, against thistle-blister,
against ice-blister, against poison-blister.
Against harmfulness of the air, against harmfulness of the ground,
agaist harmfulness of the sea.
If any poison comes flying from the east,
or any from the north, [or any from the south,]
or any from the west among the people.
Christ stood over diseases of every kind.
I alone know a running stream,
and the nine adders beware of it.
May all the weeds spring up from their roots,
the seas slip apart, all salt water,
when I blow this poison from you.

Mugwort, plantain open form the east, lamb's cress, venom-loather, camomile, nettle, crab-apple, chevil and fennel, old soap; pound the herbs to a powder, mix them with the soap and the juice oaf the apple.
Then prepare a paste of water and of ashes, take fennel, boil it with the paste and wash it with a beaten egg when you apply the salve, both before and after.

Sing this charm three times on each of the herbs before you (he) prepare them, and likewise on the apple. And sing the same charm into the mouth of the man and into both his ears, and on the wound, before you (he) apply the salve.”

What is récels?

Récels is simply the Anglo Saxon word for incense (vb. récelsian – to perfume/fumigate with incense).

Many people associate incense and especially fumigating a person as a form of healing ritual more with the new age movement than with any kind of Germanic practice. There are however a few references to incense, appropriate incense for different purposes and fumigating a patient as part of the healing in book III of Bald’s Leechbook.

Charm number sixty-two recommends this kind of practice as part of a treatment for ‘Elfsickness’.
When it comes to the patient, we are advised 'geréc þone man mid þám wyrtum' (smoke that man with the herbs).

Herbs that were generally used depending on purpose were fennel, wormwood, mugwort, hops, vervain, bilberry shoots, betony, leeks, garlic, enchanter's nightshade, and burdock.

There's also advice given in the same charm on how to prepare the incense”

‘do aelcre handfulle . bebind ealle þa wyrta on claþe bedyp on fontwaetre gehalgodum þriwa . Eft wit þon, lege under weofod þas wyrte laet gesingan ofer,’ . (Take a handful of each, bind all of the herbs in cloth, dip into hallowed spring-water three times. After this, against that (illness), lay these herbs under an altar and let them be sung over.)

There is further advice which some in the new age community might find a little familiar-sounding in some ways:

‘7 þonne he restan wille haebbe gleda þaerinne lege stor 7 alfþonan on ta gleda . 7 rec hine mid þaet he swaete 7 þaet hus geond rec.’ (And when he wishes to rest, have coals brought in there and lay incense and elfthon on the coals, and fumigate him with that so he sweats and fumigate around the house.)

What are the modern uses for Anglo Saxon magico-medical lore?

To put it simply, it’s up to you but again, I would advise caution when using herbs if you do not know what you are doing. Personally I tend to pay attention to things like how a charm is written and use them as models with which I can write my own. I pay attention to the numbers, to the things that may seem kind of quirky but that have similarities with other magical traditions and folklore that I know such as purification through running water. I sing over my herbs, I make herbal mixes that I sing over and then mop them into the floors of the house as a form of purification. I periodically use certain herbs as recels when needed. I look at existing charms and try to figure out new uses and applications.

Tradition has power and the first time you sing or chant a charm that’s over a thousand years old in a tongue that hasn’t been spoken for so long, you feel it. It’s different and it’s familiar all at the same time.


This essay has now come to an end and there is perhaps nothing left to say but that I hope you found this interesting, that maybe you feel it’s interesting enough to start looking into this for yourself and to leave you with the traditional Anglo Saxon greeting/wish.

Wæs þu hæl!/Be whole!

Sunday, November 28, 2010


'Im Labyrinth, verliert man sich nicht (You don't lose yourself in the Labyrinth)
Im Labyrinth, findet man sich (You find yourself)
Im Labyrinth begegnet man nicht dem Minotaurus (You don't face the minotaur in the labyrinth)
Im Labyrinth begegnet man sich selbst' (You face yourself)

-Hermann Kern

This is what is written on a sign outside the Labyrinth at the Erloeserkirche here in Bamberg. It's a simple labyrinth in church grounds that noone ever seems to walk. The words that you read before you go in hold one of the deepest truths about labyrinths and hints at the confusing nature of the legend of the minotaur in the labyrinth. There is no puzzle to entering and leaving a labyrinth, it is not a maze, there is only one way in and one way out. You cannot get lost physically. There would be no need for string to mark the way and a labyrinth certainly wouldn't trap a minotaur. So one has to really wonder what the myth was hinting at (or if the author was just confusing terminology).

Labyrinths are one of those things that have existed in so many cultures throughout the ages and in so many contexts. In Scandinavia, there are literally hundreds of labyrinths in coastal areas that people would walk before going to sea to 'rid themselves of trolls' or bad luck. There are tales of games played in labyrinths in which involve boys trying to rescue a girl from the middle of the labyrinth.

When people walk a labyrinth, they do it in any number of ways. Some folks like to be complex, build chants, hold hands, do it in a group, others like to read while walking but for me, this misses the point of what the labyrinth is about.

For me, the labyrinth is about silence and what you might face in the silence. When we become silent, even if it is only for long enough to walk a hypnotic pattern in the earth, we open ourselves up to ourselves. It's one of those times when we actually listen to ourselves, confront our thoughts and feelings. For me, the pattern, the hypnotic twists and turns is like a 'fast track' to clarity. Solutions we may not have thought of before may become clear, things that burdened us might suddenly have a resolution and you may leave the labyrinth feeling lighter or having come to some conclusion for how to deal with what it is that is bothering you.

People find silence scary. Today when I walked the labyrinth, my friend came with and experienced a labyrinth for the first time. Afterwards when we were in the cafe warming up, she told me that she'd felt a little reticent to walk it because of the silence and that she never got into meditation because the idea of silence is daunting - you never know what might come out of that silence.

And that's an interesting point, from nothing there is always something. It's not so much an emptiness as potential. Unbidden thoughts, dredged up feelings from the past and sometimes, just sometimes, voices that aren't your own and can't quite be explained.

Today it was a certain song for me. A song I sing for home ringing clear and glorious in the silence of my mind, an internal soundtrack providing peace.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reconstructionism and Seidhr

During my 15 or so years firstly as a proto-Heathen and then eventually as a Heathen, I've seen a lot of change come about. For me, first it was looking for the tiniest mentions of Northern European lore in my hometown's rather...*ahem*...backwoods library and then came the internet. Now the internet opened so much up, especially for those of us that came from places that hadn't really progressed from being Victorian mill towns. For some reason at this point, more or less all the Heathens online seemed to have names that included the names of gods or goddesses and almost everything was on an angelfire or geocities site. Things were terribly fluffy.

At the time, there really wasn't that much information out there about Seidhr and what there was had very little connection to anything in the lore or worldview of the Heathen period. It's my belief that this particular issue has plagued Seidhr ever since.

Now I'll lay it out there, I'm one of those freaky, deaky people that does nutty things like mound sitting or spending the night in bronze age burial chambers, however about three years ago, my view of these magical practices began to change and I started to look at Seidhr from a reconstructionist angle. And so began an area of study that I'm probably going to be digging into for at least the next twenty years. From my studies in Seidhr from a reconstructionist point of view, I've come to certain conclusions when it comes to the role of Seidhr in communities and how Seidhr is often practiced today.

The first conclusion is that magic and the supernatural were part of the Heathen period worldview. How many occurrences of magic and supernatural are there in the Eddas, Sagas and contemporary accounts? And how many occurrences are there of people saying 'What a load of bollocks! Piss off and stop chatting shit!' (or words to that effect)? No, they generally took it seriously, even if it was just to put a sealskin bag over its head and clobber it to death with rocks (as in the Eyrbyggja Saga). So if we really are to reconstruct a Heathen worldview, surely it then follows that magic and the supernatural would be a part of that?

The second conclusion is that each person had a role(s) and a function(s) in their community, i.e each person had skills that they could bring to the table that made them useful and valuable. Survival from winter to winter wasn't a guaranteed thing and people would utilize the skills that got them through.Seidhworkers were no different. In the lore, magic isn't done out of a sense of altruism but for some kind of reward (1), revenge(2), to protect family or oneself(3). It's a commodity that can be traded just like any other. It wasn't some higher calling, it didn't mean that the practitioner was going to be 'closer to the Gods' or whatever. It was just that some folks had the knack for it, kind of like some folks have the knack for playing the piano or brewing the best beer or mead. In the words of Tyler Durden from Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 book Fight Club:

'You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.'

The third conclusion is that, while mostly liminal characters, people that were known to be skilled in Seidr, *were* able to form parts of the communities they inhabited(4) although not all of them chose to do so and in some cases, are believed to have formed their own communities(5).

The forth conclusion is that the Heathen period worldview was world-accepting, rather than world-rejecting and therefore any magical system that is a part of that worldview must also be world-accepting. Modern ideas about travelling off to different worlds and going gallivanting with the gods or after some concept of enlightenment are not world-accepting in nature (or at least accepting of this world right here) and therefore could not have been a part of the Heathen period worldview.

So now that we've cheerfully ruled out big chunks of what constitutes modern Seidhr practice (e.g altruistically 'seeing for the people', trance journeys to the gates of Hel, going to natter with the gods etc), what's left? And how can Reconstructionism and Seidhr be combined?

There are certain aspects of modern Seidhr practice that do stick quite close to the lore but this does vary from group to group. Some groups try to reconstruct the high seat ritual as described in Erik the Red's Saga, even down to the clothes the seer wears and the description of the staff. Other groups only do this to a point and substitute what they feel has been lost in the sands of time with other techniques. That these techniques are usually of the world-rejecting variety doesn't seem to be an issue to the groups that employ them. While I am the first to admit that we don't have enough detail to reconstruct Seidhr in its entirety with any degree of accuracy and that some aspects would need to be created anew, I do believe that it is imperative to try and reconstruct as much of the period worldview as possible, and then create anew the aspects of Seidhr that are lost through the medium of that worldview.

Now this may seem a rather strange concept that Reconstructionism can also work for Seidhr, but why should it be? Some groups already reconstruct to a point, but why not take it further than what the Volva wore or how her staff looked? Why not look to what was actually considered Seidhr in the lore, find examples and study the recorded charms we do have in depth? Why not look at the way they were written, at any meters and language used and why not try to write your own? Why not go through those charms with a fine tooth comb and try and see if you can find shreds of Heathen worldview and then try to back it up with other examples? Why not look at the different theories that scholars are bringing forward about Seidhr, such as Eldar Heide's theory about Seidhr as a form spinning magic? Why not take it a bit further and pick up a drop spindle and learn to spin, go into that trance and try the theory out? Why not experiment?

And yes, it is a very subjective game. However how is it any different from Heathens standing at blot and 'feeling the presence' of the gods or that their offerings have been accepted? Do we have scientific proof of those things either? Do we have scientific proof that killing that animal there as an offering to the gods and splashing its blood on the congregation will ensure that our luck as a community will grow, that the gods wanted some rabbit or whatever in the first place or getting splashed with blood will mean that we're blessed?

Of course we don't have any proof for that,but that's where we cross into the domain of faith and UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis). In my opinion, this is a key part of Reconstructionism in general. We do the research, we reconstruct, we experiment and see if it works out to our satisfaction.

Why should Seidhr be any different?


1. Thorbjorg, 'Erik The Red's Saga' chapter 4, offered her services in exchange for hospitality during the winter in a time of famine.
2. Thurid, 'Grettis Saga' chapter 78, cursed Grettir after he threw a huge stone at the boat that she was in and it broke her thigh. Gunnhildr, 'The Saga of Egil Skallagrimson' chapter 59, brings Egil to York by Seid spell, argues for his death and then changes into a sparrow and twitters incessantly to spoil his concentration when trying to write his 'Head Ransom Poem'.
3. Katla, 'Eyrbyggja Saga' chapter 20, manipulates the perceptions of Arnkel and Thorarin to hide her son, Odd.
4. Thordis from 'Vatnsdaela Saga' uses her seership skills to help out at legal cases and then uses Seidr to get both parties to accept the solutions she gives them.
5. See 'Gods and Worshippers' pages 110 - 126 by Thor Ewing. Also references in Lokasenna to Volvas on Samsey. 'King Olaf Trygvason's Saga Part II' chapter 69, Olaf goes to Tunsberg to wipe out male Seidhmenn, of which there seems to be a high number living in the area.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Balance Series 1: Gender Roles in Heathenry

A few years ago, I did security for a Pagan event in England called Pagancon. Now in England, there doesn't seem to be the same divide between Pagans and Heathens as there does elsewhere. We all tend to socialize together but do our rituals and have our study groups separately and so there was a good mix of different Pagan 'paths' at this event. It was the second day of the event and after a rather stressful morning that involved stopping an impending altercation between a man in a cape and about twenty, large, rugby lads, I'd managed to get hold of a rather nice drinking horn. I went to the bathroom to clean it out and I came across this lady in there, who, on seeing the hammer, first asked me if I was an Odinist.

'Nay lass' said I. 'I prefer the term Heathen.'

Then she looked at me awkwardly, almost as though she was uncomfortable with what she was going to ask next.

'But...but...isn't that a terribly sexist path for a woman to be in?'

At the time, I defended Heathenry. I told her about strong goddesses and strong women, about women in Northern Europe having more rights than their counterparts elsewhere and about modern Heathen women being respected by Heathen men. For her part, she looked at me with pity, as if I was somehow deluded.

But now I'm not so sure if I was or not. Looking at the wider Heathen community, I see so many ideas and so much bad behaviour from Heathen men towards the women in the community that just scream 'imbalance'.

For me, the biggest imbalance for Heathen women is the overall lack of knowledge that Heathens have about the roles, rituals and rights of women during the Heathen period. People just tend to leave it at 'women had the babies or did the Seidr and they're cool' and leave it at that. Conversely, there is so much discussion out there about the various roles that men held - especially when it comes to the role of warrior (and shock horror, the Viking), so much so that it's become our stereotype. When outsiders think of Heathenry, they tend to think of it only in terms of being a warrior religion, but what of the farmers, the craftsmen, the traders, the fishermen, the businessmen and women, the travellers, the thinkers, the wives, the husbands, the poets, the writers, the children and every other role/s that a person can hold in a society?

Thankfully, farmers are receiving more of a mention nowadays, but still, that the gender roles only seem to boil down to warrior/farmer or mother/Seidkona as far as the wider community is concerned seems a little myopic to me. We need to look much deeper.

And we're already seeing the effects of these ideas, especially when it comes to women and some of the behaviours I've heard of being used against women to get them to conform to the ideas that each particular community has about what women should be and how we should behave. The following is a list of examples that I or Heathen women that I know have come across:

* Being ignored or cut out of participating in more scholarly conversation topics. Or a 'Ok, now the 'estrogen' has left, we can talk about serious stuff' kind of attitude

* Being subjected to personal abuse for daring to (politely) disagree with a man about a point of lore when in the same conversation, a man can express the same disagreement and in the same way and get a perfectly peaceable response.

* People addressing your husband and asking them about you when you're standing right there and obviously capable of answering for yourself. Or asking your husband if they are allowed to speak to you or friend you on Facebook (well after all...we're the property of our men, right? Duh!).

* People mailing your husband when you disagree with them to complain about you and then wishing your husband 'luck in being married to you/that' after he tells them that they deserved what they got for their rudeness.

* Being subjected to peer pressure to have children and conform to this role of being a motherly 'peace-weaver' type.

* Unmarried women receiving messages about how they need to hurry up and get married or they'll be too old to have children and then will be therefore 'too old' to marry and what about 'breeding for your folk'?

* Judgmental comments that imply a link between childlessness and lack of worth in community.

And of course, most of the people that display these behaviours and communities in which these behaviours are prevalent also usually claim to respect women and sometimes will even wax lyrical about how great Heathen women are (within the confines of the aforementioned gender roles, of course).

One typical example of this kind of thing is this note.

The author probably thought he was being complimentary in writing this but there are so many flaws, so much that is based around the idea that the woman is the 'helpmeet' of the man and it's scarily very much focused on the idea of the woman as a mother. In fact the author refers to the woman's role as childbearer in relation to no less than five of the 'Nine Noble Virtues'(as he has written them 'for women'). And yes, while it cannot be disputed that childbearing did play a huge part in a woman's life back then, was that her only role? Nothing more than a baby-machine with no views of her own that can only find freedom in widowhood or death in the childbed, always ready to lay back and think of Freyja whenever her big, hunky, viking comes by wanting to spill some seed?

Is our view of Heathen women really so one-dimensional?

Can a woman not be more than some compliant baby-machine that basically cleans and cooks for her man's comfort? And more to the point, what is the remedy for this imbalance?

As I have previously mentioned, Heathens in general are woefully ignorant of the 'Spindle side' when it comes to Heathenry and the rituals, history and roles that that entails. The current views that are prevalent when it comes to the roles of women are simply a symptom of this ignorance. I think it is also telling that these views are generally not held among Reconstructionist Heathens who are more concerned with building up a picture of community as a whole rather than just one particular, favoured role.

So, as with many other issues that we face, the key is education. The problem is how to encourage more people to look at the 'Spindle side' in any kind of depth.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jinx Houses

When I was growing up, I grew up with the concept of something called the 'jinx house'. Certain houses in my local area were known to be unlucky for people to live there. Bad things would happen to everyone that lived in those buildings and strangely enough, they seemed to always follow a theme. The house next door to my parent's house was one such house and people would quite literally stop taking care of themselves and destroy themselves unless someone stepped in. Another house in the locality is known for everyone who lives there getting into either messed up love affairs that mess them up or losing their relationships. Divorce after divorce after divorce.

As a child growing up with quite an acute awareness of the seen and the unseen worlds, this presented quite a unique set of challenges for my parents. I would see people in my room at night all the time and would scream the house down. I hated everything about those things, I hated the way the room would look different and then the cold that would sweep in and then the glimpses of things starting to appear (if I hadn't already ran out by then). Even worse was when something would just be there when I turned round. Things got so bad that I couldn't sleep without the dog in the room because I was just too scared. As I've previously mentioned, my father's family background has a strong spiritualist vein and he would try to explain things to me, tell me not to be afraid, that nothing could hurt me and that nothing bad could stay in our house because of all the love that our family had.

And it's true. I'm not trying to paint a picture of some kind of halcyon childhood but my parents did their utmost to do their best for me. They still do and I love them dearly. We still had a lot of ups and downs during my childhood, well that's just life, isn't it? But our family was very loving and our house was a very loving and happy environment. It's still the kind of house where you walk in and you're instantly comfortable, feeling safe and welcome.

When I was younger, I thought my dad's explanation about love being the key to keeping out horrible things was simplistic and 'fluffy', but during my time moving around and now, living in Army accommodation, I've found he was absolutely right.I live in a place of soul-less buildings, where transitory people, some with very little love in their lives, some with extreme psychological and emotional disturbances, some with horrible circumstances and some with all of the above live. Sometimes it feels as though the walls may as well be made from tears and anger.

Needless to say I have to work hard to keep our apartment cocooned from this. A lot of the things I do now are ingrained into my house cleaning routine and practices and done as a matter of course. My husband and I also have a very strong relationship but I think these buildings will be spoiled for years. I think if we were to live here for the next 50 years, it would still feel the same as now.

Naturally these places attract wights that aren't so nice and unfortunately they stick because there's nothing to prevent them from sticking. This seems to be worse in the barracks where the single soldiers live. These buildings are 'jinx houses', all of them. If you add someone in there with any level of sensitivity or openness to things beyond the mundane world, things really get crazy.

One of my husband's friends is going through this at the moment and it looks like we'll be going round to take a look and clear whatever it is.

I've cleared a few houses in my time and advised on plenty more, it's something people seem to come to me for and have done for years. Each case is different, with different origins, different factors, different behaviours and different 'cures'. I've come across everything from the terrifying to the tragic, to the almost comical in a really unintended way.

When a clearing has been successful, it's a wonderful feeling. The air feels so light, like you can breath again and it's like this 'lifting' that happens and continues to happen as the effects of the nastiness wear off over the course of a few days and peace is restored.

Unfortunately, because of the way these buildings are, if I were to get rid of the wights(using the word in the 'being with movement' sense) that are scaring him, the chances are that the best outcome I could hope for in this case would be a sense of emptiness.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tracing Back The Strands

I stand at the tree in the place
and I weave
The wind whips up, the rain comes down
Yet still I weave

I watch the weave grow, I chant
My fingers work
I'm wet and I'm cold
Yet I still work

It seems dark there in that high place
As I call out my wishes to the wind
I take the magic, gather it up
Then weave it all in

When it's done I take the cord
Apple tree to hand
The wind drops, the rain calms
We give our thanks to the land

Weeks later I found
What I wove had come to pass
It didn't work out how I'd wanted
I should have wove better than that

Instead of a panicked attempt
Of weaving on a train
When I made everything all the worse for me
To keep what could not be saved

I should have known better
But the stakes were too high for me
I'd tried to work against wyrd
But had I not, what kind of a mother would I have been?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Remember, Mugwort!!!

I'm walking around a place called the Druidenhain. It may or may not have been a place where the druids worshipped but it's special all the same. There's an energy here, a vibe that you don't often find outside of the British Isles. It's never truly 'clear' here. It's hazy in a way that even my 'ignore everything possibly spooky' husband can't deny and things move around you.

You're never truly alone here but it's comfortable all the same.

The forest is welcoming in parts and forbidding in others. A mixture of 'good neighbourhoods' and 'bad'. The trees move here too, come to recline on rocks and if you look for long enough, sometimes you catch their faces in the bark. Most of them are nice but others are not so but I hold my ground all the same, sit on a rock and tell them that I'm not going to be a problem to them. I've come a long way.

People come here too, to do things not so dissimilar to what I do. They bend birch trees into living archways, leave offerings and write runes in the moss. So I tread with caution. These things are familiar and so I make sure I'm protected because who knows what I could trip off in a moment of carelessness? I use the archways as viewing places, I sit on a rock and sit so I can see both through an archway and normally too. Sometimes I see figures moving quickly. Small, some transparent and only able to be seen by the distortion of 'pixels' that they produce when they move, others strangely blue and others are small, black, shadow beings. It doesn't surprise me that they are there, those things are drawn to power. The blue one I'm not so sure of, but the others, yes.

I walk around and find nine different sticks, these are going to be used later.

I go to the place where I drummed the last time I came to the Druidenhain. When the song of my drum rang out loud and clear over the thudding of the beats. It'd been such a long time since I'd played my drum, I'd forgotten how beautiful a song he has.

I sit down and I mentally pull at the surrounding area. They're shy but soon my head begins to swim as I chant silently in German. I tell them I have nothing but respect for them and to please show themselves. I need more time but I don't have it. My friend's dog is getting restless and the others want to leave the place in which I could quite happily stay a whole day and so I take what I have and we make offerings to the land spirits of the forest.

After the blot, I take some private time and turn to go to a hidden place but not before a stick stops me. My husband says he hasn't a clue where it came from because it wasn't there before but it's just the right height for me and so I pick it up. I then bury the past. That particular past with a bit of work could help the area and the wights. What was my mistake could be their help.

We leave and I take my new stick. At home I notice carvings on the length of the staff and I'm not sure because of what others may have done and so I brew up mugwort just in case. I tell the herb to remember its words at the council and to use its power to help me, I sing the words onto the staff and make sure to breathe them onto the wood to give them life and then I sing runes. I guess only time will tell.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Neubuerg Myth

From 'Es Spukt in Franken' by Michael Prottel:

Neubürg was once known as the Home of Wotan. The nordic Allfather used to hold a council of the Gods every year between the twelve holy nights between Christmas and Epithany. There, all the Gods of the Germans would come together on Neubürg. They would sit on the mountain in golden thrones and were adorned with stars that they had brought down from the heavens. If the Gods had need of entertainment, then they would go hunting in Wotan's woods. As serving-folk, Wotan had twelve dwarves that lived inside the mountain. Aside from those dwarves, there were also twelve fiery men and twelve flower spirits that would stand at the side of his throne.

Every year at the Summer solstice, the Germans would make a pilgrimage there and would camp all the way round the base of the mountain. Only the priestess of Wotan alone lived upon the mountain. During the cultic festivals she would stand above them all upon the plateau and pray with raised hands to the father of the Gods. The Germans would then make a long procession in silence past the priestess. She would wander around the Neubürg seven times and invoke the blessing of the God. When they heard the roar of a storm, then it was believed that Wotan was approaching and everyone would throw themselves to the ground. They used to also believe that Wotan had buried his treasure inside the mountain however not one of the German Heathens would put touch spade to holy earth in search of those riches.

The last priestess of Wotan at Neuburg was called Wonnefried and she was a very devout woman. In her youth she had taken a vow of chastity in spite of being a very attractive woman. Every day at sunrise, she would pray to the heavens and at night she was the last person to make a circuit of Neuburg.

One year at the solstice festival, a man called Edron arrived at Wotan's mountain and almost as soon as the proud warrior saw Wonnefried, he fell in love with the priestess. After the festival, instead of moving off with the other tribespeople, he set up camp in a forest at the foot of the mountain. Each day the suitor would try and win the favour of Wonnefried. Wonnefried prayed to Wotan who wanted to give her the the strength to overcome this temptation. However she also came to be moved by Edron and so eventually allowed him to stay at her side if he also made a pledge of abstinence. Edron did so willingly and so the former warrior became priest at the side of the priestess. Often would they sit hand in hand at Wotan's altar worshipping the Allfather together.

Unfortunately this was not to last.

One day the first Christians came from the West trying through either words or other means of coercion to force the Germans to renounce their Gods. When the priestess heard that a tribe had sworn loyalty to the opponent of Wotan, she wanted to crush them at their heart and so convinced her friend Edron to lead an army of faithful against the Christians. Because of the circumstances, Wotan allowed them to give up their vows of chastity.

Edron strapped on his sword and hastily gathered the devotees of the old religion. However the Christians were already more numerous and the battle was already lost. Wonnefried and Edron mourned the many fallen, most of whom were followers of the old ways.

Then a rumour reached the priests of the old ways that the Christians would be coming in the following days to destroy the great altar of Wotan. In response, Wonnefried carried out the holy rites for the last time before embracing Edron and going with him to the highest stone on the highest side of the mountain. There the lovers kissed for the final time, entrusted their souls to Wotan and threw themselves off the mountain. The next morning, the Christians came and found their opponents lying dead on a rock, crowned with flowers placed there covertly during the night by followers of the old ways. Unmoved, the Christian priests destroyed Wotan's altar in the bright sunshine, throwing down the stones of the mountain.

Neubuerg: Autumn and Ostara

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


On Sunday, my husband and I packed the dog into the car and took off to Neubuerg, partly to celebrate Ostara but mostly to just go back to the place and make offerings there because it's become a very spiritual place for J and I.

Neubuerg is a hill, a rather large 'tabletop' hill that overlooks villages, farmland and forests. Dotted throughout the landscape are the type of rock formations that seem to epitomise Franconian Switzerland. Naturally, as with all these hills, Neubuerg is steeped in folklore and its stories speak of a time when the tribes used to come from miles around to worship at what was then, a place of council for the Gods. There upon the mighty Neubuerg would the high priestess of Woden make her devotions to the God on behalf of the tribes and according to the local myths, it was like this year and and year out until the Christians came.

Neubuerg is a place where I feel such belonging and connection, there is such peace to be had there, such a sense of life and vibrancy. Admittedly not something normally connected with Woden but through Neubuerg I'm learning new aspects of a God that has inspired me for years.

On Sunday it was raining up there, but we didn't care because we had come prepared for it and it meant that the Christians were more likely to stay at home. You see, this is the interesting thing about Neubuerg - one of the ways the high priestess used to worship Woden was by making a circuit of the top of the hill. Nowadays there is art up there that is suspiciously Odin/Woden oriented and it's a popular walking spot. Christians come to Neubuerg and walk the circuit around the top without knowing that they're following the tradition of those Pagan priestesses many years ago.

We were alone on Neubuerg, gloriously alone, only us and the dog and so we went to the place where we make offerings to the Allfather - a wonderfully atmospheric apple tree. J and I made offerings and then I tied a ribbon on the tree to honour the spirit, offered amber and then wove a spell upon the tree. While I was weaving the threads and singing, the wind rose. It was primal, it was wild and it was like being listened to. After I finished the wind calmed and we went to the second place to make offerings before heading back down the hill and home.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Seidr and Soul

Imagine you're standing on the surface of the moon, looking across at the earth, all seas, continents and clouds. Imagine that you'd arrived from a distant world and your impressions of this world were based on the Voyager golden records from 1977 that you'd found floating aimlessly beyond the reaches of the solar system. Those impressions, while purporting to depict life on earth, are the product of one culture. Kind of like their version of life on earth as seen through their unique cultural lens.

You decide to look closer and start with the continent that's the most featured in the records - America. There is differentiation and some confusion because of that. Then you decide to look to the other cultures of the earth and find more differentiation - not everything is as uniform as it initially seemed. Some places are more interesting to you and so you decide to look closer and get subculture upon subculture upon subculture. You think of the records you found in that poor, rickety,aimless satellite and in some ways you feel sad that that's all others will see. In other ways though, you feel deceived.

That's how I feel about the Heathen community and especially Seidr. You have all your well-known folk, the people that make names for each other and write all the books - the Voyager golden records - if you will. Some of these are better than others. People flock to these, they flock to the Hrafnar method as if it's the only way of doing things and these people and the people they endorse are the only people that are capable of doing it.

But if only they would look further, they would find something much more interesting.

It's not a secret how I feel about the Hrafnar method. It goes something along these lines - cool if it works for you but please just own up and admit that it's basically Michael Harner 'core Shamanism' techniques with Northern European trappings overlaid rather uncomfortably on top.

This is the loud, this is the Voyager golden record of Seidr.

Out there, there are many Seidrfolk. Some have vaguely similar methods, others have vastly different methods. Like tiny lights in the darkness as seen from an aeroplane window at night. On different continents, with different cultures, backgrounds and speaking different languages.

My Seidr cannot be like the Seidr practised by an American or a Dane or a Norwegian simply because we are not the same. We do not come from the same land, the same blood, the same background or the same culture. It makes me sad that there's almost this kind of 'standardised' Seidr out there. What then of the real training of Seidr? That of walking the land, of dealing with the dead and the wights, of honouring tradition, of feeling things 'shift' and seeing where that shift will take you, of ecstasy and fear and sacrifice and joy? What then? Is it all to be swallowed up by the High seat? I'd take the mysteries of the burial mound anyday!

That brings me onto the soul. Another part of this 'Voyager golden record version' of Seidr is this idea of a 'soul complex', of a soul made up of many different parts when there is nothing to suggest that that idea is any older than the 70s. This wouldn't be a problem were it not for people acting as though it was some kind of divinely revealed truth and 'how dare you question it?'

Now I don't claim to know what the soul is or have a special handle on the truth. I was very convinced by non-dualism for a while but that doesn't fit with all the experiences I've had in the past - if anything it restricted me. If there is one 'truth' that Seidrworkers must accept, it's that the world is created by mind or what would be the point of doing any magic in the first place?

Belief is so important, belief opens doors but society makes us afraid to walk through them. We're constantly fed the importance of being 'normal' and having a grip on 'reality'. But you know what? While I'm the first person to laugh at someone saying that they saw the goddess Hela hanging out during the Black Death in a former life, I also keep in mind all the things that people believed to be true, were considered insane but were proven to exist by science years later. I guess it's a fine line - isn't everything?

I've mentioned it before but there is an interesting link between sanity and Woden/Odin, the God that constantly searches for Truth. We know the word 'Wodnesdaeg' in modern English as 'Wednesday'. Originally it was 'Woden's Day'. A word for insanity in Old English was 'Wodnes'. I found that interesting. It reminds me of something a Greek woman once told me about crazy people being those that were shown the door to the Truth ™ and were too afraid to step through. Instead of being made whole, they were driven crazy by what they knew and saw. They lost the 'middle-wise' ability to live a happy life.

But anyway - back to the soul and how I don't really know how to consider it anymore. No theory I've come across fits for me. I can't bring myself to believe in reincarnation, or soul parts and I absolutely don't believe that a person can be possessed unless they are complicit in that possession. I suppose it's just something that I can't name that goes along with my hamr (astral skin) and physical body as part of the package that is 'me'.

Thankfully for the extraterrestrial visitor, there will be commonalities to find across the board and in Seidr that commonality is trance. The ability to go into various types of trances.

For me, music has always been an important part of that and chanting combined with an Anglo Saxon narrative style charm usually sends me off. Music is magical. When I was studying psychology at college, we learned that brain scans had revealed that more parts of the brain were engaged while listening to music than during any other activity...period. Music can anger, bring peace or joy, can depress or lift a soul (whatever that is ) to the highest heights. Music takes us to memories, feelings and deities. Hell, according to string theory the universe itself is like some kind of gigantic orchestra of strings all oscillating at different frequencies.

If then that is the case, does it not make complete sense that so many forms of magic are linked to music in some form? Follow the theory through at its most basic level and you come to the startling idea that if you somehow can change the oscillation frequency of the particles then you can change the object itself.

Pure magic.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Embracing the Wódnes, Soul-ful Musings, Folkways and Fighting the Lyme

Sickness is never an easy thing to accept, especially when it looks like it won't be a quick fix and might leave you with lasting issues that could ultimately make you a burden on your friends and loved ones. Goodness knows I don't want that, I've always been so independent, the wild woman that would have probably never settled down had it not been for meeting a man that I feel such a connection with, that life without him is now not only unthinkable but unimaginable.

A couple of weeks ago, I was officially diagnosed with Lyme disease and it looks like I've had it for a while. By my calculations, my lovely man first noticed the mark on the 27th of September. I really wouldn't normally remember were it not in the same week as a particularly traumatic medical appointment. It was at my friend's house when we were getting dressed one morning that he noticed it and at the time, I just thought it was a bruise - after all, I had walked into a dresser the previous day in a furniture showroom, hadn't I? But over time, it began to spread and spread and then my breathing became difficult and I spent a lot of time with my right hip in pain. Then my right elbow, then my right shoulder and right knee. I finished my first course of treatment last week but need to go back for more but I'm not going to just be one of those folks that lets the disease take everything away from them. I've started a program of 'FUCK THE LYME'. The plan is simple, do stuff. Exercise, go to the gym, do yoga, just get off the sofa and get one over on the disease that would keep you there! I will make roses from this shit, just watch me!

As for the more mental/spiritual aspect of Lyme that I was worrying about, I'm going to embrace it. I don't know that the things I see and hear aren't hallucinations caused by possible late stage disease but who cares if they are! If it becomes distressing then I might reconsider my position but if it doesn't then what is the harm?

Incidentally enough, there is a word in Old English - 'Wodnes' and it means 'madness' or 'frenzy', it's also the possessive form of the name 'Woden'. For example, take the original version of the word 'Wednesday', it was 'Wodnesdaeg', literally 'Woden's day'. Woden is a god of truth, or at least searching for the truth and in many cultures the link between a form of madness and then enlightenment is unquestionable. Who knows, through embracing any Lymey Wodnes, maybe I'll learn something of use? Or maybe I'll just go crazy but at least it'll be interesting.

So in light of this, I'd like to share my potential Lymey brain wank from last night with you. Part of my FTL program is meditation and sometimes chanting motivational affirmations with Buddhist prayer beads to try and brainwash myself into doing everything I want to do. Last night I ended up talking to my dead Grandmother again. I haven't done this for a couple of years and it was great, very interesting. I've had a non-dualist standpoint for a while now but now I'm not so sure. I think there's a degree of choice involved in where we go when we die. If we want to be non-dualist, we will be. If we want to go somewhere else or think we have to spend eternity in some big, burning pit then that's also what will happen. It's not reconstructionist but it's what I'm coming to believe.

Which brings me to the matter of belief and folkways.

There's been talk of the existence of some kind of 'over-arching Northern European folkway', you may be wondering what this is - I know I was. Basically, it's the idea that "our Northern European ancestors shared a common over-arching world view, common language root, common gods, a common focus on ancestors and land spirits, and other commonalities" and that that is our link or something to the ancestors. We should follow those older ways to honour the ancestors.

This concept is problematic for me in a few ways. First is my definition of who I consider to be 'my' folk. For me, my folk are people in my community that have proven themselves to be valuable and trustworthy members of our community and nothing to do with their ethnic origins. Actions and deeds, not amount of melanin. Also just a quick note on the word 'folk'. I come from a place where it's used in common, everyday parlance with no racist overtones. It just means people - any people. People in a different country might be called 't'folk frum o'er thee'r' (the people from over there, meaning the sea).

Secondly, the biggest issue I have with the 'folkway' thing, is that this whole idea of an overarching folkway for a group of peoples as diverse as those of Northern Europe confuses the hell out of me. If there is just one big over-arching folkway with the Gods, ancestors and vaettir then what would it be? We're all kind of mixed in Northern Europe and you have all these different layers of different folk that intermarried and shared ideas with each other. For starters in England, there would be the Celtic gods and then the Romano-British gods, then the Roman gods and genus loci that are still knocking around, then there are the sets of gods that came with the various tribes collectively known as Anglo-Saxons and then there are the gods that came with the Vikings (but only really predominantly in the Northern areas). Now we're still discovering gods and goddesses from the Celtic and Romano-British period - we really have no idea how many there were but I once read a study that said that in Europe, evidence of more than 400 Celtic deities had been found to date. Just from the gods and beings that I know from my local area and upbringing (because it really is surprising how much has survived and just been absorbed into the church and local lore and customs) what I would consider to be my folkway would probably be very different to what others would consider theirs to be. My husband, an American Heathen and I see this all the time. I have different traditions that I follow and have followed for years that people from my area have followed before me. That to me is my folkway. That is the heritage of my folk passed down to me and kept alive by following all the different traditions. Sometimes I have to adapt those traditions because they're linked to a place in my local area but they are still kept.

So do I believe in an 'over-arching Northern European folkway'? No, I haven't a clue what that would be in any kind of real terms. However I do think that there is a folkway, a kind of 'universal language' of folkways that is the product of a few Northern European folkways that tends to be used by US Heathens. Kind of like how a bastardised form of wicca became the kind of universal format for a lot of Pagans and 'ecumenical' Pagan gatherings. Not saying this newer folkway is wrong or lesser, just that I think it's a product of, rather than an expression of some common thing.

Ok, I'm going to stop there. When I start using the word 'thing' when I *know* there's a perfectly good word for that concept and that normally I would know it, that is a signal to go to bed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lymie Madness

So today I went to see the doctor. Over the past few months, I've had breathing problems, a rash and aches and pains. I've been treated for asthma, given antibiotics for the rash which was judged to be a skin infection and none of it got better - really.

And I wouldn't have gone back either, were it not for the rash actually spreading. It started on my hipbone,an angry-looking purple/red circle and then turned into an angry-looking purple/red circle with a red borderline circle around it that widened and widened until it had made it's way to my spine. Between the purple/red circle and the red borderline is now more or less skin-coloured.

The doctor took one look at it and asked if I'd been bitten by a tick at any point. I told him it was highly possible with all the camping and walking through woodlands I've done. I even knew the term that described that rash - erythema migrans. Most doctors diagnose on that alone but my doctor sent me for a blood test to test for Lyme disease.

Now the thing with Lyme disease is that hallucinations and hearing voices can be a part of it. As well as wondering if I've got it, I'm also wondering how long I've had it, how many of my experiences can be put down to it and how I could distinguish in the future between genuine experiences and Lymie madness.

It's been an interesting day.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I chant, I call them out
Disir, vættir, family long gone
I hold my staff close
Tap out the beat
I reach out and pull

This has happened to me for years. I've 'pulled' consciously and subconsciously. Once my father sat me down and told me that those with the gift are like beacons of light in a world of darkness to the dead. A very benign explanation and for years I believed it but now I don't. Now I know the truth - we bring them to us.

The cold comes, the dog leaves
I stop the beat
A tear on my cheek, he sits next to me
And I feel it, 'Well done!'

Another time, another reality - dream reality. We're walking in a place back home. Vast moorland, rugged, brown, green and purple. A great gap lies cleaved into the earth. A place known to locals as 'Devil's Ditch'. Archaeologists call it an 'earthwork'. In the distance I hear screaming of a long dead woman. Locals had known her for a witch.

'Don't you want to go there?' he asks.

I shake my head no. Only crazy people go to Old Rachel's at night. He asks why I'm afraid, what it is that I fear and I tell him that I fear the madness that comes from seeing too much. But I know deep down I'll never be 'middle-wise' again.

The barrier's broken, there's no going back
I've graduated to the next class

And I feel fine.

Then what was pulled, must be pushed back
What was woken must be laid to rest
The room warms, the dog returns
I feel blessed

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Bloody Inheritance

I come from a place where there is still a high incidence of domestic violence. It's more even-handed in that the wives fight back but it's still a part of everyday life for too many women.

Men that don't beat their wives are proud of that fact, they should be, but it's sad that it's seen as an achievement in my area when it should be ordinary life. It's still a really real concern of parents when their daughters marry. I remember the only time my parents seemed to be proud of my ability to fight and gobbiness was during a conversation with a neighbour who had remarked about how I'd 'never allow herself to be beaten by a husband'. I was though, once, by a man that I had been seeing. I would never have been stupid enough to have married him if it had ever come to that. He was much larger than me, 6'4" but I gave it everything I had to fight him off and held my own until help arrived. The next day I took a hockey stick to his head. I very nearly did too, until the boss talked me down. I grew up being told never to marry a man from a certain nearby town because they're all wife-beaters there.

I've heard the sounds of a neighbour and his wife going hell for leather at each other late at night, the sounds of her screaming, wondering if you should call the police when you know for a fact that she'd be fighting him too and it was probably a pretty even fight. I've helped friends patch themselves up after being beaten by boyfriends and husbands. But then I travelled, met a wonderful man and forgot all that exists.

Until tonight when talking to an old school friend. She's recently had a broken finger. It was broken so badly that she had to have surgery on it and wear a metal frame. She'd just said it was a fight when drunk, which led me to believe that it was just the average out and about kind of fight that are common in my home region but no.

Tonight she told me that her fiance did it after she hit him in the face with a metal bar. I think she did this because he cheated on her and yet she is still marrying him.

It's been a nasty reminder. I'm worried for her, for them. Why are they marrying?

I'd forgotten how common this kind of thing is back home.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bread Men and Songs

Yesterday I baked some bread.

It's really not easy to knead dough when you have arthritis in your hands but I did it anyway. A small sacrifice to add to our small sacrifice of a bread man. Where I come from, there are certain places where people leave flowers and other offerings like home-made bread. Certain trees, certain stones and certain watery places. With other trees, it's common to tie ribbons to the branches either as a wish or an offering.

And so I've started to make my bread men offerings here. Last night, before I went to bed, I gave the first bread man to the Nisse and sang him a song of offering under my breath as I did so. Then I sang to the ancestors honoured at our shrine. This evening I walked the dog with me to the lake. This lake and surrounding woodlands have many vættir in spite of how new and man-made the place is. I wonder if it's because there are no church bells here that they congregate. From what I've seen, they don't seem to like the bells. I've been coming to this place for about a year now, making my offerings, singing my songs of enticement to the vættir and working for acceptance for myself and my husband in this land. Tonight was no different. Tonight I stood on the banks of a lake that looked iced over in the dark and I called to the wights in German before giving my offering. Another bread man, tucked into the base of a tree.

On my way walking around to the other side of the lake I sang once more to the wights. When I sing, it's never a song that I plan but it just seems to work anyway. A tune or a rhythm will enter my head and words will form at my lips and before I know it, I'm singing to the place or the spirits. Sometimes it sounds like a song and other times it sounds like a joik but it works.

There is magic in bread and music, on the most basic level they're about creation. Bread must have seemed almost magical to our ancestors and when you think about it, it is pretty interesting how bread is made. I once read that one of the Grimm brothers wrote a piece about the various types of German breads and how they had all originated and how they linked to folklore and religious belief. I'd like to read that some day. As for music...did you know that scientists found while doing brain scans that more of the human brain is occupied while listening to music than in any other activity? Music can move us, it can make us angry, happy, tearful, lustful, contemplative, depressed and many more emotions. Music can be spiritual, it can lift us up from our mundane world and just give us that taste of something greater.

Bread men and songs. Simple magic.