Thursday, January 6, 2011

Law and Spirituality

I had a dream last night (staring Odin) that was pretty interesting. Now I'm not saying that this was Odin or that I'm Odin's little snowflake, because I'm not. My brain simply churns things over when I dream and makes connections that I don't see when I'm awake.

My husband, Odin and I were going from court to court to court, all at different levels (as you do...). From a 'door court' to a modern high court, to a magistrates court and again and again, we were told that 'this is how it must work with the Holy Powers too'.

When I woke up this morning, I couldn't help but consider the role of law in Heathen society, how they considered law to apply to the living as well as the dead (as evidenced by the 'door courts' held to resolve hauntings in properties) and the possible parallels between how we conduct ritual, how court was conducted and also how we view/deal with gods in the equation.

Heathen society was 'world accepting' in that a person wasn't looking for some otherworldly salvation or goal. Spiritual growth wasn't about getting closer to a deity, it was about community and growing in your community. So surely it would make sense that one of the ways in which a person could do that was through the Allthing ? How he or she represented herself at the Thing would invariably affect how his or her community would see him/her and ergo the amount of regard that person was given.

However it does also bring up what we as Heathens should consider to be the law and, in line with another debate that's occurring at the moment, what do we do when we feel it's violated.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Lost on the Moors

This is a short story about a folkloric being from my local area that we all used to tell each other about as kids and one fictitious man's encounter with that being. When we were children, we were told not to go in certain bodies of water to swim because of this being. Her folklore has fascinated me for a long time and I wanted to write a short story about her. I'm aiming to do this for a few other beings from folklore in future. For those of you that know all about her already, I know I took a bit of artistic license with some bits of this story - especially the ham but I wasn't sure how else to extricate my character from his situation. The dialect is just my interpretation of how it sounds like it should be written to me and is based on the strong dialect of a guy that used to live down my road. You lot know there are no spelling rules for Lanky Twang :P. This story isn't really set in any time and the photo is of a place where we were told was one of this being's favourite hangouts.

It was getting dark by the time the man was making his way home across the boggy moors and he was getting nervous. The moors are a wild place, full of ghosts and boggarts. He'd heard the stories many a time about people that hadn't made it home or who had seen the large, black, demon dog with flaming eyes only to die a few days later.

Why was he on the moors at night again? He'd been warned against that since he was a child.

It had been market day in town of course, no getting out of that if he and his family wanted to eat and the moors were the quickest way home. He should have been over them by now though. He should be home with his family, stretched out in front of the hearth and eating his wife's bread and broth.

The paths were treacherous though and easily mistaken for sheep paths;maybe he'd taken a sheep path? Maybe that's why he wasn't home yet?

He didn't want to think about being lost, not up here and certainly not at night.

There was a bloke that used to live down his street called Fred Thistlethwaite who didn't believe in the old superstitions, and would go hunting with his old wolfhound at night. 'Tis allus t'best time' he used to say as he headed out into the twilight with his snares in hand and dog following close behind. One day though, he hadn't come back but his dog had, shaking and whimpering down the street until someone took it in. A search party had gone out and found him dead, his face frozen in terror and hands clawed as if trying to fend off something ghastly.

He didn't want that to happen to him but he was most certainly lost and not even sure he was on a sheep path anymore. Not knowing where he was, he carried on walking as he seemed to be going slightly downhill. Downhill's a good thing, right? There was also no mist and he was thankful for that too. There were all kinds of nasty things that could come in the mist.

Suddenly the moon exited the cloud cover and he spotted the sparkle of a tarn in the distance. He knew tarn water wasn't good but he was just so thirsty and so he headed towards it.

As he drew closer, he fancied he could hear singing, there couldn't be anyone still up here could there? Before his death, Fred Thistlethwaite might have been up here so it could be possible! Even so, he approached with caution.

It was a woman, reclining on a rock at the side of the tarn and combing her long, straggly hair with her fingers as she basked in the moonlight.

'Excuse me please!' the man said, 'Could tha be suh kind as t'tell mi how ah con get back to Brinscall?'

The woman looked at him fixedly and in the next moment she was at his side, smiling a toothy smile with teeth that looked like they were made from small, sharpened, alge-covered rocks. The man was afraid, nothing natural could move like that.


He stopped as the woman came to stand before him. The hair she had been finger combing now looked like pond weeds and she had a distinctively inhuman quality. Almost as though her skin was shimmering water.


Her voice sounded watery too, as though she had no breath in her body and he gasped as a memory surfaced of childhood and the older children warning him about certain watery places and a 'Granny' that haunted them. It had been a favourite story in his group of friends. His eyes widened and she smiled her sharp, green, smile again.

'Tha's too owd fer my tastes lad!'

Frozen in place, the man waited as she walked around him, a cold draft passing as she did. He shuddered. What could he do? His mind began to race and go through the stories, all of them were about children and how she took her pleasure from drowning little boys and girls. There was nothing about adults! How could he get out of this? It's not like he could throw salt on her – he had none and wasn't even sure it was going to work! Getting a grip on himself, he decided to try talking to her again, it's not like it could do any more harm than had already been done, right?

'Ah'm er...very glad t'hear that mi lad-'

'Call me 'Granny'!', the woman said quickly.

'Ahh, reet, yes....ah'm very glad t'hear that 'Granny'. Ah'm sorry to be botherin yer though, ah got mysel' lost 'ere on't moors...'

'Granny' eyed him more closely and smirked cruely, 'Followed a sheep path did yer? Ah'v ad a few that way....that there algae is reyt slippy under certain circumstances'

She came closer, meeting him eye to eye and breathed, 'Ah keyps the algae wet on purpose...'

The man nearly gagged on the smell of stagnant pond.

'Ok, ah sed, ah'm glad am t'owd fer thi....ah really need t'be getting back t'Brinscall, so ah must bi off!'

Bravely he turned as thought to march away from her but as he did, he found her standing before him as though he'd never moved.

'Hast tha geet owt for me? Ah do so like gifts.'

Not taking his eyes of her, he took his pack from his shoulder and searched through it for something he could maybe give her. In the end, all he could find was his last crust of bread, some hard cheese and a small piece of ham.

'Ah'm sorry, ah'v nowt else.,' he said as he handed the gifts over to her, 'It'd be different if ah'd come across yer before ah'd gone t'market...'

'Granny' smiled genuinely and reached out to take the gifts. She seemed especially delighted with the ham.

'There was a time, when folk would gi me this stuff wi'owt avin t'ask...'

The man didn't know what that meant but she had almost sounded wistful.

Slowly she walked past him, staring at the ham and taking her time to inhale it, her sport with the man almost forgotten.
'Yer path is o'er there, follow it t'trees, tha'll see a barn on yer right, go past it, t'road'll get bigger after that and you'll end up back in Brinscall.'

Thankfully the man picked up his pack and headed off, not entirely sure if he should shout a quick thank you to the 'Granny' or if it was best to stay forgotten and disappear into the night.

He opted for the latter and found the path as 'Granny' had described it. When he got home, he hugged them gratefully and slurped up his broth with enthusiasm before sitting them all down to tell his tale of Granny Greenteeth.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Traditions: Mourning The Passing Of The Old And Celebrating The Birth Of The New

I've come to the conclusion that all the celebrations around the new year make me homesick. Every year back home there are certain traditions that are observed on new year's eve that really make the night for me. The being with friends and family, the standing with crossed arms and holding hands with everyone you're celebrating with in a circle to sing 'Auld Lang Syne' at the stroke of midnight before going round hugging and kissing each other with best wishes for the new year, the newer tradition of fireworks in our too-small gardens,the old tradition of going knocking on your neighbours' doors with a bottle of whatever's handy to wish them a happy new year. I miss all of that. I don't even think it would be possible in other places because people don't live close enough to each other. Growing up on a row of terraced houses, you're never really alone. Everyone knows what's going on with everyone else. If it rains and you have washing drying on the line in the yard, your neighbours either knock on your window to let you know or they'll take it in for you if you're out. In summer we stand in our yards and talk to each other over the fences. When I was younger, homebrew kept in sheds would be shared too. There were street parties, we would sit on the street and talk to each other.

I don't think I'm really homesick for any place at new year's eve but rather a time. I see those old traditions disappearing even back home and it makes me sad in the same way that my dialect and the decreasing numbers of speakers of that dialect does. And I really believe in keeping traditions, they're our link to our ancestors but sometimes they're just not possible.

So you sometimes have to create anew and I think last night, we finally came up with something nice.

Being outside in the falling snow, with a background of fireworks, dancing our own dance and singing 'Auld Lang Syne' was really nice. A bottle of whisky tucked in my bag kept us warm and when we got home, I kept an old tradition that I could keep in its entirety: opening the door to let the old year out and the new year in.

Today more new traditions were created. We cleaned the house, then we cleaned ourselves and our clothes before I blessed the house with mugwort again and said a short prayer to Frija and Holda.

These new traditions feel good, even though I still mourn the old ones that are passing into memory and I hope they help bring us luck.

So, happy new year people and I wish you all the best for this coming year.

May it be a lucky one for us all!