Tuesday, July 15, 2014
The ways in which Heathens relate to and view the Allfather are many and varied, and I'm looking to put together a book of poems, essays, artwork, and accounts of how a wide variety of Heathens see Odin/Woden. I'm looking for scholarly and experiential alike. Ideally, essays or papers should be around 2000 words, but if you have anything longer, there is room for a few longer essays depending on the quality of work. Not all submissions will make it into the book. For example, any accounts of having astral sex with Odin won't make it in and I retain the final say on what goes in.
The book will be put together on a print-on-demand service and any and all profits donated directly to the Fisher House Foundation.
The Fisher House Foundation is a charity that runs a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment. They also run an air miles donation program to help those family members get to where they need to be. For more information on the important work the Fisher House does for service members, veterans, and their families, please go to: https://www.fisherhouse.org/about/
For more information or to submit work, please email me, Cat Heath, at:
Saturday, June 28, 2014
In today's post, I'm going to blog in a way I've never blogged before. I'm going to talk about something that I would generally only reserve for round a campfire with friends.
It was the spring of 2001 and I was in my first year of university. Like other students in the UK where the drinking age is a few years lower than in the US, I took advantage of the cheap club nights and cheap drinks offers that allowed the average student to go out and get steaming drunk on ten pounds or less. Cities are much more walkable in the UK, and so driving or even taxis weren't really a concern, most of us walked home, a method that we affectionately referred to as taking the 'beer scooter'. On this one night I'd been to a ska club night, and at some point over the course of the evening, I'd fallen over and royally twisted my ankle. Naturally I refused all offers to get me to the hospital and proceeded to self medicate with alcohol. In fact I'd self medicated so well, that I even recall the beer scooter going at far higher speeds than usual.
When I got home, I downed some water and crawled into bed. All was fine.
Until the next morning.
When I tried to stand up to go to the bathroom.
Moreover, my ankle was more than double the size of its twin. So there I was, needing to go to the hospital, but how to get there when I could barely walk? My phone, a pay as you go, had no credit. My housemate though (who was getting ready for work), was kind enough to allow me to use her phone to call a friend I knew for a fact would be skipping lectures. And so I called, and waited, and there was no answer. I remembered my friend always put her phone on silence to sleep, so I thanked my housemate and hopped back to my bedroom thoroughly depressed at the prospect of being able to do nothing, having nothing but ramen to eat, and all the boredom that whole scenario would entail. My ankle also hurt like a motherfucker. I laid down and considered just crying for the hell of it.
When I heard this ruckus in the tree outside my window. Normally inhabited by coal tits, the small birds were being chased out by two huge ravens who, on clearing the tree, sat on branches and looked at me square on. There was a real sense of presence, of omen about the whole affair, and deep down I had a feeling that it would be fine, that I wouldn't be spending all day stuck waiting for help. At that same moment, my housemate's phone rang, it was the friend I'd tried to call who normally really doesn't call back numbers she doesn't recognise. But as she'd told me later, she'd woken up with the strongest urge to check her phone and call back the number. To this day, she still doesn't know why she suddenly woke up from her deeply hungover sleep with the urge to look at her phone, or why she called back. It was just this strong strong urge. Within half an hour, she was round to help me get to the hospital - a process that took about two hours even though normally you could walk there in less than five minutes.
At the time, although I considered myself heathen, I didn't understand the principles of do ut des, nor did I even really think much of it or worry about gods not giving out 'freebies'. At that time, I didn't even really have deities that I offered to more than others -luck-bringers if you will. But over the years, and many similar situations in which I believe Woden had brought me luck (if not always in the most immediately obvious ways), I came to consider him a luck-bringer.
There's a blog post doing the rounds at the moment about not trusting any one god, that it's better to worship pantheon rather than single deities. However I'm no henotheist, and I think it's entirely natural that over time, we feel more of a connection to some deities over others. After all, we know what it's like to get on better with some family members or groups of people than others.
The blog even referenced Odin as an example of how you couldn't trust gods, and cited one follower's ideas on who he is for her. But as always, whenever I read these descriptions of the Allfather, I am amazed at how different my experience of him has been.
Now I'm not doing the equivalent of portraying the Morrigan as a kindly old grandmother that rides a unicorn here, it's just that I guess I see different sides of him because my worldview is vastly different to someone with a more 'BDSM Dom' idea of Odin. And maybe we only see the sides of deities that benefit us in some way, or that reflect our own personalities?
Either way, for me, the Allfather (whom I call Woden), is the wanderer, he's the wise lore-giver that travels the land turning up in really unexpected ways. He's the word-smith, the lord of language even. He's also healer, magician, ecstatic, eternally curious and hungry for knowledge. And knowledge can be found in many places, not just in the halls of kings, burial mounds, or Urth's well. He is also a seer of sorts, and has the vision to be truly wise. Yes there is obfuscation, and the wearing of masks or personas. There's a feeling of never being able to quite pin down who he is, and that he has been many things to many people. But in all the years I've prayed and offered to him, I can honestly say he's brought me more luck than not, and even when it's seemed like the luck he brought was bad, that ill-luck has more often than not turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
I was 10 or 11 when I first learned about the Allfather. As a child growing up in what was once the Danelaw, we spent a lot of time learning about 'the Vikings', but it was during the 'silent reading' section of our day that I learned the most. The book I kept the longest and read the most was a book of Norse myths. Then as now, the tales gripped me deep down.
And although I started out (as most do) very much inspired by the old Norse sources, my desire to see the 'bigger picture', to go down the layers of time and action, as an also eternally curious being, has seen me look more to those that started my nation and the land of their birth, and in turn has changed my perspective.
In my last post, I wrote about a bracteate I had been offered. A variant of a type C bracteate, the type that is purported to depict the scene of Uuodan healing the foal in the second Merseburg charm.
Although I initially turned it down, the man that offered it to me (completely out of the blue) insisted, and it now sits on a cord about my neck. I can only see luck in that.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Some of those people were supposed to also be moving from the area (until a job offer came up), and so my husband was approached about the possibility of having a pre-move offering ritual. Those of us that move a lot are very very aware of the luck aspects of a move. The whole process of moving and getting set up in a new place is so very very dependent on luck, be that luck the kind you get from wights, ancestors, or your deeds. It can be the difference between a successful move, and one that is nothing short of a disaster.
So on Saturday, we gathered at a local nature preserve to make offerings to Wodan and Thunor.
It's hard having a young baby and being back at work, it's hard finding the time to come up with a ritual format, or what kind of offerings to give, and in truth, the ritual hovered in the back of my mind until the last minute. I was totally uninspired, and wasn't even sure what the relevance was (truth be told).
However inspiration comes from the oddest of places. A few weeks ago, a replica of the Oberwerschen bracteate that ostensibly depicts Frija (or at least a spinning goddess) came out (available from here ). It's two-sided and depicts a replica of another bracteate depicting the same figure that was found in Welschingen. I got it, it was nothing short of a compulsion for me, and I wasn't alone. At least three other ladies that I know bought it. They were sold out within a couple of days of it coming out onto the market - mostly due to the growing popularity of the Holle-Frija cult. As I mostly offer to Frija and Wodan, I then began to wonder about similar representations of Wodan, of the Wodan that I know as opposed to the Scandinavian Odin. See, I don't see the god of Kings, warriors, and skalds that most people think of when they think of the Allfather. I think of the Wodan of the 9 herbs charm, the wanderer, the magician, the healer, the language-giver of the AS rune poem, the lore-giving word-smith, the husband of Frija, the benevolent Allfather of the Neubuerg myth, and yes, the Herela that leads the hunt.
In my enthusiasm for the Spinning goddess bracteate, I posted links to the online store on pretty much every group I participate in. On one of them, a UK-based group, one of the replies I got gave me a great clue to my inspiration. It was a request for identification of a bracteate pendant - one of the Darum/Ribe hoard that is thought to depict the scene from the second Merseburg charm in which Wodan heals Balder's foal's leg. I was then offered the bracteate by the posted that had requested identification, and being conscious of my current inability to exchange gift for a gift, turned it down. However, the seed of inspiration had been planted.
The second Merseburg charm is what we might call a narrative charm in that it relates a story in which the problem the charm seeks to heal occurs, and is healed.
Phol ende uuodan uuorun zi holza.
du uuart demo balderes uolon sin uuoz birenkit.
thu biguol en sinthgunt, sunna era suister;
thu biguol en friia, uolla era suister;
thu biguol en uuodan, so he uuola conda:
sose benrenki, sose bluotrenki, sose lidirenki:
ben zi bena, bluot si bluoda,
lid zi geliden, sose gelimida sin!
Phol and Wodan were riding to the woods,
and the foot of Balder's foal was sprained
So Sinthgunt, Sunna's sister, conjured it.
and Frija, Volla's sister, conjured.
and Wodan conjured it, as well he could:
Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain,
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
joints to joints, so may they be glued!
The parallels seemed clear to me, healing and luck are one and the same, and a spell of healing that overcomes a travel setback might be a spell of luck to avoid travel setbacks (or at least give us the luck to overcome any setbacks). And so I scribbled the prayer/charm/poem that was to be my travel/move offering/charm/prayer. As I was at work, it was rough and hurried, scribbled on pieces of paper hidden in my pockets. Like the charm that inspired it, I wanted it to be at least semi-narrative in nature, but changing the narration somewhat to fit my purposes and the side of Wodan I wished to call to mind, the wanderer that I have worshipped for years, myself as a wanderer. I also wanted to include something of the original charm, to 'borrow' some of its power and tradition. The original scribbles (albeit eventually copied nicely onto nice paper), was thrown to the flames.
"Once the High One went a-riding
Phol ende Uuodan uuorun zi holza
Foal leg break hindered their course
Under leafy canopies, the Holy ones wondered
How they might fare forth
When stepping forward, the Wodnes-father
Ecstatic and crazed one, his knowledge to share
The pained steed's ears opened
To receive the galdored charm
Ben zi bena
Bluot si bluoda
lid si geliden
sose gelimda sin!
As bone was to bone
Keep us whole
As blood was to blood
Keep us hael
As limb was to limb
Keep us strong
God of knowledge
Os god of language
God of luck
Watch over and inspire our travel."
And the ritual was beautiful :).
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Although there is a lot of debate as to what Seidr actually is in modern circles, chapter seven of the Ynglinga saga is quite clear on what it was perhaps considered to be:
By means of this he could know beforehand
the predestined fate of men, or their not yet completed lot; and
also bring on the death, ill-luck, or bad health of people, and
take the strength or wit from one person and give it to another.
It is on this manipulation of 'luck' and 'health' that I'm going to focus in this blog post. As previously discussed,'Haelu' is a word that can be translated as being both 'luck' and 'health', 'wholeness' and 'holiness', and a hero was no hero unless he was hael. There was no constant with haelu, as with physical health, it was something that could wax and wane in a person, something that could be worked for, fought for, gained, lost, and frittered away.
And where there are no constants, there can always be manipulation.
What if I told you, that rather than picturing haelu as being an either/or thing, that it would be better visualised, again, as with physical health, as a continuum of sorts?
Something a little like this, perhaps?
Now what if each person could be visualised as landing somewhere on that continuum, you know, depending on how hael or unhael they are? If you could somehow assess yourself in terms of haelu, where do you think you would stand on that continuum?
When viewed in this way, would it not be reasonable to consider those that are further towards the 'unhael' side of the continuum to be easier to curse and harder to heal, and those that are further towards the 'hael' side to be easier to heal and harder to curse?
The way I see it, there are two main implications for modern Seidr practitioners if we are to accept this paradigm:
1. That yet again, the importance of Seidr practitioners working towards being, and staying hael is is further emphasised.
2. That if haelu can be manipulated, either positively (healing) or negatively(cursing), we could potentially learn something about the mechanics, in other words the *how* of that positive manipulation using surviving magico-medical texts (such as the Lacnunga). Furthermore, in using those texts (after filtering out the obviously foreign influences), not only can we discern methods for protection, healing, purification etc., but we could also potentially discern something of the worldview from which they were born, and (if so inclined) extrapolate the means of negative manipulation.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
And a whole lot of change in the house of Birka.
You see,I became a mother about two and a half weeks ago in a process that was dramatic and drawn out (when is childbirth *not* dramatic though?). Pregnancy wasn't easy for me, and between the hypermobility in my joints that almost saw me crippled and out of work by week twenty, the bout of scarily high blood pressure at the end, and the pelvis that wasn't very conducive to birth, my body seems particularly unsuited for carrying and having babies.
Which is ironic seeing how getting pregnant took over four years of trying in the first place, and I'd wanted an all natural childbirth with no interventions, only to end up with the birth with ALL the interventions.
As I've said before, it's a good job I've got a sense of humour, and really, when I think about what I'd hoped for vs what actually happened, moreover, what *had* to happen for the sake of both of us, I do laugh some.
Some people talk about natural childbirth as being almost a transcendental experience, the pain putting them in an altered state of consciousness. A friend told me that I would see the disir during childbirth.
Through my three days of induced labour, I don't believe I saw anything or experienced anything as transcendental as that, but on the final day, things seem to shift on a dime.
I'd spent all night in some approximation of the dreaded back labour, mostly flopped over a yoga ball because it was the only position that didn't hurt as much as the others. Tensing up through another contraction, a nurse came in that we hadn't met yet - nothing new - but her demeanour was so different. Instead of waiting for the contraction to be over like the other nurses did before talking to me, she began to talk me through it, in terms of energy manipulation, and I followed. This had been my third night of no sleep and being in pain, and day number three was about to start with no progress since my admission on the first night. The contractions, while strong, were sporadic - my body was failing me and any dreams of a natural birth were disappearing faster than free beer on a Saturday night in Manchester.
It's an odd feeling to have your body fail you. It's hard not to feel disappointed or take it to heart, as though you somehow could have avoided this had you only done x,y, and z back when you were 21 and knocking back the beers as though the future didn't exist.
But it's good that we humans are inventive, that some of us carry the spark of inspiration, because there was a time when that kind of body failure would have spelled death for my child and I.
Strangely the nurse took the lead over the midwife (even though the midwife outranked the nurse) and laid out the plan for the day, if I agreed, they were going to get me an epidural to get me some rest, and push the induction hard while I rested. After nights and days of no sleep and pretty much nothing but pain, I agreed.
First point, don't believe anything about epidurals just feeling like bee stings, you don't feel bee stings scraping along your spine bones, and trying to hold still while something is going into your spine area while still dealing with a back labour contraction and the shakes is really not fun. Really. Once it's in though, the relief is almost instant, you feel your body parts, can still move them even, but you can't feel any pain - kind of like when you're at the dentist and have your mouth numbed for work.
At this point, floating in and out of consciousness ( I really was exhausted), it was as though the nurse, midwife, and a tech (who was from my country) came to embody aspects of goddesses, of Matronae, or at times, even Frija. It's entirely possible that I was a little delirious, but regardless of what the day would bring, I felt safe, like everything would eventually be ok. Hope restored.
At around four in the afternoon though, it became clear that nothing was working for moving this baby, she seemed to be getting distressed, moreover she wasn't responding to stimulation, and so I told them to cut me open.
The surgical team were scrambled pretty quickly, and I found out that oddly, the Dr that would be doing my section, a Dr whose name means 'new world', spent a chunk of her childhood living in Skemersdale (a town bearing an old Norse name 16 miles from where I grew up in England).
I've had some really weird experiences before in life, I've done some pretty crazy things, but to this day, laying on an operating table, trying to keep still because the shaking had gotten so intense it felt like my bones would crack, with my insides out, while an ex-resident of Skemersdale that was named for the land I'd come to live in sliced through whatever she needed to to get to our baby, is probably the most surreal to date.
As it turned out, my pubic bone was too flat for our baby to get past, they hadn't even managed to get the catheter in properly, as it had caught on that bone leaving a partially full bladder that had to be deflated in surgery in order to get the baby out. My dream of natural birth would only ever be that - a dream.
And perhaps all of this sounds like it was terrible - a far cry from that desired birth in which I would have used my womanly powers of birthingness to bring our little one into the world - but it really wasn't. It was actually the most amazing day of my life, and I'll never forget the sight of them lifting my little love over the curtain, or my husband's overjoyed cries that it was a girl, or the surgical staff cooing over how pretty she was even covered in blood and screaming, with her bruised nose from where the contractions had bashed her against my pubic bone. I'll never forget the way she tried to latch onto my cheek, or how I cried in disbelief and wonder at my daughter even as I struggled to breathe, and the relief that she was ok, that we'd made the right decision. I've seen some incredible things in life, but not one of those sights even comes close to the sight of that little girl for the first time.
The next morning, that tech from my country brought me breakfast, with a cup of tea that she'd made using her tea stash, and as I sat drinking my very British tea brought from home by another ex-pat, and eating toast with the very American concord grape jam on it, I couldn't help but be struck by the old world/new world themes at play here.
Two and a half weeks on, sitting here in my living room, with my baby, our hard-gotten child of two worlds, (finally) napping in the bassinet beside me, I can't help but feel amused by it all.
It's good to have a sense of humour.