Mead and Mistletoe

Thoughts on Pagan Spirituality from an ADF Heathen Druid

Tag: anglo saxon

Ancestry, Runes, Honour and Mission

So this is just going to be a general update on some things that have happened in my life over the past few months which I wanted to share.

Firstly, I took a DNA test recently. I had a story in my family that one of my ancestors was a Japanese witch who married a British army captain and I wanted to confirm or disprove the story. When the DNA test came back, there was no trace of Japanese so I unless it can be proven by DNA tests from other family members, I’m going to assume that was just a legend or mistake for now.

However, some very interesting things did come out of the DNA test. Originally from South West England, I was unsure if I would have primarily Celtic or Anglo Saxon ancestry. This is important to me because, while I side with the Universalists in the Folkish vs Universalist debate, for me personally, I want to honour the gods of my ancestors. I started off my Pagan journey focused on the Celtic gods but felt more of a call to the Anglo Saxon ones over time and I was unsure if this was the way I should be going, or whether I should focus more on the Celtic ones still. Well, the DNA tests came back and showed a few interesting things. Firstly….one test showed that within the last 10 generations, my ancestry is 95% British (plus a little Eastern Europe and Scandinavian thrown in), and as I expected after doing some family history studies, about 27% is from central south England, but there was also something very unexpected – 26% was from South East England – which is most definitely not Celtic. There was some from South Wales and Cornwall (so I have about 15% Celtic ancestry), but most of it was clearly from Anglo Saxon areas. This confirmed to me that Anglo Saxon was probably the right path for me, but then there was a second test – this one looked at the direct male line all the way back through history, and it showed that my Haplogroup was from the Germanic branch of the R1b Fatherline. Apparently this is associated with Western Germany and to find it outside Germany suggests its from the “Germanic migrations that have shaped much of Europe over the past two millennia” – in other words, probably the Anglo Saxons. Together these tests have really confirmed for me that honouring the Anglo Saxon gods is the way to go. Of course, DNA tests have issues and we are only at the beginning of the science right now, but it’s the best I’m going to get for the forseeable future so I’m happy to go with it.

Secondly, a few years ago I made some runes on clay. I ended up taking them all around the world with me and some of them ended up getting lost. I have been meaning for a while to create a new set so that I can do divinations properly. I finally got the motivation to do this today and created a new set of runes – this time on small disks of wood. Now that I have an allotment, which came with some tools such as a Saw, it has made it much more feasible to do things like make the wood disks. I therefore went to a local woodland and found some suitable wood. I made the rune disks and then carved the runes with a penknife. I also painted them red. They came out pretty well. Here is a picture…

Another big thing that’s been playing on my mind for a year or two now is “purpose” i.e. what is the purpose of life, and in particular what is the purpose of my life. The truth is that I don’t think we can ever know. I’m not sure if there is an overall purpose for life that everyone should follow, or whether we each have our own unique purposes. I also don’t know if a purpose is something we have to create for ourselves as the existentialists suggest, or whether it’s something that the gods/ earth mother decide for us. Nevertheless, I have come up with a “mission statement” to guide me as a purpose of my life for now. I would like to share it here…

My mission in life is to “Live an honourable and contemplative life of service and devotion to the Earth, the Kindreds and all life.”

Of course this could change over time but for now I’m happy with it. It helps give my life direction and helps me make important decisions. One of my long term goals is to set up a Pagan monastery and that fits in well with this. In that mission statement I have also emphasised the importance of living “honourably” because I have come to the conclusion recently that “honour” is probably the most important pagan moral virtue and aim of life for a Pagan….it certainly was in the Paleo-Pagan cultures of the past. I intend to do a blog on this pretty soon.

I have also been working through the OBOD and BDO Ovate courses, and the ADF Clergy Preliminary courses which I am hopeful will be completed by the end of June and I will then begin my main studies to become an ADF priest. On my previous blog Nature Is Sacred, I mentioned that one of the things that came out of the OBOD Bardic course I did last year was the inspiration to join the Navy Reserves (something the gods confirmed to me by giving me the rune Ing in a divination – which talks about going over the sea in a boat)…. I’m glad to say that I was able to join this month.

Well that’s pretty much it for now. I do intend to get back to the Heathenry50 challenge posts soon, but my grand plans for doing a post every week have been thwarted by life lol. Finally, please don’t forget to subscribe by email, like the Facebook page and follow me on Twitter and Tumblr. The links for this can be found in the sidebar.

I’ll leave you with this great track from the Vikings series…

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Worldview: The Principles of Paganism

Hi everyone, sorry I haven’t been updating the blog recently, life gets in the way sometimes and I’ve been struggling to find the right way to talk about this topic. Therefore I have slightly changed the title from “Worldview, Animism and Divinity” to “Worldview: The Principles of Paganism”.

What I want to look at here, are what are the defining characteristics of the Pagan, and specifically Heathen religion? How can we define it? What are the key principles that make up the worldview of a Heathen?People say that if you ask 10 pagans to define Paganism you’ll get 11 answers. And anyone who tries to define it will invariably miss someone out. Well probably but I think we should try anyway. In my opinion, the best explanation of Paganism comes from the Pagan Federation. It defines Paganism as:

“A polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion.”

So a Pagan is someone who follows a pantheistic or polytheistic religion. Someone who honours multiple gods and/or nature.

Paganism (and therefore Heathenry) is based around four key principles that make up it’s worldview. These are – Polytheism, Ancestor Veneration, Local Animism and Pantheism. Over the following weeks we will explore then in more detail but today we will look at a general overview of them.

Polytheism

Polytheism comes from two Greek words “poly” meaning many, and “theos” meaning god. In other words, Polytheists believe in many gods. Polytheism itself can be split into three groups – hard polytheism, soft polytheism and archetypal polytheism. Hard polytheists are those who believe that there are many gods, that the gods are real, existing individuals with their own personalities, thoughts and plans. They are distinct from each other. Most heathens, including myself, would categorise ourselves as Hard Polytheists.

Soft Polytheists are those who see the gods as aspects of one or a few gods. They might agree with the statement “all gods are one god”. Hinduism is a good example of this. Many Wiccans are also soft polytheists (duo-theists) who see the various goddesses across cultures as aspects of the one goddess, and the various gods across cultures as aspects of the one horned god.

Finally Archetypal Polytheists don’t believe that the gods are supernatural existing individuals, but rather that they exist in the collective unconscious, that while they are bigger and more powerful than us, they are not separate from us. It is important to note that archetypal polytheists don’t see the gods as just symbols.

When we polytheists talk of our gods, they are not the same as the monotheistic god. The gods of polytheism are more powerful than humans but they are not all-powerful, all-knowing or benevolent. They are limited, have their own agenda’s (sometimes in conflict with each other) and may have moral flaws just like us. However they are much older and more powerful. One of the best advantages about being a Polytheist is that we tend to be more tolerant of other religions than monotheists due to our ability to acknowledge the existence of other people’s gods without worshipping them. We also don’t have to contend with philosophical problems like the problem of evil as we don’t have a god who is simultaneously all powerful, all good and all knowing (a contradiction in terms).

Ancestor Veneration

Ancestor devotion is arguably one of the world’s oldest religious practices and it was important to ancient pagans too. Honouring ones parents, grandparents and ancestors back through time is a vital part of Paganism and Heathenry. It teaches us important values, like filial piety, gratefulness and respect for others. Modern Pagans particularly honour their ancestors during the winter period. There are ancestors of blood (our family), ancestors of place (those who lived in the same area as us in the past) and ancestors of spirit (those who have inspired us or our culture – including honouring heroes such as from the Saga’s). Our ancestors can also include all life forms back through time to the first living thing. Pagans today research our ancestry, have ancestral altars, and pray to them when we need help, giving them offerings of food or drink. For many Pagans, ancestors are the first point of call when we have a need because while gods are mostly interested in the universe and their own plans, the ancestors are much more concerned with their family lines i.e. us and can therefore be powerful sources of help and wisdom. They can help us resolve difficulties, ensure good luck and prosperity in our lives and intercede on our behalf with the gods. If mistreated, it’s important to also acknowledge that they can bring misfortune too.

Local Animism

Traditional animists believe that there is spirit or soul in everything, whether tree or sun, rock or clouds. A modern version, new Animism, interprets things a little differently and talks about “more than human  persons”. New animists argue that each thing has person-hood rather than spirit – in other words, there are human persons, rock persons, sun persons, cloud persons, hedgehog persons, oak persons, bee persons and so on. They have an inherent worth and we are naturally in relationship with them. We can build those relationships up. Interestingly some philosophers support a version called “pan-psychism” or “pan-experientialism” which argues that the ability to experience, or even some form of consciousness, exists in everything from the smallest electron to the largest universe. In ancient versions of Paganism we can see animism in their worship of the spirits of trees, plants and animals, in the spirits of home and place, in the belief in land-wights, elves, dwarves, fairies and the Sidhe. Modern Pagans also honour these spirits.

But animism is not usually focused on honouring spirits as a whole, but on local spirits – the spirits who live close to you and often can help you out. One thing I discovered during 18 months of traveling is how difficult it is to practice Paganism when you are on the move. Paganism, Animism, Heathenry – these are all rooted in the local. Graham Harvey, in What Do Pagans Believe, argues that “pagans know their local landscapes and build relationships with it and the spirits who inhabit it.  “the original meaning of ‘pagan’ – ‘ an inhabitant of a particular place’ – has encouraged a new focus on locality in modern paganism. A classical pagan was someone who belonged, someone who celebrated where they lived, someone who knew their local shrines, springs, hills, trees and neighbours, and could trace their decent from local ancestors. These pagans lived in both urban and rural places; the important thing was belonging to an area.” Practicing Paganism is about knowing your local area, and connecting with the land and spirits there. It is about celebrating the seasons as they change there. It is about maintaining an altar there.

Pantheism

Finally, we have Pantheism. Pantheism comes from two Greek words “pan” meaning all, and “theos” meaning god. In other words, Pantheists believe that all is god. Pantheists see the earth as sacred and the universe as divine. It is the foundation on which nature worship and veneration is built, and it is an important inspiration for environmentalism. Many scientists are pantheists, as can be seen from James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory. Pantheism can be both “naturalistic” or “supernatural”. It can see deity as personal, but more often views it as impersonal, more akin to a force like the Dao. In modern Paganism we honour the Earth Mother. While this is due to the rise of the environmental movement in the 1960’s, there are lots of traces of worship of an earth mother in ancient times, whether it was the Celts worshipping (and the king marrying) the local goddess of sovereignty represented by the main river in the area, or the Anglo-Saxon Acerbot charm calling on Erce (earth), Tacitus’ writings about the early Germanic people’s worshipping Nerthus who he called Mother Nature, or the existence of Gaia and Terra Mater (earth mother) in ancient Greek and Roman religion, it is clear that honouring the Earth Mother was an important of Ancient Paganism too.

So these four philosophical outlooks help to define the Heathen or Pagan worldview. It is a very different, and much more ancient, way of looking at the world, and over the coming weeks we are going to explore exactly how that manifests itself within the Heathen tradition and how I interpret and practice it from my perspective.

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Why Heathenry?

To start off this 50 week heathenry challenge, I’ll start by exploring how I became a heathen, why it’s important to me and how it improves my life. There are many different paths one can take as a Pagan – Wicca, Druidry, Heathenry, Roman Polytheism, Slavic Polytheism and Hellenism. Within those broad categories there seem to be as different approaches to each one as there are people. So why did I choose heathenry in particular? Well before we get into that, I want to write about my spiritual journey leading up to this point.

I was born in Bristol, England. I spent the first 12 years of my life there, and though our family wasn’t particularly religious at that point, I did attend a Church of England school and some of my earliest memories from my time there were doing RE classes or attending the local church. Around the age of 11, my family went through quite a hard time due to two of my grandparents dying within 6 months of each other, and problems in my parents marriage. During that time of turmoil, my mother was invited to a different church, a pentecostal one, and became a Christian. My brothers and I attended soon after, as did my father, and through it, my parents marriage was saved. Within a year, we had made a decision to leave Bristol and move to South Devon, where I was to spend my teenage years and much of my adult years so far.

A friend once said to me that when I make up my mind to do something, I jump in with both feet. That has been true of religion too. We started attending a new Pentecostal church and within a few years I was a committed and baptised Christian too, a fundamentalist who took my faith very seriously. I ran the school Christian Union and was known for telling people not to swear or they’d end up in hell. I spent much of my free time reading Christian books and getting involved in Church activities. Religion and Spirituality was very important to me.

But by the age of 16 I was starting to have questions. Questions like what was the original Christianity really like? How could I integrate it with my political beliefs? Why did other denominations of Christians believe different things and interpret the Bible differently. This led me on a quest which was to ultimately destroy my faith in Christianity. I explored many different options in Christianity – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Contemplative traditions, Quakers, Messianic and Celtic Christianity. I soon learned that much of Church history and consequently the beliefs of the Church are rooted more in politics than the Bible, I realised almost all of the creed of evangelical churches was not biblical. But what would ultimately destroy my faith were three events that happened in 2010.

In February of 2010, I finally accepted that I was gay and managed to find a way to reconcile that with the Bible. I then came out to my friends and family. They were very accepting, if a little shocked. However, a month later came a bigger shock – one of my close friends was killed in a car crash at age 23. This set me on a path into a more liberal Christianity, especially on the issue of hell, and led me to start questioning why a loving god would allow suffering. I came to the conclusion that the god of the bible was not loving after all. Third, I began to watch Youtube videos about atheism, morality and bible, and soon realised the inevitable end of my questioning – if the Bible was supposed to be the highest standard of morality, why did it include commands in favour of slavery, genocide and rape. That was the final straw and my Christian faith was over.

But the story doesn’t end there. I was not done with spirituality, and I was soon investigating Unitarian Universalism, Religious Naturalism and Pantheism. I began to feel a sense of wonder and awe at nature. It felt like I was waking up to the world. I found it to be a powerful source of spirituality for me. Though I approached it from a non-supernatural, purely scientific/ rational perspective, Naturalistic Pantheism began to fill a gap in my soul for something deeper and more meaningful. As I expanded this search into the practicalities of how to practice this, I found Paganism and the wheel of the year. I found Druidry a particularly suitable path and started various courses. I started my previous blog naturalpantheist.wordpress.com to explore the path.

Through my interest in Druidry, I found the organisation Ar nDraiocht Fein. This is the largest Druid organisation in America. Their vision since 1983 has been to build a public polytheistic religion based on the best scholarship about the Indo-European world. Because they don’t just focus on the Celtic but all the Indo European traditions – Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Greek, Slavic and Vedic (called Hearth Cultures in ADF), they appeal to people across the Pagan spectrum. Their commitment to scholarship and their study courses, inspired me to join, and I took their dedicant path course. Over time, practicing ADF style Druidry led me from an atheistic perspective on paganism, to become a polytheist. And I moved from a Celtic hearth culture, to an interest in Anglo-Saxon paganism. And this has led me to where I am today – a mixture of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry and Celtic Animistic Druidry, with a practice primarily based on ADF’s model.

Today I honour the Anglo-Saxon gods and my ancestors. I brew mead and use the runes for divination and communication with the spirits. I maintain an altar to the Kindreds in my home and I celebrate the turning seasons of the year. I seek to live an ethical and environmentally friendly life.

So, after that long history lesson, let’s get into the main question of the day – Why heathenry? As I said above, I consider myself both a Druid and a Heathen, perhaps “Anglo Saxon Druid” would be the best description of my beliefs and practice. But why? And why not just Druidry or Heathenry? Partly it is a result of being part of ADF – they mix Celtic and Norse/ Saxon paganism in a unique way. This is because we do not know enough about one or the other to produce a full religion – we have to use comparative mythology to fill in the gaps and create something that works and vaguely resembles what the ancients might recognise.

I also have a lot of faith in tradition, in the original way things were, in history. It was what started off my questioning in Christianity, and has done the same in Paganism. I am not a reconstructionist, but I am reconstructionist-inspired. I want to practice a religion that both meets my needs now, but is also as close to historical accuracy as is reasonable. I think scholarship is important and we should follow this rather than just making things up for the sake of it. It is hard to just mish-mash things together from a variety of sources and make them actually work, because often they are all based on very different foundational assumptions and worldviews. When we look at traditions of the past, their practices are built up over time, discarding what doesn’t work and keeping any innovations that do work. They stand the test of time and the process of trial and error. And that makes them worth taking seriously. Heathenry is a religion that takes tradition seriously too. It is called “the religion with homework” because it requires a lot of personal effort to read the latest scholarship and build a faith that works.

You may be saying, but doesn’t ADF mix traditions? Sort of. But the difference is that they are limiting their sources only to the Indo-European paganisms – religions that all evolved from the same group of people with the same basic social structures, worldview, patterns of thinking and approach to the divine. The Indo-European paganisms look different on the surface, but when you get underneath and dig deeper, they share a lot of similarities which helps us to work out what the original Indo-European religion was and then to build upon that foundation. It would be a very different story if we tried to mix say Celtic Paganism and Buddhism or Daoism – which are based on completely different worldviews and thinking, and leads instead to something closer to Wicca, a religion that has little to no historical accuracy.

Another reason I find heathenry to be a suitable religion for me is Ancestry. Ever since the death of my friend and a grandparent, I have found ancestor veneration to be a great way to cope with these events in my life. I think honouring one’s ancestors is very important for teaching us virtues like reverence, gratefulness and respect for elders. While most of my ancestors over the past thousand years would have been Christian, and possibly there’s a little Japanese in there too, I do think having a religion that was practiced by my ancestors further back is a good idea. I have recently done a DNA test so I will find out where my ancestors were from in early May, however being from England, I’m pretty sure most of them will be either Anglo Saxon or Celtic and so practicing a faith based on these is one way in which I can honour them and feel connected to them.

So I have explained my spiritual journey – through Christianity, to Naturalistic Pantheism and on to Polytheistic Paganism. I have explained some of the reasons why I find Heathenry to be a great fit – it’s emphasis on scholarship, the importance of tradition in reconstructing our modern pagan faiths, and the connection with ancestry.

The final reason for “Why Heathenry”, is more of a general point about Paganism as a whole. For me, I find nature to be the major source for spirituality. I find the purpose of my spirituality to be developing that connection with nature that we have lost. Paganism is an earth-centred religion that makes honouring the earth and living in harmony with her, the central aim in life. Through the celebration of the seasons, we can learn to be more in tune with the cycles of life. Through giving environmentally friendly offerings, we learn the importance of gratitude and awareness of our impact on the world around us. Through spending time in nature through ritual and meditation, we develop a deep relationship and connection with her and learn how to live in harmony with her ways.

My religion is arguably the most important thing in my life. It is what I spend most of my free time studying and learning about. It is the thing I am most passionate about. And it helps me to find purpose and meaning in my life. Paganism appeals to me more than any other religion because of it’s emphasis on Nature as the ultimate source of spirituality. And Heathenry is the particular strand of Paganism I practice because it values tradition, value scholarship and values ancestry.

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