Mead and Mistletoe

Thoughts on Pagan Spirituality from an ADF Heathen Druid

Tag: polytheism

I want to be a monk

I’ve written about this before on my previous blog, but I want to spend some time today writing about Pagan Monasticism and my dreams. This might be of interest to you, but it might just be me writing things to myself and that’s fine too.

My biggest dream in life, my big goal and aim in life is to be a Pagan Monk. I want to start or join a Pagan monastic movement. I want to live a life of devotion, contemplation and service to the gods/ kindreds, earth and all life. I don’t want it to be a monastery closed off to the world, but one that is open to the world, helping and serving the community. I want a place set aside to worship the gods, but where anyone in the community can come and do the same. I dream of such institutions across the country and the world.

I want to live a life of contemplative practice, according to a rule of life and a set daily rhythm of prayer and ritual, study and work, all in service to the spirits and the local community. I dream of having a building with rooms set aside with statues of the gods where anyone is able to come and give offerings or pray. I dream of outdoor space where we can hold rituals or give offerings to the local land spirits. It would focus on spiritual practices, both pagan and from other religions around the world. We will emphasise silence and solitude, gratitude, simplicity, humility and compassion.

I want it to be a monastic community which lives in service to others, showing our Pagan values. It would be a monastery with a space set aside for art and music so people can come and engage in the bardic arts. There would be a library for people to learn wisdom and study about Paganism, Nature and the gods. There would be a computer for people to do Genealogy research so they may learn about, and learn to respect, their ancestors. There would be rooms in which guests could stay, as well as a community cafe, so that we may practice and embody the virtues of hospitality and generosity. There would be resources for divination that people may hear the voice of the gods, and there would be pastoral counselling available by trained priests to help those who need spiritual help from an Anam Cara/ Soul Friend. And we would provide teaching to the community both free and at cost where needed. There would be a place to learn herbalism or make/ purchase natural products for health and home. We would brew mead for our offerings to the gods and to help as a source of finance for the monastery. Perhaps we will keep our own bees. Perhaps the monks would live with all things in common, but there would not be celibacy. Any “profits” made would be given away to others in need. It would be a community devoted to serving the community, to fighting for a just and peaceful planet, healing a fragmented and hurting world.

The community will take part in a set rhythm of life, with periods of celebration for the major pagan festivals and new moons, as well as periods of fasting, There would be regular daily prayers at sunrise, sunset and mealtimes. There would be regular prayers for the dead. Rites of passage such as Weddings and Funerals could be held there, and perhaps there would be a place for a woodland burial site.

It will be a community that emphasises our reverence for the Earth Mother, Spirits of Nature and all life. We will seek to live in harmony with nature, from eating veggie/ vegan to recycling and composting, from gardening and growing our own food using permaculture methods, to using renewable energy sources. Harmony will be our goal.

These are my early thoughts on the vision I feel called to in life. Now the challenge is….how can it be achieved?

 

Please follow and like us:

The Gods: Woden

The next stage in the Heathenry50 series is to write about the Gods. I have decided that this will be a series of posts. I’m going to explain my way of viewing the gods. This means it will mostly focus on an Anglo Saxon heathenry rather than Norse heathenry viewpoint. I will try to cite my sources where I can, but I may not be able to always remember where I found the information.

So to kick off this series, let’s begin with the chief of the gods himself – Woden. Woden is a very interesting character with many facets. His name comes from “wod” which means something along the lines of “intoxication, inspiration, madness or frenzy.” He is definitely not a safe, loving god. The third day of the week, Wednesday is named after him, as are quite a few sites throughout Britain. He can also be found in German and Scandinavian areas.

His wife is Frige and his son is Thunor, and possibly Bealdor too. He is called the Allfather as he is the chief of the gods and ruler of Osgeard since the probable abdication of Tiw. In the prose Edda, he is said to have created the world and humanity along with his two brothers (or parts of himself) out of the slain giant Ymir. Many royal kings traced their lineages back to him so he is the Royal Ancestor.

Wise One

wodenHis attributes are often seen in the myths. First is the Havamal, or sayings of the High One (Woden), which includes the story of how he hung himself on the world tree, Eormensyl, undergoing shamanic like sensory deprivation, sacrificing himself to himself, in order to win the knowledge of the runes. Another story tells of how he managed to steal the Mead of Inspiration and some drops fell to earth. Taken together these stories show  how we the elements we need to understand Woden. First he is the god of communication, eloquence, writing and poetry – he inspires us, especially with poetic utterances and he teaches us to read the mystical language of the runes. And he seems to be the god most concerned with all kinds of communication, especially the kind that comes during a fit of intoxicated madness.

He is the god of knowledge and wisdom, always willing to sacrifice whatever it takes in order to gain that wisdom – he sacrificed an eye to the Well of Mimir for wisdom and he sacrificed himself to gain the wisdom of the runes. In a desperate attempt to stave off Ragnarok, he is the traveler who wanders the worlds learning all he can.

Magician

He is a shaman and a god of magic. The myth of his sacrifice on the world tree in a mode of sensory deprivation reflects shamanic practices. The runes he discovers and teaches to humanity are not just a writing system but are mysteries useful for magic. In the Havamal he talks of many charms and spells he knows for performing magic. In the Norse world, he was interested in Seidhr, a shamanic visionary practice, and he is mentioned in the Saga’s laying down in a trance so that his soul could travel to far off places.

Healer and Psychopomp

He is most definitely a god of healing as can be seen in the Second Merseburg Charm and the Nine Herbs Charm, both of which emphasise his healing abilities. In contrast, he is also heavily associated with death, he is considered the leader of the Wild Hunt, a psychopomp figure who leads a procession of dead souls who march across the sky in winter on their way to the afterlife. In ancient Germany it was said that human sacrifices were made to him by hanging them on a tree, while in Norse sources he is considered someone who chooses half the battle dead to join him in Valhalla. I do not however think that there is much evidence of him being seen as a god of war, especially in Germanic or Anglo Saxon versions of heathenry.

Brewer

There are other sides of his character to consider too – he is the god of mead and brewing. In the Exeter book it is said that “Woden made idols.” In the Norse viewpoint, he is the one who invented cremation to sever soul from body at death. He is often accompanied by ravens or wolves. There is evidence from Germany that he is associated with the last sheaf of the harvest in September (see my previous post). The big dipper has been called “Woden’s Wain” – the wagon of Woden.

In conclusion, Woden is the god I feel closest too. I see Woden as the All-father, chief of the gods, a god of wisdom and knowledge, inspiration and communication. I see him as a magical shamanic figure who, while cunning and deceitful at times, is doing what it takes to fulfill his ultimate aim of staving off Ragnarok. He is a god of healing and of brewing. He is also the liminal, traveling, psychopomp god who walks between worlds and leads the dead to their place of rest. 

Sources

The Elder Gods – Stephen Pollington
Rites and Religions of the Anglo Saxons – Gale Owen
The Poetic Edda – Snorri Sturluson

Please follow and like us:

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.

Please follow and like us:

© 2019 Mead and Mistletoe

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)