Yoiking and Zauberstab

First off, Merry Christmas to any of you who are celebrating it this week. I hope your Yule was as groovy as mine was. While I could not celebrate with my broader kindred (for (positive) reasons that require a separate post), I did have a great birthday party (thanks to The Husband) jam-packed with Absinthe, dirty lyrics by Prince played over the world’s coolest amplifier, and a couple-dozen folks that have a very special place in my heart.

I also went to a lovely Christmas party where the host thought enough to “mazal tov” and “drink hail” to his non-Christian guests: this led to “It’s kinda cold for dancing nekid—especially in an elevated chair,” jokes.

I’ve wanted to write about yoiking for some time but waited for the Y post in the Pagan Blog Project to do it. Then, of course, I missed it. I also wanted to talk about this groovy term “Zauberstab traegerin” so I saved that and missed it as well. Here’s my attempt to make up my shortcoming. This post isn’t really much of an argument; it’s just informative.

I recently had a birthday. My daughter knew that I had wanted to read Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy for some time but never got around to it. I wouldn’t let anyone watch the movies until I did. For this reason, among others, she bought me The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on audiodisk.[1] It’s a very political story with a murder mystery and family intrigue. I only mention this because Larson is fairly critical of Swedish politics, especially economic policy and racism. Racism in Sweden you ask? Yes, Larsson constructs a character that exposes the the neo-Nazi roots of the Sweden Democrats party. (Look here for more info on “The Dark Side of Sweden.”) Larsson’s character, Richard Vanger, has a particular penchant for eugenics and genocide—particularly of the Sami (also Sámi or Saami), the indigenous people of Arctic Europe.

Because my own Heathen roots are of an Anglo-Saxon and Dutch flavor, somewhat different from the Nordic and Scandinavian variety, I never really encountered discussion of the Sami until this year.

While talking with a Scandinavian peer (she too calls herself Völva in her own—very different—tradition) about vocalizations and the American yawp, she mentioned a practice of yoiking (or joiking). I knew what this was, sort of, but thought it was closer to yodeling than it actually is.

According to the University of Texas Music Department, the yoik is:

A form of song which utilizes a scale and vocalizations which are unfamiliar to virtually everyone in the Western (American and European) world, the history of the yoik is representative of all the encroachment and abuse that the Sami people have suffered at the hands of outsiders.

Here’s a this.

And here’s a this.

And this looks so entirely familiar, even though I know it’s not.

Bob Tarte explains (“You Must Be Joiking.” The Beat Magazine: 22, 4. 2003. Web.):

Joiking originated in the chanted vision songs of Sámi shamans perhaps predating the Sámi migration into northern Scandinavia from the southeast 2,000 years ago. . . .[T]his improvised style of singing . . . is less about actual words than melody and vocal textures . . . . A person could joik about a hunt, a frozen stream or the birth of a baby. But what makes these fluid songs with no fixed rules unique is that they aren’t considered to be about a subject. The joik, and by extension the joiker, are said to actually become the subject. . . . And you don’t have to believe in spirits or channeling to experience the rush [of joiking]. Call [it] the summoning of the unconscious or a wordless connection with the deepest archetype of song itself, and its surge is equally impressive.

I hate to compare distant and distinct cultures to one another for fear of colonizing, but I can’t help see the similarities between the Sami yoik and Native American vocalizations.[2] (While it is not my intention to make this my argument, in these moments of similarity, I have to wonder if those theories about Solutrean migration to The New World are accurate at all.) Both are intended to induce a “shamanic” trance, are used to call animals and spirits, and to shapeshift—what Tarte means by “become the subject.”[3]

I had asked the peer in question about the relationship between the Sami and her Norwegian ancestors and didn’t receive a suitable answer for my tastes. We are still hammering it out. It had become my impression, after being pointed to a woman named Yngona Desmond (make up your own mind about this one), that the Sami and other northern European cultures were unrelated. Desmond, who claims to be “Vinland’s Volva, an honorary title of respect and recognition, gifted . . . by Sámi Noaide,”[4] is a “Heathen leader” in Georgia who regularly leads a boar hunt.[5] It seems like yoiking and seiðr—especially in the form of galdr—are connected; I just want to be very careful about lumping cultural practices together based on geography.

(a.k.a. Dancing nekid in an elevated chair.)

Like I said, I don’t have a point to make here. I just felt like saying, “Hmm, would you look a’that?”

Likewise, I want to point you to a term: Zauberstab traegerin, German for “wand bearer.” But a Zauberstab is not just any kind of stick, stylus, or rod. It translates as “wand” but connotes specifically as “magic wand.”

I love that about Deutsche. I’ve told you about how I feel about words like Schadenfreude. The German language can cram a whole concept into one word.

(I also think of words like Zigeunerleben (“Gypsy life”), which makes me wonder how much racism is intended by—or even accidental to—the song by Robert Schumann (which I remember from high school chorus). The song is a romanticized[6] depiction of “wandering gypsies, so wild, so free of care, with eyes flashing brightly, with dark flowing hair” and “raven-haired maiden[s]” who “dance . . . [while] bright as a torch, burns her passionate glance.” And now that I know what I know about Sweden and the Sami, I’m starting to wonder even more about Germany and the Romany. I mean, I know that “gypsies” were rounded up in the 40s, so why do we sing this song seemingly about a racial fetish in high school? That’s totally beside the point—but it makes me think: Why am I back on the subject of Nazis?)

I’m not sure where I stumbled upon the term Zauberstab traegerin—it’s one of those moments that I wish I’d taken better notes. I mean Zauberstab is easy enough to find all over Harry Potter cites in German, but I know I found “Zauberstab traegerin” as a complete term. In terms of Völvastav, Völvakona, and Stavkona (“the wand carrying magic woman”) this is a significant term that I am now beginning to think I may have dreamed.

Happy holidays.

~E


[1] Why they didn’t keep the original title, Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) is not beyond me, but it’s a better epithet for the novel than a nod at one of Salander’s many tattoos.

[3] If you have caught on to my Deleuzian proclivities, you have to know that I love that he used the term “become.”

[4] I was subsequently pointed to this quote on a New Age Fraud discussion thread by someone who was very concerned about the new preponderance of “fake tribes” here in the Southeast of the United States. I had no idea that this was such a common problem. Seems it is. It also seems that it’s one  New Age Fraud takes seriously enough to investigate and subdue. I’ve been asked a lot of questions over the past month and have had to educate myself right-quick on accounto’ I had no idea this was a widespread thing for fakers to do. Though I don’t really approve of the hate-filled rhetoric, I found this page (also handed off to me by the “concerned” person/people) very helpful in understanding what’s legit in a “tribe” and what’s not. It made me think twice about Desmond and others.

[5] I don’t know anything other than what I can deduce from the questions I was asked about Desmond, what I read briefly on the discussion thread in the footnote #3, and what little I read on her blog. I was (coincidentally?) just lent a copy of Völuspa: Seiðr as Wyrd Consciousness (cross-country), but haven’t read it yet. As ever, I’ll let you know.

[6] Here I mean “fanciful”—not to be confused with “Romanticism” which is specific to a literary movement.

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).

Xochiquetzal (and Xochipilli)

Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal, from the Codex Borgia

Xochiquetzal (shOw-chee-KET-sAl), the eternally young Aztec and Toltec goddess of love and flowers who symbolizes enlightenment, is also frequently called Ichpōchtli which simply means “maiden.”

This strikes me. I have struggled with all of the different names I have been called—both legally and otherwise.[1] But that’s not why it strikes me. I am only dwelling on that because I have a smattering of initiates that are facing the point in their training where they need to start thinking about their first aspiration names.

For those of you not familiar with the tradition of taking an aspiration name, many magical organizations have a practice of translating a stated aspiration, or motto, into a usable name. Unlike some traditions which names are given to initiates,[2] my students have to make a name for themselves. In our tradition, one can (and should) make an acronym of or abbreviation for (or otherwise truncate and obfuscate) the motto rather than maintaining a direct translation. (Obvs, this can come from divine inspiration and/or/in dreams.) For instance, “Speaker of Words of Power,” would translate as something like “ræðumaður öflugum orðin.” That’s a mouthful to say the least. So, one might apply some numerology (or simply basic aesthetics) and arrive at Ræth Ov Orthin (or Orth if you don’t mind a singular “word”). Still too long? Ræth Word, Ræthword (or even Raithword), or Orthraith, Allraith; you get the picture. Of course, if it didn’t conjure images of the Hundred-Acre Wood, we could go with R.O.O. (or Roo).

Trick is, this name should change with each elevation as your aspirations should grow and change with your training.

This means I’m two names behind. Perhaps two aspirations behind. Needless to say, it’s under my skin.

Mostly it strikes me since I have been spending so much time in the care and tutelage of Frejya, who is often simply called “lady.” It seems that many of the goddesses to whom I’ve been drawn over half-a-lifetime[3] have an awful lot in common. No duh, you say. That’s how it works.

Virginia Woolf’s place-setting from Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1974-79), which I lurve. Like, a lot. In reverence to  and reclamation of the divine female, all the dinner plates are intended to look both like flowers and va-whoo-has. Bertie introduced it to us back when it was still in crates, looking for a home. Xochiquetzal is not honored, nor is any other Mayan, Aztec, or pre-Columbian goddess/woman at the table (the only pre-Jacksonion figure is Sacajawea). Though “Primordial Goddess,” “Fertile Goddess,” “Snake Goddess,” “Amazon,” and “Sophia” are among Ishtar, Kali, and Hatshepsut, Coatlicue, the Mesoamerican earth goddess, appears on the Heritage Floor with Omeciuatl, Xochitl, Chicomecoatl, and 995 other female figures.

But when it works the way it’s supposed to work, I can’t help but stop and smell Xochiquetzal’s flowers.

No, wait, that’s not what I . . .

Xochiquetzal is the patron goddess of weavers, also much like Freyja. She is the daughter of Tlazolteotl, goddess of childbirth and shriver of sins (much more on this later). Xochiquetzal, like Freyja and Freyr, had a twin, Xochipilli. She was married to the rain god Tlaloc before being kidnapped by Tezcatlipoca, “Smoking Mirror,” the god ancestral memory and of sorcery. Not exactly a psychopomp (as Aztec worldviews create a lore that is vastly different from a Western mythos of an “underworld”) but there are some connections–which I will deal with in my eventual Ehsha post about Xolotl, the dark twin of Quetalcoatl.

She is also said to have been one of two who survived the great flood that ended the fourth age on Aztec mythology.

It bears saying, with 16 days left of this cycle, that many (like me) believe that the Ragnarök tale, like the Maya Periods and the Aztec Cycles, are not exactly eschatological[4] but cyclical. Consider the survival of Líf and Lífþrasir to repopulate the earth.

Likewise, Xochiquetzal survived The Great Flood with her husband, Tlaloc, to give birth to children without the ability to speak. As the myth goes, a dove brought the children speech, but gave to each a different language. Like the Tower of Babal and a slew of other stories involving a flood and/or a high place–like a tower or a mountain.

My last fun point about Xochiquetzal is that she is said to have seduced a priest and then transformed him into a scorpion—just because she could—as a mark of her power. She encouraged sex for pleasure’s sake. For this, she is honored as the patron goddess of prostitutes. (See my post on Temple Prostitution.) There is a safe haven in Mexico City for elderly prostitutes: Casa Xochiquetzal. A sign over the door reads: “No soy buena ni mala, soy mujer.” (“I am neither good nor bad, I am woman.”)

The Dinner Party at The Brooklyn Museum

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet.”


[1] Now, now. I have only ever had one surname; my husband’s surname got tacked on to that in the 90s without my doing. But I had three names before I left the hospital and a slew of nicknames thereafter. A background search for my name will illustrate nothing more interesting than a change in socio-economic status. Sorry gang, no hidden relatives or appellations in Appalachia.

[2] Dig this video of a “Cherokee” naming ceremony. Don’t cha just hate it when folks are fooled into believing something is traditional? I mean, it looks like a fine-enough thing (if you were to take the plains garb off the (presumably) SE dude)—traditional, it ain’t. I encourage everyone to watch Reel Injun to see something like the crapola that plagues me on a daily basis. Like my momma reminds me all the time, “Some people just don’t know no better.”

[3] Twenty-five years is more than half my life—I just mean that I’m hoping for another half to this lifetime.

[4] Not to be confused with scatological, which I do–all the freaking time.

Wendigos and White Walkers

 He had learned about the Windigo at his father’s knee. It was a large creature, as tall as a tree, with a lipless mouth and jagged teeth. Its breath was a strange hiss, its footprints full of blood, and it ate any man, woman or child who ventured into its territory. And those were the lucky ones. Sometimes, the Windigo chose to possess a person instead, and then the luckless individual became a Windigo himself, hunting down those he had once loved and feasting upon their flesh. (Schlosser, S.E. “Windigo: A Northwest Territories Ghost Story [of the] Ojibwa First Nation.”)

Female Wendigo by Crystal Wolf Studios at DeviantArt

Wendigos (also spelled Windigo and Weendigo) are North American folkloric creatures who eat—and sometimes possess—human flesh. Not entirely unrelated to vampires, these creatures are considered “un-dead”—but unlike vampires, they consume the whole enchilada, not just the sauce, and they tend to leave a trail of body parts in the carnage-path behind them. The flesh-eater, the ghoul, is not uncommon in mythology; consider the Germanic Draugr, the Japanese Oni, and the Filipino Aswang and Busaw (a creature that looks human on the surface and even acts human in that it farms both small animals and root crops; however, its sustenance of choice is human flesh, the remains of which are usually scattered across its land). And then there’s George R. R. Martin’s White Walkers (*shivers*), the bane of the north in the A Song of Ice and Fire saga and HBO’s Game of Thrones.[1]

Yup. Winter is coming.

What isn’t folkloric about this creature is the idea of “Wendigo Psychosis.” Often, in an area of deprivation, folks will glut themselves on non-food or low nutrient items to give themselves the sensation of a “full-belly.” This “full-belly” sensation only satisfies the psyche so long—eventually, the body’s very real need for genuine sustenance will cause people to seek beneficial foodstuffs wherever they can find it. Wendigo Psychosis defines what happens when a tribe, experiencing dearth (and subsequently deprived of genuine nourishment) resort to cannibalistic behaviors and believe themselves to have become (or to have become possessed by) Wendigo.

Physicians consider this a culture-bound disorder (or syndrome): a culture-specific illness resulting in an amalgamation of psychiatric and somatic symptoms, familiar only within a particular community.

While researching culture-bound syndromes (CBS), I came across “rootworking” as a CBS. This got me t’thinking. Given that we, as a Witchcraft culture, tend to have some sort of conviction—on some level—that “Witchcraft works.” Do we believe that CBSs could be true? I mean, I sleep with my fan on every night and have never believed that it could kill me (Korean Fan Death), I’ve certainly never experienced Dhat Syndrome (go ahead, Google it; I’ll wait), and I’m not sure how I feel about Navajo Ghost Sickness.

“Aswang” by Richard Pustanio, 2010

Ghost Sickness is said to occur when the afflicted has contact with the dead or dying. Symptoms include wanness or fatigue, loss of appetite, shortness of breath or feeling suffocated, recurring nightmares or even night terrors, anxiety, paranoia, delusions, and a pervasive feeling of dread. It is believed that this sickness is caused by having offended the dead or having evoked the ire of a witch. According to Wikipedia, [2] “The sufferer may be mildly obsessed with death or a deceased person whom they believe to be the source of their affliction. Physical symptoms can include weakness and fatigue, diminished appetite, or other digestion problems.”

I donno. If there are real physical effects, just because your doctor can’t measure the cause, does it become not real? I know that somaticisims will kill non-fiction folk as easily as they will a Henry James character or Madame de Tourvel. [3] But then my mind goes back to “rootwork.” This works, in theory, even if the subject doesn’t know they’ve been goophered. So, how can it be psychosomatic?

If I can buy rootwork, by extension must I buy Ghost Sickness? Or Wendigo Psychosis? Hmmmm. And can I buy Korean Fan Death and Dhat Syndrome? No. And I don’t have sperm—so the latter is irrelevant. That’s where culture comes in, i’n’t it? I can imagine pretty much any Western CBS as being possible because I’m a Westerner.

So figure this with me—if a culture imagines certain attacks (or protections) to originate from malevolent (or benevolent) boogadies—and if we believe in the creation of thoughtforms and egregores—then those boogadies become real, right? I mean, it’s the culture’s fault for having poured all of that energy into having made the boogadie in the first place, but it’s there and being perpetuated just the same. If every time I get a toothache or a flat tire I scream, “The boogadie is out to get me!” or if every time I get a great parking space or find a twenty in my jeans I holla, “Hell, yeah to the boogadie!” then the boogadie can become all-powerful in time.

Christ.

No, I’m not swearing, I’m using that as an example.

But, do we have to belong to the culture that made the boogadie in order to experience the boogadie?

I’m not sure how the logic hangs together, but if you’ll help me out, I think there’s something here. I was watching a week-old episode of Grimm. (I had stopped watching the show in the first season and then an former friend—ironically named comparably to one of the characters in the episode I’m going to discuss) suggested I watch it again—so I did, now I feel committed even though I don’t really like the show.[4] I’m dumb that way.) The premise of Grimm, for those non-watchers is that there is this guy, Nick, who can see monsters: Wessen. Wessen are like the Busaw, who walk around looking like humans but when the light hits just right or they “lose control,” their real faces show. In the last season he revealed this ability to his partner, Hank—Nick and Hank are cops, not lovers, btw. This episode was called, “To Protect and Serve Man,” much like that old Twilight Zone episode, and was about a man Hank had arrested and was now facing capital punishment.

(Spoiler alert—but the show’s pretty predictable, so . . .)

At the time of his arrest, Craig Faron told Hank that there were two creatures trying to eat him and that he killed one of them in self-defense. Of course, Hank didn’t believe this; Faron was convicted of murder and sentenced to Death Row. Hank, now—years later—cognizant of the existence of Wessen (even though he can’t see them onna counta he’s not a Grimm), realizes that maybe—just maybe—Craig Faron was wrongfully convicted and that it was up to him to find the truth. In solid TV style, we get some dramatic irony when we see that while the truthful-accuser sits in prison, the real culprit, the dead Wendigo’s brother, is still killing. What’s even better is when Craig’s sister tells Hank, “Everyone told him that he was crazy so he started believing that he was.” And his psychiatrist says, “Ironic that everyone says [Craig Faron] is the monster.”

The Hexenbeast from the Pilot episode. Turns out her mother was Nan Flanders.

Know how that is? Yea, me too.

Hank visits the cell-block, full of a variety of Wessen, to interview Craig; this time with Nick and his powers of Wessen-perception at his side. Craig says, “[If I hadn’t killed him,] I would have been his next dinner guest.” Realizing that they were dealing with a Wedigo, Nick advises Hank that wounding a Wendigo only makes it more ferocious. The more you defend yourself against a Wendigo, the deeper it wants to sink its fangs. Particularly if you get in a good defensive wound or two. We see this when Hank tried to apprehend the Wendigo; as he shows his true self, his gnarled and twisted dead-face, he bellows: “Faron is the monster!” The real boogadie, while revealing his true nature, still blames his self-preserving prey, because he believes that no one else can see what he really is. But the Wendigo doesn’t know that there is a Grimm in his midst.

I realized the conundrum(s) of this episode: Craig and Hank weren’t Grimm, yet that never stopped the Wendigo from cooking man-toes in his double-boiler. You don’t always have to know that there’s a monster in the community for it to eat you alive. You don’t have to believe in boogadies for them to getcha.

Also, the Wendigo forgot to hide his face as he pointed the finger at Craig Faron. Like the Algonquin Warrior who could recognize and kill the Wendigo, Nick Burkhart has his own kind of special medicine: he’s a Grimm (not unlike Buffy Summers). Here’s the catch—up until now (if you overlook the Halloween episode: “La Llorona”) Nick’s Wessen are of a cultural type: Germanic. Blutbaden, Bauerschwein, Fuchsbau, Dämonfeuer, Hexenbiest, Eisbiber, Hundjäger, you get the idea. So does this mean that his “medicine” is able to cross cultural boundaries? If this is so, than do CBS do the same thing?

Yea, yea. It’s TV. I know—but it’s a thought.

B, Q, 93!

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).


[1] I want to be Arya Stark when I grow up. Bitch gave a man his own name! Ballsy and brilliant.

[2] I know, ew. But I was in a hurry.

[3] Choderlos de Laclos. Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

[4] It took a season too long—but I’ve finally put down the Supernatural.

Uruz and Fehu

When I first learned about runes in the 80s, I learned to use them as a magical tool rather than a tool for divination. They remain one of the most useful tools in my arsenal. It’s easy to hang a rune sign out in the open without anyone asking any questions. I’ve made rune glyphs for my daughter’s saddle, for my front door, for a friend’s new abode, for well, just about everything.

I never really learned to “read” them until about a decade later. But despite the fact that I knew Vitki, the art of using runes within Seiðr, it wasn’t until last year that I really started making and using runes specifically for divination.

Let me tell you why.
Because I was a fool.
Plain and simple.

Runes were “too primitive” and “not esoteric enough” to strike my fancy. They were too simple and straightforward and made too much “common sense” for a sorceress who looked for “challenge.”

Derp.

As I embarked on the prospect of learning Teutonic Shamanism, I learned that it’s the graceful simplicity of runes—not to mention the familiarity of the language—that reaches the subconscious of an English-speaker in the way that the intensely archetypal images of the Tarot do.

Here, let me show you. Keeping in mind that the “thorn” (þ) makes the “th” sound—not a “p” sound, can you make any sense of these sentences? (Courtesy of Bruce Mitchell’s An Invitation to Old English &Anglo-Saxon England, 1995.)

His linen socc feoll ofer bord in þæt wæter and scranc.
Hwær is his cþýþþ and cynn?
Se cniht is on þære bryge.

All you have to do is look at Jera to see the give-and-take of seed and harvest; Nauthiz to see “need” (as the two stick rub together to create need-fire) and friction; Pertho to see everything represented by the “chalice” of other traditions (‘cept Pertho has legs); Gebo to see fairness and equal-exchange—after all, we still use the X to symbolize a kiss; and Tiwaz, well—look for yourself: ↑.

So, I spent some time this week really thinking about why Uruz and Fehu look so different from one another on account of they both represent “cattle” of one sort or another. (I’m not the only one to compare these two runes; it seems a no brainer. Have a look: here and at Wandering Woman Wondering (she has some other great bits–you should go have a look for yourself). But let me break it down for you, “Ehsha style.”

Uruz—Aurochs (an extinct paleolithic wild ox, not unlike a bison)
Fehu—Domesticated cattle
The accepted meaning of Uruz is strength and Fehu is understood to indicate wealth and luck.[1]

My meditations on Uruz have always revealed “survival” and “instinct” along with “strength” and “power”; whereas my meditations on Fehu have always revealed “transitory-ness” and “that-which-is-subject-to something outside itself.” To me, the latter is not unlike bondage. I keep going back to the difference between wolves and beagles. A different set of instincts, a different way of communicating, a different set of drives. The wolf is ferocious, strong, and free (and nearly extinct as a result—and more valuable as a subsequent result); the beagle brays at everything, is vulnerable, and wants nothing more than to get his belly rubbed by his owners. Yeah, they both bite—but you don’t bring a beagle to a wolf pack and expect it to fit in. You can prolly expect it to be eaten alive.

The same goes for the ox and cow. Wild ox are ferocious, strong, and free (also extinct as a result—and more valuable as a subsequent result); cows are, well, they are “mooish.” They are vulnerable, and tip-able. And well—ever meet a cow? Both are good for food, but one is a little harder to catch. Or was. It is, perhaps ironically to this post, the trials inherent in catching the ox that led our ancestors to domesticate cattle. Easy pickin’s.

Some of the things I have been thinking about in terms of “cattle-wealth” is that the herd is less mobile than a wild herd. When I’ve had to move a few horses from one farm to another, it took a team of people, special vehicles, and a day or two off from work. When Curly showed Billy Crystal how to move a herd of cattle, we all got to watch as he learned the Hermetic lesson of “just one thing” along the way. And we got to see that it takes a little more than moving a few horses.

Now imagine driving wild oxen.

So, by “wealth,” I think of domesticated, controllable, and fairly immobile. Wealth, yes—but limited. I also think of the skills set associated with wealth. I know that some people see Fehu as meaning a skills-set that can be applied across the board. Like—if I have the skills-set to be a cattle farmer, this doesn’t go away. If I move to another place, I will still know how to be a cattle farmer. Perhaps I can even apply what I know about cows to something else.

But then I started thinking—yes, you know how to be a cattle farmer; but how useful is this off the farm? There is little need for cattle farmers in the city. I best keep my nary’ass on my own farm and keep to my own bovine herd. Right?

But the wild ox. Hmmm. That’s a little different. No one can get rich off the wild ox because it can’t be tamed. Because it don’t make no nevermind to the ox whether it’s got humans to housebreak it or not. I take that back. A wild ox would impale someone who tried breaking its spirit in an effort to add to the wealth of a cattle farm.

So then what? The ox gets hunted for its pelts because it can’t be reined in—just like the wolf? Yup.

But, fortunately, the runes keep a sacred space for this animal in Uruz. Here, the Aurochs-ox is not extinct. In this rune, the Aurochs-ox runs free and is unyoked by the need of those that would domesticate him, tame him, limit him, make profit from him. And the Aurochs-ox is mobile; he goes where his instincts take him, rather than being fattened up for the slaughter.

See, when I compare these two runes in my mind, they are like comparing apples to oranges, wolves to beagles, heifers to bison. The cattle of Fehu applies to the owner of the herd whereas the ox of Uruz applies to the animal itself. (And as Dora told you, I always want to be “the thing itself.”)

Plus, there’s this linguistic thing. To cow someone is to intimidate, to coerce, to force them into service.[2] That’s a way to wealth and transitory popularity—lots of property and an ability to coerce herds. (And the best way to coerce herd animals is to make them feel safe. Right up to the point where you slit their throats. Tell them all about the wolves outside the farm; tell them about the plentiful grain in the slop bucket. Hell, yea, domesticated beasts will sit down and set-a-spell for a full trough.) But it’s indicative of having others in a thralldom that’s so bound and unnatural to my Heathen soul.

Let me have the role of ox any day. Let me be a killer-wolf over a crated, fenced, processed kibble-eating beagle any day. I may have to forage and scrape for my sustenance. But I will be free. I know I will continually have to fight off the slings and arrows of the hunters who are after my hide. Likely they’d like to don it for a ritual in which they pretend to be me. But I will be free. And I am fortunate in that the hunters these days have poor eyesight—they are nearly blind. And their arrows come no nearer piercing my hide, made tough from my existence in the wild—made tough by the necessity of avoiding the hunters,[3] than they are to being anything other than cattle themselves. But I will be free.

Today, I represent the enduring spirit of Uruz. And the cows out there can suck my sheath.

B, Q, 93,

TBW

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).


[1] Some folks see Fehu and Uruz and “brains and brawn” respectively, but I have a problem with that interpretation.

[2] It likely has something to do with the Old English cu and Old Norse kyr being related to the Old Norse kuga—meaning “to oppress.” But no one knows f’sure.

[3] See the Catch 22? My hide wouldn’t be nearly as strong if hunters hadn’t made me that way.

Time Travel

I teach H.G. Wells sometimes.[1] It strikes me now that when Wells’ time machine is visually reproduced, it almost always has a spinning apparatus. Most of the images, like the one shown here, have some (primordial, Jungian, spiritus mundi) approximation of a drop spindle. The disk at the back spins and the traveler negotiates time.

I’ve been digging out my old lessons and my old implements for about a year now. I’m never not astounded that, “I still have that!” It’s been a bit like time travel.[2] Even as I actively look through my boxed up youth, things are passively finding me. My son brought me an end-blown flute from who-knows-where in my basement and asked me, “How do you get this thing to make sound?” I’d had that thing since I was in seventh-grade. Where had it been? When he put it in my hand, I was transported.

Today I found a drop spindle. Rather, a charm of a drop spindle that was given to me as a reminder of  Wyrd.[3]

Lemme show you.

This picture shows a drop spindle with wool already spun on the shaft and some roving unspun. The past is the pre-spun wool. It’s already been spun. Your ancestral past is the yarn deep, deep underneath.[4] When you come into a family, you inherit what has been spun.[5]

There has to be a “getting the shaft” joke here somewhere.

The present is what is currently being made (not well illustrated here since it’s kinda something you have to see in motion.) And the future is that near-nebulous mass that has yet to take form. The future is not predestined.

In my argument about Oedipus as a Heathen-drama, I explain:

Fate is a predestined fortune. . . . there is a set order to the cosmos and that order cannot be altered. Karma is the give-and-take between actions and consequences over a series of lifetimes. Wyrd is between. . . .Wyrd agrees that there is a set order, but that, as individuals, our interaction with that order is what determines our lot. But there’s the extra added bonus of ruin. At some point, you may make a choice that absolutely ‘seals your fate.’ No backsies. No re-do. No exit strategy. No plan B. Sometimes we can screw the cosmic pooch, and end up ‘doomed.’. . . [W]e may formulate our Wyrd. . . [b]ut, Wyrd is sticky. If a bullet’s got your name on it, you’re fucked. . . .

Let me put it this way, the most popular metaphors for Wyrd involve spinning and weaving. If you have any experience with thread, sewing, weaving, crocheting or any of those handicrafts, you know that if you have weak thread or if you have balding fabric, your final project will eventually tear, no matter what. At that point, it’s ‘doomed.’ But if you could go back to the place in time when the thread was being turned out or when the fabric was being woven and make a different decision, one that prevented the weakness in the thread, one that prevented the baldness, the ‘fate’ of the project will be different. (Bear in mind that in this metaphor, you are the shit who made the thread and fabric.)

But, today I am meditating on what it means to “go back” and undo your pre-spun Wyrd. Is that kind of “time travel” possible? Let’s see.

At the base of Yggdrasil is Urðarbrunnr, or Urð: The Well of Wyrd. This well is tended by  the Norns, Urð, Verðandi and Skuld.  It’s easy to think of them as “past, present, future,” but that tends to make the future seem set. This is not the case. Skuld corresponds more to the English would “Should” as in “what should be,” not “what will be-no-matter-what.” There is a sense of “due” to the word as well. As in “that which must be paid.”

Really, a better translation is “what has been,” “what is becoming,” “that which, in all likelihood, unless someone screws said cosmic pooch, and unless someone has inherited a sick ørlǫg, should happen.

Ah, ørlǫg.

If you thought Wyrd was a hard concept to get your “I’m used to thinking in terms of Karma” brain wrapped around, it’s about to get weirder.

Close your eyes and imagine The World Tree. Oh, not a Heathen? Here’s a picture.

Imagine water falling from Yggdrasil; some of it will fall into the Well of Wyrd but only a small portion of it.[6] So, most of what happens doesn’t matter too much; only some things fall into Urð. Once those occurrences fall into the well, they go to the bottom and settle; this is ørlǫg. These layers of phenomenon form the foundation of the Well of Wyrd: our fate. As ørlög builds up, it changes the way the water is likely to fall, like Dr. Malcolm’s explanation of chaos theory in Jurassic Park.[7] As the foundation of Urð changes, some outcomes become more probable than other outcomes. Given enough ørlög, some outcomes become inevitable. (See “Screwing the Cosmic Pooch” above.) Keep in mind that ørlög is neither positive nor negative. You can accumulate “helpful” ørlög as well as “detrimental” ørlög.

For the most part, Heathens embrace personal responsibility. You’ll never hear The Bad Witch say, “X is bad for me because my mother . . .” or “It’s my father’s fault that I . . . .” Don’t get me wrong, I understand the ørlög my parents laid at the bottom of the well. I don’t idealize my parents. But even when my ways part with my parents’ ways, I still honor them. In uncovering my ancestry, I have some, um, primordial ooze, to be sure. But they and their ørlög are urð, what has passed. I am verðandi, that which is becoming; and need to be concerned with skuld, what should be. I need to spin my own Wyrd instead of constantly examining my predecessors’ (on account o’, I have children who will inherit my Wyrd spindle and my ørlög). More on that in a minute.

But, then again, sometimes a good deal of “inherited” ørlög lays at the bottom of Urð. And, barring profound acts of heroism that few of us even face the opportunity to enact, ain’t nothin’ in the world you can do about it. The extent to which you control your Wyrd has to do with the profundity of ørlög you (and your ancestral family) have accumulated. And you cannot travel back in time to undo your ancestral ørlög.

Or can you?

The time when we should examine our predecessors’ urð is when we find ourselves perpetuating detrimental behaviors. At these moments, we should just breathe for a moment, recognize that we are in verðandi, that moment which is becoming, and begin to unwind our ørlög. While there isn’t much we can do about what’s wound on the spindle seven-layers deep, we can revisit the recent past and straighten out the Wyrd we’ve wound in our own lifetime.

As long as we are living and breathing, there’s always a chance to straighten it out.

But even when our ancestral ørlög is knotty seven-layers deep, we don’t chuck the spindle and invent a new one. We don’t take someone else’s thread and start winding it onto our skein. And we sure as hell don’t ignore it and keep spinning over it. The most important thing we can do is find the kinks in the thread (triggers that “make” me do X like The Bad Daddy or Y like the Bad Momma). Find the kinks in your thread and carry on conscientiously.

Maybe we can’t time travel to change our familial past, but we can, knowing where the kinks are, make better decisions about our “now.”

Don’t confuse this with the happy-joyness of all those shite self-help-through-positive-thinking-power-of-now bull-spittle philosophies out there today. (Oooh my badness, do I have a thing or two to say about this Rhonda Byrne/Eckhart Tolle crapola. But first I must read Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Don’t wanna say something you can read elsewhere.) You can’t smile ancestral ørlög away—it takes work.

Blood, sweat, tears, and sometimes a little blogging.

With frith,

TBW

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/). [8]


[1] Aside from Morris Jessup, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of talk about “real” time travel in the twentieth-century. But there was this video that circulated on the websternet about a year ago of Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 silent film, The Circus, where a woman presumably walks past the camera talking into “a cell phone.” This was used to “prove” that there is a truth behind time travel—and that Hollywood soundstages had very lax security in the late-20s. I’m sure you’ve seen it. If not, go Google it—I’ll wait.

[2] I found a binder with my notorious gel-pen notes in the margins and was suddenly twenty-two again. I could smell the dank stone of the carillon which blotted out the pollution of Chicago’s South Side. Ah, but I had all of my sense about me rather than being the credulous child I was at twenty-two. (Don’t we all say, “Ugh, I wouldn’t be twenty-two again to save my life!” All while we wish that we had our youth restored. Twain was right, you know. Youth *is* wasted on the young.)

[3] This past spring I started making simple ritual garb for the would-be store, Roots, fit The Wyrd Sister. As a nod to my Heathen roots, I called the line, “The Wyrd Spindle,” on accout o’ the drop spindle has always been a metaphor for Wyrd.

[4] I was profoundly touched by the comments some of you left on my Roots post. Some of you shared stories in personal messages and emails. Our roots, like the great Yggdrassil itself, reach into the primordial ooze. I really want to talk to you about some things I’ve been putting together while meditating on Ginnungagap, but that’ll have to wait as it is a huge side-track.

[5] For an Anglo-Saxon Heathen back-in-the-day, to be (re)born outside of your (former life’s) tribe, to be (re)born as a stranger (to the family of your former life), was a fate worse than anything. One does not willingly trade in one’s kindred.

[6] This is part of why the Norns laugh at large egos. If you believe that everything relates to you—if you believe all of the water falls into your well—then you are a fool. Plus, think of how monumentally screwed you would be.

[7] Chaos isn’t chaos unless you are too close, folks. Step back one or two paces; chaos is hypersymmetry.

[8] Holy guacamole, y’all; can you believe we are nigh 10 months (40 posts!) into the Pagan Blog Project? I’ve met many of you through Rowen’s project and have read some fabulous posts by writers I may never have run across otherwise. I’m proud to have been part of this from the beginning. So proud in fact that I can’t wait until next week to announce to you all that I am hosting a blog project of my own for 2013. Let’s keep this between you and me for now–don’t tell the other 1200 readers, OK?

Secrecy

I am entrenched in a writing project and, thanks to the flu on a few fronts, some make-up work with my students. Strangely, all of these things are focusing on “Magical Timing.” I thought, “Great! The PBP is on the letter T this week and I can write a post for timing and kill three birds with one well aimed stone!’

Grumble.

Seems my “timing” is not as well-tuned as I thought. This week’s post is brought to you by the letter S – not T.

Therefore, I offer a repost and revision of an old post called “Hush, Hush,” one of my very first Files. The subject is Secrecy – a very practical lesson on matter and waves:

Unfortunately, we still live in a place and time where Paganism – or anything outside of the American Christocentric imperative – is not welcome. Primarily, this is because of misunderstanding, but such misunderstanding is often based in jingoistic bias. Of course, we don’t literally burn witches anymore but plenty of people have been burned by the judgment or ridicule of others. So, there is a very “real world” reason for Pagans to maintain in silence and anonymity. This doesn’t mean that I support hypocrisy. I would never recommend that you “pretend” to be something that you are not, but I recommend that you think about all aspects of your secular life before making your spiritual life common knowledge.

Some are fortunate to live in open-minded arenas, some in a less amenable atmosphere. Some have broadminded families, some families will be angry, hurt, upset, even fearful about your decision to study Pagan spiritualties. This isn’t their fault. More than likely, they will base their comments (if you decide to tell them) on their feelings of love for you and their misguided belief that you are “dabbling” in something dark, dangerous, or even demonic.

Aside from avoiding judgment, there are other reasons to maintain silence. Maybe not about being Pagan, but about conducting a Pagan ritual. Many practitioners will tell you that they maintain silence to protect a coven secret or rite. This is all very appropriate and should be respected. But more importantly, I think, there are two reasons to keep silence. Both are very theoretical: one based in psycholinguistics and the other in quantum physics.

One major reason to keep silent involves the nature of magic and of spoken language. For me, to speak is to conjure. Derrida and Lacan knew this. Power resides with those who control language. We can subvert language and we can evolve language, but we only do this because it is language that gives us power. Most popular representations of the magician involves a “magic word”: think of Disney’s many magical characters, the Harry Potter series, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and almost any TV show or movie involving Witchcraft (I particularly remember “Shazam” from the 1970s). Consider Ancient Creation Myths where the universe is spoken into existence: Mesopotamian, MesoAmerican, and Middle Eastern (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”). Creation Myths all include a “speaking” into creation.

Another reason to keep silent is to refrain from collapsing the wave. Consciousness moves as light does. It is, therefore, both a particle and a wave; it is also, for that reason, both simultaneously “here” and “not here.” A particle, quite simply, is perceivable matter – something with mass; a wave is a transfer of energy within some substance – i.e. a disturbance in the water or in the air. Light is like quantum matter, constantly vacillating between existing and not existing, literally “popping” in and out of existence. We don’t know where they go. We don’t know from whence they return. Like our consciousness. We know that we enter altered states when in deep sleep; yet we do not know where our consciousness goes or what, if anything, displaces it while it is gone.

This is why spells are told to no one. Sound is wave only.

Everything in existence is nothing more than a wave of information (or possibilities) until we observe it in some way. Until we actually observe the not-yet-a-particle, it’s nothing more than a wave. Until it is observed, the wave is “pure potential” itself, existing in every possibility at the same time. It’s doing everything that is potentially possible – all at once.

Once we observe the wave (speak the secret), it “solidifies” into a material reality.

Much like the collapsed wave, I believe that speaking a thing changes it. I believe that confining the meaning of a Great Mystery to the limits of spoken language can “ruin” a spell. This is like taking “potential everything-ness” and reducing it to an observable/hearable singularity.

This is not to say that language is not used for spell-crafting. But in the instance of casting, language is used in conjunction with the will. This makes the words carry the will rather than the literal meaning of the word. Yes, this is a Mystery. But there seems to be something to the argument that banal or causal conversation without the power of will weakens the power of the spell.

Further, some practitioners believe that speaking a thing makes it so. For this reason, they will never talk of magical affairs without first casting a protective circle. Whenever two or more witches are together and start talking about magic, for fear of “drive by” casting, you are likely to find one who will insist on some witchy prophylaxis. If, as many believe, words are thoughts and thoughts are things, we create every time we speak.

You are encouraged to keep your silence. Protect it. Nurture it. Enshroud it. It is always possible to reveal a thing – it is almost impossible to re-conceal it.

Quaaltagh

(Pronounced kwol-tag)

Q posts are hard, no?

Here’s part of the story I haven’t told y’all yet, but it’s all well documented and everyone from my Chicagoan neck-of-the-woods has heard this one a million times. It’s a groovy story which I often have to constrain myself to keep from romanticizing.

My mentor, Bertie, was left a great boon. Well, more of a mixed blessing. A few weeks before her mentor, Frieda, passed over, Frieda gave Bertie directions to pick up a box she had left for her at a local monastery. This is the part that “gets me.” I start imagining secret passages a la Agnes of God, Gothic Romance sliding panels and mysterious codes woven into tapestries in a way that crosses Dan Brown’s imagination with The Name of the Rose mystique. Needless to say, the box was an old heavy wooden file cabinet locked in a clearly marked storage room in the monastery’s canticle. But! The box contained a trove of delights. It contained Frieda’s journals from the years she had spent on The Isle of Mann as well as the journals of three associates, two copies of a (handwritten) unfinished manuscript of our tradition, an audio recording of her introduction to the manuscript, and assorted notes, correspondences, and papers. This was five years before I left Chicago and Bertie. I was able to peruse many of the journals and documents and helped Bertie categorize some of the contents; it was an overwhelming task – especially during the first years of mourning. Bertie has, since I moved South, published some of the material over several books.

One part I remember very clearly was a custom involving a quaaltagh. Lest I send you Googling my Q, quaaltagh is the Manx word for the first person you meet when you leave your home. I don’t know much about Manx traditions and haven’t had my hands on Frieda’s papers since before my youngest was born, so I can’t tell you more than this. I do know that in several Wstern European traditions it’s fairly typical to pay attention to both the first person you meet outside your home on the first day of the year and the first person who crosses you path outside your home on the first day of the year.

But Bertie used to tell us all sorts of beliefs concerning each day’s quaaltagh. Many of these were omens or to be used as divination symbols would. (Note to self: write a post telling Amy about what happened with the eggs.) Bertie mixed much of what Frieda taught her with the stuff she learned while doing mission work during the end-days of Duvalierism. So, to be honest, I can’t say where much of her quaaltagh lore came from.

In Western traditions, I know that a quaaltagh is called a “first foot” a “blue bird” or a “lucky bird” depending on whether the person is coming in or if it is a person you have met while out. (I wonder if this is where “early bird” specials come from.) Either way, the connotations are pretty much the same. The quintessence of the superstition is that you want the person to be a quixotic, strapping, young, tall, dark, and handsome man. No gingers need apply. And women are right out. I’ve heard folks tell tales of quidditative grannies standing on the front porch on New Year’s Day with a shotgun to prevent a quadragenarian quean from crossing the threshold first.

But those are pretty typical traditions. My darling Bertie used to tell us a few more specific things about meeting up with folks. Those dressed in all black meant one thing, folks who speak to us first meant another, folks with a limp were one sign, and folks wearing hats were another. If you first met a child you were to offer something, if you first crossed paths with a grown neighbor, you were to quote a particular phrase.

Animals were a whole ‘nother story.

Anyone else have such queer customs?

B, an abundance of Q, and 93,

TBW

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).