Happy New Year: or 12 Footnotes for 12 Months

Glædmód géar níwe! (Leave it to my course studying Anglo-Saxon poetry to bring out the Heathen Barbarian in me.)

It’s that time of year: Vetrnætr or Winternights, Samhain,[1] Halloween, Duninudi or (Cherokee) Harvest Moon, Vce Lane Posketv[2] or (Mvskoke) Green Corn Ceremony.[3]

Blot’s Photos on Myspace/heathenways

I find that the best part of a new year is gauging the harvest. Stop for a minute and thump the melons. Find out which one to reseed next year. Take a look at the garden and see what was worth the trouble – and what wasn’t. You should know that this year, I had a garden that took a lot more than it gave – though it did give me more than many of my neighbors’. There’s a lot of that going around. I’ve got some culling out to do here.

This kind of yearly evaluation helps me thin out the herd, so to speak. My ancestors, both European and Native American, knew the benefit of keeping populations manageable.[4] Animals, for which winter did not bode well, were slaughtered in sacrifice.[5] This kept the natural resources accessible to those animals from which human benefit will be obtained come spring.

You can’t hang on to everything. Best to have off with the resource drainers. If that mare ain’t thrown a foal by now, she ain’t gonna.

Yes. This is another extended poioumen-ic metaphor courtesy of The Bad Witch.

First, let me say that I am not a neo-Pagan. I do not try to recreate ancient “ways” by traversing backward in time, dressing up like it’s the Dark Ages, or by studying ancient texts as if they were relevant today. The Eddas and the Sagas are wonderful Christian poetry. But make no mistake, they are Christian.[6] I embrace the significance of community, of worship, and of hard work and I practice occultism. They’re separate. My magick (galdr) is in line with my religion, but it’s not my religion. We won’t go there for now.

We will go to a few words about the traditions surrounding blótir (sacrifice) and it’s relationship to the end-of-year harvest.

1) The blót is a gift intended for the gods and is symbolic. This is religious. It is separate from magickal galdr.[7]

Blótir is made to gods, to Elves (a race of powerful and beautiful beings) in Álfablót, to the disir (benevolent female spirits who controlled wyrd) in Dísablót. There are “mediators” that are not unlike Angels, spirit guides, and intercessory pantheonic-gods.

2) One of the most important laws of Heathenry is that a gift demands a gift. Something for nothing and free-entitlement are not Heathen paradigms. Neither is “demanding” the gods.[8]

3) Likewise, the quality of a gift given defines the quality of that which is received in return. This has nothing to do with monetary value, by the way. We all know that well-thought-out, handmade gifts are far more valuable than mass-market sweat-shop goods.

Magick Is Afoot by Ethereal

4) In a Heathen blót, the sacrificial mead or wine is passed around so that the energy of each member of the community could symbolically pass into the material sacrifice before it is poured out in libation. This is where the tradition of passing gifts around a circle is derived. When we pass a gift, our intangible vigor and tributes are symbolically passed into the tangible item. Thus the gift becomes communal.

5) The Vetrnætr feast, which accompanies a blót, is a time to celebrate kinship (with both the living and with our forebears).[9] Because it is the beginning of the long, dark season, memory becomes more important than foresight.

So here’s where the metaphor starts.

1) As a Heathen, for me, gift-giving, worship, and kinship are rather tied-up in each other like a Gordian knot.[10]  If I give you a gift, you are my kin. If you are my kin, I will undoubtedly give you gifts. Both are a form of worship. I’m not worshiping *you* mind you, I’m worshiping the gods and paying tribute to my ancestors by obeying the rules and assuring the prosperity of my kinfolk.

Gift-giving, which some people save only for Yuletide, is a year-round thing for me. If you know me, you can attest to the truth of this statement.

2) I do not expect human beneficiaries to be as reciprocal as gods. On the contrary. I’m just cynical enough to expect humans to take more than they give. The gods give back; often humans often do not. It is here that I rely on wyrd. I know that I know that I know that I am as blessed as I am in my life based on the blessings I have given to others. If I were selfish or parsimonious, I would expect to have financial troubles; if I were withholding in regard to affection, I would expect to find myself either alone or surrounded by people who are only interested in exploitation of my time and resources.

Sure, I have unequal relationships where I give more than I get – from that relationship. But the gods replenish me where humans fall short.

3) If we wait until we have almost nothing left to give before we decide to share – does that make any sense? Like our ancestors who believed in the last sheave (or the “last man” in Celtic lore), there is something to that last bit of life remaining in the field. It’s sacred. Cutting the last sheave is bad luck because it is an act of ofermōde – prideful, or at least selfish; to take the last for yourself in a communal society is detrimental to those around you. Cutting the last sheave should be communal.

Further, because of the horse-play which is common to ensue after the last sheave is harvested, the last sheave of your life’s energy should be cut with someone you trust.[11]

When I feel like I have little left to give, I don’t hoard it; I throw a party. You’d be amazed at the stores of energy a supportive crowd can bring. Supportive being the operative word. This is not the time to surround yourself with vampires.

4) To refrain from physically contacting a sacrificial item or a secular gift (say, at a baby shower) is to refrain from sharing your quintessence and blessings. In a Heathen environment (and many other Pagan environments), this would be an affront. Can you imagine saying, “No thanks,” to a peace pipe or refraining from toasting a new bride and groom? It’s like that.

When the ones we love are blessed with good fortune, this should be symbolically passed around the social circle so that a little of our blessings can be added to the experience.

The German language has some fabulous compound words. My favorite is: Schadenfreude, “joy at someone’s misery.” There is not really a word in English for “misery at someone’s success” aside from “jealousy” or “spite” or “envy.” Envy, we know, can ruin a soul. There’s nothing in English; but, yup, you guessed it, the German language has a beautiful compound: Gluckschmerz, “the idea of being in pain when someone else experiences luck.” If we can’t derive joy from someone else’s success, we won’t be granted our own successes. It’s wyrd.

5) As for the importance of memory during the dark half of the year, we have to realize that patterns don’t change. Often, looking backward is the same as looking forward. I have a friend who likes to remind me that the best way to predict future behaviors is to look at past behaviors. Likewise for all natural patterns. Looking carefully at the past can reveal subtle influences that got us where we are now; more importantly it can help us avoid the pitfalls of the future.

Remembrance of loyalties is as important as recompense of wrongs.[12]

Like I said at the outset, the best part of a new year is gauging the harvest, thinning the heard, and saving only the seed I hope to plant in the spring – only from that which gave yield.

In a complicated life, superimposed with Christian values, it’s hard to say who or what to cut. There’s just supposed to be enough of us to go around, right? In such a paradigm, if you don’t have enough energy to keep up, you are supposed to ask Jesus for more. Heathens know that, sometimes, it’s fine-and-dandy to ask for less. It makes sense. No one judges harshly when we sell-off investments that don’t pay.

I plan to cull out my life’s endeavors, narrowing down my vast array of time-sucking activities to those which actually enhance my life. I plan to winnow our my social contacts, and my DVR recording schedule, both of which have offerings that provide distraction and entertainment but very little in the line of life-enhancements. If the harvest didn’t yield this year, it’s not getting any manure in the spring.  After all, what is the chaff to the wheat?

It’s going to be difficult to kick some habits, some perpetual behaviors. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to some old attachments. But that’s why we call it sacrifice, right?

Some cool watches and reads (though I don’t agree with every word):





[1] Pronounced: sow-han

[2] Pronounced: uh-che or uh-jay la-nee bus-ket-uh or bus-get-uh

[3] These are the names my ancestors have called the end-of-year harvest. Momma is Creek and North-western (Highland) Scot, Daddy is (Bavarian) German and Cherokee. We are All-American-Southern. In a few weeks we will make a blót (pronounced blote) and tell you all about the nifty ways the traditions dovetail. (This may piss some Odinist off, but that’s OK – I don’t pray to them. And I am *The Bad Witch* after all.) But for now, I just want to concentrate on the concept of the blót.

[4] Don’t worry, I’m not about to get genocidal.

[5] Of course, the sacrifice is symbolic; gods don’t need dead sheep.

[6]  A good source for more information is Kaldenberg, Wyatt. Perceived Heathenism & Odinic Prayer. 2011.

[7] If you want to read some fiction I wrote about this distinction – and my ancestors – go back about a year to A Hurricane of Tricycles (about halfway down the first section) http://ahurricaneoftricycles.blogspot.com/2010/09/dont-read-this-if-shit-upsets-you_30.html. I used to share my novel’s progress online but I quit. I felt too obligated to make it “good” instead of just making progress.

[8] I’m not trying to disrespect anyone’s ritual, but my mind can’t get wrapped around the neo-Pagan practice of “commanding” gods to “come down” or “reside in” a human host.

[9] One of the most important parts of Heathen ethics, to me, is remembering to take everything with a grain of salt. Not only does life taste better with seasoning, it’s always good not to take ourselves too seriously.

Many people misunderstand Heathenry or Odinism as a racist movement. The truth of the matter is that when considering “kin,” many Heathens look to “affinities” rather than actual agnatic ancestry. Those who don’t, in my opinion, place too much value in the past and not enough value in the present and future. Don’t get me wrong, I value my lineage. I know it well; I have their names inscribed in my memory, I visit their graves and have rubbings of their headstones and some earth from our family cemetery.

[10] I think that if Æthelred had understood the law of Gebo a little better he could have avoided the Battle of Malden.

[11] Imagine being over-tired at the proverbial sleepover of life. You want your pillow-fight to be playful, not brutal (and certainly not quasi-pornographic).

[12] To accept loyalty and never openly acknowledge it or to be duplicitous is treachery of the worst kind. To feign kinship is the ultimate betrayal. According to Tacitus, under Barbarian laws,  capital crimes included sedition, desertion, and cowardice. Being two-faced encompasses all of these. Traitors die.

7 comments on “Happy New Year: or 12 Footnotes for 12 Months

  1. That’s great. Love away. Everyone needs a little bit of asterisk now and then.

  2. […] the blacksmith’s water. Obviously, TBW finds Asatru and Heathenism valuable. TBW blots. And then blogs about the blots. But TBW also sees that our written texts have been infected with modern religion.[8] But TBW also […]

  3. […] You give what you get. There is a law, gebo, that requires like-for-like. (See my discussion of […]

  4. […] system is entirely alike to the Heathen rule of GEBO which I have discussed briefly in “12 Footnotes” and “Another Q&A.” To a Heathen – really, any good-souled Pagan of any tradition – […]

  5. […] TBW isn’t usually a fan of Gluckschmerz. This time I can make an exception. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Published […]

  6. […] been writing about Gebo this week, so thought I’d revisit it here. You can also see “12 Footnotes” and “Another […]

  7. […] me to my subject of gefrain in what I hope will be a series of personal reflections on Heathen thews (values). Gefrain is loosely translated as “reputation,” however, there is far more to it than that.[1] […]

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