Thursday, September 26, 2013


So as I've mentioned previously, I recently started participating in the ADF through the local Grove here in Phoenix. I've just started their “Dedicant Program”, and I'm (give or take) about a third of the way through it. One of the major requirements of this program is a thorough understanding of, attendance to, and written analysis of the eight cardinal holy days of the wheel of the year. Of  these eight occasions, four of the holiday observances must be held in the ADF ritual format. I've read the entire manual, and while their chosen format isn't my usual practice, I think it's a perfectly reasonable arrangement of events. Thus, when I found out that there was an open Autumnal Equinox celebration I jumped at my chance to get one of my ritual observances in, and to meet some new people!
(Cue dramatic foreshadowing music)
My first hint that something might be off was when I looked up the event details and saw that this years celebration of Mabon would be held in a traditional Norse Freyfaxi...

You have no idea how much fun I had creating this image

For those of you that are curious (or have no idea what the heck a Freyfaxi is), the holiday is held on August 1st and is essentially the Asatru equivalent to the more common “Lammas”. So a ritual hosted by a group which requires documented proof that you know your stuff about the Wheel of the Year (which I was attending in order to prove just that) was honoring the wrong holiday, nearly two months late.


Now this is a group which I've heard GREAT things about, which includes a number of my friends, and which generally promotes scholarship and research. So I did some digging, and discovered that there ARE groups of heathens which celebrate Freyfaxi on the equinox (as opposed to Winter Finding, which is more common). Thus informed, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and go anyway.
The gathering was held at the Irish Cultural Center (Which looks like Hogwarts, and is AWESOME) and about fifty people came to celebrate. The ritual began with a mood setting chant as we walked around the courtyard and gathered around the altar. The druids at the ADF don't cast a circle or otherwise denote the ritual area, instead they either give an offering to those forces they would placate, or call upon a protector/hero to watch over the ritual. So when they called upon The Thunderer to keep any ill forces at bay, it seemed perfectly reasonable.  When you're envisioning the out-dwellers as the forces of Jötunheim, you could do a lot worse than Atli, Jötuns bane. They then proceeded to call the Aesir, and the Vanir, and honor Freyr in particular. It all seems pretty kosher so far.
Then, without even a blink, they invited Brigid to come and be honored for the occasion.

My mind boggled. I was completely at a loss for words (NOT a common occurrence, I assure you). First off, those are NOT two pantheons that had a friendly relationship. The Vikings raided Ireland for hundreds of years, and the two were regularly tied up in land wars. Needless to say, these two cultures were not exactly cordial. As if that wasn't enough to question the wisdom of bringing these forces together, you have invited two notoriously hot headed gods, both competing for the same role as god/ess of the forge.
Fundamental law of nature: any two organisms in the same ecosystem, which fill the same ecological niche, will end up in competition. Put a lion and a tiger in the same cage with a lump of meat and they will (most likely) kill each other.
Well... as below, so above.

The ritual continued, with offerings to the landvaetter, the ancestors, and the gods. As the procession wound down, in standard ADF fashion, an Omen was cast. Essentially, after everybody has made their offerings to the powers that be, the idea is to do a divination to see what gifts the powers offer in return. To that end, one rune is drawn for each “Kindred” (Gods-Ancestors-Landvaetter, in that order). The woman who had been leading the chanting and meditation that evening drew up a set of runes and drew for the Aesir.

A questionable enough “blessing” as it is, it's also known as Thor's rune.
Then the chanter drew again, this time for the Ancestors.

Again. Ok. I think we're getting the message here.

Then finally she drew for the Landvaetter.

The god rune, the Aesir, Odin's court.

Let me sum that up... We ask what we should expect in return for our ritual. The gods say “Expect Thor...”, the ancestors say “Yeah... You should REALLY expect Thor....”, and the spirits of the land say “You should listen to them.”
After the ritual, during the feast, I got a chance to speak with a few friends about the omen. One pointed out: “That isn't the only definition for Thurisaz. It could mean challenges ahead, or giants!”
So to recap, our alternate explanation was the rune representing the ritual protector, indicating that there would be troubles ahead (and maybe giants). Our alternate explanation is sounding strikingly similar to the first one... In the end I did the only thing I could. I had brought a flask of my favorite liquor (Ouzo, left over from my wedding night), which I had intended to share as an offering to the Aesir and enjoy the rest. After the feast I walked out to the fire where the offerings were made, and emptied the flask. All of it.
It's not uncommon for individual pagans at a ritual to encounter some particular detail which they don't agree with, or feel the need to correct later after the celebration has concluded. Sometimes we just silently correct the issue in our head, other times we pour some extra booze in the fire, and occasionally we write a blog about it! All issues aside, the feast was great and getting to hang out with friends (new and old) was a blast; however I'm a bit wary of going to another Norse ritual. They have an event coming up which is in conjunction with another local group “Hammerhearth”, which might be a bit less problematic. While I've decided not to let this deter me from completing the Dedicant program, I'll admit that it does make me appreciate my usually solitary practice.

P.S.- Thor, I'm really, really, REALLY sorry.
Please don't smite me

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


So sometimes life goes from 0 to 90 without any warning, and all you can do is cling desperately to your seat and enjoy the ride. The past few weeks have been a maelstrom of chaos. (and by chaos, I mean AWESOME!)
Since there's no way I could tackle each of these subjects individually in a timely manor, I decided to do a big update where I just try to cover all of the interesting things going on.

-I will be authoring a column on Agora, over at Patheos!
Wyrd Words will be keeping the Thor in Thursdays on a bi-weekly basis! Look for the inaugural piece today! As if this wasn't completely obvious, I am a HUGE fan of many of the writers over at the Patheos Pagan Chanel. Even being invited to be a columnist (rather than a blog owner) feels like getting front row seats to some kind of Pagan/Blogger Superbowl.
In other news, I'm a complete nerd.

-I will be participating in the ADF Dedicant program.
Over the past couple of years I've essentially danced in circles around the ADF. I've known more then a few members, and I follow Teo Bishop who was a member until relatively recently. Despite this, I had never bothered to really examine the organization. I'm really not sure why. When I finally got around to checking it out though, what I found was an organization of Pagans which promoted scholarly study and research. What's more, they're completely open to Heathens (Even solitary ones)!
I will be writing about my experiences with the program here on Wyrd Wiles in what will likely be my first blog “series”.

-Intra-Pagan Interfaith dialogue
In an effort to initiate a long term project that I've been trying to get off the ground, I will be writing about an interview with Vice Sr. Druid of the Grove of the Rising Phoenix, Mr. Mark Bailey. Expect this piece within the next few weeks. My hope is that this will be the first of many such discussions across the various Pagan traditions!

-The FRD has announced the launch date for “The World Table”
“The World Table” is a program which will facilitate inter religious conversations, both for spiritual leaders and for any individuals with an interest in education. Essentially two parties will engage in conversation over some chosen topic, and others will be allowed to “spectate”.

Our hope is to have the Pagan Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy up and running in time to officially participate in the opening events!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Northern Winds: Asatru and Heathen Meet-up

Northern Winds: Asatru and Heathen Meet-up

So one of the first things they teach you about in Anthropology 101, is the history of the field and how we used to be REALLY BAD AT IT. One of the predominant examples of this is the phenomenon of “Armchair- Anthropologists”. In a nut shell; these early pioneers in the field would study and compare cultures around the world, without ever leaving their comfortable countryside homes. Content to sound like they knew what they were talking about, simply by reading reports from abroad, these guys are responsible for a LOT of cultural misunderstandings and stereotypes.

Thus, as a student of Anthropology, and somebody who hates to look like a hypocrite, I occasionally venture out into the world to see what's happening!

This past Friday evening was the monthly Asatru and Heathen Meet-up hosted by Northern Winds. I had been to the shop once before, but not for some time. Northern Winds is a small, one room shop, adjoined to the larger Fantasia Crystals. While the majority of the store seemed to have a more general Wiccan target audience, Northern Winds has a distinctly Nordic feel to it. While Pentacles and Irminsul decorated the walls, the shelves were topped with statues of the Aesir and the Vanir. The display counter boasted a large variety of rune sets, as well as Mjölnir pendants made of everything from wood, to bronze, to chain-mail links. This, along with a small shelf in the back with a few impressive (out of print) books, convinced me that I'd come to the right place for my excursion.
As the room filled up with people I was intrigued to see people from a number of traditions in attendance, including the friendly neighborhood Druid Mr. Bailey. (Whom I had the pleasure to meet once before at the local Witches Ball). I was pleased to see such a diverse group participating amicably in a kind of Intra-Pagan Interfaith discussion.
The lesson that night was lead by Kevin Puckett, author, Gothi, and creator of Asastrong. I had no idea what topic/s the lecture was going to be covering that evening, so I was curious what direction Mr. Puckett would take when he announced that the focus of the talk was going to be the concept of the “Folk-Soul”.
I was expecting a 101 lesson on the idea of the Orlog (Ones connection to their ancestral past), but Puckett had a more active, communal vision in mind. Puckett's “Folk-Soul” is something more akin to a community network. He described it as a quilt, into which each member of the community stitches their most valued skills/attributes, thus making them accessible to the whole group. By making connections with others who possess different skill sets and resources than ones own, an individual can gain access to a greater breadth of knowledge and ability.
In addition to his lesson on “Folk-Soul”, Puckett also included a practical daily philosophy, based on the idea of community contribution, represented below:

Puckett's basic idea is that the human experience can be broken down into these four fields, and that by maintaining a healthy balance of these attributes, one can better contribute to their community. (I believe his words were “commune with the Folk-Soul”. There's a reason I'm a blogger and not a priest; I do not share the Skaldic Gothi's skill at waxing poetic.)
In his lecture, Puckett expounded upon each of his four attributes, and his perspective on balance within each quarter as well as within the whole. The Physical requires a balance between work, exercise, and leisure. The Social involves the need for solitary time, balanced against ones social obligations. The Spiritual category emphasizes the need for practical grounding, in addition to spiritual growth. The Mental quarter represents the need for mental stimuli/critical thinking skills, vs mental leisure time. (On that last note: Guilty as charged, I spend WAY more time on netflix then I do in science journals...)
The talk ended with Mr. Puckett bringing the whole thing full circle, and explaining that the resources for improving ourselves can be found within the network of the Folk-Soul; and by keeping ones life in balance, one can better contribute to the Folk-Soul.

Now, putting aside my personal nitpicking around terms like “spiritual” and the amount to which it may or may not be a part of any individuals life, the Folk-Soul sounds like a fairly positive social mechanic. If you want to encourage community activism and tribal bonding, then promoting symbiotic relationships, founded in reciprocity, through religious values is an effective strategy. Couple this with a philosophy of personal progress as communal gain, using a common Pagan ethic of self-reliance and responsibility for support, and you have the beginnings of a great community action plan. While I think this would be difficult to implement in a larger community, I believe this kind of construct would make a strong foundation for smaller groups like individual kindreds/covens/groves.
After the lecture, I had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Puckett briefly about his work as an author, and his goals for Asastrong. Puckett emphasized his company's stated mission:

ÁsaStrong’s mission is to provide all Ásatrúar with new foundations well as deeper philosophical based in our ancient tradition, as insights into what has become our new, contemporary, tradition. We also seek to provide books, clothing, ritual items, and jewelry created by actual Ásatrúar for Ásatrúar. We seek to accomplish these goals through the concept of Folk-Building (a term coined by some of our amazing Folk-Mothers within the Folk community). This means we seek to only do business with other companies, Kindreds, and organizations within the Ásatrú or Folk community. Symbolized by the Úlfheðinn logo, ÁsaStrong stands on the front-line of our Trú each day that we don our Hammer. We will Progress our Trú and our Folk by securing the rights and freedoms of all Ásatrúar. Our motto, “Nevermind the False, Progress the Folk” will see us through the times to come. We focus only on that which is positive, and serves to further our Love for our Folk and our Gods.

His focus, throughout our conversation, was always on contributing to and building up the community. At first glance I admit, I felt Asastrong's mission statement was a bit exclusivist. While I respected his desire to bolster the Heathen population, I didn't seem to make much room for Pagans outside of those borders. However, after listening to his talk and discussing his work, I found him to be a very open and accepting gentlemen. His personal definition of Folk seemed to have room for anybody who wished to consider themselves a part of the community, and I have a lot of respect for that. In the end, I left the meet-up feeling like I had potentially made some new friends, and I intend to follow Kevin Puckett's career with interest.

So, I have a bit of a guilty pleasure. I LOVE buying books on runic interpretation. I'm always fascinated to see how different people see the meanings behind the same symbols, and I've got a collection which is starting to rival the harlequin romance section at some bookstores. Thus, I made sure to procure a copy of Kevin Puckett's “Runic Philosophy”! Expect a book review in the near future!