Danu

Let me admit something to you all

(I say, as though I’m in my living room, rather than a public blog…)

Once upon a time as a young teenager, I dabbled in Wicca.

Mostly I wanted to be special – special knowledge, special power, special techniques to have control over my world.

I read a little, I didn’t do much, I was mostly unsatisfied with what I found.

But in the middle of this period I had an experience that I still can call up in all its vividness.

(I don’t know when exactly it happened or what I was doing when it happened)

The image of a woman was dropped into my mind. She was matronly, impossibly tall, powerful, naked, carrying a blunt and unadorned staff, striding towards me over the crest of a hill.

I am the Goddess Danu, I heard, in a resonant voice that wasn’t what I heard when I read silently, come to reclaim my people.

I drew the image I saw, as best I could – “inspiration” for art was the only way I really could make sense of it. It came out extremely high-fantasy on paper.  I couldn’t convey the intensity of her eyes.  It sounded more high-fantasy as time passed, anyway, what was She talking about, people? I looked up Danu (and found things too far over my head to read) but I learned she was a river – Don, Danube, Dneiper – and the mother of the Tuatha de Danaan.

How strange, I thought at the time. It was not a perception that I knew how to make sense of.

I like my practice, I like that it’s heavy on organization and light on mysticism.

But sometimes I wonder. Danu.

Syncretism

I throw around the word “syncretism” a lot, but it doesn’t exactly fit perfectly what I do.

So I suppose I should try to describe what I do better.

First of all, I like holy images. They remind me to orient myself toward the world around me as a neighbor, they remind me to look for and honor the Holy Powers in my life. The attention I pay those images, the offerings I make – the incense and candles I burn, the drink I pour out and the food I offer, the prayers I say there – all empower those images to be better and better focal points of my devotion.

I particularly like holy images with faces. I’ve seen beautiful altars and shrines made of stones, or beads, or leaves and branches or pieces of antler, but the idols that suit me best are just that. I like the psychospiritual gymnastics of using the image of a particular human or animal face to reach toward something wholly Other.

But such images don’t necessarily exist. For a “well known” deity, who’s a major player in the myths-as-written there might be a statue or two floating around in the pagan and new-age world, but for a deity only remembered in their name – regardless of how widespread their ancient cult may have been, regardless of the depth of feeling a few modern pagans feel for them – there may be nothing accessible.

I learned this trick from African Diaspora traditions – the trick is to use someone else’s images.

Now, don’t steal images, borrow them from secure and open traditions. My favorite sources are Catholicism’s images, Tibetan Buddhism’s images, and the film and tv images that populate all of our unconscious minds.

I hope you’re blessed with a Latin American grocery store, because novena candles are the best (and most affordable) images to try this with. Look at all the images of the saints and angels on those candles, and try just for a moment to forget that Christianity exists. Don’t look at the names, don’t even look at the genders.

Who is that broad-faced woman with thick hair, destroying a tower with storm and lightning? Why, it must be Thrym’s Bride, Thor! (Santa Barbara)

Who is that richly dressed man standing on an ocean island and commanding the winds? Njord the Ship-King of course. (San Cypriano)

I’m not saying, of course, that Thor and Santa Barbara (or Tyr and Manjushri, Sigyn and Saint Claire or Sitatapatra, or Hela and Santa Muerte, or whoever) are the same, just that they have similar enough symbolic “hooks” that you can look at an image of one and see the other.

Syncretism, when I do it, is not blending deities or considering them the same, or “multiple facets of the same Reality”, but simply using images intended for one purpose for another purpose.

Flat symbolism isn’t the only way that this syncretism works – personal symbolism, and personal aesthetics play a part too. There’s a woodblock image of an adi-buddha at my work, white, with His hands in teaching mudra, which I know I could easily use as an image of Mani, but none of the other woodblock prints seem quite as suitable. It’s something about the face. (I should just buy it already)

My most well-loved shrines begin to look like 3-D collages. Njord’s space has a candle of San Cypriano, a resin Moshe (in Whose lap I’ve placed a fishing weight and the battleship from Monopoly) as well as a small blue lucky Hotei, holding a gold ingot which really really looks like a boat. There’s a brass sailing ship, a print of a replica stave church, a dish of coins and cobalt blue beads of recycled glass and red-dyed bone. None of those images are Njord, of course (one image alone, carved and named with intention, wouldn’t be Njord either) but they give an impression, they elucidate aspects; they are hooks to hang my mind on.

I don’t worry about the theology. I’m a pagan, I deal in actions and outcomes. If someone wants to consider the deity I’m praying to an emanation of the Enlightened Being Tara, or a facet of the Godhead which is One, or one face and name of the Great Goddess Eris, or generated by the energy of my belief, or a fantasy created by my psyche, they are welcome to, and I’ll keep doing like I do.

[edited to repair the doubledoubling]

So I haven’t been blogging…

I’ve been busy. I’m doing a lot of things that I’m proud of (and a lot of procrastinating) but the time and will to record any of it hasn’t occurred to me.

I’ve been working on a lot of things for my Kindred – we had an incredible dumb supper, for Winternights (the ancestor-centric holiday that synchs up most neatly with Hallowe’en/Samhain, for those what don’t know)

I met and was interviewed by three UW-Madison undergrads, who were studying the Sagas and Eddas and (separately) learning the basic methodology of ethnography. We (our kindred) were going to be their project. I was, I have to admit, trepidatious. But they were nice, asked intelligent questions, came to the dumb supper, and raised the horn to their dead ancestors. They’ve interviewed a few other friends as well, who all reported positive experiences. I hope they thought of us when they saw the Atheists’ “God Graveyard” that made a blog-o-stir recently, and the offerings left at Freyja’s image (I didn’t do it, and no one I know did, is the part that makes me smile.)

(Some of our members are addressing the racism and insensitivity to human suffering implicit in that display, privately, with the university. We will be hosting, in the nebulous near-future, a prayer and offering ritual for the 200 gods “buried”, as well. If anyone reading this would like to send in a prayer to be read, to any of the gods you happen to be close to, please do!)

I’ve started another project – audio recording of the stories in the Eddas, for the sake of greater accessibility. Right now it is just barely better than nothing, and if anyone would like to contribute even one recording, of any public domain translation of any Heathen primary source, (I know Saxo can get really long winded and dull…) it would be an immense help.

Gosh, what else? I’m working on illustrations (or ought to be) for a Pagan small press. :) My editor keeps talking big about how I should do this that and the other to make a living on childrens’ books and even though I know he’s talking big, I’m terrified.

I’m working two jobs now, too! A Buddhist shop and a Nepali restaurant. I’m learning a lot about 1. Buddhist epistemology and meditation techniques, thanks to the shop’s bookshelf, and 2. what equitable religious intermixing can look like “on the ground”, so to speak, since my bosses’ religious preferences were set in turf where “the local goddess” was an idea everyone acknowledged, and traditions lived cheek by jowl in the same cities and families. My Buddhist boss joins in Laxmi puja for Tihar and keeps a small Ganesh on her prosperity altar, and my … well, Hindu is a undescriptive term, but my boss with a billion pictures of Sri Krisna behind the cash register lights candles before an image of the Buddha each work day, too. (and of course, everyone’s personal interpretation of underlying theology is their own damn business.) It sounds like a just-so story, but I don’t see enough of it in my own religious community.

(My restaurant-boss admired my Thor’s Hammer one day. “It’s, uh, related to the Dorje,” I said.)

Since starting there, a small image of Laxmi has gone up inside my Njord shrine (as though She were His honored guest), sitting atop a stack of business cards of the folks who send me my prosperity (and who know Her much better than they know Him), and a variety of Bodhisattva statues with small damages that make them unsalable have followed me home, sitting among the potted plants and receiving occasional mantras.

Anyway, that’s life. Busy and good.

Freyfaxi, Pagan Pride Day, and a Library~

Whoops, this was meant to be a post for my Kindred’s website, but I might as well let it lie now that it’s here.

First of all, we had a wonderful Freyfaxi late in August:

We hosted several Celtic pagan guests and toasted the joyful Lord of Alfheim, who dies so we all may eat, with peach cider and sweet challah bread. I especially liked lingering after dinner, talking theology and community with people I hope to see a lot more of.

Second of all, Sigewif Kindred will be at Madison Area Pagan Pride Day! If you have been looking for a chance to meet us, we will have a booth next to Spero Publishing, and several of our members will be there to chat, meet new people, and to raise funds by selling some really beautiful prayer cards. I am excited for these prayer cards.

(MAPPD will be this Saturday, September 14th, 2013, at Winnequah Park in Monona, WI from 10 am to 6 pm. Admission is free)

Third of all, our lending library, maintained in honor of Saga, is finally cataloged! We believe sharing resources builds a community. We have Heathen religious resources, books on pagan theology, and resources for other polytheist and magical paths. Give it a browse, and if you visit us, leave with a book or two, please!

Catfish

When I started this blog I anticipated it being all theology all the time.

Turns out I’ve got to revise my expectations. That kind of stuff wears me out (at least at this point in my practice)

Today I’m working on a big Catfish mask/body puppet for a Procession of the Species at a local Solstice festival. It will be right next to the Great Catfish River, and I would be really upset if Catfish was forgotten because it is not a particularly sexy animal.

Ideally I will be puppeteering the head with my arms, and its dorsal fin will be on my head (I will be wrapped in a sheet) and I’ll have to walk a bit bent over to get the “long” look. Not sure if I can figure out some way to create a tail without dragooning an assistant to carry it like a banner behind me.

(Due date: June 22. SPEED COSTUMING)

There will be pictures! Finally! Pictures on this blog!

I am literally the worst blogger

But I think that’s okay. I write a lot over here in drafts, and notebooks I take to coffee shops and parks, and random text files open in wordpad.

Usually I start on a topic that’s bothering me, write to the end of my thoughts, get up and walk around, realize something I didn’t understand the first time around, delete most of what I wrote, and start again.

I end the day with a better understanding of that thing for myself, but really not much to post.

So here’s a happy update on what life is like for me:

I went on the spur of the moment and visited my family. I got a ride from my aunt** who lives near me because she was buying fabric at a specialty shop near my mom’s place and bringing her a several-months-late birthday present (they grew up together). I wound up outing myself as a member of an unusual religion in the middle of brunch conversation, and the reception was unexpectedly positive! Mom thinks that my loss of a crappy job is a lucky opportunity to focus on religious stuff. (I really have to apologize for how much I pooped all over her ideas of synchronicity, during my atheist days) I managed to listen to what exactly their assumptions about word meanings (pagan, polytheist, faith) were, and I think I managed to describe what I do pretty well, and also let the conversation flow around and to other things like the way it is absolutely criminal that you can’t get decent beer or cheese in Florida.

After a little bit of badgering on my best friend’s part, I finally invited her to a holiday ritual I’m hosting, and she got Exploring the Northern Tradition from our childhood library — where we sneaked our first peeks into books on tarot and astrology as pre-teens — so she could learn what I’m doing these days. (She’s my sister from another mister, her approval/involvement probably means the most to me)

I got to drop off a package of tea at that friend’s house, shoot a half-dozen hoops with her and her girlfriend, and then went to dinner with my mom and dad at a restaurant owned by other cousins (Grandma’s brother’s daughter and son-in-law). My mom’s been doing a lot of work there – on art and design and advertising – for no money, and that’s been bothering me because the restaurant-owners are more well off than she is. But I clearly need to trust my family because they’re fantastic hard workers who don’t let her pay when she’s there. Also my cousin who is a chef can cook like a motherfucker.

Thank the fucking ancestors, thank the gods of Norwegian immigrants. Things are going well.

** in my family these titles are mushy. This aunt is really a third cousin

Essays For The Troth 1.4 The Nine Worlds

This is a response to a question from The Troth’s 101 course, prerequisite to the Lore program! Here is my masterpost of Troth 101 essays.

What are the nine worlds? Where are they located, and what are their aspects? Who lives where?

I don’t like this question. I get it’s important to help become conversant with the myths, but I don’t like list/catalog questions.  I feel like I can either write a purely folklorist literary analysis, or else I can get all spacey. I wish I could find a third door! Oh well, I will default to spacy. Maybe I will find a productive way to organize a list/catalog later.

The nine worlds could be the planets of the solar system, which is a nice bit of synchronicity, seeing as the ancient world could only observe the inner planets. I’m pulling these correspondences out of my butt, but:

Mercury: Muspelheim – The hot one!
Venus: Vanaheim – The one with Roman fertility associations.
Earth: Midgard – simple enough!
Mars: Jotunheim – based, frankly, on the Mars Trilogy, and the animism that springs up among Mars colonists. Everything is larger and more hostile. The forces that sculpt the Martian landscape can beat up the forces that sculpt the Terran landscape!
Jupiter: Asgard – Jupiter, king of the gods, home of the kings of the gods.
Saturn: Svartalfheim – associated archetypally with wealth!
Uranus: Helheim – The far away one that isn’t the cold one!
Neptune: Alfheim – Frey rules Alfheim! Frey’s dad likes boats! Alfs are sometimes considered ancestral spirits – Neptune and Uranus sometimes switch!
Pluto: Nifhelheim – The cold one!

I believe the details of “who lives where” could be mined for mystical understandings, and the places, the halls, and the gods all sit in a web of symbolic interrelationship but I am so not at that level, and I don’t know if I want to treat a collection of traditions cataloged by an outsider like a wisdom text. (I so do, but not today)

I think for practical purposes of “where”, Helheim (and maybe Alfheim, and maybe Muspelheim) exist under the ground – a place that the ever-inspiring David Abram associates with the inaccessibility of the past.

The rest (barring Asgard, where an argument could be made for “in the sky” – associated with the immanence of the present; and Midgard, which is Midgard) exist over the horizon (associated with the infinite possibilities of the future). That is, perpetually over the horizon, just off the edge of the map, out of the reach of any normal human travel. Perhaps they could be associated with directions (Vanaheim in the east, Nifhelheim in the north, etc) or landmarks (beyond the ocean, beyond the mountains) but humans have so few impassible landmarks these days, I think that is not the most productive speculation. I don’t like a Heathenry that insists I pretend I am stupid.