Friday, December 28, 2007

A Shift in My Own Personal Beliefs

I've been struggling for a long time with a special issue, one that never really challenged me before now. The issue is capital punishment. For the longest time, I was against capital punishment on many grounds, and before I say here what I have to say, it is important to understand that I am still against it in most cases.

That sounds strange, but let me clarify this. I know that our current capital punishment system is unfair and unbalanced. I know (as do all who study the facts) that poor people are more likely to be executed than people of means who can afford better defense attorneys. This one single point is enough to condemn the entire system: having more money should not mean that the law sanctions you differently than others. What we are saying is simple: having more money means that your life is somehow more protected or valuable than others who don't have as much.

This is unacceptable. Our system is innately flawed in other ways- we have convicted and killed people without perfect evidence being involved, only to find later that these slain people were innocent. The system expects people to be put at risk of the ultimate, irreversible penalty, and yet, it cannot promise to undo its terrible mistakes, should it make them- and we know that it makes them. We can also see that death doesn't even pretend to serve the purposes of rehabilitation: it is merely revenge, and it is grossly expensive.

We also know that it doesn't deter crime, in any way; countless studies have shown that the threat of death does not deter crime. There is no truly strong argument for capital punishment; it is, in most cases, a throwback to a primitive form of vengeance and violence, and it drags our system down to the same level, just about, as the people it is killing.

So, even now, I am against our system's approach to capital punishment. I find it unfair and lopsided, and even unconstitutional in ways.

But I am a father now, and I have changed in my views somewhat. The purposes for giving penalties to criminals should include protection for the rest of us- they are locked away in prisons to protect the rest of society from the dangers they pose, and they are (in theory) supposed to be given a chance to rehabilitate somewhat. Now, I understand from studying the system in-depth (I have an MA in Criminal Justice) that rehabilitation is almost a pipe dream in my country; our prisons are negative environments where rehabilitation is not to be found much, if at all.

But the theory is sound. I believe that some people can be rehabilitated, and I know for a fact that many forces, powers, and events can change even the worst people into better people. So I do, in principle, believe that even lawbreakers can change and become safe to release back into our population.

But there are certain offenders that we know resist change or rehabilitation. Child molesters are a good example- statistics show that they will almost universally offend again if given the opportunity. They resist rehabilitation in every form. I do not approve of the release of child molesters from any sort of prison or custody on any grounds, even though it does happen.

I have realized, after wearily examining the evidence, that people who can bring themselves to murder children are also impossible to rehabilitate. Children are the very image of innocence and potential; they are our hope for the future, whatever we may think. A man or woman who can be so callous or uncaring as to intentionally and viciously slay a child can have no place in our society- and I believe that even the death penalty is acceptable for them.

Now, before I continue with this, let me state that I think the standards of evidence should be flawless, before we execute anyone. Non-coerced confessions would be ideal, but any solid evidence is enough for my conscience. Furthermore, I'm not saying that children's lives are more sacred or important than the lives of innocent adults who have been heartlessly murdered; I'm merely pointing out what we already know- we all react with extra horror to the idea of the murder of children, and children- who are by definition more helpless and harmless than adults- deserve special protection.

Slain adults did at least have some time to live their lives and come to know themselves, and had more of a chance (however small that chance may have been) to protect themselves or escape danger. Children are the most vulnerable members of our society, and the ones that deserve greater standards of protection. This is my belief; I know that many will not agree with me.

The law protects us, even if it has its own issues. We must have laws, and we must all agree to behave within certain legal limits if we are to have a safe land. Certain deviations from the law cannot be tolerated. The destruction of the innocence of our children can be tolerated least of all, and not at all.

On Christmas eve, a few days ago, a heinous crime was committed in which a woman and her boyfriend murdered her parents, her brother, her brother's wife, and her brother's two children, ages 3 and 6. The full details of their confession can be found here:

The Carnation Killings

I warn you now, the story is chilling and almost more than decent people can bear. This story was also the final straw for me: I realized that I can no longer in good conscience say that some people should not be executed. How many stories like this did I need to see before I reached this point? I saw many, but it was seeing the light and innocence in my own toddler's eyes that revealed to me how precious life really and truly was, and how preciously it is embodied in our young.

To mention a spiritual perspective, drawing on the history of my Pagan ancestors might be good at this point. It is well known that both my Celtic and Germanic ancestors executed criminals, but not like we do now. To begin with, my Germanic ancestors were far more likely to encourage non-lethal punishment options, such as the man-price and exile, before death. This is a mark of greatness for them, but the reality is that they loathed blood-feuds, which cost society a great deal.

My Celtic ancestors, at least if we are to believe Roman and Greek writers, executed criminals in a distinctly religious manner and context- they were literally sacrificed to the Gods to answer their crimes. Think again about what this means- they were not executed for revenge, which is essentially all our system offers; a spiritual aspect was brought into the execution, and for a special reason.

When a person grossly violates both the sacred order of society, something taught to us by the Gods and embodied in the laws, a terrible imbalance to society as a whole is introduced, which requires a fix, an answer. To sacrifice the wrongdoer to the Gods, who represent the perfection of order and justice, is to return that imbalance to the Gods, thus making it whole and right again. There was a sacred reparation here, not vengeance. Also, laws are reflections of the sovereignty of a ruler, and through the ruler, the sovereignty of the Goddess of the Land and the Gods who uphold rulership. These sorts of sacred executions also restore the damage done to these things. These were people who were trying to heal their society.

The problem with executions today is that we don't have Pagan societies anymore in the west; we don't have rulers who embody the sovereign power of the Gods. We have given up those sacred systems and given away our lives to modern systems that place authority in the masses- a sad system, in many ways, for the idea of the sacred is absent. Our modern replacements for the sacred all involve Judeo-Christian religious ideals, which have no bearing on the wisdom of our ancestors, and no ability to transfer their wisdom and power to us.

The entire notion of sovereignty and rulership, as Pagans understood it, is now absent, only to be found in a very indirect form in the British Crown, that still exists in an unbroken line back the past, and in what other few nations still maintain their monarchies. But even these institutions are now firmly Christianized, and so the ideals I've been discussing here cannot be mediated by them.

I still believe that protection of society is sacred, regardless of how far we've gone from the wisdom of the past, and I've now adjusted my beliefs regarding the execution of criminals- those who murder children, and whose guilt can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, deserve death. Their lives need to be given back to the powers of the Underworld, for those powers are the true source of our lives. When the crime is an affront to the sources of life, returning the criminal and their imbalance to those powers will pay the debt, on a spiritual level.

My society will never execute people with this intention in mind, but I think it would be spiritually appropriate if they did. I would never suggest that we should be intending to take vengeance when we execute the degenerates that can murder children; we should be intending to bring about a spiritual reparation. This is why families should not be allowed to execute those who have killed their kin; they would, as all normal people, be doing it with a thirst for vengeance, and I think that would be encouraging negative powers within them.

People who murder are bad enough- they deserve to be separated from society for the rest of their lives, for the good of all, unless those murders were committed under the circumstances that have shown that they can be safely released later- such as murdering in the heat of passion. Under the influence of strong emotions, normal people can mistakenly or thoughtlessly do terrible things. But when children are involved, there can be no excuses, least of all when the murders are intentional. Death for those people would be acceptable and proper, so long as we are not cruel in our delivery of that final justice.

Such people can never be trusted again; whatever dark, giantish force could consume them to the point that they can overcome the natural human revulsion to the destruction of such innocent life has exempted them from any further positive participation in human life. And children, I believe, deserve extra protection.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Joy of Yule

Yule is the most spiritually poignant time of the Year for we Asatruar, and for the ancients, it was equally as meaningful. I love this season; I love the cold; I love the decorations that people put out- holly and colored lights and mistletoe. I love the fact that people actually take the time to let themselves slip into a "holiday cheer" in which they feel more open towards strangers and friends and family.

I know that the ancient roots of this sacred time go back to the dawn of our humanity, and few things bring me more joy than knowing that this holy season was so strong and transformative that even interloping religions like Christianity- who came with the intention to culturally destroy the good and traditional faiths of native Europeans- could not compete with it, and had to integrate it into their yearly observances.

Because of this unbreakable line of power, this thread of Fate, so many of us have grown up hearing the language of Christianity at this season, but feeling the full Heathen force of the time. I am very sorry for those who never had a chance to grow up around Christmas/Yule customs, for many reasons. Nowhere I've ever been, nor any cultural custom I've ever seen, has matched Christmas/Yule for the sheer feeling of joy, serenity, happiness and togetherness. To feast together, drink together, give gifts, share stories and warmth and rest- this is the best time of the year. And it's an amazing cultural legacy. So much for us barbarian westerners!

It seems that being Western is a crime nowadays. Being an American of European descent has been heading towards "criminal" for a long time. The West seems to make a convenient target for people's woes. They can talk about us all they like and harp on the great traumas we've caused the world; all I have to say is 'welcome to life'- where is it written that life was intended to be easy or even fair? And what's "fair"? We all have a right to be here and to fight to maintain our cultural realities- "white man's guilt" is not a thing that I nor any other person of dignity and honor has time for. Strength is not shared equally, and it isn't some standard of utopian "fairness" or "humanity" that is going to solve the problems of "strength abuse" in this world- it is only wisdom that will.

Wisdom I will work for, but I will never apologize nor feel ashamed of my forefathers and mothers who did so much for this world and who were strong and proud. Despite the rumor, I can assure you- the meek will inherit nothing of this world or any other. Trying to drag everyone down to a common denominator of weakness will not solve any problems; what we need is the wisdom to help all people be strong and complete.

I see much wisdom and power in western culture, despite the pervasive habit nowadays to attack the foundations of the West, villainizing Europeans and people of European descent as plunderers and greedy opportunists. The story is far more subtle and layered than the over-simplifications that people try to whine off onto others. I do regret that Christianity had to taint my forefathers and foremothers' way of life, and feed them the idea that they should destroy other cultures with the intent of forcing foreign peoples into a new religion; that is unfortunate and foolish. But beyond that, the drive, the bravery, the energy, and the stamina with which my ancestors cut a swath through this world is unequaled.

As western culture has practically become a global culture, one might say that we are the architects of the modern world- printing presses, light bulbs, penicillin, cars, airplanes, antiseptics, televisions, telephones, radios, microchips and countless other creations that have defined our age come from the creativity of the sons and daughters of the Americas and Europe. They are part of a long human tradition of creativity that is shared by all races.

In the Yuletide, the very best of the past is still with us. The mistakes of the past can easily become an obsession, and not just for those who have a political agenda to push. But in this time of spiritual power, what is good and noble comes to the forefront, precisely because the spirits of our Families, our Ancestors and the powers unseen are coming to the forefront. The "Yule Beings", that most sacred host, are coming near. And now, in the rest of winter's deep, we can take some time to concentrate on what is most sacred and important to us. We can take the time to remind ourselves of the rich cultural traditions that we are all heirs to, no matter how far we may have drifted from them on the tides of revealed religions and their revisionist history, or the tides of absurdly greedy social movements like capitalism that undermine the true foundations of family and society.

For most, this time of the year is associated with "thankfulness", and I admit, this word has some use. But for Heathens, we who believe in Fate, "thankfulness" has a special twist. If I believe that Fate wove all of this around me into the form it is now, and that it had to be this way, why be thankful? While it's true that the Allfather's creativity is what shaped this world, and even shaped the beautiful forms of men and women's bodies into what they are (and for that, I am most certainly thankful) even the great Shaper himself was weaving as Fate inspired him.

Should I be "thankful" to the Gods for the benefits I've reaped after the work I've done? Surely a farmer is thankful that the Old Thunderer gave his land the water it needed to grow his food, but he had to get out there and plant and reap. To be thankful in an appropriate way is important; the Gods don't live our lives for us. Can we be thankful for human nature containing all the nobility and bravery that it does?

Human nature is a manifestation of an underlying mystery- the mystery of MANNAZ- which the Gods did not create. Humans had to manifest in the way they did, even with the creativity of the Gods helping in this process. Who shall I be thankful for now, that I am creative, or kind, or hard working? What about the fruits of my creativity, which have helped me to become financially successful, and able to take care of my family? Am I thankful to myself?

These sorts of questions are easy to resolve. When you see all of reality as a sacred outpouring, and when you understand Fate, you realize that those things you call "yours" aren't just yours; human creativity, and all things "human", belong to the universe every bit as much as they belong to "us". How magnificent is the great world that we are parts of! That it should appear as it does, full of all these amazing things and experiences, up to and including our love for one another as humans, and all our trials and efforts and triumphs! That the Gods should be who they are, interacting with us and the world, and sustaining us in this way! It is all a wondrous vision, a miracle every day.

Some say we lose something from this miraculous vision when we believe that "Fate" had no choice but to see it appear this way. How could things be otherwise? And since it could not be otherwise, why do we feel that it's so astounding?

Just because the universe unfolds according to the great, eternal, and hidden seed-pattern doesn't mean that we humans understand it fully and completely. It took me a long time of studying and living the spiritual life before I became aware of the wonder that this universe manifests. What I am joyful about, what I am in awe of, is that I, a human being, should have been accorded the ability to come to know how amazing this world is, in whatever measure I have been allowed to do so. Anytime a person comes to realize just how amazing and beautiful and sacred the world really is, it is as if the world is re-created at that moment, just for that person. It is as if the entire process of the sacred unfolding of things happens all over again.

And that, I think, is one of the key mysteries to understanding "joy". It is also a mysterious hint about our human purpose- when we become truly aware, does not the universe itself celebrate?

It is fine to say that you are thankful to the Gods- we all should be; I am thankful that the Gods exist and that they uphold the world everyday through their timeless efforts. They are our protectors; they are our kin and our guides to wisdom and happiness. I am thankful for them, but I don't believe that our Heathen thankfulness needs to fall into the mold of Christian thankfulness, which is based on the idea that God created everything of his own free will, just for himself and his own glory, and (to a lesser extent) for humans, so they could celebrate God's glory. To Christians, since "God" had a choice to do all this, then a person should be thankful for whatever good things they have. To Christians, God could have chosen NOT to create humans- an odd idea, to say the least, but this is key to understanding their minds and behavior.

For we Heathens, however, Wyrd or Fate didn't make a "choice"- it weaves as it will, as it must, forever; it IS the weaving of things, the occurrence of things. The decisions of the Gods to create humans, to help us, these are fateful decisions, part of the unfolding of things. We Heathens are thankful that things are as they are- and that things happen to be joyful and full of possibilities of happiness and adventure and growth and peace. We can't be thankful that Fate simply exists and does what it does, because Fate didn't choose to exist and do what it does.

William Bainbridge, one of my favorite modern Heathen writers, once wrote about the idea of Thankfulness and religion. Here is a short excerpt from an essay of his on Ego and Wyrd:

"It is a pet notion of mine that two fundamental perceptions lie at the heart of religion as a human phenomenon. They can be neither proved nor disproved logically, but then, no one ever said that faith does not play a part in religion, and as things go, I am satisfied in placing my faith in them.

The first is that, despite all of the things that appear to us to be messed up in one way or another, the way life is working itself out in the universe is the way it is supposed to be working itself out; that is, life, being, and consciousness are supremely and unquestionably good. And the second is that the appropriate human response to the first perception is gratitude. The most primary expression of religion is to give thanks for the innate rightness of life."

I think this is an awesome quote, and it is very truthful to me. Things are right to be the way they are; all is working out as it should. But what I am thankful for is that I, as a human, have come to understand precisely this, and found such peace in it.

I would like to suggest that perhaps Heathens should focus more on "joyfulness in living" and less on the notion of "thankfulness", as "thankfulness" is (at least in modern times) tied strongly to the Christian notion of gratefulness at God's choice in giving to us.

For us, while we are thankful to the Gods for the many things they do and choose to do, the bottom line is that we are partners to the Gods in the web of Wyrd, partners to them in this world. We aren't stuck under the Gods, groveling and thanking them over and over for our mere existence. It is not because of the Gods that we exist in the ultimate sense; it is because of them that we exist in these human lives, in this human world with our great cultural innovations and our homes and kin about us, but the spirits of us, like the spirits of the Gods, are timeless.

The spirit that Allfather breathed into the first humans wasn't created by him; it was only bestowed, but hey- that is by itself a reason for joy! It is good to be human, to live as we do and be able to discover and love so much.

I feel the Joy of this Yule season, and joy in every other season, because I have come to know my place in things, and come to know the Gods as friends and kindred. Yule is, at heart, a celebration of kindred and friendship, and joy at a year now ended and a new year which is beginning. It is a joyful time!

And being joyful at our mere existence, at the right coming and going of things, is a joy that I think even the Gods must have- they of all beings understand more of the immensity of Wyrd and the design of Fate; they take in more of its mysteries than we humans tend to be able to, and they must experience depths of joy that we can only imagine. The more open we become to the natural rightness of things- in other words, the wiser we become- the more we can appreciate the many treasures and blessings that Fate has woven into our lives, and which the Gods, interacting with us as they do, have also given to us by virtue of our interaction.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fighting for the Land and Water

Yahoo! News just reported a very interesting story about the struggle of conservationists to save Chesapeake Bay. I thought I might give a link to the story here and discuss some of the importance of the efforts of these good men and women. But first, I have to say a few words about the relationship between conservation-based efforts and the mindset of environmentalism/conservationism, and modern day Heathenry or Pagan religions.

There are a few people out there, ostensibly Pagans or Heathens, who fight very hard against the public opinion and perception that most neo-Pagans or modern Heathens will all have to be raging environmental warriors. With a sick sort of amusement, I've seen banners on Pagan and Heathen websites that strongly announce "PAGAN DOES NOT EQUAL EARTH-BASED: Stop religious homogenization".

Like with most things, I can see both sides of the issue. But for people who really don't believe that Paganism has to be "earth-based", I'm forced to wonder: what other planet could we be based on? What other Land besides the Land of this earth could we rely on for the earthy flesh of these bodies, the water in our blood and organs, and the food that we eat every day?

By admitting that we owe our bodies and lives to this Land we all share, are we "homogenizing" religion? No, I don't think so- if anything, we're simply admitting to being human like the rest of the men and women we share this world with, and taking this understanding of our reliance on the Land up to a religious level, as the ancients did.

There's many ways to approach religious understandings and practices based on the belief in nature's sacredness. Nothing stops us from admitting that we all rely on a sacred body of nature for our lives, one we all hold in common, and from celebrating that in countless different ways, each to our own.

People who would fight even the admission that the Land is sacred, in some attempt to avoid some unrealistic threat of "homogenization", and furthermore go out of their way to refuse to include the Land in their own religious life, alienate other Pagans who do believe in the sacredness of the Land, and even try to revise history to make ancient peoples seem unconcerned with the power of the Land, are being very selfish, unnecessarily divisive, and ultimately unwise.

It seems that they are wailing and wanting to differentiate themselves from Pagans who recognize the sacredness of the Land for no other reason but "to be different"- the ultimate juvenile tactic of thoughtless, empty rebellion that most of us have thankfully outgrown.

At any rate, the difference between most modern Heathens and Pagans and mainstream modern religions is that we view the natural world in terms of a degree of sacredness that they cannot and do not match- we have extreme ontological differences regarding who and what the Land is, and what places of moral and spiritual value the powers of nature occupy.

Even those liberal Christians who harp on about our "responsibility" to the Land, citing some verse in the bible wherein their great singular creator "gave man dominion" over the land and its creatures (and therefore, they say, lies an implied responsibility) cannot match the Heathen view of the sacred natural world. We see the natural world as an eternal sacred reality, full of holy powers, packed to the limits with sentient beings (the Landwights) and even some of the souls of our dead, who become "mound folk" after their deaths and dwell in the spiritual dimension of their grave sites.

Beyond all that, the Earth itself is a Giantess- a Goddess from a generation of beings that even pre-dates most of the Gods of our people, and who certainly pre-dates mankind. When you see the earth itself as the body of a huge and living being, and you honor her with sacrifices and blots, and pray to her, you are in a very different relationship and mindset than people who see the world as basically inanimate energy, soul-less "stuff" that a God just made for human beings to have "dominion" over.

The ancient stories of our folk are clear. We know with great certainty how they revered the features of the landscape, used them as ceremonial centers, respected the Land-spirits and wights, and made offerings and sacrifices to them. We know how sacred they believed the natural world was; we know what sort of animistic worldview this entire complex of beliefs descends from. We know the truth about the human relationship with the land- we are not the "dominion holders" over this land or its creatures; we are part of this land, and we are another population of creatures on it. We are not in a vertical relationship of dominion; we are in a horizontal relationship of reciprocity and reliance.

If you can see this clearly, then how can you deny that any form of true and traditional Paganism- particularly these reconstructionist paths that have sprung up in the modern day- are not "Land-based"? "Land based" doesn't mean "ignore everything except the land". It means "realize our dependence on the sacred powers under our feet, and act accordingly." Surely we Asatruar honor the Gods in the Godly Enclosures that are beyond this earth, in other worlds and conditions of being. But we live here, in Midgard or Middle-Earth, and we rely so much on the natural powers who occupy this web of power that we are all intimately woven into.

Defending this natural world is one of our Godly duties. The Gods shaped this Land into much of the form we see it in now, though the elements of it are eternal and uncreated: they are sacred powers that have no beginning or end. To protect the land is not just honoring the Giant Goddess upon whose back we live; it's also protecting our lives, the well-being of our children and all people's children, and it is making an important statement that we recognize sacredness and respect it. It is the same as saying "we recognize the boundless creativity of the Gods and respect it enough to uphold it with our effort."

The Yahoo! news story I saw today about the battle to preserve Chesapeake Bay is very good. Here it is:

Chesapeake Bay Blues

I was quite moved by the resolve of the good and wise men and women to help this sacred place- and I realized how their struggle reflects the greater struggle that we are all a part of. The story above contains the following poignant passages:

"The Chesapeake teemed with oysters and blue crabs when European settlers arrived but is now plagued by algae blooms and fish kills. Oysters are nearly wiped out. Miles-long swaths of the bay are called "dead zones" because summertime oxygen levels are too low to support most life."

It's a simple truth that we have to put aside our pride to accept: our culture is unwise when it comes to how we treat the natural world. This is due largely to how we've been taught to think of ourselves as "dominion holders" over the Land, but it also has to do with the fact that most of us don't think even once a day about the fact that this Land we live on is full of real, living, sentient beings, both seen and unseen, who have as much sacred right to be here and live their lives as we do. We must consider our responsibility to balance our lives with the well-being of our land and its many inhabitants.

The story goes on to say:

"The rate of population growth, the number of people moving into the watershed, it's gotten to the point we can't ignore it anymore," said Jeff Corbin, assistant secretary for Virginia's Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources. "The streets people used to drive down were lined with trees. Now, they're lined with CVS and Starbucks."

The images are terrifying to a radical traditionalist like myself. Even if we must create these technological things to make our lives safer or easier, why can we not remember the need for beauty and aesthetic? What perversity drives us to wipe out the sheer beauty of trees, to create parking lots? One day (probably too late) we will all realize that the features of the natural world actually do more than maintain environmental balance- they soothe our minds and souls and help keep us sane. The more we hack them away to replace them with rows of strip-malls and cars, the further we get from basic sanity. It is enough to make the heart break, if one is aware enough to see the decline of this world, and understand mankind's role in it.

One more important line from this story stands out to me. It says:

"Working to restore the Chesapeake is somewhat like fighting hunger or poverty, Baker said. The aim is noble, and progress can be made, but the job will never be done."

Here we find the heart of Heathen nobility- do not shy away from the endless or hopeless fight, for endeavor and struggle for good ends are by themselves enough. Struggle, and not final victory, is what we are called to- we know how things must end up; the Volva has told the Gods and Mankind how things must end up. Even as the doom of the world draws near, and conditions become worse for all of us, nobility and bravery cannot quit. They fight until the end. Some victories still remain to be had- but effort towards good ends, even if that effort comes to defeat, is still a real sort of victory. Our duty to be noble and struggle against destructive forces in ourselves and in the world will never be done, and that's part of what it means to be a noble human being.

I will tell you who does appreciate the efforts of these conservationists- the spirits of the land and water that dwell in and around Chesapeake Bay. But there's more than that- I appreciate them, and the spirit of every one of my readers appreciates them, because they see in their struggle the Godly urge to preserve and uphold life. These people are warriors fighting for the good of Midgard, and they will be honored for their efforts in the Afterlife. It may be that the Lady of the Vanir takes them to Folkvang, for peace until the end of the age, or that they stand with the Einherjar with Allfather at the end of time. Either way, I'll have a toast for them this Yuletide.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Yule Season Arrives!

Fain we come to the Yuletime,
Hap we sing on every holt and howe!
Let the wights of this winter
And all the holy sib join with us
Let all baleful things wend away!

Great Yule-father, Jolnir you are hight
Wanderer under welkin wide and on the wold:
Might and main spread on the gathered folk!
The alfs come in your following,
And toasts are given for all!

Let the Disir consecrate our garth,
Let them protect the newly born and those fey!
For Allfather and these our norns,
To them we sing a holy galdralag
As the Ancestors in times erstwhile.

* * *

The deep night of solstice is upon us,
We have adorned our halls green and red,
Alight we have made the midwinter flames
And tonight feast with our family's dead.

Would that you could be here with us,
Sharing mirth and tales of times before;
The joy of the hidden folk in the long dark,
The fear of the ancients on Selena Moor.

In the ageless cycle of these seasons,
Amid this dark and timeless turning,
You have our gratitude and our blessings
And beloved memory when we set the Yule-fires burning.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Heart of the Old Religions

Most people who leave Christianity and become Pagan (or try to do so) often carry with them the "God-centered" ideal of Christianity and try to build a Pagan practice that places the Gods as the central focus.

However, there is an issue with this that must be addressed- it may be that Paganism in the past was not centered around the Gods. When you look at it broadly and deeply, you can see that ancient Heathens of any stripe viewed human interactions as the primary "focus" of their lives- I'd say their "religious" lives, but it's not coherent to say that Pre-Christian people necessarily divided their experiences up in that way.

In Pagan times, "secular" and "religious" were not really meaningful categories, because even "secular" events were blessed and presided over by Gods. This is nowhere more evident than in ancient Rome, in which every event of government, sports, war, theatre, and even construction and the workings of their sewer system were not carried out without invoking the Gods of that occasion or event.

All of Indo-European Paganism shows this pattern; childbirth was every bit as sacred (and presided over by spiritual powers) as a "general" sacrifice for the people on any occasion. War was always seen as a sacred affair, as was business- Lugus and Odhinn were the Gods of merchants and trade, as was Hermes in Greece and Rome. Lugus and Odhinn were also Gods prayed to in times of war.

The central vision of the Pagans was one of interaction- between people, whether in family settings, war, commerce, travel, exploration, or what have you. These interactions necessarily included the attentions of the Gods, who were part of the great system of interactions, which spread from this world to all of the unseen worlds. But the Gods were not "more important" than the tasks that humans had to carry out. In a horizontally-related and circular system of causality like Wyrd, things can often be seen in terms of equal importance- for instance, it's just as important to be a good soldier and fight well, as it is to invoke the God of War before you go to battle. All aspects of living and interaction are important and charged with numinous force. This is why so many Heathen and Pagan religious rites were carried out in the home, and on streets, and in market squares, and in open groves and fields- because the sacred was a part of everyday life.

So interaction- human activities, the activities of families, clans, or societies- can rightly be understood as the true "focus" of the Old Religions. Interactions between humans and Gods was another focus, though implicit in the term "interaction" in the broadest sense. All of these interactions are tied together by Wyrd, or the sacred system of interconnectedness and causality. This is why more than one sharp-minded scholar has realized that Wyrd was the central mystery of the Heathen religion: interaction is the true nature of our lives, and of the Gods.

Living your life, being among friends and family, going through life's various tests and trials, this is the focus of the Heathen "religions", then and now. Instead of saying "religion", it is better to say "the Heathen life-way", because for our wise Ancestors, what we now call "religion" was fully integrated into everyday life. It wasn't something you "did" on certain days of the week, or only off in a temple. You really can't ultimately separate "religious things" from "non-religious" things. Like Wyrd, all is tied together, overlapping, and recursive.

There's no doubt that the Gods of old were seen as very important in the lives of the people- they prayed, made sacrifices, offerings, all to a huge extent. But they probably didn't go through their lives thinking about the Gods in the same way that Christians are expected to go through life putting "God first" in everything, and worrying about what God thinks about their thoughts and actions.

Heathens of old had a way of behaving that dealt with their interactions with their fellow man, and to another extent, with the natural world, which was the heart of their ideas of honor- keeping their oaths, being hospitable, being brave, respecting the Ancestors and putting ancestral traditions in an important place, and putting the good of their people first.

If a person lives in this way, they need not worry about what the Gods "think" about them. They can live their lives assured that the Gods support them, and in that sense, Heathens were more free than most modern Christians who carry their God around like a lead weight, or like an eternal one-man "oversight committee" of omniscient judgmentalism.

The motivation for true moral behavior can never be fear of judgment or punishment, and for the Heathens of the past, the reward for being a good human is not expected in some afterlife, or even in this one necessarily. A person of honor did what was expected of them and was a good person for no reason except that it was right to do so. Such a noble way of life may seem unbelievable or impractical in our cursed times, times where we have been reduced to the "whip" as the basis for "good" behavior in matters of both public life and moral or religious life, but the fact that it was not always so speaks highly of our Ancestors, and highly of those who set their minds to this way of thinking today- it is a magnitude of personal quality that is rare, indeed.

It also speaks highly of that mysterious thing we call "human nature", by showing us that our nature is capable of far more good and nobility than most modern religionists give it credit for.

Heathens didn't live in fear that the Gods were keeping tabs on their every word and deed- the Gods didn't fill the roles of big supervisors or celestial disciplinarians for the ancients. They don't fill those roles today; what they bring to human interactions is far more mature and sublime. It's true that some of the Gods- like Allfather- had sorcerous ways of knowing all things that occurred on the earth and in the other worlds, but this wasn't a disciplinarian's chart-keeping; it was the tidings of interaction and event which he was aware of, through the power of his sorcerously expanded consciousness. He took in such knowledge as part of his quest for wisdom and understanding. It's one of the things that made him so cunning and wise.

Whatever punishment or glory a person found in this world or the afterlife was between that person, their deeds, and Fate- the Gods were only a part of that system of destiny insofar as Wyrd required them to be; they were not the authors of the system of Wyrd. Always we see that each man and woman has to look to themselves and their own honor, and how they affect the larger system of kinship and life, when it came to their own moral and ethical behavior. Consequences are not written by the Gods; they are natural reactions to how we think and act.

The Gods are certainly important, but not the center of Heathenry and the old religions: being a good human being, interacting well and honorably with other humans and other parts of the sacred and natural world is the center. Seeing one's self as part of a greater web of interactive power is the focus for the wise of any era. The fact that you are human, and that mankind is itself a sacred manifestation of a Mystery, is a powerful but crucial aspect of the Heathen worldview.

The fact that you are human means that living as a human is by itself a sacred act, and one that requires all your time and attention. The Gods take care of their Godly business- humans have their own business to attend to. At times- many times, in fact- Heathens invoked the Gods for extra help and blessings, but then they had to go on living as humans, and doing well. Being human, with all that entails, is the focus of a true Pagan ethic of living.

Friday, December 07, 2007


I just got done writing a narrative regarding spiritual ecology, but beyond that, it is a full philosophical treatise regarding Land-Based Traditional Paganism and Witchcraft, and the animistic principles that I have internalized over many years of my own experiences. It is found at the link below- on the cover page is an image of a full moon; click on it to enter.

Mythical: The Voice of the Land

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Tale of Thorkell and the Troll

I've written a tale for the enjoyment and entertainment of my readers- it's a short story, a classic monster-hunt of types, set in Mythical Iceland. It's called "The Tale of Thorkell and the Troll". It has everything that makes a saga good- famous warriors, hopeless situations, adversity, monsters, magic, witches, murders, conspiracy, love for family, and friendship. I hope you enjoy it.

The Tale of Thorkell and the Troll

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Culture of Reconstructionism and New Paganism

I've been involved in Pagan reconstructionism for over a decade now, and I have found it to be a useful and powerful outlet for my spiritual wants and needs. I've seen and heard many perspectives within the recon world, and even embraced many perspectives from time to time, before my heart settled on its present course. At the end of my day yesterday, I had to finally open a discussion with a dear friend of mine, a discussion about labels and reconstructionist perspectives.

I'm afraid that my work with the unseen world has done what it was intended to do: brought me into close contact with my inner life and the internal workings of the Fateful weave that I call my existence. My entire perspective on being a modern religious Pagan in the modern day is enormously different from that of others chiefly because I am not just a religious person- I am a mystic, a person who intentionally works with extra-ordinary states of consciousness, for the purposes of contacting extra-sensory reality and directly tapping its timeless sources of wisdom and healing. This is central to understanding who and what I am, though it is just one aspect of me.

And in the modern day, in the world of reconstructionist religions, this makes for a problem. I am typically not surrounded by people who perform the same task, who operate in the same way. I'm surrounded by people who usually go no further in their relationship with Gods or Spirits than lifting a horn for them and belching out a toast, before going back to talking about other things.
Even in the scholarly end of reconstructionism, dominated as it is by decidedly non-mystical types, many people try to deny that the ancient Indo-Europeans had spiritual specialists, of a type we might describe in modern language as "shamanic" or trance-using mystics, even though we know they did. In a hurry to distance themselves from the dreaded "new age", a lot of people who should damn well know better have put on intentional blinders to the presence of mystical traditions among our Ancestors.

But my letter today isn't about how blind some (most) recons are towards people who work in mystical ways today. I don't care about them, because I was long ago made aware of why they choose to ignore facts and embrace falsehoods- and sadly, I understand some aspects of their fear and frustration.

My letter today is about what a person can do when they realize that there's no label for them, no way of fully expressing in words what they "are". As a mystic, (and like mystics from all times and places) I often don't feel "in place", no matter where I am. Most people know me as the Seid-man, the Witch, and the Asatruar; those words are fine to me, and they express something important to me. All are correct when taken in context- but to me, they are just labels. And they mean different things to different people. There is a danger here.

For some Asatruar, for instance, "Seidmadhr" or Seid-man means that I am a possibly gay idiot drama-queen new ager who wants to play wicca within the context of Asatru. For some other Asatruar, it means that I use trances to do sorcery, for the good of the people I am working with. Big difference! One of these definitions is correct, the other, very wrong, at least from MY perspective.

Here's another example- for some people, "witch" means "baby-killing Satan worshiper who does black magic". For others, it means a goodness-and-light follower of the ancient God and Goddess of the old days". For others still, it means "a person who does sorcery, works with spirits, and seeks for odd corners of wisdom". Two of these definitions are incorrect from MY perspective; one of them is quite right.

Shall I continue? What about the example of "Asatru" or "Asatruar"? For some, this means that I am a horned-helmet wearing idiot neo-pagan who swills beer and thinks he's a viking. For others, it means a follower of a polytheistic faith born in the group-soul of the Germanic peoples. One of these definitions is correct; the other not.

Recently, I've grown tired of fighting the definition war. People, I have discovered, use labels as a means of force, a form of violence- even if they don't realize it, sometimes they still do it. To label someone gives you permission to force them into a "place", even if it is a place they don't belong, and even if it bears no relationship to reality- labels are all in our heads. But we live in a world of labels, and we wrong other people regularly by labeling them. We take our labels and assume that we know them, that we know what they stand for, when usually, we don't.

I'm aware of the many times I've done it, and I'm very aware of how much I've suffered in the label game. People want to know where you "belong", but as a mystic, I don't belong anywhere. No label exists that is sufficient for me- there ARE words that satisfy some aspects of who and what I am, but no single word fulfills the task.

That I am a vision-seer and mystic is only a small part of it- even people who have never had a vision in their lives are also impossible to label. Even the simplest person is still a magnificently complex being, if you know how to see them correctly, and labels don't really work for them as well- if anything, what makes a person "simple" is how easily and readily they accept labels for themselves from others.

Now, I'd like to stop this line of thinking for one second, and go into my next point, which will relate, of course. My next point is the culture of reconstructionism.

Reconstructionist Pagans spend a considerable amount of time looking back to ancient cultures to get their ideas about life, their framework for belief, and clues as to how to deal with life's moral and ethical issues. They do this in their (correct) belief that the Ancestors were very wise, and that their words and behaviors are worth paying attention to.

But where does this go? I know some recons who think that they are whatever ancient people they look back to, reborn in the modern day. In their minds, there is no real difference between them and the ancients- just a time-frame difference, and some annoying cultural realities that are different, but which they dream of changing.

I also know some recons that are very much aware of the fact that they are modern people, who are looking back to older cultural traditions for guidance. They don't think that they are ancient Celts or Germans or Greeks or Romans.

This brings up my idea of "Recon Culture". I am a reconstructionist Pagan, but I don't think that I am "exactly the same" as the Pagans of the past- indeed, how could I be? I am a modern person, subject to the same modern forces and understandings as everyone else in my cultural sphere. I have taken the initiative to re-examine my cultural assumptions in light of ancient cultural assumptions, but what does that make me? An American who really likes the past, or has a preference for ancient philosophies and beliefs? To this, I answer:

Recon Culture is it's own reality. It is its own culture- a religious culture- that exists in the modern day, and it is comprised of modern people who look to ancient models of culture and religion for guidance as to how to believe today, but also how to face life's trials. I am not just an American or a modern person who really digs the "old days"- I'm a reconstructionist, to use a label that I just got done complaining about. As often as labels hamper our understanding of each other, sometimes they help to understand.

At any rate, "Reconstructionist" means something specific. It's true there are many ancient cultures that recons look back to, and that means that there are many reconstructionist sub-cultures, but the over-arching label still means something.

And here we arrive at the next issue- reconstructionists, being human, allow themselves to fall prey to the dangers of labeling, every bit as much as the next person. Apparently, looking to the wisdom of the past doesn't grant anyone any immunity to the idiocy that sometimes follows along in the world of human efforts!

It is true that our Ancestors in the past were very devoted to the idea of their own cultures, their own tribal or social beliefs and customs. Some people say that our Ancestors weren't very "free" as we know the word, because they were so constrained by tribal custom and social duty. Personally, I disagree with these angles because they aren't taking into account a broader perspective, and (to me) emphasizing only the negative aspects of ancient societies.

What these cynics never point out is that ancient societies were very aware of one another, and traded and traveled and inter-married a considerable amount. Some of the biggest extremists in the Recon world- the so-called "tribalist" Recons who refuse to have anything to do with people who are "outside" their tribal boundaries, and who seek a "tribal" identity at all costs, even the cost of ignoring reality, really hate to hear this sort of talk.

But when you have temples of Isis in Britain, Viking gold showing up in Cairo, Egypt, Runes scrawled on pillars in Byzantium, tales and evidence of inter-marriage, exchange of Gods, and people from different cultures taking part in the worship of other people's cultural Gods, you simply can't justify your cultish, isolationist fear anymore- at least not by looking to the past for an example. There's plenty of idiocy in the modern day upon which you can base some dogma of separation and distrust upon, but not so much in the past.

Somehow, our Ancestors in the past managed to hold on to their own ways, their own Gods, but also live among other peoples who had other ways and other Gods, and not compromise their cultural identity, even when they traveled or adopted new Gods. Worshiping German and Celtic Gods didn't stop the Romans from being Roman; adopting Roman Gods didn't stop the Celtic people of Gaul and Britain from being what they were; the Greeks adopting Egyptian Gods or Goddesses didn't stop the Greeks from being Greeks. When the Romans picked up the idea of using soap from the Celtic peoples, they didn't stop being Romans. When the Gauls started drinking Roman wine, they didn't cease being Gauls.

I don't want to belabor this point; I just want to say it enough to tweak the misbegotten noses of the fools out there who have caused me so much trouble in my time among the Asatru.

Now the dreaded words have to come out- we are "new Pagans". Perhaps you believe that your soul is very old, and that you were Pagan before, long ago. Maybe you think that the elements of these bodies, and the elements of the world, are very ancient, and therefore, nothing is really "new". Points all taken. But your mind and personality, constructed as they are from modern influences, is new, and your decision to be a Pagan in a modern, non-Pagan culture, marks you as a new Pagan with a big job ahead.

Now, if you're smart, you chose to be a reconstructionist Pagan, and gained access to the greatest resources available to you, in understanding the Ancestors- history and scholarship. If you're not so smart, you'll make up some stuff (or buy into those who have made it up) and claim that those things are what the Ancestors really believed. Of course, you'll end up dis-satisfied, as the Truth has a way of making itself known.

Either way, whether you are the pink cotton candy new-ager, or the hard-core scholarly reconstructionist, you're a new Pagan. We may fancy ourselves THE Greeks or Celts or Norse from history, but we aren't; we're just their fans, their descendants, their admirers, in the modern day. We're their students, their apologists, the lovers of their literature, their sacred stories, and their religious aesthetics. That's what we are.

There is a danger in getting sucked too far into some form of ancient "identity" that begins to conflict with your modern self; I've met far too many idiots in costume who really think that they are Norse or Viking Warriors, straight out of history, alive in the modern day. They import their own stupid ideas of racism and cultural superiority and graft these things directly onto the ancients, and assume that people have always believed they way they as modern people believe now. This is wrong; it is a caricature of the past, it is a crime and it's the worst sort of narcissistic immaturity imaginable.

I've met too many people who think that THEY are the "Romans" or the "Celts" now- quite absurd, when you think about it, on all counts; What does it mean to be "Germanic"? To be "Celtic"? With these two broad cultural definitions, there is no real way to know. These people in the past were countless tribal cultures, spread across the map-board; they went everywhere, mingled with everyone they encountered, and eventually vanished themselves from the pages of history, either through war or cultural change. What, are the Germans today "The real Germanics"? What about the Spanish, who live in a country that was founded largely by the Visigoths? Were the Visigoths not Germanic? What about the French, who live in a country founded by the Franks? Were the Franks not Germanic?

"Germanic" has little meaning, in the sense of "being Germanic". In RECON CULTURE, however, to be "Germanic" means to adore the cultural ideals that Asatru has studied and listed as "Noble"- the Nine Noble Virtues, and to adore your Germanic Ancestors, working hard not to disappoint them.

But what about the people who are more than just Germanic in Ancestry? Sadly, I know too many people who ignore 90% of their ancestry in favor of the 10% that had sufficiently Germanic sounding last names.

What about those pesky Celts? No culture has been more ransacked and dishonored by the forces of new-age marketing than Celtic- but what is "Celtic" culture? I've been to many of the Celtic lands. I can assure you, the people I spoke with all had this idea that THEY- and not the others, were the "real" Celts, and they were all quite different. The Irish and the Welsh were very different from one another, in a somewhat good-natured yet competitive way. Both were hospitable, but the Welsh were different, not as flamboyant or as "in your face" as the Irish that I encountered. Both lived on sacred Lands full of much mystical power; I could feel it. The blood in me could feel it, as I bear an ancestral connection to these places.

But what does it mean to be "Celtic"? What, is it that Hollywood-created "rebel" hard-drinking spirit, which thrives under the strain of mistreatment by evil empires and invaders? I hope not! That stereotype is a dry riverbed. Does "Celtic" mean that we all walk around wearing cheap Celtic knotwork Tide-dye clothes, and waving around copies of "The Mists of Avalon"? I REALLY hope not- give me "The Fields of Athenry" stereotypes any day over that! I hope being from some cool Irish place like Dublin isn't your claim to Celtic fame- the Vikings, after all, founded Dublin.

I could do this forever, just to point out that there may be general features of culture, like "Irish" or "Welsh" or "Scottish" that can be found, but "Celtic", no.

To be a Reconstructionist Celtic Pagan, however, is to look to certain strains of literature from Ireland and Britain, literature which is believed to stem from pre-Christian roots, and to look to the histories of these lands (these histories including Gaul), when seeking inspiration regarding religious practice and guidance for one's spiritual and moral worldview.

People take the term "Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan" or "Germanic Reconstructionist" and they see what they want to see- normally, they see "Celtic" or "Germanic", and they miss the "Reconstructionist" part.

I feel a great amount of love in my heart for the ancient world, and I imagine, sometimes, that maybe if I could find a time-machine and be transported back to that world, perhaps I'd find the religion to my liking, and some aspects of the culture to my liking. But I don't have any illusions about the hardships or the alien things that I would see and encounter. I may be of British, Irish, and Anglo-Saxon ancestry, but I am also a modern person, seeking to live as best I can in alignment with the ancient wisdom of those peoples. I'm not a "Celt" or a "Teuton"- I'm a modern man who reconstructs their ancient religions and worldviews, as best he can within a modern context. I may spiritually view myself as an heir of their great wisdom, and I may believe that my ancestral line, including this spirit, was once a part of their world, but there's one last thing that has to be said, has to be understood- I am also a part of this modern world. That qualifies everything, brings a needed perspective to this entire "Recon" enterprise.

I encounter people who can't see the "Reconstructionist" aspect of their culture, and only see the ancient cultures involved, and they really believe that they are THE Greeks, THE Romans, THE Celts, or what have you. They take the label, and immediately (hilariously) begin looking DOWN on other people for belonging to a reconstructionist faith that takes its inspiration from a culture that historically conquered their culture or had conflicts with them.

Yes- as amazing as it may sound, I know Celtic Recons who HATE Asatruar, probably thanks to Marion Zimmer Bradley and the recent movie "King Arthur" presenting the Anglo-Saxons as baby-devouring bloody barbarians bent on murdering every Briton they came across. That's not historically what happened, but there is an idea that the Germanic and Celtic Traditions have to be in conflict. This idea is fantasy, but it's a reality to many Recons.

I know many Asatru that believe anyone worshiping non-Germanic Gods is a traitor to Asatru- and yet, they talk till they are blue in the face about the importance of honoring one's Ancestors. Where does that leave people like me, (and there are many like me) who have mixed ancestry? Let's just come out and say it- EVERYONE has mixed ancestry, both now, and even in the past. What am I, a descendant of Ireland and Bernicia, to do? I worship the Gods of Asatru because it is part of my heritage, and because Asatru is a great Reconstructionist faith, with many resources and a large community.

But my wife is Irish; my daughter is named after the great Queen in the mound in County Sligo, and my family prays to the Gods of Ireland and Britain, too- in a fully Celtic Reconstructionist context. This isn't a new thing; Celtic and Germanic Gods have been prayed to together in many places, for a very long time. Roman and Celtic Gods and Roman and Germanic Gods were also prayed to together. Oh no! Ideas and labels of "purity" have just been flushed- except that those ideas were never based on reality.

"Asatru", according to some, means "True to the Gods"- but are people who pray to Zeus and Athena, or Brigid and Lugus, not "True to the Gods" as well? Just because the word "Asatru" may be in some Germanic language, that doesn't mean that the idea doesn't apply to many polytheists.

This is where labels come home to haunt us. I know that no label really serves to identify me perfectly, and I think this same thing can be said for everyone- we DO use labels, but how many of us really feel that the few labels we've chosen fully serve to explain us to ourselves or to the world? I feel sorry for the people who can label themselves perfectly- Oscar Wilde said "Only shallow people really know themselves".

My modern mystical vocation forces me to realize the truth about myself- I am a modern person who deals with trance-work and spiritual contact. In every culture of the human world, there have been people like me- and they have been called many things. I know what Pagan cultures I am ancestrally related to, and I proudly engage in the activity and method of Reconstruction, when it comes to guidance and religious practice. But I cannot label myself as just one thing or another, and expect to feel satisfied.

My dear friend told me something interesting last night- she told me that she prayed to the Gods of ancient Wales when operating in a formal context. But personally, in her own private religious life, she didn't use names at all- she merely communicated from the heart to those Gods or spirits that she desired contact with. I understand what she meant; even though I do use names in my private religious life, I think this idea of "Formality" is important- when I work with the Idavoll Kindred, on that formal level, we call upon the Gods of Asatru. When I work with my wife and daughter- my true family and deeper kindred- it is less formal, but still a formal level, and we pray with all earnestness to the Gods and Goddesses of Ireland and Britain.

As for me, privately, non-formally, well, that's the very best of me, and I save that one all for me.

It's more important for me to be a mystic, a seer and healer, than anything else. Of course, as an Ancestral pietist and a polytheist, I could never and will never ignore my Ancestors or what they believed. But I am not just them. My capacity for vision or mystical insight is something apart from my Ancestry; it is a universal quality of humankind that I express, not something tied to one culture. To Asatruar, I express it in the language they (sometimes) understand- Seidr. To those who are heavily invested in Irish or British Paganism, I call it Taibhsear, Druidry, Draiocht, whatever they need to hear to understand. To the Greeks, I may say "Iatromantis".

To someone from Dr. Michael Harner's foundation, I would say "Shamanic practitioner". Among my traditional Witch friends, who are by far the easiest to communicate with, I'm just Robin, that Witch and pain-in-the-ass of many. I enjoy Dr. Harner's description of Witchery as a descendant of the shamanic wisdom of old Europe, which is a definition that I happily subscribe to, for obvious reasons.

But I've become weary of labels. I use them because people expect them, but I don't use them with any real gravity. They are just so many words to me- what is real to me are the Gods, the spirits I have felt and seen, and the "other sight" that allows me to find guidance for my life, and healing for myself and others. How does a person label that? I have no choice at this point but to use the term "reconstructionist" for my religious label, but being of mixed ancestry and worship, many won't have me- which is, of course, fine; I wouldn't want to be a member of their narrow-minded clubs, anyway. So long as my family and friends are well, all is well.

But damn! Communication is hard, because everyone wants a label that they can look up in the dictionary or online, to figure out "who and what you are". I hope people will, one day, have the power to see through labels and realize that we read far too much into the labels we give other people, and into the labels they give themselves.

Recon Culture is useful insofar as it gives people a platform to build a relationship with the Gods, and helps them to be better people. But the issue has deeper angles, which will need to be explored by each in his or her own time. Until then, when people ask me "what I am", (meaning religiously) I have little choice but to tell them a polytheist- a person who worships the Gods and Goddesses of his ancestors from ancient Britain and Ireland. I am also a vision-seer, a shamanic healer and worker, but that's not something a person often gets around to asking, nor me telling.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Human and Spirit Ecology: Shamanic Cognition and a Movement Towards a Broader Vision of the Sacred System of Life

Earlier today, in the depths of trance-exploration, my helping spirit helped me to see some of the intricacies of our hidden existence. When I say "our", I am referring to all of us together as human beings who must exist within the context of a greater ecological system than we realize. When a person becomes aware of extra-sensory reality, they are given a glimpse of a greater context for our lives.

Most people believe in the unseen world in some form or fashion, but people- especially, I find, animists- have a heightened sense of awe for the mysterious nature of the unseen. It is always good to cultivate a sense of "unknowing"- there is wisdom in not having an answer for everything, and the wise have always known that the spiritual world (of which this world is a part) is a very mysterious thing, which evades our attempts to map it out or codify it.

The dynamism of the unseen world is not itself a mystery or a thing so hard to understand; it is a neat reflection of the dynamism that is at the heart of the system of life that we call "this world". Things seem to be changing all the time, and in the shifting web of forces that we call our lives, things seldom reliably stay the same for very long. Thus, the "wisdom of uncertainty" is a name given to the honest attitude that doesn't try over-much to explain how the world works, or how things "have to be" at any given moment. If anything, there is a great pleasure and peace in not having to know these things, and being comfortable with uncertainty.

Today, I was given to understand something of the nature of spiritual interactions. I thought I'd share what I discovered, so that others might be inspired to their own quest for insight.

I have long discussed the nature of systems, using the metaphor of a "web" of power- which I call Wyrd when working in the context of Asatru and Seidr- that connects and influences all things and beings in reality. In this world, we are all bound together by the web of life, the web of causality and recursion that shapes our every moment of experience. This web extends into the regions of extra-sensory reality; if anything, those parts of the web that we can intellectualize or see represent a very small part of its timeless and vast interactions.

Since we are indisputably parts of a web of connections, a web through which the sacred process of communication is made possible, then prayer, communion with the dead, conversations with humans and non-human sentient beings, all of these things are possible. It is impossible to see the far-reaching effects of our manipulations of the web, but our every word and deed does have far-reaching effects.

Awareness of this sort of "distantly echoing recursion" that is a part of our lives in the great web of reality is central to living life in a sacred manner, but also to living life in a sorcerous manner, if a person is so inclined and if they have been granted the power to comprehend and perform sorcery by allied spirits.

There is both an intimate connection for all living beings to one another, as well as a constant recursive, two-way power exchange; for humans, as for many beings, this power-exchange can be experienced in terms of communication, such as with human language. All power-exchanges are a form of communication, when you think about it; but not all communication has to be framed as humans do with their idea of language, and the reality of language. Language, as we know it, is one of the most magically powerful gifts that humans possess, and with it, we can call many things into conscious being.

But other orders of being, other forms of animate life, have "language", or a means of communication- what is different, I have learned, is that they don't create with their language in the way that humans can or very powerful spirits can, and they don't call other beings to the same height of conscious awareness that humans can. When humans communicate with the spirit of a tree, for instance, it knows itself immediately in the same way that humans know it- for the time of the communication, it is known and it knows itself, as a human knows him or herself.

This is a secret to the power of human language. In the great web of life, in the system of reality, communication and knowledge are inseparably linked.

Now, let me return to the basics of spiritual ecology as I know it- all are intimately connected and related, and all constantly experience recursive power exchange with the rest of the world, in many far-reaching ways, both conscious and unconscious. Becoming more conscious of our connections, and the ways in which we give and receive communication and power with the other organic and non-organic powers in the web of life is the chief goal of the spiritual quest, or the life of spiritual growth.

When a person is able (either through a rare act of natural will or by the help of an allied spirit) to pull back the animate power that makes up the very "stuff" of their awareness, and which makes up the pylons of their conscious experiences, and by pulling it back, separating it, at least a little, from the portals of sense, they experience something unique- if that animate, living power makes contact with the inner sense portals, shamanic cognition results. The unseen world, the subtle world, can be experienced.

Under the influence of my helping spirit, I have done this many times, and today, I came to understand something that I feel the need to communicate- I saw and understood, for a moment, how spiritual beings see and encounter us. When I say "us", I mean human beings.

The Unseen world may not have a linear or solid "geography" that can be mapped out, but it is a continuum of life. It does not seem to be limited by space in any manner, and how it appears to a person's inner senses seems to depend largely on the observer. It is hoped that the best and wisest observers will be those who have practiced emptying their own minds of expectations, so that they can, through a true act of supernatural skill, remove themselves as far as possible from the blinders of syntax and cultural assumption. Without this effort and skill, our experiences of the unseen can quickly become tainted by what we expect, and we may miss what is truly there.

Of course, what is there will never appear to us in any form other than communication and sense; even the inner senses have to give us inputs that are filtered, once we arrive back into ordinary cognition, by our habitual punctuation of syntax, language, and cultural assumption. The wisest are those who keep this fact in mind, and balance their reports of the unseen with a good deal of humility. Skill in communication is what is required here. One must be ready to admit that while they can't be 100% certain that they can communicate perfectly what they experienced, they will at least try to be a good, open-minded story-teller and try to help others to come to their own conclusions that are in line with the spirit of an experience- no pun intended!

Today, I was given a vision of a forest of human powers. What I mean by that is, I saw what we humans appear as to spiritual beings who are non-organic yet sentient living things, dwelling unseen among us, in a continuum that we may call "otherworldly" but which is still a part of reality undivided, a part of this web that we are all in.

I'd like to use the example of the forest that we've all seen- the trees, leaves, moss, and fungus that we've all experienced. Call to mind the last time you walked through the trees in a patch of woods or a forest. You remember the many trees all around, standing silently there. Of many different types, sizes, and shapes- and around them wandered many animals, birds and beasts. You too, were wandering around them. Some were the homes of animals. Some had fungus growing on them; others had rotted or were rotting. Some were the hiding places of beasts, some were young, some were old.

Whatever we humans are, we are certainly power. There is animate power within and beyond these organic forms that we label as our own. When we withdraw from the portals of sense, and see with the other eyes, we see other human beings as power, too. All over the world, humans are there, going about their daily business, and to a being with only the other sight, humanity would seem to be a great collection of individual powers, staggered all over the planet, surrounded by many other organic and non-organic powers. A forest of light and life might be another way of saying it.

Each human, whether or not they know it, has a spirit that surrounds him or her, and follows them quietly through life. Sometimes, as the Mystery of our existence would have it (call it Fate if you like) more than one spirit surrounds a person, and affects them in many ways. Some have no such spiritual protection, though they are never usually very well off. In that forest of light-forms, these spirits appear as beasts- many kinds of animal, and they inhabit the forest like you'd expect animals to inhabit a forest.

The difference here is that this isn't a worldly landscape; this is an otherworldly landscape, where the rules aren't quite the same; the spirit that looks like a deer can be living its life in the seeming "location" where the human-power of their partner dwells, and next to it, that of a shark or a lion or an otter- there is no strictly defined range of habitat like we see in this world.

But here is where I make the point that I learned- there is a habitat, but it is a human one. If you were to walk through the forest here, you'd come into the territories of certain animals, who keep others out. Some animals are afraid of others, or in competition with others, or preyed on, so they avoid each other. In the part of the forest which is densely populated with owls, for instance, you'd see fewer mice.

Humans occupy their own habitat in the unseen world, a habitat, a human region that is patrolled and peopled by their helping spirits, who mostly remain vigilant for our protection. In the larger ecology of the unseen world, there are many spiritual powers, all very natural, but some dangerous to humanity. These dangerous powers are largely prevented from straying into the human spiritual habitat by the guarding spirits that most of us go through our lives unconscious of. The more conscious we become of our helping spirit(s), the more capable they become of doing their job, and the healthier and happier and more secure we become.

But spirits, whatever they happen to be, just like the mice and owls of this world, have boundaries, relationships with one another, natural ecological relationships of the unseen world- and they avoid certain "places", compete with one another, and attract or repel one another, pursuant to natural ties of spiritual ecology and unseen interaction/recursion.

You recall the forest you walked through- some trees were ill, eaten by rot or fungus; some humans are, too, eaten by illness or disease. This is no different, in our human experience, as it is the forest; sometimes, harmful powers slip into the habitat of other organic powers, and spread their harm. Sometimes, a predator may slip into the habitat of another animal and kill them or hurt them; it is the same with spirits. What I am trying to get you to visualize, to see, is that the unseen world is a massive habitat, not unlike this world, with the same sorts of boundaries, territories, and relationships. It is all a system.

To spirits, we humans don't look like humans. We look like power. What does power look like? I can't tell you, even though I've seen it. The reason why I can't tell you is because all I can tell you is limited by my selection of words and my own assumptions- my experience was colored and is still colored by my own limitations as a human. I can use the term "light"- a great white luminescence, but what does that mean? That is how I punctuate the experience. There's certainly something there, but not being a non-human spirit, I can't say what they see. But I can say this- they don't see us as human men and women. They see us as they see us, and I was told that their way of experiencing us is not unlike how we experience trees when we walk through a forest- to them, we're still, vibrant perhaps, or mysterious.

This should help us to understand how seemingly evil or destructive spirits may not consider themselves to be so, anymore than we may not consider ourselves wicked when we cut down a tree or tear out a plant from the ground to get wood or to eat.

The real vision here, that you should try to cultivate, is this: we see trees standing about, still and living, but what is really there? In the same way that spirits do not see us as we see us, perhaps the spirits of trees do not at all experience themselves as the thing we call a "tree". I can pretty much guarantee you that they do not- when a human beings swings an axe at a tree, here in our "ordinary reality", the spirit of the tree does not experience it as such; but they do sense that something is hurting them, damaging them, in the same way that a human experiences sickness or pain from a tumor or an infection.

We may not "see" a wicked or destructive spirit sucking the life from the power that we are, over in the cognitive state we call "non-ordinary reality", but we experience tiredness and sickness. We don’t often get sick, but then, sickness- causing spirits don’t usually have a chance to intrude far into our spiritual habitat as humans; we have good protectors, and only those whose protectors have failed or been lost are truly vulnerable to constant sickness or accident.

Natural disasters in ecology in this world can cause a place to become depopulated; in the spirit, this is also true- natural and unseen disasters or disturbances can dis-empower human beings and even places. In the same way we must be careful with how we behave around and within ecological systems in this world, we must be as cautious with the spirit. In the same way we can heal damaged ecological systems in this world, we can heal them in the spirit, if we have the ability to experience those extra-ordinary states. The shaman or mystic, that person devoted to developing and utilizing extra-ordinary cognition, is the person that must be employed in this capacity, and this is a sacred vocation of healing and help.

When the ancients discussed all life as a community of relationship, all of this is central to understanding what they were saying- we may think of trees as still lumps of wood, huge plants, and we may consider them living things, but we do not consider the hidden "other" lives of trees, anymore than wicked spirits or other spirits may consider or know about our "other lives" as human beings- all they "see" is the affect or the presence of our living power over in their unseen world. Maybe some spirits don't consider us people at all, or care about us, anymore than many people care about trees. There certainly seem to be some careless or hateful spirits out there. Some spirits may not even know what we are.

Of course, I call spirits wicked or careless based on my own human preferences- how dare they not recognize our humanity and our uniqueness! How dare we not recognize the same among the trees, or animals, or the spirits unseen? These are all good things to consider, when we consider the mysteries of sacred ecology.

What is good to remember is that sickness is not always some evil attack against us, the work of vicious monsters; it is easy for a sick person to think of things that way, because he or she feels their very self to be threatened or to be in misery, but spirits that can cause misery among humans often do not realize what they are doing, or don’t think about it at all- in the same way that a fungus doesn’t sit around and make evil plots to attack and rot an oak tree. They simply live according to their own ecology, and that’s that. In the system, some powers damage others; this is true in this world and in the other world.

When I looked into the unseen, I could see that my own helping spirit would not allow some harmful spirit to invade what seemed to be the "place" where my power "resided". The same went for the "place" of my home, my family, or anyone elses- in communities, human powers are clustered and often very safe- so fear not. But the more unconscious humans become of their helping spirits, and the more unconscious humans are of their intimate connection to things, and to the exchange of power that is part and parcel of our existence, the more we name into reality our own destruction, and allow ourselves to be victimized by spiritual powers that we would not otherwise want "near" us or our loved ones.

Spiritual protection is the issue that I discussed with my helping spirit- he showed me how a place could be made safe, but most places where people live, fortunately, are already kept safe by other powers. But sometimes, spiritual "wards" of safety are required, and the art of creating them is not difficult. It is a matter of being able to empower physical items in such a manner that they take on a new and specific form of reality that even things in the unseen can experience. Such a thing is a useful skill to have.

In the future, please consider the vastness of spiritual ecology; we owe a great debt to awareness, for we have forgotten so much about our true place in things.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Long Feast of the Einherjar

Around this time of year, most Asatru Kindreds and the solo Asatruar out there celebrate a modern feast that we variously call "Einherjar" or the "Long Feast of the Einherjar" or something to that effect. It's a formal occassion by which the Einherjar, the heroic dead, are honored. The heroic dead are those who, by virtue of their bravery or sense of duty, made the sacrifice of their own lives in battle, both in the past, and in this age of the world.

This sort of talk raises some eyebrows. Are we bloodthirsty Heathens off glorifying violence, as everyone thinks we do? "Surely", (so speak the ill-informed) "your ancestors were a bloodthirsty lot who glorified deaths in battle, telling warriors that they'd feast with Odin and get served drinks and pork roast by beautiful maidens. Does that not incite people to kill and die recklessly?"

I don't need to cover the pointless debate about whose ancestors were "more violent" than others. In the past, as in the present, violence was and is a part of human life, and Asatru isn't the only religion that teaches of a happy afterlife for the brave and the noble. But this sacred time of year in which the Einherjar- the slain heroes- are honored, isn't a time to reflect on violence, but on bravery and nobility in the face of struggle.

The sacred stories tell us that the battle-slain were taken by Valkyries- feminine spirits who serve Allfather as his handmaidens and servants- and brought to Valhalla, the "Hall of the Slain". There, they feasted in the long feast with Allfather and the Gods, given a neverending supply of mead, ale, and pork. They sported in combat training all day, and by night, had healed for another round of drinking and feasting. They continued in this warrior's heaven until the Doom of the world itself- Ragnarok, the Judgment of the Powers, and they had the final honor of joining the Gods in the final battle in which they and the Gods all die, going out in their final blaze of glory. Then the worlds fall apart under the weight of the victorious wicked powers, to await its own regeneration and a new beginning.

What a story! What an idea of an afterlife! We usually don't know what to make of it in the modern world, but I think there's more to it than meets the eye. At first glance, it seems a simple warrior's paradise, and to some extent, there's a lot of that going on here. To begin with, this vision of Valhalla belongs to a late period in Germanic Heathen history- the Viking period- which was also the last period of active Heathen religion before the Interregnum. This vision of Valhalla is also found only in Icelandic Heathen literature.

This isn't to say that other Germanic Heathens from other time periods didn't have some idea of a Warrior's paradise out there for warriors who died bravely; only that we can't be sure. You'd have to be a fool to imagine that ideas like Valhalla just appeared out of nowhere; surely there was a long precedent for it, for in organic and traditional religions, things seldom happen randomly or quickly.

But what we can be certain that the Germanic family of human beings was very massive and not uniform. They have ages of history behind them, and organic religions undergo natural evolutions. We know that Odhinn- Valhall's great Father- was not always the chief God of the Germanic people, but he has occupied that title and respect for a very long time. Did Tiwaz or Tyr, the Great Shining Lord of the Sky himself, once sit at the feasting table in a heavenly realm for warriors? It seems likely, given what we know of the beliefs of related peoples in their own veneration of Tiwaz, who always had the characteristics of a warrior.

It really doesn't matter- all this talk is just talk. What we can be sure of is that some of our Heathen ancestors believed that Odhinn- or the Gods- honored the glorious dead, and the bravery that it took to be a career fighter and risk your life all the time was a sign that you were worthy to stand with the Gods at the end of time, when the Doom of the world was finally shown and done with. At the last battle- an unwinnable battle- the forces that support life and consciousness stand heroically, showing that even in certain defeat, they stand for what they stand for, against the powers of darkness and oblivion. Such heroism in the face of certain doom is the single most powerful statement of devotion and nobility that can be shown, in any world, in any time.

I personally don't believe that death while fighting is enough to win the honor of "Einherjar". People can be fighting for destructive, greedy reasons- and thus, spreading violence for decidedly evil ends. This sort of behavior isn't Godly, nor worth a Godly welcome. We know that the Eddas said that even the battle-slain had to pass through Hel, the Underworld, to face their own judgment, before being lifted to their reward in the enclosure of the Gods. What they had with them was the Valkyrie, to be their advocate in that dark place. The dead, it was thought, did not and could not speak for themselves- it was their luck-force, their Hamingja, and in the case of the glorious dead, the Valkyrie, who spoke on their behalf, showing all in the judgment-ring the quality of that person.

I don't think that a viking, raping and pillaging his way across some land, who drew his sword to enter some homestead on some farm with the full intention of raping the women inside, would be considered an "Einherjar" if the farmer who lived there lucked up and killed him with a pitchfork. But I do think that noble men and women, defending their land or people, or serving honorably under a war-leader whose goals were at least in part motivated by the good of their people, would certainly be honored in the afterlife if they were slain in their duties.

Of course, I can't say. Wyrd is strange, and judgment- the true measure of a man or woman- is far from certain to mortals, based as it is on so many hidden factors. Only the Gods and spirits who can see in a more complete way- those who can see the Well of Wyrd- can know for sure what destiny awaits the dead of this world. But I can say with confidence that living a life of murder and rape probably won't line you up for a glorious afterlife.

Who are the Einherjar of our present day? Who were they in the distant past? They are those men and women who devote themselves to the way of the warrior. And what is that? Is a warrior a person who lives by a sword, and practices fighting and killing? That's one function of a warrior, to be certain.

But it's my opinion that "warrior" and "warfare" goes far deeper. In a way, all of life is a battlefield, and all of us are called to struggle, whether we want to or not, and whether we realize this fact or not. The world is a battlefield, where the forces of order and chaos clash daily- both in fields of battle with actual weapons, and in the field of the human mind and soul, where greedy and selfish urges rise up to overwhelm our innate sense of goodness, bravery, and self-sacrifice.

I think that anyone from the modern day who devotes their life to fighting against greed, selfishness and corruption, is a warrior. These can be lawyers who fight with greedy corporations, or activists who fight against financial imperialism on the parts of greedy nations. These can be people who struggle against environmental destruction, or people who fight for equal rights for others. It can be a policeman or policewoman who risks their life daily to support the safety of society. It can even be a Buddhist monk, struggling in contemplation against the dark forces in his own mind and spirit. These struggles are reflections of deeper cosmic struggles, and they are no less dangerous- people are murdered or die everyday because they stood on one side of a struggle that was over greed, money and politics.

I think those brave souls are equally honored by the Gods, and are Einherjar.

The more traditional warrior is present in our modern day- and they deserve great honors. They are our veterans, who, in the name of duty, expose themselves to danger on a daily basis, and who live through terrible ordeals. Maybe you are like me, and you don't agree with the current war in Iraq. It may be the case that the United States is fighting for a lost cause there, under false pretexts for war. But men and women are there, fighting and dying, not because someone is holding a gun to their heads, but because they volunteered, and because it is their duty.

And they are real heroes, whether they die in battle or not. They are brave, and our ancestors thought of the quality of bravery as the gold of the human spirit.

The Veterans of past wars are also in need of praise- think of World War II, where the world had to fight against one of the greatest evils the world had ever seen- Nazi Germany. My own Grandfather proudly participated in that great and holy struggle, and he stormed the beaches at Normandy, facing death at every step.

It was not Fated that I should ever know my Grandfather to be able to ask him questions about his war experiences, for he died when I was very young, but I wish I could speak to him. I wish I could honor him in person. He and his fellow soldiers- just boys from small towns all over America, and all over the rest of the world- saved this planet from an evil regime that needed to be defeated. They were far from their homes and their loved ones, but they fought bravely and won.

They are Einherjar. The word "Einherjar" means "one-harrier"- or, to translate more poetically, "army of one". It refers to a ferociously skillful fighter. For me, the struggle of life extends from battlefields, to the private corners of the minds and hearts of every human being, and this struggle requires bravery and skill if a person is to be successful. Good warriors defeat their enemies on the battlefield, but other fighters are the fighters who struggle to win the lonely battle of the self. And the bravest of warriors sometimes die fighting- but their deaths aren't their end. They go on to experience the Long Feast in the company of the Gods and the heroes of old, and they join the Gods in making the final and best display of goodness, there at the end of all things.

But they die knowing that their deaths are their final and best testament to all they believed in- and we Heathens know that when the worlds are reborn, what was good and noble in the previous world will live again. Nothing worthwhile is ever forgotten or lost for good.

So, in honor of this Feast of the Einherjar, I give my deepest salute of honor and gratitude to the victorious dead, veterans in the past and present who were dragged down to death in battle, but also to the victorious fighters of all kinds, who struggle everyday. Long live the fighters!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Keep the Hallows in Halloween

I had a wonderful night last night, giving out tons of candy to kids who were happily scurrying from door to door in my neighborhood, all in costumes. I was in costume too; I had an 18th century highwayman's coat on, with a tricorn hat, and I had our jack-o-lantern burning, grinning, and glowing in the darkness on our front porch. I had the obligatory candles burning along the railings, too- a perfect touch. We had a lot of ghouls, fairies and goblins this year- they wiped us out quick, making me go across the yard to my neighbor's house to do some trick-or-treating of my own, to get extra candy for the kids.

I love Halloween. It is my favorite holiday; I love the spirit of fall and autumn which Halloween captures in a very ancient and curious way- the way of guizing and masquerading, both of which are ancient customs in Britain and Europe, no doubt going back to Pagan times. And this fact- that they are rooted in Heathenry- is what makes them so cool, and so timeless. The name "Halloween" means "Hallowed Eve"- and the sacredness of that night is nothing but a reflection of the sacredness of the season all around it.

This holiday follows our Asatru Winter Nights festivities, and coincides with the start of November, when the adherents of the Celtic native paths draw in for their Samhain celebrations. For our crafty Celts, Samhain's dark season is very similar to our Yule; the dissolution of the order of the world (and the order of the year) into the pre-creational chaos that preceded it. At such a strange time, which all European Pagans felt and enshrined in some manner, anything is truly possible- and spirits awaken to the time as well, including the spirits of the Ancestral dead.

Some can be dangerous; others are yearning to be with their living relatives here and now. The custom of dressing up in frightening costumes is the simplest and most ancient form of sympathetic magic- humans become like ghouls and spirits themselves. In this manner, the boundaries between the living and the dead are crossed; they are permeable and confused. In their masks and costumes, whether in older times or now, the dangerous spirits cannot tell humans apart from other spirits- or at least, this was the hope.

Where I come from, everyday is Halloween; I'm a member of a re-enactment troupe, and I just love masks and costumes anyway. There is something shamanic, something spiritual about the change of identity that occurs when a person dresses up, takes on a mask, and for a moment, tries on that new personality. It reminds us that we are not just what we appear- or perhaps, we ARE what we appear, and appearances can be changed; they are deceitful.

At heart, the Hallows season is about going into winter with all precautions taken, with bonds renewed between people, and with a lot of revelry and fun. Life and fun in the face of a dark time of cold and death- THAT is the spirit of Hallows. For those of us who engage the unseen reality on a deeper level, Hallows is equally as sacred for the opportunity it affords us to experience extra-sensory reality in a deeper manner.

I am always (as you might imagine) disgusted by the fundamentalist Christian attack on Halloween: around here, these types are in deep denial, and try to change the name from "Halloween" to "Fall Festival". All the pinhead churches around here have "Fall Festival" signs on them, in attempts to get parents to bring kids there instead of bringing them trick-or-treating. It is well known that all the bullshit stories about kids being "poisoned" by "satanists" with contaminated Halloween candy were debunked by federal investigations; they were lies started by the same religious idiots who want to stop people from enjoying themselves at this time of year in a non-Christian way.

They whine and complain endlessly about how "Pagan" Halloween is- because to them, in their narrow, black-and-white worlds, it's all "satanism". I'm so tired of hearing these idiots preach these ridiculous ideas, pregnant with their own ignorance, misinformation, and fear.

As a proud modern Pagan, I love Halloween, and I think that Halloween (along with the Yuletide season) are the greatest and best survivals of the Pagan spirit into the modern day- and see how timeless they are! See how persistent! Nothing these fear-mongers can do will ever change what people feel in these times. Paganism wasn't evil; it wasn't the devil's way. It was and is the first way, the natural way of the Land and the Gods. It is the way of traditions far older than Christianity. There is no evil in it; the evil is all in the fear and ignorance of these Christians.

We Pagans and Heathens in the modern day belong to ethnic religious traditions that have a right to be seen, heard, and accepted, every bit as much as faiths like Shinto or Buddhism or Hinduism are seen and accepted. People criticizing Halloween or Easter (or whatever traditional holiday) as "rooted in Paganism"- as though "Paganism" was a bad thing- are insulting our religious traditions, and being hateful while doing it. They are also showing an enormous amount of ignorance about the Ancestral past.

It's so acceptable for them to do it, but when we stand up for our right to be accepted and not considered "satanists" while pursuing our Ancestral and non-mainstream religious preferences, we are further subject to their baseless attacks, and our calls for a level playing field fall on deaf ears.

I'm not the sort that sits by and suffers in the name of "tolerance" or "being better than the Christians". Lines have to be drawn, and people have to make a stand at some point- I can assure you that Buddhists or Hindus would make a stand if their sacred times and days were being attacked in such a manner, or if their holy past and the roots of their cultures were being called "satanic". In some places, they have fought back. If we don't stand up for this, we cannot say that we truly love or believe in what we say we believe.

From this point on, I will campaign to have Christmas called "Winter Festival". They want to keep the Christ in Christmas? I don't believe in their Christ and I don't want him in my schools or around my kids, so I think "Winter Festival" is a better thing to call Christmas.

I'm going to ignore 1700 years of Christian tradition because I don't like the sinister forces and negative histories that swirl around their religion, and because I can just do that; they can do it to Halloween, and we can do it to Christmas.

See how that works? It's marvelous. We don't have to walk on eggshells around the absurd and propagandistic religious sensibilities of Christians. How sickening that these people rage against their own Ancestral roots, both directly and indirectly! How dismal that they cannot face their own fears and see how deep the well of life really runs!

As for Halloween, let's try and keep the Hallows in the season. Encourage everyone to take their kids, in costume, trick-or-treating. Have fun with it. Celebrate. Go to costume parties. Remember that these modern revels are just dim reflections of ancient revels, but that the spirit of those ancient feasts and parties is still very much alive. Enjoy yourself! This life- even at its dark moments- is to be celebrated. Not all celebrations are goofy parties; sometimes they are moving or rapturous for other reasons.

There's no need to fear the unknown; death- one of the themes of this numinous season- is something that we all end up coming to terms with, in this world or the next. One of the best ways to do that is to ghoul yourself up and have a stiff drink. Might as well enjoy these realities of your life, because if you can't find a way to enjoy life and accept its Fated end, living it will be a thankless chore.