Monday, May 28, 2012

Woden and the Hermit

The Hermit in the Druidcraft Tarot. 
I am not the tarot expert that Lynda is, but I do know the cards. As long as I have known of tarot, I've always felt an affinity for a few certain cards, and respond to their imagery in almost every deck I am familiar with. One of these is the Hermit.

Around the same time of the omens I wrote of before, I undertook an exercise that the Dedicant manual suggests for those seeking a patron deity. It is to look through the major arcana cards of several decks and pick those that resonate strongly, either positive or negative. I chose various ones in the three decks I worked with, and put the Hermit into the strong attraction pile of all three.

The Hermit is always depicted as an old man with a staff and a lantern wandering the landscape. The interpretation of the card usually refers to seeking wisdom and retreat -- retreat meaning withdrawal from distraction into solitude for a time.

This is another point of strong connection with Woden, who is often depicted in a floppy hat, wandering the worlds with a staff, keeping watch of what's going on. (Think Gandalf with one eye.)

My choices overall showed an attraction to the sober wielding of power or confident exercise of authority, the acquiring and passing on of wisdom (the Hierophant), an a curiosity about mystery (the Moon.) These are also traits that are true of the All-Father.

In the Wildwood Tarot
The Hermit is called
The Hooded Man.
Interestingly, though, another strong image that could relate to Woden, the Hanged Man, didn't strike me.

I know that I hanged on a windy tree
nine long nights
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.

No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn
downward I peered;
I took up the runes, screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there.

(From The Havamal)

Still, the wandering Hermit, in my mind, IS Woden, and he has always spoken to me. I think my other choices also illuminate aspects of his nature that may be less obvious, less well-known to me. It was an enlightening exercise.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The 9 Noble Virtures

Wisdom: “Our Own Druidry” defines wisdom as “good judgment, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about and decide on the correct response.”
Wisdom is in many ways borne of experience, and it is no fault of the younger person to be less wise than the elder. However, experience does not lead to wisdom automatically. It is the responsibility of each person to live in an active engagement with life and the world that facilitates the increase of wisdom.

In practice, wisdom is the quality that allows a person to make sound decisions, to judge others accurately and to be less likely than the unwise to fall into a trap. Wisdom often works in coordination with other virtues; for example, moderation and wisdom may both come into play as someone makes the wise choice to avoid intoxication when driving.
This is an apt one with which to begin the list, because the other virtues all depend on some measure of wisdom in order to be effective in their application.

 Piety: Piety, at its root, is simply about being mindful of the gods and our relationship to them. We express our love, respect, loyalty and honor of them through ritual and ceremony. But the words and motions of ritual are only the outer form. Piety implies an orientation of the heart and spirit so that the ceremony expresses the internal reality. It isn't piety if it is simply reciting words.

Because of this, while piety is expressed in ritual, it can also be expressed moment to moment in simply thinking about the gods, speaking small prayers to them and, above all, treating them with honor and respect, not as cosmic gumball machines sent to do us favors.

Tradition is part of piety as well, in that our rituals are based on old traditions, brought forward into a new century. One aspect of honoring the gods is understanding how our ancestors honored them and striving to acknowledge them in the ways they prefer to be acknowledged. Wisdom comes into play here in that it guides us toward discerning the better ways to relate to the spirits and away from those practices or motivations that are self-serving.

Vision: “Our Own Druidry” speaks of vision as being aware of one's place or role in the cosmos, relating to the past, present and future. The key point to remember is that one's place may be big or small, depending on the vantage point. As a human being on a planet with more than 6 billion human beings, in a galaxy with a hundred billion stars, I am insignificant. As a friend, lover, son, grandfather – and as a child of Mother Earth – I am important.

One's place in the cosmos is not frozen in time. As the manual's definition specifies, it pertains to the past, present and future. Vision means an ability to see one's place not just today, but next year, next decade and, after a long enough period, as a legacy of one who has moved into the Otherworld.
It also entails an understanding of how one's place in the past affects the present and the future. To see one's own life, or the life of another, with true vision means to appreciate the interconnections of time, space and relationship and how what has gone before affects what is to come.

Finally, remember that vision is not limited to one's self – vision can pertain to another person, an organization, a nation or a world.

Courage: Courage is the balancing point between cowardice and recklessness. It is to do that which is difficult and dangerous in order to achieve a worthy goal. It is to act despite fear, not without fear. Do not mistake recklessness for courage: Courage takes risks and dangers into account, recklessness ignores them. Courage leads to dangerous actions taken for good reason, recklessness leads to dangerous actions undertaken for their own sake.

In the same vein, just as to charge ahead is not necessarily courage, to retreat is not necessarily cowardice. It can be an act of courage to defer taking action when under great pressure to act. But blending courage with wisdom gives one the discernment to determine when taking risky action is warranted and when it would just be foolish.

Courage necessarily entails selflessness. Courage is risk, and in many cases, courage is willingly giving up something for a greater good, as when Tyr sacrificed his hand to aid in the binding of Fenrir.

Integrity: To behave with integrity is to maintain one's ethical principles in the face of temptation. It is to be consistent in character and to put principle ahead of desire. Integrity requires keeping promises, upholding oaths, speaking truth and sometimes sacrificing one's own desires.

Behaving with integrity is not just a matter of public perception. Even when alone, a person of integrity is called on to uphold his or her standards. What is done in secret  (if indeed it is secret from the kindred) will have repercussions into one's wider world. What we do when nobody's watching says more about our true character than what we do in front of witnesses.

Integrity requires other virtues in order to be consistent. It takes courage to do the right thing at personal risk. Wisdom to know what the right thing is. Moderation to resist giving in to passions. The life of integrity can be difficult, but it's also rewarding, not least in giving one a good name (good reputation) to pass down.

Perseverance: Perseverance is the simple act of pressing toward one's goal through difficulties. Simple in concept, often very difficult in practice. Very often, we give up the pursuit of something when it becomes hard. We may even decide we don't really want it any more, the “sour grapes” of Aesop's fable. But of course, we do want it … just not badly enough to endure the challenges that come in the pursuit.

To press on through tough times requires a focus on the desired outcome – physical changes, learning new skills, wooing a lover, getting a good job, or whatever it may be. (Finishing the ADF Dedicant program!) These things are rarely won easily, and a person who sets out to achieve them should be prepared for some tough going along the way. Perseverance is the virtue that makes them possible at all.

Hospitality: The opening section of The Havamal is all about hospitality. The author (tradition holds these are the words of Odin himself) speaks of how weary travelers need food, drink, warmth, fresh clothing after arriving at a home.

Hospitality, in its general sense, is about being a “gracious host and appreciative guest,” as Our Own Druidry phrases it. A host who offers food to the hungry traveler, dry clothes to the rain-soaked visitor, fire to the one coming in from the cold. A guest who does not demand these things, but accepts them with gratitude when they are offered.

There is a more subtle sense of hospitality too, which is about adapting to another's needs without calling attention to it. For example: If there's a point in a ritual when the people are supposed to stand, and the leader notices that some of the participants are disabled and can stand only with difficulty and pain, hospitality might inspire the leader to amend the verbal instruction from “rise” to “rise in body or spirit,” or “stand as you are able.” This is a cue that lets those who are unable to stand know that it is ok not to, making them feel less conspicuous when they don't.
Once again, we see the role of wisdom in the practice of hospitality.

Moderation: The practice of moderation implies balance. While it shuns overindulgence, it does not  counsel asceticism. When one engages in things that are good and pleasurable, but also prone to be pursued to excess – food, drink or sex for example – moderation seeks to find the zone between too much and not enough.

The words attributed to Odin in the Havamal are instructive here:
“Less good there lies than most believe
In ale for mortal men; For the more he drinks, the less does man
Of his mind the mastery hold.”


“Shun not the mead, but drink in measure;
Speak to the point or be still;
For rudeness none shall rightly blame thee
If soon thy bed thou seekest.”

This text contains several stanzas counseling against overindulgence in drink, perhaps a contrast to the popular image of drunken, bawdy Norsemen. But notice that the Havamal, neither here nor elsewhere, advocates abstaining from drink (“shun not the mead.”. It only advises controlling oneself to avoid the consequences of excess.

This is the quintessence of moderation. “Shun not the mead, but drink in measure.” The axiom may be applied in like manner to food, or sex or sloth or exertion. One can easily overindulge in work, and feel oneself virtuous by doing so, without taking heed of the other aspects of life going neglected in the process.

Fertility: I understand from discussions on the ADF Dedicant list that the name of this virtue has been the subject of some debate. Indeed, it does seem to be a wide-ranging concept. According to Our Own Druidry, fertility is “bounty of mind, body and spirit involving creativity and industry, an appreciation of the physical and sensual, nurturing these qualities in others.”

In common parlance, the word can connote a bountiful harvest, human reproduction, fecundity, a prolific creativity and productivity of work, among other meanings. Summarizing it is difficult, but what all of these things have in common is a drive toward creation. Whether the life force expressed in sexual love and, often, pregnancy, or in growing plants for food or beauty, or in writing, art and craft, fertility always suggests a rich vein of result. A person who writes a poem or song once every long while can hardly be called a bard, while one who is always writing, even if much of what he writes ends up deemed unworthy, may well be. A man who plants a flower in a pot is not a gardener, really, but one who is always planting and growing something, even if some of his attempts fail, is indeed a gardener.

To be a virtue, fertility needs to be pursued with deliberate intention. It entails cultivating skills and talents, applying another virtue – perseverance in this case – to soldier on through the less successful attempts and the early days of learning something new when failure is the rule rather than the exception. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Movie Review: The Spirit of Albion

"The Spirit of Albion" is a remarkable accomplishment. A musical movie (adapted from a stage production) based on the music of Damh the Bard, it tells the story of three ordinary young people with problems who encounter some of the gods and learn a little about the much larger and more wondrous world that modern life cuts them off from.

The film opens and closes with Damh performing -- "Pagan Ways" at the start, "The Spirit of Albion" at the end. In between, we meet George, Annie and Esther, three people undergoing difficult times who are led to a campfire in the forest by mysterious figures. There they learn deeper truths about the world in which they live, their eyes opened by figures who will be familiar to those who know the Irish and Welsh pantheons.

I could quibble over some points. It would have been nice if the elder gods looked a little more, well, elder ... the actors all appear to be under 30. It would have been nice if at least one of the people encountering the gods wasn't in the grip of depression and uncertainty -- not all spiritual quests are born in angush. Some of the cast memebers were not the best singers. And I don't fully understand why Damh's performance of "Pagan Ways" comes at the beginning, rather than at the end when it would sum up some of the key elements of the story.

The only real criticism I have, though, is of a line near the beginning, when the gods are described as the gods humans created. I'm a bit disappointed that they felt a need to pick a side in that theological debate (whether the gods exist objectively or are archetypes of human characteristics) and that they chose that particular side.

These are all, ultimately, small things. Given the budgetary constraints they had to live with, they did an extraordinary job. I encourage everyone to buy a copy -- heck, buy several and give them as gifts -- because support for this sort of independent filmmaking will help keep it going.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Well, it is hard to ignore

I have been going back and forth with Woden ever since Yule. As I wrote then, we felt something as the Norse deities were honored, and we started reading up a good bit on the Norse and Anglo-Saxon hearth cultures. For my hearth culture ADF book review I chose "Gods and Myths of Northern Europe" by H.R. Ellis-Davidson. We also read "Travels Through Middle-Earth," a look at Anglo-Saxon paganism by ADF member Alaric Albertsson.

Eventually, we reached a difference of opinion. Lynda has been feeling an affinity for Frigga, while I had been slowly concluding that the Germanic culture was maybe a bit more stark and austere than I cared for and began reconsidering the Irish pantheon.

But Woden has stayed in my thoughts, especially as we've been reading "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman on audiobook, where the mysterious "Mr. Wednesday" is Woden/Odin traveling incognito.

Then yesterday, after services at our UU church, I was in the lounge and caught a glimpse in the woods behind the building of a large black bird in the trees. A raven? A crow? I can't be certain, I am no expert at bird identification, but I do think it was most likely one of the two.

Since I had been thinking of Woden/Odin again, I wondered whether I should consider the sighting to be an omen. This morning, I rose early and dusted off the home shrine (we still have been negligent in practice, probably mostly because we've had no clarity on just which deities we felt called to work with) and performed a very brief ritual: I simply lit the three candles, put some water into the bowl we use as a well and asked the All-Father to give me one more confirming sign, if indeed he was trying to get my attention. I poured a small offering of olive oil into the offering bowl, letting a drop or two fall onto the candle flame.

Then I went outside to sit on the porch and watch the dawn brighten. After about 20 minutes, movement in the corner of my eye drew my attention ... I looked up to see another large black bird, wings spread wide, coming in for a landing on a tree branch.

Well then.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Dedicant Documentation:
The High Rite

The Dagda was only meant to be the gatekeeper at Cedarlight Grove's celebration of Beltane, but he ended up dominating the event. From the rush of wind that came right as the gates were opened, to the fire batons that wouldn't go out easily, to the snapped strap of one woman's top as she danced in offering, he made his presence known.

The deities of the occasion were Dagda's son Aengus Mac Oc and Aine. The prayer was for the kindred to bless all our creative efforts in the coming year, and the omen suggested that we may encounter difficulties, but should remember that the gods are near. The gods enthusiastically accepted our offerings, according to the seer. (She used a crystal ball.)

At the end of the rite, we processed out between two fires, reflecting the ancient Irish Beltane tradition of driving the animals between two fires for purification.

The Irish deities felt warm, mischievous and friendly. This came at a good time for me, as I had been flagging in my studies and I left with new affirmation and determination.

Essay on the Meaning

Beltane celebrates the return of warm weather. Named for the Irish sun god Belinos, the name translates to “fire of Bel.” It is about fertility and abundance. Like its opposite high day Samhain, Beltane is a day when the veil between our world and the Otherworld is especially thin.

Celebration of the day, also called “May Day,” is centered around lighthearted revelry – dancing around a maypole, singing, sex and general merriment. Beltane expresses a sense of great relief that the fallow time of winter, the endurance of the cold and privation of living off of food stores is at an end. By May in most of Europe, as the traditional song “Hal An Tow” puts it, “Summer is a-comin' in and winter's gone away.”

In Ireland, the ancients celebrated Beltane with bonfires and dancing sunwise around the fires. It was customary to release the animals and drive them between two fires for purification.

In northern and central European cultures, the day was traditionally celebrated in similar ways to the Gaelic, with dancing, maypoles and a general celebration of warmth and fertility. The celebrations typically take place on the night of April 30 into the early morning hours of May 1. Today in those lands – and corresponding ADF hearth cultures – the high day is known as Walpurgisnacht. This name appears to have been derived from the name of an English missionary, St. Walpurga, who was canonized in AD 870, about a century after her death.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I have been dragging my feet on moving ahead with the DP for a while now. I've been writing my essays on the high days and our celebrations of them at Cedarlight Grove, and I've done two of the three required book reports, but I have not been diligent on anything else about it.

There are number of reasons for this, and its easy enough (and true enough) to claim busyness, but that's only part of it. The main reason is that I'm afraid of the mental discipline requirement.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has tackled this program that has found five months of regular meditation practice to be intimidating. If I were a betting man, I would bet that it's the number one reason people start the DP and don't finish it. At the same time, I can't argue that it shouldn't be there because I understand why it matters.

So I am taking a new run at it, starting today. I'm planning to try at first for just five minutes of complete breathing (inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4) and general quieting of mind. When I can do that, I'll starting working on the Two Powers using my recording of Ian Corrigan's narration, and assuming I become comfortable with that, I'll seek more techniques.

Meanwhile, I will work on the essays that aren't tied to events – attending a rite or reading a book – and try to have them complete over that five months as well. My hope is that after five months of regular mental discipline I will have gained enough experience to find it valuable and continue, which is obviously part of the point of the requirement.