Imbolc

Yesterday was Imbolc, and due to poor health and a hectic schedule, my participation was minimal. A simple lamb dinner with my “family”, some good wine and good conversation and home by midnight.

imbolc

Next up is Anthesteria, which is proving to be a daunting undertaking. We only have 3 weeks to throw together a decadent semi-public Bacchinalia, and I am slammed with school and ADF studies and men and my housewife-erly duties.

I am most excited about planning our Midsummer celebration. We are planning a Shakespearean / Brothers Grimm style woodland picnic in the afternoon, followed by a beach bonfire that night. As soon as the weather gets better I need to start scouting locations for that. We are planning a Slavic Ostara and Walpurgisnacht in the mountains. We haven’t discussed Lughnasadh yet, but once we hit the Autumnal Equinox I will have fulfilled my first full wheel of the year for the dedicant program. Then it’s essay city…

Coming Out from Behind Your Winter Wardrobe

Today was the first day of class (German and Music Appreciation, both with “He Who Shall Be Named WMFH” henceforth). German will be par for the course, Music Appreciation will most likely be a blast. WMFH is even more F-able teaching music, but that doesn’t surprise me. Language makes me swoon, but music… well, it’s just the second most sacred thing a human can do, if you catch my drift. However, the most important thing that happened today is that I officially “came out” publicly as Pagan for the first time. I wasn’t intending on doing it, it wasn’t some grand gesture. We were doing introductions in class and WMFH asked me why I was taking German, so I answered truthfully and said it was for my Pagan clergy program. While my friends and family know I am Pagan, it’s never been anything I discussed outside of my immediate circle. I’ve never considered it anyone’s business. In my opinion, it’s a fine line between disclosing one’s religious views in a relevant situation and proselytizing or posturing. As a Pagan, I am accustom to people reacting poorly to my beliefs, usually in the form of ridicule and eye rolling. I am not one of those who considers it my duty to correct them. I have been Pagan for almost 30 years now, and in those 3 decades I have learned that you aren’t going to change anyone’s mind unless they want it changed, so save your breath.

However, one thing I have also come to understand is that I can no longer live this part of my life in the shadows. Before I started the Dedicant program, my religious views were my own, done in private, and had nothing to do with anyone else. Now, as a practicing priestess and future clergy, the rules have changed. I have chosen to become a public figure in the Pagan community, something that I hadn’t honestly considered until now. As a priestess part of my job is to represent. I represent my grove, my community, my gods, and my ancestors. I can’t hide this from the casual acquaintance anymore, it is a major part of my public identity. To keep it private would mean to resort to circumvention and subterfuge in answering the most basic questions about my life. So when WMFH asked me why I was taking German, I answered. And the world did not end, the sky did not fall, and no one batted an eye. Granted, I live in a hippie college town in one of the most liberal states in the country, so it wasn’t as if I expected someone to jump up and proclaim me a blasphemer or point at me and shriek like Donald Sutherland in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Still, it felt odd, and a bit liberating. I had to do it again in MA class, and again, no Chicken Little scenario.

I am still getting used to the fact that people who don’t know me on the island have already heard of me as “The Priestess”. Apparently, people who have attended our rituals have spread the word and our gatherings have become the coveted invitation. It’s odd that my reputation is preceding me in an area that I have only just recently embraced publicly.

Yule 2012- Post Game Recap

Yule was lovely, an amazing time. The table was beautiful, we served leek and potato vichyssoise, spinach salad with tamari pumpkin seeds and goat cheese, duck confit, smoked pork ribs, butternut squash gratin, honeyed brussel sprouts in a sherry sauce, and mashed potatoes. For dessert we had a home made Yule log and I made hazelnut gelato. For my toast, I did a dramatic recitation of “Der Erlkönig” in German. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. My ex (who’s mother was German) was in attendance and said my pronunciation was spot on, and a friend of ours who lived in German for 3 years said I sounded very natural.  So, yay Team German! Everyone had a blast, the food was incredible, and I ended up getting very drunk. The last of our house guests just left after a solid 2 days of drinking, eating, and revelry, and I am beat to hell. Here are some photos:

Yule 2012: Pre-Game Show

Today is the big ritual! We set up the table yesterday, which was an all-day undertaking. Ryan did an AMAZING job, everybody pitched in and created something that is going to be so magical tonight!

Meh and Other Statements

If all goes according to plan, my posts will be somewhat sporadic for the next 2 weeks. I have a lot of Yule prep to do this week, then The Husband will be off work next week, and I’d kind of like to spend some time with him. I am also working on the 35* ADF essays I have to write. You’d think writing 9 essays about the 9 virtues in the context of Dumezil’s trifunctional hypothesis as it pertains to modern Druidry would be a snap. Go figure. I am also still hard at work on “Der Erlkönig” and trying not to forget all the German I have learned.

In other news, we saw “The Hobbit” on Saturday. It was fairly good. Peter Jackson makes a pretty film, Martin Freeman is nerdgasmingly hot, and the movie is very charming. I must be the only Heathen on Earth who isn’t obsessed with Tolkien. I mean, I love what he’s done with the mythos and the language, but I just find his work to be one big sausage fest. I find I have zero interest in stories without any significant female presence. And if you say “what about Arwen, Eowyn, and Galadriel?” I will poke you with a stick. Bit parts, supporting cast, whatever. Meh.

In other (completely unrelated) news my acupuncturist gave me a new topical herbal medication that makes me smell like rhubarb and maple syrup. And not in a good way. This statement serves no purpose other than the fact that the smell is so pervasive it is taking over my brain. Being a perpetual patient is tiresome.

So it goes.**

*That is, indeed, 35 essays. I counted.

**My reliance on this Vonnegut quote becomes more and more constant as I get older. Some people fight middle age, some people embrace it, I seem to face it with a weary eye-roll.

Reconstructionism Reconsidered

After my last post, I was contemplating more about what it means to be a Reconstructionist in the 21st century when the perfect allegory hit me (stay with me, my husband hates my allegories, YMMV).

Let’s say your house gets wiped out by Hurricane Jesus. Now, you’ve lived in this house for years. You love your house, it’s familiar and suits your needs. Then Hurricane Jesus swoops in like a wrathful pterodactyl and takes a big Jurassic dump all over everything. What’s a girl to do?

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The Internet: Making my job just too damn easy.

Rebuild, of course. The question I ask you is this: are you going to try and replicate your house brick by brick? No, of course not. I don’t know about you, but I don’t happen to have the blueprints to my house laying around. As lovely as your house was, the plumbing was at least 50 years old, not to mention building codes have changed drastically since it was built. I mean, sure, you are building it on the same foundation as before, the same land, and your needs aren’t going to be that drastically different, but the situation is going to call for some changes, some welcome, others just necessary. Even if you could duplicate your house, it is still only going to be a facsimile of the original. Rather than slavishly trying to recreate something that is gone, wouldn’t it be better to fill that void with something that serves the same purpose and has its own spirit? You can still put the living room over there, with its southern exposure and a stone fireplace like you had before, just maybe with double paned windows and Pergo floors. Plus, you have always wanted a pantry in the kitchen, and now might be a good time to think about that jacuzzi tub for the master bath…

On Being an Eclectic Reconstructionist

My co-priest and I are planning Yule. We are both working through our ADF dedicant path with the intention of joining the clergy program afterward. He is a Hellenist and I am Heathen, for lack of a clearer term. Even though we both consider ourselves to be Reconstructionists, we also both consider ourselves to be Eclectic. This might seem like a contradiction to many, and while I can’t speak for my co-priest on the subject, I can at least make an attempt to define this for myself.

First off, some background. I am what many would call Heathen. In other words, I follow what most consider the Norse religion, only the variation I have been called to is actually more Continental Germanic and Anglo-Saxon. The catch is, the majority of information we have about what we consider to be the Germanic gods is filtered through post-Christian Scandinavian texts (the other catch being the modern age filters it through Neo-Nazi websites and the SCA). So, in short, in order to follow my path with any level of coherency, I can’t just be Anglo-Saxon or Germanic, I need to fall back on the Norse literature to fill in the gaps. I actually don’t care to use the term “Heathen” to describe myself, since I don’t think that communicates a clear picture as to what I am about, but it is a workable shortcut for now.

The hallmark of modern Paganism is the constant need to define and label what we are. Many of us end up as hyphenates in an attempt to describe something that isn’t clearly delineated in the first place. The thing that many of us forget, Reconstructionists in particular, is that these things weren’t clearly defined for our ancestors either. Think about ancient Europe. Centuries of invasions, plagues, and migration meant that the religions themselves were in constant flux. Neighboring gods were added, spirits of one landscape metamorphosed into the spirits of another as people changed environments, invading governments adopted local deities and then changed them to suit their needs. And lest we forget the ultimate four-letter word: Christianity. We can do our best to restore the ancient traditions as accurately as possible, but ultimately even our ancestors didn’t have the luxury of practicing a “pure” version of their own religion. As a Heathen, ancestry is important to my world view. Heathens tend to put a lot of importance on bloodlines and genetics (and, yes, this gets a bit “problematic” at times). As an American, I am not of one national or ethnic origin. My predominate ancestry is Anglo-Norman English and French Breton, but I am also Irish, Hungarian, German, and Native American. Both sides of my family have been on this continent for over 11 generations (and longer in the case of my Passamaquoddy and Anasaguntacook ancestors.) The nature of my very being is eclectic. For me to try and select a spiritual path based on my ancestry would demand not only an Indo-European melange, it would have to include the indigenous beliefs of a completely different continent. Likewise, if I were to choose a spiritual path based on the deities I have had significant metaphysical encounters with, that too would lead to a path as winding and syncretic as anything could be. I am an American™. That in and of itself not only allows for syncretism, it mandates it.

To rattle your spear and accuse someone of being inauthentic as a Reconstructionist because they do not follow the dogma WE invented (because YES, any and all modern Reconstructionist practices are complete inventions and adaptations, no matter how based in historical fact they are) is as obnoxious as the hipster band snob who desperately looks for one-upmanship by siting every obscure Clownstep DJ he can think of and smugly sneering at you for not sharing his passionless accumulation of trivial knowledge. The proclivity for one-upmanship is a huge divider in our community, the tendency towards judging others even more so. The Reconstructionist hate the Wiccans, the Wiccans hate the Chaotes, the Chaotes hate everyone… and so it goes. Hell, we even debate if someone is “allowed” to call themselves Pagan. Are New Agers pagan? Satanists? Unitarians? Who are we to say?

So, where do I get off calling myself a Reconstructionist? I consider myself a Reconstructionist because I consider it my duty to contribute as much as I can to the scholarship and dissemination of the traditions, art, history, culture, language, and values of my Northern European ancestors in as historically accurate way as possible. I want my knowledge of the past to inform, rather than define, my beliefs. I do not consider my reverence for Dionysus to be at odds with my Heathen roots any more than I consider the addition of the Vanir to the Norse pantheon to be somehow “sacrilegious”. To be a Reconstructionist in the 21st century means evolution and flexibility. The world is a much smaller place and the gods are mingling at that great cocktail party in the sky.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m a Priestess!”

I love BBQ.

I married a Southern Gentleman from coastal North Carolina, and I am not entirely sure if it was him or the BBQ that won me over. I happen to be a fan of Stubb’s BBQ sauce. I am telling you, that moppin’ sauce of his is A-MAZ-ING. One of the more charming aspects of Stubb’s is the catch phrase written right on the bottle, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m a cook!” I’ve always found the self-determination of that statement almost elegant in its simplicity. Stubb’s wanted to be a cook, so he was a cook. The exuberance of the exclamation point is almost poignant. You can almost feel the joy of a realized dream, of a life lived to its fullest, of a person so certain of their identity that one sentence was all it took to become that thing.

The first thing you learn when you learn a second language are the “be” verbs. “I am” is quite possibly the most magickal phrase in the human tongue. It is defining, it is definitive, it is self-fulfilling. So frequently we focus on the things we are not, the things we wish to be, the things we could be if the circumstances were different. Personally, I try as often as I can to take a page from Mr. Stubbs. I am exactly what I tell the world I am. (More on language and magickal thinking in future posts…)

When my “co-priest” first brought up the idea of joining the ADF and pursuing the clergy path, I think he was shocked at my enthusiasm in joining him, which may have seemed to outsiders completely out of the blue. While friends knew I was some kind of Germanic-y, Heathen-y Pagan, it was not a topic I discussed freely. When we first started to perform rituals, I was terrified. I felt like a phony playing at being a priestess, undeserving of the title. My co-priest was so much more knowledgeable and comfortable with the liturgy, where as I just wanted to say as few words possible and get off the stage. On top of everything else, I have this fear of being taken seriously. I have this sarcastic, “Mae West one-liner” persona that has been my defense since childhood, and the thought of shedding that armor, having to stand before others and be not only sincere but devout was like staring into the abyss. The first ritual we performed was a Hellenist Orphic Autumnal Equinox rite (my co-priest is a Hellenist, and our congregation is mixed so we try to trade off different traditions). The ritual was beautiful, and I think I did rather well, even if I was shaking throughout. (Some people may quibble with the fact that neither my co-priest and I are officially ADF clergy yet, however our group actually formed long before we decided to go the ADF route, and he actually performed my wedding ceremony a few years ago.)

The second ritual, a Proto-Indo-European inspired Samhain and the first to completely conform the ADF core order of ritual, was a steaming hot mess.

We started with very lofty ambitions, created animal masks to represent our totem animals to protect us, bonfires, torches, and a goat sacrifice (calm down, the goat was made out of straw). At the last minute, everything started to slide sideways, my co-priest had foot surgery, I had a German midterm the following week, one of our congregants broke her wrist and couldn’t come, 2 others had a month of hellacious traveling and were too worn out to make it, and so on. Half our group would be missing and those that would be there were sick or crippled. We persevered, I made a fantastic bear mask, my co-priest was an owl. We did a couple walk-throughs, rehearsed our liturgy, checked out props and timing, we thought we had considered all possibilities… ah the best laid plans…


The Lemur, the Crow, the Bear (me), the Peacock, and the Owl (my co-priest). My husband, the Bull is taking the photo.

As the ritual began, we turned off the lights, as it was to be conducted by firelight. I tried to read my script… only to discover that in the dark my bear mask made it impossible to see anything with my 42 year old eyes. I stammered and stumbled, whacked one of the attendants in the face with my corn husk censer during the purification, was unable to light the bonfire, and generally fell apart like Mary Tyler Moore throwing a dinner party (if you are under the age of 35, you will not get that reference.) I was frustrated, embarrassed and generally not feeling the ritual vibe.

Then came the reading of the names of the dead. Every member of our grove had written the names of the loved ones they had lost over the years, and I read them out loud as each member placed a clove into an apple for each person they wished to honor. I could actually read these, as the print was larger, and as I did so, the feeling came over me; a reminder of why I was there, of who I was serving, and the reason for the ritual. A ritual is a party you throw for the gods, ancestors, and spirits you want to honor. Sometimes, even the most disastrous party can be memorable and endearing. In the end, I think everyone felt a sense of catharsis, and the ritual ended much better than when it started. This made me realize, performing a perfect ritual doesn’t make you a priestess, having an official clergy license doesn’t make you a priestess.

I am a priestess because I am willing to take that chance of making a fool of myself so that the gods and ancestors can reach out to us.
I am a priestess because I am willing to spend my time educating myself about the gods and the ways of our ancestors.
I am a priestess because I am willing to pass on that knowledge to those who want to learn it.
I am a priestess because I am willing to spend 2 months of my life preparing for a ritual regardless of how many people show up. We don’t do these things for the “audience”, we do them for the gods, spirits, and ancestors.
I am a Priestess because I am willing to change the things about myself that I see as an impediment to my relationship with the gods. I am prepared to mold myself into a more appropriate vessel, a more loving and forgiving person, a more disciplined and dedicated scholar, and a manifestation of both their will and my own.
I am a priestess because I have chosen to be a priestess. Because I was called to be a priestess.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I AM a Priestess!

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