Taking Some Bereavement Leave from this Blog

My father was diagnosed with esophagus cancer in September, and lost his life to it on March 27. I read that his kind of cancer was an especially aggressive one, but I’m still reeling from it happening so quickly. He was only 64.

Whatever I was thinking of writing about on this blog next seems unimportant right now. And the petty bickering on other pagan blogs also seems pretty stupid and pointless when real problems come up.

This weekend I’m going to have to go to his house to start going through his belongings with my sister figuring out what we want to keep, donate, or sell. I’m really not looking forward to it.

My dad wasn’t religious, but he wanted to be cremated, and for his ashes to be sprinkled on top of Pike’s Peak so he can “become part of the mountain.” My sister and I will honor his wishes this summer when it gets warmer up there.

This time of year, around the Spring Equinox and Easter, is one of the prettiest times of year, with so many flowers in bloom. It’s so incongruous with what’s going on in my own life.

Goodbye Dad. I love you.

The God of Science

Sunday was the first episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which is Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s update of Cosmos: A Personal Voyage with Carl Sagan.

I grew up watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and it’s probably one of the reasons why I went into science as a career. The remake is good so far (despite lacking the excellent soundtrack of the original), but I was more excited about the marathon of the original series that was on the National Geographic Channel before it. I hadn’t seen some of these episodes since I was a child. It is nice to watch them all again now that I’m older and can appreciate it in more mature ways. I remembered how Carl explained to me, through the TV, all of these advanced scientific concepts like the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, and the concept of black holes, giving me a scientific understanding way ahead of my years. I had forgotten about the biographies of scientists sprinkled throughout, and about Sagan’s ominous prophecies about what could happen if science is misused, especially in the last episode “Who Speaks for the Earth?” I’m sure those parts must have made an impression on me as well, because even by first or second grade I was known to my classmates and teachers as a science geek and environmentalist. I remember getting picked on for that.

I know Sagan was an atheist, but he still inspired a lot of pagans, including me.

It also reminds me of why Odin is my main god, even though I’m not a warrior. Odin is most often portrayed as a war god, but I interact with him more as a god of wisdom, knowledge, and curiosity. To me, Odin is the God of Science

It may seem strange to have a god of science in this era where science and religion are seen as being opposed to each other, but that attitude is a recent one, and many polytheistic cultures had gods associated with knowledge and learning, such as Ganesh, Thoth, and Athena. Even when Christianity came along, many scientists were also Christians. Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was a monk. He studied biology as a way to understand the Creator better.

Odin’s best myths don’t have to do with war, but with his quest for knowledge. He consults with the volva to find out the future, sacrifices his eye to drink from the Well of Wisdom, and hangs himself from Yggdrasil to discover the Runes.

Scientists, like Odin, have this thirst for knowledge, and like Odin, usually have to make great sacrifices for it. Going into this field is difficult. The three years I spent in grad school were some of the hardest years in my life. Then, despite all the hype about STEM fields and how easy it would be for anyone graduating with a science degree to find a job, I graduated right at the beginning of the Great Recession and spent 10 months unemployed. (It also probably didn’t help that I studied things like ecology, wildlife biology, and environmental science instead of something profitable like petroleum engineering.) I thought I had ruined my life.

It was also the time in my life when Odin was the most present. This was the time for me to hang from the Tree, and Odin reminded me how difficult that was for him, how he wasn’t sure if it was going to survive the ordeal either, or if he was even going to discover anything useful from it. It was a comfort to me to think that Odin thought I could get through this, and I just had to trust him that everything will be OK in the end. Even though I don’t fully believe in the gods (I still often think they really are just all in my head), Odin reminded me that he believes in me, and that’s the important thing.

odin hanging

Despite the stereotype of being a bunch of stiffs, scientists are actually quite a passionate lot, and Odin is a passionate god. If you’re going to dedicate so much of your life to the study of something, you had better be passionate about it. One of the problems I had in graduate school was that I got into a program I wasn’t passionate about. It was all about ecological modeling and population genetics. I spent my days in front of a computer working out simulations of ecosystems, rather than outside in the real thing. After about a year and a half of this with no thesis even started, I was changed to the non-thesis option, so I could still get some kind of degree. Except then I was free to take any classes I wanted (and I now had to take more classes to make up for not doing a thesis), and I started taking some of the field biology classes that were not part of the “population biology” program I had signed up for, but the “wildlife biology” program (the biology department did little to explain to me what the difference was between those two, which seemed to me like splitting hairs, and it was only after being in grad school for a couple of years that I realized the latter was what I really should have enrolled in). Finally I could be outdoors with my beloved plants and animals, and I was reminded of why I went into biology in the first place.

The great thing about Carl Sagan is that he could express his passion and wonder about the universe to a lay audience. He did this without condescension or dumbing things down. He’d just chat with you through your television, and by the end of it, you understood not only the scientific concepts, but why they are so amazing. He could pass his passion on to you. I want that job.

Odin is often considered to be a dangerous god. How does that fit in to his role as the God of Science? Even though Sagan portrays science as mostly a force for good, throughout Cosmos he brings up how technology can also lead us to destroying ourselves, perhaps through nuclear war (a big concern during the Cold War era), or perhaps through climate change (which he hints at in the original Cosmos, but that show was produced before climate change was well understood). I am reminded of Prometheus who gave fire to mankind and was punished for that. This is generally considered to be a myth about technology, and I believe that Odin and Loki together play this role in the Norse pantheon. (There may have even been a more obviously Prometheus-like myth that’s been lost to us, as I’m sure many myths known to our ancestors have been.) In Voluspa, Odin, Hoenir, and Lodhurr (who may be the same as Loki) created the first humans. Since we now know how humans were “really” created, thanks to Darwin, perhaps this can be seen as a myth about when humans were set apart from the rest of nature, when we ceased being just another animal wandering the savannas of Africa, and became capable of understanding the wonders of the universe. Yet this intelligence also gives us the capacity to destroy ourselves and take a lot of our fellow species along with us.

Scientific knowledge itself can also cause discomfort. Science deals with how the universe is, not how we would like it to be. In the first episode of the new Cosmos, Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells the story of Giordano Bruno, who believed in an infinite universe, going against the geocentric view of the universe that most people believed at the time. He wasn’t the first scientist to propose something like that, but it took a long time for the idea to catch on that the universe is unimaginably vast. Tyson illustrates this right at the beginning of the episode, showing our cosmic “address” in the context of the known universe.

Later in that episode, Tyson illustrates how the universe is not only vast in space, but in time, borrowing Sagan’s “Cosmic Calendar”, where all of human history happens in only the last 14 seconds of the last hour of December 31. I see parallels between the Young Earth Creationists of today with the geocentric view of Bruno’s time. Back then they believed in a universe small in space, and today they believe in a universe young in time, but I think the motivation is the same. It’s just hard to believe that humanity is so tiny. We want ourselves to be big and important. If we’re not the center of the universe in physical space, then at least the universe should be young, and not have had those many billions of years with no humans around. I admit that sometimes even I can fall into despair and nihilism when contemplating Deep Time, or how far away the stars really are, and remembering how tiny and insignificant I am, but just because people may not like an idea doesn’t make it untrue.

Tyson acknowledges that this view of the universe makes us feel small, but then attempts to cheer us up by reminding us how neat it is that we have the ability to even understand these things at all. I say this is the Gift of Odin that he and his brothers gave humanity, or perhaps the Curse of Odin, depending on how you look at it. They say ignorance is bliss, and that can be true. My cats don’t have to be burdened by the knowledge of how short their lives are or how insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things. They can just enjoy their little lives blissfully ignorant of all that.

But Odin believes that knowing is always better than not knowing, even if that knowledge is uncomfortable. Knowledge is especially important now that we have the capacity to destroy ourselves and a lot of our fellow creatures along with us.

In the Autumn 2013 edition of Idunna, I was delighted to find an article by Diana Paxson titled “Staving off Ragnarok: A Heathen Response to Climate Change.” I had never seen anyone else make these connections before, so it’s nice to have that external validation from another Odinswoman that Odin is concerned about climate change. My early exposure to Asatru was mostly through very conservative Heathens who would never support environmental causes (or anything else supported by the political left except for freedom of religion). Some of them might have tolerated that sort of thing from a follower of Frey or one of the other Vanir, but certainly not from Odin’s people, who are supposed to be hawkish about war and gun enthusiasts, not environmentalists. (A Book of Troth by Edred Thorrson even has an entire chapter titled “The Earth and the World” explaining why Heathens are not “nature-worshippers”, and in fact, the gods are in rebellion against nature, personified by the etins.)

I think that people forget that Odin is a god with a specific mission. His battles are not just for the sake of killing and destruction, but for a greater purpose. He’s not gathering warriors together in Valhalla just for fun. Even though he knows that Ragnarok is inevitable (just as scientists know that extinctions and endings are inevitable), he tries to put it off as long as possible, and prepare for it as best he can.

In my Environmental Biology class I teach my students about mitigating climate change. Few people understand climate change, and fewer still realize that it’s already too late to stop or reverse it. Yes, we have now released enough greenhouse gases that even if all emissions stopped tomorrow, the Earth would continue to warm over the next several decades. And we’re not going to stop all emissions tomorrow.

Now the task is to mitigate it. We can only slow it down, put it off, make it not as bad as it would be if we did nothing. If we do nothing, it will be a total catastrophe for the human species. If we work hard, something may be able to survive. Sounds a lot like Ragnarok. The best Odin can do is to make sure something survives after Ragnarok to rebuild the world.

In “Staving off Ragnarok”, Paxson writes, “Because I am known as an Odinswoman, other people who have had close encounters of the Thridhi kind tend to talk to me. Far from being special, I am only one of many who have unexpectedly found themselves in a relationship with this god. Several people at a workshop I gave at Sirius Rising this summer introduced themselves by saying, ‘I’m a Christian, but when I was at this Reiki workshop I found myself working with Odin.”

Sounds familiar, except in my case I was an atheist-turned-Wiccan at a meditation workshop when Odin unexpectedly arrived. This was in 2003, when he was supposedly (according to the Heathens I soon encountered online) busy drumming up support for the Iraq War in order to send thousands more warriors to Valhalla. So why was he wasting his time with a tree-hugging environmentalist like me? Surely I must have been mistaken.

Here I am today, over ten years later, teaching Environmental Biology at a community college in a poor section of a large city in the American Southwest. Many of my students have never even heard of fracking or know that our water supplies are in danger. It’s not exactly the position I expected to have when I chose to major in biology in college, nor is it the position you’d expect a follower of the Norse God of War to have. I just hope I’m on the right track and Odin is pleased with my progress so far.

When I was a kid watching Carl Sagan back in the 1980’s, I already knew I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. It was my destiny, my wyrd. I never felt like I wanted to do anything else. I wonder if Odin was already working in my life back then without my knowledge (besides showing up as Santa Claus once a year), or if my interest in science is what made him take notice of me later.

Either way, this is how I do Odin’s work, not as a warrior or even as a priestess, but as a science teacher. I’m no Carl Sagan, not even close, but I hope I can at least inspire interest in science in a few of my students, perhaps starting them on a path where they can find greater teachers than me and one day become greater scientists that I’ll ever be. Only the gods know if that will ever happen, but at least it’s possible.

How Times Have Changed

Yes, I do enjoy Vikings, which just started its second season. The story is easy to get hooked on, it has interesting characters, and the large amounts of scenery porn make me really wish I had the money to take a vacation in Norway.

Except being a Heathen, I can’t watch it solely for entertainment value. It’s based on The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, and most of the main characters are Norse Pagans. It takes place back in the good ol’ days before Scandinavia was Christianized. History is not really my area of expertise, so I’m not sure how historically accurate the show is. I know I should take whatever is on this show with a grain of salt, but I hope it at least gets more things right than wrong.

Odin on Vikings

Odin even makes the occasional cameo.

One thing I really like is how they show the Vikings taking their religion seriously. Sometimes when they portray pre-Christian pagans in the media, they try to make it look like they didn’t really believe all that silly stuff about gods (for example, the movie Troy, with Brad Pitt playing a strangely atheist Achilles). Or they leave the religion out entirely, or they make the pagans’ religion look bad, especially if there are Christian characters to compare them to.

Vikings doesn’t do that. The Vikings are extremely violent, of course, but they the Christian English King Aelle is just as bad, if not worse because he’s a hypocrite worshipping a supposedly peaceful god. Thankfully there’s not really any “the Vikings were such savages and needed to Christians to civilize them” type stuff. The message seems to be more, “everyone back then was violent.”

I've seen movies before with battle scenes, but I don't remember them having nearly as much blood on everyone's faces.

I’ve seen movies before with battle scenes, but I don’t remember them having as much blood on everyone’s faces.

I also really liked the Uppsala episode, even though my husband was pretty disturbed by the ending. I was left feeling even sadder that we don’t have temples anymore, and wishing that some Pagans or Heathens would just go ahead and build some already so we don’t have to keep meeting in coffee shops and UU churches all the time.

This would look out of place in a UU church.

This would look out of place in a UU church.

Though, speaking of the Uppsala episode, I think it brings up an important issue that I wish modern Heathens would think about and discuss a bit more. The thing the strikes me the most about this show is how different people were back then. I know in some ways Athelstan is meant to be an audience stand-in. He’s the character who stands there in shock about the horrors of the human sacrifice and slavery found in Viking culture. On the other hand, I bet if the show was mostly about his life in the monastery instead, he’d seem just as strange to us viewers as the Vikings are to him. (And to the show’s credit, when the Vikings feasted with King Aelle, things were reversed, and the English Christians were made to look like the weird ones.)

I guess what I’m getting at here is that it reminds me of how much emphasis at lot of modern Heathens put on the Viking Age as a basis for their religion. In a way, some of it makes sense, since that’s the era we have the most information about. But sometimes I wonder if some of these guys forget how hugely different the Vikings were in their culture and worldview than we are now, and not only that, but how having a worldview like the Vikings is probably not a good idea in a lot of ways. Heathens talk a lot about our mighty ancestors and how we need to go back to being like them, but I don’t think the Vikings are the best role models to follow.

Raiding isn't one of the best career choices anymore.

Raiding isn’t one of the best career choices anymore.

Basically, if one were to behave today like Ragnar, you either be dead, or in jail, or the CEO of a massive corporation. The first two are the most likely; the latter only happens if you’re lucky and especially good at being a sociopath.

So I wish Heathens talked a bit more about how this religion is relevant for the modern day. And in order for it to be relevant, it has to be updated a bit. Ragnar is a devout follower of Odin, but are there other ways to impress Odin than plundering neighboring countries? Obviously back then sacrificing animals and sometimes humans was an important part of worship. Most people don’t do that now, so what would be something we could do instead?

People have changed a lot in the last thousand years. I like Lagertha, but I’m not much like her at all, sitting here in my modern house with internet and air conditioning and a refrigerator full of food in a totally different climate thousands of miles away from Scandinavia. I’ve never killed a person or even a farm animal in my life, and I haven’t touched a horse in years. My husband isn’t out raiding right now, or fishing, or even working on the farm. He’s sitting in an office at a desk, earning a paycheck to provide for the family.

Sometimes after watching Vikings, I think about modern pagans’ efforts to bring back worship of the old gods, and wonder how that could possibly work with how different we are now. Are we even recognizable to them as their people anymore?

Hopefully the gods have also changed, or at least are adaptable to modern life. But the way modern Heathens talk about them often makes the gods seem like they’re still stuck back in the Viking Age. We know Frey is a god of agriculture, but how does he relate to our modern food system where most people don’t even know where their food comes from? How does Odin the war god relate to our modern ways of waging war where the men making the decisions to go to war never see battle themselves? How does Frigg the key-keeper relate to our modern home lives where women don’t need to spend most of their days spinning and weaving, but still don’t seem to have time to get everything they need to do done?

It just seems like we get so stuck in talking about what was historically accurate that we never get to the point of asking, “so given what we know about how things were back then, how is that relevant to our lives today?” One possible answer is that it’s not, which is the answer I’ve had monotheist and atheist friends give. Obviously I don’t agree with that, but it does seem like modern Heathenry is lacking a bit in this area. I mean, I’m not even a member of SCA, and that seems to make me a bit weird in the Heathen/Pagan crowd. Watching Vikings is enjoyable, but I don’t feel much of a longing to travel back in time to that era (except for how back then being a Heathen was considered normal and they had awesome temples). So how does this “Viking religion” fit into modern life?

In my opinion, that’s a much more important question to ask than the questions about historical accuracy that are constantly asked on Asatru message boards and email lists.

The Rites of Spring

No, this post doesn’t have to do with the Stravinsky masterpiece, at least not directly, but it’s awesome so I thought I’d include it.

When I first started this blog a little over a year ago, I intended to write much more about holidays, but I got kind of distracted by some things. I’ll try again this year.

Last year at this time I was trying to participate in the Solitary Druid Fellowship as a way to work the holidays into my life a bit better. That didn’t last long, and then the founder of that group ended up converting back to Christianity. Oh well. I still think ADF style ritual is a good alternative to Wiccan style ritual, though. I can see it working especially well for groups. Maybe someday I’ll actually attend an ADF group ritual, but the nearest grove meets about a two hour drive away from me, so I’ve never gotten around to it.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to my task of working out what to do for each holiday by myself. Some holidays are really easy, mainly the ones that have carried over into secular culture. However, the holiday that falls in early February is a bit trickier. I’m not even completely sure what to call it. Imbloc seems to be the most common name for it in the Neopagan community, but that seems to be specifically a holiday in honor of the Celtic goddess/saint Brigid. That’s great for people who worship Brigid, but I don’t.

Then there’s Candlemas, which is mainly a Catholic holiday, but some Wiccans also celebrate a version of it where they bless their candles. I like candles and I like the idea having a day that has to do with candles, but I’m not sure if calling what I’m doing “Candlemas” is appropriate either.

Being a Heathen, my choices seem to be Disting, or the Charming of the Plow, which is an English holiday which may have pagan roots, though technically Plow Monday is in January, not February. Since I’m an avid gardener, I like the idea of “Charming of the Plow” the best, substituting my garden tools for the plow, but it seems like the holiday should have a better name.

Last year I wrote a post about researching traditions I could adopt for some sort of festival in February, but I just wish I had a better name to put all those elements together.

And then it came to me: Spring Finding.

Some Asatru groups already call the Equinoxes “Summer Finding” and “Winter Finding”, but those names don’t work out for me. The Spring Equinox already has a perfectly fine name, in my opinion, especially since I like the goddess the holiday is named after. I’m still figuring out the Autumn Equinox, but “Winter Finding” doesn’t sound right considering that it’s still quite warm here in September. Yes, September is when we finally get some cold fronts, but that just means instead of 100 degrees, the temperature dips down to “only” 90. Of course, after going through August in Texas, that seems refreshing.

But February is certainly a “Spring Finding” kind of time. Animals coming out of hibernation, ewes starting to give milk, the first wildflowers starting to bloom, all these things are signs of spring to find. And when you find them, it’s time to bless the plow for the upcoming planting season. And it works out well even in my climate, because February is a time when it’s almost time to plant the tomatoes, but not quite safe yet because we could still have one last killing freeze. Don’t be tricked by those 75 degree days. This year seems to have been especially bad with the temperature rollercoaster. We had sleet on Thursday last week, then 60’s over the weekend, then freezing rain yesterday, and another freeze tonight, followed by a forecast of 78 degrees tomorrow.

Too bad the name will never catch on since I’m not a member of any groups and nobody reads my blog, so I have absolutely zero influence on the pagan community. But I still think that February needs a holiday, and “Spring Finding” works out great for a heathen in Texas who actually pays attention to what’s going on in Nature around this time. It’s actually kind of exciting. “Is it spring yet? Is it spring yet? The mockingbirds have started nesting, so maybe so, but the bluebonnets aren’t blooming yet, so maybe not.” That’s what this holiday is all about.

So what did I do for Spring Finding?

Well, the weather rollercoaster has made it a little tricky, but also especially important, in my opinion, to note this liminal time here in Texas when we’re not quite sure when it’s safe to say “it’s spring now” and go ahead and prune the roses and plant the tomatoes. Saturday, February 1 was a lovely warm day, so I did end up pruning the roses and we both worked on the raised beds in the vegetable garden we’ve been building over the winter. Since we’re both busy people, we actually started on those beds back in late autumn, and just work on them a little bit at a time on weekends when nothing else is going on and the weather is nice. Since this is an agricultural holiday, I thought working on the garden was a perfectly fine way to spend the day, especially since on February 2 another cold front came through, and it was cloudy and cold the whole day.

Since February 2 was too cold to do anything outside, that’s when I cooked a special meal for the holiday. It was the sort of day when you want to have the oven on. I made roasted chicken and vegetables, and a poppy seed cake for dessert, in honor of Bede’s “Cake Month”. I think having a seed cake is good for spring. I put a plate outside in the ritual circle in our backyard for the land spirits, and another slice of cake in each of my vegetable plots (I have one in the front yard and one in the back yard). I think you’re supposed to bury them as an offering to Mother Earth, but I just left them on the ground for any hungry critters to get during the cold weather. They didn’t last long.

Then last weekend it was warm again, so my husband and I finally finished the raised beds in the front. I realized I still hadn’t done an actual Charming of the Plow ritual yet, so once we were done that evening, I gathered up all the garden tools and put them in our sacred circle, put a lit candle on the outdoor altar made of limestone we dug out of the yard, put the Freyr figurine from my indoor altar out there too, and did a ritual with my husband similar to the one I did alone last year. I used a bottle of cranberry mead a friend had given me a while ago, gave some mead to Freyr and asked him for a good harvest from the garden this year, and sprinkled some of the mead on the tools with a sprig of rosemary from my herb garden to bless them. My husband, who is pagan-friendly but not a particularly religious person himself, was a little unsure about it at first, but eventually seemed to settle in and enjoy sitting out there in our nice backyard as the sun set.

I’m satisfied now that I adequately marked this point of the Wheel of the Year, but it’s still time to keep looking for the first blooms of spring. The bluebonnets should bloom sometime between now and Ostara. They’re usually one of the first wildflowers to bloom, but they’re not quite ready yet. The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are still in pots under the grow lights in the garage waiting for when it’s safe to be planted out.

So it’s not quite spring yet, but that’s why it’s called Spring Finding and not Spring Found. Spring won’t be found until March.

This Friday is Valentine’s Day, which is the secular holiday that fills the gap between Christmas and Easter for most people in this country. I do celebrate it, but it’s all about being romantic with my husband. I do usually thank Freyr and Freya for finding me such a nice husband, but rituals I did last weekend and the weekend before were for the gods and the land spirits. Now this weekend it’s time for romantic dinners and chocolates!

Hello, Frigg?

Not a resolution per se, but one thing I’d like to attempt this year, which is different than anything I’ve done before, is to try to get the attention of the goddess Frigg. I’ve never done anything like this before. The only gods that I’ve had “show up” did so completely of their own volition. Or at least that’s the way it seemed. As you can see from my previous post on how I met Odin, I never planned on being an Odinswoman to begin with.

I’ve also had dealings with a handful of other gods, and all of them have little statues on my altar. Odin is in the middle, and to the right stands Thor, to the left, Freyr, and then on Freyr’s other side is his sister Freya. I would say of my other gods, Freyr comes second, followed by Thor, followed by Freya. I’m such a tomboy hanging out with the guys all the time! The Freya statue I have is actually the most expensive one I got, hoping that I could have more goddess influence in my life, but that didn’t seem to make much difference to her.

My altar as it looks right now.

My altar as it looks right now.

That was when I was in my 20’s, and now I’m turning 33 next week. I got married a year and a half ago, and at around the same time we bought a house, and now my husband and I are starting to seriously talk about having a child. I know this sounds a bit Wiccan, but I’m moving from being a Maiden into a Mother, and I really want to have more of Frigg’s influence in my life. I’ve actually been thinking about this for a couple of years, but this year I think I’m going to get serious about it.

To be honest, I find Frigg to be intimidating. You’d think that no deity could be scarier than her husband, but I’ve heard from other Odin’s people who agree with me that Frigg is the one you really don’t want to get on the bad side of. Even Odin gets in trouble when he crosses her! I hope that since I already have a good devotional relationship with her husband that she’ll at least hear me out.

I’ve also got some Mother Issues in my life that might be standing in the way. I’ve been working on that in therapy for a while, but I know that part of my reluctance about Frigg is due to how I feel she might be like my own human mother. On the other hand, Odin is nothing like my human father, so why would Frigg be like my mother? Frigg is the All-Mother. Getting to know her better might even help me deal with my issues with my own mother.

There are some Heathens who say it’s a terrible idea to try to get the attention of a god on purpose. These are usually the same people who say ordinary people in pre-Christian times only worshipped the ancestors and nature spirits, and the gods only pay attention to really important people like kings. The latter is obviously not true, or at least not anymore, or else the gods would have nobody to pay attention to! As for the former, the reasoning seems to be that gods make your life complicated, so you don’t want to get involved with that.

Well, too late now, because Odin’s already done that. I just think that Frigg has certain expertise that would be very helpful to me right now.

Of course, I know she’ll want something in return. I can’t just go to her and say, “Hey Frigg, help me be a better wife to my husband and give me a child and make me a great mother!” and not have something for her in return. That’s just rude.

I already know some things she likes, just from reading what other Heathens have said. I’ve been told she likes plum wine as a libation (even the Asian brand I can find at the local store), and she likes people to keep a clean house. She likes fiber arts like spinning, weaving, knitting, and crocheting. That’s a start, anyway.

For Yule I asked my husband for a few Heathen things, and one of them was this Frigg doll from a shop on Etsy. I ran across this shop searching for a Valknut, actually. Now the shop is closed, and I think I might have gotten her last doll before she closed the shop! That’s a shame, because I thought these dolls were pretty neat. At first I thought it was kind of cheesy, because they’re so “cute”, but I also liked the amount of detail she put into them, like Ullr’s little bow, and Njord’s fishing net. I also appreciated that she made dolls for the lesser known deities like Sif, Ullr, and Njord and not just gods like Odin, Thor, and Freya.

Frigg doll

my Frigg doll

I decided that getting a crocheted doll might be especially appropriate for Frigg, and a nice change of pace from the Sacred Source statues I’ve bought from my other gods. So now she’s sitting on my altar, but I think later she might go on the mantle in the living room so she can look over the house.

OK, so I’ve got an altar piece for her, and a plan to give her libations every Friday, plus some housework in her honor. I hope that’s a good start, because if I’m going to end up actually being a mother myself, I am going to need all the help I can get.

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s early January, and that means a bunch of people are making New Year’s Resolutions, while more people are making sure we all know that they don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because the whole tradition is stupid and nobody ever keeps their resolutions anyway.

I happen to be a person who thinks it’s a good tradition, and I always do some resolutions. Some I keep, some I don’t, but my first rule on How to Do New Year’s Resolutions is to only make resolutions you intend to keep. Should be obvious, right? But apparently not. Sure, we’re human and sometimes we fail, but making goals is always a good thing. Sure, you can make goals at any time in the year, but you can also give gifts to your loved ones at any time of year. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong to have a holiday especially for that (Christmas/Yule). So January is the season to make goals for the coming year. Why not?

It’s not an arbitrary calendar date either. It’s right after Yule, the winter solstice, so it makes perfect sense that as the days grow longer, this is the beginning of the new year, and a fresh start. This is why the tradition goes way back. It’s too cold to work out in the fields, so everyone’s huddled up inside and has plenty of time to plan out what they’re going to do once the weather warms up. Maybe I should plant barley instead of wheat this year, maybe I should start a new breeding project on the cattle herd, things like that. Even now when most people work indoors in climate-controlled buildings, most of us at least get some time off work this time of year to take a deep breath, sit down, and make a to-do list for the coming year.

Even the most common resolution, losing weight, has ancient roots. I think late winter and early spring is a perfect time for cutting back on things. Back in the old days, you had to. Last year’s harvest was getting used up after the Yuletide feasts, and now you had to ration your food carefully to make it last until the first spring and summer crops finally came in. For a long time there was a balance between feasting and fasting, but now life is one big feast for those of us privileged to have a middle class lifestyle in developed countries. We’re no longer forced to fast at certain times of year, and our waistlines show it. So now after the holiday feasting, I think it’s a great idea for people to cut back on some of the sweet treats and eat more kale. To me, that’s just part of living with the seasonal rhythms like a good pagan should. The time between Yule and Easter is a time for cleansing, both physically and spiritually. Cutting out the junk food is part of “spring cleaning” for the body.

As for the criticism that people don’t stick to their resolutions, well, there’s always next year. Yes, you shouldn’t make resolutions you don’t intend to keep, but if you fail, there is always next year. Maybe next year you’ll get it. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Along those lines, don’t overdo it . Another reason why I think a lot of people fail their resolutions is they’ll say something like, “This year I’m going to quit smoking and lose 50 pounds and become a vegetarian and go to the gym every day!” Of course you’re going to fail if you do that to yourself! People who are doing it that way have probably already failed now that 2014 is almost a week old. Especially since they also tend to have an all-or-nothing attitude about it: “Oops, I ate a cheeseburger. So much for my resolutions! It’s all over now.”

If you’re going to make major lifestyle changes, you should do one at a time or at most two (especially if they’re related). Prioritize. Quit smoking first, and then when you’re completely done with that, lose that weight. Take it one step at a time instead of trying to make a giant leap and then falling on your face. A few years ago the Old Farmer’s Almanac had an article proposing that people should make May Day resolutions instead of New Year’s resolutions. The idea was that spring is the best time to start new things, not the dead of winter. I can see the merit in that argument, but I think now is the time to plan for what you are going to do in spring. Everything doesn’t have to all happen right now, but right now you can say “in March I will do this, and then by May I should be ready to do this.” Just be sure to remember it once that day comes. Mark it on your new 2014 calendar.

With all that said, here are my 2014 New Year’s Resolutions, and since I’m not going to do all of them right away, it’s good to put them here where I can find them later as a reminder.

First off, like most Americans, I am overweight. However, I’m lucky that I’m not that bad. I just weighed myself, and according to the BMI scale, to get down into the very uppermost of the “normal weight” range I only need to lose 18 pounds. I’ve been in worse shape before, and that mostly seems to happen when I start eating too much fast food. In my mid-20’s I discovered I couldn’t eat fast food every day like I used to when I was a teenager and still stay in a healthy weight range. When I fell into that habit again, I got to about 30 pounds overweight, and that was when I started having problems like back pain. When I started bringing my lunch to work again, my weight went back down, and the back pain went away. Eating out in general is a big weakness of mine, even if it’s at a sit-down restaurant. When I cook at home, I cook pretty healthy food. When I eat out, that’s when I splurge on appetizers, big portions, dessert (I don’t keep a lot of sweets in the house when it’s not a holiday), and calorie-laden drinks (at home I drink water). I think eating out is fun, so when I’m there, I don’t want to feel deprived.

The problem is when I’m eating at a restaurant not because it’s a special occasion, but because I’ve been too busy or lazy or tired to cook for myself. If I didn’t bring my lunch to work, I go to the restaurant across the street. If I’m too tired to cook dinner tonight, I order a pizza. So when it comes down to it, it’s a problem of poor planning that hurts both my waistline and my budget.

So rather than concentrating on losing those stubborn 20 pounds, I think I’ll concentrate on meal planning better. I can try to keep the house stocked up with healthy, quick to prepare foods for breakfast and dinner, and I can go back to bringing healthy lunches to work. And that will probably result in me losing some weight, but even if it doesn’t, it will have other benefits like better nutrition and it will save money.

OK, eating better is an easy one, actually. I like to cook, and I know how to cook healthy food, so it’s just a matter of better planning. My next resolution is going to be a bit more difficult. I really need to exercise more. Again, losing weight would be a nice side-benefit, but I have other reasons as well. Strengthening my body would make working in my garden easier, would let me go on longer hikes in the woods before tiring, and would make hauling my heavy bag up the stairs at work easier. It would get some endorphins pumping, and I suffer from clinical depression, so that would help with my mental as well as physical health.

The problem is I’ve always been terrible at keeping up with exercise. I’m just not a very physical person. Even though I feel good after I exercise, a lot of times I’ll make excuses like I don’t have time, and I have other things I need to get done, most of which involve sitting at my butt in front of a screen. I need to make it more of a priority. Exercise first, butt-sitting later!

This is also a resolution that I’ve made several times and then quit. I’ll keep it up for four to six months. I’ll go to the gym three times a week, doing stretches and cardio and a circuit of weight training. Then one week I’ll have some excuse on why I can’t go this day. And then I don’t go a whole week. And then I just quit going all together.

So maybe this will be another one of those times, but when I mentioned this to my therapist, he said, “then at least you’ll be exercising for six months.”

My last resolution is probably a lot more relevant to you pagans who might be reading this, and that is I need to get a better spiritual routine. Now, it may appear that I’m breaking my own rule here about only doing one thing at a time, because here I am resolving to eat better, exercise, AND do more regular spiritual activity, but they all have the same underlying theme of better scheduling and planning in my life. Just like I need to schedule in regular exercise times, I also need to schedule in regular time for meditation and rituals.

I’ve actually laid out a plan for this, at least given my Spring 2014 teaching schedule. This semester they put all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which will save me a lot of gas, but will also mean on those two days I’m going to be gone from home for 12-14 hours. Those two days I should go easy on myself and just concentrate on teaching my classes, but that leaves five other days a week to figure out what I’ll do with myself.

Of course, in-class time is only half (or less) of the time an educator spends on her job, and so part of those days will have to be spent working at home: grading papers, answering emails, making lesson plans, and the like. Then I should also go to the gym at least three times a week, and have regular healthy meals, and work in some time for meditation and spiritual activity.

My therapist thinks I should meditate daily, for at least 10 minutes and preferably 20 minutes, to help with my depression. I’ve found that it does help to quiet my negative thoughts, but just like a lot of these other things, I often tell myself I don’t have time to do it. I’ve lumped this in with spiritual activity, because poor mental health makes everything in my life harder, including serving the gods.

By the way, going into therapy was one of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions! I kept it, see?

But the mediation he wants me to do is mainly an exercise to clear my mind, and not the kind to help get in touch with the gods, though usually when you do the latter type of mediation, you have to do the former first to even get into the kind of headspace where you are open to the gods. Years ago while I was in graduate school, I used to spend a little time at my altar every morning while I drank my coffee. I think it really helped keep me on track, and I think I should go back to doing something like that, but this time I’ll do my therapist’s mindfulness mediation first, then do something at the altar. Of course, this takes planning to make sure I’m not in too much of a rush in the morning to do all this, but I think it will really help me get each day off to a good start.

So here’s a weekly schedule I’m going to try. First, I’m going to try to meditate at least ten minutes every morning, maybe increasing it up to twenty eventually. I’ll probably do this after coffee so I won’t just fall back asleep. Then after that, when I’m in a good frame of mind, I’ll do some altar work, then get on with my day, either going to teach class, or working on stuff at home. I’ll also schedule a time to go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (not sure if that’s best to do in the morning or afternoon yet), and go for a walk around the block with my husband every evening when he gets home from work (another good thing we used to do that we need to get back into the habit of doing). I like the idea that some Heathens have of relating what they do on each day to the deity each day is named after, so here is how each specific day will go.

Monday is the Moon’s Day, and after my morning meditation, I’m going to honor my fylgja (guardian spirit), the Bear. This is mainly because I want to work with my fylgia more often, and I didn’t know what other day I could fit this in. What exactly I’ll do still needs to get figured out. Then after that it’s going to the gym, working on grading papers, and so on for the rest of the day. I have a feeling that Bear will especially like going to the gym. He likes physical activity much more than I do.

Tuesday is Tyr’s Day, and is one of the days where I’ll be gone all day. I don’t really have much of a relationship with Tyr, though. I’ll have to leave my house around 8 am and won’t be home again until around 10 pm at night, so this day I might just have a quick meditation in the morning and then off to work.

Wednesday is Odin’s Day, and Odin is my main god, so it’s important for me to honor him on this day. After my morning meditation, I’ll put on my new Valknut, spend some time with him (maybe give an offering, maybe pull some runes, I’m not sure yet), and then off to do the rest of my daily tasks like the gym and grading papers. This is probably an especially good day to work on my lesson plans, because I associate Odin a lot with my job being a college professor.

Thursday is Thor’s Day, and my other long day at work. I like Thor, so I want to be sure to honor him somehow before rushing off to class, and I’ll be sure to always wear my hammer on Thursdays at least.

Friday is Frigg’s Day, or maybe it’s Freya’s day. It depends on who you ask. In the past I’ve gone either way, but right now I’m going to honor Frigg on this day, because I’m actively trying to get in that goddess’s good graces (which deserves a post of its own). In addition to my usual tasks, this would also be a good day to get some housework done. Hopefully I’ll get enough grading done on Monday and Wednesday to give me time to do that.

Saturday is Saturn’s Day, the day they didn’t change to the name of a Germanic god, and kept the Roman god instead. I don’t know why. I’ve heard from more than one Heathen that they use Saturday to honor Freyr or the Vanir in general, because Saturn is also an agricultural deity. Freyr is my second-favorite god after Odin, so I will give him this day. I won’t go to the gym on the weekend, and instead Saturday will be my day to work in my garden, which I already usually do on that day anyway. I think Freyr will appreciate that. Freyr’s day would also be a good day to focus on spending time with my husband (if you know what I mean).

Sunday is the Sun’s Day, and my husband and I already have the routine of going on a hike Sunday mornings with a local group. It seems appropriate to keep spending Sunday outside under the Sun.

I think that looks good. Hopefully I can at least keep it up for this semester. I’ll have to change things when my schedule changes next semester. I do have bigger problems I need to tackle, but I think that doing these things first will help me accomplish the bigger things later, once I get these routines down. Doing these things should make me a healthier, more effective person, and will make the big problems seem less overwhelming. At least that’s the plan.

So I’m posting all this here for the whole internet to see! Hold me accountable!