The Sacred Twelfth Day Feast for Southerners

This year I actually bought a can of smoked herring to try the traditional Urglaawe meal of herring on Twelfth Night, but I still won’t skip the traditional New Year’s meal that I’ve been eating since I was a kid: black-eyed peas!

When I was a kid my mom told me that you have to eat black-eyed peas on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day “for good luck.” Sometimes we’d just have some from a can as a side dish to whatever else we were having for dinner, but we’d always try to eat at least a few. There used to be a chain restaurant called The Black-Eyed Pea that we’d go to sometimes, and they would give you a special free cup of black-eyed peas with your meal on New Year’s. Of course, it was also packed on New Year’s and hard to get a table! Sadly, it looks like now that restaurant is out of business. I’d usually get the chicken-fried steak there. Yum!

Later I found out that you’re supposed to eat collard greens and cornbread with your black-eyed peas, so that’s how I do it now. I also cook the peas with the leftover ham bone from the Yule ham (with any leftover meat still on it), because the peas need some kind of smoked pork in them. The leftover meat ends up falling off the bone, and then I shred it up into bite-sized pieces and mix it back in.

In addition to the lucky peas, the collard greens represent money. The golden cornbread and pork are also symbols of prosperity. Overall, it seems like a very Vanic meal. In Urglaawe, the New Year’s feast is in honor of Frey, and the traditional fare is pork and sauerkraut. Well, collards are really just a more heat-tolerant, non-heading variety of cabbage, so I think this is close enough as a Texas equivalent of the traditional Twelfth Day feast for Frey.

You cook black-eyed peas about the same way you’d cook any other dried bean, though they are a different species than the common bean (pinto beans, kidney beans, etc.). They’re actually more tender and take less time to cook than common beans. It’s not even necessary to soak them, but if you do, they only take about an hour to cook. If you don’t soak them, they take about two hours to cook. I sweat some onions first, and then add the ham bone and a pound of peas, cover with water, and simmer until done. Simple!

There are actually more varieties than just the black-eyed ones. There are solid red ones, solid black ones, ones with purple eyes instead of black, etc. The ones that aren’t black-eyed are usually called “cowpeas” or “Southern peas.” I’m sure any of the colors would work for the magical meal. The black-eyed ones are just the ones most likely to be found at an ordinary grocery store.

As for the collard greens, I have some growing in my garden right now that are ready to harvest for the feast. Collard greens are just the southern version of kale, without all the trendiness. No really, collards and kale are just different varieties of the same species of plant! And they’re also the same species as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. I grow collards in my garden every winter. Yes, I grow kale too, but the collards do better. I grow mustard greens as well, and sometimes mix them in with the collards when I make a “mess o greens.” Mustard greens have a “bite” tot hem, while the collards are a lot milder, like cabbage. Turnip greens can also be mixed in, and even diced up turnip root, but my turnips are not anywhere near ready yet.

To make a “mess o greens,” I rinse the greens from the garden well (make sure there aren’t any bugs hiding in there), cut out the tough rib in the middle, and then slice them up into bite-sized pieces. Then I sweat some onions in bacon grease in a pot, add in the greens (keep in mind that they shrink a lot when they cook, so you have to have a lot of them), get the greens to wilt a bit, and then add water or chicken stock and gently simmer them.

In most cases I like my vegetables a little on the crispy side. Collard greens are an exception. In this case you’re supposed to cook them until they are very soft, maybe about half an hour. Then I add a splash of vinegar (members of the cabbage family really benefit from something acidic added to them) and salt and pepper to taste.

But if you boil vegetables for a long time, all the nutrients come out into the water, right? Well, in this case, the liquid from the cooked greens is called “pot liquor” and you are supposed to drink it. You can dunk your cornbread in it.

Which brings me to the golden cornbread, which is made with buttermilk and cooked in a cast-iron skillet. Texans also don’t like very sweet cornbread. I’ve had cornbread before that reminded me more of yellow pound cake than cornbread. In my cornbread, there is more cornmeal than flour (because it’s CORNbread), and only 2 tablespoons of sugar (because it’s cornBREAD, not cake).

Sometimes I mix the greens into the peas, and sometimes I eat them separately. Both the greens and peas get some hot sauce on top. You can also put the peas over rice (and then it’s called Hoppin’ John). Beer is my preferred beverage to drink with it.

Black-eyed peas are from Africa, collards (and other members of the cabbage family) are from Europe, and corn is Native American, so this meal is as multicultural as Texas itself.

To me, it’s just not New Year’s in Texas without it.


Delicious Yule Treats from the Ancestors

When I was a kid, we used to go to this German restaurant and store in Dallas called Kuby’s. It was a hang-out spot for my grandmother and her German immigrant friends. I especially liked going there around Christmastime. Germans really know how to do Christmas right, and that whole place was turned into a Christmas wonderland with so many wonderful goodies. At least that’s how I remember it.

We’d always get an advent calendar with little cardboard doors to punch out and get a chocolate each day until Christmas. For Christmas I’d sometimes get these imported packaged cookies that “Santa” probably got from Kuby’s too. There were these little round spice cookies coated in white icing called Pfeffernusse, and these other spice cookies that were bigger, and came in different shapes like hearts and stars, and some of them also had white icing, but some of them were covered with chocolate.

This time of year, around Yule, when it gets cold outside, I start really craving German food. I never really want it the rest of the year, just when it’s cold and drizzly outside, so a couple of years ago I put The German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton on my Yule wish list. I’m a lot more into cooking than my mom ever was, and my grandmother died when I was very young, so I never really learned how to cook any German food myself.

Then I put the book on my cookbook shelf in my kitchen with all my other cookbooks and didn’t really do much with it.

At least, until this week.

This week some kind of baking-madness came over me and I decided to try making, not just one, but THREE of the recipes for traditional German Christmas treats from this cookbook. I made Anislaibchen, Pfeffernusse, and Lebkuchen. Phew! And of course each of these recipes is huge, so now I have enough cookies to give some away to pretty much everyone I know and still have plenty for myself and my husband. (Especially since I also made a batch of not at all traditional peanut butter and oatmeal no-bake cookies because they are my husband’s favorite.)

I chose those particular recipes because I remember getting store-bought Pfeffernusse when I was a kid, and wanted to try homemade. There are several versions of Lebkuchen in the book, and the Nurnberger Lebkuchen looked like the recipe that was closest to those other, chocolate-coated cookies I remember. I also chose to make Anislaibchen just because it had only four ingredients that I already had on hand.

So how did they turn out?


The name means “anise drops” in English, and these are kind of weird. Anise is a love-it-or-hate-it flavor that I happen to love, so I don’t mind having a black licorice flavored cookie. The cookie itself is weird though. There are only four ingredients: sugar, eggs, flour, and anise seeds. You whip the eggs with the sugar for 10 minutes with an electric mixer (thank goodness I have an electric mixer and didn’t have to do that by hand!), and then mix in the flour and anise seeds, drop them by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet, and then leave them sitting out overnight! That’s the weird part. They’re supposed to dry out on the outside. Then when you bake them, the dried-out part forms a crispy, crackly crust over the soft inside.

Like I said, this week has been cold and rainy, so mine didn’t dry out as much as I think they were supposed to. The ones around the outside of the cookie sheet did form the crispy top, but not the ones towards the middle. Maybe I should have left them out longer to make sure they all dried enough, or maybe even put a fan on them to help with air circulation.


This name means “pepper nuts” in English. This is the recipe that had the most spice in it: citrus peels, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cardamom, and black pepper. I couldn’t find candied orange or citron peel at the store, so I had to substitute just plain dried orange and lemon peel that I rehydrated with a little rum. They also have eggs, white sugar, brown sugar, ground almonds, “3 heaping cups of flour,” and “a generous pinch of baking soda.” That’s a thing that annoys me a little bit about this book. Baking is supposed to be precise! What do you mean by “heaping cup” or “generous pinch?”

These cookies were also left out overnight, and then it says to bake them at 300 degrees for 20 minutes, or “until they test done.” What does that mean? How do you test them? I ended up eating one to see if it was done, and it seemed like it was, I guess. Then when still warm, they are brushed with rum and rolled in confectioner’s sugar (I shook them in a Ziplock bag for that). I like the coating of powdered sugar better than the white icing on the store-bought Pfeffernusse. It’s pretty.


To my surprise, even though Lebkuchen is usually described as “German gingerbread,” the recipe in this book does not call for any ginger. Makes me think gingerbread is actually something different! This recipe has citrus peel, cinnamon, and cloves (along with eggs, sugar, a whole pound of honey, ground almonds, flour, baking powder, and black coffee), but no ginger.

I expected to end up with a cookie dough from this, but instead I got more of a cake batter that the instructions said to spread out into a jelly roll pan (I used a half-sheet pan), and then cut into bars when done and cool. So more like a bar cookie or brownie than something you roll out and cut with cookie cutters (like gingerbread).

The book had three different icing options: a white icing, a Lebkuchen glaze that has rum in it, and a chocolate glaze. I decided to do half with the run glaze, and half with the chocolate glaze.

I got really worried when I made the chocolate glaze, and I ended up with this really thin stuff. I put it on the Lebkuchen, and it was so thin that much of it ran off onto the pan. Once I finally got some to stick, I waited and waited for it to harden, and it still stayed wet and sticky. I was so sure I messed it up somehow.

But just like with the weird leaving-cookie-dough-out-on-the-counter-overnight thing, I should have trusted the wisdom of the ancestors, because I went and ate lunch, and when I checked them again, the chocolate had hardened up perfectly! The only problem is that it’s still thinner than I’d like, and I think that’s because I was supposed to have left the pan off the heat for a while longer to let it cool and thicken before trying to put it on. This was another place where the directions in the book were vague, and said to stir it off the heat “until a film forms,” so I guess I didn’t wait long enough.

Overall, I think I like the Pfeffernusse the best. They’re the spiciest of the three. My husband seems to like the Lebkuchen the best, which is less spicy and the chocolate and coffee gives it a mocha-like flavor. The anise drops would probably be better if I had let them dry enough, since I think the crispy top is the main appeal of them. They have the mildest flavor.

So that’s how I spent the beginning of Yule. I hope the gods and ancestors don’t mind that we’re not burning the Yule log until Friday night, instead of on the actual solstice, so my husband doesn’t have to go to work in the morning and can stay up late for that. I will use some of these goodies as offerings. I tend to use baked goods as offerings a lot. Considering the extra work that goes into baking something from scratch instead of buying it, it seems like a good thing to do.

And since I’m on a German food spree, I think for Friday night dinner I’m going to make another recipe from this book. Another thing I loved as a kid were German potato dumplings. My mom made them using a boxed mix, but the recipe in this book for Gekochte Kartoffelklosse sounds close to the made-from scratch version of what I remember. My mom once mentioned that you’re supposed to put a crouton in the middle of each one, but she never did it, so I don’t think I will either. I just loved the big slimy balls of starchy carbohydrate goodness! Yum! You’re supposed to eat them with meat and gravy, so I’m going to make German beer-braised pot roast to go with it, but I’m mainly looking forward to the dumplings. I hope I can at least make them as good as the boxed mix.

The Twelve Virtues of Yule

The final grades for the semester are turned in, I’m officially off of work for Winter Break, and now I can start getting ready for Yule! I need to clean the house, make a trip to the grocery store, and make cookies, but first I wanted to make a quick post about something I found a couple of years ago that I’d like to fully implement this year.

I’m not the first Heathen blogger who has criticized the Nine Noble Virtues, so I’m not going to go into great detail right now about why I feel they are lacking. In a nutshell, I don’t like how many Heathens who interpret them in ways that end up sounding more like Ayn Rand than Odin, and I also think they leave out some very important virtues that should be in there.

Thankfully, Urglaawe has its own set of Twelve Virtues that I like much better than the Nine Noble Virtues. This issue of Hollerbeer Haven talks about assigning one of them to each of the nights of Yule, which seems to me like a Heathen version of Kwanzaa. I like that idea, so this year I’m going to try to set aside some meditation time for each of these virtues on each night. Here are the Twelve Virtues with my initial thoughts on them:

  1. Stewardship – This is the night of the winter solstice, and obviously I’m going to like this virtue since I’m a tree-hugging environmentalist. I remember in my newbie Asatru days when I was disappointed with how many Heathens rejected the idea of caring for the environment because that’s hippie Wiccan stuff. The truth is that our ancestors, like all indigenous people, understood the importance of having a good relationship not just with your human community, but with the natural world as well. Placing this virtue on the winter solstice makes sense too, because its a natural phenomenon, so it’s a good time to meditate on our relationship with nature. Hollerbeer Haven pairs industriousness with it, but a lot of what we think of as “industriousness” these days leads to environmental destruction. Besides, we have Discipline and Self-Reliance on the list too.
  2. Curiosity – I am so glad that this is on the list! I think this was another terrible omission from the Nine Noble Virtues, especially since I view Odin/Wotan as pretty much The God of Curiosity. I’m a science professor, so my whole profession is basically trying to inspire curiosity about the world in others. To me, learning about things is one of the main purposes of being alive.
  3. Courage – This is one of the Nine Noble Virtues that people try to make all about macho Vikings dashing into battle, and forget about all the quiet acts of courage that people do every day without sagas being written about them. Courage is whenever you decide to do what’s right instead of what’s easy. That doesn’t always get you fame and fortune. Sometimes it actually gets you the opposite.
  4. Generosity – This is another important virtue that was omitted from the NNV list. Maybe its too altruistic? This virtue ends up falling on Christmas Eve, which is when everyone is getting their last minute gifts ready. I think it would also be a good time to do your holiday charitable giving. (No, I don’t think giving to charity is just a Christian Thing.) Being generous makes the world a better place. I think our ancestors knew this.
  5. Hospitality – This one ends up falling on Christmas Day, when most of us spend time with our Christian families eating Christmas dinner and exchanging those gifts, so that’s perfect for this virtue. This is the most altruistic of the Nine Noble Virtues, but I’ve seen it interpreted that you only need to be altruistic towards your friends and family that you have over for dinner. Fortunately Urglaawe’s virtues include “Generosity” and “Compassion” to make it clear that altruism is virtuous even beyond that specific situation.
  6. Compassion – This falls on the day when most people go back to work after getting Christmas off. In the UK it’s known as “Boxing Day,” and is traditionally when the boss was supposed to give his employees gifts. The idea here is higher-ranking people giving gifts to lower-ranking people. That matches well with this virtue. I know that Compassion gets a bad reputation with the macho Viking types who think it’s only for Christians or Buddhists. Even on one Urglaawe publication I saw a while back called this “appropriate compassion,” instead of just plain Compassion. Why is that qualifier needed? When is compassion ever inappropriate? I think a lot of people don’t actually know what compassion means.
  7. Discipline – After the last three were all altruistic virtues about being nice to other people, this one turns back on yourself. Maybe this is a good day to start making that list of New Year’s Resolutions.
  8. Self-Reliance – Like Discipline, this is one that can go too far and be abused. It’s good to be disciplined, but not too disciplined. It’s good to be self-reliant, but no one is an island. Everyone relies on other people (which is where 4, 5, and 6 come in), but you do need to do your part. Everyone needs to contribute something to the community and the world and not depend on other people for things you could easily do yourself. Maybe now would be a good time to look into learning to do a new craft or skill that would be useful to yourself and your community.
  9. Truth – Here is something that the world needs a lot more of these days! This one goes along with Curiosity as a virtue that is very important to me as a scientist. These days it seems like people are questioning whether objective reality even exists, which can put me in quite a bind since that’s the philosophical foundation of science itself. In Hollerbeer Haven this virtue is paired with Loyalty, and I’m not sure if I like that pairing. Lately it seems like people have been rejecting the Truth in favor of blind Loyalty to their tribe no matter what, even when they are wrong. I think Truth pairs better with Courage, personally.
  10. Perseverance – Don’t give up! This one goes well with Discipline and Self-Reliance. Like those, it can also be taken too far. You don’t want to fall into something called the “sunk-cost fallacy,” where you tell yourself, “I’ve already put so much into this, so I can’t quit now!” But I know from personal experience that it can be very difficult to tell when you need one last push to finally succeed, or when you’re just wasting your effort and need to give up and let it go. Fortunately there’s Wisdom to let you know when you are in this situation. As an avatar of Odin once said, “You gotta know when to hold em. Know when to fold em. Know when to walk away, and know when to run.”
  11. Self-Improvement – Now it’s New Year’s Eve, and really time to make those New Year’s Resolutions. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but there is always room for improvement if you make realistic goals. This one goes well with Discipline and Self-Reliance.
  12. Wisdom – The last virtue and probably the most important, and another one that is missing from the NNV. It goes well with Curiosity and Truth. You need Curiosity to motivate you to seek the Truth, and in seeking the Truth you gain Wisdom.

So there are the Twelve Virtues. Some of them still seem redundant, but at least they include the important things that I feel are missing from Nine Noble Virtues. This year I will meditate on each of these for each night, and if it goes well, I may make it a permanent part of my Yule observance.

Alfred has gone with the Wild Hunt

I waited as long as I could, but Sunday it was time for my Butzemann, Alfred, to leave for the Wild Hunt.

My husband still wasn’t happy about the idea, but I told him again that Alfred wants to leave, and if we don’t burn him by Tuesday, he’ll just leave anyway and leave his empty body behind. And besides, since I stuffed him with a stem from a frost-killed tomato plant from last year, I guess that means his soul was the soul of a tomato plant. Tomato plants usually only get to live for one year, so he got to live an extra year as a Butzemann.

Thankfully, it had finally gotten cold outside, or at least cold by Texas standards. In early October we had still been getting highs in the 90’s, so it really didn’t feel like Wild Hunt season. But just in time, we got a cold front that gave us nighttime lows in the 40’s. You know how cold air has a smell? I’m not sure what that smell is, scientifically, but it definitely has a smell, and just like how I associate the smell of rain with Thor, the smell of cold air means the Wild Hunt is in town.

Sunday morning I still had some garlic and onions left to plant, so Alfred helped me with that. That means I got to plant almost all of my winter garden before Alfred left. It’s a little tricky to adapt these traditions to my local climate, but I think it will work out having the Butzemann created right before it’s time to plant warm-weather plants (like tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, etc.), and burned right after planting my cold-weather plants (kale, collards, carrots, radishes, garlic, onions, etc.). That way he can participate in both growing seasons.

Alfred and I also sat down together and went over the seeds that I plan on planting next year, which will be looked after by his son. I’ll stuff his son with the stems of the tomatoes that Alfred watched over this year.

I decided I should make him a special dinner before he went, and since he’s a Texas Butzemann, I made a big pot of chili. That’s the thing that Texans always want to eat when it finally gets cold. I made it the long way with stew meat, dried beans, and chili powder made from grinding whole dried peppers (instead of the shortcut way with ground meat, canned beans, and pre-made chili powder – which is fine in certain situations, but not for special occasions). I cooked it for about 3 hours. Yes, I know some people say real Texans don’t put beans in chili, but I’m born and raised in Texas and I always do. I don’t like the idea of eating a big bowl of meat without any vegetables in there, and beans are one of the Three Sisters, and I got some very good quality beans that I knew would get nice and tender. Oh, and speaking of the Three Sisters, I also put some pumpkin puree in there to thicken it, and that was pumpkin that I grew in my garden. The sweetness from the pumpkin smooths out the spiciness without people noticing it has pumpkin in it.

I also made cornbread in a cast iron skillet to go with it. That’s the best way to make cornbread! So all three sisters were represented (along with peppers and tomatoes which are sort of honorary fourth and fifth sisters, or maybe cousins, or something like that).

I set three places at the table, one for me, one for my husband, and one for Alfred. He got his share of chili and cornbread and some Shiner Bock beer, a local brand. But then when dinner was over, it was time for him to go.

My husband made a fire in our patio fire pit. He put some juniper in there which smells really good when it burns, keeps the mosquitoes away, and burns really hot. He built up the fire so that it would be really big and hot to… you know… make it quick.

I also came up with an idea for one last thing Alfred could do for us that I hope isn’t taboo or something. Since my husband and I both have dead loved ones we remember at this time of year (both human and feline), and since Alfred was leaving to join up with the Dead, maybe he could deliver some notes to them for us. We wrote some notes for our dead loved ones and tucked them into his jeans.

Then it really was time for him to go. The fire was roaring. He was sitting on the bench on the porch and seemed ready. I got two sticks from the brush pile and used them to lift him up under his arms to stick him in the bonfire. Thankfully, he was engulfed in flames almost instantly. In fact, later I noticed I had singed my eyelashes putting him in! The flames gave off some interesting colors like blue and green before going back to orange. My husband and I sat on the bench watching the fire until it burned down to embers. I noticed there were tears in my husband’s eyes. There may have been some in mine too. Maybe some of the smoke got in our eyes.

Then we went inside and watched The Book of Life before going to sleep. I’d been wanting to watch that movie for a while, and this seemed like a very appropriate time.

I kept the ashes from the fire and will sprinkle them on the garden this weekend.

Raising a Horn for Tom Petty

Monday morning, as usual, I had the local news on while I was getting ready for work. I was brushing my teeth when I noticed they were playing footage of Tom Petty and thought, “Oh, he must be putting on a benefit concert for hurricane victims or something like that,” because that’s the kind of thing he’d do, or maybe he was going to be at the Austin City Limits music festival coming up soon.

And then I saw the headline at the bottom of the screen and realized that Rockalfheim, the realm of the mighty rock and roll dead, had suddenly and unexpectedly gained another member. Again.

I’ve had a busy week, so it took a while for it to sink in. Tom Petty never inspired the same passion some other musical artists did. On the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band I watched a documentary about how musically complex and brilliant it was. No one would ever make a documentary like that about Tom Petty. After David Bowie and Prince died, the television and internet were full of analyses of their musical genius. Tom Petty wasn’t that kind of musician.

He just wrote good songs that made you happy when you heard them. When I saw him in interviews, he didn’t seem to have a pretentious bone in his body. He talked about how it only took him 30 minutes to write one of his most well-known songs, “Free Fallin,” and about how most of his songs only have four chords anyway, so any beginning guitarist could play them.

When I was a teenager, Tom Petty was “comfort music” for me. My generation’s music was Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. When I was depressed, I’d put on that music to wallow in misery.

But sometimes I didn’t feel like wallowing, so the CD I’d put in was Into the Great Wide Open. My dad got that album when it first came out, and I liked it so much and kept “borrowing” it so much, he let me have it. I still have it.

Since his death, I have seen articles praising Tom Petty for his storytelling ability, and I completely agree. He was a modern day Bard or Skald. Sure, his songs were musically simple, but songs like “Into the Great Wide Open,” feel like the plots of a whole movie or novel. He took well to the MTV era because his songs already evoked so much imagery.

But I think the reason I always found Tom Petty’s music comforting was that his songs felt optimistic, but at the same time acknowledged that life was hard. But just because life is hard doesn’t mean you just give up. You pick yourself up and keep going anyway. Maybe “I Won’t Back Down” is a more famous example, but when I was a kid, I really loved “Learning to Fly.” I remember listening to this song over and over again.

Well some say life will beat you down, break your heart, steal your crown, so I’ve started out for God knows where. I guess I’ll know when I get there.

I haven’t gotten to go to a lot of concerts in my life, but I did get to see Tom Petty back in the early 00’s. The boyfriend I had at the time was more of a heavy metal fan, but he knew I liked Tom Petty, so he surprised me once by getting us tickets to go see him when he played the Coca-Cola Starplex in Dallas. With the possible exception of when I got to see Paul McCartney, it was the most enjoyable concert I’ve been to. We got pretty good seats (unlike when I saw McCartney or the Rolling Stones), and the Wallflowers opened. I didn’t even know that until Jacob Dylan walked out on stage and started singing “One Headlight,” so I was pleasantly surprised to get a bonus band that I liked.

But Tom Petty sure knew how to put on a fun show! The venue was small enough to feel a bit more intimate than the huge stadium I saw in the Stones in. And he did that thing where he turned his songs into a sing-along for everybody.

My favorite part of the concert was when he sang “You Don’t Know How it Feels,” and on cue, he let the whole audience sing the chorus for him.

Let’s get to the point! Let’s roll another joint, and turn the radio LOUD! I’m too alone to be proud, and you don’t know it feels to be me.

That song came out in 1994, and that reminds me of another thing about Tom Petty I noticed a long time ago. There was some kind of timelessness about his music that he could keep going through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s still making hits. A lot of artists who got their start in the 70’s didn’t manage to do that. Even if they were still creating albums and touring by the 90’s, people came to their concerts to sing along with the old familiar hits from the 70’s, not the songs that came out recently.

I have a feeling that as long as people are strumming guitars, they’ll be strumming Tom Petty songs.

So it’s the end of the line for Charlie T. Wilbury Jr. Next stop is Rockalfheim, where two of his Wilbury brothers are already waiting for him, along with Prince, and David, and Freddie, and John, and Jimi, and many others…

Maybe somewhere down the road a ways, you’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days. Maybe somewhere down the road where somebody plays Purple Haze…

I don’t want to burn my Butzemann.

Back in February I made my first Butzemann, Alfred.

And then about a week before the Autumn Equinox I remembered: I’m going to have to burn him soon! And I was supposed to have been giving him offerings this whole time!

I did give him offerings of coffee regularly at first, and took him out to show him the plants, especially when I was planting my spring garden, but then summer got pretty crazy with me teaching summer classes, and then we went on vacation, and at some point in all that I started neglecting him.

While having coffee with my husband, I brought it up. “I feel bad that I’ve been neglecting Alfred lately, especially since he’s going to die soon.”

My husband goes, “WHAT? What do you mean he’s going to die?”

I told him, “Remember? We have to burn him some time between the Equinox and Halloween.”

He insisted I never told him I was going to burn him, but I’m pretty sure I did. Then he suggested that we keep him for one more year, since he hasn’t been getting his coffee, but I told him about how if we keep him past Halloween, his soul will leave to join the Wild Hunt anyway, and an evil spirit will inhabit his body.

Ugh, when I first made him, I knew I’d get attached and burning him would be hard, but it’s turning out to be harder than I thought. The Autumn Equinox is already a sad time for me anyway. Four years ago on the equinox is when one of our cats died AND I found out my dad had terminal cancer. So ever since then in late September I’m reminded of that.

And when I honor the Dead on Halloween, I have started to notice how my altar to the Dead has started to grow, and realize it will only continue to grow for the rest of my life as I add more and more loved ones (human or otherwise) to it.

So I know my little Butzemann is just a doll, but suddenly he symbolizes the inevitability of Death. And my husband saying maybe we can keep him a bit longer reminds me of people saying maybe our cat would be OK and will live a bit longer or maybe my Dad would be OK and pull through his illness. But nope, that didn’t happen.

I did tell my husband that I will make another Butzemann next year, who will be Alfred’s son. That made us feel a little better, but still, it’s not the same.

And I did decide that I’m going to wait as long as possible to burn him. I’m definitely in no hurry to do it. I’ll probably end up doing it on October 28 or 29. My excuse is he has to stick around long enough to watch me plant all my fall/winter crops. In Texas, this is the beginning of the winter growing season. I already took him with me to watch me plant the kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, and lettuce. He still needs to help plant the carrots, beets, turnips, garlic, and onions.

But then once all that’s done, I guess it’s time for him to go.

We don’t have the luxury of ignoring Nazis.

Much has been written already about what happened in Charlottesville, VA a couple of weeks ago, so I feel no need to repeat a lot of that. But I would like to mention something that I learned from the incident.

The first place I encountered the slogan “blood and soil” was on a Heathen message board I used to frequent back when I was a newbie Heathen. The phrase was popular with some the regulars there. Sounded innocent enough. Blood = honoring the ancestors. Soil = honoring the land. Good stuff, right?

My skin crawled when two weeks ago I watched footage of Tiki torch wielding Nazis chanting those words, with the newscaster referring to it as “an old Nazi slogan.” So for the last fifteen years or so I thought it was a Heathen slogan. I’m just really glad I didn’t start using it myself before I found out where it was from.

This is why we can’t ignore Nazis, even though for most of my Heathen life, that’s what I’ve been told to do by other Heathens. “Ignore them and they will go away. They just want attention. Don’t give it to them,” they would advise.

But ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. Instead, it lets the problem grow and grow until you can’t ignore it anymore. Ignoring insect pests gnawing away at the plants in my garden doesn’t make them go away. Ignoring a cancerous tumor growing in your body doesn’t make it go away. Why would ignoring Nazis make them go away?

If you are ignoring your enemies, you aren’t learning about them. Hence my ignorance about slogans like “blood and soil” when I was a newbie Heathen. Nobody told me where that slogan actually came from, and it sounded Heathen-ish enough, so I thought it was fine. None of the more experienced Heathens on that board raised any alarm about it.

I’m sure if I asked my husband right now, “What are the fourteen words?” he would have no idea what I was talking about. I think that’s how it is with most people, or at least most ordinary, non-racist white people. We’d rather not give much thought to Nazis and the kinds of things they say. We’ve got jobs and families and hobbies to pay attention to.

But then something happens like what happened in Charlottesville, and those ordinary, non-racist white people are shocked that this happened! “You mean Nazis are still around? Where did these guys come from? Can you believe this is happening in 2017?”

I wasn’t shocked or surprised, but I kind of wish I was. I don’t like having to know about these people. I’d rather ignore them. I’d like to have no idea what they are talking about when they recite their slogans and dogwhistles. Recently I heard a clip of a talk Richard Spencer gave. Maybe it was when he was speaking at Texas A&M last year; I don’t remember for sure. Anyway, he referred to white people as “The Children of the Sun,” which also sounds poetic and vaguely Heathen-ish. If that phrase came to me in a different context, say on a Heathen message board instead of out of the mouth of a famous white supremacist, I might have thought it was a Heathen thing, maybe having something to do with Sunna or Midsummer or something nice like that. Now I feel a mixture of curiosity about where that phrase came from, and dread Googling it because I don’t want to know what dark corners of the internet such a search would lead.

Though it’s still pretty dumb. If any group of people are “Children of the Sun,” wouldn’t it be black people? They’re the ones whose skin and hair are adapted to high amounts of sun exposure. If I go out in the blazing sun without a hat and sunscreen on every square inch of exposed skin, the next day I will be in pain! But I’ve written here before about how white supremacists are terrible at biology.

But I digress. I’m glad that Heathen organizations like The Troth have given up on ignoring Nazis. Finally it seems like people have figured out that ignoring them isn’t working, and actually that’s what they’ve wanted us to do all along.

I wish Heathens had figured this out sooner, but I guess better late than never.

Taking a little break

I guess the fact that my last post was mostly about a movie superhero shows how burned out I am when it comes to modern paganism.

I don’t think that the internet helps. Drama and strife isn’t unique to the online pagan community. I’ve been involved in other online communities that were about the Beatles, or organic gardening, or Doctor Who, and they were like that too. It’s something about the internet itself that makes people get crazy. I really don’t think it’s a good way to form communities and social bonds with people. Something about not being able to see people’s faces or hear their tone of voice when you are communicating with them really doesn’t work well with our primate brains.

It seems like since the election, things have gotten worse. I’m disappointed that some pagan and heathen blog authors whom I used to think were respectable have now gone over into various political conspiracy theories and extreme ideologies.

When it comes to politics, I try to look at it as a scientist. What works? What’s practical? What’s backed up by evidence? What’s really happening in the real world, not the world of some internet conspiracy theorist? But it’s hard to see what’s happening in the real world when you spend most of your waking hours at a computer either typing long rants about the latest thing you’re outraged about, or reading other people’s long rants and arguing with them in the comments section.

I just don’t have time for that. I have a full-time job (the thing that actually pays my bills!) that takes up a lot of intellectual energy. Like right now I’m designing a new environmental biology lab course for the fall semester from the ground up. I have to order equipment and design lesson plans and prepare assignments. And then there’s my husband and the rest of my human (and feline) family to take care of, and my vegetable garden and new fruit trees.

I just stepped down as Organizer of my pagan Meetup group, because I couldn’t put the effort into it that it required. I haven’t been to a pagan festival in years. If I don’t have time to work on building and maintaining a meatspace pagan community, I certainly don’t have time to blog or to read other people’s blogs, especially when it makes me feel angry or depressed when I do read them because everyone is being such an asshole. It would be different if it actually made me feel happy or improved my life or made me a better person in some way. But I think more often than not, it does the opposite.

The pagan community should nourish people’s spirituality, not poison it. It’s a really bad sign when I start to feel turned off from the gods themselves, and don’t want to do the rituals and holidays and stuff, because I associate them with these negative interactions with the “pagan community.”

I’ve been led away from why I started this blog to begin with. It’s called “Heathen Naturalist” because I had the goal of making a modified version of Germanic neopaganism that fits into the ecology of Texas. I was tired of Heathenry in Texas being mostly Viking historical reenactment instead of a religion that actually made sense in the here and now. I started blogging about it because when I figure out something interesting, I want to share it.

One of these days I’ll have the time and energy to start writing about that stuff again, but I need to take a break first.

The Story Ends for my Favorite Superhero

Superheroes are a big deal right now, but that’s nothing new. One could argue that characters like Achilles, Odysseus, and Beowulf were the superheroes of their time. Why they’ve surged again in popularity now is a question I’ve wondered about, but I don’t really have any answers. I just know that I’m one of those people who really enjoy them and am nowhere near getting tired of them. It’s always a great date night with my husband to go see the latest superhero movie.

I was never into comic books as a kid, but I’ve always been a science fiction fan, and it looks like I’m far from being alone being a science fiction geek in modern paganism.

Well, the last superhero movie we saw was Logan. We went to see it on its opening weekend, and I’m still thinking about it. I admit it; Wolverine was always my favorite movie “superhero,” and Logan reminded me why. Last weekend I dug out my DVD’s of the first two X-Men movies to re-watch.

Now that the Avengers are dominating the movie theaters, I think people forget that the first X-Men movie actually started our latest iteration of superhero popularity. I saw it at a special midnight opening night showing when it came out in 2000. My boyfriend at the time had been a fan of the comics and was really excited to see it, so I went with him.

Back in 2000, superhero movies weren’t cool anymore. Christopher Reeve’s Superman had come and gone. Tim Burton’s Batman movies were good at first, but by the late 90’s the series had become pretty terrible. Without the X-Men, we probably would never have had Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy or the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I went into that movie skeptical that I would like it, thinking it would be cheesy, but that didn’t last long. The first scene was of a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Then a teen girl almost kills her boyfriend by kissing him, runs away, and meets a surly man with muttonchops and knives that come out of his hands.


Even if I wasn’t a comics fan, I already basically knew who Wolverine was. I knew that his superpower was that he was a tough guy with claws. But that’s it? That’s his superpower? That’s all? I didn’t care about him much until that scene in the movie where he’s in his truck having an awkward conversation with the teenage girl.

“When they come out, does it hurt?”

“Every time.”

I think Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is the Han Solo of my generation. At first he doesn’t really want to help the heroes. He doesn’t want to get too involved. He rolls his eyes and thinks all this hero stuff is stupid. He gets in plenty of memorable one-liners.

“Sabertooth? Storm? What do they call you? Wheels? This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

You need a character like that in a movie like this. I think a big reason why the Star Wars prequels weren’t as good as the original trilogy was because they didn’t have a Han Solo in them. And like Han Solo, it turns out Logan’s a good guy after all and finally does the right thing in the end.

wolverine and rouge

As for his unimpressive superpower, that turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. In the first movie it’s revealed that his real superpower is an ability to heal from any injury. He has amnesia, so he’s not sure how it happened, but someone took advantage of his power and added the metal claws and an entire metal skeleton to him. In the second movie, X2: X-Men United, he meets the person who did this to him, William Stryker, who was trying to turn him into a living weapon, until he somehow escaped.

I know this was contradicted in later movies when they added the “bone claws” (continuity is not the X-Men’s strong point), but I always thought it made more sense that Wolverine wasn’t born with the claws, and they were added to him later.


“People don’t change, Wolverine. You were an animal then and you’re an animal now. I just gave you claws.”

I think this makes his claws even more frightening, and by that I mean frightening to Wolverine. They’re not really supposed to be there. That’s why they have to cut through his hands when they come out, instead of having some sort of sheath like the claws of cats. There’s nothing inherently violent about super-fast healing. Something about having weapons built into his arms adds an extra level of horror to it.


Of course, Stryker also says Logan wasn’t a very nice guy before that, and that he volunteered for the procedure. “Be careful what you wish for,” is another idea that goes way back to ancient mythology. At some time in his life the claws seemed like a good idea, but not so much anymore.


Especially when he accidentally stabs people who startle him. Oops!

Not that they don’t come in handy from time to time! The fight between Wolverine and Sabertooth in the first movie was OK, but I loved the scene in the second movie where Stryker’s men make the mistake of invading Xavier’s mutant school in the middle of the night while Wolverine is babysitting.

“I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul who comes to that school looking for trouble.”

While the children panic, he proceeds to single-handedly slaughter Stryker’s men one by one. Now you get to see the kind of thing Stryker had in mind when he made Wolverine into a terrifying one-man killing machine.


I thought X2 did a great job exploring Wolverine’s backstory. In the end, Wolverine turns his back on Stryker and his past and becomes the mutant children’s protector.


These first two movies are what made me love Wolverine, but after having the spotlight on him for two consecutive movies, I expected the third movie to give some of the other characters time to shine. Unfortunately, I found the third X-Men movie disappointing. Then Wolverine got a solo movie all about him, even though I thought X2 explored is backstory well enough. Ironically, I think all the focus on him wasn’t really doing his character justice. Even I was starting to get Wolverine fatigue.

By the time X-Men: First Class came out, I didn’t even bother to see it in the theater. I also didn’t bother to go see The Wolverine. I thought the X-Men series wasn’t worth seeing anymore. Superhero fans had moved on to The Dark Knight and Iron Man.


But not seeing First Class in the theater turned out to be a mistake. When I finally saw it on cable I really enjoyed it, because it turned out to be Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr/Magneto’s story. Finally those characters got fleshed out. I especially liked Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of young Magneto, hunting down Nazis in Argentina. When Days of Future Past came out I went to see it right away and really enjoyed it. Wolverine is in it, but Xavier and Magneto continue to be the focus of the story. Charles Xavier finally became a fleshed-out character in these movies. He was born into a life of luxury, and he has a power that he could use to pretty much kill everyone if he wanted to, but his ability also enables him to feel everyone’s emotional pain, so instead it just gives him an enormous capacity for empathy. Finally it made sense why he made it his life’s work to try to help mutants get along with other humans. I wouldn’t have found Logan as moving if I hadn’t gotten to know Xavier better through these films.

Magneto also gets to be a foil for not just Xavier, but also Wolverine. Magneto and Wolverine were both mistreated by humans, but end up reacting to it very differently. Magneto comes to hate ordinary humans, while Wolverine seems to understand why humans would fear him and doesn’t really hold it against them.

“So you were always an asshole.” I love that part.

I also appreciated that bit of grey I noticed in Logan’s hair at the beginning of Days of Future Past, before he gets sent back in time. That was the first indication that Logan isn’t actually immortal, he just ages very slowly. The Wolverine that goes back in time to meet the younger version of Xavier and Erik is an older and wiser version of himself. That made his role in the movie much more interesting.


But the X-Men movies still fell into a trap that these kinds of stories often do. The writers feel they have to raise the stakes for our heroes more and more. It’s not good enough to save one person, or one city. They have to save the whole world, or the whole universe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and the rest of the Avengers movie series, which is definitely going in that direction. But saving the whole world can get old after a while, and it can make your hero more difficult to relate to.

Wolverine is an interesting character because he doesn’t have the power to control the weather or control people’s minds or lift entire stadiums into the air. When we first met Wolverine before 9/11, protecting a teenage runaway seemed sufficient to make him heroic. Now we’re back to having superheroes saving the entire universe with almost god-like powers (an in the case of Thor we have an actual god as a superhero). Where does a guy with claws fit into that?

I finally saw The Wolverine on TV and it was another disappointment.  I heard rumors that they were going to make yet another Wolverine movie, and I didn’t think it was a good idea at first. I turned out to be wrong.

I think I haLogan-Poster-Wolverine-3d just seen Doctor Strange when I saw this movie poster under “Coming Soon” at the theater. It took me a few seconds to even register that this was a poster for a new “superhero” movie. Gone was the colorful ensemble of characters. Instead it’s just a monochrome picture of two hands, the delicate hand of a child clutching the cut and scarred hand of a man. And then you notice the blades.

I know there’s another movie poster that is in a Western style, which is and appropriate, but this poster is definitely  my favorite.

This movie reminded me of why I loved Wolverine to begin with. Days of Future Past shows that Wolverine can age after all, and now in Logan the years have really caught up with him (and with Xavier). Like Bruce Wayne hobbling around with a cane in The Dark Knight Rises, Logan is finally paying the physical price for his superhero days. His healing power is slowing down. One of his claws gets jammed halfway out of his arthritic hand. He has become the caretaker of Charles Xavier, who is suffering from some sort of super-powered dementia.

There’s been lots of talk about how violent this movie is. In this case I think it’s a legitimate artistic choice, rather than just gore for gore’s sake. Wolverine’s rampage in X2 was impressive, but the carnage was mostly done in the dark, or just off-screen. In Logan every death is close up and well-lit. You see exactly the kind of damage those nasty blades in his hands can do. Now you can see what Logan has been seeing this whole time. The action scenes in Logan weren’t thrilling or fun to watch like in previous X-Men movies. Instead of making Wolverine look like a cool badass, they just make him look tired of having to do this again.

When we last saw Logan at the end of Days of Future Past, it looked like he had finally lived happily ever after, but that didn’t last. Some people may not want to see these beloved characters go through something like this, but the thing that made Wolverine so popular was that he was more relatable than most other superheroes. In the real world, “happy endings” don’t last forever. Happiness is always temporary. Hang on to it and enjoy it while you have it, but eventually people do get old and sick and die. You don’t have to be 200 years old to know that.

This movie isn’t completely bleak and hopeless, though. Logan is given a chance to be a hero one last time. Once again he has to protect a young girl, but taking care of Charles has worn him out so much that he’s even more reluctant to help her, even though this time it’s his own daughter. But Logan is a good guy, so in the end, he does the right thing. The last heroic act of the mighty Wolverine is not saving the whole world, but just taking care of his family and making sure his daughter is safe.

“So this is what it feels like.”

My husband and I sat in the theater for all of the closing credits, and once the music stopped, I noticed all the sniffling around me. I think everyone in the theater was crying by the end of that movie. It was that good. I can’t think of a better way to end Logan’s story.

My First Butzemann

Meet my first Butzemann, Alfred der Nei.


Ever since hearing about the Urglaawe tradition of making a Butzemann, I’ve wanted to make one, especially since I’m an enthusiastic gardener. I finally did last weekend.

I don’t have a sewing machine, and if I did, I wouldn’t know how to use it, so first I went to the craft store to see what they had there that I could use. They had 12 inch blank muslin dolls and straw cowboy hats to fit them. Perfect!


If I wasn’t going to make his body myself, I wanted to at least make his clothes. I used the bottom of one of the legs of a pair of worn-out jeans to make overalls for him, and for his shirt I used the sleeve of a worn-out green t-shirt. I know that Butzemenner are supposed to have new clothes all to themselves, so I hope he doesn’t mind that his clothes are made out of recycled materials. I did have to hand-cut and hand-sew them with needle and thread, which took a lot of effort, so I hope that infused him with more energy, even if they did turn out a bit ragged and asymmetrical.


Butzemenner also need to have some plant material from the land they are supposed to protect, and a heart of some kind. For that, I had to do a little “surgery” on him. I undid the seam on his left side (you can kind of see that in this picture) to insert a “spine” into his back made of a branch from one of my tomato plants that was killed by frost. For his heart I used one of the Calico lima beans I grew in the garden this year, so his heart also doubles as more garden plant material. After those things were inserted through the incision, I sewed him back up and got to work on his clothes.

When his clothes were done, I drew on his face and hair with a Sharpie. When I read up on how to construct a Butzemann, it suggested including runes in his creation. I drew four runes on him: Inguz on his right hand, Berkano on his left hand, Jera on his right foot, and Othala on his left foot. I then breathed Ansuz into his mouth, trying to mimic how Odin gave the breath of life to Ask and Embla.

I gave him the name Alfred, which is an old English name that means “Elf Counsel.” I thought it would be good if he was counseled by the Elves. That means the rest of his family line from now on will have the surname of Alfredsen.

Next it was time to take him around to show him what he will need to tend and protect for the next nine months. I introduced him to our two cats, Basil and Lily (it was easy for Lily, because she had been lying beside me the whole time when I was working on Alfred’s clothes). I showed him the back garden, which has peas and kale growing in it right now. Then I took him around to the front garden where the garlic and potatoes are growing. I also showed him the tomato, pepper, and tomatillo plants I have started in pots that will be ready to plant in the ground in a few weeks.

He then got introduced to the fruit trees. While we were out there we noticed the pomegranate is starting to leaf out, and the satsuma is starting to recover from the freeze, but the Meyer lemon still looks like it’s in bad shape. It’s lost all its leaves and there is no sign of new growth. I really should have done a better job covering it up when it got down to 23 degrees. I asked Alfred to give it some special attention to help it recover and grow back. The kumquat, loquat, and fig tree are all in good shape. This year I would like to plant some more fruit trees, maybe a couple of dwarf apples, or maybe a peach or pear.

The last thing I did was introduce him to my husband, who was working on a flower bed he’s building in the front yard out of cut limestone.


Since I have crop plants in both the front and the back of the house, I decided that Alfred should live on the mantle in the living room where he’s in the middle of everything. If I posted him facing one garden, he’d be facing away from the other one, and I don’t want him to neglect anything.

I made a cake to celebrate Groundhog’s Day, so Alfred got a slice once I was done making him and giving him a tour of the house and he was on the mantle. The next morning I gave him a cup of coffee so he’d be ready for his first full day on the job. I have this little coffee cup that I think was originally a votive candle holder. It’s about the size of a shot glass, and I think it makes a good mini cup for him.

I’ve also decided that whenever I do any major work in the garden, like planting or harvesting, I’ll bring him with me so he can watch. I also had him watch over our usual Charming of the Garden Tools ritual I’ve been doing every year since we moved here.

Now if only I knew how to pronounce “Butzemann.” When I was trying to explain all this to my husband, he was like, “butts – a – man?” I guess that’s how you pronounce it. Pronunciation is a problem I’ve always had with Heathenry, and Urglaawe is no better. I’m not sure how to pronounce Urglaawe either, now that I think of it.

Oh well, I’ve already gotten pretty fond of Alfred. It’s going to be hard to burn him come October, but I guess that’s part of the point.