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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Hear Our Voice. We Won’t Keep Quiet.

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Saturday I went to the Women’s March in Austin, Texas, one of the “sister marches” to the Women’s March on Washington. I went with my mother-in-law, who is in her 70’s and was very eager to go. It was unusually hot that day. It must have been at least 80 and very bright and sunny. We started on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, and there were so many of us, we had to wait about one and a half hours to get out onto the street to march, because of the bottleneck of people. My mother-in-law almost fainted  from standing still in the crowd on the hot pavement for so long. I helped her sit down on the curb, and other people in the crowd noticed our distress and started fanning her with their signs and making sure she was OK and had water. Later I heard that EMT’s had to assist several people with the same problem. I’m lucky that I didn’t get sunburned, but that’s mainly because of a woman out there letting people use her sunscreen.

But in a way that’s good. They estimated about 50,000 people showed up. By the time we got out onto the street to march, the first marchers had already come back around a while ago. The march was supposed to start at noon, and I think it wasn’t until 3 pm or so that everyone had made it around.

I didn’t get a pink pussy hat, but it was too hot to be wearing crocheted hats anyway. A lot of other people had them though. There were also a lot of pussy-related signs. My favorite was one based on the “Come and Take It” flag, but it said “Come and Grab It” with a silhouette of a cat arching its back instead of the cannon.

I soon realized that the Cat has become the totem animal of the Women’s March, and possibly the entire Anti-Trump movement. And I think that’s very appropriate, because as you probably know, cats are Freya’s favorite animal and have long been associated with women, goddesses, and feminine energy in many cultures. I’m not sure what the origin is for the term “pussy” being used as a vulgar term for female genitals, but it’s probably related to that as well.

But cats are also warriors, just like Freya. When they’re happy, the claws are retracted into the their paws, but when angry, the claws come out! And they are razor-sharp! If Pussy is grabbed without Pussy’s consent, there will be blood.

So whether my fellow marchers realized it or not, I think Freya was with us. And with her were all our foremothers and Disir who fought for women’s rights. Now, let’s keep this momentum going. This march was only the beginning. Keep your claws sharp, everyone!

Tilikum 1981 – 2017

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I grew up in the Dallas area, and when I was a kid, one of the main places we went for summer vacation was SeaWorld of San Antonio. We went many times, and I loved it. I was obsessed with whales and dolphins as a kid. I had posters of them on my walls. I had plush toys. When I grew up, I wanted to be a Sea World trainer so I could swim with them.

As I got older, my feelings about it started to change. I watched nature documentaries about wild orcas and started to learn more about what they’re like. I saw footage of them hunting seals by tipping icebergs the seals were on, sliding out onto the shore to grab them, and tossing them in the air before killing them. It was a lot different than the “cute and cuddly gentle giant,” image that SeaWorld was trying to portray. David Attenborough made them look more like the lions of the ocean than pandas. And then there was their intelligence, that different groups of orcas had different cultures and spoke different languages, and that they lived in close-knit, matriarchal family groups.

I took another trip to SeaWorld with my family as a teenager, and this time I saw the Shamu show for what it was, a Siegfried and Roy style circus act with orcas instead of tigers. I didn’t enjoy it, and that was the last time I went to SeaWorld.

And then in 2010 I heard about the trainer in Florida, Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by one of the orcas there. They tried to spin it as being her fault, but I always thought that was unfair. After all, she was living the life I had dreamed of as a kid. She got to swim with the orcas. I’m sure she loved them. After all, you don’t get a job like that if you don’t love animals. She wasn’t the one who had captured them from the wild. She didn’t own them. But finally one of the orcas lashed out. Maybe he didn’t mean to kill her, maybe he did, but when an animal that weighs several tons has a temper tantrum, a little tiny human doesn’t stand a chance. Circus elephants and tigers have been known to “turn on” their trainers, sometimes killing them. Circus orcas doing the same thing shouldn’t be surprising.

When Blackfish aired on CNN, I watched it with great interest. I found it very moving. I remembered how much I loved SeaWorld as a kid, and how badly I wanted to be a dolphin trainer someday, and how I had no idea how wrong it was. I had figured out it was wrong before I saw the documentary, but the documentary showed me that it was even worse than I thought. Of course, SeaWorld keeps saying that Blackfish is misleading propaganda and their whales are very happy, but they don’t have any supporting evidence refuting the specific claims in the documentary, so as a scientist that makes me very skeptical of their position.

At least they’ve promised to stop breeding orcas, even if reports of them ending their orca shows were greatly exaggerated (they merely reduced some of the more circus-like aspects of the shows). I do hope they keep their promise that they won’t breed any more of them. Maybe now that their main stud male is dead, that will make it more likely that they’ll stop.

I have mixed feelings about keeping wild animals in captivity. Captive breeding, when done responsibly, has saved some species from extinction, and I do think there is something to be said for captive animals acting as “ambassadors” for their species to inspire people to support the conservation of animals in the wild. After all, I went from being a zoo-loving kid to perusing an actual career in biology. Seeing pictures of some of these animals is just not the same as seeing them in person.

But some species do better in captivity than others, and I think there are some that just shouldn’t be kept in captivity at all. Killer whales are one of them. There’s just no way to come anywhere close to mimicking their natural environment. These are animals that roam for thousands of miles in the open ocean. On top of that, whales are one of those species of animals that are so intelligent, with such complex lives and societies, that they seem more like “non-human people” than animals. I feel the same way about elephants and (other) great apes. It just seems weird to “own” a being like that, as if it were a pet dog or cat. Captivity is the natural habitat of domesticated animals, but keeping cetaceans, elephants, and apes in captivity feels like it’s bordering on slavery.

Now, in the case of elephants and apes, they are endangered species. In the wild they are under constant threat of being killed by poachers. Maybe having some in captivity is necessary for their conservation. But in that case they should only be kept in the best conditions possible, with plenty of room to roam, plenty of activities to keep them from getting bored, and a good social group. If a facility can’t provide that, they shouldn’t have them.

I don’t see any benefit at all for keeping orcas in captivity. They’re not endangered as a species (though some populations are). Even if they were endangered, I don’t know of any captive orcas that have been bred in captivity being successfully released to the wild, so breeding them in captivity wouldn’t help with that anyway.

As for the educational aspect, SeaWorld educates people about orcas as well as Siegfried and Roy educations people about tigers, or Barnum and Bailey educates people about elephants. In other words, they don’t. If they teach people anything about these animals, it’s that it’s fun to teach them to do tricks for our entertainment. I don’t think that’s a good message to teach.

Modern humans are very cut off from the natural world, and I think one symptom of that is how we view dangerous wild animals. Like many top predators, such as wolves and bears, orcas were once seen as an evil animal. It’s where the name “killer whale” comes from. Then in the 1960’s people started capturing them live and found out they can be trained to do tricks. That changed people’s view of orcas from vicious predators to cute and cuddly and safe to pet and ride. It’s a type of black-and-white thinking. An animal has to be either good or evil. Wolves were evil, so we exterminated them, and now they’re all over t-shirts and posters and wall calendars. We exterminated grizzly bears, and then we have people like Timothy Treadwell wanting to pet them and give them cute names, until he gets eaten by one. Even though Roy of Siegfried and Roy was almost killed by one of his tigers, he still insists to this day that the tiger wasn’t really trying to hurt him. So which is it? Are these animals our friends or our enemies?

The truth is that wolves, bears, tigers, orcas, apes, and elephants are all powerful, dangerous animals. They are not pets. People shouldn’t be cuddling them and petting them and riding them and having them do tricks. But they’re also not evil demons who need to be exterminated. They should be respected for what they are and allowed to live their lives as naturally as is still possible in this human-dominated world. Sometimes I wonder if animals that are dangerous to humans have a place in this world anymore, or if they’re destined to only exist in zoos and go extinct in the wild. If (or when) that happens I think we’ll really lose something. These are animals that rival us, as top predators in the food chain, or as intelligent beings with complex societies, or both. They teach us that not all of nature can or should be controlled by humans.

Tilikum was taken away from his family as a small child and lived the rest of his life in a completely unnatural environment. Even after he murdered three humans, the humans kept using him in their shows, and used him as a stud to sire 21 children that would also be destined to live their short lives in concrete pools.  In the wild, male orcas live to be about 60 years old, but Tilikum was about 35 when he died of drug-resistant pneumonia. He would have lived such a different life had he remained in the ocean where he belonged.

Maybe there is some sort of Orca Vallhalla, and Tilikum is there now, swimming freely with his ancestors with no more concrete walls in his way. I just hope one good thing comes from his life, and that it leads to an end to orcas in captivity.

Yule After a Hard Year

It’s become a bit of a running joke that 2016 was a terrible year. Saturday I had my usual Yule get-together and during symbel I made the first round a chance to boast about something good that happened to us in 2016. My boast was that I got a job as permanent full-time faculty after 5 years of being an adjunct!

Let’s just say that it’s a good thing I did, because other stuff this year that made my husband and I very grateful I have a stable job that pays better and has really good health benefits. We really need it now.

This makes Yule even more important. For my ancestors, winter was hard. A lot of people weren’t even sure they would still be alive by spring. That’s why we have Yule. It’s a chance to live it up a bit before the long winter ahead.

This year, as usual, I’m going to try to do a social media fast during the 12 days of Yule. No Facebook or blogs from sundown tomorrow night through January 1. I’ll also do a news fast. No Rachel Maddow or NPR.

I need a break from all that. I’m going to concentrate on making delicious feast foods to share with the gods and spirits and spending time with my family and looking at the seed catalogs that are starting to show up in the mailbox.

And maybe go see the new Star Wars movie.

Yule is a time to rest. After Yule is when the battle continues.