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.

Lessons from the Ancestors

My grandmother lived in Nazi Germany when she was a young woman. My grandfather met her because he was an American soldier stationed there after Germany was defeated by the Allies. My mother was born in Germany, and her father brought her and my grandmother to the United States in the early 1950’s.

I barely remember my grandmother, because she died when I was only four years old. I did know some of her German immigrant friends for longer. My mother forgot how to speak German because as a young child she was forced to speak English and assimilate as quickly as possible because of the anti-German sentiment in the United States after the war. Despite that, she has always been proud of her heritage and talked about it a lot to me and my sisters.

As I got older and learned more about the Nazis, I became more and more curious about that period in German history. It hangs like a dark shadow over my family’s Wyrd, because I have this close ancestor who witnessed it firsthand. We learned about it in school. We went to the Holocaust museum in Dallas and listened to a Holocaust survivor tell her story. We read The Diary of Anne Frank and watched a movie called Escape from Sobibor, but none of those lessons ever told me what I really wanted to know. What was it like to be an ordinary German, like my grandmother, living in Germany at the time? The Holocaust museum trip actually gave me a few nightmares.

If my grandmother had lived longer, I could have asked her about it. Other family members have told me she didn’t talk about it much, but that “she hated what happened to her country.”

I got a bit angry when we learned about the Holocaust in school, and the kids started to act like all Germans supported the Nazis. I knew my grandmother didn’t. I once spoke up in class and said as much, even though I was ordinarily a very shy kid. And it’s not just in school. Most portrayals of this period in history depict Germans in general as being synonymous with the Nazis. Then here comes the heroic Americans to save the Jews from the Holocaust and kill those terrible Nazis.

I worried that my classmates got the impression that Germans are especially violent people, and that Americans would never do something like that. After all, we’re the good guys, right? Ever since I’ve been old enough to understand these things, I’ve told myself that something like that could happen anywhere, even America, that Germans were just ordinary people like us, and the worst thing we could do would be to tell ourselves that something like that could never happen again, or could never happen here. (And of course it wouldn’t happen exactly the same way here. It would happen in an American kind of way, which could also throw us off because it wouldn’t look exactly the same as what happened in Germany.)

But before this past year, I didn’t give it much more thought than that, because I still thought it probably wouldn’t happen here in my lifetime.

By last month, I thought we were about to have a close call, but by Thanksgiving we’d be able to be thankful that it was not more than that, and we’d be thinking about how to make sure we don’t have such a close call again.

But as of two weeks ago…

I know some people say that any comparisons with 1930’s Germany is an exaggeration. It’s not that bad. Quit being so dramatic. This is all normal. Everything is business as usual.

I just can’t help but keep feeling that’s the exact same kinds of things people were saying in 1930’s Germany. For all I know my grandmother could have told herself that. “Everything is fine. This is just politics as usual.” It’s very comforting to tell yourself that.

I’m not doing that. I’m not relaxing. Maybe it will be a false alarm. Maybe everything will turn out OK. That would be great.

It just seems to me like I’d be doing great dishonor to my ancestors to not be alarmed right now.

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An Election Prayer to Ziu and Zisa

Hail Ziu, Binder of the Wolf, the Left Hand of Justice.

Watch over us as we choose who will represent us and lead us in our cities, counties, states, and nation.

Please ensure every election is fair and every vote counts. Bind those who seek to unfairly skew the election results in their favor rather than winning by getting the most votes. Bind those who threaten our democracy with their corruption. Bind those who threaten our democracy with their lies and distortions. Bind those who threaten our ability to have a peaceful transition of power. May the Truth and the will of the people prevail.

Hail Zisa, Undoer of Knots, Protector of Augsberg.

Watch over us as we choose who will represent us and lead us in our cities, counties, states, and nation.

Please ensure that every citizen can vote without obstacles. Let no one be prevented from voting by long lines at the polling places, or not being able to get off work in time, or not having the right photo ID’s. Let no one become discouraged and say, “my vote doesn’t matter” and stay home on election day. Let everyone’s voices be heard in this election regardless of their socio-economic status or race or gender or abilities. Let us honor those who sacrificed so much so that all our voices can be heard.

On Tuesday, Ziu’s Day, Zisa’s Day, may the gods bless the United States of America.

Not good news for people who care about the Land

Ammon Bundy and those other assholes who took over a Federal Wildlife Refuge last winter, vandalized public property and Native American sacred sites, and terrorized the local people, have been acquitted.

The Bundys are part of a larger movement to privatize public lands. They don’t like that some lands, such as wildlife refuges and national parks, are set aside for preservation instead of resource exploitation.

And they don’t like it that when some federal lands allow resource exploitation, like those stewarded by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service, they have to pay a small fee. When they graze their cattle on public land, land that belongs to all American citizens, subsidized by taxpayers, they won’t even pay the small fee that we request of them. While at the same time, they complain about “Negroes” on welfare getting government subsidies.

They want us to just give them our land for them to profit off of, for free. That’s what their movement is all about. It’s not OK for the government to give subsidies for food and shelter to people living in poverty, but they are millionaires who want to be given free land.

Meanwhile, it’s totally OK to build an oil pipeline through Native American land, because hey, we need oil. We’ll do anything for oil, even destroy our water. Sometimes I wonder if people actually realize that we can’t drink oil.

In a related story a little closer to home, another oil pipeline is threatening the Big Bend region of Texas, a region which I’ve written about on this blog before.

We seriously need to get our priorities changed. As the Day of the Dead approaches (whether you call it Samhain, Halloween, Alleliewezil), we need to think about the kind of world we’ll leave behind when we’re gone. As future ancestors, will we be worthy of honor? Or will our descendants curse us for poisoning their water and destroying their land?

Celebrating Allelieweziel this year

This year Halloween/Samhain/Allelieweziel is going to be a private thing with my husband and I. No parties. No festivals. Much of that is for practical reasons; right now we are having to avoid spending any money that’s not absolutely necessary, but I think it might be good to have a quiet Day of the Dead this year.

Since Oct. 31 is a Monday, I think I’ll cook a special meal on Sunday and honor the Dead then. Monday we will be giving out candy to the Trick-or-Treaters and probably watching Young Frankenstein honor Gene Wilder who joined the Ancestors this year.

This year I think I will try to do a little more of an Urglaawe-influenced observance. That means honoring Wudan (Odin), Frau Holle, and maybe even Ewicher Yeeger as they start the Wild Hunt.

Of course, Odin is already one of my main deities, but the other two are less familiar. I’m interested in learning more about them. Several months ago my husband found an old sickle that looked like it had been lying around for a very long time. He put resin over the cracked old wooden handle and polished up the metal blade to remove the rust. An old sickle is an odd thing to find, so I took it to be a sign, and added it to my altar as something for Holle.

I’ve been doing some research on Allelieweziel, and read that it can be celebrated as a 12 day holiday that doesn’t end until November 11. Well that’s nice. That means if I don’t have time to do everything I’d like to do next Sunday, I’ll have some more time.

Ever since my dad died, I’ve been thinking about Death a lot more than I ever did before. Sometimes it really troubles me. It feels like my life is wooshing by faster and faster. Even though I’m in my 30’s, and people don’t usually call you “middle-aged” until you are in your 40’s or 50’s, I’m already over half as old as my dad was when he died. I already started getting some strands of gray hair a couple of years ago. (And I didn’t pluck them! They’re still there. I earned those gray hairs, dammit! Even if they do remind me that I’m not a kid anymore.) It’s good to remember that we are mortal, but I think sometimes I let it depress me too much, especially when I think about my loved ones eventually dying. I have yet to find the right balance between the awareness of my own mortality being a motivator to live life to its fullest without letting it get me too depressed.

In Urglaawe, the Wild Hunt is Holle gathering up the souls of the Dead, and then on Walpurgisnacht she grinds them in her mill so they can go on to the next life. I like that better than the idea of Vallhalla, which I always thought seemed too Christian-influenced. The thing is, once you’re ground in the mill, what is left of you? Is it anything recognizable as being you anymore? The person you were still becomes just a memory.