Imbolc 2013

I ended up doing two Imbolc rituals this time. After writing about how I associate Freyr and Gerd with my own marriage, I decided it would be appropriate to include my husband in a ritual. He’s not as religious as I am, but he’s spiritual and open-minded. I don’t think he’d ever do rituals by himself; he’d rather just go for a hike, but he’ll participate in rituals with other people.

I decided to do a ritual on Friday night with him, and if I felt like it, I’d do another solitary ritual later. I set up everything around the hearth again, just like with Yule. Earlier that day I baked a poppy seed cake for offerings. I’m supposed to offer cakes to the gods for Charming of the Plow, right? I thought that would be a good cake to offer, since it has seeds in it. I also got some milk, since Imbolc is associated with milk, and my husband wanted to include brandy.

One thing I was soon reminded of is the big difference between doing a solitary ritual and leading a ritual for other people. I didn’t think it would be as big a deal with just my husband, but just like when I’ve led rituals before for groups of people, I found my mind primarily occupied with taking care of the other person, directing them on what to do next, explaining why we’re doing this or that, and worrying about whether they’re getting something out of it or are just bored with the whole thing. I never get a chance to commune with the spirits myself in those situations.

Group rituals are different when you’re not leading them yourself, so you can relax. I’ve been to some really good group rituals that were very moving, but also to some that totally failed. Leading a successful ritual is very satisfying, though. It’s just satisfying in a different way than being a participant in one, or doing a solitary ritual. I think there’s value in all three.

Anyway, when I did the ritual with my husband, I found myself skipping over some parts in the liturgy or losing my place a lot. This would probably be less of a problem if I had more practice with ADF style ritual. My husband didn’t even know how the ritual was “supposed” to go, so I don’t think it bothered him at all.

For the offerings, we gave the fire a slice of cake, actually throwing it into the fire to burn up. We gave the tree an offering of milk, and the well an offering of brandy. The gods got more milk. When I took the Omen, I forgot what questions I was supposed to ask, since the February liturgy didn’t have them in there like the Yule one did. I ended up just asking, “Is there anything more you’d like us to know?” and got Sowilo, Hagalaz, and Nauthiz. Hmm, that doesn’t seem good.

For the Working, I wanted to do something that would improve our job situations, since they’re both less than ideal. I’m underemployed, while my husband is working at an extremely stressful job. I blessed my laptop as a symbol of my job, and then we put together a mojo bag from a kit I got from Natural Magick to improve my husband’s job situation. He tucked it away deep into his briefcase.

After the ritual, my husband said he liked it, and asked about the runes. I told him what each one meant, and he also got worried about Hagalaz. I told him that’s pretty much the worst rune in the Futhark. He asked how many runes are there, and I told him 24, so he said that sounds pretty bad if that’s the worst one out of 24. I told him Sowilo is one of the best, though, so maybe that will balance it out.

Saturday we ended up spending most of the day working on my herb garden around the back porch, because it was such a beautiful day outside. I had planned on making a delicious roast chicken dinner, but by dinnertime we were both so tired, we ended up ordering pizza and watching Groundhog Day with Bill Murray on TV instead. I saved the chicken to make on Sunday, stuffing it with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme from the garden, and roasting it over potatoes, carrots, and onions. Holidays are all about food to me, after all!

Monday was when I decided to do my solitary ritual. This semester I don’t have any classes to teach on Mondays, so it’s a day for me to work at home grading papers, preparing lessons, etc. After working most of the morning on that, I decided I had better get my solitary ritual done that afternoon while most of my neighbors were still at work, since I wanted to do it outside.

One of the things both my husband and I love about this house (which we moved into almost exactly a year ago) is our 0.8 acre lot. Both of us wanted a BIG yard, with room for gardens, fruit trees, wild areas, and a ritual area. We made our ritual circle in the middle of the back yard, under a circle of trees, mostly live oaks, with some mountain laurels and a few other trees mixed in. It didn’t take me long to figure out that was the spot for our Sacred Grove.

The Sacred Grove in our backyard

The Sacred Grove in our backyard

My husband is the one who ended up building the altar. There was already this big oak stump in the yard, so he set it in the ground, upside down, with a flat rock on top. He was inspired by Seahenge, which also had an upside-down tree in the middle. He may not be that much into ritual, but he sure gets excited when it comes to building pagan things! We have plenty of limestone rocks here as well. I made another altar lower to the ground, underneath the stump, to give us more surface area. Right now we have cairns at each of the four directions, but eventually I’d like to make a complete circle with smaller rocks.

I used a simpler setup for the ritual this time. I put the bean pot I use for the Well on the ground by the tree stump, and a candle on top. The tree stump itself would be the World Tree, so I liked having the candle for the Upper World on top and the pot for the Lower World on the ground. I put the rest of my materials on the lower rock. We used up the last of our brandy on Friday, and I’m getting short on booze, but I found a bottle of sweet red wine to use. It was supposed to become mulled wine for Yule, but that never ended up happening, so I thought I might as well use it now. For the Working, I decided to do a Charming of the Plow with my garden tools. I gathered them all up, hosed the dirt off of them, and put them in my wheelbarrow.

The outdoor altar set up for SDF solitary Imbolc

The outdoor altar set up for SDF solitary Imbolc

I’m really glad I found the time to do a second ritual, because this time I could really pause and feel the presence of the spirits. My only company was one of our cats lurking around the perimeter of the circle. I did get paranoid a few times when I heard cars drive by, worried that some of my neighbors might interrupt, but that never ended up happening. We have planted some understory shrubs around the ritual circle to eventually give us some privacy, but it will take a while for them to grow big enough.

One thing that was really nice about doing this outside was all the birds singing. When I got to the Statement of Purpose, I went on about the cardinals, phoebes, chickadees, and doves singing all around me. Squirrels dashed around through the trees gathering materials for their nests. It really felt like spring was in the air! Having actual oaks all around me also helped with the Grounding and Centering. “I stand with the strength of an oak” is a lot easier to visualize when there’s an oak right in front of you. I offered cakes and wine, and left the cake out there on the ground. There’s a big, fat opossum that checks on the Sacred Grove at dawn every morning to see what offerings I’ve left for him to “clean up”.

For the Omen this time I got Tiwaz, Nauthiz, and Uruz. There’s Nauthiz again. I hope that Uruz is there to give me strength to deal with whatever that Hagalaz business is. For the Working, I took a page from The Asatru Playbook (note: not an actual book) and saved some of my wine from the Blessing to bless my tools too. I used a sprig of rosemary from my garden to sprinkle wine all over them. I was going to just ask the gods to bless my work in the garden, but ended up saying things to Mother Earth, the land spirits, and the ancestors too. After all, I need the Earth and Nature’s blessing for garden success, and I only use heirloom seeds, which also honors the ancestors. My garden is very important to my spirituality, so I like having a holiday that’s all about that.

I’d say that ritual turned out great. Next up is Ostara, a much more important holiday in the Germanic tradition, with lots more information to be found about it. It’s also pretty much the last holiday where it’s nice outside here in Texas. By May 1, things will have already started getting uncomfortably hot. Ostara will also be the same week as my first wedding anniversary, which is not a coincidence!

Frey and Gerd

I got the SDF liturgy for the February Cross-Quarter, and this time I’m not waiting until the last minute to plan everything out. I learned a few things from the Yule ritual, so this time I know some areas that need improvement.

One place where I think I dropped the ball last time was honoring the deities of the occasion. Since I’m not an ADF member, I’m unfamiliar with their ritual format, and spent so much time figuring out the well/fire/tree stuff that I neglected the gods! When it came to praising Odin and Frigg, I used prayers I hastily found in Essential Asatru instead of writing my own, and it came out clumsily and didn’t really have much “oomph” to it. I hope I’ve already built a good enough relationship with the All-father and All-mother that they were patient with me.

This time the deities of the occasion will be Freyr and Gerd. I like the idea of celebrating their marriage at this time of year. It has nice mythic resonance with the warmth of the fertility god melting the heart of the cold and reserved Jotun goddess. It goes well with the Blessing of the Plow theme. Plowing is, of course, a euphemism for sexual intercourse, and Gerd is an earthy goddess, so there you go.

I don’t know Gerd very well, but Freyr is one of my favorite deities. I often say that if I had it my way, I would have been a Freyswoman, but Odin had other plans. Fortunately I’m a polytheist, and my gods are not jealous gods, so I’m free to form relationships with other gods. While Odin is the god that shows up in my life most often, Freyr would probably be second to that.

Odin also seems more active in the winter, during the Wild Hunt season, when he rides the sky with souls of the dead. Odin is more a god of cold, darkness, and introspection. Freyr is a god of the light half of the year, a god of warmth, fertility, and abundance. He’s a physical rather than a cerebral god, and springtime is the time to get out in the fields and get to work. Then again, some groups honor Freyr during Yule, so it’s different for different people.

Items for an altar to Freyr: a wild boar skull, prayer candle, statue, and shed deer antler

Items for an altar to Freyr: a wild pig skull, prayer candle, statue, and shed deer antler

Back when I was a Wiccan, I seemed to have a much better connection to the Wiccan God than the Wiccan Goddess, which I thought was odd. A lot of Wiccan groups put so much emphasis on Goddess worship that the God is almost an afterthought, but I felt like the opposite. I always invoked both the Goddess and the God at each ritual, because that’s how you’re supposed to do it, but I never could really relate to the Triple Moon Goddess. On the other hand, I loved the Golden God. Later when I discovered Germanic Heathenry, the “feel” of the god Freyr was so similar to the Wiccan God, that I wonder if it was actually him who was answering my invocations the whole time.

H. R. Ellis Davidson, in Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, describes Freyr as a god of marriage. Archaeologists have found lots of these little pieces of gold foil called “gullgubber” in Scandinavia, many of them engraved with two figures embracing, kissing, or dancing. Davidson, among others, believes they are amulets associated with marriage and fertility, and probably pictures of Freyr and Gerd. This fits well with my own experiences of Freyr, especially the most dramatic instance of answered prayer in my life.

A guldgubbe found in Norway in 1747.

A guldgubbe found in Norway in 1747.

It was 2008, and I was in graduate school and trying to get a summer internship, applying to several state parks. I did a ritual to ask Freyr to help. Since he’s associated with prosperity, I figured he’d be a good god to ask for help getting a job. A week or two later I was working on a field project for my wildlife biology class. As I was pushing my way through a thick stand of Texas persimmon trees, pulling a measuring tape behind me to take a vegetation transect, I came across the skull of a buck, missing the end of its snout, but both antlers were still attached. Finding deer bones and shed deer antlers isn’t uncommon around here, but I had never found a skull with antlers before, and I thought it looked cool, so I crammed it into my backpack and went back to work.

I took it home, cleaned it with bleach, and set it on my altar. That’s when I remembered the ritual I had done, and deer are one of Freyr’s sacred animals. I wondered if this was an omen that my request had been received.

Another week or two later I got a call from one of the state parks I had applied to. He wanted to set up an interview! I interviewed for the job, and it wasn’t long before it was offered to me, and I accepted. Only a couple of days after I accepted the job, I got a call for an interview at another state park, one that was actually closer to my home. I regretfully told them that I had already accepted a job at another state park. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so I wanted to stick with the job I had already been offered, but I was disappointed that other park hadn’t called me sooner.

After settling into my new job, I noticed that one of the park rangers there seemed to be going out of his way to talk to me, or to “just so happen” to pass by where I was working. At first I told myself he was just being friendly. I was happily single at the time and had no interest in a relationship to complicate my life. I was much too busy with grad school.

Long story short, last spring we were married. I really didn’t have time for a relationship, but he was persistent, and as I got to know him, I realized that he was just about everything I wanted in a husband. I had only been going out with him for a couple of months before it felt like I had known him forever, and like Gerd, I don’t usually warm up to people that easily. If I had gotten the job at the park I preferred, the one that was closer to home, I never would have met him. The internship lasted only over the summer, and never led to a permanent position, just another entry on my resume. The marriage has already lasted much longer and meant much more to me. It’s like Freyr did some sort of bait-and-switch. “Ok, you can have a job, but more importantly, here’s a husband for you.” He even reminds me of Freyr, with his gentle demeanor and love of nature.

I look forward to spending more time with Freyr as we move back to the light half of the year. I haven’t meditated regularly for a long time, but I think I really should go back to doing that, even though I’m out of practice. I tried a couple of weeks ago, just for a few minutes, and got a vision of a wild boar rooting through the soil, turning it up with his tusks. Boars are another one of Freyr’s animals, and their rooting behavior is reminiscent of plowing the soil. In my vision the soil was compacted, cold, and stagnant, and as the boar turned it up, it was warmed, aerated, and became fertile once again. I had a feeling this was a more personal message than just, “it’s almost spring.” I have felt a bit “stuck” lately, and perhaps my life needs to be “plowed up” a bit, so I can plant new seeds in it. I suppose this blog is one of those seeds I’m planting, but I’ve got plans for others too.