The Sacred Twelfth Day Feast for Southerners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Delicious Yule Treats from the Ancestors

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

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

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

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

At least, until this week.

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

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

So how did they turn out?

Anislaibchen

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

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

Pfeffernusse

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

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

Lebkuchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Twelve Virtues of Yule

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

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

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

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

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

Alfred has gone with the Wild Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raising a Horn for Tom Petty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t want to burn my Butzemann.

Back in February I made my first Butzemann, Alfred.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We don’t have the luxury of ignoring Nazis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.