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!

Gardening as a Spiritual Practice

It’s Lammas, and since I’m one of those people who associate this holiday with Frey, I’d like to talk about one of the main reasons why Frey gets a lot of worship from me.

When I was a kid we had a small vegetable garden in the backyard. We grew cherry tomatoes, sweet banana peppers, yellow crookneck squash, and blue lake bush beans. The tomatoes and peppers were plants purchased from the garden section of Home Depot or Wal-Mart. The beans and squash were Burpee seeds from the seed rack there. We fertilized it with Miracle Gro, killed bugs with Sevin, and killed weeds with Roundup.

Eventually my mom said she had grown tired of the garden and I was old enough to be in charge of it now, if I wanted to still have a garden. The garden was now mine.

Soon an obsession was sparked in me. This was pre-internet, so I had to read books on the subject that I got from the library. I started to read about how harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides were, so I went organic. I started reading about heirloom varieties that they didn’t have at the big box stores, so I started growing those instead. I started tomatoes and peppers from seed in yogurt cups in the windowsill of my room instead of buying plants from the store.

When we moved into a new house with a postage-stamp yard, I had to downsize. I was constantly frustrated that I had so little room to grow much, just four tomato plants, four pepper plants, two bush squash plants, and some pole beans climbing up chicken wire I attached to the fence. I kept dreaming of one day having a huge garden where I could grow fruit trees, berry bushes, long rambling melon and pumpkin vines, and enough tomatoes to can and freeze.

Then I went off to college and lived in a tiny studio apartment. I couldn’t stand not being able to grow anything. I felt so cut off from Mother Earth and the cycles of the seasons. Eventually I heard about a community garden in town, so I got a plot there. It was great at first. I could finally grow things, and had a lot more room than I did in my mom’s backyard. The problem was I now I had to drive a few miles to putter in the garden, instead of just walking out the back door. For a while I had a part time job in the bookstore across the street from the community garden, so I would visit it every day after work. I didn’t want to get my work clothes and shoes dirty, but at least that way I could check on my plants almost every day, harvest anything that ripened, and take note of things I had to do on my next day off when I’m properly prepared to dig in the dirt.

But then I got a job further away and visiting my garden required a 15 minute drive to get there. And then I had a car accident and wasn’t hurt but totaled my car and now relied on public transportation to get there. Now it was a 45 minute bus ride to get to my garden, because public transportation in Texas is terrible. I have a vivid memory of dragging a large sack full of freshly harvested potatoes and onions onto the bus after spending a few hours digging them up. The bus driver and I had an interesting conversation about it.

The garden started getting neglected. Sometimes tomatoes would rot before I got to them. The weeds started taking over because I never had enough time to pull them all. I was going to college full time plus a part time job, so I could only visit the garden once a week.

The other gardeners at the community garden were almost all retired people who had a lot of time on their hands. Some thought it was really cool that a college student was trying to grow a garden there and were friendly and encouraging, but the lady who had a plot next to mine started getting increasingly annoyed. She kept her garden perfect with no weeds and little cherub statues and lattice fences around. She started making rude comments about how unkempt and ugly my garden was looking. I started trying to avoid being there when she was also there, which cut into the time I could spend in my garden even more.

Then one day I got to my garden and there was a yellow flag. That happens when someone puts in a complaint that a garden had excessive weeds or unharvested crops, so the garden might be abandoned. You had a week to clean it up or they would put up a red flag, and now that means you lost your garden and they were going to rent it to someone else. I don’t know who complained about my garden, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to clean it up in time, so I sent management an email saying I was giving up my garden. I didn’t want to get that red flag signifying it was abandoned, because I’d heard the complaints about all “those people” who come and get a plot and be enthusiastic for a few weeks and then realize it was hard work and disappear. I didn’t want them to think I was one of “those people.”

I ended up going to graduate school at a different university in a new town which had community gardens, but I had learned my lesson that I didn’t have time to tend a garden I had to drive to. The old saying goes that the best thing for a garden is the gardener’s shadow. A garden really needs to be checked on daily.

The best I could do was get a CSA membership, so I got fresh produce delivered once a week to my apartment. I made friends with the farmer, and would sometimes come and help him with his farm, which was about a 20 minute drive away. One time I went and helped him pick peaches for a few hours, and he let me take home all the bruised ones he couldn’t sell. Another time I got a bunch of imperfect tomatoes. I bought a canner and canned them in my tiny apartment kitchen. I bought a Meyer lemon tree and a Key lime tree for my apartment balcony. I even harvested a few lemons or limes from them each winter. It wasn’t much of a harvest, but at least it was something.

Then I met the man who would become my husband, and we moved in together in a rented house. Shortly after that I graduated during the recession and was unemployed for almost a year. We did ask permission from the landlord to have a garden, but I bet he didn’t realize I’d take up the whole back yard. When you’re unemployed they say you’re supposed to make looking for work your full time job, but you can really only keep that up for a few weeks before you run out of places to apply to, and then what do you do with your time? I also looked for places to volunteer at, but they were all full and said they didn’t need any more volunteers. I guess many other people out of work had the same idea.

At least my garden made me feel like I was doing something productive, and I did get a bountiful harvest, especially of tomatoes, squash, and garlic. I doubt I made a big dent in our bills, but I think it certainly helped with my mental health.

Then I finally got a job, we got married, and bought our own house. And that’s where I am today. Our house is on a 0.8 acre plot, but most of it is heavily shaded with oak trees, which is nice, but gardens need sun. I have two vegetable gardens, one in the front and one in the back, in the two sunny spots we had. I also have fruit trees in a row in the front yard between the oak trees and the road: a pomegranate, the Meyer lemon I used to have on my balcony, a satsuma, a kumquat, a loquat, and a fig. We tried planting the Key lime where the kumquat is now, but during its first winter it died down to its roots. We dug it up and put it back in a pot, and replaced it with the kumquat. I guess my area isn’t quite warm enough yet for a Key lime to survive in the ground (it did manage to sprout back from its roots and now seems to be thriving in its pot). I would like to have more fruit trees like apples, peaches, and pears, but I’m not sure where I have the room to squeeze them in.

I know most people don’t have gardens, but I simply need to have one. Fellow gardeners will understand that, and other people don’t get it at all. When my husband and I were looking for a house, my first priority was that there had to be room for a garden.

 

The main deity I associate with my garden is Frey. I know some people might think that my gardening doesn’t count as an act of devotion to Frey, since it’s something I enjoy doing anyway, and would do with Frey or without him, but that’s how it is with me. It’s also shaped how I view Frey. I’ve seen other people’s depictions of him where he ends up looking like Fabio, with long flowing blonde hair, but I have a hard time picturing him like that.

To me, Frey has hair and a beard the dark brown color of fertile soil and green eyes the color of healthy vegetation. He has the physique and tanned skin of someone who works outside most of the time. If he’s wearing clothes, they’re also green and brown, and he smells like soil and fresh cut grass. His sacred animals are the deer and the wild hog, which is ironic since both of those animals are very destructive to gardens. Deer are overpopulated here since we removed their natural predators, and wild hogs are a non-native invasive species. Maybe there’s a lesson here somewhere.

The idea that Frey is sacrificed and reborn every year is probably a bit of modern lore. I don’t remember anything about that in any of the Norse mythology I’ve read. But I don’t care, because it fits so well with him. The cycle of life, death, and rebirth is so obvious when you garden, and especially when you save your own seeds, like I do. It also makes sense for him to die on Lammas, because here that’s the hottest time of year, and that’s what ends up killing most of the spring-planted crops (the tomatoes, beans, etc. that were planted in February or March). Then there’s a second planting season for overwintering crops in fall when it cools down sometime around the Autumn Equinox.

In order to be a good gardener I also have to be on good terms with the local land spirits and the plant spirits, and that’s where things get a little trickier as a Heathen, because most of them are not European. Yes, Europeans have been here for a while, and many of them are buried around here and still haunt the place, but they are in the minority as far as local spirits go. As for the plants I grow, most of them are either native to the New World (squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes), or to Africa (okra, black-eyed peas) because of the hot climate here. In the winter I can grow some peas, carrots, turnips, and other European things, but for most of the year my garden is full of stuff that wasn’t domesticated by white people. I don’t think it’s right to ignore native spirits when I’m using their land and growing their crops, but cultural appropriation is always such a touchy subject. How I deal with this is still in the learning stages.

And I mean “growing their crops” quite literally sometimes. I get a lot of stuff from Native Seeds/SEARCH, which is an organization in Tucson, Arizona whose goal is to preserve Native American plant varieties from the Southwest. Some of their plants are native to the New World (like corn, beans, and squash), and some were brought by Europeans and then adopted by native tribes (like melons). Tucson is a bit hotter and drier than here, but that often means their plants think South Texas is a lush paradise. Sometimes I hardly have to water them at all. They do have a few varieties that are from the San Antonio area, like what is now my favorite okra, but I’m on the very eastern edge of the geographic range they cover.

But with climate change, maybe things from further southwest might be even better adapted to growing here over time. That seems to be the opinion of the founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH, Gary Nabhan. He’s probably right that the world is going to need these desert-adapted crops in the future. I’m just not sure if it’s going to get wetter or drier here overall. So far it seems like we’ve just had more extremes: floods, then droughts, then a flood, then more drought. That actually makes it even harder than it would be if it was just getting consistently wetter or drier. Plant something from Florida during a dry year and it roasts to a crisp. Plant something from Arizona during a wet year and it rots.

 

Now my gardening has progressed into seed-saving to preserve heirloom varieties. I’ll probably join Seed Savers Exchange soon because I’ve gotten to the point where I have enough to share. I’ve also started a little bit of amateur plant breeding to get varieties that are even better adapted to my growing conditions, inspired by an author named Carol Deppe. I own all three of her books, and she’s one of those people who I think would make a good pagan (even though she says she’s a Taoist). There’s a lot of animism in the way she writes about the relationship between a gardener and her plants. She’s one of those gardeners who is not afraid to admit that she talks to her plants, and talking to them helps them grow better, and sometimes they do actually talk back.

Saving your own seeds closes the circle. I associate it with the rune Ingwaz. In general I think of Ingwaz as the rune for the legacy you are going to leave to future generations. It’s a counterbalance to Othala in that way, as Othala is the rune for what the ancestors left us.

I like to think that I’m doing my part to preserve seeds and knowledge for future generations who are going to really need them when climate change forces us to adapt the way we obtain our food.

But even if there wasn’t some “greater purpose” to what I do in my garden, I’d still enjoy doing it anyway. It’s just fun.

Thor and San Juan on Midsummer

Well, this is a nice coincidence. I was just looking at the website for one of my favorite seed sources, Native Seeds/SEARCH, where I found this article on their blog:

Celebrate Dia de San Juan!

This is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about in my last post on Thor and giving him thanks in June for bringing the rains to the garden. I knew that June 24 was the feast day of St. John the Baptist, but I didn’t know that he was the patron saint of rain. It makes sense though.

Now I’m even more certain that Midsummer is Thor’s holiday in Texas! He fits perfectly to make a Heathenized version of Dia de San Juan.

This year’s Midsummer celebration went very well too. I did my usual barbecue and invited over several guests. Thor got honored, but also Loki. I gave the Trickster a piece of meat by throwing it directly in the fire once the meat was done. The feast contained a lot of vegetables and herbs that I grew in my garden, and the meat was smoked with oak wood from dead branches we trimmed off our own trees.

Then after the feast, even though it was a warm night, we made a bonfire in the fire pit in the back yard out of juniper wood, which repels mosquitoes. Bonfires are supposed to purify the area of evil spirits, right? Well, even if they don’t, it did purify the area of those darn mosquitoes!

Then we had a symbel around the fire with the last of my mead. I think it was the first symbel I had where some magic actually happened, rather than it being just a bunch of people getting drunk and chatting. What happens in symbel stays in symbel, so I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say after that I was like, “Oh, that’s why symbels are a big deal!”

It was pretty cool.

Thor the Rainbringer

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A black swallowtail visits the Cenizo in my front yard.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, one of my long-term goals is to adapt Heathenry to Texas. I think this is necessary in order for Heathenry to survive into the future. We can’t keep Heathenry stuck in Viking Age Scandinavia. It has to be allowed to evolve and adapt. Of course, transplanting Heathenry to Texas is going to be difficult because of the climate difference between here and Northern Europe, but I think it can be done.

Part of that is adapting seasonal festivals to the local climate, which is what I’ve mostly been writing about, but I also think that the gods manifest themselves differently in different regions. That could be because I’m a very nature-oriented person, but I don’t think I’m the only person who has noticed this. For example, I have a lot of trouble with Skadhi because she’s a frost giantess, and last winter we didn’t even have any freezes! That will only become more common as the climate warms. I also don’t have much to do with Njord because I don’t live by the coast. Even if I did live on the Gulf Coast, I have a feeling Njord would manifest a lot differently there than he does in Scandinavia, since the Gulf Coast of Texas is semi-tropical. Texas Njord had better like palm trees and sea turtles!

That being said, some Germanic gods seem to have no problem making themselves known here in Texas, and I’d say the easiest one is Thor. He fits right in. Come on, can’t you imagine him wearing snakeskin cowboy boots?

In Northern Europe, Thor fights the Frost Giants, but here heat and drought are his main adversaries. Though he comes from a long line of Indo-European thunder gods, in Texas he takes on the job of the bringer of life-giving rain, giving him a bit more of a fertility aspect which is downplayed in the Scandinavia lore. I don’t live in the desert, but my ecosystem is still drought-prone. We had an especially bad one in 2011, making it obvious how much we rely on Thor’s blessings. There’s nothing like getting a nice thunderstorm rolling in after enduring another Texas summer of 100 degree heat. The brown landscape comes back to life after it soaks up the life-giving water. There are several plant species here that bloom right after a rain and are dormant the rest of the time. I consider those plants sacred to Thor.

But as it often is with natural forces, there is another side. My area is also prone to flash floods. Last year we had some especially bad floods that killed several people and caused massive amounts of destruction. Then there are the tornadoes. I’m actually a little too far south to have a lot of tornadoes, but they do show up occasionally. However, I grew up in the Dallas area where tornado watches and warnings were common.

Thunderstorms also bring hail. If you are a Texan, it is not hard to understand why Hagalaz is one of the most dreaded runes. It was only a few weeks ago that San Antonio got baseball-sized hail that broke many car windshields and roofs and windows of houses. Now imagine if you are a farmer and your livelihood depended on your crops, and just as they’ve started to grow up nice and green, a hail storm pulverizes them. And now it’s too late in the year to replant and get a crop in time. Your entire year’s income just got wiped out in one day.

So thunderstorms bring us life-giving water and relief from the heat. They fill our rivers and aquifers and water our crops. They also destroy our crops with hail, destroy our houses with floods and tornadoes, and kill people. It should be no surprise then that Thor is prominent in Texas.

In Central Texas, we have two rainy seasons. The big one is just coming to an end. May and June are our wettest months. The summer crops get plenty of water, but this is also when the most flash floods happen. Then things dry out in July and August before our second, less severe rainy season happens in September and October. Either of these rainy seasons would be a good time for a Texan to do a big ritual in honor of Thor.

I often make smaller offerings to him during thunderstorms, especially if it comes when I really needed it. I like to give him Shiner Bock, which is a Texas beer that I like (so I often have it in the fridge), or I burn him some Dragon’s Blood incense. During the dry season, offerings of rain water from the rain barrel seem like an appropriate sacrifice as well. On my altar I have a rain stick for Thor that I sometimes use when offering to him.

Everyone knows that Thor’s sacred tree is the oak, and my area has plenty of those. The main species here is Quercus virginiana, the Southern live oak, and it’s also the most common tree on my property. We also have a few Texas red oak (Quercus bucklei) seedlings and saplings coming up here and there.

Like I mentioned above, there are some native Texas plants that bloom when it rains, and I also consider these sacred to Thor even if it isn’t traditional. One is a shrub called Cenizo, Leucophyllum frutescens, which is a popular landscape shrub around here. It has silvery foliage and blooms with beautiful purple flowers. One of its common names is “barometer bush” because if its habit of blooming when it rains.

Another one of Thor’s plants is the rain lily, Cooperia pedunculata, which waits underground as a bulb until it rains. Then once the water soaks down to the bulbs, their cheerful white flowers emerge. Rain can be spotty around here, so there have been several times I’ve been driving out in the country and commented, “Oh, it must have rained here. Look at all the rain lilies along the side of the road.”

As for animals, Thor is usually associated with goats, and the Texas Hill Country is good for goat farming, judging by how many goats you see driving around out in the country, especially towards Dripping Springs and Fredericksburg. It looks like both meat goats and milk goats thrive here. Locally produced goat cheese is a common sight at farmer’s markets. I think it would be a good offering to Thor. Goat meat still doesn’t seem to have caught on much among white people, but Hispanics love it, so if you are adventurous enough you can go to a Hispanic meat market to get some. I’ve had it once or twice, and it was good. It tasted to me somewhere between beef and lamb.

Thor also has a sacred bird here. In the Scandinavian lore, Odin is associated with ravens and Freya with falcons. It seems to be modern lore to associate Frigg with some kind of water bird, like a heron or osprey, which I think is appropriate. But Thor doesn’t have a sacred bird as far as I know.

Well, for Texas at least, I propose the Yellow Billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) to be Thor’s bird. It’s also known as the Rain Crow because of its habit of calling before thunderstorms. They migrate to Central America in the winter, but always arrive in my area in time for the thunderstorm season. I hear them really often, but they are seldom seen. They like to creep around high in the trees and don’t usually perch out in the open. I have actually seen one three or four times though. If you’re not looking carefully, they can be mistaken for a mockingbird, but they’re bigger, browner, and have that distinctive yellow bill (mockingbirds are grey with a black bill).

The kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk kowlp-kowlp-kowlp sound of the Rain Crow, the smell of ozone, the blooming Barometer Bush, the cool breeze just starting to cut through the heavy, humid air, those are the signs that Thor the Rainbringer is on his way! Instead of going inside, we stay out and watch the dark clouds billowing in the distance and the first few drops of rain hitting the dusty dry earth. “Finally it’s raining. We really needed the rain,” we say before heading under a roof to avoid getting soaked. But we keep watching as the thirsty trees and grass and gardens soak up Thor’s gift and the sky lights up with a spectacular show.

Hail Thor! Hail the Rainbringer! Welcome to Texas. We hope you’ll stay fer a spell!

Ostara’s Sacred Birds

Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox, and it looks like in my household it will end up being a low-key affair because my husband and I have both been very busy and under a lot of stress lately. We haven’t had the time or energy to make a lot of plans for it. But I have to do something because in theory anyway, Ostara/Easter is one of my favorite holidays. Probably because when I was a kid, our secular celebration of Easter was tied with Halloween for second favorite holiday (after our secular Christmas, of course). After all, Easter is when the Easter Bunny came! That was always very exciting. I tend to make the date I actually honor Ostara flexible. I do it some time between the actual Spring Equinox and Christian Easter. That gives me some wiggle room in some years, but unfortunately this year is one of the ones where Easter comes at the end of March.

I’ve written here before about how Ostara, Goddess of Spring and the Dawn, is definitely a real goddess to me, no matter what anyone else says. So I was very happy when I found out that she’s definitely a real goddess in Urglaawe. They seem to have more information about her than any other Heathen group I’ve come across.

The Spring 2015 issue of Hollerbeer Hof was all about Ostara (or should I say Oschdra?), including a myth about how she brings color to the world. In the story, she’s one of a trio of sisters, the others being Nacht (“Night”) and Helling (“Daylight”). I know that in Norse myth there is a male deity named Delling associated with Dawn, while Nott is the goddess of Night in Norse mythology. Hmm, that’s interesting.

But what’s more interesting is the role of the Goldfinch (Distelfink) in this myth. Oh yes, there’s a Hare too, but I already knew that hares and rabbits were Ostara’s sacred beasts (like goats are to Thor or cats to Freya), but the goldfinch being her sacred bird is new to me. It makes a lot of sense though! For one thing, she just should have a sacred bird. Odin has ravens, Freya has falcons, so why shouldn’t Ostara get a bird too?

And the Goldfinch is a perfect bird for her, because it’s so colorful, and Ostara is the goddess who brings color to the world. It’s why we paint colorful Easter eggs for her holiday (or her Lagomorph helper brings them and hides them for children to find). I already associate Ostara with spring blooming flowers, so why not colorful birds as well? Especially migratory ones that leave during the winter and return in spring.

The original Distelfink was probably the European goldfinch. When European colonists came to the New World, they had a bad habit of naming North American birds that kinda sorta looked like birds from Europe with the same names, even if they aren’t the same species or even the same family, much to the annoyance of ornithologists! The American robin vs. the European robin is a notable example. At least American goldfinches and European goldfinches are both finches.

So when the Pennsylvania Germans came to North America, the American goldfinch became the Distelfink. They have a lot more gold coloring on them anyway, so they actually make a better Distelfink.

I only occasionally see American goldfinches around here. That’s why I was really happy to read in Hollerbeer Hof that there is conflation between the American goldfinch and Painted Bunting when it comes to the identity of the Distelfink. It also notes that Painted Buntings are uncommon in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

But guess where they are common!

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A male Painted Bunting at my birdfeeder

Painted Buntings are actually in the Cardinal family, but unlike their red cousins who are here all year, they spend the winter in Mexico and the summer here in Texas. That makes them a good Ostara’s bird because they don’t arrive until Spring.

They’re also the most colorful birds we have here. It looks like a kid’s drawing of a bird come to life, a kid who used every crayon in the box.

 

I started getting them at my bird feeder when I discovered by accident that their favorite food is millet. I had been putting nothing but black oil sunflower seeds in the feeders, thinking most birds like them better than millet. Then one day the grocery store had this seed mix on sale, so I went ahead and bought some, even though it had lots of “filler” seeds like millet. That’s when the buntings started showing up.

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A female Painted Bunting

Female painted buntings are less colorful. They’re more of an olive green, which makes them camouflage really well with green leaves up in the trees.

I haven’t seen any Painted Buntings here yet, but I know they are coming soon. When they get here, the feeders are ready for them

There is one more Distelfink that we actually have here in Texas, the Lesser Goldfinch. It’s a close relative of the American Goldfinch. I wish it had a better name. It’s called Lesser Goldfinch because it’s smaller than it’s cousin, but that makes it seem like it’s not as good of a finch or something. They’re very cute birds, though the Painted Bunting is much more colorful and Easter egg-like. The Lesser Goldfinch is still a striking bird. It looks like its back was colored with a black Sharpie, while its belly was colored with a neon yellow highlighter.

Lesser Goldfinch

A Lesser Goldfinch at the bird bath

So unlike the Groundhog, this is one sacred animal that we do have a Texas version of. If we had a Texas version of Urglaawe, we could have a version of the Oschdra myth with a Painted Bunting in the role of the Distelfink and a Jackrabbit as Haas (the Hare). They can bring color to the world by causing the Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes and Texas Redbuds to bloom. Someone needs to write that!

The God of Satire

One of the fights that never seems to go away in American Heathenry is the fight over whether it’s OK to worship Loki or not. It puts me in a weird position since Loki’s just not a god I ever really clicked with, which puts him in the same category as Tyr, Heimdall, Skadhi, and many other gods that I think are perfectly respectable. That he gets singled out as a god that’s especially problematic seems really odd to me as an Odin’s woman. In a lot of ways he seems nicer than Odin, but Odin is universally seen as a god that’s OK to worship.

Even though I don’t know Loki very well, certainly not as well as someone who considers him their main patron god, there is one area in my life where I think I “get” Loki, or at least one aspect of him. I’ve always been a huge fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and its spinoffs, and I think Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Jon Oliver, Larry Wilmore, and the rest of them are doing Loki’s work in the world. Yes, I know that Jon Stewart is Jewish and Stephen Colbert is Catholic, but I still think of them as honorary Lokeans. Hey, if people can consider Jim Morrison and other rock stars as being avatars of Dionysus, then why not satirists as avatars of Loki?

I don’t know what I’m going to do now that The Colbert Report is over and Jon Stewart has left The Daily Show. I know that Stephen Colbert is taking over for Letterman, but I just don’t know if it will be the same. The Late Show is a completely different kind of show. I know they’ve got a new guy that’s taking over The Daily Show, but he won’t be the same as Jon Stewart.

jon_stewart2

I had trouble keeping my eyes dry watching Jon Stewart’s last episode Thursday night. That show has been on almost half my life. It helped get me through the long nightmare that was the Bush Administration. While Bush was in office I could hardly bring myself to watch any other news show besides The Daily Show, because at least The Daily Show made me laugh. Watching the “real” news was just too depressing to handle. And I’m sure my experience is not unique among those of us who came of age during the post-9/11 era and were at the start of our careers during the 2008 financial crisis. Shucks, the 2000 Bush vs. Gore election was the first presidential election I was old enough to vote in, and immediately I learned that my vote doesn’t matter, and that the Supreme Court can just appoint the president regardless of who got the most votes. That was also when The Daily Show first rose to prominence, and when I first started watching it.

Lokeans say that Loki does have a compassionate side, and maybe that’s part of it. He can use laughter to help people deal with the horrible things in the world. I’ve also noticed that Loki seems to be more popular with marginalized communities, like LBGT folks and people with mental health issues and disabilities. To me, that makes a lot of sense. A good satirist should always “punch up” after all. Loki is going to be a lot more comforting to the people at the bottom of the social hierarchy than those on top.

I associate Loki with political satire mainly because of Lokasenna. People say that shows how awful he is because he insulted the gods. To me, it looks a lot like what Stephen Colbert did to George W. Bush during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2006, which I thought was one of Stephen’s finest moments.

People call Loki “The Father of Lies.” The irony is that, as far as I know, Loki never lies. Everything he accused the gods of in Lokasenna was true. They didn’t dispute any of it, even though it was embarrassing. Jon Stewart was also known to be very truthful. Most of his show, besides the interviews, was just him showing clips of what politicians actually said. He said it was because making stuff up isn’t as funny as being truthful, but of course powerful people hate that, since they rely on people forgetting what they said years ago (or maybe even weeks ago).

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Loki is controversial and banned from Heathen groups. Maybe being an outsider is just part of Loki’s job. People like it when people they don’t like are laughed at, but once the joke is on you, then they don’t think it’s funny. Loki is not quite a god but not quite a giant either. You can’t really tell which side he’s on. And people don’t like that. No one was safe from Jon Stewart. If you said something stupid, he would catch you at it, no matter where you fell on the political spectrum. Some people were just better sports about it than others.

I think it’s necessary to have someone like that, and that’s why I think that Loki deserves worship. He plays a very important role. He keeps the other gods on their toes, and they’re better off in the long run having him around. Maybe that’s why Odin made him his blood-brother. Odin knows that we need him.

Ugh, what am I going to do without Jon Stewart? What about the next presidential election? What if we end up with President Trump? Oh man, we’re so screwed.

Maybe I should start including Loki in my spiritual practice a bit more. The first thing I will do is pour him a shot of tequila and ask him to watch over Jon Stewart and bless him in whatever he chooses to do next. I should probably also put in a good word for Stephen Colbert taking over The Late Show and Trevor Noah taking over The Daily Show. Maybe it won’t be so bad. And I still have Larry Wilmore an John Oliver. Thank Loki for all of them!

The Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

Here is a neat myth I just found: Urglaawe Myth of Die Oschdre

It tells a tale of how the spring goddess brings bright colors to the world. This resonates well with spring here in Texas, with the Texas Mountain Laurels, Texas Redbuds, and now the Texas Bluebonnets starting to bloom.

Winter weather in Texas is gray. We only rarely get the pretty parts of winter: the snowflakes and icicles. No, we get gray clouds, fog, and drizzle. We do get some freak warm weather through the winter. I’ve had Yule parties where I needed to turn the air conditioner on. But most plants and animals know it’s not spring yet when we have those warm periods in December, January, or February. They wait, because the next week it could be below freezing again.

But by the Spring Equinox, it’s safe to assume we’ll get no more freezes again. At the same time, colorful flowers start to bloom and colorful summer migratory birds like warblers, painted buntings, and hummingbirds start to arrive. Our non-migratory birds like mockingbirds, cardinals, and chickadees start building new nests and soon you can hear the chirp of this year’s chicks up in the trees.

So yes, the idea of Ostara bringing color to a gray world fits very well here. I’m glad I found this myth.

There’s so little about Ostara out there. Some Heathens don’t even think she’s a real goddess and say that Bede just made her up. Others ignore her because she’s not found in the Scandinavian lore which they base their religion on. Some say she’s the southern name for a known Scandinavian goddess like Freya or Idunna and substitute accordingly.

This is purely speculation on my part, but I think she’s one of the “other” Vanir. You know, one of the ones besides Frey, Freya, and Njord who weren’t involved in the peace negotiations between the Aesir and Vanir. I also think that England and Central Europe knew the Vanir better than Scandinavia, because it’s a warmer, more fertile climate. I think that Frau Holle and Nerthus also may be Vanic deities that were better known in these more southern areas, and this is why their lore has been better preserved in the folklore of these areas than it was in Scandinavia.

I try to follow a Germanic version of the standard Neopagan Eight Holidays, using English, German, and Pennsylvania Dutch sources for inspiration. One thing I have observed is that the holidays opposite each other (that is, the ones that are exactly six months apart) balance each other in a nice way. They end up acting like Ying/Yang counterparts to each other.

The Autumn Equinox comes in September, and that’s usually when we get our first cold front that finally breaks the summer heat. The temperatures go from the high 90’s or low 100’s every day to a relatively refreshing high 80’s or low 90’s. Trust me, after getting through another Texas August, a high of “only” 92 is a sign the Wild Hunt and the Frost Giants are on their way! There’s a definite sense of seasonal change, of flipping a switch, and now we’re finally done with the suffocating 100 degree heat.

The Spring Equinox is the opposite of that. By January and February, we’re getting a little sick of the dreary drizzle with occasional freezes. But when the goddess Ostara arrives, we know it’s really Spring this time. It’s flipped to the light half of the year. It’s really unlikely we’re going to get any more freezes, so it’s safe to start planting out warm-weather plants. The trees know it’s safe put out their buds and flowers and the birds know it’s safe to start laying eggs. We know for sure that winter is done with.

Ostara is as real to me as any other deity I’ve encountered. One of the first group rituals I ever led was an Ostara ritual where the goddess actually showed up. I did it in a Wiccan style since most of the people there were Wiccans, with a “Drawing Down” of the goddess. And apparently, it worked! I was never completely possessed, since I remember everything that happened. I felt like I was in a state of “flow”, and the whole ritual went perfectly smoothly, and afterward the other participants told me how great it was and how they really felt the presence of the goddess.

So if she’s not a real deity, then I don’t know what is.

There’s a good reason why Ostara is the goddess of both Spring and the Dawn. If Yule is the midnight of the year, and Groundhog Day is when you start to see the first glow of sunlight on the horizon, then Ostara is daybreak when the sun comes up over the horizon and bathes the land in morning light. Ostara is the goddess of new beginnings, of chicks and bunnies and other baby animals, of flowers and bees and seeds. When she arrives, it’s an exciting time of year, full of potential.

I don’t care if the Scandinavians didn’t know her. I know her.

The God of Science

Sunday was the first episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which is Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s update of Cosmos: A Personal Voyage with Carl Sagan.

I grew up watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and it’s probably one of the reasons why I went into science as a career. The remake is good so far (despite lacking the excellent soundtrack of the original), but I was more excited about the marathon of the original series that was on the National Geographic Channel before it. I hadn’t seen some of these episodes since I was a child. It is nice to watch them all again now that I’m older and can appreciate it in more mature ways. I remembered how Carl explained to me, through the TV, all of these advanced scientific concepts like the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, and the concept of black holes, giving me a scientific understanding way ahead of my years. I had forgotten about the biographies of scientists sprinkled throughout, and about Sagan’s ominous prophecies about what could happen if science is misused, especially in the last episode “Who Speaks for the Earth?” I’m sure those parts must have made an impression on me as well, because even by first or second grade I was known to my classmates and teachers as a science geek and environmentalist. I remember getting picked on for that.

I know Sagan was an atheist, but he still inspired a lot of pagans, including me.

It also reminds me of why Odin is my main god, even though I’m not a warrior. Odin is most often portrayed as a war god, but I interact with him more as a god of wisdom, knowledge, and curiosity. To me, Odin is the God of Science

It may seem strange to have a god of science in this era where science and religion are seen as being opposed to each other, but that attitude is a recent one, and many polytheistic cultures had gods associated with knowledge and learning, such as Ganesh, Thoth, and Athena. Even when Christianity came along, many scientists were also Christians. Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was a monk. He studied biology as a way to understand the Creator better.

Odin’s best myths don’t have to do with war, but with his quest for knowledge. He consults with the volva to find out the future, sacrifices his eye to drink from the Well of Wisdom, and hangs himself from Yggdrasil to discover the Runes.

Scientists, like Odin, have this thirst for knowledge, and like Odin, usually have to make great sacrifices for it. Going into this field is difficult. The three years I spent in grad school were some of the hardest years in my life. Then, despite all the hype about STEM fields and how easy it would be for anyone graduating with a science degree to find a job, I graduated right at the beginning of the Great Recession and spent 10 months unemployed. (It also probably didn’t help that I studied things like ecology, wildlife biology, and environmental science instead of something profitable like petroleum engineering.) I thought I had ruined my life.

It was also the time in my life when Odin was the most present. This was the time for me to hang from the Tree, and Odin reminded me how difficult that was for him, how he wasn’t sure if it was going to survive the ordeal either, or if he was even going to discover anything useful from it. It was a comfort to me to think that Odin thought I could get through this, and I just had to trust him that everything will be OK in the end. Even though I don’t fully believe in the gods (I still often think they really are just all in my head), Odin reminded me that he believes in me, and that’s the important thing.

odin hanging

Despite the stereotype of being a bunch of stiffs, scientists are actually quite a passionate lot, and Odin is a passionate god. If you’re going to dedicate so much of your life to the study of something, you had better be passionate about it. One of the problems I had in graduate school was that I got into a program I wasn’t passionate about. It was all about ecological modeling and population genetics. I spent my days in front of a computer working out simulations of ecosystems, rather than outside in the real thing. After about a year and a half of this with no thesis even started, I was changed to the non-thesis option, so I could still get some kind of degree. Except then I was free to take any classes I wanted (and I now had to take more classes to make up for not doing a thesis), and I started taking some of the field biology classes that were not part of the “population biology” program I had signed up for, but the “wildlife biology” program (the biology department did little to explain to me what the difference was between those two, which seemed to me like splitting hairs, and it was only after being in grad school for a couple of years that I realized the latter was what I really should have enrolled in). Finally I could be outdoors with my beloved plants and animals, and I was reminded of why I went into biology in the first place.

The great thing about Carl Sagan is that he could express his passion and wonder about the universe to a lay audience. He did this without condescension or dumbing things down. He’d just chat with you through your television, and by the end of it, you understood not only the scientific concepts, but why they are so amazing. He could pass his passion on to you. I want that job.

Odin is often considered to be a dangerous god. How does that fit in to his role as the God of Science? Even though Sagan portrays science as mostly a force for good, throughout Cosmos he brings up how technology can also lead us to destroying ourselves, perhaps through nuclear war (a big concern during the Cold War era), or perhaps through climate change (which he hints at in the original Cosmos, but that show was produced before climate change was well understood). I am reminded of Prometheus who gave fire to mankind and was punished for that. This is generally considered to be a myth about technology, and I believe that Odin and Loki together play this role in the Norse pantheon. (There may have even been a more obviously Prometheus-like myth that’s been lost to us, as I’m sure many myths known to our ancestors have been.) In Voluspa, Odin, Hoenir, and Lodhurr (who may be the same as Loki) created the first humans. Since we now know how humans were “really” created, thanks to Darwin, perhaps this can be seen as a myth about when humans were set apart from the rest of nature, when we ceased being just another animal wandering the savannas of Africa, and became capable of understanding the wonders of the universe. Yet this intelligence also gives us the capacity to destroy ourselves and take a lot of our fellow species along with us.

Scientific knowledge itself can also cause discomfort. Science deals with how the universe is, not how we would like it to be. In the first episode of the new Cosmos, Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells the story of Giordano Bruno, who believed in an infinite universe, going against the geocentric view of the universe that most people believed at the time. He wasn’t the first scientist to propose something like that, but it took a long time for the idea to catch on that the universe is unimaginably vast. Tyson illustrates this right at the beginning of the episode, showing our cosmic “address” in the context of the known universe.

Later in that episode, Tyson illustrates how the universe is not only vast in space, but in time, borrowing Sagan’s “Cosmic Calendar”, where all of human history happens in only the last 14 seconds of the last hour of December 31. I see parallels between the Young Earth Creationists of today with the geocentric view of Bruno’s time. Back then they believed in a universe small in space, and today they believe in a universe young in time, but I think the motivation is the same. It’s just hard to believe that humanity is so tiny. We want ourselves to be big and important. If we’re not the center of the universe in physical space, then at least the universe should be young, and not have had those many billions of years with no humans around. I admit that sometimes even I can fall into despair and nihilism when contemplating Deep Time, or how far away the stars really are, and remembering how tiny and insignificant I am, but just because people may not like an idea doesn’t make it untrue.

Tyson acknowledges that this view of the universe makes us feel small, but then attempts to cheer us up by reminding us how neat it is that we have the ability to even understand these things at all. I say this is the Gift of Odin that he and his brothers gave humanity, or perhaps the Curse of Odin, depending on how you look at it. They say ignorance is bliss, and that can be true. My cats don’t have to be burdened by the knowledge of how short their lives are or how insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things. They can just enjoy their little lives blissfully ignorant of all that.

But Odin believes that knowing is always better than not knowing, even if that knowledge is uncomfortable. Knowledge is especially important now that we have the capacity to destroy ourselves and a lot of our fellow creatures along with us.

In the Autumn 2013 edition of Idunna, I was delighted to find an article by Diana Paxson titled “Staving off Ragnarok: A Heathen Response to Climate Change.” I had never seen anyone else make these connections before, so it’s nice to have that external validation from another Odinswoman that Odin is concerned about climate change. My early exposure to Asatru was mostly through very conservative Heathens who would never support environmental causes (or anything else supported by the political left except for freedom of religion). Some of them might have tolerated that sort of thing from a follower of Frey or one of the other Vanir, but certainly not from Odin’s people, who are supposed to be hawkish about war and gun enthusiasts, not environmentalists. (A Book of Troth by Edred Thorrson even has an entire chapter titled “The Earth and the World” explaining why Heathens are not “nature-worshippers”, and in fact, the gods are in rebellion against nature, personified by the etins.)

I think that people forget that Odin is a god with a specific mission. His battles are not just for the sake of killing and destruction, but for a greater purpose. He’s not gathering warriors together in Valhalla just for fun. Even though he knows that Ragnarok is inevitable (just as scientists know that extinctions and endings are inevitable), he tries to put it off as long as possible, and prepare for it as best he can.

In my Environmental Biology class I teach my students about mitigating climate change. Few people understand climate change, and fewer still realize that it’s already too late to stop or reverse it. Yes, we have now released enough greenhouse gases that even if all emissions stopped tomorrow, the Earth would continue to warm over the next several decades. And we’re not going to stop all emissions tomorrow.

Now the task is to mitigate it. We can only slow it down, put it off, make it not as bad as it would be if we did nothing. If we do nothing, it will be a total catastrophe for the human species. If we work hard, something may be able to survive. Sounds a lot like Ragnarok. The best Odin can do is to make sure something survives after Ragnarok to rebuild the world.

In “Staving off Ragnarok”, Paxson writes, “Because I am known as an Odinswoman, other people who have had close encounters of the Thridhi kind tend to talk to me. Far from being special, I am only one of many who have unexpectedly found themselves in a relationship with this god. Several people at a workshop I gave at Sirius Rising this summer introduced themselves by saying, ‘I’m a Christian, but when I was at this Reiki workshop I found myself working with Odin.”

Sounds familiar, except in my case I was an atheist-turned-Wiccan at a meditation workshop when Odin unexpectedly arrived. This was in 2003, when he was supposedly (according to the Heathens I soon encountered online) busy drumming up support for the Iraq War in order to send thousands more warriors to Valhalla. So why was he wasting his time with a tree-hugging environmentalist like me? Surely I must have been mistaken.

Here I am today, over ten years later, teaching Environmental Biology at a community college in a poor section of a large city in the American Southwest. Many of my students have never even heard of fracking or know that our water supplies are in danger. It’s not exactly the position I expected to have when I chose to major in biology in college, nor is it the position you’d expect a follower of the Norse God of War to have. I just hope I’m on the right track and Odin is pleased with my progress so far.

When I was a kid watching Carl Sagan back in the 1980’s, I already knew I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. It was my destiny, my wyrd. I never felt like I wanted to do anything else. I wonder if Odin was already working in my life back then without my knowledge (besides showing up as Santa Claus once a year), or if my interest in science is what made him take notice of me later.

Either way, this is how I do Odin’s work, not as a warrior or even as a priestess, but as a science teacher. I’m no Carl Sagan, not even close, but I hope I can at least inspire interest in science in a few of my students, perhaps starting them on a path where they can find greater teachers than me and one day become greater scientists that I’ll ever be. Only the gods know if that will ever happen, but at least it’s possible.

Hello, Frigg?

Not a resolution per se, but one thing I’d like to attempt this year, which is different than anything I’ve done before, is to try to get the attention of the goddess Frigg. I’ve never done anything like this before. The only gods that I’ve had “show up” did so completely of their own volition. Or at least that’s the way it seemed. As you can see from my previous post on how I met Odin, I never planned on being an Odinswoman to begin with.

I’ve also had dealings with a handful of other gods, and all of them have little statues on my altar. Odin is in the middle, and to the right stands Thor, to the left, Freyr, and then on Freyr’s other side is his sister Freya. I would say of my other gods, Freyr comes second, followed by Thor, followed by Freya. I’m such a tomboy hanging out with the guys all the time! The Freya statue I have is actually the most expensive one I got, hoping that I could have more goddess influence in my life, but that didn’t seem to make much difference to her.

That was when I was in my 20’s, and now I’m turning 33 next week. I got married a year and a half ago, and at around the same time we bought a house, and now my husband and I are starting to seriously talk about having a child. I know this sounds a bit Wiccan, but I’m moving from being a Maiden into a Mother, and I really want to have more of Frigg’s influence in my life. I’ve actually been thinking about this for a couple of years, but this year I think I’m going to get serious about it.

To be honest, I find Frigg to be intimidating. You’d think that no deity could be scarier than her husband, but I’ve heard from other Odin’s people who agree with me that Frigg is the one you really don’t want to get on the bad side of. Even Odin gets in trouble when he crosses her! I hope that since I already have a good devotional relationship with her husband that she’ll at least hear me out.

There are some Heathens who say it’s a terrible idea to try to get the attention of a god on purpose. These are usually the same people who say ordinary people in pre-Christian times only worshiped the ancestors and nature spirits, and the gods only pay attention to really important people like kings. The latter is obviously not true, or at least not anymore, or else the gods would have nobody to pay attention to! As for the former, the reasoning seems to be that gods make your life complicated, so you don’t want to get involved with that.

Well, too late now, because Odin’s already done that. I just think that Frigg has certain expertise that would be very helpful to me right now.

Of course, I know she’ll want something in return. I can’t just go to her and say, “Hey Frigg, help me be a better wife to my husband and give me a child and make me a great mother!” and not have something for her in return. That’s just rude.

I already know some things she likes, just from reading what other Heathens have said. I’ve been told she likes plum wine as a libation (even the Asian brand I can find at the local store), and she likes people to keep a clean house. She likes fiber arts like spinning, weaving, knitting, and crocheting. That’s a start, anyway.

For Yule I asked my husband for a few Heathen things, and one of them was this Frigg doll from a shop on Etsy. I ran across this shop searching for a Valknut, actually. Now the shop is closed, and I think I might have gotten her last doll before she closed the shop! That’s a shame, because I thought these dolls were pretty neat. At first I thought it was kind of cheesy, because they’re so “cute”, but I also liked the amount of detail she put into them, like Ullr’s little bow, and Njord’s fishing net. I also appreciated that she made dolls for the lesser known deities like Sif, Ullr, and Njord and not just gods like Odin, Thor, and Freya.

Frigg doll

my Frigg doll

I decided that getting a crocheted doll might be especially appropriate for Frigg, and a nice change of pace from the Sacred Source statues I’ve bought from my other gods. So now she’s sitting on my altar, but I think later she might go on the mantle in the living room so she can look over the house.

OK, so I’ve got an altar piece for her, and a plan to give her libations every Friday, plus some housework in her honor. I hope that’s a good start, because if I’m going to end up actually being a mother myself, I am going to need all the help I can get.

The Yule Father

It seems that most people think of Odin as a warrior god, taking the souls of slain warriors up to Valhalla to feast and battle until Ragnarok. And yes that is an important aspect of this deity. Many of his heiti (names/aspects) relate to battle. However, that is the aspect of Odin I actually have the least amount of personal experience with. It makes sense, given that I’ve never served in the military. I’ve never been in battle myself, so I have no idea what that would be like, and I don’t pretend to.
For the next couple of posts about Odin, I am going to describe the aspects of him that I do relate to. I’m going to start with the first heiti of Odin that I met, which actually happened long before the events that I described in my last post. That was the first time I encountered Odin as Odin, but Odin is a god who likes to disguise himself. There are many stories in the Eddas where he goes out in disguise, sometimes even as a woman. He uses whatever mask he needs to suit his purposes. And it wasn’t until the past year or two that I really started to realize Odin was around in my life long before I knew it was him. In modern times he wears a disguise that you see everywhere at this time of year, and this disguise has enabled him to continue to receive offerings from millions of people around the world, or at least millions of children once a year.

They know this aspect of Odin as “Santa Claus.”

434px-MerryOldSanta

Now, sometimes when I mention that Santa is Odin to people, they have trouble believing it. I once mentioned it to a friend of mine, and he said, “But Santa is jolly! Odin isn’t jolly at all!” Even some fellow Heathens have trouble with the idea, and insist that Santa is really Thor, and his reindeer are really Thor’s goats, and both Santa and Thor like the color red. Thor is also much more “jolly”. Also, in Scandinavian countries, goats are associated with Yule, and those may very well be Thor’s goats.

170px-Santaandgoat

But if you look at older depictions of Father Christmas, they look much more Odinic. He used to wear all sorts of colors besides red. He used to ride a horse instead of a sleigh pulled by reindeer (though reindeer are still used as draft animals in certain parts of Scandinavia, so he could have reindeer too). When I was a child, I knew there was something more to Santa. I knew there was more to him than just someone who gives you toys; there was something deeper, more powerful, more ancient. The toys were nice, but there was something about leaving that offering of cookies out by the hearth on that magical night of Christmas Eve, knowing that during the night while I slept, this ancient, powerful being would come to collect his offering and leave me gifts in return. It gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart, but also made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. That a being that was powerful enough to do what Santa did still cared about little kids enough to visit use every year and bring us gifts, that was just amazing. And he cares about all little kids, not just the rich ones. He’d even give gifts to the poor kids who really needed them, and I was sure he actually cared about them more. Nobody was considered an outsider, unwanted, or unloved when it comes to Santa.

Coming of Santa Claus by Nast

Santa loves animals too.

I held onto my belief in Santa long after many of my peers had given it up, though the belief that there was literally an old man bringing the gifts started to fall apart in the face of the evidence, such as how Santa had the exact same handwriting as my mom, except for the occasional year he had the handwriting of my dad, and he always used the exact same wrapping paper that we had. Finally, one year when I was still playing along with the Santa thing, my mom flat out told me, “Your mommy is Santa. All those presents you ever got were from me.” Maybe she was sick of doing the Santa thing and wanted to end it once and for all, but I was almost kind of insulted. For one thing, by now it wasn’t like I was so dumb that I didn’t know she was the one leaving the gifts. For another thing, I didn’t believe her that she was Santa, and I thought it was rather arrogant of her to make such a claim.
Yes, I got the message that we wouldn’t be doing the Santa thing anymore, and that my mother felt my sister and I were too old for it now. I was depressed for a few years after that because that magic had been taken out of Christmas. The idea that Santa is silly kids’ stuff and when you “grow up” you stop believing in it just seemed so depressing. Santa seemed like so much more than just a source of toys. I didn’t even want toys anymore. Toys were only a small part of the whole Santa ritual, and that’s why I didn’t like my mom saying she was “really Santa”. There was more to Santa than that.
When I was in my early 20’s I got a job at Barnes and Noble. It turned out to be the one retail job I hated the least out of all the ones I had, and I ended up working for them off and on for several years as I worked my way through college. Every Christmas they had this thing similar to the Salvation Army Angel Tree, except it was just for books. You’d get a tag for a needy child, and it would say what books the child would like. You’d buy one for the child, attach the tag to it, and leave it under the tree. I started doing that every year with one boy and one girl. I loved doing it. I felt that warm feeling in my heart and that prickle up my spine. When I lived in an apartment complex that had a toy drive for needy children, I always bought some things for it. I’ve always loved the whole gift-giving tradition, and even bought gifts for all my college friends at Yule, even if they didn’t think to give me anything. I figured out how to “believe in Santa” as an adult. Now I was one of Santa’s helpers. Santa’s helpers aren’t just elves; they’re anyone who gives a gift with no strings attached, just to add a little bit more warmth and brightness to the world. Santa’s helpers are the ones who actually buy, wrap, and give the gifts, but they do it under the direction of Santa, in Santa’s name, as his priests and priestesses, doing his work in the world.

Father Christmas

I’ve seen modern paganism described as an effort to “re-enchant the world”. Since I was raised an atheist, Santa was my first source of enchantment. Atheists sometimes compare God to Santa Claus, implying belief in God is just as silly as belief in Santa Claus, but is it really that silly to believe in generosity, hospitality, and kindness? When I became a Wiccan, I accepted Santa as an aspect of “The God”, and maybe that was one of the reasons why the Wiccan God was easier for me to relate to. When I became Heathen, for a long time I didn’t believe the Odin-Santa connection because of the reasons I mentioned before, that Santa was too “nice” to be Odin. I understood that they had a historical connection, which is discussed in Santa’s Wikipedia article and also this funny cartoon “Irrefutable Proof that Santa is Odin”, which makes Santa seem rather scary. (Interestingly enough, my little sister was always terrified of Santa. Hmm. Maybe she sensed it too.)

But last Yule the last bit of doubt left my mind. At least for me, it turns out Santa was Odin all along. This means that Odin has been involved in my life from the very beginning, the implications of which I’m still figuring out. I remember an article I read once about whether it’s OK to “lie” to your children about Santa, and what kind of psychological effects that might have. I wish I could remember where it was from. I think it was from Psychology Today or something like that, because it was surprisingly well-written. The part that stood out to me was where it talked about how modern Western society’s view of these things is backwards from how things are viewed in traditional tribal societies. In Western society it’s OK for children to have “fantasies” like Santa Claus, and then when you “grow up” you stop believing in that nonsense and take on a more materialistic worldview. In more animistic or shamanic cultures, it’s the exact opposite. As a child, you’re focused on learning how the physical world works, and as you become older you gain more and more knowledge of the spiritual world.

I think this makes a lot of sense, especially given the choice you have once you get old enough to realize that your parents are the ones who buy those toys, wrap them, and leave them under the tree. In modern society, once one realizes that Santa is not an actual physical human being bringing you these physical toys and eating the physical cookies you left out for him, well, then that means he’s not real, right?

That makes sense if you believe that only physical things are real. Instead, that could be the point when you learn what Santa really is, and that your childhood understanding of Santa was too simplistic, but age-appropriate until you old enough to have a more nuanced understanding.

I plan on having a child someday, and I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to handle the issue of religion, since I wasn’t brought up with religion myself. I’ve been wondering how I’d teach a child about the gods (which is especially difficult because I’m not totally sure what a god is myself), and I realized that my atheist mom actually unintentionally introduced me to the concept by participating in the Santa tradition.

If you are not a Heathen, I think the Santa tradition can still be a vehicle for introducing children to the gods of your tradition. He could be Saturn, if you follow a more Greco-Roman tradition and celebrate Saturnalia at this time of year. He could be the Holly King aspect of the Wiccan God. He’s already Saint Nicholas for the Catholics, and I’m fine with that. Lots of pagan gods became saints to help people continue to worship them after the coming of Christianity.

But if you still think that Odin isn’t nice enough to be Santa, John T. Mainer wrote a really good blog post about it a few days ago. That post actually came up while I was still working on this one, so I had to completely rewrite mine. Another instance of another writer beating me to something and explaining it better than I could! That post perfectly describes Jolnir, the Yule Father, the Odin I’ve known since I was a child. May he bring you peace, joy, inspiration, and wonder this holiday season.

Interesting that C.S. Lewis has Father Christmas bring the children weapons.

Interesting how C.S. Lewis had Father Christmas bring the children weapons.