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…

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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.

Lessons from the Ancestors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But as of two weeks ago…

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

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

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

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

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An Election Prayer to Ziu and Zisa

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

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

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

Hail Zisa, Undoer of Knots, Protector of Augsberg.

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

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

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

Celebrating Allelieweziel this year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Renewing my Troth Membership

I just got my summer issue of Idunna. I wish they wouldn’t sent these out so late. It’s already September! Oh well, I probably shouldn’t complain. I’m sure putting this thing together is a lot of work.

Inside my summer issue of Idunna is a notice that I need to renew my Troth membership. Last time I got one of these, I was very reluctant to renew. I had already unsubscribed from the Troth email list because it ticked me off too much.

The last straw with the Troth email list was the controversy when Hrafnar issued some kind of Black Lives Matter-supporting statement (which I think was triggered by something Crystal Blanton wrote on Pathos, but I’m not sure). A bunch of people in the Troth wanted to make it really, really clear that Hrafnar doesn’t speak for the whole Troth organization, and after reading through several emails on the list about how the black guys killed by the police probably deserved it, I unsubscribed.

And I was never much of a fan of Steven Abell, especially after that post to Patheos that went something like, “Sure Stephen McNallen is a white nationalist, but Ryan Smith is a smug jerk, so they’re equally bad!” That post didn’t surprise me much though, because I’d already read some of Abell’s personal blog posts and knew he was quite conservative. He felt it was very important to make sure the Troth and the AFA stayed on friendly terms, for some reason.

And I’ve never been to Trothmoot and may never go. They never hold it anywhere near where I live, and I’m not about to fly somewhere to spend a weekend with a bunch of people I’ve never met and am not sure if I’d get along with.

All I was really getting out of the Troth was Idunna. I enjoy reading at least half the stuff printed in there. There is interesting historical scholarship, UPG, recipes, John T. Mainer stories, all kinds of good stuff. I guess that’s a good example of the difference between the printed-on-paper word and the internet-posted word.

So last year I renewed my membership reluctantly, but didn’t put it on automatic renewal, because I wasn’t sure if I’d feel the same way in another year.

Well, a year’s gone by now I guess, and I do feel differently.

Now I’m definitely renewing my membership without hesitation!

Steven “All Lives Matter” Abell has stepped down as Steer, and in his place is Robert “Urglaawe” Lusch-Schriewer. Yay! He seems like a nice guy, and his work with Urglaawe is amazing.

(Also, I don’t really know who any of those other people on the High Rede are besides Mainer and Schriewer, but I like that it’s not all a bunch of white men. Is that a non-white person there? Cool!)

Since Mr. Schriewer has taken over, things have definitely changed. Most notably, they finally denounced the AFA! It’s about time! After all the racist stuff bigwigs in the AFA have been saying for years, the Troth finally denounced them when the AFA posted something about how we need to secure the existence of our people and a future for white children. OK, well, not exactly those words, but disturbingly close. Apparently to be a good Heathen you need to heterosexually humping like bunnies to produce as many white children as possible to prevent the extinction of the white race.

So finally, finally, everyone’s made a clear distinction between the Troth and the AFA. The AFA has made it clear that they are white nationalists with a pagan veneer (which I’ve already known all along), and the Troth has finally made it clear that we DO NOT associate with them.

So now I’m finally comfortable with associating with the Troth. No more frith-weaving between the Troth and the AFA! The Troth needs to now set itself apart as a clear alternative to the AFA for people who want to belong to a Heathen organization without ties or sympathies to the white nationalist movement.

(I’m still not putting it on automatic renewal, just in case this temporary and I’m getting my hopes up too much, but I really like this direction they’ve taken and hope they continue.)

My Ancestry.com DNA Test Results

I know very little about my ancestry. I know some families keep records of their family histories going back generations, but my family is just not that kind of family. More often, my family is the kind that doesn’t like to talk about (or to) other family members, living or dead, keeping secrets from each other and keeping those skeletons firmly in the closet. Otherwise that means we’d have to talk about the abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness that lurks in there, and we don’t want to talk about that.

But I think this is one of the reasons I was attracted to Heathenry. My lack of knowledge about my family history gives me a feeling of rootlessness, while Heathenry is all about connections through the Web of Wyrd to your ancestors, the land, the gods, and everything else.

When I was a kid I once asked my mom what nationality I was, and she told me I was half German, at least a quarter English, and the rest maybe some Scottish and French. I think this was based on the surnames of my ancestors going back only a couple of generations. My mom was born in Germany and moved to the United States as a small child. My dad was born in Oklahoma, but had an English surname, so he must have been of English descent. That’s all I knew. So getting into Heathenry I assumed I was mostly German and English and prioritized what scant information I could get on Anglo-Saxon and Continental German practices.

Most Heathens I know are very focused on Scandinavia and I have some friends who practice Irish paganism. That’s all great, but my mom was born in Germany, so I’m a German-American, right? So that’s the traditions I should focus on if I want to revive the spiritual practices of my ancestors.

Yet I was still curious about my ancestry, so when I heard DNA tests were now commercially available at an affordable price, I knew I wanted to do that. Since I only know the names of my grandparents and no further back than that, who knows what else could be lurking back there? My dad was from Oklahoma. There are a lot of Native Americans in Oklahoma. My dad had dark hair and difficulty growing much of a beard. Sometimes there was speculation there was Native American lurking back in his ancestry somewhere, which would have been really funny given how his parents were pretty racist. But who knows?

So I got a DNA test from Ancestry.com. All I had to do was spit in a vial, seal it in a special bag, send it in, and then wait a few weeks for them to do my tests and email me the results.

Here are my results:

Scandinavia 25%

Great Britain 23%

Europe West 16%

Ireland 14%

Italy/Greece 8%

Iberian Peninsula 6%

Europe East 4%

Finland/Northwest Russia 2%

European Jewish <1%

Caucasus <1%

Well, I’m all European, unless you count the Caucasus as Asian, even though “Caucasian” is used as a synonym for “white”. That region includes Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc., which I think a lot of Americans would not consider to be white. That just goes to show how the whole American concept of whiteness is dubious.

As a scientist, I appreciate that Ancestry.com had a long explanation on their website about what these numbers actually mean and how many salt grains they should be taken with, though I’m sure most people taking this test will have no idea what it means, if they even bother to read that stuff at all. I just gave you the averages on my list above, but each of these ethnicities came with a range and error bars. Interestingly, of my four “dominant” regions, only Scandinavia and Ireland had error bars that didn’t include zero, which I guess means I definitely have at least a little DNA from those places, right? Great Britain and Europe West, the places I thought the majority of my ancestry was from, hand ranges of 0% – 51% and 0% – 43%, respectively (Scandinavia had 1% – 49% and Ireland had 1% – 28%).

Interestingly, by modern American standards, I’m “pure white”, but by the standards of my pre-Christian ancestors, I’m of mixed race. Until very recently, Irish people were considered a different race from English or Nordic people. I really wasn’t expecting to have Irish ancestry. Scandinavian wasn’t as surprising, just because those guys really got around, but I didn’t expect it to be at the top of my list. That’s where Western Europe was supposed to be.

After my main four regions, there’s Iberian and Italy/Greece. Perhaps I can blame the Romans for that. They really got around too. And then last I may have a few people from a little further East apparently, but that’s about it.

As for its implications for spiritual work, I guess it’s not so bad I’ve been borrowing from the Scandinavians after all, even though I feel like I have no cultural ties to Scandinavia. When I think of Scandinavian culture, if I want to get away from the Heathens who like to play Viking, all I’m really left with is Ikea and delicious meatballs and Abba. Not like there’s anything wrong with that. Abba had some catchy tunes.

Then there’s Ireland. That’s a very interesting place. I have several friends who are really into Ireland. They’re the sorts who really can trace their ancestry all the way back to whatever Irish clan they came from. Celts in general seem to be a very proud people, maybe because they have been historically oppressed. Ireland has some very interesting folklore and traditions, and then Irish-Americans continued with some very interesting traditions of their own. Maybe I need to take another look at Ireland.

But should I do what this guy in this commercial did, and “give up my lederhosen for a kilt?”

No, I still have fuzzy yet fond memories of my German immigrant grandmother, even though she died when I was only 4 years old. She was my only real tie to any sort of “old country,” with her thick accent and how she’d eat liverwurst straight out of the casing with a spoon. You have to be REALLY German to do that! She got me eating it, which now I realize is a really weird thing for a small child to eat, but I would always spread it on German rye bread from the German bakery to make a sandwich. I always liked bratwurst and sauerkraut when I was a kid too. Comfort food!

That kind of stuff matters. Nurture matters at least as much as nature, if not more. That’s why I think it’s OK for dark skinned people to be Heathens, especially if those dark-skinned people grew up in a country founded by European colonialism, which covers quite a lot of dark-skinned people, because like I said, my ancestors really got around.

So I’m going to keep being a German-American, if y’all don’t mind,

For the most part I don’t have anything cultural transmitted down to me by my European ancestors. No traditions or recipes or folklore or anything like that. I haven’t tried Ancestry.com’s family tree thing yet. I might go ahead and try it out it sometime, but with the scant knowledge I have of even people’s names or birth dates, I probably won’t get very far. Maybe it would have been different if my German grandmother hadn’t died so young, or my maternal grandfather hadn’t been such an abusive asshole, or I had a better relationship with my dad or his side of the family when he was alive. Those are the kinds of things that cut people off from their ancestors.

I just have my DNA to show that most of my ancestors even existed at all.

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.

How I could end up in Valhalla

On October 1, 2015 we had a lockdown drill at the college I where I teach. The professors had been told about it a few weeks in advance and told exactly how it would work. We would get an alert on our cell phones, and then were supposed to lock the classroom doors (which we have to go out in the hallway to do, since they don’t lock from the inside), turn off the lights, and get everyone to get on the floor where they can’t be seen through any windows. Then people would come by to check and see if we did anything right.

I thought it was dumb because the science labs all have emergency exits that go to the outside. They were probably put there in case of fire, but it would seem to me that the best thing to do in an active shooter situation would be to crawl out that back door and then run like hell, not sit there like fish in a barrel waiting to be shot. Especially since last semester they had us watch a training video that told us that the best thing to do is to try to escape the building and only hide in place if escape is not possible. But that video was for workplace shootings in general and not schools specifically. Maybe they were just trying to figure out some kind of one size fits all plan since most of the classrooms in most of the buildings only have one door.

Well, I went through the motions, but decided that if this really happened, I wouldn’t follow their directions and would direct my students to crawl out the back door. I was grateful that I mostly teach in classrooms that do have more than one escape route so it’s much less likely for us to get trapped.

As usual, on my commute home, I turned on NPR, and that’s when I found out that there had just been a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. It was a complete coincidence that it happened on the same day my community college did our lockdown drill. I got a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. What are the odds that on that same day that we did a lockdown drill there would be a shooting at another community college? Not that low, I guess, with how commonplace mass shootings have become. Looks like this is something I really do need to take seriously.

When I got home and took off my Valknut that I wear to work every day, I had a realization. I associate Odin with my job as a professor, but I always saw that as being separate from his warrior side. I’m not one of Odin’s warriors. I deal with a completely different aspect of him.

Or do I? Now college professors are going to have to be warriors too. Now part of my job is not just teaching my students how to dissect fetal pigs or look up peer reviewed scientific articles, but also to protect them from mass murderers should the situation arise.

The Texas Legislature had already been working on a campus carry bill, but after the Umpqua shooting support for the bill soared. I hear over and over again, “I bet those students and professors in Oregon really wish they had guns.” The bill easily passed, and in August 2016 public universities will allow concealed guns on campus. Community colleges have until August 2017. Private colleges are exempt from the law, and most of them have already opted out.

The thing they don’t mention much is that Oregon already had campus carry. It didn’t stop the shooting. I saw an interview with a student on TV who was on that campus at the time. He was a veteran and had his gun with him, but he was in another building. He said he considered going to stop the gunman, but decided not to and let the SWAT team handle it. He said he didn’t want to be mistaken for a bad guy himself. This sounded very reasonable, but it also made me angry. Everyone’s been telling me I’m supposed to feel safer if I know my students have guns. They can save me from an active shooter. But what if they decide not to intervene? It’s the job of the police to run towards gunfire and not away from it. Civilians with personal guns have no such responsibility. Mind you, I don’t think they should either, but the scenarios people keep coming up with involves brave students and professors running in there and taking the bad guy out themselves before the police arrive. I can’t count on that happening even if they are allowed to have guns on campus. Most people are still going to try to escape first.

OK, so I can’t count on any of my students to save me. I guess it’s time for me to “take personal responsibility” and bring my own gun. After all, I’m the one watching the training videos. I’m the one that is supposed lock the door and tell my students to turn off their phones and be quiet and spread out and not huddle together in one spot. It’s obvious that, as a professor, and therefore in a leadership role, it’s my job to keep my students safe. Should part of that responsibility involve me carrying a weapon to class?

The problem is, despite growing up in Texas my whole life, I’m not a “gun person”. I’ve only shot a gun once. When I was a teenager, my mom’s boyfriend had a small rifle and was shooting Coke cans off a stump. I tried to shoot the can, and kept hitting the stump until the can fell off from the vibrations. Not too impressive, huh? I’ve never felt the desire to get a gun or to learn how to shoot. My husband did get us a couple of bows and some practice arrows and a target. Now that’s fun!

My husband is into guns. He owns three handguns. I think he’s a responsible gun owner. He has a concealed carry license. He’s been in the military. He used to shoot at shooting ranges regularly and knows all about how to safely handle a gun. He doesn’t own any rifles, because rifles are for hunting, and he’s not a hunter. His guns are for self-defense and target shooting. He doesn’t see the point of having anything bigger than a handgun for self-defense. He doesn’t think he’d need an AR-15 to shoot a burglar.

When we have a kid, I want his guns locked away in a safe with the ammo locked away in a different place. No more keeping his guns in the nightstand drawer, because the likelihood of him shooting a burglar is much less than a toddler living in the house getting a hold of it. He agreed with me.

But that still leaves the issue of campus carry. My husband said if I really wanted to get a concealed carry license and learn how to shoot, he would be supportive, and I could have one of his guns. But even if I did go to the trouble of doing that, I don’t think it would be much help in an active shooter situation. People who think professors should be armed don’t seem to have thought this through. Where am I going to keep my gun anyway? Would I be allowed to have it holstered? That would look really weird with the business casual clothes I wear to work, but at least I’d have it close at hand. I think it would have to be concealed, so I guess I’d have to put it in my briefcase. Would a small handgun stuck in my briefcase help at all if a man with an AR-15 took us by surprise? How much time would I have to go find my briefcase and dig my gun out and shoot back at him? I’d probably be much better off just sticking to the original plan of trying to get everyone to escape out the fire exit instead of trying to have a shootout with a deranged gunman.

But what if the deranged gunman ends up killing some of my students anyway, despite our best efforts at escape? Would it then be my fault because I could have had a gun, but chose not to? All this “they should have had guns” talk they have after all mass shootings seems like victim-blaming to me. You wouldn’t have gotten shot at that movie theater/elementary school/church/nightclub if you had a gun with you, they always say. It just makes it sound like they think those victims got what they deserved for being wimps by not carrying guns.

It’s still unlikely that I’d ever be in an active shooter situation. They’re still relatively rare. With campus carry, I might be more likely to be accidentally shot by one of my students. I’ve heard several stories of accidental shootings happening in restaurants or stores or parking lots where people were carrying guns and dropped them or otherwise mishandled them and they went off by mistake. I could imagine incidents like that becoming more common on college campuses after campus carry goes into effect.

But I live in Texas where the common wisdom is that more guns make people safer. I guess we will find out with this little experiment (though since the CDC doesn’t research gun deaths, we won’t actually have any data for this experiment). My point is that I’m skeptical of the common wisdom that what we need is more guns. Even my gun-toting husband made a point to remind me that if I do start carrying a gun, I also take on some risk that I didn’t have before. Not just from accidental shootings or children getting a hold of the gun, but the gun could also get stolen out of my briefcase and perhaps used against me. He even said if it becomes commonplace or even expected that professors should all be armed, active shooters would just know to take them out first.

(I first started writing this post back in October when the UCC shooting happened, but then I got busy and didn’t have time to finish it. Since then several more shootings have happened, including the one at the Pulse nightclub, which was protected by armed guards. I had this scheduled to post last week, but then the Dallas police shooting happened, and I decided to postpone it another week because I had it scheduled for the day of their memorial service, and I didn’t want it to post then. Obviously the police officers killed in that mass shooting were all armed, and since Texas is now open carry in public areas, some of the protesters were armed too. Yet none of them managed to shoot the gunman.)

It wouldn’t seem likely for a college professor to end up dying in battle and going to Valhalla, but maybe it’s not quite as unlikely as it seems. Every time there’s a school shooting, stories come out about brave teachers putting their bodies between students and shooter, heroically sacrificing themselves for their students. I guess that’s part of my job now. If that happens to me, I hope there will be songs sung of my bravery. I guess that’s the Heathen way to look at it.

There have been college professors resigning over this law. That’s their choice, but I think that’s going too far. I’m not resigning, at least not just yet. I think my chances of being shot at work will still be low after campus carry goes into effect. I just have my doubts that my chances will be lower after campus carry goes into effect, and they might actually end up being slightly higher.

I still wear my Valknut to work, but I don’t want Odin to take me any time soon.

Thor the Rainbringer

cenizo 002

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!