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!

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Tilikum 1981 – 2017

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I grew up in the Dallas area, and when I was a kid, one of the main places we went for summer vacation was SeaWorld of San Antonio. We went many times, and I loved it. I was obsessed with whales and dolphins as a kid. I had posters of them on my walls. I had plush toys. When I grew up, I wanted to be a Sea World trainer so I could swim with them.

As I got older, my feelings about it started to change. I watched nature documentaries about wild orcas and started to learn more about what they’re like. I saw footage of them hunting seals by tipping icebergs the seals were on, sliding out onto the shore to grab them, and tossing them in the air before killing them. It was a lot different than the “cute and cuddly gentle giant,” image that SeaWorld was trying to portray. David Attenborough made them look more like the lions of the ocean than pandas. And then there was their intelligence, that different groups of orcas had different cultures and spoke different languages, and that they lived in close-knit, matriarchal family groups.

I took another trip to SeaWorld with my family as a teenager, and this time I saw the Shamu show for what it was, a Siegfried and Roy style circus act with orcas instead of tigers. I didn’t enjoy it, and that was the last time I went to SeaWorld.

And then in 2010 I heard about the trainer in Florida, Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by one of the orcas there. They tried to spin it as being her fault, but I always thought that was unfair. After all, she was living the life I had dreamed of as a kid. She got to swim with the orcas. I’m sure she loved them. After all, you don’t get a job like that if you don’t love animals. She wasn’t the one who had captured them from the wild. She didn’t own them. But finally one of the orcas lashed out. Maybe he didn’t mean to kill her, maybe he did, but when an animal that weighs several tons has a temper tantrum, a little tiny human doesn’t stand a chance. Circus elephants and tigers have been known to “turn on” their trainers, sometimes killing them. Circus orcas doing the same thing shouldn’t be surprising.

When Blackfish aired on CNN, I watched it with great interest. I found it very moving. I remembered how much I loved SeaWorld as a kid, and how badly I wanted to be a dolphin trainer someday, and how I had no idea how wrong it was. I had figured out it was wrong before I saw the documentary, but the documentary showed me that it was even worse than I thought. Of course, SeaWorld keeps saying that Blackfish is misleading propaganda and their whales are very happy, but they don’t have any supporting evidence refuting the specific claims in the documentary, so as a scientist that makes me very skeptical of their position.

At least they’ve promised to stop breeding orcas, even if reports of them ending their orca shows were greatly exaggerated (they merely reduced some of the more circus-like aspects of the shows). I do hope they keep their promise that they won’t breed any more of them. Maybe now that their main stud male is dead, that will make it more likely that they’ll stop.

I have mixed feelings about keeping wild animals in captivity. Captive breeding, when done responsibly, has saved some species from extinction, and I do think there is something to be said for captive animals acting as “ambassadors” for their species to inspire people to support the conservation of animals in the wild. After all, I went from being a zoo-loving kid to perusing an actual career in biology. Seeing pictures of some of these animals is just not the same as seeing them in person.

But some species do better in captivity than others, and I think there are some that just shouldn’t be kept in captivity at all. Killer whales are one of them. There’s just no way to come anywhere close to mimicking their natural environment. These are animals that roam for thousands of miles in the open ocean. On top of that, whales are one of those species of animals that are so intelligent, with such complex lives and societies, that they seem more like “non-human people” than animals. I feel the same way about elephants and (other) great apes. It just seems weird to “own” a being like that, as if it were a pet dog or cat. Captivity is the natural habitat of domesticated animals, but keeping cetaceans, elephants, and apes in captivity feels like it’s bordering on slavery.

Now, in the case of elephants and apes, they are endangered species. In the wild they are under constant threat of being killed by poachers. Maybe having some in captivity is necessary for their conservation. But in that case they should only be kept in the best conditions possible, with plenty of room to roam, plenty of activities to keep them from getting bored, and a good social group. If a facility can’t provide that, they shouldn’t have them.

I don’t see any benefit at all for keeping orcas in captivity. They’re not endangered as a species (though some populations are). Even if they were endangered, I don’t know of any captive orcas that have been bred in captivity being successfully released to the wild, so breeding them in captivity wouldn’t help with that anyway.

As for the educational aspect, SeaWorld educates people about orcas as well as Siegfried and Roy educations people about tigers, or Barnum and Bailey educates people about elephants. In other words, they don’t. If they teach people anything about these animals, it’s that it’s fun to teach them to do tricks for our entertainment. I don’t think that’s a good message to teach.

Modern humans are very cut off from the natural world, and I think one symptom of that is how we view dangerous wild animals. Like many top predators, such as wolves and bears, orcas were once seen as an evil animal. It’s where the name “killer whale” comes from. Then in the 1960’s people started capturing them live and found out they can be trained to do tricks. That changed people’s view of orcas from vicious predators to cute and cuddly and safe to pet and ride. It’s a type of black-and-white thinking. An animal has to be either good or evil. Wolves were evil, so we exterminated them, and now they’re all over t-shirts and posters and wall calendars. We exterminated grizzly bears, and then we have people like Timothy Treadwell wanting to pet them and give them cute names, until he gets eaten by one. Even though Roy of Siegfried and Roy was almost killed by one of his tigers, he still insists to this day that the tiger wasn’t really trying to hurt him. So which is it? Are these animals our friends or our enemies?

The truth is that wolves, bears, tigers, orcas, apes, and elephants are all powerful, dangerous animals. They are not pets. People shouldn’t be cuddling them and petting them and riding them and having them do tricks. But they’re also not evil demons who need to be exterminated. They should be respected for what they are and allowed to live their lives as naturally as is still possible in this human-dominated world. Sometimes I wonder if animals that are dangerous to humans have a place in this world anymore, or if they’re destined to only exist in zoos and go extinct in the wild. If (or when) that happens I think we’ll really lose something. These are animals that rival us, as top predators in the food chain, or as intelligent beings with complex societies, or both. They teach us that not all of nature can or should be controlled by humans.

Tilikum was taken away from his family as a small child and lived the rest of his life in a completely unnatural environment. Even after he murdered three humans, the humans kept using him in their shows, and used him as a stud to sire 21 children that would also be destined to live their short lives in concrete pools.  In the wild, male orcas live to be about 60 years old, but Tilikum was about 35 when he died of drug-resistant pneumonia. He would have lived such a different life had he remained in the ocean where he belonged.

Maybe there is some sort of Orca Vallhalla, and Tilikum is there now, swimming freely with his ancestors with no more concrete walls in his way. I just hope one good thing comes from his life, and that it leads to an end to orcas in captivity.

Yule After a Hard Year

It’s become a bit of a running joke that 2016 was a terrible year. Saturday I had my usual Yule get-together and during symbel I made the first round a chance to boast about something good that happened to us in 2016. My boast was that I got a job as permanent full-time faculty after 5 years of being an adjunct!

Let’s just say that it’s a good thing I did, because other stuff this year that made my husband and I very grateful I have a stable job that pays better and has really good health benefits. We really need it now.

This makes Yule even more important. For my ancestors, winter was hard. A lot of people weren’t even sure they would still be alive by spring. That’s why we have Yule. It’s a chance to live it up a bit before the long winter ahead.

This year, as usual, I’m going to try to do a social media fast during the 12 days of Yule. No Facebook or blogs from sundown tomorrow night through January 1. I’ll also do a news fast. No Rachel Maddow or NPR.

I need a break from all that. I’m going to concentrate on making delicious feast foods to share with the gods and spirits and spending time with my family and looking at the seed catalogs that are starting to show up in the mailbox.

And maybe go see the new Star Wars movie.

Yule is a time to rest. After Yule is when the battle continues.

Lessons from the Ancestors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But as of two weeks ago…

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

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

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

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

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An Election Prayer to Ziu and Zisa

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

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

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

Hail Zisa, Undoer of Knots, Protector of Augsberg.

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

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

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

Not good news for people who care about the Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Allelieweziel this year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.