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.

Advertisements

The Season of Gebo

Thanksgiving is over, and that means it’s time to head into the Winter Solstice/Yule/Christmas season. This weekend the hubby and I are putting up the lights and getting our tree. We’ve also been working on our gift wish lists, though I admit I haven’t bought anything yet. Next week is finals, and then after that I’ll have more time for things like gift shopping.

And I’ve already seen the posts popping up about how horrible the Christmas gift giving tradition is because it’s just this orgy of materialistic consumerism. People proudly proclaiming that they don’t do Christmas gifts. People asking why we don’t just buy whatever we want ourselves and save everyone the trouble. Christmas gift giving is just a way for corporations to brainwash us into going into thousands of dollars of credit card debt buying a whole bunch of Chinese-made stuff that we don’t need, right?

I’ve heard it all last year and the year before that and the year before that, just as regularly as I hear that Christians are persecuted because sometimes they are reminded that not everyone is celebrating the birth of Jesus at this time and there are some other  holidays that happen in November and December.

It always makes me sad too. I know it’s none of my business if people don’t want to take part in a particular holiday tradition, but saying that they’re going to quit exchanging gifts altogether because Christmas has gotten too commercial and materialistic seems to me like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I even thought this when I worked in retail for five or six years, first in a big box store and then in a mall, while I was in college. The first time I worked retail over the holidays, they hung a sign up in the break room saying if you call in sick on Black Friday or Christmas Eve you’re automatically fired. At least this was back in the good old days when Thanksgiving and Christmas day were the two days of the year we were closed.

I’ve definitely gotten to see the dark side of the Christmas shopping season up close and personal, but the whole time I wasn’t thinking “Christmas is terrible. We should get rid of it.” More like, “You fools are ruining something ancient and sacred with this madness!”

434px-MerryOldSanta

For full disclosure, maybe I should remind readers that this is probably so important to me because Santa Claus was my first god, and now I consider him to be an aspect of Odin. I’ve written about this before, though I feel I have to keep repeating myself because so many people think of Odin as solely a scary war god. I know the Vanir are usually thought of as being the main gods of wealth and prosperity, but Odin has some wealth and prosperity aspects to him as well. One of his many names is Oski, the granter of wishes. He owns the golden ring Draupnir, which multiplies itself into nine rings every night. There are several verses in the Havamal about the value of generosity, and the rune Gebo is all about giving.

To me, the gift exchange is not only an important part of the Winter Solstice holiday; it’s central to it. The exchange of gifts symbolizes the bonds we have with members of our human community and with the gods, and those bonds are what allow us to survive through the darkest time of year. It’s not the Yule Father’s fault that his image has been co-opted by the big corporations for profit. He’s supposed to embody the exact opposite of greed.

It’s also not surprising that a prosperity deity would get co-opted by consumerist culture. That wouldn’t work with someone like Jesus who was all about denying material pleasures. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with prosperity deities. My pre-Christian ancestors lived in an environment of scarcity. Exchanging gifts would have been a really big deal to them. Now we live in an environment of excess, so that throws things off a bit. It’s kind of like feasting. Feasting used to be something special that you didn’t get to do every day. It doesn’t mean as much now that we’re getting health problems from having too much food to eat rather than too little.

(Yes, I have read that gift giving may have come from the Roman Saturnalia and not the Germanic Yule. I don’t care. Gift giving is part of the Yuletide now, and considering how important reciprocity was to our heathen ancestors, it seems to fit well even if it’s not entirely “historically accurate.”)

Like with so many things, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Instead of throwing out the tradition of Christmas presents, I think this is another thing we pagans can reclaim.

 

One mistake we make is equating value with an item’s price tag. Spending lots of money is not the point. Yule gifts don’t have to be expensive, and they certainly don’t have to put you into credit card debt for months. There are all kinds of creative ideas out there for thoughtful gifts that don’t cost a lot of money. When I was unemployed I used to give people homemade candy or cookies. I made pecan pralines and fudge and put them in pretty tins that I had saved from previous years, or picked up for a dollar each. Now I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to buy gifts again, but I would never hold it against anyone if they had to give me something that didn’t cost a lot of money. If you can afford to, you don’t have to buy things that are mass produced either. You can buy things from local craftsmen or artisans or mom and pop stores or off of Etsy. You can get something from the gift shop of a nonprofit organization to help support their mission. You don’t have to elbow through crowds at Wal-Mart or get everything off Amazon.com.

The irony is that the most materialistic people I’ve known have also been the hardest to find gifts for. They’re always the ones that have the most stuff, so they already have everything they want. Whenever they see something they want, they just buy it for themselves immediately. They can’t handle the delayed gratification of putting it on their holiday wish list and waiting a few months or weeks for someone else to give it to them. And then even if you do find something to give them, you know it just gets thrown on their huge pile of stuff and forgotten.

People who obtain material possessions thoughtfully and deliberately seem to have a better idea of what they want, and when you hunt down that special thing that they want, they seem to appreciate it so much more. These are not the people the Black Friday commercials are marketing to, but they’re so much more fun to shop for.

 

And yes, I do think Christmas/Yule shopping is fun, and I usually hate shopping. I especially hate shopping for clothes for myself. I’ll wear things until they have big holes in them to put off buying new clothes for as long as possible. Grocery shopping isn’t quite as bad since I love to cook, but still more often than not it seems like a chore. But I love shopping for gifts for people! I love picking out the wrapping paper and ribbons and bows and wrapping it up and arranging it under the tree and then marking that person off my list. I love seeing the look on the person’s face when they unwrap it and see that I got them that thing they’ve been wanting for so long. I love the whole process.

I held on to my belief in Santa Claus much longer than my peers, but after a while I could no longer deny that those gifts by the fireplace every Christmas morning were put there by my mom, and the stomping on the roof I hear that one year that sent me and my sister scrambling to our beds on Christmas Eve (because if you’re not in bed when Santa comes, you won’t get any presents!) was my dad.

But then I discovered paganism and figured out that Santa Claus is a god, and now that I’m an adult, the way to continue “believing in Santa” is to perform his work in the world.

When I worked at Barnes and Noble, we had a tree covered with tags with the names of needy children and what kind of books they like. People could get a tag, buy a book, stick the tag on it, and put it under the tree to get donated to the child. Each year I would get a boy and a girl who said they like science or animal books and get them some of the cool books we had in our children’s department, the kind of books I looked at and went, “I would have loved this when I was a kid.”

The ultimate expression of Gebo is giving to someone that you know is never going to pay you back. That’s what Santa Claus does. He gave me a My Little Pony Dream Castle, a Super Nintendo, and a stuffed tiger that still sits in my bedroom to this day, and all he got in return were cookies. As a kid, that didn’t teach me materialism, that taught me that when someone has the power to be generous, whether you have a workshop of magical elves that crank out toys (or are they dwarves?), or you just have some disposable income to buy something for someone in need, you should do it just to make the world a happier place, not to get paid back. Santa Claus wasn’t a toy vending machine, he was a role model.

 

But yes, a lot of the people I buy gifts for could buy those things for themselves. I can afford to buy myself everything on my wish list this year. Why even bother with that? Why not just buy things for yourself if you want something? Why do the gift exchange? Why do you need to give people material things as a symbol of your love for them? Shouldn’t they just know you love them without you having to hand them a physical object?

Pagans should understand this. Why do we do rituals where we burn candles or knot chords? Why do I have statues of my gods on my altar? Why do I have an altar at all? On one level, the gifts are another magical prop like the candles in a spell. The exchange of gifts is a magical act that bonds people together.

I’m wearing a ring right now that’s the physical embodiment of my marriage with my husband. I’d still be married to him if I didn’t have a wedding ring, or if I lost it, but I still wear it every day, and if I lost it I’d be pretty upset. We could have just signed some paperwork and we’d be legally married, but no, I wanted to do a full ritual and exchange rings, because I thought it was important and needed a ritual.

The Yule gift exchange is kind of like that. Making a big production of it once a year through the Yule ritual reminds you how important your bonds are that are there throughout the year, and doing it at the darkest time of year makes sense because it’s during the dark times of your life when you need your tribe the most. Going to the trouble of finding out what the person wants, shopping for the gifts or making them, and packaging them all up in colorful paper and bows is all a ritual act. At least, it can be if you treat it that way. Pour positive intent into your actions throughout the way. Galdr Gebo and Wunjo runes as you wrap them. Pray to Jolnir to bless the gift’s recipient, and don’t forget to leave him out an offering of cookies on Christmas Eve to thank him.

People have been complaining about Christmas being too commercial for generations, so that’s not changing any time soon, but I’m never going to give the gift giving tradition up. I feel sorry for the people who dread the coming of the Yuletide and see it as just being a stressful chore and don’t see the magic in it. It’s the first magical ritual I ever did, overseen by the first god I ever believed in. I just try to emphasize the good bits and ignore the rest.

The God of Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

odin hanging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yule Father

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

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

434px-MerryOldSanta

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

170px-Santaandgoat

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

Coming of Santa Claus by Nast

Santa loves animals too.

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

Father Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SDF Solitary Yule

I’ve always liked the ADF. I’ve wanted to join for a while but still haven’t gotten up the guts to do it. For one thing, though they are technically pan-Indo-European, they mainly focus on the Celtic culture (after all, they do call themsevles “Druids”), and I’ve always felt most at home in Germanic culture. The closest Grove to where I live seems to do all Celtic rituals, at least as far as I know. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends are Celts! And the Celts and Germans are extremely similar. Still, I’m just not that familiar with Celtic mythology or gods.

On the other hand, I really like how much emphasis ADF places on Mother Earth and Nature-worship. I know that more conservative Asatruar wince at the idea of being labeled as following an Earth-based religion, but the ADF embraces it, and so do I. Although I have a close relationship with certain Germanic gods, I think Nature and the Earth are much more important in the grand scheme of things. Praising the Earth Mother is a major part of every ADF style ritual. She comes before any other gods are invoked, and I really like that.

One of the blogs I try to read regularly is Bishop in the Grove. Recently its author, Teo Bishop, a member of ADF, put together something he’s calling the Solitary Druid Fellowship. I decided this would be a good way to try out ADF style ritual without formally joining ADF or getting in contact with my local ADF Grove. You know, a way to dip my toe in a bit.

Besides, I wanted to do some sort of formal ritual for Yule, which is the most important holiday in Heathenry. I’ve always been a huge fan of Yule, even back when I was celebrating secular Christmas with my non-religious family. I’ve never been the sort of person to complain about Christmas music blaring at every store, and as far as household light displays go, I say the brighter and more extravagant the better! For me, coming to paganism just added an additional spiritual dimension to an already beloved holiday, but I’ve had trouble getting around to doing anything spiritual during Yule these last few years. There are parties, feasting, and gift-giving, which is all great and important, but I still feel the need to do some kind of formal ritual to mark the occasion, and I often miss the chance to do that.

I went ahead and requested the SDF Yule liturgy as soon as it was posted. I printed out the pdf, and then it sat on my nightstand. I follow the tradition of Yule lasting from the Winter Solstice to New Year’s Day, which helps me cram in all the stuff that’s going on. I usually have a party with my friends at my house on the solstice or the weekend closest to it. This year I had a wedding to attend on Friday, the actual day of the solstice this year, so I had my party on Saturday, which lasted late into the night. Sunday I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with the family we had visiting for Christmas. Monday I got last-minute gifts made and wrapped, and Tuesday was Christmas with my husband’s family. Wednesday our elderly cat needed to be taken to the vet (she’s fine now), so by Thursday I was exhausted. I actually ended up missing a couple of things I had planned to go to (like the Christmas Eve service at the UU Church and a Boxing Day party at a friend’s house). I’m an introvert and get tired out by a lot of socializing, so by Thursday I needed to recharge my batteries.

I realized that Friday, December 28 would be my last day alone to do any kind of ritual. Since I’m an educator, I’m off for Winter Break, but my husband was at work. Over the weekend was another Yule gathering with my pagan friends, and then it would be New Year’s, and Yule 2012 would be over and it would be 2013. I was glad I hadn’t yet given up on the SDF Liturgy and thrown it away or something, though by the 28th the discussion on the SDF website had closed, so I’ll just have to tell you about it here.

As I drank my coffee in the morning I looked over the printed out liturgy. I wanted to only use things I already had in the house, so I wouldn’t have to go to the store for anything. I’m impressed at how well ADF’s ritual structure fits into Germanic cosmology. Are all Indo-European cultures really this similar? Obviously the Sacred Well is the Well of Wyrd and the Sacred Tree is Yggdrasil. The Sacred Fire is less obvious. In the ritual it’s used as a gateway to the Gods, so it must be Bifrost. Bifrost is a rainbow, but I guess rainbows and fires are related. A rainbow is the light of the burning sun hitting water in the Earth’s atmosphere. They’re both shiny, I guess.

I needed a representation for the Well, the Tree, and the Fire. I have three places I can hold a ritual at home. There’s my personal altar set up in the bedroom. There I could put a vessel of water of some sort, and use a candle for the fire, but what about the tree? I also have a sacred grove set up in the backyard, where I could use a real tree, but it was very windy outside, which would blow out a candle. I think we’re on an outdoor burn ban anyway, which would make a larger fire dangerous. The last option was the hearth. My husband and I just moved into this house in February, and it’s the first time I’ve had a fireplace since I lived with my parents. We already burned the Yule log in it during my party on Saturday, and I give offerings to the House Spirit there. That would be a perfect place for a really good Sacred Fire.

I considered using our actual Yule Tree, complete with tinsel, electric lights, and ornaments for the Sacred Tree. It was my first real Yule/Christmas tree, a six foot Douglas Fir. I already think of Yule trees being a representation of Yggdrasil. However, when I realized I would need to give an offering to the tree, how would I do that? I decided to use the potted Norfolk Island Pine on the other side of the fireplace opposite the Yule Tree instead. It used to be one of those living Christmas trees they sell at grocery stores. My husband got it at a garage sale many years ago, before we met. My parents-in-law had kept it alive in their greenhouse until I got over 15 feet tall and they couldn’t fit it in the greenhouse anymore, so they gave it back to my husband now that we have our own house. He had to cut the top off to get it in our house, but it can’t survive a freeze, so it was either that or let it die. It’s in a pot, so I could pour my offering to the Sacred Tree in the pot. I admit I didn’t really like this tree before. It felt kind of ridiculous going to so much trouble for one of these darn Norfolk Island Pines that don’t even belong in this ecosystem, but I must say it made a fine Yggdrasil stand-in.

Then I needed a Sacred Well. I thought about the sort of vessel I’d like. Something deep and dark, so when you gazed into it, you couldn’t see the bottom, like you’re gazing into the bottomless Well of Wyrd. I know a lot of ADF people use those little cauldrons you can get at witchy stores, but I don’t have one. I looked around the house at all the various things my pack-rat of a husband has collected over the years, and found his ceramic bean pot! Or at least we think it’s a bean pot. I took it down from the shelf and looked inside at its shiny, dark brown, glazed interior. Perfect!

For the deities of occasion I selected Odin and his wife, Frigga. They’re associated with Yule already anyway, and if I’m going to make this a regular thing, I wanted to start with Odin, who is my “patron deity” I guess you could say. That was an easy choice, but one area that made me a little nervous was the Gatekeeper, another important element of ADF style ritual. I have no idea who this would be in a Celtic or Greek culture (Hermes, maybe?), but if you want a Germanic version of Ganesha or Papa Legba, which the ADF seems to be doing here, then the obvious choice would be Heimdall.

The problem is I’ve never really had any contact with Heimdall. I don’t know if he even likes me or wants anything to do with me, so it seemed weird to have him play a big part in one of my rituals. The people in the first Asatru online community I used to participate in, back when I was a newbie heathen, seemed to look down upon people who call upon lots of different deities, considering it “fluffy”, even if they were all from the Germanic pantheon (though “eclectisism” was of course much more “fluffy”). You were supposed to stick with your “fulltrui”, rather than bothering gods you don’t even have a relationship with.

I’m not sure how common that view is, but I did consider calling upon Thor to be the Gatekeeper instead, who is a deity I have already formed a relationship with, just in case invoking Heimdall would break some sort of rule of worship etiquette. But after thinking about it for a while, I thought I’ll go ahead and give Heimdall a try. As Diana Paxson says in Essential Asatru, “Of all the gods, Heimdall is the one who is the most consistently benevolent to humankind.” Well, ok then, if he’s such a nice guy, maybe he won’t mind.

I have a candle made for Odin and Frigga, but no Heimdall candle. I again searched my husband’s collection. Heimdall’s sacred animals are the ram and the seal, but we don’t have any ram or seal figures. Then I saw the ammonite there in my husband’s fossil collection. Ammonites are named after the Egyptian god Ammon, because they look like ram’s horns, and Ammon’s sacred animal is also a ram. They’re also fossil sea creatures, for Heimdall’s link to the sea. That should work!

Next I needed offerings for everybody. For the fire, I wanted something I could throw in that would burn nicely. I got a handful of frankincense resin. For the tree I wanted to pour something into the pot, but it needed to be something the tree would actually like. I decided to use some rainwater out of my rain barrel, and to make it special (since this is a special occasion and rain barrel water is what I always water that tree with) I added some liquid fish emulsion fertilizer. It smells like rotten fish, but to a tree, it’s delicious, so in it went. For the well, I needed some kind of beverage. Ideally I would use something very German for my German ancestors, like a nice German beer, but all I had was wine, hard cider, and a variety of hard liquors like vodka, rum, and brandy. I decided to go with the cider.

Then I needed offerings for the gods. Phew! This was already getting complicated! Ideally, I’d have a separate offering for each god, but I decided to use the Ravens Wood wine I had Bough a while back. It’s a wine with a very Odinic label that I had grabbed when it was on sale to offer to the Old Man some time, so now seemed like a good time. I hoped that Odin’s wife and son wouldn’t mind sharing the same wine with him.

OK, I had a well, a fire, and a tree. I had something to represent Heimdall, Odin, and Frigga, and offerings for all of them. Next I needed something to represent the Earth Mother. In the liturgy, it says you’re supposed to kneel and touch the ground, which would be nice if I was outside, but it felt weird to kneel and touch my tile floor in the living room. I got one of the cool rocks my husband has collected, a big hunk of limestone full of fossils, and put that on the floor in front of the hearth.

Finally, I got bottle of Blessing Oil from Natural Magick and a sage smudge stick to purify myself and the space with, and my bag of runes for the Omen. I don’t have an offering bowl, so I got two of my Christmas-themed holly glasses, one for the gods and one for me. Now I had everything I needed for the ritual, but wait! Look at this mess! The house was still pretty messy since I’d been too busy lately to do much cleaning. I did a thorough cleaning before the solstice, but now things were messy again. If I was going to invite Mother Frigga into my house, it had better be presentable!

I had planned to do some housecleaning that day anyway, even before I decided to do the ritual, so I thought I’d better get to work. First I realized I still needed to eat breakfast, so I made some steel cut oats, with an extra portion for my housewight, which I put by the fireplace. After breakfast, I tackled the dishes, swept the floors, vacuumed the carpets, threw in a load of laundry, and even scrubbed the bathtub. I’ve always preferred to do rituals in a clean space anyway. Even back when I was just starting out as a Wiccan I’d vacuum before I did any ritual. What’s the point of doing ritual cleansings when your space is physically dirty?

By the time I was done it was about 2 pm. I felt that my blood sugar was low again and fixed myself a sandwich to make sure I was in tip-top mental condition for the ritual. Then I cleaned that up, brushed my teeth, washed my face, put on some nice clean clothes, and brushed my hair. I decided against actually taking a shower because I was already starting to run out of energy, and the bathtub was soaking in vinegar anyway, to get the soap scum off. I put on my bear pendant, which I’ve decided I’ll wear for any serious ritual, to represent my fetch. Now I was finally ready!

Everything ready to go. Just need to light the fire.

Everything ready to go. Just need to light the fire.

I went outside and got some ash wood from our woodpile, which we got from a branch that fell on our cars during a winter storm last year. I put it in the fireplace, and as I lit it, I chanted part of a neat old English poem about firewood I found a while ago. “Ash that’s new and ash that’s old; fit for a queen with a crown of gold. Ash that’s green and ash that’s brown; fit for a queen with a golden crown.”

As the fire started to flare up, I initiated the rite with the words given in the liturgy. Because it felt right, I grabbed my bear pendant as I said the words. Next I anointed myself with oil on my Third Eye and then over my heart, lit the sage in the fire, and smudged myself and the general area for purification. I knelt down and put my hand on the rock to honor the Earth Mother, and this is where I really started to feel something! I had opened the window in the living room (it was 65 degrees outside on this Texas winter’s day) and could hear the wind blowing outside through the trees. I held my hand on the rock for a while, a rock that’s over 65 million years old, from the Cretaceous period, with fossilized sea shells within, from the shallow sea that used to cover this land. I pondered the ancientness of Mother Earth.

Next was the statement of purpose. When I mentioned I would be honoring Odin and Frigga, I lit their candles. When I mentioned Heimdall as the Gatekeeper, I placed my hand on the ammonite. Next came the Grounding and Centering, which was a variation of the tree visualization that I like to ground myself with already. Roots growing out of my feet into the Earth, branches growing up to the Sky.

I was a little confused about parts VI, VII, and VIII, since all three parts deal with the Fire, Well, and Tree. It’s a good thing I read the liturgy over before performing it so I could figure out what the repetition meant. I decided for part VI, “Recreating the Cosmos”, I would trace a rune in the air for each: Pertho for the Well, Kenaz for the Fire, and Eihwaz for the Tree. When I called Heimdall as the Gatekeeper in the “Opening the Gates” part, I poured him some of the wine, then waved my hand over the Fire, dipped my fingers in the waters of the Well, and grasped the trunk of the Tree as I asked him to make each one sacred.

Then it was finally time for offerings, and this is where it got fun. I took the handful of frankincense and threw it over the Fire. It hissed and crackled in a most satisfying way, releasing a lovely fragrance. That was the offering for the Gods in general. Next was the offering to the Well and the Ancestors. I gazed into the dark water and started to pour the cider in. I didn’t plan to at first, but ended up pouring in the whole bottle. It fizzed and released its sweet smell. My heart started pounding and I gazed into the Well for a long time. I haven’t really been doing a good job of honoring my ancestors. I come from a dysfunctional family, and though I’ve been advised to look even further back to more distant ancestors, I still haven’t really done much of that. But here I was staring into the Well, and the Well staring back to me, and I knew Ancestor Worship isn’t optional in heathenism, and I’m going to have to come to terms with this somehow. Then I poured the fertilizer-laced water into the pot of the Tree, which caused a much less pleasant odor than the first two, snapping me out of my trance a bit, but that’s what trees like.

To invoke Odin and Frigga, I used poetry from Essential Asatru, but I would say this was the least satisfying part of the ritual. I was so preoccupied with figuring out the ADF-specific stuff that I neglected the part where I honor the deities, especially since there was only a brief note of it in the printed liturgy, because this is a part I should have more flexibility with. The invocations in the book I used were meant for a group blot, so I accidentally forgot to change some of the “we’s” and “ours” and said “feast” instead of “rite”. Next time I need to put a lot more effort into it. I’ll probably have to write my own invocations, or at least find some more appropriate ones. At least I remembered to give them offerings of wine.

Next was the Omen. My runes are ones I made myself from slices of a Live Oak branch, in a drawstring bag I knitted out of cotton yarn. “How were my offerings received?” I drew Ehwaz, the Horse. Ok, that seems good. That’s a rune of cooperation and partnership. “How shall the Kindred respond?” I drew Thurisaz, the Thorn. Hmm, not exactly the best rune, but I remembered that Teo had drawn some sort of thorny Ogham for this part of the general SDF Omen too. I’m not familiar with Ogham, but maybe Thurisaz is the corresponding rune. Then for “What more would you have me learn?” I got Tiwaz. Now that’s interesting. I hardly ever get Tiwaz in readings, and Tyr is another god, like Heimdall, that I admire but don’t have much to do with. What immediately comes to mind is Self-Discipline, which is definitely something I need more of in my life.

Then it was my turn to drink, and receive the blessings of the kindred. I had originally planned to use the rest of the cider for this part, but since it was all in the Well now, I poured myself some more wine and “drank deep” as the liturgy instructed. I immediately felt the alcohol rush through my system and was reminded of how alcohol is the main mind-altering substance used by Heathens, since moderate amounts are used to loosen your tongue in rituals. It certainly worked for me! I skipped the Working part, since working magic didn’t seem appropriate at this time (I don’t usually do magic during celebratory rituals), and said the final affirmation with added wine-inspired enthusiasm. I thanked the beings, closed the gates, and the rite was ended. I blew out the candles, put everything away, and now here I was with a nice, clean house too!

Overall, I think that went well. I like how complete the ADF liturgy is. It has everything that’s important in the Cosmology: the World Tree, the Well, the Fire, the Ancestors, the Land Spirits, and the Gods. It’s flexible enough to add in or take out some parts. Now that I’ve done one of these rituals, I’m sure the next one will go much more smoothly. I’m looking forward to it. Perhaps I’ll be able to do it outside. The next holiday is Imbolc/Charming of the Plow/Candlemas on February 2. I’ve already decided the deities of the occasion will be Freyr and Gerda, and hopefully the weather will be right to do it outside this time.