Need a Six-Pack? Hit the Basement

Brewing is a massively popular hobby among Heathens - I can think of very few of us who have not, at one time or another, tried our hand at brewing beer or making mead. I myself once jumped in ...

If I recall correctly, it was 1995. I decided to try my hand at mead making, and dredged up a high school memory of using honey and water with bread yeast to make a quasi-alcoholic brew in science class. I had fond memories of that class, and tossing all advice to the wind, proceeded to reproduce the stuff as best as I was able. I carefully made up about 5 gallons, stopping the process when the hydrometer indicated about 10% alcohol. I bottled it up and let it age for a few months, never tasting it. At Midsummer, I brought it out and presented it to the kin.

It was, in a word, wretched. The bouquet was faintly reminiscent of old sweat socks, and it had a flavor to match. I don't think anybody could finish their bottle - many "libations" were poured that evening, though I doubt a single one was dedicated to the Shining Gods and Goddesses...

It did have one good effect - it prompted the kin to begin to bring copious quantities of their own meads and ales to blot. I was the godhi at the time, and it was technically my responsibility to supply the alcohol. I think my kinsfolk were afraid I'd inflict more of my homebrew on them, so they kept the kindred well supplied indeed. "The Godhi's Own Mead" had become more of a threat than a beverage!

In 1997, when I was preparing to move to Minnesota, I discovered the remainder of my experiments in a cabinet over the stove. I certainly didn't want to drag that rotgut 600 miles, so I pulled the bottles down, opened one and began pouring it down the sink, planning on giving the empty bottles to my kinsfolk who really could brew.

But the stuff was bubbly. And it smelled wonderful! With no little trepidation, I poured some into a glass and took a taste. It was wonderful! Almost a "champagne mead"! I was flabbergasted.

Trothmoot was coming up, and I took a couple of bottles and entered them in the mead brewing competition. If I recall correctly, I finished second, with many comments on what an unusual beverage I'd concocted. And no little disbelief when I told the tale of it's making. But I was thoroughly pleased with myself, and felt redeemed. The rest of the batch made the trip to the north with me.

And got poured down the drain the following year, when I offered some up to another kindred, only to discover that my prize winning brew had reverted to musty sweat socks and stinking cheese flavored juice! I haven't brewed since...

Maybe I should give it another try, with real brewers yeast this time. But then I taste some of the products that my kinsmen produce, and resolve to stick to shepherding and coding, lest I prove my "rank" amateur status once again.

Tim Artz's brewery is enclosed by glass walls on three sides and looks out onto a bluff of apple trees and a garden filled with beans, squash and 35 varieties of pepper. On a raw April morning, the brewery doors were open but the brewery itself was warm; the gas burner below the 30-gallon brew tank was cranking at near full power.

(link) [NY Times]

22:53 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

Odin from Lejre? No, it's Freya!

Iron Age figurine

Given the context of the high seat I'd say it's more likely Frigga than Freyja, or perhaps even a spákona, but a fascinating and beautiful find nonetheless.

So you're a metal detectorist and you find a silver figurine at storied Lejre in Denmark. It depicts a person sitting in a high seat whose posts end in two wolves' heads. And on either arm rest sits a raven. The style is typical for about AD 900. So when you hand the thing over to the site manager, he of course exclaims, "Holy shit! It's Odin!". And that's what he tells the press.
Until somebody like me comes along and points out that it's a woman.

(link) [Aardvarchaeology]

20:31 /Asatru | 3 comments | permanent link

The Girl Who Cast a Viking Spell

I'm not a fan of Larsson's fiction, and I've got no interest in his personal life. But I do have an interest in this:

She talked forthrightly about the oddest passage in her book, a description of an elaborate Viking curse she delivered on New Year’s Eve 2004 against all her and Larsson’s enemies: the false friends, the cowards “who let Stieg fight your battles while you raked in the salaries of your cushy jobs,” the wearers of “suits, ties and wingtips,” the evil ones “who plotted, spied and stirred up prejudice.”

Traditionally, such curses were accompanied by the sacrifice of a live horse, but instead Ms. Gabrielsson broke a ceramic horse sculpture in two and tossed it into Lake Malaren in Stockholm. Nevertheless, it worked, she insisted.

She's describing a nidstang, also known as a "nithing pole". Potent stuff, indeed. And not something us modern heathens do frequently or without much forethought.

There's no indication Ms. Gabrielsson is a heathen. So she (or they, if Larsson was in on it) must've done this "on the wing", as it were. Which says a lot about the revival of folk traditions, or even their survival.

Eva Gabrielsson, who found herself pursued by fame and controversy as the longtime companion of Stieg Larsson, the posthumously best-selling author of the Millennium trilogy of Swedish crime thrillers, has published a book of her own.

(link) [New York Times]

19:15 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

India Faces a Linguistic Truth: English Spoken Here

While my interest in language and linguistics attracted me to this article, what astonished me was the description of the sprouting of a new religious motif:

Chandra Bhan Prasad has built a temple to the Goddess English in an impoverished village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
In Mr. Prasad’s temple, there is an idol in robes, wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Very soon, Mr. Prasad said, he would encourage young Dalit couples to include a ritual in their wedding ceremony in which they would sign the letters A, B, C and D on a piece of a paper. “That would be a promise they make that they will teach their children English,” he said.

I get the distinct impression that Mr. Prasad is not doing this because he believes (in a religious sense) in the "Goddess English" - he's doing it more for nationalistic and cultural reasons:

He also plans to adopt an Islamic tradition and fix a loudspeaker in the temple from which a recorded voice would chant the English alphabet, from A to Z , every day at 5 a.m. All these are just symbolic gestures, he said, and the best he can do in the absence of genuine political support for making English the national language.

I think he may be surprised: over time, in a country like India, with a strong polytheistic tradition, if Mr. Prasad's plan works, and Goddess English worshipers have fulfilled their vows, taught their children the English language and improved their socioeconomic status as a result, she, and not Prasad, will get the credit. The Goddess English will have taken her place alongside Krishna and Shiva in the local pantheon. And will be no less real than they are.

Heathen theology can be a bit muddled at times by things like this, but if you step back and and take a long look, you'll realize that the Goddess English exists now, and has always existed. It's a new name, granted, but the power of language (and writing) has always been a spiritual power - Prasad did not so much create a goddess as he recognized one and gave her an new name and new rituals, to empower his folk.

And that distills the essence of heathenry about as well as anything I've run across.

English is the de facto national language of India. It is a bitter truth. Many Indians would say that India’s national language is Hindi. They would say it with pride if they are from the north and with a good-natured grouse if they are from the south. But this is a misconception. The fact is that, according to the Indian Constitution, the country does not have a national language.

(link) [New York Times]

23:12 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

One-Eyed Gods and One-Armed Gods

Archetypes, like gods, never really die... but which is which? And does it matter?

True Grit, the surprise hit from the Coen brothers, has captivated audiences and the Academy with its perfect balance of earnestness, humor, and Wild West derring-do. There is a dimension to the film that has not yet been pointed out, however. True Grit's main characters, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) closely parallel two ancient Indo-European conceptions of justice represented by the one-eyed sovereign (wild, unreliable, ruling through bravado) and the one-handed sovereign (solemn, proper, ruling by the letter of the law).

(link) [Slate]

21:00 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

Taliban targets descendants of Alexander the Great

It would behoove anyone interested in Indo-European culture or religion to pay careful attention here. The Kalasha have survived the depredations of centuries, only to be pushed to the brink of extinction by the modern Islamic fundamentalist movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the last surviving Indo-European pagan religion - the lore that could be gleaned here is incalculable.

There may be little we can do directly in cases like this, but simply being aware and making others aware may at least put these folks on the radar of the big NGO's and human rights groups working in the area. And they can make a direct impact.

The group, believed to be descendants of Alexander the Great's invading army, were shielded from conservative Islam by the steep slopes of their remote valleys. While Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians were slowly driven out of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province by Muslim militants, the Kalash were free to drink their own distilled spirits and smoke cannabis. But the militant maulanas of the Taliban have finally caught up with them and declared war on their culture and heritage...

(link) [The Telegraph]

22:38 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

Fairy gardens unleash the imagination

Centuries? Try millennia at least. These are very old folk memories being evoked in decorative gardens - heathens understand the "fairies", which we know as landvaettir, are as real as we are, and still hanging around. I'm sure they're delighted (or at least amused, and hopefully not annoyed) by all this probably inadvertent attention.

What I notice immediately is the immense popularity of fairy gardens in the home garden. For centuries, mankind has been fascinated by the mystifying legend of fairies, of so-called “wee folk” who can be kind to us humans or be mean and mischievous.

(link) [Christian Science Monitor]

21:25 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

The Revival of the European Pagan Religions

Nice to see a bit of recognition - but getting too close to mainstream monotheisms still makes me nervous. I ascribe this distrust to an awareness of history. But we'll see.

Last December in Melbourne, for the first time ever, the Parliament of the World’s Religions finally included the surviving European ethnic spiritual traditions in the same category as other Indigenous religions from around the world, a very significant step which could pave the way to many interesting possibilities.

(link) [Earth Spirit Community]

22:03 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

Oil good; Dems bad

This is an explicitly political column from the 2000 presidential campaign, and an ignorant one at that - so how did it end up in my Asatru category? Because shining through Coulter's stupidity comes one simple paragraph that illustrates perfectly the essential difference between Heathenry (and any earth based, pagan faith) and Christianity:

The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man's dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet -- it's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars -- that's the Biblical view.

What could I possibly add to that? I'll be wearing my sweater this winter ...

Al Gore's idea of "standing up to 'Big Oil'" is for all of us to ride bikes and wear heavier coats in the winter. We're supposed to ratchet back our expectations so that we don't disturb some migratory bird by drilling for oil in Alaska.

(link) [Jewish World Review]

21:43 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

A Faining for Midsummer, 2010

The HarrowWe had our Midsummer celebration yesterday, on Midsummer's Eve. We had fourteen in attendance, and a feast of (pasture raised) pork chops, pasta salads, melons, cakes and pies. A great time was had by all. But this was a very different Asatru ritual from those I have conducted in the past, and I would very much like to get some feedback from my heathen (and non-heathen, for that matter) readers. By all accounts it turned out extremely well.

We called it a faining as opposed to a blot, as the latter literally means "blood", and in eldritch times implied an animal sacrifice, with the sacrificial animal being the main course at the feast. In modern times blot has come to mean a ritual similar to a sumbel, where participants share a horn of mead, ale or beer, offering it as the sacrifice in lieu of blood. This formula came to prominence in the 1980's, and was really popularized by Edred Thorsson in his A Book of Troth. Thorsson called his ritual structure a blot, and it's been the basis for nearly every Asatru ritual I've attended over the last 22 years.

There was no alcohol involved yesterday. None at all. I've attended rituals where a separate horn with cider was passed for children and recovering alcoholics, but this was the first I've been to (much less written and presided over) that involved no booze whatsoever. So "faining" seemed a more appropriate name for this ritual, as while gifts were clearly exchanged, there was no "sacrifice", animal or alcoholic.

There was no hammer warding, either. That was another feature of modern ritual that came originally from the old AFA and was popularized by Thorsson. Now, Ravenswood, the kindred I co-founded in 1992, opens every ritual to this day with a hammer warding. But the ve (holy space, containing the harrow, or alter) used by Ravenswood has never been enclosed, as was traditional in eldritch times. The ve here at our farm is enclosed, and it has been warded with the Hammer many times. So there was no need to use a hammer warding to establish ritual space. But there was still a need to set the tone for the folk, and "get things rolling" so to speak. I settled on using my Worship is Remembrance poem.

And since we had both children and recovering alcoholics present, water from our deep well was used - representing the Well of Wyrd in the horn, and the Dew that Nourishes Yggdrasil at the offering. Rather than a boast or toast, the participants shared a memory of [Mid]summer past. Lorraine had helped me in putting together a list of summer memories, and she read them before the horn was passed to set the mood. This sort of took the place of the reading from the lore that has become a fixture of Ravenswood rituals.

She ended up passing the horn to each of the folk as well. It is very traditional to have a woman handle the horn in sumbel (even though Ravenswood doesn't follow that tradition). We had thought about this, but discarded the idea as there was no alcohol involved. It just sort of happened, and we went with the flow.

We also put considerable energy into the bulletin - a habit of Ravenswood's that I started and continued here. This was the first one, however, that I ever printed in color, and on good paper. The illustration turned out beautifully, and really set the tone for honoring the wights of the land. Thor gets thanked profusely by Lorraine and I for his good work in warding our stead, but I sometimes think we overlook the lesser wights, whose contribution to the well being of the farm is immeasurable.

I kept with that spirit in closing, where I used a poem I'd written several years ago to the harrow. That worked really well, too, partly, I think, because of the rhyme and rhythm of the poetry itself.

A Faining for Midsummer is up as a pdf - download it, use it, adapt it, share it - but most importantly, let me know what you think!

21:01 /Asatru | 1 comment | permanent link

What headstones say about the living

Fascinating post on an interesting new blog. From a heathen perspective, a headstone (or, preferably, a runestone) is the most visible and public reminder of our ancestors. When your faith includes a strong component of ancestor worship, that's a pretty big deal. A stone commermerates and remembers a person, for the benefit of our descendants.

Cemeteries are known for telling the stories of the people buried there. But the symbols on headstones and monuments can tell a different story: how our view of death has changed over time

(link) [CNN Religion Blog]

22:06 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

By Oak and Ash And Thorn

Oh, do not tell the Priest our art,
For he would call it sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth,
Good news for cattle and corn!
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!


Puck of Pook's Hill

09:21 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

Separate Truths

Fascinating article, especially in it's perception of differing goals for differing religions, and suggesting that multiple truths can be equally valid.

At least since the first petals of the counterculture bloomed across Europe and the United States in the 1960s, it has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true. This claim, which reaches back to “All Religions Are One” (1795) by the English poet, printmaker, and prophet William Blake, is as odd as it is intriguing. No one argues that different economic systems or political regimes are one and the same. Capitalism and socialism are so self-evidently at odds that their differences hardly bear mentioning. The same goes for democracy and monarchy. Yet scholars continue to claim that religious rivals such as Hinduism and Islam, Judaism and Christianity are, by some miracle of the imagination, both essentially the same and basically good.

(link) [Boston Globe]

12:38 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

Orthodox experts considers Iceland volcano eruption a sign of God's wrath

Who do they think did this? If we're looking for spiritual causes, there's another possibility that should be considered... but then again, sometimes a volcano is just a volcano.

Eruption of the Iceland volcano is a display of God's wrath, the Association of Orthodox Experts believes.

(link) [Interfax]

via Hardscrabble Creek

22:53 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

Human Culture, an Evolutionary Force

Nice to find some scientific support for my holdings on the whole folkish-universalist argument.

It's not nature vs. nurture, it's nature and nurture.

Culture has become a force of natural selection, and if it should prove to be a major one, then human evolution may be accelerating as people adapt to pressures of their own creation.

(link) [New York Times]

19:32 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link