Am I being called by Freyja?

I honestly can’t tell. I’ve written before on the reason why I bought my Freyja cord from Beth Wodandis Designs, but there’s been a few other things that have made me wonder whether a certain lady is trying to get my attention.

To start with, I’ve ended up with connections to aspects of Freya’s divinity; I do HEMA and historical battle re-enactment, and my LARP and RPG characters are all warriors as well. Yes, I’m a geek. I’ve also been reading tarot cards for over eight years and runes on and off for longer, I’m very much a cat person, and aside from the whole libido-not-always-awake-when-I’d-like-it-to-be thing, I’m happy and comfortable with my sexuality. I’ve also been fascinated by the battle-woman/lover mix since I was aged eleven, through reading a pair of books by Susan Price – Elfgift and Elfking – which I would highly recommend and should probably do a review of at some point. As a re-enactor and Living Historian I go to re-enactment markets about twice a year to restock and upgrade my kit, and buy new shinies. One of the stalls that’s there frequently is Viking Crafts, and while I don’t do Viking re-enactment I love the miniature god figures they sell; so much so that I bought two of them years ago – Odin and what’s listed on the website as ‘Large Valkyrie’. I also now have a Heimdall sitting above my front door. Anyway, I bought the large valkyrie figure as she was closer to Odin’s height than the other female statues, and Mike pointed out when I was looking at her that she was an alternative Freyja figurine in her Valkyrie aspect. So I have a small amount of history/association with the goddess, but it’s a one-way thing – I do things that fall under her spheres of influence, and now own two devotional items associated with Freyja.

However, recent events that have led to my wondering whether these associations are becoming more two-way, or at least have the potential to become so. Unfortunately for my discernment, everything returns to Beth’s Etsy shop. The first ping I got was when I saw the listing for a Freyja God-in-a-Box shrine last year, and while the other portable shrines that were listed at the same time were beautiful and very well-made, I didn’t think any of them held a candle to Freyja’s. Photos of the shrines that were available (including Freyja’s) can be found here under the custom listing, and I’m not sure if it was the gold detailling on her feather cloak, the coppery-gold glow of her hair and body, the simple elegance of the sculpture, or all three, but I couldn’t stop looking. So that was ping one. Ping two was the sudden sense of ‘this would be good for you’ which led to me buying my cord, and ping three led on from that when I began to notice the other Freyja-related items in Beth’s shop. The one that stands out in particular is a Freyja spirit communication talisman made from ruby-in-zoisite – I love the dark, bold colours, and again, keep going back to look. Now there have been plenty of other things that Beth’s made that I’ve gone back to look at several times, but they’ve been items that weren’t connected at all. So there’d be a necklace for Hera, Odin prayer beads, a Cernunnos pendulum, a Sacred Queens crown, but I’d just be admiring the beauty and aesthetics and the devotion that Beth puts into her work. The items I talked about above are the only ones which I’ve had the sense of ‘I could own that’ with (aside from a couple of the Yule cords), without too much of the ‘I’d be taking it away from someone who actually derserves it/has the right to own it’ feeling.

This could all just be my brain going ‘lookit pretties’, which is entirely possible, but it’s the concentration of ‘lookit Freyja pretties’ and buying the cord that has got me wondering whether there’s something more to all this. I said in a previous post of mine that ‘I can’t feel energy; for example, I’ve handed a sachet I’d made during a ritual in circle to two pagan friends of mine at different times, and they gave me nearly identical answers when I asked what the energy felt like. Me? Felt no different than when I’m holding a box of tissues or a jar of jam’, so the likelihood of me picking up any kind of message is very low. To use a word I’ve seen used a fair bit in the Pagan areas of the internet, I don’t think I even own a godphone. But I am an Earth personality, grounded in the physical world of things I can touch, so I can see how trying to get my attention through the medium of objects could work – subtle pressure from a deity to buy/own a thing which would help bring me closer to that deity. Rinse, repeat, and in using the things I might finally become aware enough to notice I’m being talked to. And in writing that I’ve just realised that this might be why I’ve collected so many different sets of Christian prayer beads over the past ten years. If that is the case it’s been a long and subtle process from the Christian side, while the Freyja thing has happened all of a sudden.

Now I know I could meditate on the Freyja question, or I could cast a circle, use my rattle to raise some energy and invite Freyja in and see if she comes (and if I notice anything because I am useless at sensing energy), or I could just sit in front of my altar, clear my mind, and say ‘speak Lady, I’m listening’, in the same way that Samuel did, and see what happens. Except I know I won’t. Some of it is due to my Christianity, as while I don’t deny the existence of other divine beings outside of the Trinity, there’s a part of me that’s worried that I’d be doing Christo-Paganism wrong (even though I’m reasonably sure that’s not possible), and God would be pissed off at me if I tried to include other deities in my religious practice as a result. I know that sounds silly, and I have no fears that I will burn in Hell if I do (Methodist theology for the win!), it’s just this niggling concern that it would be disapproved of somehow. But the main overriding reason I’m avoiding anything direct is down to my relationship with the Divine.

I have a personal relationship with Deity. I don’t believe I need a priest or other intermediary (such as a saint) to talk to God for me, so when I pray I can just chat, or do ACTS (Christian acronym/mnemonic for structuring prayer – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) if I’m being formal. I can communicate directly with God, I believe He has an interest in and cares for humanity, and that He listens to me.  What I don’t have, however, is an intimate relationship with Deity. The kind of relationship that at least two of my Christian friends have and that a lot of the Pagan blog authors that I read have, whether godspouse or not. The kind of relationship with the Divine where they feel the deity’s presence on a regular or daily basis, where they get messages from their deity (omens, dreams, internal certainty, strong feelings unconnected to how the person’s feeling etc.), where they have opened up their life to whatever deity it may be and essentially said ‘I’m in your hands now’. I don’t have that kind of relationship. Hell, I don’t consider myself to be a devotee (even a Christian one), because while I’d love to have that closeness the thought of it fucking terrifies me.

And that is why I’m wary of doing anything too direct with this ‘is Freyja trying to get my attention?’ thing. I’ve re-read Ember Cookes’s post titled ‘When Godphones Ring – discernment for Pagans‘, and while she gives very good advice I’m not how much of it I can apply to my situation – it’s not really a message, more a feeling of someone trying to get my attention. No, not even that, it’s mostly a sense of someone waiting to see if I notice them with occasional moments of trying to get my attention. It’s all very subtle, which is why I’m questioning whether it’s actually a thing or just my brain going ‘lookit pretties’, but it’s still there and still noticeable, and it’s bugging/intriguing me. So when I’m feeling less ‘thank God it’s Friday zzzzz’ I’ll do a tarot reading and rune draw and see if that helps, and much as it’s tempting to buy the Freyja spirit communication talisman in case it makes things clearer I’m going to be sensible and wait until my cord arrives and see what happens with that. Partly because of my bank balance (although layaway or the current Valentine’s Day sale are options) and partly because I don’t want to get it and then discover I was wrong, when a devotee of Freya could have purchased it instead. I figure that if I’m meant to have it, it will still be there if/when I have an answer. And if this is a thing I just hope my cynicism/skepticism doesn’t get in the way – I don’t deny or disbelieve that this sort of thing happens to other people, I’ve just always felt that it’s not a thing that’s ever going to happen to me.

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Lookit the shiny fluffy pretties!

Beth Wodandis beads and cord
My new Yggdrasil prayer beads and Freyja cord. Photos by Beth Wodandis.

Ever since I discovered Beth Wodandis’ blog in August 2015 I’ve also been following her Etsy shop (back when it was called Fyberwytch), which is full of beautiful beadwork, jewellery, fibrecraft, and scented things. Although I’d been browsing for months, and seen many beautiful things that I’d love to have owned, I never bought anything – I never felt that I had enough of a connection to any of the deities or themes Beth had designed the pieces for, and I wasn’t about to buy a necklace essentially because I loved the look of it when someone else who actually had a devotion to Loki or the Wild Hunt or Hera could have it instead. The same held true for the prayer beads and cords, with the addition that with the prayer beads I’d have no idea what prayers to use with them that I wouldn’t just use with a repurposed Dominican rosary, akin to what has been done here. So I browsed, and ooohd, and dreamed of a day when I might be able to justify buying one of her pieces.

And then I did!

I can’t remember when it was listed, but as soon as I saw the Yggdrasil prayer beads made out of wood and sea-glass I fell in love. It was so pretty! But I had no reason to own it, so I clicked on. And yet every week or so I’d end up browsing Beth Wodandis Designs and the beads were still there. I kept looking at the photos, and reading the description, and I kept wanting to buy it, but without that self-justification I just couldn’t. However, by mid-late January I suddenly realised I could justify buying those prayer beads, partly through my own previous actions, and partly through Beth’s words.
Earlier in the month I’d bought myself what’s called a Missionary Rosary off eBay, not because I agree with the reasons behind this rosary version’s introduction (I really don’t), but because of the colours – instead of continents I had four elements and Spirit, and as it was a chain rosary I could easily swap out the Virgin Mary centre and the crucifix with, say, a triquetra and a valknut (I’ve had a fascination with Woden since reading Elfking by Susan Price when I was 11 – it took a couple of years before I got hold of the prequel, Elfgift). Anyway, my newly-dubbed Elemental Rosary arrived in the post, and I spent about two weeks-worth of evenings after work sitting on the sofa reading a book, watching a film, browsing the internet, and running the beads through my fingers. I wasn’t saying prayers, just constantly moving my fingers from one bead to the next, round and round and round. Aside from just enjoying the feel of the beads moving through my fingers, I blame my hobbies – I started knitting a couple of months after I started C17th re-enactment, and I started doing 1640s Living History a few months after that, and when you spend a lot of days sitting around in a Stuart peasant village the habit of having something to do with your hands becomes ingrained – women sitting and gossiping are being idle, and as the saying goes ‘the Devil finds evil things for idle hands to do’. Women sitting and gossiping but also spinning, knitting, or making lucet cord however, are doing useful work and therefore can get away with the sitting and gossiping. So for years now I’ve been used to doing something with my hands while concentrating on other things, so even when I’m not knitting my hands want to be doing something, hence the constant rosary-fiddling.
Anyway, I finally got around to moving the rosary from the living room to my altar space in the bedroom, and it was a week or so afterwards that I realised how I could use the Yggdrasil beads – they’re designed with the World Tree in mind, and trees are very much grounding symbols of Earth, both element and planet. As I said in my previous post I consider myself to have an affinity with the element earth as well as being a very physical person, so having an actual thing to hold and essentially play with would actually fit me quite well. Earth is, after all, the element associated with the body and the material world, and if I bought the beads I’d have a physical reminder of that elemental connection as well as a touchstone to help keep me grounded when I get book-lost, and something to occupy my hands. And yes, I could just grab one of my other sets of prayer beads and use those instead of buying something new, but they’re all prayer beads, with specific prayers or mantras attached; using them for something so secular just didn’t sit right with me (when I was fiddling with it my elemental rosary hadn’t been used to pray with).

I said above that Beth’s words were also a factor in my eventually buying the Yggdrasil beads, and there was one sentence that grabbed me every time I read it and that would stay in my mind: ‘the contrast between the cool glass beads and the warmth of the wood make this set extremely pleasant to hold and use’. For each of her beadwork pieces Beth always lists the stones and beads she uses, along with a decription of their metaphysical properties and some ideas on how to use the object, but I don’t remember seeing a description on any of her other listings of how the item actually felt. I’m a tactile person, and my first ever set of prayer beads were/are an Anglican rosary with wood week beads and onyx cruciform beads, which I deliberately chose for the difference in feel. Now yes, there’s a space around each cruciform bead, the same as the Our Father beads on a Catholic rosary, which is meant to mark the beads out, but I wanted something more than that. The difference in texture between the warm wood and the cool onyx when you’re in a meditative mindset is just lovely, and the thought of having another set of beads with that aspect that I could use more often was so, so appealing.

So much for the beads, what of the cord?

That was a completely unexpected purchase. I’d already bought the Yggdrasil beads, paid for them, shipping address, the lot, but I carried on browsing the shop for a bit as it was getting close to bedtime and I didn’t want to get too engrossed in anything, lose track of time, and wind up getting not enough sleep on a schoolnight. Now I’m a fibrecrafter myself – I knit, crochet, and handspin on a drop spindle, and I think all of Beth’s cords look gorgeous (even the ones where the colourway doesn’t really do it for me). There are a few I’ve been drawn to over the past months, mostly the winter and Yule ones, as that is my time of year – I was born on the Winter Solstice, don’t feel the cold much, and I love the crispness of frosty days, the smell of woodsmoke, warmth of blankets, and the cinnamon-clove-nutmeg-ginger spicy scent of the season. Alas for me, the winter cords are rinsed with peppermint (I abhor mint in all its forms), and even if this wasn’t the case I still had no justification for buying one. So how did I end up with a cord consecrated to Freyja? Which is a question I’m still asking myself.

As I said, I was browsing, I clicked on the listing, and as I read it there were phrases that just seemed to jump out at me – ‘goddess of sex, love, passion, war’, ‘she can teach you the mysteries of … most of all, your own personal worth’, ‘the result is a lush, velvety swirl of wine, pink, cherry, and rose with hints of chatreuse–very indulgent and sensual!’, ‘for connecting with any of Freyja’s aspects, but especially with Her role as goddess of love, sex, passion, romance, … or self worth’. Spotting a theme here? Now I know Freyja is usually described as the Norse goddess of love and sex, but she’s also associated with war and death – sometimes called the leader of the Valkyries, she collects half of those slain in battle, and it is the warrior side of her that has always interested me more. I do Historic European Martial Arts, aka ‘how to actually kill people with a sword’, so there’s a definite link there, but the origin of my interest is something I can again, blame Elfgift for – while the Battle-Woman in the story is called Jarnseaxa and not Freyja, the same themes apply: ‘I chose the slain’ is a common saying of hers. But it was the love and sex aspects that were sticking out, which was unusual for me. And then I got this feeling out of nowhere that simply stated ‘this cord would be good for you’. I don’t know if it was my brain, Freyja, my libido, Sophia (Wisdom, the name I use for the Holy Spirit), or the universe in general, but it was really weird. Now I have no problems with my libido when it’s awake, the issue I have is that it’s very tied into my menstrual cycle, and it isn’t always awake even when my cycle says it’s sexytime – and I’m hoping the cord will help with that in some way. Except that I realised the cord could help with this a minute or so after I got the constant feeling of ‘this would be good for you’, when I was trying to work out why. Like I said, it was weird, and it just wouldn’t go away.

So a couple of hours after I bought the Yggdrasil beads I got in touch with Beth via Etsy convo and asked if it would be possible for me to buy the cord and somehow combine it with the beads I’d already bought so I didn’t have to pay twice for shipping (US to UK = many pennies). Amusingly, my brain refused to let me address her as ‘Beth’, for despite following her blog for months it decided that no, this was a formal request from somene I’ve never met and therefore the formalities should be observed – so Ms. Wodandis it was. *Sigh*
I’d forgotten how big the time difference actually was between England and the west coast of the US until I looked it up, so I was very pleasantly surprised when Beth got back to me within the hour saying yes, no problem, the cord is on hold for you with no shipping charge and it will be sent out with the beads. Yay! I know that small business owners tend to be more friendly and accessible than the customer services in large companies, but even so Beth is so wonderfully friendly and helpful, and I’d recommend shopping at Beth Wodandis Designs just for that.

Now I just have to be patient and wait for my shiny fluffy pretties to arrive…

Bring on the stuff!

So far January has been the month of Buying Spiritual Things – to date I’ve purchased a pentacle, new athame, and two of Beth Wodandis’ beautiful creations, one beadwork and one fibrecraft. Now I fully agree with Marietta that you don’t really need anything to be a practising Pagan, and while a Bible is reasonably necessary for a practising Christian there are plenty of free versions in many languages available on the internet, so you don’t even need to buy a physical copy. However, I like having stuff.

I don’t consider myself hideously materialistic, but I do like having physical reminders around the place – I’ve saved certain ticket stubs, kept the programmes from theatre trips, carefully preserved silly little things that friends have given me over the years, and like having random pretty things sitting on my bookshelves and windowsills. However, I don’t hold on to absolutely everything I’ve ever had, and the vast majority of the time I don’t buy things just to have them; for one thing my bank account couldn’t handle it, and for another I like my things to have a use – it looks pretty but also does this practical thing, as a reminder of a person, place, or event, or as a piece of artwork.
Over the past year I’ve realised and begun to settle into the fact that my personality is very Earthy; I’ve always liked making things with my hands, I’ve always had Stuff everywhere, I’m reasonably practical, I like stability and structure in my life, I crave physical affection from friends and significant others (I’m a very huggy person), my friend Kizzy has told me in the past that she’s always considered me to be very grounded, I’ve essentially dedicated my professional career to soil, mud, and the things found in soil and mud, and my sense of humour is very earthy – think Nanny Ogg from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

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My pentacle from Dryad Designs sitting on my altar.

As a result, my altar is a fairly crowded place (I refuse to use the word ‘cluttered’) and although I’ve got a bigger space for it since I’ve moved I have plans to add more things to it in the future, mostly statues. And the rest of the flat isn’t much better – in fact, as I’ve been moving more of my stuff over from the parents’, it has definitely begun to approach cluttered in some places, which suits me fine. My jewellery/makeup/personal hygine area (the top of my chests of drawers) is a prime example of this, as the things stay in their prescribed area and I can usually find what I want, but it looks disorganised and messy. To me, my crowded altar looks used as opposed to purely aesthetic, and my cluttered busy flat feels lived-in rather than a show-home.

A lot of this post was bubbling around in my head last night, which may be why I decided to wear my amethyst Tree of Life necklace today. It was given to me by my close friend/hookup Ian for my birthday in 2014, and he certainly helped to bring me back to reality after I wound up with clinical depression in late 2013. I don’t often wear jewellery, but today felt like a jewellery day. Humans don’t need much Stuff for survival or to live comfortably, but the Tree’s roots sink down through the earth and into the past, and remind me that even in Neolithic villages like Skara Brae people displayed objects in their houses. As a species humans have produced a lot of art, and while a fair chunk of it has been religious or spiritual, there is still an awful lot of secular art produced purely because it looked nice and makes us feel better about our surroundings (yes, there’s a status thing going on as well, but it pretty much boils down to ‘I have money and/or power and so I can have even more art than you’).
There is beauty and majesty in Nature, and you can go outside and see a gorgeous sunset that puts a smile on your face and makes you feel good about being alive and able to see it. But the day could be cloudy, you could be busy, the sunset might not be particularly spectacular. However, with a painting of such a sunset on your wall you can see that beauty and majesty as often as you like, and still see the same thing happen in reality, changing subtly every time. So I’m wearing this necklace today as a reminder that my aquisition of Things isn’t some manefestation of the big bad materialistic grabbing culture that a fair amount of people believe has infected modern society, but a continuation of things that humans have done throughout our existence as a species – pretty things to wear, nice things to look at, and stuff to have that you don’t need for survival so you can prove to yourself that you are able to survive and can therefore afford ‘useless prettiness’.

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My silver Tree of Life necklace with amethyst leaves.

I finally went to Treadwell’s!

Despite having lived in London my whole life (aside from uni) and having an interest in learning more about Paganism as well as a longtime interest in magic and similar subjects, and having known of its existence for a couple of years, I only managed to go to Treadwell’s on Monday. I’d been meaning to go for a while to browse but never got round to it, and while I wanted to go to one of their open circles I had, again, never got round to it.

I really should have, because I had a wonderful evening.

I arrived about 45 minutes early, which was fine because there is an awful lot to look at in there. It’s mostly books, but they also sell other bits and pieces like candles, essential oils, insence and altar equipment so I had a wonderful time browsing, and may end up buying a new athame. Then we all headed downstairs for ritual. The shop had filled up while I was browsing, as it closes at 7pm aside from those of us there for ritual. The circles are held in the basement room of Treadwell’s, and the first part of the evening is a mini lecture/discussion/workshop on a topic that’s in some way related to the ritual. This month focussed on storytelling and the Wolf Moon, and the only changes to the ritual given here were that instead of the songs being played when we smudged our wolf pictures there were four people drumming (one of whom was me!), and Lisa wasn’t able to make it as she had to go to New York for work at short notice so Ellie led the ritual instead.

Although I could have gone to many of these circles before, I’m glad I managed to get to this one. I was quite lucky to do so, as numbers are limited to about 20 and there was one space left when I phoned to book. It was weird being in a circle again with more than one person, as the only other time it’s happened was when I went to one of the Samhain rituals at uni while I was doing my MA, seven years ago. I also really enjoyed the walking meditation, where we walked slowly round the room clockwise with our eyes half-closed and/or unfocussed while Ellie dummed and read it out. And holy crap, I actually felt something during it – it was the howling part when I started to feel tingles running up and down my spine, and this feeling of elation and buzzing lasted through the chanting and closing, starting to fade when we left the ritual room.

Outside of actual ritual events I had a great time meeting people. Ellie is a lovely friendly person and very good at leading ritual, and I spent time between the workshop and ritual chatting to a few of the attendees, and I’ve made a couple of new friends too. I’d highly recommend Treadwell’s as a must-go place for anyone interested in Paganism, and the Open Circles are wonderful for any Solitaries out there who occasionally want to be able to do group work.
I wish I could have stayed longer to talk and unwind, but I had to leave fairly soon after the ritual ended as I have to get up at sparrowfart for work and it was already gone 9:30pm. But I made sure to grab a piece of the chocolate cake that was laid out among other refreshments, partly for the cakes and ale tradition, partly to help me ground, as eating is a very good way to pull your mind out of the ritual headspace and back into the mundane, and partly so I had enough energy to get home before I collapsed with tiredness.

Where am I going again?

My pentacle arrived yesterday, and it’s now sitting on my altar. In fact, it arrived just in time, as today is the day I earmarked to redo my house-cleansing and protection ritual. I did one when I got the keys, but now that I’ve redecorated and had the ensuite ripped out and redone, actually moved in, and had my birthday party, there’s not only been a lot of people coming in and out but also the flat feels more like home than it did before. And today would have been a great day to do so – it’s a weekend so I’ve got all day to plan and carry it out, and I’m not rushing to get it done in the evening between work and bedtime. It’s also a new moon today/tonight, traditionally a time for banishments and new beginnings, and is the start of the waxing moon cycle, a time of growth.

However, I have a stinking cold which has left me achey, tired, lethargic, and unable to breathe properly, so the chances of me doing anything that involves getting off the sofa for more then five minutes or a lot of mental effort are non-existent. I could shuffle round the flat with frankincense incense for protection, but I don’t particularly want to risk irritating my already pissed-off nose, for while I’m normally fine with incense smoke I really don’t want to do anything that might make me sneeze even more than I already am.

So what am I doing here? It’s been over a year since I started this blog, and I have to admit that I’ve not posted anything close to the number of posts I had planned – I’ve got nearly 20 posts sitting in my ‘drafts’ section, and several more ideas that I want to write about. A lot of this has been work- and home-related, as over the last year I’ve worked on away jobs with little or no internet access, had to do forced overtime and shift work, been sent to sites where my commute has been two hours each way, and been seconded to another department at work where I’ve been sitting at a desk most of the day with a computer in front of me. So when I’ve returned home in the evening I’ve often either been too tired to post, or I’ve not wanted to have a computer screen in front of me at all. Home-wise, I had the joys of five months of stress and anxiety while the processes for me getting my flat dragged out, leaving me wondering whether I’d actually be able to get my own place at all; followed by redecorating, discovering that the damp problem in the ensuite was a lot worse than it looked, buying furniture, and moving my stuff. And when I have had days where I’m awake and don’t have to do anything, I’ve usually preferred to read a book or watch things on DVD or Netflix than write and edit posts.

But I’m still committed to making Church and Circle work, as a result of which I’ve signed up for WordPress’ Blogging 101 course, designed for both completely new bloggers and those (like me) who want to improve their existing blog. This post is my response to the ‘who I am and why I’m here’ prompt, where it’s suggested that existing bloggers ‘revisit what you said when you first started blogging, to take stock of what you’ve accomplished and what more you’d like to do, or to lay out some goals for your next six months’.
Well, not much has changed from what I wrote about my blog aims in December of 2014 – I still want to record my ‘life, attitudes, and practices when it comes to religion’ in a public setting rather than a private journal. Why? Because I like reading about how other people connect with Deity, and it’s entirely possible that someone or someones out there will find how I do that interesting or helpful. And it’s also possible that even if my blog ends up being considered mediocre and not worth much, there will be one or two as-yet-unpublished posts that get a lot of traffic due to their particular content that many people will find useful.
Accomplishments? Well I’ve managed to post on average just over once a month since I started, which isn’t brilliant, but the numbers that make up that average are spread out over fourteen months rather than being bunched up into the first two. I’ve also had a small amount of views and visitors, which isn’t bad for a blog that isn’t publicised anywhere and hasn’t been updated either regularly or frequently since its inception.
As for what more I’d like to do, I want to clear out my drafts section by finishing, editing, and publishing those posts, try and actually do what I said I’d do in May and post at least once a fortnight, and try post about things that I do – how I read tarot cards, how I use my many kinds of prayer beads, how I create sacred space, how I pray. That sort of thing.

And now I’m going to take more paracetamol, have lunch, and get out another blanket to curl up with.

366 Day 1 – Earth-centred spirituality

On New Year’s Eve I started working my way through Timothy Roderick’s Wicca: A Year And a Day. I wasn’t actually expecting to – I didn’t decide ‘and on New Year’s Eve I’m going to start my 366 project’, it was more of a ‘it’s still daylight and not raining, sod it let’s go outside and do this’. I’d been planning on starting my 366 project sometime soon anyway, as the flat is nearly finished aside from painting the spare room, hall, and en-suite, and it actually feels like home now. I didn’t have a specific date in mind, although ‘at some point in January’ was the goal I set myself.

I started by reading the introduction to Day 1, in which Roderick talks about how back when humanity was still wandering round with stone tools hunter-gathering and later when humans started farming, there wasn’t any organized religion as we would conceive of it today. No hierarchies of priests, no complex dogma, possibly even no priests or idea of ‘religion’ at all as a seperate concept – just the changing seasons, the migration patterns of the animals, the clues about what the weather held, and how that would affect the lives and livelihoods of those tiny communities of people.

As Melissa Zupan puts it in her post on Day 1:

Once the frippery of religion is deconstructed, all you’re really left with is man, his environment, and his continuing struggle to understand his place within it … so I agree with Roderick when he points to the birthplace of spirituality being “in the dirt, in the soil, in the struggles and triumphs of everyday life,” and I whole-heartedly agree with him when he says that “getting started in this path requires you to settle down into the metaphorical dirt–the experiences of the world itself–and get your hands and feet muddy.” Spirituality requires an anchor, no matter what the system actually is, and there is no better anchor than the world and our experiences on and in it.

And while I agree with her assesment, I would slightly disagree with Melissa when she says that ‘the wonder and despair that currently inclines us to religious thoughts would be focused instead towards an appreciation of [nature’s] awe-ful strengths, to the connections between her, us, and all the other creatures on the planet’, because that would have been their religion. The cave pantings that early humans left behind suggest a form of sympathetic magic closely tied up with the community’s everyday life and survival – you need a successful hunt to stave off starvation, so you paint one on the walls and then go hunting, you need the aurochs to migrate in their usual pattern so you carve one into the walls and paint it. In the same way that during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, for the vast majority of people everyday life and religion were inextricably linked. People were born into the Church, they lived their lives by the Church’s laws, and when they died they were buried using the Christian funeral service, in consecrated ground, and prayers were said for their souls for years afterwards – if you lived outside the Church you lived outside society.

I also disagree with Roderick when he opens with ‘in Europe’s Neolithic past’, as the ‘earth-centered spiritual practices’ he describes had appeared much earlier. What could be termed religious behaviour first appears in the archaeological record during the Middle Palaeolithic, from around 300,000 years BP (Before Present), with Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis engaging in the intentional burial of their dead with grave goods and the use of red ochre. Evidence of religion itself, as opposed to evidence merely of funerary practices, emerges during the Upper Palaeolithic from about 50,000 yBP, with cave and rock art, decorated bones, and sculptures such as the Venus figurines, with the Neolithic period starting only 9,000 yBP. And while the Venus figures were probably used as symbols of fertility, in the same way the cave paintings were connected to the hunt, I don’t believe that they depicted a prehistoric Mother Goddess. I think it much more likely that they started out as fertility-related self-portraits of (possibly pregnant) women, as when viewed from above a lot of the Venus figurines’ proportions match that of what a woman sees when she looks straight down at her own body.

But I’m a historian and archaeologist, and I digress.

Because where I live in is built around a courtyard, I have ready-made access to grass, trees, plants, and water, so I didn’t have to go far to do this exercise. However, because it was bloody cold and windy, I went around the side of the building to where there’s a patch of lawn with a couple of trees growing out of it. There was slightly less wind, but it’s also more secluded, as although there are still a lot of windows overlooking that area there’s no foot traffic through it, so I could be sure of fewer or no interruptions.

I sat down with my back against one of the trees, shut my eyes and concentrated on roots growing down from the base of my spine and connecting me to everything on the earth. Unfortunately, this didn’t really work for me. The visuallising roots bit was fine, they started out as white like bone, then as they spread through the earth with my exhales (what I saw as a speeded-up version of what Granny Weatherwax describes in Wyrd Sisters as the heartbeat of a forest that happens once a year – ‘the brighter sun and longer days that would pump a million gallons of sap several hundred feet into the sky in one systolic thump too big and loud to be heard’) the roots became darker, as the soil stained them the same colour as the skeletons I’ve excavated, but with the growing ends of the roots still living-bone-white. Then I tried to get these roots to reach out and connect with ‘the great All‘, and failed miserably. I could get the tips of my roots to touch other things, but not connect to them in any way. So I tried a different approach – instead of having my roots spread out accross the globe in a web connecting everything, as the exercise asks us to do, I imagined my roots blending with the tree’s roots that I leaned against and essentially using them to jump-start my own roots with much more success. I could ‘see’ the roots spreading out from where I sat, joining up with the roots of the bush ten yards away, the grass, the trees across the drive, digging into the foundations of my building and the surrounding wall, and continuing to spread under the surface of the ground.

However, I hit a snag when it came to moving beyond the UK. I live on an island, and there are no roots I could follow under the English Channel to the Continent, let alone across the Altantic to the Americas. So I left my web of roots in place and returned to the base of my spine, where I sent out a taproot that ran straight down towards the core of the earth, far deeper than the roots of anything natural goes, aside from mountains, until I hit the mantle – that layer of molten rock under the earth’s crust. I did try and push my roots through the crust itself to get past the seas, but in my imagination this felt like hard work and led to blockages when I hit the edges of the tectonic plates, which is why I decided to move them through the magma underneath. I then visualised roots growing from this taproot of mine and spreading out until there was a network just under the earth’s crust, which I could then send roots upwards from and connect with those of plants on other continents.

While I was able to hold the mental image of all these root systems in my mind in one go, I found it impossible to imagine this network connected to all the ‘humans, animals, plants, objects’ in the world at the same time. So I visualised little vignettes – connecting to trees and ferns in the rainforests of the Amazonian basin, to the redwood forests in the US, the trees growing in the oases of the Sahara, the plants of the Siberian tundra, and up through the volcanoes in Iceland to the hardy mountain plants. I also found that I couldn’t just use my spine to send down roots and connect to the ground. I felt unbalanced and not really grounded at all, so I used my hands as well with fingertips spread out and touching the ground on either side of me, with visualised roots growing out from them into the ground and linking up to the roots from my spine and the tree. Much better.

I’m not sure how long I spent like this, although I’m guessing it proabaly wasn’t as long as the ten minutes the exercise asks for because it was bloody cold and my arse was damp as I’d brought nothing to sit on, but I eventually opened my eyes, jotted down some answers to the questions Roderick asks us to consider, and hurried back inside to change and get warm. Here are my answers to the questions Roderick asks:

In what way was the connection strong?
I felt strongly connected to trees and less strongly to other types of plant such as bushes and ferns. I also felt a reasonably strong connection to the earth itself, to rocks and the soil, as well as birds on trees.

What do you suspect is the reason for any strong connections?
I think the reason for this is because plants have roots that go down into the earth which is not only what I had visualised myself having, but also because I was connecting to things via these roots along with piggybacking on the tree roots underneath me. As for the birds, they were standing barefoot on branches and so had an immediate connection to what I had the strongest feeling of connectivity with.

In what way was the connection weak?
I found it next to impossible imagining connections to animals and humans unless they were sitting or lying down on the ground when it became merely very difficult, although I found animals easier overall.

What do you suspect is the reason for any weak connections?
I think this is due to the fact that humans and animals move around a lot – their physical connection to the earth isn’t static and they have no roots that I could connect to with my own imagined roots. Part of this was probably down to the way I was approaching this mental exercise, but I think part of it is because I spent the vast majority of my working life dealing with mud, rocks, and plant material (mostly timber) as opposed to with a large group of people or the public. It felt more comfortable.

What actions can you take that may strengthen any weak connections?
I wrote in my notebook that I should ‘try and remember that everyone walks barefoot at some point’, by which I meant that everyone (as well as animals) has had a direct connection with the earth through this universal experience – I don’t believe that there is a person alive who hasn’t had their skin touching earth at at least one point in their lives, and the same applies to everyone who has ever lived. To a greater or lesser extend we all rely on animals to survive, and despite our many differences there are some things that unite all humans, even if it’s at the most basic level, and it is through these connections that we can feel a part of ‘the great All‘ that Roderick describes.

I was supposed to then ‘spend the rest of the day acting in accord with [my] heightened awareness to people and things around [me]’, which I took as trying to connect more with people than inanimate objects. Which on New Year’s Eve was actually very easy, as I was going to a party that evening hosted by two of my friends where everyone else attending was a stranger to me – I had to reach out and find conections between myself and the other people there, otherwise my conversations would have been very limited and dull.