Pagan Blog Project – Guides on our path

Everyone talks about guides. Everyone has one or two or fifty. And they are all big, sexy, strong predators, right? Lol. Guides of all kinds seem to be in vogue at the moment. A quick google search will find hundreds of pages on animal guides, totems and other spirit guides. It’s very in to talk about your spirit guide. But these are not toys we collect, but big energies in their own rights who chose to help or not help us.

I am not sure I want to teach you guys yet another guided meditation to find your totem. The truth is this: guides are not static, they come and go from your life as needed. So whatever we could find today in a meditation may not help much 6 months from now. Whatever creature I could pull from the eather for you may not be what you want. That being said, I am a huge fan of spirit guides. I adore mine, the ones who stick around and the ones who have moved on.

Mountain Lion was the first guide I met. She used to laze in the sun with me on the red rocks of our plateau. She taught me he basics of journey work and how to be safe. She snuggled me when I was depressed and introduced me to other animal guides. Through her I met Badger. Badger kicked my ass as I struggled to find a job. Badgers only care about one thing: food. Remember the honey badger? Oh yeah. Badger, with his nose to the ground, ran me ragged till I finally was employed. Badger didn’t care about excuses or me being tired or depressed. Badger had one focus and I was it.  And it worked, I found a job and Badger trundled off into the sunset.  Mountain Lion also took me around and introduced me to some others. Bear, Sea Otter, Hawk, Wolf and Horse all came to greet me. Each one sat for awhile and chatted, telling me what it was like to live as a totem and interact on a mega-scale. Not all of these hung around very long, each had their own message and purpose. Hawk taught me to shapeshift into a bird and fly. Otter rolled with me in the currents. But I was learning, not only how to interact with acceptable social etiquette, but also the basics of journeywork and the landscape of the Otherworlds.

When Mountain Lion passed me off onto Tiger, I was very sad and cried. Tiger popped up everywhere. I would turn the radio on and “Eye of the Tiger” was playing. I saw tiger artwork and figurines in every store I went into. A friend bought me a fake tiger’s tooth necklace, just because. And so I accepted the transition and said goodbye to Mountain Lion. Tiger taught me to fight, taught me not to bow my head. But Tiger wanted to hunt and kill more than I was comfortable with. Tiger was in my head, craving raw meat, wanting to rip into people who made me mad with her razor sharp teeth. It was slightly disconcerting. I found myself pacing rooms like a caged animal in the zoo and baring my teeth in anger. And so I slowly started seeking out human guides.

Human guides too have come and gone. The Gods train us in specific ways, till we have the skills we need to be who They need us to be. I have met the Morrigan, Airmid, Lugh, Rhiannon, Cerridwen, Nokomis, and some humans whose names were never mine to know. They each passed me skills. They each taught me magic in their own way. Today, beyond my 2 patron Goddess’, I recognize Raven and Snake as my birth totems, Snake especially as being a rebirth totem, and Barn Owl as my fylgja or soul totem. I also work with Wolf, both as a shapeshift form and as the tribe I was initiated into. Ok, I know thats a lot of information, but I wanted to show you how guides can… guide us. They have the ability to help us mold our path, not necessarily keep us safe but keep us alive and whole.

One of the ways to recognize a guide is to start to pay attention to the patterns in your life. Do the ravens and crows follow you around? They might be trying to talk to you. Do you start to see mice everywhere, living and representative? You might want to look up what Mouse has to offer you. Don’t discount the smallest guides, snails, frogs, ants and bugs of every type all have something to teach us.

Once you begin to build a relationship with the guide, the best thing to do is start honoring them. I love tattoos and tend to get a new tattoo for each guide that sticks around in my life. My last one was raven feathers, for my birthday. Does your guide belong to an animal group that is being threatened with extinction? Do what you can to preserve their habitat. Volunteer when you can. Sign petitions. Speak up. Listen to what they have to say and really try to follow the advice. These Beings don’t have to help us, they aren’t sitting around waiting for the right “hooman” to notice them in the store window. So when someone takes the time and energy to advise you, it behooves you to pay attention. Does someone want you to be bolder/kinder/sleep more/take better care of yourself? Do it. Of course, as with Tiger, it helps to have a grasp on boundaries and be willing to say no when needed. But most guides are truly here to help.

Its also important to remember that these animal guides are representations of the entire community of animals and as such, can act in ways entirely foreign to us. They will have an agenda, that goes with the territory. But that doesn’t mean that the agenda and the Being behind it are necessarily good or evil. Just realize they have their own power, their own goals, their own eccentricities. This comes with working with an energetic representation of an entire animal species. For example, I think the reason I was having issues with Tiger stems from the fact that tigers are notoriously solo creatures, they don’t like anyone else in their territory.

Of course, the same applies for any human or humanoid guide as well. (I will use the term human here to simply.) Pay attention. Follow their advice. Be polite. Don’t offer anything you aren’t willing to give up. Human guides though can be trickier. Not every human you will run into is going to be your guide, please don’t run up to the first entity you meet and demand they train you in anything. Not every human is doing it from the goodness of their heart. Like a twelve year old wandering in New York City by themselves, we are all susceptible to cons and trickery. Test everything.

One way to do this is to double check with other practitioners. UPG is a wonderful source of knowledge. “So-and-so told me to strip naked and dance in the town square. Have you ever heard of this?” Chances are, your friends will be able to point out the traps pretty quickly. Another way to test is divination. Ask again. And a third time. And even a fourth. Ask until the divination system and the Universe at large gets angry and tells you to stop asking. Have a third party do divination on your behalf. How else can we test? Read the lore. Read other culture’s lore. Read as much as you can from the original founts of knowledge.

Ok, I’ve run out of steam. That happens when you work nights and type this at mad speed at 8 am. The point I was making here is that guides are good, they are a resource to help us grow and mature on our path. And I like adding pictures to my posts.

Student Essay: What is Wicca?

My student learning position within the local coven requires that I write numerous essays about different subjects. I thought it might be interesting to post them here as I go, for feedback and accountability.

Wicca is the most well-known of all of the neo-pagan practices today. It was started by Gerald Gardner in the early 20th century and became popular in the 50’s and 60’s. At its core, Wicca is a mystery religion, in which knowledge and information is reserved for initiates and not revealed to outsiders. The mystery cults have a long history within Greco-Roman faiths and can also be seen in the Kemetic and Druidic faiths as well. Gerald Gardner claimed to have been initiated into the New Forest coven in England in 1939, and used their practices and beliefs as the basis for the tradition of Gardnerian Wicca. He published 2 books, Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959), which can be viewed as the foundation for our modern practices. For this, he is commonly referred to as “the Father of Wicca”.

There are many many many different forms of Wicca today. These include but are not limited to Alexandrian, Gardnerian, Dianic, and Feri. Because of the arguements over the labels and the infighting between covens, Alexandrian and Gardnerian Wicca are sometimes refered to as British Traditional Witchcraft or BTW.

Wiccan beliefs are as varied as their practitioners. Ideas of monotheism vs polytheism, pantheism vs panetheism vs animism… You get my point. Dianics tend to focus solely on the Goddess and not include the God. Some Wiccans see all Gods as faces of the God and all Goddess’ as faces of the Goddess. Some covens are eclectic and some stick to strict pantheons. Some believe in the Summerland, some speak of reincarnation, some are fine with seeing us returned to the cycles of nature. As many voices as there are, that is how many differing opinions you will find.

So what are some common threads? Most Wiccans practice magic, though some are purely spiritual and not all magical practitioners are Wiccan or spiritual. Most Wiccans (all that I have had the pleasure of knowing) celebrate the turning of the wheel with the 8 sabbats: Samhain (October 31), Yule (December 21), Imbolc (February 1), Ostara (March 21), Beltane (May 1), Litha (June 21), Lammas (August 1), and Mabon (September 21). These dates are for the Northern hemisphere, in the southern they are reversed, with Yule being on June 21 and Litha being on December 21. The awake reader will have noted how the holidays align opposite each other, they mark the Solstices and the Equinoxes, the points of balance in our year. They line up this way to coincide with the harvests. Let me show you a picture:

The names in the picture are slightly different but the concept is the same.

Another thing that Wiccans have in common is the Wiccan Rede, written in 1964 by Doreen Valiente. Here is a link to the entire rede, but the part that most Wiccans, and other pagans for that matter, can quote by heart is the last two lines: Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill/An it harm none, do what thou wilt. Or something like that. The Rede is the cornerstone of Wiccan morality, helping Wiccans worldwide to find ways to interact with others in peace and harmony. Does it always work? Nope. (The recent problems at PantheaCon with the Dianic, cis womans-only ritual are proof of that.) But its a nice ideal to strive for.

Another common thread in Wicca is the pentacle and the symbolism inherent. The pentacle is a pentagram, or 5 pointed star, with a circle around it. The 5 points correspond to the 4 elements of western thought: earth, air, fire, water, with the fifth point symbolizing spirit. Traditionally, each element is also associated with a direction and the corresponding… correspondences of color, emotion, spirits, what have you.

The rest of this essay is supposed to be a compare and contrast with my own spiritual practices.

Hmmm… thats a difficult one to say. My path is constantly growing and changing. What I was doing 3 years ago is not what I do at all today.

One major difference is ritual. Ritual within Wicca is a key way in which people interact with the God/dess and spirits. Ritual includes casting a circle doesil, or clockwise, having ritual tools like a wand and chalice, utilizing the elements and something called “Cakes and Ale”, which is ritual food. They then take the circle down widdershins or counterclockwise. Thats a lot of fun and a lot of work but when I have attempted to do this as a solitary, I feel silly. Don’t get me wrong, I still practice magic and cast circles when needed. The entire circle casting process is quite amazing when journeying to the Otherworlds, you can physically see the energy you raise and release.

So how do I interact with my Gods and spirits? For one, I can hear my patrons in my head pretty well when I am listening. Each Goddess comes from her own… chakra for lack of a better word, with a distinct voice and sense of humor. It gets semi-weird when all 3 of us are talking. Lady Hela radiates from a pulse at the point where my skull and my spine connect. Angrboda radiates from my heart chakra area. And yes, thats a physical sensation as well. I also do journey work, which involves achieving an ecstatic trance state which allows my hame (soul or astral self) to wander from my lich (physical body). I mainly do this through the use of drumming CD’s. [Which, btw, I have some awesome links for if anyone reading this is interested. Just let me know.] So sometimes my Goddess’ come over here and play and sometimes I go over there and play. My work over there involves a kind of apprenticeship at the moment.

Another thing I can’t seem to be able to do very well is maintain a Book of Shadows. A Book of Shadows, or BoS for short, is a detailed record of a Wiccan’s practice, including spells, correspondences, herbal lore, phases of the moon, anything magical they want to put in. The main reason I struggle with keeping a BoS is because…. yup, you guessed it, I don’t do magic at home. I feel like I have nothing to write about. I do keep track of my journeywork, what I promised to whom, but a lot of my useful/useless information is stuck squarely in my head.

What do I have in common with Wicca? Divination is common amongst Wiccans and other pagans. I use the Wildwood Tarot deck and am learning how to read runes. Our approach to the divine is similar. I know that we face the Gods and Goddess’ equally. I may be a hard polytheist and an animist, but I know when I participate in a Wiccan circle its the same divine presence. We have the same core moral beliefs, though my path requires that I deal with things that others in the neo-pagan community might find repulsive or repugnant. I know that I can stand in solidarity with my Wiccan breathrens and not feel quite so alone. Because we are all alone on our paths, I cannot drag you into my reality simply because I want company.

Do I always feel accepted by Wiccans? No, not always. Sometimes I feel left out and misunderstood. My High Priestess referred to my path as “low magic” which is a term used to describe any nature magic that used objects found in nature. That encompasses kitchen witches, green witches, hedgewitches and so on. The magic that is practiced amongst modern Wiccans is not low magic. So when the conversation gets going and we are discussing our favorite herbs or crystals or which shop we purchased our wands at, its been known to bring the conversation to a halt when I bring up roadkill or poisonous herbs or my work with the dead. Magical garb does not normally include real fox ears and necklaces made from owl bones. (And yes, sometimes I get a kick out of scaring some of the more naive practitioners.)

But I am proud to stand side by side with them, because I realize thats what makes a community strong.

Pagan Blog Project – Facing fear with Faith

Last week I wrote about our fears, how they can cripple us and keep us from achieving what we truly want in both the mundane and religious parts of our lives. I thought it would be fun to continue the thought process this week with a discussion of fear and faith.

This concept is not new to us, Christianity makes a big deal out of turning our fear over to God and being washed with faith. But paganism does not allow us to turn over control of our emotions that easily. There is no serving this up on a silver platter to some omniscient being. So how do we use our faith as a tool to combat fear?

First, lets define faith. Wikipedia equates faith to trust, hope and and belief. I don’t think its as simple as that. The leap of faith as described by the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, is the conviction that is strong enough to enable us to “remain out upon the deep, over seventy fathoms of water, still preserving the faith.”This leap is hinged upon the human imagination, not to say that it is imagined in any way, but only that the 2 human attributes are intrinsically intertwined.

Every single religion relies on faith. In some cases, this can be seen as blind faith, when people embrace what is told to them, word for word, without the ability to question of doubt the teachings. And many of us turned away from these religions and embraces a faith that asks us to decide for ourselves. This personal gnosis is the cornerstone of modern paganism. I can write the prettiest ritual, but unless you feel the energy for yourself, its all just words.

Fear keeps us motionless, faith moves us forward.

As Dver over at A Forest Door said: doing the practices IS the work and will create the feelings over time.

When we are depressed, we move in slow motion. We go THROUGH the motions, feeding the kids, doing chores, going to work. And we do this because we know that eventually it won’t be so hard to get up in the morning, eventually the motions will create more fluidity in our lives. The same is true for faith. We do the motions and the motions create the truth for themselves.

Our faith is about ourselves, but it is also about our Gods. I believe our Gods get something out of the practices themselves, out of every movement and word. Doing the things that make us afraid become acts of devotion to our Gods.

We become our own prayers.

Pagan Blog Projects – Facing our Fear

I will not give in to my fear.

I will not allow the things in the shadows to hold me back.

I will not whimper and run home at the sounds of footsteps behind me.

I will not cringe at the foul breath on the back of my neck.

I will not give in to my fear.

Ah fear, that emotion that we cannot outrun, no matter how hard we try. And we do try, we in these modern times. We are taught that we can control our emotions, that it is our birthright to decide how to feel. Emotions become twisted, equated with children, equated with weakness, used by the patriarchy to denote the weakness of women. We are taught that love is weakness, don’t cry, don’t show chinks in your armor. I won’t talk about empaths here, those of us that can feel others emotional states. No, I want to talk about fear.

Fear is very simple: it allows us to perceive a threat. That’s it. That is all that fear is meant to do. “Oh big scary thing, I need to run away.”  In layman’s terms, fear keeps us alive. Its part of the fight or flight response that we carried over from our ancestors. Fear is the unknown, that which has driven our ancestors for millions of years.  When you can’t see into the shadows, every movement becomes a potential threat. Today, we don’t have the same environmental threats that they did, there are no mega-fauna to stalk and kill us, nor do we have the same fears about the world around us. I know whats in the dark, that the sun will rise again, that when my child is sick I can take him or her to the doctor and get them better. Life simply doesn’t hold the same triggers for fear that it used to. But we still respond to our new situations with fear.

The biggest fear on our national radar was triggered by the events of 9/11 and, as can be expected, the nation as a whole overreacted in an attempt to assuage that fear. We are afraid of the nameless enemy and so we bolt the door shut and make up rules that are supposed to keep them out. We are afraid of the things we can’t see and the media and the government play on these fears to control the population. Words like terrorist, pandemic, economy and unemployment are all trigger phrases intended to activate our fear response and essentially bypass the logical part of our brain. My front page of a popular news and search engine this morning talks about kidnapping, racism, unemployment, “pink slime”, and the political race, all in one go. Forget warmongering. This is all about fear-mongering.

On a more personal level, our individual fear responses shape how we interact with the world. You might not even realize why you are avoiding a given situation, but somewhere buried in your subconscious is a seed of fear. I’m not talking about phobias, but those things that make us change our paths as a response. Lets say a good position comes across your desk, pays more, and is closer to what would make you feel fulfilled. The problem is: you have never worked in that field before. How many of us would apply, send in our resumes and interview without a hint of fear and anxiety? How many of us would make up an internal dialogue about how I’ not ready for that kind of job, they won’t hire me anyway,  I’ve been here for x number of years so I might as well not worry about that other job and just ride this one out, I can’t afford to switch jobs in this economy.

Fear works in our spiritual lives as well. If your path is based mostly on UPG, then you face the challenges of getting others to listen to what you have experiences without laughing at you. If your path is initiatory, you might face the fear of being accepted into a coven that you click with. Does your SO support your path or laugh at you? Do your children practice as you do or do you hide who you are so they won’t be teased and bullied at work? Are you in the broom closet to your friends, your family, your coworkers, your neighbors? Does your fear have a say in what you wear, how you practice, where you live?

My own personal spiritual path has sometimes been described as “Norse satanism”. While I disagree with this title, I do recognize that this has made me reconsider what information I give to what groups. I don’t always tell people the gods I work with, I don’t truly want to be ostracized for my practices.

“I am afraid”  I whisper into the darkness.

“I know” She replies. “Do it anyway.”

The real fear for me is change. It feels like a slippery slope, I might lose my footing and lose myself in the process. It is the unnerving experience of walking across quicksand. I face fear every day in my pagan path. My Goddess’ are constantly pushing me to do more, be more. Give up old habits, take up new ones, speak to strangers, say no to friends. Its a heady mixture of fear and courage that drives us out of the comfort of the churches and synagogues of our childhood, into the wilderness of our own convictions.

I am not sure that fear can ever be overcome or tamed. Maybe its simply a matter of learning to coexist with fear, a tenuous balance of the light and dark that makes the pagan path so unique.

Pagan Blog Project – The Faces of the Gods, entheogens in pagan practice

I am going to start this post off with a warning: I am not an expert. Everything I say here will require more research on your part if you want to put it to use. The things I will speak about here can kill you if used improperly, so please don’t run out and get yourself hurt.

So, now that I have your curiosity unduly peeked, what is it that I am speaking of? Entheogens, known by many different names, fall into a category that is traditionally used by those on the poison path. Wikipedia defines it as “a psychoactive substance used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context” and tells us that entheogen means “God inside us”. Okay, that’s all well and good but what does it actually mean???

To really understand entheogens, you have to have a basic understanding of what it is we are trying to achieve through the use of such substances. Spirit-workers of all kinds, including witches, seers, and shamans, may utilize tools by which to achieve altered states of conscious. We do this for many many different reasons, but I am going to drop the impersonal here and speak for myself. I utilize these methods when I do journey work, ripping my soul from my body so that I can go visit the Gods where they live. The reasons I do this are varied, but the end result is the same. These methods are traditionally knows as the Eightfold Path to Altered States of Consciousness. They include:

  • the Path of Meditation (or Breath) – altering your breathing patterns consciously to affect your brain patterns
  • the Path of Ritual – creating a ritual and usually repetitive pattern that triggers an altered state
  • the Path of Rhythm – using dancing, drumming, or repetitive motions to achieve trance
  • the Ascetic’s Path – using fasting, sleep deprivation and other forms of sensory deprivation and purification
  • the Path of the Sacred Plants – using entheogenics to achieve trance
  • the Path of the Flesh – includes ideas like tantric sex and energies
  • the Path of the Ordeal – using pain to affect an altered state
  • the Path of the Horse – direct spirit-possession or physically allowing a God to take command of your body

The object of the game here is achieve ecstatic trance states that allow is to commune directly with the Gods and spirits. The interesting thing here is this: no one path is better than the others and no one path works for every person. Most of us utilize many different paths, picking and choosing what works best and what is most appropriate for the occasion. I utilize the path of rhythm most frequently, but I have also utilized the path of ritual and the path of the ordeal. The one we are discussing now is the path of the sacred plant.

Plants are our most sacred allies. They are the basis upon which we exist, creating a symbiotic relationship with humans for food,shelter, propagation. Plants make up the basis of our diet and our homes and our clothes. Without plants, there would be no humans. But never mistake the opposite for truth, plants would be just fine without humans. They chose to help us and assist us, even with the chemicals and abuses we throw at them. And in that assistance they span the human imagination. Just stop and think for a second. Is there any part of your life where plants don’t play a part?

So what exactly is included under the label entheogen? Lets make a list:

  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Salvia
  • Marijuana
  • Datura
  • Ayahuasca
  • Peyote
  • Iboga
  • Henbane
  • Mandrake
  • Belladonna
  • Aminita Muscaria or fly agaric mushrooms
  • Mugwort
  • Wormwood

I am sure there are others that I have forgotten or that have yet to cross my radar. Many of these are toxic, datura seeds have been known to cause permanent psychosis in the first use.

But I wont say not to learn. These plants are our heritage as witches. They have been used for centuries to see the faces of the Gods, in the form of drinks, smokes, incense and flying ointments, or a preparation of herbs and fats combined to rub over the skin.

The main plants used in flying ointments come from the Solanaceae family. They contain the alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine. The tropane compound contained within the Solanaceae family can cause heart problems, heart failure, permanent blindness or even death when taken internally but are much less dangerous when used in a salve on the skin.The other plants in the Solanaceae, like foxglove, hemlock and monkshood, should never be used. These are known to cause permanent paralysis or kill outright. Mugwort and wormwood come from the Artemisia family and contain the alkaloid thujone. Juniper, tansy, oregano and sage also contain thujone, though in lesser amounts. An overdose of thujone, like what used to happen to absinthe drinkers, can cause seizures and death.In the 1970’s an article was published in a British scientific journal which compared the moleculare structure of thujone to THC and speculated that they might act on the brain in the same way.

Okay, have I scared you enough? I didn’t mean to, but its important to express how dangerous these plants can be, as innocuous as they appear.

How far back does the use of plants go? The documentation of flying ointments can be found as far back as Homer’s The Iliad, around 800 BCE, when the goddess Hera is said to use an oil of ambrosia to fly to Olympus without touching the earth. And prehistoric graves and tombs from the Neolithic era have been unearthed with the remains of henbane, belladonna, and marijuana in Scotland and Northern Europe, seeds and the remnants of alcoholic beverages in ritualized bottles. That’s quite a heritage.

Many people, when discussing entheogens, will warn people away from the “hard” stuff, but I’m not going to do that. I know that for me, a warning is as good as a welcome mat. I tread in the specific places I am always told not to. But I will tell you every decision has its consequence. If you approach a plant spirit in fear or in the hopes of getting high, they will smash you to pieces and leave you to put yourself back together.

Lady Hela tells me these are the keys, not the doors. It is up to us to do the heavy lifting. But in the event that you chose to wander down the poison path, just remember, there are friends and allies in the most unlikely of places. Honor them well, treat them wisely and they just might impart a touch of their wisdom.

Not sure what to title this one

I have been utilizing ecstatic trances and journeywork for a little over 2 years now. When I first started, the Gods I encountered and trained under had me doing a lot of self-healing and putting myself back together, as well as general information gathering. I have finally reached a point where I am doing journeywork to start to tie my community together, both here and in the Otherworld. I thought I would share with you guys what a journey is like for me.

I am a devotee of a subset of the Norse Pantheon called the Rokkr. This is very very controversial within Heathenry, so everything that I post here falls under UPG or unverified personal gnosis. What this means is that it is true to me because I have seen it/felt it/lived it and therefore believe it to be true. You do not have to agree with anything I write here, you are more than welcome to take it as a fairy tale and move on.

In the following post, I have gone to visit Angrboda. Angrboda is a a giantess who gave birth to Hela, Fenris and Jormungand in Norse mythology. She is the Chief of Chiefs of the Jotnar, kinda the big kahuna of the giants. She is a seer and a shaman and a shapeshifter. I call her Mama Wolf.

Feel free to ask me any words you don’t understand.

The sound of the drum beat fills my ears. I use that sound to still the sound of my own body, reaching out for the rock, the meeting place. I start at my toes.

I can feel the suede of the shoes under my feet and the little rocks under that. I can feel the way the grass brushes against my ankles. I can feel the wind against my shins. Then it all comes rushing through and I am at the stone and Alva is there, my fylgja, my barn owl. I feed her white mice that roll like clouds from my palms, pieces of my own energy to forge ever stronger the bond between us. She laughs at the way the mice dance, not a human sound but one that I can hear in my heart and I find myself grinning back at her.I hoist the stang onto my back and look around in every direction to orient myself.

To my back is an ancient forest. We are in Midgard and the forests here look pretty much like the ones back home. The stone is in a clearing, dappled with sunlight. Ahead of us I can see where the trees meet the road and beyond that I can see towering glimpses of Yggdrasil.  I know that the road will lead toward civilization but I am not in any hurry to go there. Instead I hike towards the Great Tree, sometimes climbing over rocky inclines, always following Alva. I know she can see much farther than I can.

When the forest clears and I can finally see the Tree, I start looking for the opening. Mama Wolf showed this to me in the cards, and so its the only way I know of right now to make my way to Jotenheim. There it is, a dark spot in the sunlight. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you might mistake it for a shadow and move on. But Alva and I crouch down and look in.

Blink and the night vision kicks in, perk of having a barn owl as a friend. Stones big enough to break an ankle, twisted roots that don’t look particularly friendly, no light at the end of this tunnel for us. We have to trust in our guide. So its a tentative step and then slipping and sliding, hanging onto wiggling roots. One breaks off in my hands, becomes a green snake, becomes a green snake tattoo glowing on my forearm. Weird. It must be some kind of entry fee or hand stamp that lets me in because I go tumbling out into a new forest.

This forest is huge. HUGE. The trees are huge, the stones are huge, the road is HUGE!!! Oh yeah, this must be Jotenheim, the land of the giants. We start following the HUGE road towards the east. Roads = civilization, remember? This one is gravel, pretty good shape too. Alva is having a blast flying ahead of me, right up under the canopy. Up a gentle slope we see a bridge. The forest gives way to a field surrounding a city. But my attention is captured by the bridge and the raging river that flows beneath it. I can see several fish leaping high in the water. Salmon, that was the second tarot card she gave me for directions.

Ok, so slide down the river bank and start following the river south. We have to cross the river a couple of times, the banks become cliffs and then change back to banks. We walk for quite awhile, the sun is beginning to set before I finally see a cave. I know it is Angrboda’s cave, it resonates with her energy. We climb up the hill, glad to be done with the hiking. Her stang is outside, a wolf’s skull attached to the top, fluttering cloth of burnt orange in the breeze. Its a surprisingly big cave, even for a giantess.

I won’t tell you what we talk about. I won’t tell you what happens when she takes me to the Iron Wood. I wont tell you about the wildness or the dancing or the fear or the blood. No, not yet.

Afterwards, she gently blows on my forehead and I go tumbling out of the tunnel into the cradle of Yggdrasil’s roots. Alva perches on my shoulder, peers into my face, very concerned. Am I okay? Did she hurt us? No we are fine and its time for me to leave. I pet Alva gently and she coos at me and flies away. Time to return to my body. The drum beat gets louder and I can feel my body again, the clothes against my skin, the heater kicking on and then my cats meowing at the door for attention.

I am home.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) by Julia Mead

Pagan Blog Project – Edumacation (with a surprise inside)

I’m a pretty smart person. No seriously, my IQ has been tested. I’m pretty smart. I’m also pretty educated. Not on par with my big sis the PhD. Nor do I have an actual degree under my belt to net me more moolah. But in my years of travel and learning, I’ve picked up a few things here and there. Some of it is very very helpful. I can cook anything with no issue (except cake. Don’t ask.) I can carry on an esoteric conversation about classical opera or art or linguistics. I know how to bandage a horses hoof and do CPR and identify birds and plants. I can tell you how to kill your neighbor with a few herbs or how to see the gods with a few more. As my high school english teacher drilled into our brains “The mark of an educated man is one who knows a little bit about everything and a lot about something.” I cant remember who the quote comes from but I can quote it like I know something.

So it might boggle your mind, gentle reader, that I have been pagan for 10 years now and only recently stumbled into an opportunity to receive a formal pagan education. I know, don’t gasp in horror too hard there and hurt yourself. I really really like this group I am studying with but I have a confession.

Intellect and education have made me a snob.

I really did mean to write about receiving a pagan education, but apparently I am going to talk about ego instead. So sayeth the Goddess. Don’t tell anyone, I really do want them to read this blog and if they have gotten this far, chances are they will keep reading.

Ego is such a Freudian idea. Ego is what holds us back from making an ass of ourselves and concurrently living life to the fullest. Ego is why the diet industry is a billion dollars a year… thing and why self-help books fly off the shelves at your local bookstore. Ego is the snickering voice inside my head that makes it that much harder to relate to the people around me. I often liken it to my mother’s voice, but the truth is its as much a part of me as the rest is, however much I wish it wasnt.

Some people equate ego with self-esteem, the more you have the better. Isn’t that soooo in line with our western ideals? Suddenly ego isn’t a bad thing but a mark of our zest for individualization and nothing more than a self-satisfied pat on the back. But its not. Ego can be deadly. You let ego go far enough and you get Hitler or Stalin or Kim Jong Il. You chose not to reel ego back in and suddenly we are slathering genocide with a covering of god-approval. I assume most of us here are pagans. I assume most of us remember the Burning Times and the Inquisition from the pages of our history books. That, my friends, is unadulterated ego.

So how did we leap from education to ego? For me the path is simple. Education in my family breeds egotism. Diplomas become signs of breeding. The clearly delineated line is drawn smack dab between those who can afford to be educated and those who cannot. And as the cost of an education continues to rise, I fear that more and more people are following the same ideas. Pretty soon only 2 types of people will be able to afford a college education: those who have the money for it and those who have the genetics for a scholarship.

Don’t get me wrong, I think education is not and should not be defined by what we learn in the halls of higher learning. I think an AA or a certification is just as good, if not more applicable, to the new world we are living in. But guys, the truth is, I stumbled into the job I have now, the one that pays more than enough to support me and my family, the one that requires experience instead of a degree.

I have a friend, lets call her S. ( Hi S!!) S has a degree from an outstanding university, double major double minor. But is S able to find a job with this brilliant degree in a topic she adores? Nope. S is now slaving away for “the man”. My boss, who has a masters degree, makes 2 dollars an hour more than I do. TWO dollars. That’s only approximately 4000 more a year than I make. And since I can make overtime, that gap closes faster than you can blink. My older sister with the PhD (remember her from the beginning of this rant?) has other friends with PhD’s who can’t find jobs in their fields and are working for minimum wage, or close to, in the nearest mall. My baby sister with the BA in psychology found a job right out of school scooping poop at the local animal shelter.

Lets face it folks, there is no reason for us to equate education and degrees with anything except a bigger pile of the national debt. And yet we insist on doing just that. I catch myself doing it all the time, even when I don’t mean to.

I have a very angry, nasty little critic living inside my head. I suspect she is stuck in her teenage years, the way she rolls her eyes and snaps witty retorts. Sometime she gains control of the mouth, usually I bottle her deep and pray no one else can hear her.

She is the one who becomes impatient when someone else doesn’t get one of my highfaluting concepts. She rolls her eyes at what she deems sheer stupidity. She judges others for their ideas, their education, their behaviors. I really don’t like her all that much, even if she is really really funny every now and then. But she is there and I am so overtly aware of her. Like, right now, she is laughing at all the big words I have used in this post.

How does this go back to a pagan education of all things? My pagan education has made me keenly aware of my propensity towards egotism. The classes and assigned reading are designed for people trying to figure out if they want to be pagans or not. The essays are from all sorts of pagan walks, from Wicca 101 to historical accounts of King Arthur and the Knights. The classes cover the basics, what color is associated with what emotion, circle casting with the elements, etc. Of course I am yanking at the bit here! My edumacated mind is too brilliant for this snails pace!

And that right there, that single thought, is the place of stumbling. Ego doesn’t allow us to see where we have been, let alone where we are going. Ego is where the Goddess strikes me to my knees and reminds me that I am no better than the people I watch over each night. Ego is the chink in my armor that allows true learning and growth.

I read an article today that said the following:

     “Shamans are the kindest, most forgiving, most understanding and often the wisest form of priest you will ever meet. Shaman have learned the importance of living firmly in this world, while maintaining a very strong connection to the spirit world and seeing everything and everyone through the eyes of the Divine. Shaman also know the fullness of the value of fun and humor, and almost never at another’s expense (there are some Shaman who use humor to teach a lesson, and it will sometimes be at the expense of the student.) There is a certain balance that a true Shaman does not need to struggle to maintain, because it is a natural balance. A Shaman who does not embody these characteristics is not a true Shaman, even if such one was called to the Shamanic path. Only the strongest are ultimately called a Shaman.”

Um yeah right. Are you kidding? Shamans are still humans and humans are fallible. We make mistakes, we fail, we get back up and dust ourselves off. Every snarky thought in my head is an opportunity to learn compassion. Every time I roll my eyes is an opportunity to stop and really look at the person in front of me. I don’t want to be “the kindest, most forgiving, most understanding and often the wisest” in the room. Hell, I don’t even want to be one of the smartest most of the time! I want to keep learning, keep growing, keep improving.

And that, if you have made it all the way to the end of this essay, is the entire point of this rant. Ego is our opportunity to really learn. Ego and education go hand in hand. When we allow ego to become our beacon, pointing out our weak spots, we invite the education of a lifetime.

Too often in the pagan community, we get caught up in who has what title and who is really a high priestess and who has what lineage. Those aren’t the important questions. The questions we ought to be asking are the ones that allow us to grow connections between ourselves and let down our walls.

How willing are you to drop your ego and find a connection with that “fluffy bunny”? Does that person who aggravates you at circle get your undivided attention or does the snarky in your brain distract you? Are you willing to walk away from someone who has posted stupid on the internet or do you find yourself spending hours trying to combat the wrongness of their statements? We have all had these moments. Even people who have been at this pagan thing much longer than I have find themselves in these traps. Traps or learning experiences? Its entirely up to us to forge them into what will make us better people and help us grow.

And now that I have used two “E’s” in one week, what do I write about next time?