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Posts Tagged ‘Norse mythology’

We’re thinking about starting to decorate our home for the Winter Solstice today.  My daughter is very excited but there’s a little confusion, too.  Excuse me while I just share some of my thoughts.  Perhaps you’ve thought similar things, or perhaps you have ideas that could inspire me.
  She is now old enough to understand that Christmas is a thing. We enjoy watching popular kids shows together, so she’s been exposed to the dominant culture and she keeps talking about Christmas, Christmas, Christmas… Now, I’m not against her knowing about Christmas. It’s actually really important to me that she understands the diversity of the world. Much of our extended family is Christian anyway, so she needs to know why they do what they do. But… can I just be honest with you guys and say it’s frustrating? She’s constantly talking about celebrating Christmas now. Whenever she talks about getting Christmas presents, I say something like, “Yes, you will get Solstice presents.” I’m trying to gently show her what we celebrate in our home.  I keep telling her that they are similar, because they are and I also want her to realize that, but we focus on winter and the sun.  Still, most of her kid shows talk about Christmas, so that word is on the fore of her mind.
 
On a related note, I’m still unsure what to do about Santa. Yes, I love the Emerald Rose song “Santa Clause is Pagan, Too” – I get all of that. My concern is that I don’t really want to delve into the tradition of pretending to be Santa. That hurt me when I was little. I’ve been telling my daughter that Santa is a spirit of generosity who inspires us to be giving to each other. I say he “whispers in our ears and tells us to get gifts for each other to make people happy.” She seems content with that, but I know that will be hard when she starts going to school. As it is, her cousin, raised in a Christian household, gets gifts specifically from Santa, which will one day create an awkward but ultimately educational experience.
 
I’m not sure that I want to honor Santa like Odin despite the suggested origins and similarities.  I experienced some very strong UPG in which Brighid became hostile towards me working closely with Norse deities.  I am fascinated with Krampus but don’t really know what to do with that right now aside from enjoying the costumes I see online.  I like to think of Santa like a tomte or nisse from Scandinavia. My husband has Norwegian heritage, so it feels really good to honor that with Yule/Winter Solstice in our usually Celtic-focused home without upsetting Brighid and without giving Odin casual attention only once a year.
I’ve done some research on winter traditions among the Celts, particularly Irish, and know there isn’t a lot to work with. I tend to focus on the sun and Angus because of Newgrange, and An Cailleach because of the difficult weather in Upstate NY. I also know about some of the traditions that came to Ireland through Christianization – putting a red candle in the window to help Mary and Joseph find their way, and giving Santa beer, for example.
Our household traditions grow and change as my daughter does.  I feel like some of my personal traditions exist because I’m clinging to something from my childhood while also trying to create something that makes sense in the context of my religion and lifestyle.  Winter Solstice has become strange to me, but still exciting.  It’s interesting, and I welcome the challenge because it forces me to really think and consider all I do, but it’s also frustrating because I don’t want my daughter to feel as bruised about it all as I was once upon a time.  I worry about her going to school and all the confusion that may bring.  Or maybe that’s me projecting my own confusions and frustrations onto her?  I’m still trying to figure that out as I’m sure many first generation Pagan parents are.
Time for me to dig out that story about Brighid and Santa from an old Oak Leaves…
What do you do for the Winter Solstice with your family?  I’m particularly interested in hearing from fellow ADFers and/or Celtic polytheists who have children.

 

 

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As one last hurrah before our summer vacation ends, my family took a day-trip to Oswego, NY, to see the Draken Harald Hårfagre.  It’s a modern viking ship that traveled from Norway, down the St. Lawrence River, through some of the Great Lakes, and is now going to move through the Erie Canal, heading to New York City. The crew stressed that it’s a modern viking ship, based on historical evidence and craftsmanship, but also equipped with modern navigation technology, bathrooms, and diesel engines.  Its 21st century conveniences don’t detract from its magnificence, and the people on board have weathered Atlantic storms and maneuvered around icebergs.  They have a lot of respect for their Viking Age predecessors.  We’ve been following their voyage via Facebook and their website with great interest.  My husband has been especially interested in it since he has Norwegian ancestry and has always been drawn to Norse culture.

Of course, the front of the ship had a remarkable dragon head! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016

The red sails were down, but the mast was still impressive! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

The ship was obviously built by skilled craftsmen. A lot of detail, inspired by Viking culture, covered the skip. These beautiful carvings were on the front of the ship leading up to the dragon head. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

One of the coolest features, in my opinion, was the inclusion of these beautifully carved ravens - Odin's ravens - near the navigational tools. The guide explained that not only do they represent the God's corvids, they also harken back to how vikings actually navigated with ravens. Photo by Weretoad, 2016.

One of the coolest features, in my opinion, was the inclusion of these beautifully carved ravens – Odin’s ravens – near the navigational tools. The guide explained that not only do they represent the God’s corvids, they also harken back to how vikings actually navigated with ravens. Photo by Weretoad, 2016.

 

If you live in NY State and want to see the Draken, she’ll be stopping in Little Falls soon before making her way to New York City. It’s $10 per adult to board, and the short tour is worth it, in my opinion. You’ll be able to get up close and look at all the craftsmanship, smell the pine pitch covering the ropes, see the effort and passion that’s gone into the voyage, and meet with Odin’s ravens. A truly powerful experience.

 

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Since the last couple weeks have been bitter cold or too snowy to safely walk in the forest, I stayed close to home and gave some thought to the tree nearest me.

I recently started an exploration of the ash tree in my front yard.  Of course, I will continue to visit the forest regularly, but it seems silly to do so at the expense of the Nature Spirits around my own home!  There must be an equal, if not greater, attention placed on the nature in my immediate vicinity.  It is part of my home.  The tree provides shade to myself and some of my garden.  It is a home to birds we enjoy watching from our windows.  I must come to a better understanding of the ash tree!

Ash trees predominantly grow in the temperate regions of the Eastern US (Brockman 254).  They grow well in “disturbed” land, and archaeologists have noted their presence near Celtic settlements (Nova).   For modern folk, it’s often considered an ornamental but it apparently has expansive roots that are very competitive with other trees (Blamires 97).  Ash was one of the nine woods used to start the sacred Bealtaine fires (Freeman 84).

In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is an ash tree, thus it is of extreme cultural and cosmological importance.  The tree was even used to create the first man in that mythology ( Ellison 22). In Celtic lore, the ash could refer to weaving, particularly the weaver’s beam, but also warrior spears (Ellison 21).  There is acheological evidence showing that ancient Celts used ash for their spears more than other woods (Blamires 98).  To me, this suggests that the ogham symbol could be used for offensive type magic.  Blamires makes a connection between the ash spears and Lugh’s famous spear from Gorias that he used to defeat Balor (99), but also goes on to connect it to magical wands and, as a result, the magician’s will.  Personally, I find that there are other trees better related to sorcery and magical will, in particular the oak with its rich spiritual connotations, etymological connection to the Druids, and strength.  (As a novice to these matters, I will maintain an opened mind and welcome any thoughts on the matter!)  However, I do find his thoughts on looking to ash when you need to take action intriguing .  He states that we all experience moments of spiritual inertia, and the ashen spear can act as a motivation for us – “checking the peace,” as he says (100).  In contemplating this idea, I’m reminded of Norse mythology again, and Odin hanging from Yggdrasil – an act of sacrifice to obtain runic knowledge.  There is the suggestion of pushing oneself to reach new levels.  With regards to the weaver’s beam, Cuchulain uses it as “a poetic allusion to a spear” (101).  Brighid’s son Ruadan is also killed by a spear in the Second Battle of Mag Tured.  The text once more connects spears with weavers’ beams (101).  I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, except that it can be used to make very practice items – so perhaps it could be considered a wood of the craftsman too?

Ash has some magical properties.  In Scotland, people swear oaths on the wood of ash, oak, and thorns (Freeman 84).    Pins were also placed in the trees and used to remove warts with the charm “ashen tree, ashen tree, pray buy these warts off of me” (Ellison 22).  The sap has been used for bladder stones, and the leaves and bark have laxative properties (Blamires 98).  It was common for people to visit sacred ash trees and pray for healing for their children.  In Ireland, young ash trees were split to create a threshold of sorts.  Children were passed through this to promote healing.  Mara Freeman explains this was used to heal infant hernia, while attaching some baby hair to the ash was said to prevent whooping cough (84).

It is difficult to be 100% about the species of ash where I live.  Green, black, and white are similar, but I am leaning towards the later.  I observed the leaves and seed pods in the summer and fall, but I will have to pay special attention to them this year.  In the meantime, I try to look and say hello when I’m out.  It warmed up a little, so I took Bee with me.  We mad offerings to the local spirits, including the ash tree, and enjoyed its company.

Bee relaxing in the snow next to the ash tree. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Works Cited

Blamires, Steve.  Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham.  St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1997.

Brockman, C. Frank.  Trees of North America: A guide to Field Identification. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001.

Ellison, Roert Lee “Skip.”  Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids.  Tucson: Ár nDraíocht Féin Publishing, 2007.

Freeman, Mara.  Kindling the Celtic Spirit.  San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001.

Ghosts of Murdered Kings.  Edward Hart Dir.  NOVA, 2013.

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Wyrd Designs – Musings on Odin’s Ravens and Wolves | Pantheon.

What a neat thought!

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Weretoad and I saw “Thor” today. We’ve been anticipating this movie for awhile now. My husband has actually read some “Thor” comics and has this strange little agnostic crush on the God.  I, of course, am a practicing Pagan and wanted to see some Gods on the big screen!  Finally, we’ve both been enjoying the “Avengers” movies and the buildup to the whole gang’s film.  (I can’t wait to see the chemistry between Thor and Stark.)

For months I’ve been reading about the drama surrounding the casting of Idris Elba as Heimdall.  For months I’ve been reading the blogs of fellow Pagans who were worried about how the beloved Norse God of thunder would be portrayed.  Everyone knows the film is based on the Marvel comic series which deviate from the Poetic Eddas.  Still, there was a hope that this movie would portray the Gods that many know and love in an honorable, Pagan-friendly manner.

In my opinion?  “Thor” succeeds.

Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, the same actor who played Captain Kirk’s father in the Stark Trek revamp.  We hardly saw him in that role so when I heard who would be playing Thor, I was a little …  underwhelmed?  Let me tell you, that trepidation vanished immediately.  Hemsworth is perfect as Thor (ok, I imagine Thor with red hair, but otherwise…).  He acts as I imagine Thor would – with courage, humor, and eventually honor and the desire to protect humanity.  He is a bad ass with Mjöllnir in hand.   And let me just say – Weretoad and I love that this film’s Thor has a beard.  A clean shaven Thor, Marvel?  Really?  Norse Gods are HE-MEN!  (Even if they sometimes go in drag…)

The whole racial issue with Heimdall?  That didn’t bother me at all.  Elba acted exactly as I’d imagine a gate keeper deity would.  He was spectacular!  What’s funny is that, although Heimdall’s skin color didn’t bother me, the fact that Sif didn’t have golden hair made my eye twitch a bit.  Yes, I know there was talk about Heimdall being “the whitest God” in the mythology, but to me his main feature is his job – guarding the bridge.  How do we recognize Odin?  He has one eye.  How do we usually identify Sif?  Golden hair.  A small thing, yeah, but it was the most annoying to me.  I have since read that there is an explanation for it in the Marvel comics so I guess it’s one of those deviations from the mythology.  Artistic license, the evolution of mythology, etc etc…

Comic book Sif aside, I absolutely adored the film.  I thought it was really respectful to the ideas of polytheism and magic – laying out a possibility and aligning magic with science.  There was no talk of Christianity in comparison.  The only slightly annoying thing was a remark that a “primitive” culture like the Vikings would have believed that these Otherworldly beings were Gods.  The extraterrestrials as Gods theory is nothing new and I can live with that, but the use of the word “primitive” could be construed as insulting anthropologically and religiously.  Otherwise, the possibility of Gods being aliens was hardly pressed and the film allows them to be very Godlike.  There is beyond human magic.  There are unexplainable spiritual phenomena – Heimdall and Odin’s ability to see and hear things from very far away, for example.  The Norse cosmology is intact. I very nearly choked up while Thor explained Yggdrasil.  Beautiful.

I definitely recommend seeing “Thor.”  I think most Pagans will like it.  Remember to stay through the credits, especially if you’ve been following the other Avenger movies!

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