An Autumn Equinox Update

Happy Autumn Equinox/ Mabon/ Harvest Home/ Alban Elfed everyone. I am just writing a quick update about my plans. I know I haven’t been blogging regularly for the past year, but that is going to change soon. I have been traveling across Asia, Australia and now New Zealand, but my travels come to an end at Samhain and I will be back in England and ready to focus on this blog once again. I should end up blogging a lot more regularly from November, especially on the previously mentioned Through The Books series, and hopefully a few more articles on Pagan Monasticism too (and one on Daoism). I am also planning to join the OBOD Bardic course in November, as well as begin the ADF Generalist Studies Path (I will document my progress on my ADF blog linked above).

The Autumn Equinox is a traditional time for a Pagan thanksgiving, a time to remember what we are grateful for. So here are some things I’m thankful for this year.

  1. I am thankful for you, the readers of this blog, who inspire me to keep writing.
  2. I am thankful for the chance to travel to new countries and experience different cultures. And to learn lots about different religious traditions in those countries that can help me in my practice of paganism.
  3. I am thankful for the many other Pagans who regularly blog on the internet and help me to think more deeply about my religious path and practices.

Have a great day everyone.


What Pagans can learn from the Aboriginal People’s – How to re-enchant the land!

Recently I wrote a post called – What Pagans can learn from Asia. It was a summary of the things I discovered about people’s religious ideas in Asia. Since then, I have traveled to Australia and as my time here comes to a close, I am reflecting on what I have learned here. Interestingly it appears that others are having similar thoughts.

For the past two months in Australia, I have taken a particular interest in the Aboriginal cultures. The aboriginal peoples have been here over 70,000 years and are one of the oldest surviving cultures on earth. Despite the best efforts of European colonisers to convert and “civilise” them, a lot of their culture has survived. I believe there are several lessons we can learn from them as Pagans and apply to our own religious practice.

The aboriginal people’s believe that in a period called the “Dream-time”, a time before time, ancestral beings such as the rainbow serpent traveled across the land and created the different parts of it – the land and rock formations, the rivers and seas, the plants and animals. Because they are created by the ancestral beings, part of the spirit of the ancestral beings remains (in fact they turned themselves into them) and these places are therefore sacred places.

Lesson 1 – Stories
There is a lot of talk in Paganism at the moment about “re-enchanting the land.” The question, of course, is how to do so? In my opinion the Aboriginal people’s offer the answer – tell sacred stories about the places around you. The aboriginal people’s tell stories of how each aspect of their landscape was created by ancestral beings/ gods. These stories not only contain the laws of the tribe, thereby preserving their culture, but also are the literal scriptures of the people – their stories are their scriptures and reading the land is reading the scriptures. So, as modern Pagans, what can we learn from this? The importance of stories! Research and find out the stories of your local area, of the significant events and places there, but more importantly, think about the gods, ancestors and nature spirits who were worshiped on this land, and look for the interesting features of the landscape, then write stories about those places. Write stories about how those places came into being. Did Thor fight an ice giant and throw that big hill down on top of him? Did that river come about because a goddess wanted to give water to her human lover who was struggling to farm? Did the sacred fox teach an important moral to his cubs under that tree? Meditate and write stories about the gods and spirits you worship, the local animals and plants, and the interesting places in your land. Then put them up on the internet or share them with your pagan communities. Connect with the land through discovering or telling new stories. Make the land an enchanting place again.

Lesson 2 – Land Management
The aboriginal people’s had a very close connection to the land and managed it very well for tens of thousands of years. Part of that is down to various religious practice they had. First was the principle of reciprocity (a very important one to modern Pagans too). The principle of reciprocity is give and take. It is asking plants/ trees/ animals before we take anything, but also giving something back in return. And giving thanks. If we get something from the land, or we want something from the land, then it is only fair that we give something back in return – it is simple “resource reciprocity.” Ideally something of equal or greater worth, which helps to ensure the land survives and benefits in perpetuity. Like the aborigines, we must realise that we belong to the land, that our story is written in the land, and that because we belong to the land, we are responsible for it’s well-being. There is also the aboriginal saying that “if you look after the water, you look after the land.” In other words, we should prioritise looking after our local rivers, streams and springs. It wasn’t for nothing that the ancient Celts saw their rivers as their mother goddesses, and their springs as inhabited by special spirits worthy of worship. We must look after our mother earth, and the best way to do so, is to look after the waters that sustain us. A third aspect of land management for some aboriginal tribes was giving each person a local totem plant or animal at birth. This helped them to connect with the land, but it also helped ensure that particular thing was protected and not over-harvested. Maybe this is something we can do too?

The aboriginal people’s have a lot of wisdom to share with us if we will listen. They can teach us how to re-enchant our land and how to manage it sustainably. We don’t need to appropriate their culture, we just need to learn a few of their wisdom lessons and it will help us in the rebuilding of our western Pagan religions once again.

What is Paganism?

Today I want to take a brief break from the “Through The Books” series to write a post on “What is Paganism?” I had planned to do this a long time ago  and make a Youtube video too but I never got round to making the video so I never wrote this post. Today I am going to do so.

So what is Paganism? How can we define it? People say that if you ask 10 pagans to define Paganism you’ll get 11 answers. And anyone who tries to define it will  invariably miss someone out. Well probably but I think we should try anyway. In my opinion, the best explanation of Paganism comes from the Pagan Federation. It defines Paganism as:

“A polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion.”

So a Pagan is someone who follows a pantheistic or polytheistic religion. Someone who honours multiple gods and/or nature. In my opinion, Paganism is based around five key areas – Pantheism, Polytheism, Animism, Ancestor Veneration and Localism. Not all Pagans will adopt all of these, but most will adopt most of them.

Pantheism comes from two Greek words “pan” meaning all, and “theos” meaning god. In other words, Pantheists believe that all is god. Pantheists see the earth as sacred and the universe as divine. It is the foundation on which nature worship and veneration is built, and it is an important inspiration for environmentalism. Many scientists are pantheists, as can be seen from James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory. Pantheism can be both “naturalistic” or “supernatural”. It can see deity as personal, but more often views it as impersonal, more akin to a force like the Dao.

paganPolytheism comes from two Greek words “poly” meaning many, and “theos” meaning god. In other words, Polytheists believe in many gods. Polytheism itself can be split into three groups – hard polytheism, soft polytheism and archetypal polytheism. Hard polytheists are those who believe that there are many gods, that the gods are real, existing individuals with their own personalities, thoughts and plans. They are distinct from each other. Soft Polytheists are those who see the gods as aspects of one or a few gods. They might agree with the statement “all gods are one god”. Hinduism is a good example of this. Many Wiccans are also soft polytheists (duo-theists) who see the various goddesses across cultures as aspects of the one goddess, and the various gods across cultures as aspects of the one horned god. Finally Archetypal Polytheists don’t believe that the gods are supernatural existing individuals, but rather that they exist in the collective unconscious, that while they are bigger and more powerful than us, they are not separate from us. It is important to note that archetypal polytheists don’t see the gods as just symbols. When polytheists talk of their gods, they are not the same as the monotheistic god. The gods of polytheism are more powerful than humans but they are not all-powerful, all-knowing or benevolent. Polytheists also tend to be more tolerant than monotheists due to their ability to acknowledge the existence of other people’s gods without worshipping them.

Traditional animists believe that there is spirit or soul in everything, whether tree or sun, rock or clouds. A modern version, new Animism, interprets things a little differently and talks about “more than human  persons”. New animists argue that each thing has person-hood rather than spirit – in other words, there are human persons, rock persons, sun persons, cloud persons, hedgehog persons, oak persons, bee persons and so on. They have an inherent worth and we are naturally in relationship with them. We can build those relationships up. Interestingly some philosophers support a version called “pan-psychism” or “pan-experientialism”which argues that the ability to experience, or even some form of consciousness, exists in everything from the smallest electron to the largest universe. In ancient versions of Paganism we can see animism in their worship of the spirits of trees, plants and animals, in the spirits of home and place, in the belief in land-spirits, elves, dwarves, fairies and the Sidhe. Modern Pagans also honour these spirits.

Ancestor Devotion
Ancestor devotion is arguably one of the world’s oldest religious practices and it was important to ancient pagans too. Honouring ones parents, grandparents and ancestors
back through time is a vital part of Paganism. It teaches us important values, like familial piety, gratefulness and respect for others. Modern Pagans particularly honour their ancestors during the winter period. Our ancestors can also include all life forms back through time to the first living thing. There are ancestors of blood (our family), ancestors of place (those who lived in the same area as us in the past) and ancestors of spirit (those who have inspired us or our culture). Pagans today research our ancestry, have ancestral altars, and pray to them when we need help. For many Pagans, ancestors are the first point of call when we have a need because while gods are mostly interested in the universe and their own plans, the ancestors are much more concerned with their family lines i.e. us and can therefore be powerful sources of help and wisdom.

Finally we have localism. One thing I have discovered over the past 18 months of traveling is how difficult it is to practice Paganism when you are on the move.
Graham Harvey, in What Do Pagans Believe, argues that “pagans know their local landscapes and build relationships with it and the spirits who inhabit it.  “the original meaning of ‘pagan’ – ‘ an inhabitant of a particular place’ – has encouraged a new focus on locality in modern paganism. A classical pagan was someone who belonged, some one who celebrated where they lived, someone who knew their local shrines, springs, hills, trees and neighbours, and could trace their decent from local ancestors. These pagans lived in both urban and rural places; the important thing was belonging to an area.” Practicing Paganism is about knowing your local area, and connecting with the land and spirits there. It is about celebrating the seasons as they change there. It is about maintaining an altar there.

So these things define how I see Paganism and all are important elements to my practice and worldview as a Pagan.

TTB Series: Travels Through Middle Earth – Chapter 1

saxonThe first book I am reading in this series is “Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan” by Alaric Alberttson. Alaric is an Anglo Saxon Pagan practitioner as well as a member of ADF. In this first book he sets out what is involved in following the Anglo Saxon path. The books starts with a chapter called “Who were the Anglo-Saxons?” Alaric packs a lot into this chapter so I think this will be a long post today.

He begins with a little history about the Anglo Saxons. He points out that there was never a group of people called the Anglo-Saxons, but rather there were many tribes including the Angles and the Saxons, who emigrated from Germany in the 5th century. Evidence suggests that it was not a full on invasion but a gradual process of migration, with pottery of the time suggesting a British attraction for Germanic culture. He explains that while they were Pagan when they came over, the last of the Pagan kings, Penda of Mercia, died in battle in November 655ad and brought Anglo-Saxon Paganism to an end. He also rightly explains that the Anglo-Saxons never would have referred to their religion as “Paganism” or “Heathenry” but rather would have probably called it “Fyrn Sidu”, the elder customs. The words Pagan and Heathen, were originally used to mean a rural person, someone who tended to be traditional and conservative in keeping the old ways long after their city counterparts had converted to the Christian Faith.

The author rightly points out that being a modern Saxon Pagan is nothing to do with race or ancestry, but rather culture and language. If you speak English, then you think in Anglo Saxon. Their worldview is “coded into the way we think and speak.” Whether it’s seeing the year in four seasons, calling the days of the week after the names of Saxon gods or growing up with stories of elves and dwarves, we are culturally Anglo Saxon. He raises an interesting point about the fact that the Anglo Saxons (and many polytheist cultures) do not see the soul as one thing, but as made up of multiple parts including something called the “mod”, which roughly corresponds to what we would call our “mood.” He also points out that contrary to our views of the Anglo Saxons as barbaric warriors, they were a quite cultured people who valued poetry and story, and for whom agriculture was an extremely important part of their daily lives (as evidenced by Bede’s calendar). I like his suggestion that rather than viewing the Anglo Saxons through Roman tinted glasses as barbarians, we should rather look to Tolkien, who’s books were inspired by the Anglo Saxon worldview, to get a more accurate picture of our ancestors. Theirs was a land of runes and rings, dragons, elves and dwarves. Even the name “Middle Earth” comes from the Anglo Saxon name “Middangeard” and the wizard Gandalf, is based on Woden himself.

He then goes on to talk about the seven worlds (plus 2 elemental realms) of Anglo Saxon thought. There are many extra-dimensional worlds laying above, below and around us, which are dangerous and we are protected from by the god Thunor. First, there is the world of the gods, Osgeard (pronounced Os-yaird). Anglo Saxon Paganism is a polytheist faith, which acknowledges many different types of spirits. Alaric says that what sets some out as our gods is they have “sovereignty”, in other words, the title “god” is a “job description.” They protect and guide us, while we give them gifts and devotion. Saxon Paganism is not a faith that sees the gods as archetypes, but as real, existing, independent individuals with their own goals, plans and personalities. This Polytheism also allows the Saxon Pagan to be a tolerant person because they can acknowledge the reality of the gods of other religions, without having to worship those other gods themselves. That said, he recommends that if we do follow gods from other pantheons too, they should have separate altars and rituals in order to avoid being rude.

While Osgeard is seen as being above us, there is another world to the east where the sun rises, and another to the west where the sun sets.  In the East is Ettinham – the land of the Ettins (giants), who are dangerous primal spirits, but they are not evil. Wanham is the world in the west. This is where the Wanic powers live, and they don’t really take much interest in us except for the few who have halls in Osgeard. To the North and South, lie the elemental realms (not worlds) of fire and ice. In the Anglo-Saxon worldview (based on Norse sources), the universe came about because of a collision between the ice and fire coming from these realms. They are inhabited by the “Thyrses” who are purely destructive spirits and who are never honoured. Directly above us and below us are two further worlds – Elfham and Dwarfham inhabited by the nature spirits. These spirits can be friendly or hostile to us, but if we treat them with respect they can become useful allies. The land of light, Elfham, contains the spirits who nurture the land, such as woodlands around us. While the land of the dark elves, the dwarves, is like a womb where new things are brought into existence. Interestingly, the Sun in Anglo-Saxon thought is a female deity and she is called the “glory of elves.”
Finally there is Hel. This is not the horrible fiery place of Christian invention, but rather the realm of the dead and the goddess Hel. The god Bealdor also went there when he died (yes in Saxon Paganism, the gods can die – and will – at Ragnarok). Hel is the hall of our ancestors, and what awaits us there will depend on how we have acted towards others in this life – will we have a hall of friends awaiting us, or one of enemies?

Alaric finishes by pointing out that there are many ways to be a Saxon Pagan, but he points out that what unites us all is “love and reverence for the Saxon gods.”

In this chapter, the author explains the history and worldview of the Anglo Saxons. He shows that they were a polytheist people who worshipped many gods, as well as acknowledging a range of other spirits including the dead, nature spirits, and the more dangerous Ettins and Thyrses. They saw the universe as made up of multiple dimensions and the soul as made up of multiple parts. Agriculture was important to them, but so was poetry, story and music. They brought their religion and culture to the British Isles when the Roman Empire collapsed, but unfortunately many left their ancestral ways and converted to a foreign god – Yahweh, with the last Pagan king dying in 665AD. While the practice of their religion died off, their culture and language continue to influence us today and even their gods are remembered in the days of our week and the Christianised festival of Easter. Now, thanks to modern archaeology, history and comparative religious studies, we are able to re-build an approximation of their faith once more, renew the worship of the old gods, and return to the elder customs again.

Through the Books Series

booksIt is said that Heathenry is the “religion with homework” and it is true that there is a lot of reading to do to follow learn the lore, worldview and practices of the Anglo-Saxon Pagan path. Evidence needs to be gathered from sources across the Norse, Icelandic, Anglo Saxon and Germanic world to help one create a practice that is inspired by our ancestors. In pursuit of this aim, I have decided to start a new series of blogs called “Through the Books” in which I will read and then write about each chapter in a variety of books on Anglo Saxon and Norse Paganism. I don’t want to regurgitate what the authors say, but simply to set out their key arguments or facts, my views on these things and how we can apply it to our worldview and practice. I am hoping this will help encourage me to read the books more and for the information to stick in my mind. And hopefully you, as readers of this blog, will also find it interesting and intellectually stimulating. I am going to begin with two  books by Alaric Albertsson – “Travels Through Middle Earth” and “Wyrdworking: Path of a Saxon Sorcerer.” I hope to do this process with around 20 books so it’s probably going to be a good year or more of blog posts. The first one should be out over the next few days….hopefully.

Focusing on Woden

Of all the Anglo Saxon gods I feel best able to connect with at the moment, it’s Woden that stands out. He is a god of wandering and travel, and right now I’m in the middle of traveling around the world. As someone heavily interested in politics, and with a dream of being a speechwriter in future, it also makes sense to focus on a god of wisdom, leadership and eloquence. And as someone who enjoys brewing mead for a hobby, the god most associated with mead is an inspiration to me. Here are a few video’s I’ve found on Youtube which have helped me to understand him…