Pagans with Asthma

 For some Pagans, asthma can really affect their personal practice. It can get in the way of so many things that you want to do, and overall be a real challenge to your way of life. I have weather-triggered asthma, as well as seasonal asthma from tree pollen in the spring and early summer. This means that many of my own personal practices had to be adapted in order for me to still be able to do all the things that I love. Here are some of my tips and tricks for getting through the difficult times when your condition is acting up. Please note, I am not a doctor, I am just passing on some advice that my own doctors have provided, alongside tried and tested methods that work for me.

First off – take your medication. If you’ve been prescribed inhalers, take them. For seasonal asthma, my GP has also recommended in addition to the inhalers, take an antihistamine every day, such as Piriteze. I take mine at night, just before bed. If you know when you asthma will start to kick in, ie. roughly which month, start taking the antihistamine a few weeks before so it’s really in your system when it all kicks off.

Second – look into supplementary herbal remedies from a qualified herbalist. I use the Love Your Lungs and the Allergeze formula from Nature’s Pharmacy. Melanie Cardwell is a licensed herbal practitioner who has worked with Druid College for many years. She also offers really good herbal courses and workshops. Let your herbalist know which medications you are on, and also consult your doctor too on the herbal remedies you wish to take.

A big tip for seasonal asthma – keep the windows closed if pollen is a trigger. You can open them at night when pollen levels are lower, to air out the house. I also used screens on my windows, initially to keep out the mozzies, moths and horseflies from my home in the country, but which I’ve found also keeps out the larger particles of pollen. At the end of every autumn, I take down the screens to wash them and put them away for the winter, and I’m amazed at the amount of pollen on them, luckily on them and not in the house! I bought flexiscreens that attach to windows using Velcro strips around the window edges. These are great because you can just throw them in the washing machine when you need to.

As well, wear a mask outside. These days, people won’t look at you funnily if you wear a mask. Years ago, I wore a bandana around my mouth and nose when I was working outside, to keep the pollen out of my lungs. This enabled me to do what I needed to do. In the evenings I could do rituals outside without a mask, for the most part. Some days were better than others. If a thunderstorm was coming, I had to grin and bear it – and use my reliever inhaler.

There are also a couple of yoga poses that open up your chest, such as supported fish pose. I prefer the supported version of this pose, because I find the traditional pose throws out my lower back. Using pillows and blocks to get into a comfortable position, I can lie there for about a minute and just concentrate on opening and expanding my chest and airways.

Getting an air purifier has also really helped. We bought ours second-hand, and put in a new filter. It didn’t cost us very much, but has really helped, especially overnight in high pollen seasons. It has a night setting, which doesn’t make as much noise as the normal setting. We also have a de-humidifier, which can be used during winter and through low pressure systems that bring a lot of rain and thunderstorms, which for many is also a trigger.

I’ve had to be meticulous about cleaning the house as well. Dusting, to remove any airborne particles has been my mission these last few years. I dust and vacuum every week, and twice a year I do a big clean in the spring and autumn, getting into all the nooks and crannies, under sofas and behind beds, etc. I’ve also found a wonderful tool for cleaning inside the radiators. It’s a long brush that really gets down inside them and pulls all the dust and other stuff that can get trapped inside, only to be released every time the heating comes on. The first time you use this, expect a lot of dust, so wear a mask! I also have the vacuum cleaner nozzle right by the brush head, so that when it’s pulled out, it catches the dust before it spreads to the rest of the room. Kind of like that suction thing that’s used while the dentist works on your teeth.

I’ve had to give up using incense, which was a real blow. I adore incense. I bought handmade incense from my favourite store in Montreal for many years, and also loose incense from StarChild in Glastonbury. Gorgeous, gorgeous scents. However, incense releases too many particles in the smoke, and triggers attacks in me, so I have had to give them up. Sometimes I might use it outside during ritual, if I’m sure I won’t be inhaling it, but even then that’s now becoming a rare thing for me, and I prefer just to enjoy the scents of nature. I can’t do saining or smudging anymore either with smoke, so I use different methods of purification, such as water (from the tap, rainwater, salted water or moonwater that I’ve made by leaving water outside overnight under the full moon, sometimes with a quartz crystal in it to add power to it), deep breathing, allowing the breeze to clear and cleanse me, the sunlight or moonlight, or energy drawn up from the earth and down from the stars.

To scent the home, usually I just have a window open when it’s possible to get some fresh air inside. In winter, this is lovely, as I don’t have to worry about pollen. I can open the windows while I’m making the bed, just to get a few minutes of air into the bedroom. If I want a particular scent, I can use an essential oil. Not in an oil burner, however, as this again triggers my asthma, as the water particles from the steam and the oil attached to them get into my lungs and cause it to tighten. Instead, I take five to ten drops of an essential oil and place them on an organic cotton ball or pad, or even a wadded up tissue or loo roll, and then hide it in a pretty bowl somewhere in the room. For extra oomph, I can place the container on a radiator, where the scent will disperse without the steam that triggers my asthma. For some, this may not work, as scent can be a trigger, so you will have to really know what sets you off and what doesn’t in order to be safe. My favourite oils to use are geranium for the living areas, and patchouli for the bedroom. I use little brass cauldrons that I found at antique fairs and shops, and these are dotted around my house. I also have one on my altar, for when I am working inside. I like to use lavender at my indoor space, as it brings peace and the cats seem to enjoy it.

Candles – you will have to be careful which ones to use, if you can use them at all. I’ve found that all petroleum-based paraffin candles aren’t good for me (or anyone, really) and so I use soy or beeswax candles. Beeswax is expensive, and so I use soy candles from reputable and sustainable sources. You will have to do your homework to find a good soy candle maker/distributor in your area. These give off less smoke and particles than the usual paraffin candles, and so aren’t so much a trigger for me. I air out the room afterwards too.

I haven’t found that changing my diet has had any effect on my asthma, but for some that has worked. I’d advise talking to your GP and herbal specialist about this, as they might have advice to share with you and be able to work with your needs. As always though, everyone should eat their fruits and vegetables!

Meditation also helps to lessen the effect of stress-related asthma. Stress can be a big trigger, and so the more you are at peace with yourself and the world, the less you will suffer, not only from asthma but from a whole host of ills. Meditation also helps you to get in touch with yourself, and the more you know about yourself, the better off you will be able to take care of yourself, and others.

I hope that this blog post has been of help to some of you out there who suffer from asthma, with some tips and tricks to living your fullest Pagan life without triggering attacks. If you have any advice that works for you, please do feel free to leave it in the comments section below. First and foremost, talk to your doctor about your condition, and if it hasn’t been diagnosed, get one as quick as you can. What some people might think is asthma could be a heart condition, and so you really do need to get it checked out immediately.

Blessings on your practice!

Skadhi’s Message

Go outside.

But it’s raining.

Go outside.

It’s cold, and my arthritis is acting up.

Go outside.

It’s going to be dark soon, and it’s nice and warm in here.

GO OUTSIDE!!!

Okay, okay…

My feet, shins, hands and back hurt. The air is cold on my face. I currently hate the world, because it’s full of idiots who aren’t abiding by the guidelines to keep this pandemic at bay. I hate our government. I hate not seeing my family. I am sad and angry and lonely and fed up and in pain.

The beech wood has mostly passed me by. I finally look up, and see the light coming through the guardian oaks that border the wood. The ground is hard, the mud has frozen. In that pale, low light, on the edge of the heath, I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with winter.

Breathing in Skadhi.

I am taken back in my mind to hours spent in the forests of my home, on my skis, with no one around me. Just me and the chickadees and the blue jays, the snow and the snow shadows. And here I am, across the ocean, with just me and the crows, the deer and the long shadows. I remember.

I REMEMBER.

My heart awakens to winter. Its song fills my soul. I step outside of my pain, and embrace being alone. I am sovereign and I am free. I am out in the wilderness of the heath, with the deer herds and the hawks, the falcons and the foxes. I am with them, I am of them. I am winter. I am in the utangarth, beyond the innangarth. And it is good. It reminds me who I am.

I am strong, I am resilient. I know what I want. I have made it, I have made a life and a home. I am happy, I am doing what I want in life, what I was meant to do with the skills I have. I am resourceful and I am lucky. I am grateful.

Skadhi walks beside me. She has been there my whole life. She doesn’t guide me, she inspires me. I walk my own path through the snow drifts, I glide where I can, I toil where it’s necessary. I hear her song in the north-easterly winds that blow against the house, bringing sleet and snow. I am hearing her speak her mind, and I do the same. Skadhi took on the might of Asgard. I can take on the might of Midgard. For I know who I am.

I get home, the darkness is all around me. The winter night draws in, the frosty ground crunching under my feet. I look up at the stars and find the North Star, my guiding light in the inky blackness. I set my bearings, to steer my life on the course that I desire. I then go inside, and have a cup of coffee. My cheeks are flushed, and the house is warm. I feel better. And I know why.

I listened to Skadhi’s message.

Happy New Year!

I thought I’d start the year with a podcast about oaths and resolutions 🙂 I’ve made this one available on my YouTube channel, but to have an opportunity to listen to all episodes (23 so far!) please visit my Bandcamp page 🙂

The Runes: Ōs

In this blog series , we will go through the runes as they are recorded in the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem.

The fourth rune, Ōs has two different interpretations, yet which are linked. The first is that Ōs means god, or divinity, and usually Woden (Odin). The second is that Ōs means mouth, which again is related to Woden, who uses the breath of life and also the breath of inspiration. So it most likely that this rune relates to Woden directly, whichever way we look at it. Ōs is also known as Ansuz, which means a member of the gods’ family or tribe.[1] With the shape of the rune Ansuz, the ends of the branch do not turn upwards as they do with the Old English rune Ōs.

In the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem, the verse reads:

God [or mouth] is the origin of all language

Wisdom’s foundation and wise man’s comfort

And to every hero blessings and hope.[2]

Woden is the bringer of runes to humankind, who sacrificed himself on the tree for nine days and nine nights until, screaming, he took up the runes from the Well of Wyrd. This scream is again related to the mouth, breath and inspiration. It is all coming from the inside, to be expressed externally. As the god of frenzy and inspiration, this suits Woden very well. Woden also specialises in eloquence and poetry, let’s not forget.

Warriors and heroes were supposed to valiant in battle, but also eloquent afterwards. They had to know how to trade verses and come up with poetry, sometimes on the spot (though not while fighting!). This might relate to the hope and blessings aspect of the rune verse with regards to heroes, or perhaps that they will be remembered for their deeds after they have died with good words, poetry or song. Woden’s later incarnation as Odin in the Viking Age was both a boon and a bane to his chosen heroes, for he often betrayed them. And so, the blessings and hope we see in the rune poem make more sense in the remembrance of the hero, rather than a divine blessing or hope.

Albertsson states that Woden was much different for the Anglo Saxons as his later Viking counterpart was to his people: Woden was primarily the wise one connected to words and speech, the creator of spoken language, he who inspired the poets.[3] He ruled the wind, which included the breath that creates speech (æthem). This breath of life is also the final thing that we do upon death: we exhale for one last time, thus denoting Woden’s role in death as well as life. Thus, Ōs can also be seen as the rune of life and death, perhaps even rebirth.[4]

Ōs has a relation to the use of magic as well, as spoken words in charms were and still are very common. In the text, Hávamál, Odin claims to know galdor, to know how to use the words and spells against fire, sword edges, arrows, fetters and storms. He could also summon up the dead and speak to them to gain more knowledge.

In runic readings, Ōs means communication, inspiration, poetry and knowledge, usually of divine origin. If the querent is a devotee of Woden, it might have even more meanings. You can us Ōs magically to help increase eloquence, to find the inspiration to write that book or poem. Holding up the rune to your lips while concentrating on receiving inspiration can open up new pathways gifted by Woden. You can trace the rune on work surfaces and tools such as laptops, especially if you are a writer. And here’s hoping it brings wisdom, comfort, blessings and hope, even to the most stubborn writer’s block! Finally, you can use it to communicate with the dead, should you so wish, as this is one of the realms of Woden’s power.


[1] Pollington, S. Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books, (2011), p.46

[2] Pollington, S. Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books, (2011), p.46

[3] Albertsson, A. Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer, Llewellyn, (2011), p.186

[4] Wodening, S. Hammer of the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism in Modern Times, Angleseaxisce Ealdriht, (2003), p. 185

Reconnecting

This summer, as I recovered from major surgery, as soon as I was able I stood outside every morning and honoured my Lady and the day. I honoured and praised my Lady with her many associations, and I also used an adapted version of Sigdrifa’s Prayer that I came up with:

Hail to the Day, and Day’s sons

Farewell to Night and Her Daughters

With loving eyes look upon us here

And grant peace to those living here

All to the Gods, Hail to the Ancestors

Hail to the mighty fecund earth

Eloquence and native wit bestow upon us here

And healing hands while we live

But these last few weeks I haven’t said this prayer, and instead simply stood outside and felt the wind upon my skin, listening to the sounds and smelling the air. No words. My life is filled with words, and I guess I needed to stop with the words, for they were empty after a while. I needed to feel, from deep within, reaching for the silence first and then feeling the connection, rather than trying to state it as happening when it wasn’t. Too many words.

And so, now that I have my new seasonal altar set up, I sit and meditate at it every day and call to my Lady in my mind, feeling her inside my heart like a warm amber glow that spreads slowly into my awareness. I reach down with my energy into the earth and call to the earth, whose dark and rich energy comes up with my breath through my spine. I get out into the forest and onto the heath several times a week, with the action of walking as my prayer. And I am often blessed with wonderful sightings of the deer, the low-flying hawk, a falcon, a badger’s den or a robin in full song within arm’s length. Some of these moments I have captured on camera, but they will always reside deep within my heart.

I have changed, since my surgery. I had a hysterectomy at the end of June, due to a uterus full of fibroids and a very large ovarian cyst. I am only now coming to terms with the aftermath: living a mostly pain-free life is wonderful, but there is an emotional tsunami of pain and suffering that looms on the horizon every minute of the day. I call to my Lady to help me, woman to woman, for it seems that all the pain I’ve ever had in my life is now just below the surface of my skin, and the slightest bump sets it loose in a torrent of tears. I want to scream, to sob with abandon, to be held in the arms of my mother. I call to the earth, the Mother of All, and find myself supported on her green and dark bosom.

I found myself leaving all my old pathways of being, I floated for a couple of months, not doing anything except healing. I did not do full moon rituals, though I knew the cycles each and every day. I did a very short blot to Freyr at Lammas. I walked for the autumn equinox. Instead, I meditated, walked the land, and began to find my place within it once more, changed, different.

I felt like I was between the worlds, between a child and a middle-aged woman. I felt separated from myself. My detached self looked down with pity at the sad little girl, at the sad woman dealing with her life’s pain. Perhaps this was my Lady, taking me up to a higher point of view, to see myself from this other perspective, to keep me functioning in day to day business.

Are you having having a bad day? You are not. You are a Bad Bitch. Continue. Is your depression weighing you down? I know. Continue. You can keep going. You can do this. Continue. You are fighter. You are strong. You are smart. And you are wonderfully made. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Keep going. Keep going. Continue.

     – @playcheerleader on Instagram, sent to me very timely by an old friend

I have to let my Lady’s love of life fill my soul again. The earth supports me with warmth and strength, even as she turns colder and falls back into rest. With mind and body numbed from the trauma, I now have to dance in the woods with the elves once again. I remember that time. It was nearly thirty-odd years ago, and more in other lifetimes, but it is still there, they are there, waiting.

My Lady, fill my soul with your golden light, to guide me through the darkest night and find my way back to those woods, and back home to my soul.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please consider supporting me on this blog or becoming a patron on my Patreon page. x

Winternights blot

Here’s a video describing a Winternights blot, a heathen ritual to welcome in winter. I honour my Anglo Saxon and Scandinavian ancestry at this time of year, as well as the growing darkness and the cold north winds.

Walking with the Ancestors

New video now up on my YouTube channel!

Autumn is here…

Autumn is here, though it’s a bit of a strange autumn. The leaves on the birch trees turned golden a couple of weeks ago, and now most of them have fallen to cover the forest floor in a beautiful golden light. But the oak, the ash and the beech trees are only now just starting to turn, and there’s still a lot of green about. The heather on the heath, which should be a brilliant purple colour, is slowly coming back to life after the rains. It was such a dry summer, that even out in the arid conditions of the heathland, things were dying before they had a chance to come into their own.

But it is definitely autumn, and you can smell it on the wind. That scent is so unmistakeable. It’s hard to describe: it’s a lovely, earthy smell so different from the green scent of summer, or the blossom scent of spring. The winds have ravaged these lands and all others across the country, stripping the trees of their colourful leaves before their time, and branches and fallen trees everywhere. Getting out in between the gales and the heavy rainstorms is a real gamble, so bringing your wet weather gear is essential.

It’s not been an easy year, not just for us humans, but for a lot of nature in this area. Though some species did well during the lockdown, many others have suffered from the lack of rain and a drought for two summers in a row. The hawks have been plentiful, and the deer have managed to keep their numbers up, but the plant life has suffered, and whether there will be enough food to keep them all strong throughout the winter remains to be seen.

And yet, despite all this, my heart sings merely at the thought of autumn. For it is my absolute favourite season, though here in the UK it is far too short. We don’t get the vibrant colours that I grew up with in Canada, but the feeling of nature winding down, of that last pause before dusk, the late afternoon sunlight shining through the clouds, the smell of woodsmoke on the wind – it all fills me with such peace. Gone is the harsh overhead sun, and instead it is dancing, playing through the turning leaves to fall upon the forest floor in dappled light.

The deer are gathering in larger and larger herds, and soon they will be all together out on the heath. The stags have begun to call, and it is the beginning of the deer rut. There are two main players this year, the dark stag who has been King for the last few years, and a new one, dappled and still young, but big and strong. I’m sure there will be some furious matches as they lock antlers in the evening’s failing light.

The foxes have been calling, and visiting us in the night, making their weird cries and strange sounds, or just padding silently down the path in the moonlight. The owls are hooting in the trees, and the pheasants are trumpeting in the night shadows. Hunting season has begun for them, and so we find all those lucky enough to have escaped coming round our way, to find sanctuary amidst the few houses here on the edge of the village.

Autumn is a time to pause, to stop, and to reflect on the bounty that we have collected throughout our labours in the year. Some things may have come to fruition, some may not, and some may still remain dreams, to foster once again through the long winter months until the sun’s strengthening light encourages us to manifest these dreams in the light of day. It is a time for long walks and enjoying the weather, in rain or sunshine. We feel the growing darkness all around us, and we welcome that even as we bask in the last of the golden light. Thoughts are turning inwards, hearts and minds becoming reflective. It is a time to take stock, to see what still needs to be done before the winter’s arrival, and what we need to make it through the cold time of icy frosts and winds from the north.

Take this moment, and enjoy it, for it doesn’t last long. Pause, listen, and learn from nature about the cycles of life, death and regeneration. Find out where you fit in the grand scheme of things, where you stand as a contributing member of your ecosystem. And dance in the light of autumn, feeling its ethereal and brief moments in time deep within your soul.

(Photos taken in Rendlesham Forest, © Joanna van der Hoeven 2020)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting me on my Patreon page.

The Song of Autumn

This is my favourite season, and I’ve created a video to try and capture that moment. I’ve been filming all last week, and also making music as featured on the video. More details in the video’s information on YouTube 🙂