This time of year always makes me think of my family: my relatives, my extended family, and my ancestors. It’s a difficult time of year to be separate from them, as during this season it is all about being with family. As I won’t be going back to Canada for the holidays this year (I was back in the summer, and will be going back next summer for a big wedding anniversary) this winter will be a hard one, mentally and emotionally. Thank goodness for the blessings of Skype!
So how do I cope? Well, first and foremost, if I can’t be with my blood family, I’ll be with my chosen family: my friends. We’re organising a Yule ritual and feast, and it will be good to be with others, laughing and sharing food and drink, a warm fire and toasting the past year, and looking forward to the coming year.
As always at this time of year, my spiritual path shifts to honour my ancestors. My practice takes on more of a Heathen focus, working with the old ways of Germanic customs, deities, ethics and lore. If I can’t be out walking the snow-covered hills and deep, silent forests of my native Canada, then I will work with the ancestors and spirits of place here in England that still remember and resonate with a similar landscape from their past, and also a similar ideal. It runs through my veins, the yearning to be with family, to deepen those bonds with gifts and storytelling, to be out in the winter air and honouring the world around me.
I feel a close connection to Frigge, the Allmother, especially during the winter months. She is the lady of right order, a lady of sovereignty, she who sees the wyrd of all. She is a great weaver, and she knows the bonds of friendship and family are the strongest ones we can have in our lives. I say a daily prayer to her every morning, and light a candle in her name.
There is also a special place in my heart for Ullr, who is mostly associated with hunting but, as with all the northern traditions’ deities, they cannot be pigeon-holed into a specific “god of such and such” for their functions, their talents, their skills and their passions often overlap, just as ours do here in Midgarth. I also honour the Etin-bride Skadhi, she of the snowshoes, an independent and strong warrior woman who is not afraid to ask for what she wants in life. If I can’t be out on my cross-country skis back in Canada, then I can still feel the presence of the gods in the awesome winter skies of East Anglia, with frost on the ground and the deer in their large winter herds before me on the heath.
I honour Freya (who may or may not be separate from Frigga – the debate still rages) as a lady of seidr, the magic and trancework of the northern peoples. With my staff I sit, indoors or out, and connect to my guides, singing the songs that take me between the worlds.
I also have a great love and respect for Tyr, who befriended Fenris the Wolf who will slay many at the end of days, at Ragnarok. When Fenris came to live with the gods, Tyr was kind enough to take care of him, to feed him and keep him company. When the gods decided that Fenris should be bound, in an attempt to stop the aforementioned fate from coming to pass, the wolf knew something was up, and demanded that someone’s hand be put in his mouth while the magical fetter was being laid upon him. No god or goddess was willing to do so, apart from Tyr, who knew his duty, both to the wolf and the gods and goddesses of Asgard. And so he lost his hand when Fenris bit down after realising he had been tricked. Tyr knows the price to be paid, as well as duty and the kindness that is compassion.
I work with the runes, and am studying them in more depth this year. I’m also going to be part of a study group with a kindred that lives a few rivers down the coast, who have kindly invited me to several blots over this past year (rituals where blessings are offered and given). There is the special sumble (ritual where words are spoken over the ritual cup/horn, to fall into the well of wyrd) near the winter solstice, and of course, the entire festival of Yule which I will celebrate, spanning the 12 days of Christmas in the modern calendar.
All in all, this winter will be a quiet one, where I turn to my ancestors and work with my heritage, learning new things and becoming a student once again. I’m very much looking forward to it, and to the new discoveries along the way. May the blessings of winter’s might and reflection be with you all!
Do the Gods care? I’m not so sure.
In my own experience, I know that the wild gods especially, those of heath and forest, of the seas and wind, of storm and sunshine, do not care about what happens to humanity. They simply follow their nature, their path. In my perception, the universe does not care. I remember in Pirates of the Caribbean, when the goddess of the sea, Calypso, was asked why she had a change of heart about a man that she once loved, simply stated in that slow, West Indes drawl: “It is my nature”. They may interact with us, but do they have our best interests at heart? Some may, but some may not. Some may not even acknowledge us – the hurricane passes through despite our pleas, following its own song of wind and water, doing what is in its nature to do. The sun shines down relentlessly on the crops, burning the fields or ripening the wheat dependent upon other weather conditions during the season. Our best interests are not on their agenda.
And why should they be? It is the human fallacy, that mindset of us being the centre of the universe? Why should we be the recipients of all that we perceive to be good in the world, and why do we rail against the perceived tragedy? Yes, an earthquake is devastating, and can kill thousands of people, causing pain and anguish among humanity, and all other creatures that suffer from its effects. But the earthquake is not at fault (pardon the pun) – that is the nature of the earthquake. It will not seek out a place where it can cause the least destruction, nor vice versa – it happens where it needs to happen, where the elements dictate it should be, where the song takes it. It does not consider the repercussions it will have on anything.
These wild gods are of a totally different consciousness to us, and it can be damned hard to relate to. That is why we often anthropomorphise them, in order to be able to relate. It is easier to talk to a god of thunder, who struts around wielding a great hammer against giants than it is to talk to a thundercloud, or the lightning. These gods, who we have given human form – do they care for us?
By giving them some sort of humanity, we automatically assume that they should. After all, they look like us, talk like us, have adventures that we can relate to. We have created these wonderful stories about them. We care for them, we devote ourselves to them – should they not do the same?
This can often be the falling down point in relationships with the gods for many people. I have known people who have abandoned the gods, because they have lost loved ones, or had other trauma in their lives that the gods did not intercede in. My question would be – why should they intercede? At the moment, I have a very ill cat, who is not responding to medication. I have prayed to Bridget for healing strength to help her get over the illness, and to give us all strength and knowledge of the illness so that we may better cope with it. So far the results of the prayers have not been successful – should I therefore abandon all relationship with Bridget? It I did, then I would be assuming that the gods are “on call” for us, for our whims and demands and pleas for help.
They are not.
I have relationships with several gods, to help me understand them, and the ways of the world a little better, but I know that I am not special; that should I receive healing energy from Bridget it would not be because she is granting me a favour, or a gift. What I hope to achieve through my relationship with her is a better understanding of the bigger picture in life, beyond my own mortal limitations in order to better my own situation.
I don’t think Bridget really cares whether or not my cat lives or dies. She may, however, help me to understand the illness better, to help me find the inspiration and strength to continue through my relationship with her. Sometimes just talking to someone about it helps, even if you cannot see them. Like the Catholic confession, simply talking to someone can sometimes clarify things in your own mind. The priest taking the confession will give advice, tell you how many Hail Marys or acts of contrition you must do to absolve you of the sin that you committed – but the priest does not care, per se – they are simply acting on behalf of what they believe their god would like their followers to do.
Does this leave me feeling a bit lonely, a bit unwanted and left out because my gods do not care about me? Not really. My gods teach me how to cope with the world – Nemetona teaches me about sanctuary and sacred space, where I can in myself learn about finding those places where I can be free. She does not grant them to me, but shows me how to find them through her and through my own practice. Similarly, Frigge does not care for me in any motherly or matronly sort of way, nor Freya – what they do is provide me with inspiration to keep my household in good order, or to talk through relationship issues. They are not Dial-A-Gods with whom to pray to for help with this or that; through our ongoing relationship with them we begin to see how we can find the awen in their stories and weave that into our own lives.
Sometimes it may feel like our pleas are heard – that someone receives a miraculous recovery, or the tidal wave does not reach the shore. However, I would posit that this has nothing to do with us personally. The infection may go away because of the mindset and resulting physiological effects this has on a person who knows that others are praying for them, or who have made them a special amulet. Does this have anything to do with directed energy from the gods themselves? I’m not so sure – I think it has more to do with the inspiration these gods have given humanity to fix it, or try to fix it, themselves. I could, of course, be totally wrong.
The fact that the gods don’t care does not affect my relationship with them. The tree at the bottom of my garden does not care whether I live or die, neither do the horses in the field, the frogs in the pond, the throngs of humanity who have no knowledge that I even exist. Does this mean that I should not love them? I don’t think so.
The winter solstice is coming up – a time for many across the world to celebrate, whatever their spirituality, if they are religious or not. For many pagans, and many Druids, the winter solstice is an especially important time of the year, marked in the public eye by the historic landmarks such as Newgrange or Stonehenge.
But it’s the more private celebrations that call to me at this time of year. Tired after a long year of hard work (with over 30 performances from our dance company, as well as workshops, classes, and filming dvds, on top of writing the next book, Zen Druidry, and oh – yes, my marketing job for a music company…) I am really, really, really looking forward to a couple of week’s rest at the end of December.
This is a time of year when I really connect with my European ancestors and gods – Frigge, the lady of the hearth and home, stands by my shoulder as I spend the evenings baking for my friends and my husband. I think of my mother’s beautiful hands, remembering them when she was cooking, or stroking the cat – how graceful they are, how unhurried and loving no matter what it was she was doing. I think of my grandmothers, with their laughter and love, as I drink a toast to them with a little snort of advocaat. Freya smiles as I snuggle into the warmth of the bed with my husband and cats.
The house is often bathed in the glow of candlelight, with pine scented loveliness drifting through, or the smell of woodsmoke as the fire crackles in the hearth. Though it is often dark and cold out, the home takes on special importance at this time of year. A big cleaning is undertaken in readiness for the months where more time is spent indoors, and everything is made just so, for comfort, ease and security. That feeling of preparedness still hits me late November, early December – make sure everything is good for the next couple of months, for when we will be spiritually, if not physically, snowed in.
For at this time of year, it is the best time to look inwards, to discover your self once again. Taking the time during the long dark months is perfect – a little meditation instead of the television, for instance, in front of that altar glowing with candles and the smoke of incense drifting through the room. The nights are so long – what will you do with them? Please, please please – do not watch more television. Go out with friends. Meditate. Bake. Make love. Walk in the frosty night. But whatever you do, make sure that you take time for yourself.
For me this is the dreaming period, an incubation of sorts. Time to dream it all up again. Think on the coming year, and make some plans – holding to them lightly. Protecting the seeds of your dreams in the darkness of winter, to slowly unfurl when the light returns in the spring. I absolutely adore it. There is nothing better than sitting indoors with a cup of hot chocolate, watching the snow fall, if you are so lucky, and simply being in the moment – or walking out with the snow and evening falling silently all around, the smell of winter thick in the cold, swirling air. Taking inspiration from it all and dreaming, dreaming deep – so deep that when you awaken you are refreshed, and ready for anything.
Take a step back from the manic lights and piped music in restaurants, pubs and shops, and step into your home, touching the frame of the doorway with a soft prayer to the household spirits for their sanctuary. Let yourself slip into the darkness, lit only by soft candlelight, and let the mind and soul rest for a while. And may you truly enjoy the holiday season.