Winter’s Reflection

xmas 2015 2This 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.

Winter 1As 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.

Winter 2There 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.

P1010980All 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!

Winter Solstice and Ancestral Voices in the Wind

P1010980The Wild Hunt has been riding most evenings here around my home by the North Sea. The wind whips around the house and the rain pelts against the window panes. One night it comes from the north, the next from the south, then the east followed by the west. Each wind brings different scents and different temperatures but all are certainly wild at this time of year. You don’t want to go out in it, that’s for sure.

It’s at this time of year that I feel closest to my ancestors, my blood ancestors from Western Europe and Scandinavia. Their voices and stories are whispered in the dark mornings and early evenings, sometimes howled down my chimney in the evenings and every morning as I sit by my hearth altar, lighting a candle and praying to the gods, the land spirits and the ancestors. They call me to honour them, to know them once again, to say their names. And so each year I do, though this year feels different.

Winter 2This winter I feel called to explore the spiritual traditions of my ancestors in greater depth. Though I’ve lived here in Britain for twenty years, all of my blood relatives come from Western Europe and Scandinavia. DNA testing has revealed some fascinating stories, and the picture is growing of my blood ancestors, changing as more information and DNA is submitted. I’m finding family from all walks of life, from all over Europe, gradually adding to my own family tree as records become electronically available and I am able to fill in the gaps where personal records have gone missing. It’s been a great exploration this year and looks to continue for many years to come.

So for these winter months I shall be exploring fully the pre-Christian religious and spiritual traditions of my ancestors. These are Germanic, Danish, Frisian, Belgian, Norwegian and more, which fall under the modern category of “Heathenry”.  I’ve studied Heathenry for many years, but never developed a full practice; it’s always been more of an academic exercise. And so, this winter I shall bring it to life within my life, honouring the land wights and house wights, the ancestors, the gods and the goddesses. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the goddess Frigge, the lady of right order, whose nature I feel is close to my own. As well, Skadhi and Ullr I have honoured many times while out snowshoeing and skiing in Canada and Norway. Tyr’s justice and compassion hold great meaning for me, and Freya’s seidr magic speaks of mystery, beckoning me further. It is with these gods that I shall be working over the winter, as well as the tomte and nisse of the household, and the land wights of the heathland and forest where I live. (I have already, obviously, done so in a Druid sense, so I will see if this changes slightly).

Already, I have found many similarities between Druidry and Heathenry. They almost seem to be talking and doing the same thing, just in different languages. The groves they worshipped in, the poetry and art, the warrior and the wise cunning folk, all of these seem to have resonance with each other, but expressed slightly differently. As well, much of the magical lore and tradition found in East Anglia I have found stems from Northern European magic, such as seidr.

It will be exciting to explore these traditions and heritage in practice. It will be interesting to connect to my blood ancestors more fully, exploring and expanding upon my family tree and widening my practice even more. And so, here on the coast of the North Sea, I will call to my ancestors, to the gods and goddesses of the North, to the land wights and house wights and see who answers.

I wish you all a very blessed Yuletide! May the longest night bring you peace, may you find strength and courage in the darkness, and hope in the growing light of the sun.

Winter 1

 

Mother’s Night

Tonight I honour my European ancestry, and the female lineage from which I am descended. I honour the disir, all the women, past and present, and am thankful for their presence in my life.

Blessings of Mōdraniht, Mother’s Night to you all. May we honour our female ancestors, may their strength and wisdom carry us through the Yuletide and beyond.
Mothers NIght

Troll Country

Yes, this is troll country. I am currently in Norway, having a cross-country ski holiday – a week of skiing the forests and fells around Sjusjoen.  Today, we got halfway up the fells before the blizzard kicked in – there was such a wildness in the air, nothing like the softness of the habitated places of the UK.  Here in Norway, there is such a difference between the “human” places and the “wild” places. You can distinctly feel when you step from one into the other.

We were skiing out from the village, through the woods until suddenly we came across the open, frozen marshland of the lower fells.  The wind howled – nothing to break it.  You couldn’t see the mountains, for the snow was coming down too heavily.  Leaving the wooded area around the town, and out onto the fells – you could feel that shift. This was the place of the wild things.  This was troll country.

There is actually a place for these giants here in Norway, not too far away – Jotunheim (National Park). In the Northern Tradition (Heathenry) Jotunheim is the realm of the giants – and when you see landscape like this, you can believe it.  This is not a place for human habitation – the wind howls too fiercely, there is no cover.  The mountains loom high, and the marshlands can be treacherous.  This is a place for those who are not so soft – this is a place for ettins, jotuns and giants.

One of my favourite goddesses is Skadhi, an ettin who married into the Northern God clan.  She is wild and she is free – there is no bossing her about.  She is the snowshoe goddess, the hunter, the goddess of skiing.  She walks into the hall of the gods and demands reparation for the death of her father.  She means business.  She lives high in the mountains, listening to the howl of wolves and wind.  I say a prayer to her each time before we embark on our ski journey for the day:

Skadhi, Lady of Winter, know that you are honoured.

May my skis never break,

May my poles never bend,

May my eyes always remain on the beauty that is you.

This wild country tests you – with the wind stinging your face, tiny shards of snow and ice in your eyes, your eyelashes frozen and the howling all around you – you soon learn what you are made of.  I kept looking ahead, peering through the blizzard, almost expecting to see an enormous rock coloured ettin strolling through the snowy fells, enjoying the blizzard and not even noticing the tiny, insect-like creatures on the ground with their snowpants and ski jackets.

Sometimes you win – sometimes you make it through the storm and reach your destination. Sometimes, like today, you accept defeat at the hands of the ettins, and turn back before you lose your way.  We couldn’t see the tracks, we could barely make out the trail markers – it was time to turn back.  So, with a smile and a bow of defeat and in reverence, we turned back.

Once back in the treeline, the snow that had stung so much fell softly, almost like a blessing.  The quiet that only a heavily snow-shrouded landscape can bring was all around us – like the sanctity of a cathedral.  We were back in a human place, and behind us the trolls and ettins laughed in the winter’s rages, throwing snowballs and doing whatever is it that the jotuns do.

Coming back to the hotel, with a sauna and a fireplace, was such a relief.  However, we’re still going out again tomorrow, whatever the weather, to see what we can face.  This is what this beautiful country is all about.  This is troll country.