Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday Spirits (Mead and Wine and Akvavit, Oh My)

I'll readily admit it: I'm a Bad Heathen. I haven't actually been to a real blót with a kindred yet. The reasons are a mix of being online instead (chatting with my better half every day we can manage, which is just about daily) and the blót being somewhere almost an hour away by trains, in the middle of a forest and lasts forever (until the last bus of the night or until the busses start running again in the morning). I'm used to living in the city. I used to live in the country-side, but right now I'm a spoiled city girl who considers it somewhat of a trauma if I have to wait 8 minutes for a bus, much less a Metro train.

Then there's the whole issue of the holidays themselves. I know there was a Midwinter blót. I know it's been Midwinter, because that's when the days get longer again and you wake up the day after and realise that while it's still dark outside and we have the worst of winter to come, it's finally heading in the right direction again. (As an aside, I get the same feelings after Midsummer, with a big, fat minus in front of it. We still have the best of summer to come, but it doesn't change the fact that the days are getting shorter and before you know it, the trees will start to lose their leaves).

It's just that Midwinter so far hasn't managed to grab a hold of me. I'm not from a Christian household. On one side I'm from a family of sailors, with everything that implies, and on the other, my grandmother is a wicked-awesome somewhat-atheist whose father was a Jehovah's Witness and who broke with his religion in such a way that for years, my grandmother could make them leave just by mentioning who her father was. We celebrate Christmas (or Jul, rather, which is what it's called here) because it's nice and cosy and about family. It's 'hyggeligt', basically. It's less about presents (well, in our side of the family. The other side of the family... well...) and more about holiday goodies and decorations and seeing the family and extended family and well, everyone else, in the days around Jul. (As another aside, it's pretty much a month-long celebration here. Not counting the stores and their decorations, it starts on December 1st with the TV advent calendars and chocolate advent calendars and calendar candles and 'Christmas lunches' at work and with friends and various clubs you might be in, and then it just continues until it tops on December 24th, Christmas Eve, with presents and drinks and food - lots of food - and rice pudding with an almond (and reward for finding the almond) and good company. December 25th and 26th are holidays and usually you end up visiting the family/extended family you didn't see on Christmas Eve, and then it's more food and more good company).

Point being, I can't get my brain to cooperate with the idea of Midwinter instead of Jul. Jul is tradition and has lost most of its religious meaning over the years and now a lot more about family and celebrating the fact that the days have started to get longer again. Invite some light and warmth into your home and watch the season change ... which is what Midwinter is all about. Celebrating the turn of the year and having one hell of a party doing so. Even if most of the drinking and hardcore partying got outsourced to the 'Christmas lunches' during December (and November, in some cases). Midwinter would feel silly and artificial to me, and I doubt that's something anyone wants - my Gods, the other blótguests, or me. I'll happily honour my Gods, but I prefer it to be on genuine terms. Make them part of the celebrations, rather than try and force my Jule-cheer into a date several days before Jul itself because that's when the shortest day of the year falls. I like the idea of inviting them to the party itself, when the party is there, and not several days before. They're part of my family, Elder Kin, and should be part of the celebrations, just as the rest of my family is. Maybe it's because Jul is such a fundamental holiday here that it's hard to imagine it in any other ways. The 24th is the way it's been for... well, not forever, since there was a time when it was on Midwinter itself, but for a very, very long time, at least. (We have someone in the extended family who married a French man and moved to France. They've found a compromise. He's welcome to make the traditional French Christmas food, but the celebration and presents happen on the 24th. Period.) Maybe it'll change if I ever manage to make Midwinter sit right with me, but until then, I figure that between blóting when it feels artificial and insincere and blóting when it's technically incorrect but with genuine feeling behind, the latter option is probably the better. The best option, of course, would be Midwinter and being sincere about it, but until then, I suspect that I'll stick to the 24th and hope no one, divine or otherwise, takes insult to my tweaking the holiday a little.

Which was, I think, just a long ramble that sums up to 'Merry Jul'... whenever you celebrate it, and wherever you are.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hammer and Chains, take 2

After dedicating around half a year to nothing but my thesis, I'm finally able to breathe again. Stretching my legs in between reading and writing and ranting on the phone to my law friend, I stumbled across a curious little shop below ground level. In the window, in a display case with various silver pendants, was the most gorgeous, feminine knotwork-style Hammer. I had to own it. Lucky for me, the price was quite reasonable, too. It looks modern, with clean lines and actually has the right size for someone like me - pretty, but no overwhelming. Something I might even be able to wear to work. Jewellery for when I start at work somewhere will most definitely require some thought. I have no intentions of being a walking Asatru notice-board, but I feel naked without a Hammer or a Valknut, too. One of the suitable ones is a small, silver key-pendant, a "Key to Heaven". It's technically very early Christian, but I love it anyway. Another is a tiny Valknut pendant that's somewhere in the mail, due to arrive in a couple of weeks. I'll see if it actually fits on a chain, then.

My collection of Heathen jewellery keeps growing, slowly but surely. I guess it's a good thing I'm almost finished with university.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

But It's Natural!

One thing I never got is Heathens who leave offerings in a way that's pretty much identical to littering. There's leaving mead in a bowl in your own garden, or pouring it on the ground in a forest, or leaving bread or steak or cake or other things that nature can handle herself... and then there's leaving bottles lying around in public areas or, even better, in protected sites. If you value nature so much that you insist on making your offerings there, why, oh why, do you leave your unopened bottles there, instead of pouring out the contents and taking the container back with you? You're not the only person passing by there. You're not the only person who enjoys the area, and I'm pretty sure other people won't see the beauty of your offering but rather that some asshole had lunch in the park and just left their trash lying around for other people to deal with.

Bonus points if you've made it abundantly clear that "Asatru wuz here!" - thank you so much for improving our reputation through your thoughtful, gentle way of treating nature.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


(Goodness, a warning is probably in order. This is long and rambling and mainly a way to get my own thoughts sorted out. It hasn't been edited for coherency)

Occasionally, in a moment of insanity, I want to write a book. Not really serious or lore-heavy, since other people have managed that far, far better than I ever could, but something light-hearted and silly - "How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Gods" or "Yuppie Heathenry - Fashionable Raiding in the 21st Century". Nothing "Teen Witch", since "Yuppie Heathenry" wouldn't actually take itself seriously.

It would be a handy little cheerful guide to life, lore, the Gods, and everything, aimed at people whose contact with nature at most consists of the flowers they got on their last date and the potted plants in their apartment, and whose religious devotion consists of showing up in church for their uncle Magnus' third wedding and not answering phonecalls during funerals.

I don't do mixing religions but I wouldn't mind updating it or making it more accessible to people who aren't interested in going deep into Old Norse culture and languages just to understand the basics, or who would feel incredibly awkward and out of place at a blót. Something for people who are half atheists, anyway, and who don't want to deal with rune-magic or seidr or chapter after chapter about how other people met/talked to/had sex with [deity of choice] and how said deity is actually a really hoopy frood who drops by for a horn of mead all the time. There are lots of useful lessons to be found in Ásatrú, anyway. Loyalty, honour, family, ambition, work ethics - that you're not going to Hell for not going to church, that you're not always required to turn the other cheek, that ambition and status isn't something to be embarrassed about and that your own ass isn't always the most important thing around.

There's this huge group of people who are somewhat-spiritual. Who wears a cross because it's pretty and buys "Pooh's Little Book of Feng Shui" because Eastern stuff is fashionable and because they feel it's a very nice idea and maybe it works. You'd never be able to make most of them hardcore Ásatrú any more than they would become hardcore Christian or Buddhists. They'd likely always mix cultures and religions. But getting at least part of the old Norse beliefs mixed into that could work wonders for removing the "neo-Nazi, wannabe-viking, longhaired metal-fans" macho image Heathenry as a whole suffers from.

It's all about fashion, all about trends. You can change the image of a religion by giving long speeches and writing academic books and participating in debates to present your views in a logical, educated way... or you can just make it trendy. It's about advertisement and the human mind. We copy what we think look good. If we see a supermodel in a
Louis Vuitton store, in a black trenchcoat, buying stilettos and looking like a million bucks, we're gonna associate that trenchcoat with fashion and beauty and money and subconsciously hope for the same for ourselves if we wear that coat, too. If we instead had seen the same coat on a goth chick with pierced lips and badly-dyed hair, we would associate it with the goth culture instead.

It's not about keeping anyone who isn't twenty, trendy, and fabulous from wearing a Thor's Hammer. It's about getting everyone to do it. Make it sufficiently trendy and its image will change as well. Make Freya an icon, the original Independent Woman who can handle herself and her career, and takes what she wants and is willing to fight for it. Make it cool and trendy to go to meditation classes on Yggdrasil and repeat a mantra while imagining the peace among its leaves. Make wearing the Hammer a sign of independence and power and strength. Publish
"Pooh's Little Book of Norse Wisdom" ("Serve food and drinks for your guests and offer them a place to sit. 'Oh,' said Pooh. 'I like to sit down. Will there be honey?'").

It could (probably rightfully) be accused of selling out and cheapening Ásatrú, but that probably depends on the point of view. Religions have to grow to survive and perhaps placing Ásatrú firmly in the mind of people by making it a part of popular culture will be exactly what's needed to make it survive. There will always be room for the dedicated students of Old Norse religion, but maybe creating a light-version to ensure it won't be forgotten wouldn't be half-bad, either. There's a series of graphic novels called 'Valhalla' published over here. They're written with obvious love for the source material - not always accurate completely to the letter, but the spirit is right, and it had a big part of the credit for kids over here actually being familiar with Norse mythology. It's made accessible to them and they enjoy it and remember it. It's entertainment and it's a good way to make present-day kids familiar with the old mythology of their country without making them read through long books about Norse myths.

It's the 21st century, really. Maybe it's time to try another strategy.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Holy Days

I must admit, I'm somewhat of a Bad Heathen when it comes to (religious) holidays. There's this long list of more or less historically based important days in Heathenry, of which various people have different opinions about which are real and which to observe, and I really tend to ignore most of it. I'm usually not aware of them until the usual bloom of posts regarding the given upcoming important day on various forums and LJ communities. Likely because I'm not part of the Heathen community and not a member of a blót group. I celebrate the holidays my family does, and that isn't a whole lot. When we do, though, it's about getting together and having a good time as a family and I can't imagine any better way to spend those days.

I don't celebrate Yule or the Winter Solstice or Christmas. I celebrate Jul and it's on the 24th and it's about good food and catching up with family and just in general having a good time while hoping for snow. We never attend church, either. Easter's about good food and family as well, and midsummer is about bonfires and summernights and Midsommersangen. I'm aware there's something in the start of February but the first thing that comes to mind there is kyndelmisse, even if I don't celebrate that, either, and I can sing Luciasangen as well as any of the girls carrying those candles. For that matter, I likely know the various hymns and songs in the 'official' blue song book better than 95% of the rest of the population. They're not Heathen songs and I'm not Christian, but I still like them and I grew up with them in school. I don't sing nearly as well as I did when I was in a choir but they're beautiful and they're part of my culture and I'm not going to just ignore them in favour of 'Norse songs' set to Christian tunes and a brand new set of holidays that don't speak to me in any way, shape or form.

Besides, it's not like "Marken er mejet" and "Det er i dag et vejr" are Christian in any sense. They're Danish and cheerful and traditional. That's good enough for me.