Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mist

Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mist

My gods are not tame. They do not always come when they are called. This is not a failure of ritual or a weakness of belief. It is the nature of my gods. I would no more expect a god to “show up” in my ritual space than I would expect to be able to call a mountain into my living room. That is simply not the nature of mountains. If I want to meet a mountain, I am the one who must move.

Because I do not believe that humans are the only beings with agency in the world, I do not expect my gods to express their agency in the same ways that human beings do. There are gods who forever remain elusive, whose identities shift with the landscape, the seasons and the stars. And there are gods so intimate that they are never really absent at all, and meeting them is not a matter of inviting their presence but rather of quieting my own expectations and learning how to listen. There are gods whose presence looms like a mountain range on the horizon, and gods with(in) whom I walk with grace, my footsteps just one more melody in the great pattern of their being. What does hospitality look like to a mountain? How does a forest speak its mind? What does it mean to invoke a god of mist and sea on a mist-strewn shore?

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What Resolution Really Means

What Resolution Really Means

Because I’m such a Hipster Pagan that I’ve come full circle, in recent years I’ve stopped disparaging New Year’s Resolutions for being “too mainstream” and decided to re-embrace the practice. After all, the word resolution is a vast and complex universe in itself. Like words such as integrity, balance and attention, resolution can mean many things, and spending some time considering its nuances bears some surprising (and surprisingly delicious) fruit.

So for those of you who might be on the fence about making resolutions for the coming year, here are some thoughts on what resolution means to me.

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A Ha’penny Will Do: A Pagan Perspective on Christmas

A Ha’penny Will Do: A Pagan Perspective on Christmas

As Christmas approaches once again, I find myself wondering, wandering in a liminal space. Asking myself how to teach children that realizing their own inner Santa Claus is infinitely more challenging than believing in some unlikely literal jolly-old-elf, and infinitely more rewarding. Asking myself where I belong, where we all belong, and how we belong to each other. Asking myself how I can tell the stories of my ancestors, pagan and Christian alike, to the children of my partner. What can I say that will be meaningful and relevant for them, that will share with them the “spirit of the season” that I have come to know and love and value? What will I say when they come singing, a penny for my thoughts?

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The Goddess, the Broom and the Barred Owl, Part 5

The Goddess, the Broom and the Barred Owl, Part 5

What were you expecting? A tame goddess who can be bribed with easy offerings? A pleasant springtime girl who asks for nothing but your adoration in return? An owl-feathered maiden of the forest to indulge your taste for the exotic and the dark? Were you hoping for a bedtime story with a moral at the end?

Blodeuwedd’s story isn’t over. It is on-going. It is forever unfolding in every moment, in every place where nature and culture conflict and comingle, in every breath that weaves us as human animals into the more-than-human world. It would be too easy to approach Blodeuwedd through mythology and ritual alone, to disconnect her from the messy, erotic, death-riddled real world of broom blossoms and barred owls.

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The Goddess, the Broom and the Barred Owl, Part 4

The Goddess, the Broom and the Barred Owl, Part 4

In the Pacific Northwest, Blodeuwedd’s darker aspect manifests as innocent victim as well as hapless intruder. Not one or the other, but both.

As the Spotted owl, we might experience Blodeuwedd as vulnerable, elusive and withdrawn, the unfamiliar Other who demands that we place our loyalty to her above our human concerns, who asks more of us than we are perhaps willing to give — the hag who demands a kiss as the price of sovereignty. As the Barred owl, she is the adaptable trickster again, the wanderer driven by hunger into new lands, whose appetite and determination threaten to overturn the current order.

Seeing the owl in the goddess, we also see the goddess in the owl. Do we sacrifice the one in service to the many, without that one’s consent? Do we kill this one owl, or eradicate this one species, for the sake of the balance and prosperity of the whole?

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The Goddess, the Broom and the Barred Owl, Part 3

The Goddess, the Broom and the Barred Owl, Part 3

How do we understand the innocence of Blodeuwedd as the Flower Maiden, and her punishment as the Owl-Faced Old Maid?

In the web of life in which everything has a proper and harmonious place as part of a greater dynamic balance, those beings who wander aimlessly without place or purpose — or who refuse to submit to their fate as decreed by the greater order of things — can potentially pose a threat to that balance, causing disruption and harm in their desperate desire to survive. Love of life can lead us astray. In the utter innocence and fierce love of the goddess there exists a lurking danger, where wildness shades into chaos and disharmony.

Blodeuwedd is a goddess created in the image of the human being, for a very human purpose: to love and be loved. And yet she retains (as do we all) the undeniable influences of the natural world from which she was made, a more-than-human world in which love and life-force intermingle and overwhelm as the indomitable eros of passion. She exists in a liminal state, very much like our own species. She is a goddess of exile and displacement, and for that reason she is also a goddess of invasion.

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The Goddess, the Broom and the Barred Owl, Part 2

The Goddess, the Broom and the Barred Owl, Part 2

Blodeuwedd embodies the spirit of the trickster. She is herself literally the work of trickery and artifice. Her physical body is not a unity, but a cobbled-together assortment of twigs and blossoms given a kind of unnatural animation through the magic of Gwydion. And although she is designed by men far more powerful than she is for one specific purpose — to serve as Lleu’s wife and queen — yet she thwarts that purpose through lies and deceit, following the call of her own hunger, her own passion and desire. As a result she is cursed, like so many other trickster figures, to aimless wandering in the wilderness, a social outcast. She is both subhuman and superhuman, both bestial and divine. She is the thief who steals away the beloved from the rightful king, except that it is her own self that she steals away — is this theft, or reparation?

Either way, this is a goddess familiar with dislocation and disconnection, and one who embodies within her very being the ambivalence of human technology and how it mediates our relationship with the natural world.

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The Goddess, the Broom and the Barred Owl, Part 1

The Goddess, the Broom and the Barred Owl, Part 1

As an animist, my relationship with the gods is rooted in my relationship with the land and its many beings. Yet so many of my gods are in exile from the lands of their origins.

What does it mean for an American living in the Pacific Northwest to worship deities of Ireland and Wales? In part, it means that many of my gods are — like myself — pilgrims and strangers in a new world, still finding their feet and learning what it means to move in this new land with grace and respect. Their lessons today are often lessons of ambivalence, dislocation and longing. For me, no goddess has been more insistent in her teaching than the flower-faced maiden, Blodeuwedd.

Who is Blodeuwedd? She is a goddess of dangerous innocence, an innocence so pure that it threatens to undo our easy assumptions about the world and our place within it.

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Storytelling, Magic & Community

Storytelling, Magic & Community

There is magic in good storytelling. In a world that can seem so woefully devoid of magic, we have a tendency to romanticize the writer, who is in touch with that magic in a deep, visceral way. But humans have been telling stories for as long as we’ve been human. Those who are lucky enough to call themselves professional writers have a particular set of skills and an admirable work ethic, but they don’t hold the monopoly on good storytelling. The astrophysicist and the bank manager and the firefighter and the dairy farmer have stories of their own to tell.

Storytelling at its root is a communal activity, something that can be shared by everyone. NaNoWriMo inspires us because it reminds us that storytelling is not about self-torture or perfectionism or asceticism, let alone popularity or profit. We can reclaim storytelling as basic human nature. We can recapture the creativity and imagination that is our birthright. We can push back against a society that would drain the world of its magic.

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Signal Boost: Be Part of the Animist Blog Carnival!

Signal Boost: Be Part of the Animist Blog Carnival!

Every month, the Animist Blog Carnival (organized by the devoted Heather Awen) gathers together essays and blog posts on a particular theme from writers all over the world who are exploring animism as an aspect of their spiritual lives. If you consider yourself an animist, you can join in! It’s super-easy: just share your reflections, thoughts and experiences on the month’s chosen theme on your own blog or website, and then email a link to your post to Heather (or that month’s ABC host).

And now’s a great time to get involved. The theme for this month’s ABC is Animism and Religion, and Heather shares a list of thought-provoking prompts over on her blog to get you started. Deadline: November 28, 2013

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