The Two Powers 2

Tree in sunset. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Tree in sunset. Image from Wikimedia Commons

I can’t believe it’s week 24 of the ADF Dedicant Path already! This week’s homework is to reflect on the Two Powers meditation I first encountered back in Week 11.

The Two Powers is a cornerstone of ADF meditative work, and I’ve been working with it pretty consistently (give or take a few interruptions and false starts) for about 13 weeks now on a near-daily basis. My morning ritual is a short shrine rite based on “Your First Druidic Working” from the DP manual, with a 3-5 minute Two Powers meditation in the middle bit.

The basic technique of visualising/imagining energy flowing through my body from the earth beneath me and the sky above me has been easy to grasp, and reminds me of other forms of meditation I have practiced, such as OBOD’s “Light Body” meditation. It varies day to day though, depending on how focused or how tired I am. Some days I can get into the groove and just feel it, and other days I have to really will myself to go through the motions without much “result”.

There is also a huge difference between doing the Two Powers indoors or out. Indoors at the shrine, it can be harder to connect the symbolism of the Two Powers with the reality of land and sky. Outside, when I can really feel the earth beneath my feet and the wind and sun on my face, it all feels so much more real and vital. Doing the Two Powers meditation sat on a glacial boulder by Eidfjord in Norway was particularly moving.

The Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year suggests that one might think of the Earth and Sky powers as “feminine” and “masculine” respectively. I don’t think of them in this way, nor in the reverse. Gendering natural concepts and forces is one of the things that pushed me away from other forms of Wiccan-influenced druidry and paganism. I just don’t see the need to impose our (heavily culturally constructed) notions of gender roles onto non-human nature. Frankly, I find it all a bit unsettling.

Yggdrasil. Image from Viking Mythology

Yggdrasil. Image from Viking Mythology

Another way of understanding the Two Powers is that of “Chaos” and “Order”. The Earth power can be seen as chaotic in the sense of unstructured, pure potential, whereas the Sky power, through the life-giving energy of the sun, can be seen as ordering that potential into particular forms. For me, the Earth power feels cool and nourishing while the Sky power bright and airy.

There isn’t an exact match to the Two Powers in the Norse hearth culture as far as I am aware, but it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine oneself while meditating as being almost like Yggdrasil, connecting the depths of the underworld to the heights of Asgard. “Being a tree” is a pretty commonplace pagan meditation, and it connects well with both the Two Powers and the ADF central symbolism of the deep well, the world tree and the bright fire.

 

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Heathen Round Table: June

Fjords by Moyan Brenn on Flickr (CC2.0)

Fjords by Moyan Brenn on Flickr (CC2.0)

I’ve just discovered a new blog called Heathen Round Table, that is doing a series of monthly prompts for heathens and Norse pagans to reflect and share ideas. I may be a bit late, but I wanted to join in too!

Their first prompt is: “How did you first become involved in heathenry? What started you on this path, and how has it changed you?”

Well, I’m not sure if “heathen” is the right word or not at this stage (I’ve only just started feeling comfortable thinking of myself as pagan, and have a complicated relationship with the word “druid” so the last thing I need is another label), but I am pretty set on the Norse hearth culture as the focus of my ADF studies and personal practice. When I first got interested in druidry and paganism, I was drawn by the Celtic side of things, it being the way of my ancestors and of at least parts of the British Isles. But it never seemed to “click” in quite the right way. The Irish myths and deities seemed remote, and a lot of British paganism was very Wiccan in form and feel in ways that made me uncomfortable (gender polarity, heterosexism etc.). ADF offered an alternative, but I had no idea what hearth culture to work in.

Thor. Image from Marvel.

Thor. Image from Marvel.

Until, that was, I went to Norway on holiday for my wife’s birthday. I had always liked the Norse myths and remember reading them as a child, and I love the Marvel Thor films. I know they get a lot of flack in the heathen community, but I think they are a wonderful way of keeping the myths and the Norse gods alive and relevant to a modern culture.

Norway struck me with its natural beauty, and deep sense of connection to its history and heritage. The people seemed to be more in touch with nature, even just in simple ways like using renewable energy, eating locally sourced food or the popularity of family hiking trips or boating on the fjords.Of course a holiday gives an idealistic sense of a place, but friends I know who have lived out there say the same thing. A love of the land seems to be a big part of Scandinavian culture more generally, and it’s something I feel we have lost a bit in Britain.

It was in a tiny village called Flam where I met Thor, in the unassuming form of a little clay figurine based on one from archaeological findings, which was on sale in a souvenir shop. I instantly snapped him up and took him home, where he now lives happily on my hearth-shrine. At Flam, I also saw a huge carved Yggdrasil tree (complete with Ratatosk the squirrel) in the village square, and drank a toast to Freya in Aegir Brewery pub.

11th century Thor figure. Image from History.com

11th century Thor figure. Image from History.com

Since then, the Norse hearth has gone from “hmm, that’s interesting” to “wow, this feels right“. I’m currently devouring both A practical heathen’s guide to Asatru by Patricia Lafayllve and Joanne Harris’ Gospel of Loki, which is a surprisingly faithful (and utterly hilarious) retelling of some of the stories of Thor, Odin, Loki and the rest. I have a small silver Mjolnir which I wear at all times, and I start each day with a greeting to Sunna and the “deity of the day” since the days of the week are named after the Anglo-Saxon names for the Norse gods.

I still don’t think the gods “really exist” in a literal sense, and am very much a naturalist/pantheist, interpreting the deities as mythic personifications of natural forces. This actually makes them more real for me, as I can hear Thor in every thunderstorm, see Njord every time I go to the coast, connect with Nerthus as the ground beneath my bare feet.

While I am angered, saddened and disturbed by the strains of ultra-conservative, racist, homophobic Asatru and heathens out there, I know from my online wanderings that they do not speak for all heathens, and are a tiny minority who just shout the loudest and use religion to justify their hate. ADF is demonstrably LGBT friendly and open to all, as are heathen organisations like The Troth, so I know I could find a welcome community there if I so chose.

How has this new direction changed me? I think it has given me a sense of focus in both my ADF work and my life more generally, as well as a sense of identity and connection to the Viking ancestors I almost certainly have at some point down the family line, and a greater connection to the land, sea and sky all around me. Whether this is a lasting relationship with the Norse hearth or not, it seems a deeply interesting path to take these first steps down.

Eidfjord, Norway by Paul Miller on Flickr (CC2.0)

Eidfjord, Norway by Paul Miller on Flickr (CC2.0)

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Ancestors: a corollary

So, I found this cool infographic online showing some of the places that Vikings travelled, traded and settled. Click through to Science Nordic to use the interactive map and get loads more info! I have had moments where I’ve felt a bit uneasy about following a Norse hearth culture when my immediate ancestry is Irish, and I still have a great deal of love and connection for Ireland and its heritage and folkways. But, what this map suggests is that I may well have Viking ancestry too, from three different sources: the south coast of Ireland, the coast of Spain and central Europe. Yay!

It also turns out that one of the possible meanings/origins of my family’s surname could mean “son of the saffron-haired one” or “son of the Vikings”. So that’s pretty cool!

Now, to be clear, I don’t believe you have to have Viking ancestry to practice Norse Paganism, and I in no way support the “folkish” claims to exclusivity and tribalism, that are often used to support racist ideologies.

If you go back far enough, all humans (and indeed, all species) share a common ancestor, and our own species homo sapiens evolved in Africa, so any concept of cultural “purity” or superiority is obviously unscientific nonsense.

Notwithstanding, it is rather nice to know that I am still connecting with my ancestral heritage on this path, and that I’m not just engaging in a form of cultural appropriation of Norse mythology and religion.

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Mew-mew?

I know, a Marvel Thor reference, but hey I like those films!

Anyway, I finally got myself a small silver Mjolnir to wear! Since my interest in the Norse hearth culture has grown to a sense of “yes, this is where I belong”, it seemed appropriate. I also like the cross-cultural Celtic triquetra in the middle, symbolising the three realms of land, sea and sky, to keep the Druid element there.

Mjolnir. Photo by me.

Mjolnir. Photo by me.

I hallowed it with the “Simple Charm of Hallowing” from Our Own Druidry and left it at the feet of my Thor statue on my shrine overnight, and now I plan on wearing it every day as a reminder of my path, and the strength and honour of Thor. I’m not exactly the most butch macho viking warrior type, so I never thought I’d be drawn to the Norse side of things, but it seems to work (as long as you steer VERY clear from the racist/homohobic  Asatru out there…thank the gods for ADF).

Anyway, just wanted to share that little detail!

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Fourth High Day recap: Summer Solstice

Sunrise silhouette. Image from Pixabay.

Sunrise silhouette. Image from Pixabay.

The Summer Solstice marked the end of three weekends of celebration: first was the “Strawberry Fair” held on the appropriately-named Midsummer Common, a large field of common land in town still used for cattle grazing by local farmers. The fair is a combination of folk festival, craft market and food fair, and is always a lot of fun.

The second weekend brought the Town and Country fair, an agricultural festival with lots of local food and drink as well as adorable farm animals! I picked up a bottle of mead and also acquired that most practical of Druid tools, a stout hazel hiking stick (not one of those 7 foot high twisty wizard staffs with a knob on the end).

Home shrine set up for the Summer Solstice with mead offering. Photo by me.

Home shrine set up for the Summer Solstice with mead offering. Photo by me.

So to the Solstice itself. I got up at dawn (4:30am) to greet the day, and a bit later did a ritual at my home shrine. This was the first ADF “core order” ritual that I wrote from scratch, following the steps outlined in the DP manual. It was a Norse rite, as the Summer Solstice is central to that hearth culture, and it honoured Sunna, the goddess of the sun (or the personification of the sun itself). The “gatekeeper” in Norse rites within ADF tends to be Heimdall, but I feel more connection to the nature-kin so I chose Ratatosk, the squirrel who runs from the roots to the branches of the world-tree Yggdrasil, carrying messages for the gods.

Offerings were pure water to Nerthus, the Earth Mother, grain to Ratatosk and mead to the Three Kindreds and to Sunna. The ogham omens were positive, hinting at growth and movement as well as ancestral connections.

In the central section of the rite, I decided to finally make my First Oath as a formal sign of commitment to the Pagan path. The actual oath was unwritten and spontaneous, and I don’t recall the exact words used, but I vowed to learn and question, to seek nature, truth and knowledge, and to deepen my connection to the turning world.

After the rite, I went for a long hike in the local woods and fields with my other half, and then made pizza (not traditional, but it’s round like a sun-disc) from scratch for dinner. Not as dramatic as going to Stonehenge to see the Druids, but still a lovely way to spend the Solstice!

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Fourth High Day: Summer Solstice

Sunrise at Stonehenge. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Sunrise at Stonehenge. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Summer Solstice occurs on or around 21 June, and marks the point where the sun appears highest in the sky. This is due to the axial tilt of the earth as it orbits the sun throughout the year. On the Summer Solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is most inclined to the sun, and therefore receives the most light, making it the longest day and shortest night of the year.

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin sol sistere, meaning “the sun stands still”, as it indeed appears to do in the sky, leading to up to 15 hours of daylight. The Summer Solstice is celebrated by cultures around the world, from Scandinavia to Japan, and is perhaps the most prominent festival in modern Paganism.

Druid at Stonehenge. Image from BBC

Druid at Stonehenge. Image from BBC

Here in Britain, the Solstice is observed by Druid rites at Stonehenge, which can draw crowds of thousands of interested spectators, both Pagan and non-Pagan alike. Hutton writes that around this time “Midsummer bonfires, with much the same rituals” have been recorded in Britain since at least the 12th century CE, though these are probably continuations of much older traditions.

The Summer Solstice is usually placed at the south on the Pagan Wheel of the Year, and its themes are “growth, fruitfulness, abundance, and strength” (Higginbotham). According to Philip Carr-Gomm, the Summer Solstice, also called Alban Hefin (the light of the shore) in traditional British Druidry, is a time to “open ourselves to realising our dreams and working in the arena of the outer world”.

Within the Norse tradition, the Summer Solstice is a day of celebrating community, and is often marked as sacred to Sunna, the goddess who can be seen as the personification of the sun itself. Our Own Druidry states that the Summer Solstice is “among the larger of the Norse High Days”.

The weather at this time of year tends to be warm and dry, and crops are growing strong in the fields. It is a time to rest and take stock, but it also marks the hinge of the year, when the days begin to get shorter and the light wanes as we move inexorably on to Autumn.

References:

ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.

Carr-Gomm, Philip. Druid mysteries: ancient wisdom for the 21st century. London: Rider, 2002.

Higginbotham, Joyce and River. Paganism: an introduction to earth-centered religions. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2008.

Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the sun: a history of the ritual year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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Nature Awareness 2

Image by Matt Buck on Flickr (CC2.0)

Image by Matt Buck on Flickr (CC2.0)

I’ve been spending time in nature as part of the DP for about 18 weeks now, and it has been wonderful watching the seasons change and seeing the different behaviour of animals, the migrating birds and the blooming flowers and trees.

This week’s nature awareness exercise is about considering ecology, becoming aware of my relationship to nature and its interconnectedness on a much larger scale. So, The Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year gives a set of questions to answer. They’re quite long, so are below the cut:

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