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In most neo-pagan traditions today, a woman’s life is divided into three phases, Maiden, or pre-children; Mother and Crone, post-children.
My important disclaimer:Because most women in the West are no longer defining themselves by their relationship to men or children, the Maiden/Mother/Crone model may be uncomfortable or offensive to some. Women in our time and space are amazing forces in the universe based on their own accomplishments. This article is not meant to demean, dismiss or diminish any one else’s experience. One of the reasons I’m writing this is because a re-imagining of age and aging as well as the lives of women is necessary in the neo-pagan and Norse community. I’m just starting from here, because here is where I am.
For a long time, to be called a crone was an insult. The very word implied a wrinkled, hunchbacked old woman, unwanted and unloved. Women who had reached an advanced age were dismissed as useless hags, and there was nothing to celebrate about it at all. But times are changing, and more and more women are welcoming this aspect of their life.
However, this doesn’t hold true for most Norse practitioners. In Kvedulf Gundarsson’s book Teutonic Religion( an extremely influential book for me) he writes:
There is no goddess who can be seen as a “crone” figure. Societies in which a Crone exists are societies which cast a woman out of the social structure as soon as she can no longer bear children and is thus no longer useful to men; the old witch makes dark magics partially because she is free of social strictures and male rule, partially because she has no other recourse or position of strength left to her. In the Teutonic tradition, on the other hand, whether a mother is bearing children or not, she remains a mother and the mistress of the home. Even where frightening witch-figures appear in the North, whether in sagas, Eddic poetry, or folklore, their first concern is always for their children, on whose behalf their most terrifying magics are worked; their fierceness is that of the protective mother, boding ill only for those who threaten their bairns.
When I first read this, I was a young mother and agreed. Gundarsson was/is a formidable scholar of Norse faith, and at that point in my life, I couldn’t imagine my role as mother changing.
However, I’m no longer a young mother, I am an old one. My only child is grown and mostly gone. While I find I will always be a mother, concerned for my son’s health and welfare, my role has changed from protector to advisor.
When a child is small, infant to competently verbal, as a mother you spend most of your time trying to make sure they don’t die.You spend most of your waking moments and some of your sleeping ones on this goal. I spent most of my time channeling my son’s curiousity(What does this taste like? Can I run faster than that big dog chasing me? What does the glowing thing on the stove feel like?) The magic I was most inclined to use was the alarm kind, wards of various types to warn me when he was going to run out in front of a car or when his crying meant he was ill and not just frightened or bored.
When a child is competently verbal to grown to your size, as a mother you spend most of your time trying to make sure he/she understands what he/she has to do to make sure he/she doesn’t die. You spend most of your waking moments and a few of your sleeping ones on this goal. I spent most of my time satisfying my son’s curiousity, explaining why poisons are deadly, when a dog is dangerous versus when a dog is excited, why fire is hot. The magic I used during this period was more of the passive kind, a hyper-awareness of when he was going to ask a question. I also said “I don’t know” a lot. Encyclopedias then Google were my best friends.
When a child is grown to your size and larger, as a mother you spend most of your time listening to your child’s interpretation of the information you’ve given him/her, as well as what he/she has learned from other places, and check it for flaws that might kill him/her. You spend fewer and fewer of your waking moments and few of your sleeping moments on this goal, because if they haven’t learned it by now, it takes drastic measures to teach it. The magic I used during this period was more of the sifting kind(Does he really believe that he can’t be poisoned? That he can outrun any old dog? That fire is a state of mind rather than a physical reality?)
Then comes the day your child moves out of your home, on his/her way to college or marriage or career. Your job of keeping them alive is done. If you’ve done your job well, they will survive and build an independent, happy, healthy life. And if you haven’t done your job well, too late now. You can and will give him/her advice, but you no longer have the moral/ethical/legal/economic power to influence his/her behavior.
When you’ve spent so much time keeping a child alive, when they’ve gone, you’re looking for something to do.
When you’ve gained so much experience, you have wisdom to share.
So, back to mother/crone. It is Gunnora Hallakarva’s position in Teutonic Religion that “We don’t need a Crone-figure, because Norse/Teutonic women are not feared and are allowed (relatively) lots of social power via economy, marriage, social role, laws, sexual freedom, etc.”
I’m not arguing the historical accuracy. What I am going to question is the emotional accuracy of that statement for practitioners today. Because Gundarsson’s definition is still based in your relationship to men and children. Both definitions look upon crone as a negative. And neither definition gives recognition of a very important, and with the advances in medical technology, longer phase of life. I’m leaning toward sage or wise myself, but will take suggestions.
Your mileage will most certainly vary.
In the November link roundup I mentioned that December 6th was this year’s Colorado Gives Day. Thanks to everyone who participated, they have raised $12 million in donations for local nonprofits this year.
One of the challenges in today’s urban society is staying healthy. Many of us have jobs that do not require significant strength or movement or that really exercise our bodies (though they may wear down our bodies or our minds in different ways). We have jobs that confine us to a chair, that involve typing at a keyboard or answering a phone and then we end up going home and, for many US Americans at the least, and sit around surfing the internet or watching television, none of which is good for our health.
At the same time we are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages. Fad diets and eating disorders, and
ideal body images that are in no way
ideal. We have parents obsessing over these things to the point of leading their children to eating disorders, or giving them such damaging advice as that–for a young male who is working out–1000 calories a day is more than enough.
Then this is contrasted against the 970 calorie Baconator® Double from Wendy’s. Add +420 calories from a medium of the natural cut fries and 240 calories for a medium coke and you nearly a full day’s worth of calories… and more than two days worth of sodium.
Eating healthy has become a significant challenge, and the amount of noise out there for trying to eat a nutritious diet is ridiculously high. The same is also true when we get into exercise: fad workouts (many of which don’t work or are downright destructive), obsessions over a particular body type or shape, obsessions over changing the way we look, expensive gym memberships, and a myriad of conflicting distractions, concepts, and goals. We find personal trainers who believe that the correct way to
motivate someone is to yell and otherwise make their client suffer.
As occultists–and especially as spirit workers–one of the things I firmly believe is that we need to work on improving our health where we can, in the areas that we can. We tend to have so many things that are outside of our control when it comes to our health–including chronic illness (both physical and psychological) and disability–that it just makes sense to work on improving in those areas that we do have some control over.
At the same time, being unhealthy can negatively impact our ability to function as occultists. It can lead to an inability to focus. It can impact our ability to channel our Will toward a task or project. Meanwhile, there is significant evidence that even a moderate amount of exercise can dramatically help a variety of issues such as depression and anxiety.
What we are going to do–both in terms of where we start and where we are going–is going to be a little different for everyone and there is no single
one size fits all approach. Just like with optimum functionality health exists on a relative scale, not in cleanly defined boxes of
unhealthy. To quote Meirya:
Some people can’t function in their society; that’s what disability benefits are intended for (however poorly implemented they may be). Sometimes the causes of the lower functionality are not fully treatable, and the person will never be able to functionnormallyin their society. And that’s okay.
When I talk about seeking and improving functionality, I mean your optimal level and mode of functioning. It may look very different from Joe College Student or Jill Businesswoman – their optimal functionality is in a different place than yours.
Everyone’s challenges are going to be different here. Most of what I am going to write on this subject is largely applicable to those who are like me or those who I work with the most, since that forms the base of my experience, but I already know that what I write on this topic is not going to work for everyone or may need to be adapted. This is more about the journey and the process of mindfulness and incremental improvement than it is about any specific destination. Feel free to take what works for you in my writings on this topic, since your milage will most certainly vary.
This is a revised and expanded version of a previous essay.
One of the first things that one comes across when researching deities and mystical paths are various associations. What color is used for this goddess? What elements? What symbols, runes, and astrological signs represent her? Which numbers? Can she be tied into the Tree of Life?
When I first started learning the elements, some of the first questions asked were of the form
What types of rocks do you associate with air?
It can get truly baffling and in many respects is wholly ahistorical in nature from our perspective as Norse Occultists–associations were likely made, but probably not in the way they are being made today. There is a history of associations being made in this way which tracks alongside occultist groups such as the Order of the Golden Dawn, and we can see table after table of associations in the work of their members, many of which we still use today for our own work. In group practice these associations start to shine, since they can facilitate everyone drawing the exact same meaning from the symbol in a ritual setting, contributing to the power of the symbol.
Unfortunately, associations–while everywhere–have been increasingly losing their relevance and meaning to many practitioners. We run into the immediate danger of treating a Deity as merely a set of associations and abstractions: Call Freyja for your love problems! Trouble with leadership? Go see Zeus! Need victory in your upcoming business meeting? Odin’s your man! Numerous books, guides, and tables seem to feel that the best way to summarize Odin is to give him a neatly compartmentalized domain, a color, and an astrological association.
Beyond being disrespectful, this superficial trap demonstrates a lack of proper education and training in the mystical arts. This is the problem that Dion Fortune alluded to in The Mystical Qabalah when she said:
It is this lack of training which makes popular occultism so very apt to degenerate into the crudest superstition. “Your number in your name” becomes a different thing when we understand the mathematical Qabalah; fortunes in tea-cups are another matter when we understand the significance of the Magical Images and the method of their formulation and interpretation as a psychological device for penetrating the veil of the unconscious.
We see this crop up in a variety of places. Many people confuse astrology with “what’s your sign” and see divination as something one does for fun while getting wholly caught up in the Forer Effect. They either lock themselves into the pattern of magic (does it have to be a green candle?) or go to the other extreme to the point where they seem to think vague intention is sufficient by itself. To quote the Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis:
When the patient is an adult recently re-converted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part. […] That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.
A deeper understanding of the Mysteries virtually requires the use of associations, for they are part of how the mind understands an abstract. By linking chains of associations, the mind can reach startling and amazing conclusions and develop a much deeper understanding of the world around us. Symbols and associations build on one another to allow us to understand one abstract concept in terms of another, and to understand on a deeper level the properties of an object. They can also be used, as The Chicken Qabalah recommends, to bend one’s perceptions until they break in order to gain deeper levels of understanding.
For a more concrete example of how this can work, let’s look at an example of an association in Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner by Krasskova and Kaldera. In the appendix they talk about “Deity Altars and Offerings.” These aren’t the same kinds of
tables of associations I was referring to earlier, but beyond their Divine uses they serve a similar purpose. The book mentions that sea-green is a color for Rán and mentions things like shells and gold coins are good choices for the altar (for some reason driftwood seems like a really good idea at the moment too). Beyond the obvious divine implications, placing these on the altar helps set the mind and triggers one’s thoughts of Rán when they look at it, it sets the mood and helps shift the mind. Given our cultural and collective associations, it wouldn’t be a far leap for someone who had never heard of Rán to look at such an altar and think
goddess of the sea.
Similarly, if I put fluorite on my altar everyone in my group will immediately think
air (and not just air, but a particular form thereof) and by considering that association–why we feel that way, what does it imply, etc–we can come to understand both the metaphysical properties of
The human mind has an amazing associative ability. We can associate a key word with an emotional pattern; a scent with a time, place, or even a state of mind; or a symbol with concepts that we can scarcely begin to put into words. This is the power of associations and on why meditating regularly on those associations helps us as occultists. It is also part of why so many occult paths use associations on some level to help foster understanding, and part of what makes the writings of some occultists seem like they are speaking in code due to the multiple layers of associations they are employing to try and explain a concept. To quote The Mystical Qabalah
Each symbol, moreover, admits of interpretation upon the different planes, and through its astrological associations can be related to the gods of any pantheon, thus opening up vast new fields of implication in which the mind ranges endlessly, symbol leading on to symbol in an unbroken chain of associations; symbol confirming symbol as the many-branching threads gather themselves together into a synthetic glyph once more, and each symbol capable of interpretation in terms of whatever plane the mind may be functioning upon.
This mighty, all-embracing glyph of the soul of man and of the universe, by virtue of its logical association of symbols, evokes images in the mind; but these images are not randomly evolved, but follow along well-defined association-tracks in the Universal Mind.
This applies regardless of our foundation: be it the Tree of Life, the gods, or the Nine Worlds, by building these associations and meditating on them we can develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of the workings of the universe and our own mind. It is important, however, to keep in mind that what is important about a symbol is not that it is written down in some old book: it is a living thing that the consideration of is more important than merely following by rote.
Thoughts and prayers for the people in Turkey (who recently suffered a 7.2 earthquake in one of the poorer sections), and Thailand (who have been experiencing continual severe flooding). I’m seeing if I can put aid information together for them now.