and the word was Poetry.
I found Bragi, before I had finished my first book, and was still lost in a maze of web links supplied by a knowledgeable friend. I understood the difference between the Æsir and the Vanir, in the most general terms: sky and earth, the realms of powers and fertility, an ancient conflict settled by the exchange of hostages, or was it settled? The earth is still subject to the capricious skies, sun and rain, wind and storm, drought and cold. But I digress. I do that; a lot. You will grow used to it or go away.
In my house I had a mostly disused and dusty syncretic altar, a mish mash of religions and appropriated saints and personal heroes with scattered candles and a bowl for incense. There were stones of no intrinsic worth except their mysterious attraction. There was a friend’s gifted tarot deck I didn’t care for when I tried it and the tarot did not speak to me. There was for a long time a medicine bundle made from Crow, gifted to my friend by her Navaho teacher and gifted to me when Crow began to call to me through my poetry.
“Lay me out
naked as I came
& I’ll Fly Away
I still saluted the crows when they called, bowing my head with my fist in what I didn’t recognize as a hammer salute, the movie’s idea of a Roman legionaire’s salute. I didn’t light the candles much anymore. The medicine bundle had gone to my daughter after talking with my friend, to protect my child from a malicious haunting I suspected was my own dead brother. (Drama. We do drama. You will grow used to it or go away).
I was drifting, away from the Green Man whose circlet picture stood atop the altar wall’s pyramid of images, higher than old One Eyed Jack lord of my beloved corvus, higher than the White Tara. The man in the wood. You may wonder why I am here at this solitary hearth if I cherish the man in the wood, and am not romping with the Wiccans, doing as I will so it harm none. It is because I am insatiably curious, and often search the internet for ancient and pagan sources of modern holidays. I know Yule well enough but fell into Frau Holle for reasons I don’t recall. (I often don’t recall; a cognitive disturbance. You will grow used to it or go away).
Outside my house on the north wall, facing the street and practially in in my urban house just below the window where I sit to write, is a small shelf that annually holds The Shrine of Jazz and Heritage, a few photos and a place for speakers with which I regale the visitors to the annual Jazz Festival across the street with real jazz, not the pop artists on the main stages they have probably come to hear. There is a bowl of sand for joss sticks if you wish to remember the artists who have passed on that I honor.
I put up a tiny altar to Frau Holle this past Yule/Christmas tide. A picture, a sprig of greenery taken from a tree on my daily walk, an electric candle. I found myself explaining to my German neighbor up the street how I came to have a figure from her Continental childhood on the shelf in front of my house, and mumbled something about honoring my German ancestors, for I am not really sure why I did it.
I found myself at Carnival (you might call it Imbolc, as they fell close together this year), once again searching the internet to remind myself of the pagan roots of Carnival. These I thought I understood, had researched in the past the ties to Roman Saturnalia, the wild festival that happens to fall in winter awfully close to Christmas. I am not precisely sure how Carnival emerged, except that the church frowned upon the revelries converted northerners put on for their twelve nights. Out of this, somehow, Carnival popped out between Christian Twelth Night and Lent. There is a tradition in the most prominent and solemn of parades, that of Rex, the king of Carnival, of a figure of a white bullock draped in flowers that precedes the rest of the parade of floats from which riders toss trinkets representing wealth. This bullock is attributed by the knowledgeable about Carnival to the Romans, as everything in the West seems to come from the Church by way of Rome by way of Greece by way of the East, be that Mesopotamia or Egypt. Take your pick.
That was when I found an image of Nerthus being drawn in her cart by white bullocks, and I thought of the oldest of parading groups (called krewes) which still build their floats upon old wooden carts. Somewhere a bell rang, and the next thing I knew I was reading everything I could find about Nerthus Germanicus and wandering into the realm of the& Æsir and Vanir, the Vættir and the other spectral forces of the Northern Cosmology.
I arranged a small altar to Nerthus on the shelf on the north front of my house, right upon the street. (The printed picture was not drapped, but the figure it in was not either, and I wanted to depict what looked like an unknown root of Carnival to the world, the cart of a goddess drawn by a white bullock).
I had stumbled, somehow, into the world of heathenism, or if you will Asatru. I promptly wrote a dear old friend who is a practitioner and prominent figure in the Bay Area pagan community, who was busy preparing for Pantheacon but managed to send me a long set of links and direction to read her good friend Diane Paxton’s Essential Astaru. That was not available on Kindle so I ordered a copy new and discounted from Abe Books, and selected another volume from Amazon available on Kindle, Patricia M. Lafayllve’s A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru which I devoured in two sittings.
Bragi, we seem to have forgotten about Bragi. I think I mentioned I was a poet and writer, or at least suggested it at the start of this post. In Lafayllve’s book I found Bragi, and taking my friend’s caution to be careful about Odin in a flurry of abrupt emails as she prepared to leave, I found in him a figure of poetry who kept Old One Eye’d Jack’s special mead, and was on his own a skald god and skald to the gods.
And before my friend left for Pantheacon, I wrote this, which more than my little, public altars marked my start down the path of Asatru and heathenism.
Bless this vessel
its earth-hued ale
our gift from Aegir
Born of the grain
out of the earth
into our hands
gift from the earth
gift of the Gods
gift to the poets
may this blessed elixir
grant the skald gift
to my humble prayer.”
Lady of the season
Mother of litters
Womb of all fruits
bless [my friend]
& all of her tribe
that they may be
closer to their chosen
dressed in ritual
gifted with wisdom
by a fruitful Pantheacon.”
And this is how we come to be sitting at my solitary hearth, friend, because something has brought you here, because we are on the same path to the North, learning the same faith, marveling in nature and drawn to the Vanir and Vættir. Have your come to teach me, or to learn something of what little I know? Have you come to rescue me from my solitary hearth, to lead me toward kindred? No hurry. Sit. Have a drink. Can I fix you something to eat? No, that’s not my chair, that is the comfortable chair, and you are my guest. Please. Sit.