As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become somewhat allergic to the devotional current in which many pagan and polytheistic bloggers seem to swim. Turning over your free will to something without a body (god, spirit, ancestor, whatever), just because it doesn’t have a body, makes me break out in a rash. However, my limited time exploring devotional polytheism also left me with a respect for the dedication and work put into those practices. The trick is to remain vigilant against devotion as an indulgence in untreated mental illness (something not unique to pagans/polytheists, I might add).
Still, I find it grounding and enlivening to give offerings to the various gods and spirits with whom I work. I adhere to the premise that the gods are distinct and individual beings. I believe that many gods, particularly within the Celto-Germanic cultures, share titles and functions while remaining separate beings. I believe that the land on which one lives will influence the manifestations of one’s gods. And I also believe that if one is going to mix pantheons, then there has to be a sound underlying reason and/or logic for it.
Recently, I’ve been feeling inspired by the Welsh pantheon, which I had sadly drifted away from after being part of a rather toxic grove early in my druidic explorations. Part of this renewed interest is doubtless due to the work I’ve been doing with Cerridwen since November 2013. Even when I had fully immersed myself within the Vanatru paradigm, there were always a couple of Welsh gods hanging around, keeping an eye on things.
I’ve been playing around with a calendar for adoration/veneration/devotion for a while now. Most of the gods in my practice are Welsh: Arianrhod, Gwydion, Gwynn ap Nudd, Llew, Dôn, and Cerridwen. However, I have two “outliers” as it were: Brigantia and Wayland the Smith. Now, Brigantia can be considered a goddess of the Britons, so I feel that she is fine working alongside the later Welsh deities. Wayland on the other hand…
One of my own failings is that I really like consistency. I would love to have all my gods and spirits lined up in nice, neat, tidy niches in my own personal temple. We all know that rarely happens. But I began wondering if perhaps I had been confused all these years, that it wasn’t Wayland that I should be honoring, but Gofannon.
So I did what every good pagan ex-researcher does when they encounter a spiritual quandry: I started browsing through JStor for links between Wayland and Gofannon.
I found an interesting 2008 article by Václav Blazek, “Celtic ‘Smith’ and his Colleagues,” which attempts to make linguistic connections between the various Celtic names for the divine smith and his counterparts in other IE cultures. He ends his article by noting that there are strong etymological links between the Latin (Italic) and Celtic designations, as well as a promising cognate in Old Lithuanian (80). Sadly, the connection that Blazek really has trouble making is between the Germanic and the Celtic, saying that there are “too many alternative solutions” (80).
When the curious run out of academic sources, it’s time to resort to intuition.
Since I was traveling for work and hadn’t packed my tarot deck or runes, I resorted to dowsing. I used my hammer and anvil necklace as the pendulum and asked the following series of questions.
Q: Can I call Wayland by Gofannon?
A: Yes (weak).
Q: Is Wayland the same being as Gofannon?
Q: Should I be honoring Gofannon?
A: No (weak).
Q: Should I be honoring Wayland?
The takeaway? In this case, having a random Anglo-Saxon god in the mix seems to be ok, even to the point where it would be ok to call him by another being’s name if it kept up our connection. I’m still going to call him Wayland though. There’s just too much good history there for me to change it for consistency’s sake. My suspicion is that both Wayland and Brigantia are more tribal gods for me, as much of the remaining evidence for their worship comes from the areas in which my father’s family originated.
So, the snapshot of my theology today is 3/4 Welsh (11th century or later), 1/4 Briton (5th century). Spirituality becomes just that much more tangled when the dimension of time is added, doesn’t it?
In the Tree Ogham, Ngetal is associated with the reeds that grow at the water’s edge. I envy their flexibility, undaunted by rough winds or frozen ponds. Indeed, Aesop remarked on their strength in the fable of The Oak and the Reeds. Who is mightier, the yielding or the unbending?
Still, suppleness is a quality for which to strive this month. There is much change around me: family structure, house sale, job juggling…keeping all these balls in the air requires lightness of foot and mind.
Reed is also a healing plant in my mind, closely associated with Brigantia’s more watery aspects. If I can remain flexible, it will bring a different sort of mending to my life, letting the scabs slough off the wounds, and massaging the scars to make them pliable.
The pagan community needs fewer leaders.
As usual, scandal has set the ol’ brain to boiling—in this case the allegations against Kenny Klein. Happily, I came across these thoughtful posts by Yvonne Aburrow and Sarah Lawless (an oldy but goody), which made me consider this idea again, that we actually suffer from too many leaders rather than a dearth.
Throughout the blogosphere I read, “We need more teachers!” Or, “We need to train the High Priestesses and Grove Fathers of tomorrow!” Or, worst of all, “We want everyone to be a leader!”*
No. No, we really don’t.
First of all, not everyone can, should, or wants to be a leader. That’s fine, and frankly, it’s the natural order of things. Leaders provide the public face of a group—having a single point of contact is a proven way to interact effectively with the broader culture. With any luck, a pagan/polytheist leader will also converse with leaders from other spiritual traditions and with government as necessary. They spearhead events, found publishing houses, and raise temples. They have tough, tough jobs, and frankly, I don’t envy them.
However, we have plenty of people for the leadership role already. The problem is not that we need newer, better, more leaders (with frickin’ lazer beams!). The problem is that we need to support the ones we do have. And part of that support includes calling our beloved elders on their shit.
This brings me to my main point: what we desperately do need are good betas.
Often called second-in-commands, or right-hands (or left-hands if you’re a Themelite), these are the people who can act as both assistant to and conscience for our leaders. This requires a certain strength all its own, one that is not generally fostered or recognized in our communities. Betas aren’t flashy. There’s little name recognition for them. A good beta must not be a yes-man or -woman to the resident alpha or Big Name Pagan. They know the rules of the group, and will enforce them equally across the board.
So how do we encourage betas? I wish I had a good answer for that. I think the most important thing is to realize that they are not simply failed alphas. They have their own skill sets that need to be nurtured. Often, betas are the people that the a group member will feel most comfortable approaching if they have a problem. This is where betas can use the most support, in learning how to receive accusations against other group members and not automatically dismiss them because of a power differential. With them rests the responsibility for ensuring that complaints are heard and survivors/victims are supported, especially if those complaints are against a community leader or BNP. The beta is in that rare position of being able to call out a community leader when they’ve violated the rules of the group. It can be with kindness and love, but it still must be done for the bonds of trust within the community to remain strong.
Coming back to the opening sentence of this post, “The pagan community needs fewer leaders,” when accusations are brought, the accuser needs to feel heard and respected regardless of whom they are accusing. If the accuser wants to, support them in filing charges with the authorities. If those accusations are substantiated and convictions are made, we need to act to remove the convicted from positions of leadership within our communities—let’s take a lesson from the Catholics here, and not cover up abuse when it happens.
If supporting survivors means that means we end up with a lack of leaders for a little while, so be it. I’ll take fewer leaders and BNPs of quality over the alternative any day.
*To be clear, if you are solitary, then by default you have sovereignty over your practice. The whole “every man is a priest, every woman is a priestess” (filched from Martin Luther, by the way) is absolutely true when it comes to personal practice, or practice within a family unit—take ye olde pater familias model for example.
Back at the beginning of the year, I drew twelve cards from an ogham deck, one for each month. This is the second year in a row that I’ve done this, but I want to really look at what flavor each “tree” has given its month. March has been kind to me, with a second dark moon coming up on the 30th. So I’ll take advantage of that and do a little catching up on the ogham posts that I’ve been meaning to do.
Gort or ivy was what came up for this month. Traditionally, Gort is a few of the tilled fields as well as of the ivy plant. It represents tenacity and the ever upward search that humanity seems to be compelled to carry out. The past several weeks have definitely tested my grit, as it were: starting a new job, building a client base, commuting 300-plus miles each week—all these things have required an ivy-like stubbornness to see through to the end. Back in January, a fellow Ovate shared some of his spectacular ivy with me. It’s been an important touchstone (touchbranch?), and a reminder that growth isn’t always in a straight line.
Happy Vernal Equinox! I think I heard the first “official” spring peeper this morning. However, being one of those snow-lovers, it’s been bitter-sweet to watch the glaciers recede in parking lots and on lawns. Their retreat leaves behind all manner of debris, a miniature echo of the glacial processes of the last ice ages. The archaeologist in me wonders what the current glacial retreat will reveal–probably not the plastic shovels and swords of the early 21st century, but maybe still something interesting.
Since I’m traveling, I won’t be dyeing eggs like I had planned (that’ll be next week), but I will be outside, standing on one foot with one arm behind my back and one eye closed, in balance at the moment of balance.