December 14, 2009

Hail and Merry Yuletide Misrule: The "Bust a Nut" Sorcerous Working

Just in time for the Holy Yuletide season, I have come to share this tiny, fun sorcerous technique of aggression sublimation in a brotherly spirit of help and cheer. This little working is easy to use, and very effective on many psychic levels.

I am a great fan of walnuts- they are my favorite nuts- and this time of year seems to bring them out in huge bags at the market. I always keep a bag around the house, and an earthenware bowl piled high. I have this big black stone that I keep near the bowl (I can never seem to keep up with nutcrackers) and so I use that stone to smash the nuts open.

Living in the world that we do, any person of even partial world-awareness will become familiar with the countless people that they just don't want to be around, or even to share their world with. You know the types- those strange people who think that anyone but them is destined for an eternal hell; those oddballs who think that birth control is somehow evil, and feel the need to stop people in other countries who badly need it from getting it by subscribing to "abstinence only" programs, thus directly creating death and misery from thousands of more transmissions of STD's and thousands and millions more unwanted pregnancies.

You know them! Remember those odd people who think that it's okay to immigrate into prosperous Western countries from eastern toilets and take advantage of Western liberties, while seeking to overthrow those same liberties? Or those famous, bizarre people who think that there's somehow really only one God, and that thousands of years of animistic and polytheistic civilizations before ours were hopelessly misguided, superstitious and demonic? Stop grinning- YOU KNOW who I'm talking about. You've seen them all over.

Open your heart, now, in the spirit of this season, and embrace the troubles these people bring to us all. Really see the misery that they author. That human misery is your misery, too.

The Yuletide always brings the very best of these nithing fools out, for most of the people you don't want anywhere near you or your family will tend to get on TV or in the local papers screaming about "Keeping Christ in Christmas" or some such. While we're bringing trees into our houses and continuing on our ancient tree-worship, eating the traditional Yule-boar in the form of a Ham, and waiting for a generous and jolly miracle man (who flies through the air all around the world drawn by animals, has elf-helpers, and comes from the cold north) and other such ancient Christian practices and beliefs, let's take time to realize how irrelevant our Heathen ancestors are to this time.

As these frustrations and special holiday joys build, we may reach a point where we need a little release. And this, my friends in the Dark Season, is why Wyrd the Mighty, working hand-in-hand with Great Nature, gave us walnuts!

The next time you realize just how much you wish Eastern extremists didn't exist, or Western fundies (or the patriarchal, woman-repressing, gay-hating, and plurality-denying philosophies that made these people possible in the first place) or the next time you have to endure Republicans on the television set, or even certain Democrats, or the scores of other people that make you ashamed to be human, get a walnut and your own big stone.

Place the walnut on the table before you on a wooden cutting board carved well with signs of wrath and chastisement, and visualize that knobby brown thing not as a walnut, but the head of one of these people who have worked so hard to spoil your world and destroy the sense, reason, and joy that is natural to mankind. You have to slip into the role here, get into the visualization of it.

I find that it helps if you imagine the (presumably confused) new "face" on the walnut-head looking around in a slightly disoriented way, before fear of you- standing over it with a stone- creeps into its wide little eyes. Oh, the helplessness of the little demon tumor!

Then smash the hell out of it with your stone. Smack it a few times; get pieces of shell flying across the table. That's not walnut shell! It's skull fragment! Freshly flown, warm with life fading! Funny thing- a walnut's insides (the delicious part you eat) looks squiggly and sorta like a brain. I like to give a good cackle of laughter when I'm done, and sometimes while I'm smashing away- it's good to slip into the mirth of this time of year.

You can feel free to embellish this minor little Holiday technique all you like- some people (like myself) sometimes make a small container of ember-hallowed water with a pinch of salt, and baptize the little walnut-heads in the name of the person or group they are intending to smash the life out of, before they proceed to the gnashing, cackling, and crushing. A little ceremony never hurt this seasonal fun!

The final part of the operation is, of course, to consume the brains of your defeated foes. This is important, as you absorb their power into yourself. No longer can they use it to unsettle and punish our world under the force of their thoughtless ignorance; now, it passes into you, in a gore-smeared Yuletide feast of busted nuts, so that you can transmute it into the simple goodness and peace that our world really desires. Sorcery can be so very uplifting, if one simply understands the beauty and simplicity of the entire process. The power of the Yuletide season helps in these sorts of workings.

I now make this small working of Mirth and Misrule my gift, in this hallowed time, to you. I share it with my children on these silent and holy nights; I hope you will pass it on to yours.

A very glad Yule-tide to you all, and lasting woe betide those whose faces or group-spirit you conjure into the Walnuts from the nut-brown bowl this night!

Sincerely, Your RA

December 4, 2009

Cold, Hard World: Spiritual Maturity in our Personal Paths

If your religious journey begins with unrealistic beliefs and expectations, it will end in disillusionment. The end is always in the beginning, and the beginning at the end. It has been pointed out how delicate a time a beginning truly is- and today, in our world of recently liberated people striking out onto new spiritual paths, beginnings are a very important matter.

How it begins says everything about how it ends. I don't guess many people want to hear this, because many had difficulties at the start of their path. But new beginnings are always in the sieve of possibilities. Don't cling to a doomed path; the beginning will reveal to you something about the end.

These sentences are a strange way to start a letter about realistic spirituality, but crucial to my later point. Those of us who have embarked on the "lesser known" paths through the forest of spiritual experience- which is the forest of life- have to watch ourselves and our paths carefully. We have all seen how the people on the "well known" paths fare in this world- we have all seen disillusionment, and probably felt it ourselves. But did we ever really question why so many people end up being disappointed or put into intolerable quandaries after faithfully following their religions?

I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading and walking about in this late fall. It's gotten very cold, and we are expecting our first real snow tomorrow evening. It's below freezing every night, and has been for weeks. There have been flurries of snow, and ice on the roads. The glorious colorful blaze of the autumn leaves is gone now, and, aside from the evergreens, everything is straw or brown. The world is turning harsh- your hands go numb if you don't wear gloves outside; your body begins to shiver and feel weak at times. The sun vanishes by 4 PM every day, leaving behind an impenetrable darkness in the countryside where I live. There's less light, less activity, and just... quiet.

The entire environment lends itself to the sort of pondering I've been doing. I've studied a lot of religious, down to very exacting details. I've chosen for myself the religious path that I felt most drawn to, and I have excelled in its power, gained a lot from its poetic story for this world. But I have encountered, in this land, the most recent "round" of stories from an ancient people that I have found, and a people to whom I am ancestrally related- the Mi'kmaq. I have no intention of seeking out some membership in the Mi'kmaq community; the collection of their sacred stories and essays on their worldview which I have collected, is blessing enough for me.

Before I came to this home, I had never even thought twice about the Mi'kmaq. I certainly knew nothing of their ancient beliefs. But in the time I have studied it, I have discovered so much wisdom and power, it seems that my journey here was intended for deeper reasons. By studying the organic ways and perspectives of these great people, I have seen finally why my religious life turned out the way it did. I know why I was attracted to organic polytheistic and animistic religions.

I would say that the spirit in me was comfortable with nothing else. But I can bring it up a detail level- the spirit in me couldn't accept that the entire world and universe was really all about human beings, and that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent power was "holding us all in his hands."

I have come to see now, clearer than I ever have, the flaw in the thinking of the Christians and monotheists who truly think that the "all good, all powerful" man-god will protect them and make everything perfect one day in the future. Before now, this idea had just seemed like fanciful wishful thinking; but now I know how wishful it really is.

I recently acquired a superb book by Professor Mary Lefkowitz, called "Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths." It is an excellent overview of what the ancient Greek and Romans believed about the Gods, and what their religion told them about human life, and the relationship of the Gods to humans. Like any classicist worth the name, Lefkowitz points out that the ancient Polytheists didn't live in a world that contained any religious guarantees.

That's right- the Gods lived their Godly lives, and mortals lived their lives, and sometimes- just sometimes- the two overlapped. The Gods on Olympus dwelled in pleasure and peace; to take a human form and come to this earth, in response to a prayer from a favored mortal, or to take some direct action in the unfolding of things, was not a very common event. Humans could give gifts to the Gods that the Gods would be grateful for- but even if a God favored a certain person or group, there was no guarantee that this God could spare them suffering; one God's will could be contravened by the will of a more powerful God, and then, despite the care the original God felt for others, nothing could be done. There were simply no guarantees. There was a good bit of certainty that the Gods would reciprocate to the worshipers what gifts were given, but the reciprocation wasn't an exact science, either.

Humans died and didn't go happily among the Gods, at least not in Greek and Roman belief; they went to a shadowy, quiet underworld. Some there might be blessed to be happy, and some cursed to be miserable because of extraordinarily wicked deeds in life, but in general, the mighty and the lowly went to the same dark rest. That's that. That's it. And for millennia, people were content to believe these things. Humans were promised nothing in particular by the Gods; humans were very much left to their own devices. What they discovered was that their greatest strength was each other- humans had to rely on one another greatly in those days. Your family was your best strength and your greatest comfort.

Christians today scratch their heads at this and wonder why anyone would want to see the world in such a way. Why give up the comfort of the all-powerful loving God that cares about each person, individually, and who will put all evil to rights one day?

The answer to them is simple- no one who believed as the Greeks believed was "giving up anything", because such a God doesn't exist. That's not how reality works. Such beliefs in cosmic omnibenevolence are as much wishful thinking now as they were when Christianity first spread out across the ancient world. And the attestation of many ancient peoples- beginning with the Polytheists of old Europe- reveals that the worldview of "no guarantees" was once the nearly universal worldview of the organic spiritual world. I can understand how the "everything's going to be okay" story could be an attractive sell to the sentimental or dull people of ancient times (or today) but enough is enough!

I had to stop, freezing in the cold in these long evenings, and look at it directly, perhaps for the very first time. None of my Pagan European Ancestors ever said "The Gods will make it all okay." In fact, my northern Ancestors had Gods who perished eventually, struggling at the end of the world-cycle with the forces of destruction- forces who won the last battle and ended all things.

For the Greeks and Romans, the Gods led separate lives that didn't include, as their first priority, the well-being of each individual human, or sometimes, large groups of humans. The Mi'kmaq native peoples had a worldview of "power" in which the world was seen as a great mass of constantly transforming power- precisely the same as the Wyrd of the Heathens- forces interacting and changing and transforming, eternally.

Within that kaleidoscope of power, some patterns of power gained consciousness and became "persons"- humans were just one. Animals were others; spirits were others; there were many non-human persons. But within this system, even though it was all sprung from a "greatest power" called Ukji Mn'Tu, there were no "guarantees" of how life was going to be for anyone. Spirits could befriend humans, and humans spirits; but spirits were neither "good" nor "evil", but both, just like humans. Mood and circumstances could lead any sort of person, human or otherwise, to act in a destructive or selfish way at certain times, and in a benevolent way at others. The "highest power" was a mysterious abstraction, who certainly didn't act as a doting, protective parent to human beings.

Like the Greeks and other people of Old Europe, the Mi'kmaq found their greatest solace and benefit in one another, in bonds of clan and family. But humans had to face a hard truth- the central truth that I have come to embrace as key to a mature spirituality- that we are not guaranteed anything by life or by the sacred powers that co-exist with us in this amazing world.

Christians love to tell me how satisfied and safe they are with Jesus and their God. And for all their reports of protection and divine security, these people regularly lose jobs, live paycheck to paycheck, succumb to serious health problems, get into car wrecks, lose relatives and friends to accidents, crimes, or diseases, and are crushed by death and loss in other ways. From top to bottom, being Christian apparently spares no one from the same sufferings that non-Christians have to endure. The only difference is that Christians mindlessly drone on, seemingly in denial, about how powerful and good their great benefactor is.

Some would say that was an endearing portrait of "faith". But I see it now, clearer than ever, for what I believe it is: people sticking their head in the sand and living in denial. They don't want to face the hard truth that the ancients knew: you aren't in the hands of a great universal power that's watching out for you, and despite your cherished hope and belief to the contrary, you never were. And the more you try to live in a religious path that teaches this dream, the faster you are heading for disillusionment.

Because when your world is in the hands of the all-good, all-powerful whatever, then that car accident that killed your toddler was somehow part of this being's "plan", and this being (like it or not) allowed it to happen. This being that you loved so much took all of your joy from you, and all you can do is sit quietly, crushed in grief, forbidden from questioning it. You will simply have to be like Job, and make a great showing of your faith, hoping to at least squeeze some eternal reward out of the bad situation. Those who do question it enough- and have the courage to see clearly- tend to jump ship and "lose their faith".

The "prayer of protest" which is allowed in Judaism has no place in Christianity or Islam. That's because the Jews have at least one salient fact about "God" right- even though they foolishly believe that God is the greatest and in charge of the whole universe, they also admit that he's an ass at times, and isn't nice all the time, and that's just his prerogative as the supreme being. And his followers can wail and whine at him if they want; so long as people follow his laws, they don't have to like him.

That's actually quite mature of Jews, in my opinion. The point is that they have a place in their spirituality for humans to complain to heaven, to rebuke even God for his unfairness or harshness. Jews certainly spared their "God" no shortage of harsh words as he watched, unmoved, while millions of his chosen people were gassed and burned to ash by the Third Reich.

Beneath their maturity lies a deeper, more primordial vision: the vision that never put a single "God" in charge of all things to begin with. If your helping spirits and household Gods don't have complete charge over the universe, then when tragedy strikes, you don't have to lose your religion. The spirits that care about you can mourn with you, or help you some other way. The world is just hard like that, unpredictable, and not even spirits can stop some things; and even spirits can die or be transformed away from their condition, and into something else. The world is always changing.

Our Buddhist cousins have evolved a worldview that is every bit as mature as what I have been discussing, and it goes back 2500 years. Even though the many worlds of the Buddhists are inhabited by countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas- universally compassionate and loving beings with miraculous powers, not a single "enlightened" being can save a human from their own karma, the consequences of their own thoughts and actions. The world is full of enlightened beings, but the help they offer suffering mortals is through teaching them how to see themselves and the world properly to escape suffering. But mortals must do it for themselves, must apply the teachings. Buddhas can't spare mortals from house fires or tsunamis. Buddhas can't fix the stock market.

When mortals purify their minds sufficiently, they can sometimes "see" the awakened, compassionate beings (the Buddhas), and understand something of how these beings try to help. But in the end, the Buddhists have no "great God" in charge of the universe; refreshingly, they are a non-theistic world religion.

In Buddhist thinking, nothing is in charge of everything. There are simply many classes of sentient beings, and awakened beings, all interacting and changing and transforming within the inter-connected web of reality. There are no guarantees in this world of "Samsara"- the world inhabited by beings who are not enlightened; Buddha himself described this condition as unreliable and unsatisfactory. And- no surprise- Buddha believed that many Gods did exist, but like the Pagan Europeans, he believed that these Gods were not all-powerful, and had to exist as victims of the greater system, just like mortals. Gods could sometimes interfere in mortal lives, but Gods, in the end, had their own lives to lead.

* * *

The nicest people have to suffer the most awful fates. This is a simple fact of life, as true now as it was when the world was young. There are many ways to react to this fact that no one can deny- you can imagine that it's all "really okay" and that a big all-powerful good guy is really secretly behind it all, or you can see that nothing but countless powers shifting and combining is behind it all. You can see that in the web of causality, the web of power, there are no guessable guarantees, with one possible exception: the bonds of affection that can arise between human beings, and help us endure through this amazing, open, and boundless world of possibility. And sadly, even those bonds can suffer and fail at times. But they are, I think, all we can really put our deepest and best trust in.

I believe in Gods, of course. I believe in spirits or non-human persons that co-exist with us in this great world, seen and unseen. But like my ancestors, I know for a fact that I can't trust my entire well-being to Gods or spirits. I know that I can befriend them, or at least offer my friendship; I know that I can trust in the benevolence of Gods, and the friendship of certain spirits, but not much beyond that. Even the Gods must bow to the weaving of Fate. I can believe that things are working out as they have to, but I also know that, in the fateful sense, "working out as it has to" doesn't mean "in a way that I like it."

I don't have any doubt that some Pagans- like some Native Americans- believed that a sort of "divine justice" existed. We know that such a concept did exist; mortals could not violate the "order" of things- the Rta of the Vedas, without repercussions. But then, neither could Gods. I'm not talking punishment after death, or for eternity; usually the sort of punishment that comes from violating the Cosmic Order comes in terms of a ruined life. It could be "after death", but these sorts of stories become diffuse, strange, and even speculative. Again, there are no guarantees.

That seems so desolate when you compare it to the shining, optimistic story of churches, but ask yourself: which story seems to coincide with the evidence of your senses? I've not seen one shred of evidence- nor felt a shred of evidence- that a great storyteller with wonderful intentions was controlling my world. I have sensed the darksome power of Fate straining behind the threads of reality, and felt the touch of spirits interfering here and there, but never have I encountered anything that would lead me to believe that "the Good God" was in charge. The universe may be set on a fated course for a doom one day, but there is no "plan" for us all. There is only power and the shifting of power, and sentience seeking to know itself within the kaleidoscope, and to live the best it can.

And indeed, as the ancients told us, the Gods themselves are subject to Fate, and fatal, blind Necessity. What's a person to do? It's smart to offer friendship to the other powerful beings that co-exist with us. That's "Pagan common sense." But the real thrust of the ancient organic worldviews generally would seem to be this: don't have great expectations; don't make great plans. Live and love generously here and now, make bonds, don't assume anything about the future. Be flexible. Lean on your fellow humans for aid and comfort, and be a helper yourself. Don't think that you can control everything, or that spirits or Gods can.

Live with the dignity that is native to the human being, for as long as you can, or as long as it is useful to the greater good of your folk. Like the animists of this world, asking a God or a spirit for healing is fine and well; you might get it. But finding a human being who had acquired the power of healing was a far better bet. And yet, even powerful people couldn't heal everything. Live well with your own kind. Cultivate the joy that it was possible for humans to have.

I think that in doing so, we'll find the treasure that truly belongs to humans- and it isn't an eternal life with a God, but a deep satisfaction with our capability to love and be loved, and to work with others for good ends. Who knows what will become of us when the kaleidoscope of power shifts- as all kaleidoscopes do- a "shifting" we call "death". Like the array of colors and shapes in the kaleidoscope, we will change, and remain a part of the web of power, as perhaps we have always been a part of it.

But in what condition, what world, who can say? From day to day, hour to hour, century to century, who can say what will be? Maybe these questions aren't so important. The questions we ask about our lives here and now are, in my way of thinking, the truly important ones. In my way of thinking, "death" is not the greatest issue at all. Living wisely is.

If your religious path begins with wishful thinking about the world, it will end poorly. Don't plant the seeds of absurd optimism early on. Don't live in the world like the world was made for you, or like you are an exceptional part of the world, above its natural cycles and disasters. You aren't. We are conscious parts of a whole, and that whole doesn't show a great preference for us, and nor should it. A deeper pattern is playing out. With us in this situation are Gods, spirits, and other sentient powers, who have themselves learned to endure and thrive in their own great ways. We can learn a lot from them.

Plant seeds of acceptance for the great mystery that faces us all, whatever the form it will take. Plant seeds of real affection for those that have been placed closest to you, and those you meet and recognize a kindred soul in.

We may worry about the premature deaths of our loved ones, but in the shifting of power, we are not the authors of their lives or deaths. We can only offer them our one guarantee: that we will love them and protect them as much as we are able, as far as we are able. That's all anyone can do. If you can't have peace with that, you should take a long look at yourself and your thinking about the world.

These are all good seeds. These sorts of seeds planted at the beginning of any life-path, I believe, will take a person all the way to peace.

* * *

Ruth Holmes Whitehead, the great teacher and expert on Mi'kmaq culture whose books have changed my life so much, makes a statement in her book "Tales from the Six Worlds" that sums up what the Mi'kmaq people felt was the real point and purpose of a wise human life- something that we could focus our energy and attention on, that would serve us always. Want something to invest your time into? What could be so valuable in an unpredictable, dangerous, and beautiful world like this one?

The acquisition of power, that's what. Whitehead writes:

"Because of this aspect that nearly everything in the six worlds- including the geography- can change both its shape and its mind, the universe is unpredictable, unreliable in a European sense. So how do humans and other Persons survive when nothing is necessarily as it seems? They survive by accumulating Power of their own, the ability to change their shapes and modes as circumstances require. This is such an important tenet that almost every story of the People has Power as its central theme: how to acquire it, how to use it, how to lose it, and the consequences attendant on all of the above."

Becoming a shape-shifter, gaining the power to change your own mind and even form to cope with the constant changes of the world- that was the point. Being flexible, in the most powerful sense imaginable, was what led a person to do well in this world, and even in death- for the most powerful Persons in Mi'kmaq stories are able to maintain their power and reconstitute themselves even after death.

And it all comes from being able to accept whatever arises and to shift oneself appropriately to match it, to deal with it. I cover this spiritual aspect of "Shape Shifting" in the textbook of Witchcraft I wrote entitled "The Horn of Evenwood"- not for no reason was the Master of Witches believed to be a great shape-shifter himself! For he is one of the spiritual powers- a non-human Person- who teaches the primordial wisdom that can even overcome death.

On a mundane level, the power of shape-shifting begins with being brave and flexible in your thinking about things in this world. It means being open-minded and not fooled by "everything is going to be alright" stories. It means being responsive to whatever arises in your experience, and not in denial about things that arise and bother you or offend you. May we all internalize this ageless wisdom, and overcome the traps of wishful thinking. May we all engage a mature spirituality, and live well.

December 3, 2009

The Season of Memory

A Witchwalk Through the Sacred Season of the Yuletide

* * *

There is snow falling, and a bright, large moon riding across the sky between great continents of cloud. When a man stands outside on the dark ground, on pale fields of snow glowing in moonlight, it's like standing in a dream. Shadows are never more black, and moonlight never more radiant, than when it becomes trapped in web-works of ice and shines out in a pale radiance.

The most powerful part of any walk in the winter night, to me, is the sight of houses from a distance- they are dark, too, but their windows glow in the most inviting orange and gold hue. Each of them is a warm center of life, their walls holding back the life-withering cold and ice. In a sea of freezing power, these ships of glowing life drift in place- seen from the shadowed sky, they would make the dark landscape seem aglow with golden stars.

All around me, in the village, in the woods, in the countryside, are islands of golden warmth, each of them the hearth of a family surviving another winter. Human life is persistent; its allies in the struggle for life are likewise persistent- fire, masonry, beams of wood, stone, and ingenious contraptions of wire and pipe that bring water and electricity in through the worst storms. We are enduring beings. We have endured countless winters.

From one window, a cat peers out at me. That tabby-colored cat sits in pure bliss, legs tucked under his furry chest, eyes narrowed into that tranquil meditative relaxation that cats seem to specialize in. The cat dozes in the warmth, totally unconcerned about the falling flakes of ice and snow that cascade down in front of its face just inches on the other side of glass. How many other cats, throughout the ages, have sheltered next to the warm fires of their masters in this time? That cat is a fellow traveler through time and history with me. I'm glad to see him so warm.

There are candles and wreathes and colored lights dancing about in places. The Winter Solstice time is here, and in the middle of all this frozen desolation, people are preparing to celebrate something as old as humanity itself. Most don't have any clue how far back it goes- most wouldn't think of it as going back before the birthday of Jesus, but these same people drag trees into their homes in this season, keeping alive a Heathen tree worship that certainly pre-dated the Nazarene by a great distance in time.

The name given to the supposed Galilean miracle-worker- "Christ"- has come to dominate what people in the west call this season of ancient power- Christmas- and the "advent" so awaited by the traditional faithful is nothing more than the appearance of this miraculous child. But older names for this time lurk below the surface, known to all who "Toll the ancient Yuletide carol."

* * *

When I stand in the cold and dark of the Yuletide, I always become introspective about the vastness of history and the chasm of eternity that yawns behind it. This time of year, more than most, sends my mind and imagination on a journey through the story of the West. That story begins in places that most people would shrug off as fiction more than fact, but fact it is- every bit of it. If you could have seen it, you would see more golden circles of fire glowing on snow under the veil of night- because ages ago, in the coldest and most distant of places, that's where the ancestors lived and held back the cold and dark.

They had tents, lodges, roundhouses, and villages, all glowing with healthy blazes that were beacons of survival in the frost-gripped world. They wandered a world that was not conveniently mapped out for them or easy to conceive of by whirling a plastic globe around. To the north was mountain; the east, forest; to the west rolling hills and valleys, and south, more forest, stretching as far as the eye could see. The life-giving flow of a river cut through nearby, and the Goddess of that river provided much for them. What was beyond what the eye could see? They didn't know. They would discover what; they were brave and always on the move. Where did the river come from? Who were the other people, the strangers, stalking through the forests south?

The ice and snow that blanketed their world, it was not just the predictable result of a meteorologists' report; it was magical power. It was the footprints of giants, the breath of giants, covering the world with their brutal power. It was power from a world of ice which lay far beyond, and the one day, they knew, the powers of light and life would shift and banish those cold powers, at least for a time. There was a struggle in the cosmos about them, which paralleled their struggle right here in the village or camp- to enclose themselves with safe circles of fire and strong men and women, safe in the sacred enclosure of kin.

There was nothing in the world that didn't hold some fascination, for all of it was mystical or magical power of a kind. For these people, the presence of something mystical or magical wasn't such a shock; they lived in a world full of Gods, a world full of powers. Some powers were human and animal; others were immensely greater. All were part of a web of power which excluded nothing. There were magical treasures, things humans could create or obtain, which granted safety or skill or power to their owners or their groups. There were places of power in the landscape to be found, the work of previous hands, either lost groups of human beings or perhaps the Giants themselves.

It sounds like high fantasy, but it is reality, plain and simple. This is our origin. Not just these people or their technologies, but their worldviews- their belief in the awesome sacred powers which surrounded them. When we forget these people, or consign them to a realm of fantasy, we forget so much about who we are. For who we are is partly determined by who we were- and in fact, I might say, the very best parts of us owe so much to who we were.

If we want to know where we are "going", as a culture, as massive groups of people whose bloodlines run back to those distant times, we have to look back to the ancients, for the clues to our final destination are found in our beginnings. The end is always present at the beginning, and the beginning at the end, because life and causality finally and ultimately describes a great circle of power. We aren't in an "open ended" universe, and we never were. We are enclosed in power and destiny, though it is a vision so massive as to seem quite bottomless to the person who lacks the poetic vision to really look.

My journey continues, through more dark trees and snow-covered fields, down the course of great rivers, to a southern sea that encloses the reaches of many glittering ancient civilizations. People here placed stone upon stone and raised monuments of awesome power. Here, they raised temples and gleaming cities by the water-lanes of commerce. Here, they forged ideas of philosophy that transcended their own concerns and attempted to embrace the entirety of things. Here, the Gods still lived and still joined with mortal men in the great work of destiny.

* * *

For countless generations, these societies- so different from the people of the Northern fires, and yet, so similar in other ways- wore out their Fated time, and achieved reaches of glory which have still not been matched by our vain modern day. Something of the old mysticism from time's first human dawn still lived in these ancient cities and cyclopean temples. Among the Romans, the great reign of king Saturn the Sower was commemorated in the darkness of December; the rites and celebrations of the Saturnalia were simultaneous to the joyous birth of the Persian savior Mithras. Life wasn't just enduring; it was being reborn, a new golden age was being celebrated, at the deep of winter.

These rites were half civilized and half barbaric- at times wild, orgiastic, yet solemn and profound at other times. Don't mistake me- the barbarism was found in the solemnity, not the celebration, for only people out of touch with the sacredness of the wild ever innovate the technologies and social systems that truly harm this world. But the ancient struggle of the wild and the structured pranced on in its mesmerizing leaps then, as it does now.

These Pagan people are my Ancestors, and yours. They are who we were, and in so many ways still are. I embrace them, all of them, and I love them. I appreciate their wisdom, their aesthetics, and I know their hopes in dreams by having a long look at my own. Without these great and brave people, nothing we have now would exist; not this language, this computer that I am staring at as I type, not our social values of democracy and humanitarianism, of liberty and scientific inquiry, our spirit of philosophy and our very souls. The very glass I lifted to toast with tonight, under a fresh sprig of mistletoe, was raised first by the Northern people from whom I gain this flesh and blood.

My journey has to take a dark turn now; the ragged ruins of the world around me still have some of the old wisdom glowing in them, like heat and light in the embers that remain after a majestic building is burned down. And the edifice of the ancient world's true life was burned down by fear and ignorance. Let us never forget the awful power of these twin forces- ever more devastating than any modern nuclear weapon, more pervasive than any political unrest. The precious Gods that once wandered with the Ancestors through the same snow that is under my feet, and who were once praised in temples of great majesty, were once abandoned by Kings and people of power, and gradually, by the commoners that followed them. Not everyone left the Gods behind, but many did, and soon, it was the sword that assured that only one way of believing would be allowed.

This shift wasn't simple, nor fast, nor did it reflect only a drama in the human mind; the world fell to ruins around it. Rome was undermined by it; Rome burned to the ground over it. The next fifteen hundred years are called "Dark Ages"- and not for no reason. The lamps of Greek learning were dark. Civilization's order collapsed. Literacy was lost. Ancient cultural arts and achievements were lost. The great spirit of the Northern folk was torn from the land itself and crowded into dirty villages and towns and cities, and into churches, whose harsh bells drove the spirits of the land away in disgust and fear.

There was no more magic to be found in the landscape or the mountains or in the worlds of Gods; that magic was categorized as satanic trickery and a snare of diabolism. No longer could the sun or moon or stars, or wells or groves of trees be a merging point for human souls to enjoy their connection with the sacred All; now, Popes wrote documents containing the penalties for those who enjoyed these ages-old activities.

* * *

When I look at the crosses on the church buildings near me, I see the cruelty of these ages staring back at me. I see the cross of ignorance, which has crucified countless people of my blood and of the same legacy as me. I see the old solar Gods, blazing out from their own ancient crosses, and even bloody dead Gods from Pagan times who emerged from their own deaths to the great joy of their followers, now sunk low while Jesus reigns from on high, morally pure, ready to judge the quick and the dead.

I see the continuation of the most distant and degenerate form of Roman Paganism in those churches. I see great hopes for eternal happiness, and I see despair. I see ages of ancient power echoing in the cross, that old power forming a great austere background of force that informs the entire edifice of Christianity, but which is ignored fully by the faithful themselves. That power, they reason, is God; that power is the Holy Spirit. A rather simplistic final product for so many centuries of hope and fear, of blood and conquest, of dead Gods and risen Gods, of decadent Roman courts and of dark incense-filled temples and churches covered with colorful mosaics.

Christians have never been free of the Saturnian Pagan Yuletide. Their savior gained a birthday on the winter solstice, taking for his company an ancient cavalcade of divine figures; Christians were latecomers to the ancient power of the season. But they joined, and added a new dimension to it. That dimension is, to me, the least of all; it is the least wise, the least compelling, and the most superficial. But it is the most pronounced, today- especially when you walk through the snowy village in your head, like I am now.

I see the nativity scene, complete with big plastic camels poking up with their humps out of the snow. Camels in the snow- Semitic shepherds and Persian astrologers huddled around a plastic manger, covered in snow, in a northern forest, in the front yard of a family whose surname is "Bachmeier"- as Teutonic a surname as you can get. There you have it. While the sacred Yule-season of their ancestors is glowing in power around them, the Bachmeiers place faded plastic statues of Near-Eastern goat herders and Persians and camels in their yard, and pray to an ancient Hebrew man, and the ancient God of Israel- who was never worshiped in a Yule or a Saturnalia.

Does Father Bachmeier know about Sigurd and Sigrdrifa, or Arminius? Does he know about Jolnir or the Disir of this time? Does he know what the "Weihnachten" really stands for? Or does he really sit around singing about Angels and Bethlehem and Jerusalem? We have truly lost our souls when a person even needs to ask these sorts of questions. We have lost our true senses. Thank the Gods for remaining with us through these dark times. Gods, we are coming home- but excuse us; some of us have lost the way. They'll take a little longer getting there. We know you understand, and remain with us anyway.

* * *

There is something about the West- our great spirit, our great contribution to the world- which is tied into our theism. We've always believed in Gods. Recently, we've betrayed the living Gods for the spiteful Monotheism of the ancient Hebrews, but as I said before- just wait. The end is in the beginning. The Gods are not gone, nor done with us, nor we with them. We are going through a painful growing phase. We are the ones that changed, and not so long ago, all things considered.

But something around us isn't changing. This snow- this night- it is the same. Night is night, in any age. Her darkness has touched the face of every human being that has ever lived. The same water that fell as ice onto the ancients melted and rose again to freeze again and fall onto me, now. Nature, majestic Nature, She is forever young and forever ancient. She is something we all have in common. She has seen many religions come and go, many civilizations rise and fall. She is common grave-mound and tomb to us all, and to all things. She is common mother to us all. Want a truly enduring religion? Worship her. In her is the essence of all religions arisen before or arisen recently. She is the true Godhead of creation and destruction. In her, all things come to pass. In her, all things are made new.

We Westerners are "Godists" if there ever were any. While the highest philosophical ponderings of the East lead people away from God or Gods, we hang on to our "big man in the sky". I hang on to my ancestors' "big men and women in the sky and under the earth", but that's just me and a few others like me. And I am, of course, risking the comical here- the Gods aren't men and women. Something about the spirit of the West is found in theism, found in our own belief that one day, we have to journey beyond this world to face a mystery.

For some, that mystery is in judgment. They will die and cross the final veil hoping for their heavenly retirement plans to be cashed in, and fearing that perhaps they won't be. It will be for the judge to say, after all. For others, that "final" mystery is another long journey to be back again at the beginning, and among the people of the beginning- the ancestors. And from there? Who can say?

But I can say one thing- the dead are not gone, not taken from this world, and nor is there an escape from the world. The supreme selfishness, the supreme lack of wisdom of any religion would be in how it teaches escapism of the soul or spirit. I will be dead and yet alive in the land, in the rivers, in the mounds, in the sky, in the winds. I know this, because I've seen it. I will be present to this collection of sacred powers then for the same reason I am now- because there is no other place to be. In the enclosure of life, of power, this is it. See the snow with your earthly eyes; see the trees; when you are dead, and seeing in a new way, they will still be there and so will you, though how it will seem to you then, only the dead can know.

* * *

I'm walking now, in my head, remembering a real walk through snow; I know that my journey is ongoing and won't end, ever. I'm moving through the forest now like the ancestors, and remembering them in the season of memory, the great Yule season.

While my Christian neighbors are singing happy birthday to Jesus, I will be sitting around a fire with the Ancestresses, with the Yule-father and his host, with my family and with the giants of the great cold. A collection of sacred kindreds is precisely what this season is- along with any other season, truth be known. But this sublime cold and dark cracks open a special kind of perception for those who can brave it long enough. In this darkness, we can really go back to the beginning. And we must go back to the beginning if we want to complete our circle and be whole.

My Yule-wish for all of Europe's sons and daughters- and truly, anyone else- is this: do not live on the "timeline" of the soteriologist- live in the natural circle of power which no God can create. This world did not "begin" one day at the whim of a creator, and will not "end" just as quickly; it is not an arrow-shot story with a single conclusion, but a woven circularity of eternity that has no ending. I want you all to be whole, complete, and joyful.

Your completion is not found in Judeo-christian triumphalist religious fictions, but in this very snow, this very world, in the spirits of those who came before you and who believed in the Gods. Do not isolate yourself behind the walls of churches; let the world become your temple, as it was for your ancestors. Reject the lies of human exceptionalism, and take your place as equal kin to the land and the wild beasts and the Gods.

Understand that the womb is the most sacred thing, and that our Greatest Grandmothers are the beings to whom we owe all of this. If you discover a religion blaming women for the downfall of the world, or crushing women underfoot- commanding them to subservience or silence- reject it as an enemy of the common sacred life that we all share.

Our ancestor-women were not weak women, second to men: they were women of power; seeresses, valkyries, spear-disir, women who ruled as queens, women who raised children in brutal and dangerous circumstances, who held the keys to our homes and hearths, and who remembered our sacred stories and passed down rare wisdom through many generations. They wove the threads of our Fates as certainly as they wove the sails on the ships that carried our ancestors to glory and renown, or as certainly as they wove the linens and wools that our people wore to survive in the cold and weather.

As dark irony would have it, even the Abrahamic barbarians owe their entire existence to the women they accuse of mothering sin and death, and whom they punish for leading men astray to sin with lust. For the women in those faiths, trapped without choice, or simply ignorant of the great legacy to which they belong, I wish for freedom and justice.

For those women outside of that bondage, I wish them the strength to remain outside of it, and raise strong daughters and sons like themselves, to make our new Pagan future a great one. May the strength of our woman-kind make us whole and strong, now, as always.