As occasionally happens, my runecast this morning is being spectacularly practical.
I was having some trouble deciphering the specifics of the main rune (I’m still on the fence about whether or not to read murkstave runes differently to brightstave ones), so I pulled three more: what do I need to know about this as it pertains to the past, present, and future?
So I have Ehwaz (horse, transport, teamwork) being the focus, Isa (ice, stillness, inaction) in the past, Thurisaz (thorn/giant, danger, natural forces) in the present, and Ansuz (Oðinn, communication, language, wisdom) in the future. Seems fairly straightforward to me.
But, factoring in that – during the casting – a friend texted me to say that their car had come off the road and ended up in a hedge (everyone’s fine, they’re just a bit inconvenienced), I think it might be time to do that car maintenance check I’ve been putting off…
Delve into your relationship with a deity, or why you don’t honor deities.
My relationship with Loki began with my spirits warning me away from him, back when I first began doing spiritwork, progressed through to him filling my house full of spiders, and climaxed with me seeing visions of him during my waking hours.
At that point, you more ot less have to, don’t you?
Functionally an atheist at the time, I felt I had no need for gods – I’d searched in vain for a patron deity years ago and been rebuffed, but I continued working with spirits. If the gods existed, they weren’t dealing with me and I wasn’t dealing with them. Live and let live. But this character had touched my dreams, filled my house with spiders and now I was literally seeing things when I was trying to get on with my day. Rude.
I met the intruder into my life, mostly to ask what he wanted and invite him (politely) to fuck off. He asked me “are you prepared to unchain the wolf?” Am I prepared to destroy the world?
And I said yes.
I realise, now, that he’d been there the whole time. When I wanted a patron, he declined – I wasn’t ready – but I was still his, so no one else stepped in. It’s taken years of therapy and learning how to live authentically, despite the pain the journey might cause, before I was ready for him. And now I am, all he asks is for me assert myself. To take up the space I’m entitled to. To be unapologetically myself.
Because I’m transgender, the world was wrong about me. Because I’m nonbinary, it continues to be wrong about me. Through not confronting its error – by not asserting myself – I was perpetuating a lie and I was suffering for it. To live authentically and honestly, I had to destroy a lot misconceptions – some of them my own – and it turns out that that feels a lot like the end of the world.
My relationship with Loki is one of supported independence. He expects me to pick up my own mess, do my homework, go to therapy and sort myself out. He’s made it explicitly clear that he’s not the cuddly prankster I’d read about on tumblr.
He pushes and pushes and, when I can’t go further, he lets me lean on him and consoles me in my failures. He reminds me how far I’ve come and how much I’ve accomplished already.
I don’t know what I expected from a deity, but it’s safe to say it wasn’t this.
5. Record a recipe relating to a holiday you celebrate. How do you use this food/drink/mixture?
I made Dorset apple cake (https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/dorset-apple-cake) for Yule last year. It was a lot of firsts rolled into one – my first attempt at this recipe, my first time leading a public ritual, my first time making wassail – but, broadly speaking, it was successful.
This recipe makes a deliciously soft cake, full of apple, dried fruit, sugar and spices, and topped with crunchy sugar. It’s amazing, especially warm, and everything I want from a cake in the middle of winter
Dorset apple cake
- 225g self-raising flour
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 115g unsalted butter, diced and chilled, plus extra for greasing
- 115g light brown sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 6-8 tbsp milk
- 225g Bramley or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
- 100g sultana
- 2 tbsp demerara sugar (optional)
- Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 4. Grease and line a deep 20cm cake tin with baking parchment.
- Mix the flour and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour using your fingers, until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the light brown sugar. Beat in the egg followed by 6 – 8 tbsp of milk – you want to achieve a smooth, thick batter.
- Add the apples and sultanas and mix to combine. Scrape the batter into your prepared tin and gently level out. Sprinkle over the demerara sugar and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
- Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool further. Best served still warm with a little custard.
I also made wassail (https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/20577/wassail-punch/), though I had to reduce it from the original recipe because I don’t have a saucepan big enough:
- 1 litre apple cider
- 0.25 litre orange juice
- 75ml lemon juice
- 6 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 0.5 tsp ground ginger
- 0.5 tsp ground nutmeg
In a slow-cooker or a large pot over low heat, combine apple cider, orange juice and lemon juice. Season with cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer. If using a slow cooker, allow to simmer all day.
The cake is too big (and too good) not to share. My partner isn’t a fruit cake kind of guy, so it’s likely this recipe will become my go-to for winter or harvest celebrations.
If you choose to make it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
May you never hunger for fellowship.
4.Discuss a plant or place that is important to you spiritually. Why is it meaningful to you?
I really struggled with this one, hence the lateness of the post.
I’ve never worked with plant spirits, and my approach to herbalism suffered from my unresolved issues at the time (“you can’t start until you know everything and are 100% confident at all times”), and I’ve never gone back. Herbalism is too much pressure – I don’t want to hurt anyone with my inexperience, ignorance, or incompetence – but I could be persuded to work with culinary herbs. Maybe, now I have access to a garden and the health to work in it, that could be a starting point for new relationships.
And important places? The most obvious is Cornwall – whose windswept moors and sheer cliffs form the most memorable backgrounds of my childhood holidays, and which have found themselves forming an intrinsic part of my inner landscape.
I suppose we could talk about that.
I live in East Anglia, with it’s broad horizons and broader skies.
At home, the power is in the land, under you, wating and remembering when all this was under water, and the mists swirled and lanternmen confused unwary travellers, drowning them in the fens. It’s soft, fertile ground, good for plants, and – now – domesticated.
In Cornwall, the granite is inches below your feet, hard and unyielding. Whatever there was that would give, has gone. At the coast, the wind, the rain, and the storms have stripped away everything that supported more than short grass and stunted trees, but still life thrives – insects, wildflowers, birds – hardy and determined. Deeper inland, the valleys are suprisingly dense with thick green ferns and clusters of trees, and churning steams and rivers carving their way by milennia through the rock. Even the cultivated gardens of the landed gentry had to work around springs and valleys and sheer cliffs, and the the old tin mines – towering stacks and crumbling buildings dotting the landscape – show that nature conquers all in due time.
At the coast, you’re constantly warned about the dangers of the inviting ocean. Riptides, fast currents, a great white shark (perhaps on holiday from the Med). The sedate and constant land is neither, and tourists are warned to keep away from the foot of the cliffs because of potential rockfalls and landslides.
The county is alive and, if we get in its way, it will squash us and not even notice we were there. All our dramas play out on it and over it and, sometimes, under it, and the land and the sea and the sky move onwards.
My dad, brother and I would wander the foot of the cliff (despite the warnings), climbing around the headland and peeking into rockpools and investigating caves. Dark and cool, smelling of brine and seaweed and ozone, and – sometimes – containing things washed ashore and bearing testament to the force of nature. Once, we found the chassis of a landrover, dented and cracked and wedged into the back of a cave, half-buried by sand. No human hand put it there, and no human hand could retrieve it now. I think that was when I first fully appreciated how powerful ‘mere’ water could be.
Of course, all this ignores the spritiual symbolism of the caves themselves – places of rebirth and connected to the underworld. But I don’t need to tell you that.
What I will tell you is that Cornwall was where I, as a pre-teen, went journeying for the first time. On a sunny spot on the cliffs, I lay out a towel, put my headphones in, and listened to a guided mediation that took me deep into myself, and introduced me to my first spirit ally.
Now, when I close my eyes and breathe just so, I’m on the beach of my childhood. Golden sand beneath my feet, seagulls in the clear blue sky above me, waves lapping at the rocks. I can get lost in the rockpools, speak to my other selves on the beach, or I can cross the rocks and wade through the stream and venture deeper, into the caves. Down into the dark and closer to that Other Place inside the earth.
Cornwall is as intrinc to my practice as it is to my history; my heart might belong to the fens, but my soul is in the granite cliffs.
3. Teach/Describe one of your key spiritual practices. (mindfulness, meditation, grounding, prayer, ritual…….)
A twofer, because I am nothing if not verbose.
The practice of being grateful is, I think, one of the most important things anyone can cultivate. Even if it’s just a prayer/blessing/saying grace before a meal, recognising that your good fortune is dependent on other people is a valuable thing. It’s good for your spiritual practice and your mental health.
Be grateful for what you have and spent some time, now and again, contemplating what life would be like without the blessings you enjoy. Good health, a square meal, a loving family, supportive friends – not everyone has
Secondly: Being aware
I recently read a post about someone feeling called to engage with the land more, but lamenting that their nearest forest was 45 minutes away. Unless their house is floating, I very much doubt that that’s their nearest piece of nature.
Obviously I’m being facetious, but I know I’m guilty of thinking I need to go into the countryside or find some primeval landscape in order to really connect with nature. It’s all around us – that’s something of a defining feature. When I started seeking out that connection in urban and suburban areas, I found it in abundance.
If you live on the 23rd floor of a block of flats, you’re still surrounded by air, clouds, birds, people, mice, insects, and pets. If you live in some benighted urban hellscape, reach out to the rats and foxes, the pigeons and seagulls, the concrete and the earth below it. The animals are survivors, smart enough to see a niche and to exploit it. And, like mountains and rivers, inanimate things have spirits. Air and water exist in cities, though they may not be as pure and natural and beautiful as we think of when we think of ‘nature’. Even artificial things have spirits to commune with.
There are lessons to be learned if only you’d surrender the idea that nature has to be be green – concrete knows what it is to endure hardship, rebar knows how to strengthen and support.
I’m sure it’s possible to connect with exotic animal spirits, but I’m also sure that there’s a reason why cunning folk’s familiars were cats, dogs, toads, and weasels instead of dragons or unicorns. Local spirits are easily contactable and easily observable, and that proximity helps us build those relationships in meaningful and authentic ways, rather than relying on our partial concept of creature we might never see in its own habitat.
2. How did you come to your path? (your spiritual journey)
I remember wanting to be religious as a kid. We came from a culturally Christian family – not visiting church except for births marriages and deaths – but I wanted to believe. I went to Bible-study classes in my lunch break in primary school. I tried to go to Sunday school, but getting a parent to take me was an obstacle I couldn’t overcome.
When I was 11, we were studying the history of Native Americans at school, and I stumbled over a couple of “Native American” spirituality books on a day trip to the seaside. My grandad bought them and I read them cover to cover.
I now know that the books were written by a white woman passing herself off as a Native American, but at that age, I still believed you couldn’t just lie in a book. It wasn’t allowed.
I remember I using a necklace as a pendulum around this point. Where did I learn about that? It was the 90s, and The Craft (which I have still never seen) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were shaping pop culture (or, culture was becoming more amenable towards pop-culture occultism. Either/or). I definitely had, and still have, books on witches and werewolves and vampires. Proper, semi-historical occult books from a second hand shop. Stuff like Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-Wolves. I read ‘spooky’ magazines about weird happenings, especially interested in the ghosts and demons and occult stuff. Aliens I could take or leave.
Around 12 or 13, I started to pretend to dabble in witchcraft, because that was what spooky kids did. I had no idea what I was doing and no way of learning more, but a friend and I talked about going to the woods and reciting bad poetry. I don’t recall ever doing it, though. I bought a tarot deck, because that just what you did, and tried to learn tarot. It didn’t stick, and I’ve never really got into cartomancy.
In hindsight, perhaps the Crowley-Thoth deck wasn’t a great choice for a beginner.
Around this time, I described my religious beliefs as Gaiain, and adopted broadly pantheist views. The video-game Final Fantasy VII was a source of inspiration, with its story line about the essence of the dead returning to the planet’s lifestream to be recycled into new life, plants and animals and people all springing from and returning to the same source.
At university, or just before, I started to look into Paganism more generally. The online communities I found were strongly influenced by whatever Llewellyn was publishing at the time, which was mostly some flavour of ‘diet Wicca’: all Pagans celebrated eight sabbats, all Pagans worship a masculine and feminine deity. All Pagans believed in a triple goddess – maiden, mother and crone – and their conduct was governed by “an it harm none, do what thou wilt” and the Rule of Three (what you give you will receive three times over).
Ultimately, I rejected early-2000s mainsteam Paganism, finding its heteronormativity and heavy reliance on gender roles suffocating, for reasons it would take me another ten years to figure out.
Meanwhile, I was vaguely aware of the concept of cultural appropriation and rejected a previous Native American inspired spirituality in favour of getting to my roots and finding the religion of my pre-Christian ancestors. I settled on Druidry, citing familial links to Ireland, despite being three generations removed from the land and neither I nor my immediate family having set foot in that country since we left. Also, Celtic stuff was very popular in mainstream Paganism at that time, and I found enough resources on Celtic “shamanism” that I felt justified in continuing the spirit work I’d started doing without (I thought) stepping on any closed cultures’ toes.
From there, I kept learning, refining, and letting go of stuff I grew to understand was inappropriate for me, as a white European, to practice. I spent a lot of money on books and slowly realised that you don’t need to know what you’re talking about to actually get published.
Eventually, I ditched the Essence of Celt flavour to my practice and kept going in some kind of sterile, Core Shamanic practice. I flirted with Hedge Witchery for a while, and I remember begging for a patron deity to turn up and teach me and being turned down flat.
Eventually recognising that shamanism cannot be removed from its root culture, I looked at neo-shamanism, trying to weave a new, animistic, path into the largely secular culture I’d grown up in.
And that’s where I stayed for years: A non-theistic, animist, sort-of Pagan, doing spirit journeys and personal soul retrieval. A self-help shaman.
After a prolonged mental health crisis and years of therapy, I started getting back into practising, picking up the runes on a whim and discovering a new Special Interest, and reading more about them, trying to solve the Poems and put the runes into their cultural context.
And four months later, Loki showed up and brought the kids. So I guess I’m some sort of Heathen now? At this point, I’ve given up on labels.
1. What do you believe?
Ah, a nice, easy one to start off with(!)
What do I believe? I believe that all that is is connected. People, trees, lakes, rocks, marmosets, sea sponges, solar flares, all of it.
You can’t argue that we share physical components: you and I are made of the same stuff – calcium, iron, water, and all the rest of it – and that iron and calcium came from a star that went supernova maybe even before Earth was formed, the air in my lungs has been shared by tens of billions of people and plants and animals. Nature recycles everything eventually.
I feel a kinship with the Earth, and everything that exists on it and beyond it. Not in a wishy-washy New Age run with the wolves way, but viscerally – everything I eat was once alive and, when I die, my body will break down and feed other things. I see myself as having as much stake in the world as I do in my own physical wellbeing, because we are all inextricably linked.
Gods and spirits
I get leery of putting words to intangible things, but I believe that we share some ineffable quality, too.
I’m a recivering atheist, surrounded by skeptics, and I tend to shy away of saying what I mean out loud because, historically, I’ve had a less than fully supportive reception from people in my life. I must beg your indulgence if I ramble or sound defensive; it’s a bad habit and I’m doing this project, in part, to break it.
I believe I am able to use meditation to enter into an altered state of consciousness. I have intense, spontaneous visions in that state, and encounter characters which act like independant beings. It suits me to believe they are what what they present themselves as – gods and spirits that exist in some complex fashion on another world, but who have, for their own reasons, decided to speak with me and teach me lessons they deem necessary for me to learn.
And really, why not? If one can believe in truth and justice and hope and mercy, and if abstract concepts like numbers – even imaginary ones – have meaning, then reality is less about what is objectively discernable and more about what makes life make sense.
I’m happy to acknowledge I may be profoundly misguided, but so long as the result is a net gain in the world, I don’t see the harm in believing.
Fate and destiny
I believe that our actions are predestined, insomuch as we are entirely predictable – inclined to act in the way we are habituated to. We can change our fate by consciously choosing to act, instead of reacting or drifting through life.
I don’t think there’s a grand plan or a purpose to life, beyond what we define for ourselves.
I’m still not fully sold on this one. If we’re all connected and if our actions are largely predetermined, and if otherworldly beings exist, then there no reason why we couldn’t pluck at the web and see what shapes we can discern.
But the skeptic in me says I could just be using the random draw of the runes to tell myself what I already know and channel my introspection along particular lines.
Either way, I find it a useful tool for getting clarity on a situation.
The whole idea of magic/k weirds me out.
It flies in the face of cause and effect and what we understand about the nature of reality. I can’t quite bring myself to believe that some special words and actions will have a tangible effect on the world unrelated to the direct result of those actions. If I go dancing around in the woods with no clothes on, it’s more probable that I’ll catch a cold that shift the political landscape to my preference. But its effect on people is a different story.
If you believe you can do something, you’re much more likely to succeed.
Not at physically impossible things, obviously. Not even the most hardcore believer in magic/k believes they can make an acorn grow into a mature oak in seconds or shoot fireballs from their wand. But believing in yourself in matters of luck, or love, or business, or education, changes the way you comport yourself, which changes the way people treat you, which changes your outcomes. And if that change in yourself comes from a sigil or a spell or a potion – well – that’s where it comes from.
So that’s my take on magic: theatre and placebo combining to create confidence and hope.
You know – the stuff which actually can change the world.
One of the essays in Engaging the Spirit World was a piece on Inner Alchemy, by Taylor Ellwood and it, combined with the Norse concept of a person having multiple souls, got me thinking about the self as an animistic community.
In the past, I’ve met parts of myself during trance – most notably as something like a soul retrieval and as a monster that I had to overcome – but until now, I’d not considered myself as a complex spiritual being made from the co-operation of discrete parts, physical, mental and spiritual.
Given that I’ve had more trouble than usual with this particular part of myself, I set out on a journey to meet my Anxiety and try to talk some sense into them (myself? Us?)
I settle into the trance and find myself on the beach that I usually start from. Instead of climbing the cliff or entering the cave, I stay on the beach and reach out, inviting Anxiety to meet me where I am. I take a step forward and she remains behind – she lives in my back and shoulders, after all.
I turn to face her and she looks much as I once did: chubby, hunched and quiet, hiding behind long dark hair and dark clothes. She is afraid. Of cruelty. Of punishment. Of me. She worries that I hate her. That I’m angry with her. That I might raise my voice and crush her beneath my rage. I remember these feelings so close and clear, and it breaks my heart to see her so scared.
I sit on the sand – cool and damp under my jeans – and invite her to sit with me, but she’s hesitant. The sand is unclean; it might have germs. I lay a blanket out for her and she sits next to me, looking out to sea. We don’t make eye contact.
I tell her I don’t hate her, that I’m grateful to her. She keeps me alive. She keeps me safe. She protects me and makes sure I shore myself up against an uncertain future. But her absence from my body make me taller, more confident. I like the way I feel when she isn’t there, and she knows it.
I lie down on the sand and she lies back on the blanket. We hold hands, our fingers entwined, and watch gulls wheel through the clear azure sky.
Thank you, I say, for helping me save money. “It’s not enough,” her face twists with worry. How much would be enough? She can’t answer me.
“I doesn’t want us to get hurt. I don’t want us to die,” she says, changing the subject. We must die eventually, I say. She starts crying and I wish I had the words to say what I need to without hurting her.
Eventually we’ll die, I say, but not now. Right now, we have friends who have proved – time and time again – that they love us. We have a home, a job, a career, a relationship. Things are good and we should enjoy them while they last.
“We will never find such a good job again,” she says. Maybe, but we can cope with less money, that’s why we’re saving – because you thought ahead and got us to save.
“Our friends are lying,” she says. Then they are world class actors.
“Our relationship will fall apart,” she says, “transitioning will destroy it. The future -” I interrupt: the future is never certain, that’s why it’s scary. But right now, we have warmth and sunshine, and friends and family. Just breathe, we’ll cope with whatever comes.
“I don’t want to die.”
You won’t, I say, I need you. Every time I cross the road, every time I pull out into moving traffic. Every time I make a choice, I need to know what could go wrong. But you’re so powerful right now. It’s too much; it’s overwhelming. I need you to take a step back. I need you to give us space. You will always be there, but you don’t have to work so hard. I need you to trust me that I won’t kill us all. Please. How can I get you to trust me?
But she is gone. The blanket is empty and my fingers entwined with nothing. When I return to my body, my shoulders relax. For now, Anxiety is gone.
But I meant what I said – I love her and I need her. I trust her to keep me safe and I hope she can trust me to keep her safe. For now, though, I breathe deeply and relax into today.
Looking back, three weeks later, and my anxiety has been much more manageable. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, but a lot of the stressors that had been getting to me really haven’t gone anywhere. I call that a resounding success!
I know I still have a lot of work to do in terms of finding a balance and I’m still prone to catastrophising, but I genuinely feel better since doing this. I think that, by meeting Anxiety and talking with her, we’re starting to forge something closer to a working relationship. We are all in this together, after all.
“how should I proceed this week?”
I have been working on destruction and regeneration recently, but the need for that work is beginning to pass.
The central focus of this week is cooperation and communication which, between them, lay the foundations for the future.
With both Ingwaz and Jera in this cast, the future looks bright: do the work, follow the process through to its logical end, and my labours will bear fruit – with the caveat that my success is only as great as my efforts.