Soul Weaving

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I am someone who has always been obsessed with yarn. From the moment my mother taught me to knit age 5 years old, fibre and the things that can be done with it have been how my soul expresses its passion and creativity. My husband will tell you stories about how my yarn stash is taking over the house and he regularly threatens to insulate the loft with my fleece. I think he is only half-joking.

But a story about a fibre obsession is not really the subject of this post, more a way to set the scene for a metaphor for the soul that I have been working with over the past year, with a fabulous group of women; that of the idea of the soul as a woven tapestry. A tapestry that is constantly being woven, shaped and created as we live, from the different colours, textures and fibres of our actions, interactions, inspirations and relationships, and that can be to varying degrees consciously patterned, rather than a process that happens purely within the unconscious. We call this conscious practice ‘Soul Weaving’. This is not a new idea, in fact it is very old, and it offers us a glimpse of how our  heathen ancestors may have conceived and worked with the concept of the human soul and with methods for healing, integration and understanding.

Within the modern Northern traditions, the spinning and weaving of fibre and fabric is a revered art which in itself carries undertones of the sacred. The very act of taking fleece through the process of being cleaned, sorted, washed, carded, spun, woven and finally stitched into a garment is quite an undertaking and anyone who has been a part of the process, particularly if you have done it from beginning to end, will appreciate the stupendous amount of time, dedication and energy required. Perhaps it is this understanding and reverence for the sheer effort involved that originally brought the imagery of weaving and spinning into the metaphysical, creating a body of knowledge, myth and story entwined through the rich body of lore of the Northern Traditions.

In both Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology we are told of the Nornir, three women, possibly more, who are responsible for weaving the web of all existence on their loom, measuring, weaving and cutting the threads that make up each individual soul ~ human, god, plant and animal, nothing is outside of, or exempt from, the threads of Wyrd that weave us into the web. This great web is often termed the Web of Wyrd and an understanding of it is absolutely central to Heathen cosmology. The three Norns who appear most often are Urd, Verdandi and Skuld, whose names can in the simplest of terms be translated as past, present and future. They are the goddesses of fate and destiny who determine the lives of men and the other gods alike. We also have stories of Frigga, wife of Odin and one of the primary deities of this body of lore. Spinning is also seen to be sacred to her with the three stars which hang from Orion’s belt often being called ‘Frigga’s distaff’, a tool used to prepare flax for spinning. Although not attested to in the lore, many Heathen folk will honour Frigga as the preparer of the threads for the Norns to weave.

The modern practice of Soul Weaving is to work, through vision and journey ever more wakefully, with our own tiny piece of the vast tapestry, and to learn intimately the different strands and threads that are woven into it, the history and origin of how each stitch came to be. In this way the soul tapestry becomes a map of our own consciousness, which we can use to effectively manipulate the strands of wyrd and our own existence as far as that is possible. The Soul Weaver aims to take ultimate responsibility for everything they do and the soul tapestry becomes both the tool and the medium with which to become increasingly more awake to this process. For some this work begins by completing a journey or path-working and asking to be taken to see their soul tapestry. When I first started Soul Weaving, I was shown a vision of a tapestry that had largely been woven for me, the work having been completed by gods and guides or by my own subconscious, where I had been unable to do it myself. It was a bit patchy, the colours and patterns did not always match and there were areas that without doubt needed darning! At the time I was going through a process of dismantling and re-naming myself, unsure who I was or where I was headed and this was clearly apparent in my soul tapestry. Little by little I began to start mending, working out which threads could safely be removed and replaced, the places that discordant colours or patterns could be fixed or exchanged, taking responsibility for each stitch. I also learned much about what could not be changed, what was set and where the whole thing would just disintegrate if I messed around with it too much. As I worked I found that each thread corresponded to old patterns, buried emotions, lost and present people. At times the work was and still is painful, bringing up parts of myself that I thought were long dealt with ~ that argument I had forgotten about, the time I seriously messed up, old wounds and negative emotions were all to be found there alongside shining and beautiful achievements, relationships, loved ones, happy memories and soul connections. For a woman obsessed with fibre the visions made perfect sense and provided me with a language for some of the most profound healing I have ever experienced. Good Soul Weaving sisters helped with that too.

Of course the process of Soul Weaving is never-ending, a life’s work. The tapestry is constantly being woven through every moment of living another stitch is created, another thread woven in. But the vision of the soul tapestry can provide us with a magical method of envisioning the conscious process of unfolding Wyrd and of our own connection to the vast web. Those familiar with shamanic ways of practicing may well be familiar with something similar; this deep soul and self work is not unique to Northern Tradition practices.

Much of this modern Soul Weaving practice is intimately connected with a body of lore, drawn from various sources which describe the soul as being composed of constituent parts, woven together to create the seamless whole soul. Again work with the soul parts enables us to delve ever deeper into our own consciousness, discovering ever more deeply how we are woven together. Many will know or be familiar with the soul parts by other names yet the Old Norse or Old English names may stir other understandings and older truths within us if we are conversant with their stories. The physical body becomes the Lyke (our likeness), our astral body or nemeton becomes the Hyde (literally hide or skin), the vast bank of memories we hold becomes our Mynd (the mind) and our passions and inspiration becomes the Wode (possibly a kenning for Woden himself). There are many more, and too many for a single blog post, but an article on each will follow. I would love to hear from anyone else who works in this way and explores this body of knowledge. My experience of it to date has been of extraordinary healing, connection and understanding of my own soul consciousness and relationships within the web.

 

Easter Is Not Named After Ishtar, And Other Truths I Have To Tell You

It takes a lot for me to reblog something, but this is just perfect. Having watched this meme float about on the internet for a year or two now, I have been frustrated and irritated by it in equal measure. I have a rather soft spot for the goddess Eostre so seeing Easter quite incorrectly attributed to Ishtar is annoying. I don’t suppose Ishtar’s followers are overly impressed either. Imagine my surprise on hearing that the meme had been posted to Dawkins own Facebook page perpetuating the misinformation to thousands, presumably by his own fair hand, without having stopped to think critically about it. Oh the irony. To me this illustrates precisely what is wrong with Dawkensian Atheism, a polemic against all religion which, when closely examined is actually just informed by Abrahamic Monotheism and usually misinformed at that. As a pagan, I usually find myself baffled and amused by his thinking. Either way, this is a great article from The Belle Jar about something very seasonal, so I though I would share.

The Belle Jar

If there is one thing that drives me absolutely bananas, it’s people spreading misinformation via social media under the guise of “educating”. I’ve seen this happen in several ways – through infographics that twist data in ways that support a conclusion that is ultimately false, or else through “meaningful” quotes falsely attributed to various celebrities, or by cobbling together a few actual facts with statements that are patently untrue to create something that seems plausible on the surface but is, in fact, full of crap.

Yesterday, the official Facebook page of (noted misogynistandeugenicsenthusiast) Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science shared the following image to their 637,000 fans:

Neither Reasonable Nor Scientific Neither Reasonable Nor Scientific

Naturally, their fans lapped this shit up; after all, this is the kind of thing they absolutely live for. Religious people! Being hypocritical! And crazy! And wrong! The 2,000+ comments were…

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Northern Tradition Paganism

Just to let you know that my re-telling of Skadi’s tale is now up here on her shrine at the wonderful Cauldron Farm website. There are some beautiful online shrines there with some gorgeous devotional writing to the Gods of the Germanic Traditions. I highly recommend checking it out, if you are also that way inclined.

Skadi of the Snow.

Skadi’s longing for the Mountains

Far from here, and away to the wild north mountains, beyond the ice floes and the scree slopes lies a hall named Thrymheim; Storm Home. It is the place where winter lives, where the frost and snow retreat, biding their time whilst the land below bathes in the gentle warmth of green summer, the corn sways in the fields until the cycle turns and winter creeps its quiet way down from the mountains to swathe the earth once again in white and grey. The king of this mountain realm was Thiasi and he lived there with his daughter, Skadi of the shadows. Skadi was a huntress, and she liked to be alone. She spent her days skiing in the mountains with her bow and arrow or fishing on the ice. Skadi loved no man but her father, whom she adored, for she was a solitary creature and her heart was made of the stuff of winter.

When news came to Skadi, one day, that her father had been killed in a dispute with the gods of Asgard she was distraught, her ice heart shattered. For many days and nights she walked the passages of Storm Home crying her grief and rage into the wind, her tears sparkling in the ice of the walls and floor. Skadi felt that she would never laugh or find happiness again and she found herself lonely in the empty draughty hall. Finally as the storms of her grief abated, and her heart froze over again, she resolved that she would have her revenge on the Aesir for Thiasi’s death. She dressed in her warmest furs and a mail coat, took her bow and arrow and her skis and began the journey down from the frozen mountains to the plains of Asgard.

As she headed south, the wind grew warmer and summer settled on the land. Skadi found herself unsettled, longing for the darkness and ice of the mountains. But her resolve was strong and was strengthened further when she arrived in Asgard to find the Gods relaxed, making merry and enjoying the warmth. They looked up in alarm as Skadi swept through the gates, bringing with her a blizzard that withered the grass and blighted the crops with hail, a shadow steeling across the landscape behind her; they knew immediately why she had come and were keen to keep the peace. Odin greeted her at the steps of his hall, Valaskjalf and the other gods gathered around. One-Eye inclined his head, ‘your father was a powerful man, I regretted his death. Will you take gold as your payment?’ Skadi laughed, a sound like the creaking of glaciers, ‘Gold?’ she sneered, ‘do you know nothing of my father? He was so rich that when he died his brothers divided his fortune by measuring it in mouthfuls, and I have my share. I will not take your gold.’ The gods were confused, ‘what will you take from us then?’ they asked. Skadi looked at Baldur, the most beautiful of all the gods, fair and young with hair like the sun, and she felt how alone she was and how Baldur might melt her heart. ‘I will take a husband,’ she said, ‘and one of you must make me laugh.’

The gods took a while to consider this for it was not the settlement they were expecting and they were uneasy that one of them might have to marry this ice queen. Odin said, ‘you may choose your husband from among us, but you must do so only by looking at his feet.’ At this Skadi smiled, for she knew that being so beautiful, Baldur would have the most exquisite feet and her task would be easy. The gods removed their shoes and stood in a circle around her. Carefully, she searched among them for the feet she thought would be Baldur’s, finally she came to the one she was sure must be him. They were strong and slim, brown and well-shaped. Skadi had never seen such beautiful feet in all her life. ‘I chose you,’ she said looking up into the face of her husband. But instead of Baldur, she met eyes that were grey, blue and green, their colours shifting and changing like the ocean. He had brown and weathered skin from working a lifetime as a sailor and an expression that was gentle, strong and kind. Njord, Lord of the Seas smiled at her. Skadi was angry ‘you have tricked me’ she snarled, yet there was something in Njord’s face that stopped her, and she found herself fascinated by him, drawn to the smell of salt on his skin and the bitter tang of his hair, the way that he looked at her… and she felt her heart soften. Odin nodded in satisfied agreement, ‘a good match,’ he said. Skadi then smiled a bitter smile, ‘you have forgotten the second part of our bargain, one of you must make me laugh. For since you took my father from me, I have only felt sadness.’ Odin turned to Loki, ‘Trickster, can you make this woman laugh?’ Loki stepped forward a little sheepishly, wondering how much Skadi knew about his own hand in her father’s death. Loki said, ‘I have the perfect remedy, for only this morning at market I bought this goat, after all, what is funnier than a goat?’ Loki capered in front of Skadi and she looked at him suspiciously. Loki continued ‘only, I had my arms so full of other wares, I had to lead her home like this!’ Loki took one end of the rope and tied it to the beard of the nanny goat and the other end he tied around his testicles. The goat bleated in rage at being tethered and set off around the courtyard yanking Loki along behind her who squealed and bleated louder than the goat. The other gods were helpless with laughter. Finally the two came to a halt in front of Skadi, Loki fell into her lap and looked up at her with a ridiculous expression on his face. In spite of herself, Skadi laughed; a laugh that rose from her belly and melted her heart and for the first time in months she was glad and so forgave the Aesir. Then, Odin feeling that he still wished to make further amends for the death of the great giant Thiasi, took from a pouch two milky white globes. Skadi gasped, recognising them instantly as her fathers eyes. Odin said, ‘I know how much you miss him,’ and he flung the eyes far up into the heavens where they settled as two bright stars. ‘Now you will always be able to see him and he will always watch over you’. Skadi was satisfied, her father avenged and remembered. She turned to Njord, ‘I will gladly take you as my husband but I cannot live in Noatun, your Sea Home, we must live together at my home in the mountains, for I fear that my heart would break all over again for the missing of it.’ Njord knew this would be hard for he had spent his life at sea, but he loved Skadi and wished to make her happy, so he agreed.

Skadi and Njord returned to Storm Home and for a while they were happy, they found that they loved each other completely and delighted in being together. But slowly, Njord became restless, he missed the salt of the sea, the movement of the waves and the bustling shipyard. Skadi noticed this and not bearing for him to be miserable asked Njord what was wrong, he replied ‘I hate the mountains, we have not been here long but it is dark and I am so cold. I cannot bear the howling of the wolves, they sound so ugly to me compared with the song of the swans and all I see is grey and white.’

Njord’s Desire of the Sea

At this Skadi too despaired and wondered what to do, she knew that she could not leave her home forever but knew that she could not keep the man she loved from the sea. Eventually they agreed that they should spend nine nights in Storm Home and nine nights in Njord’s Sea Home. So the two made the journey back to Asgard and Sea Home. This was how they lived for a few years, traveling back and forth between the two, always moving, never settled. Each of them at times happy and at times sad, but rarely were they happy together despite their desperate love for one another, for one of them was always homesick. Eventually, Skadi became more and more miserable, and Njord, noticing this and not bearing for her to be unhappy either asked what was wrong. ‘I cannot sleep here,’ she cried, ‘the sea is always restless, the gulls are always mewling and the ships creak in and out of the ship yard, day and night. There is no peace in this place and I can stand it no longer. I must go home.’ Njord held her close and they both cried, knowing that they could not live together, knowing they could not bear to be apart, understanding how hopeless it was. So they agreed to stay married, but to live apart, Skadi in Storm Home and Njord in Sea Home and so it must always be; for though summer and winter will always make their sacred dance, bringing the cycles of growth and stillness to the earth, they cannot exist in one place together, just as sea and mountain cannot.

Occasionally, the lovers meet and spend a few short days together when the ice and snow creep down from the mountains bringing the shadow of winter with them and summer retreats. But it only serves to remind them how impossible their love is and that it is easier to be apart where distance and forgetfulness salve the wound, yet they cannot let go. Skadi is once again alone. Her heart, melted for a short time by the wild abundance of the sea, is made again of the stuff of winter, ice and hail, the grief of passing and she has frozen it over once more. She has returned to hunting the wild, silent places on her skis with bow and arrow, or she fishes out on the wide ice floes where the wolves call and her tears fall. Njord often sits on the shore, soothed by the call of the gulls and the constant ebb of the tide, but he stares out to the grey mountains and the place where his heart has gone.

Authors note.

I wrote my version of this story, inspired by a snowy walk across my local landscape which, after making the first few tender movements towards spring was swathed once again in the cold of deep winter. It felt as if a shadow of peace and a cloak of stillness had been laid over the land and there was a grief too for the things which had come up too soon and may not survive. Skadi’s name could be traced back to the Old English ‘Scaedu’ or Old Saxon ‘scadu’ meaning shadow, which for me expresses her nature perfectly as a goddess of winter, grieving, and broken hearts. She is an enigmatic figure, a frost giantess who appears at various points in the Prose Edda, but her story is not complete, it is fragmented and must be pieced together as with many of the female figures in the old stories. I have here remained faithful to the tale, changing nothing, only adding my own flesh to the bones and a woman’s understanding for why Skadi does as she does. The story of her marriage to Njord expresses the interplay of summer and winter but also, as all good myths do, it carries a lesson within its essential tragedy, a warning against a frozen heart, and our tendency to isolate ourselves through hurt or fear. It is an ancestral story of the heart rending relationships that just do not work however much we might want them to and the of the absolute necessity of letting go.

Sturluson S (Translated by Faulkes A, 2000) Edda, Everyman, London.

Pictures by WG Collingwood (1908)

Mimir’s Well

Over the past few days whilst reading and researching the chapter I am currently writing on mythology and ancestors and proof reading a friend’s deliciously challenging book, I have spent time in that (for want of a better term) marvelous ‘head-fuck’ space. It’s a wonderful place where everything seems to dissolve, leaving a new layer of meaning and understanding to be explored and exploded at a later date. It is at the same time extraordinary, requiring an openness and acceptance to have ones perspective so utterly dismantled and scary to feel the ground so uneven beneath the feet. It is humbling to find that our world is built so entirely upon our own reactionary perceptions, the reassurances we create in order to function; and to recreate that reality with just a little more consciousness and free will that that new understanding provides.

Over the past few years within paganism, even Druidry where the deeply philosophical is a defining tenet of our religion, there has seemed to be a worrying move away from the deeply philosophical and the need to think. To work out why we are buffered and carried by the currents that push and pull us all directions rather than helplessly surrendering to the flow, to think rationally about our motivations and ethics, to wonder at the nature of the universe and our gods, is for me absolutely central to my Craft. I am not talking about the simple exploration of new age texts and guided meditation that abounds within modern pagan culture, but the real need and drive to devour the old texts of writers and thinkers, scientists and philosophers, learn, pull apart and rip open our souls to go ever deeper, using those past writings, human reason and our own meanderings to open the doors to our own deeper religious understanding. For just as every new discovery about the innermost working of lover or friend can bring us deeper into relationship with that person, where we share more, love more deeply; the same is true within our wider relationships with the world. When we explore, led outside the comfort zone, and often we do need help, the writings or guidance of others, to shift our perspective sufficiently in order to do it, we are challenged to expand our own horizons and perspectives and are led into deeper and more extraordinary relationship with our gods.

Sadly, all too often the terms ‘navel gazing’ and ‘semantics’ are levelled at thinkers in a world where it is easier to find affirmation and ease in cake and television, than be challenged. Within the new age movement which sadly permeates a good deal of paganism, the focus on is the self-satisfaction and false reassurance of learning to love oneself, to deny the blocks and darker parts of our nature in favour of love and light rather than focus on devotion to our gods and the places that the dysfunctional parts of ourselves can take us in the quest to explore and resolve them. For me, there has never been a sense of ease within my spirituality there is an itch that must be scratched, a driving need to go deeper. The relationships that I value the most in my life, are the ones where I am challenged, deeply and uncomfortably provoked with the why’s and wherefore’s. I crave to know who I am, who my gods are, what they are made of, how do they taste and smell? Within a religion focused on relationship, I am constantly looking for how I can do it better, more honourably and sustainably, to be of less impact and to be of more use to my gods and community. To be always searching is to ensure that we stay constantly humble and awake to the fact that we know nothing, there is always more to learn.

This week’s head-fuck came from reading C.G Jung of all people, the often misunderstood and misquoted Swiss psychiatrist so loved by Wicca and other manifestations of pagan old hat. I had previously discounted his theory of the collective unconscious, archetypes and treatise on myth as the attempt to de-spiritualise the human mind into it’s nuts and bolts and cardboard cutouts of the gods, so loved by the psychotherapy movement. But as I read I understood, in a way that only going back to the original texts would allow, the essential religious nature of his words, his utter wonder at the divine forces of nature we find buried deep within our human soul. The vast ocean of memory that is our shared (to borrow Emma Restall Orr’s term, for there is no better) Human Song, a well of conscious memory that has life. He may well have been bound by ‘the spirit of the times’ (his words) which was undoubtably a prevailing Christian, dualist culture, but his words, beautifully express my own understanding as an animist and held that door open for me to dive in. I highly recommend him if you’ve never actually read his words.

The concept of a vast shared human soul and it’s comparison to water is an old one. Jung himself says that over and over we find the Archetype of a water container or a well as an allegory for that shared human soul, that which contains all of the memories of human ancestry. In the Poetic Edda we find Mimir’s Well (Mimir literally means ‘The Rememberer’ in Old Norse’). Mimir, a Giant known for his knowledge and wisdom was beheaded by the Vanir (the gods of nature) in a feud with the Aesir (the gods of human nature and civillisation). The head was returned to the Aesir and Odin who embalmed the head with herbs to preserve it’s knowledge, threw it into a well where Mimir became an oracle, consulted often by the gods, but always demanding a sacrifice. Like the path of the questor, philosopher and thinker, the attainment of knowledge can be painful and is never easy. Odin sacrified his eye for it.

For me, Mimir himself is the water within the well, the power of memory itself and in particular, human memory. Within his body of water are my grandmothers, and grandfathers, the fragments of their lives bound up within that great water. He is the stuff that holds the coherency of the collective human song. He holds the stories, the writings, the kennings of the ancestors, all that has ever been written and imagined and lived. Mimir’s water is often a place I go to journey, for clarity, help or the comfort of knowing that this particular crisis or joy I am living has been lived before by another woman in another time and place. Through the magic of the human soul, it is possible to reach out to her and remember a story which is bigger than me, flowing like a current through our shared humanity. To share it makes it tolerable, we can cope with the pain and the crisis when we have company; in Mimir’s well we are never alone. The mouth of his well is a way into the churning waters of my ancestral soul. I don’t have to travel elsewhere to find that well for it is deep within me and the ocean of my blood.

To sacrifice comfort and the certainty of sure ground is to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors who had the courage to do the same. To think, learn, crave knowledge and understanding with all of the philosophy and reason that we have been gifted with as humans is not to ‘navel gaze’ but to journey deep into the waters of the well, deeper in and further out adding our own experience and understanding to our collective Human Song.