Gods and faeries are often said to have a bitter sense of humour. I’m not sure if I agree, but something is certainly afoot here. Last Samhain a great raven first appeared in the field to the north of our house. I took this as a great sign and since then I have caught sight of two ravens on various occasions as I walked to and from work. What little lore I have regarding these birds I tried to apply, and so I always took their appearance on our north fence before flying southward as a good omen. In each case, however, the day turned out to be extraordinarily bad, finally leading to the loss of my temper on the fifteenth of February. I have seen them several times since then (the rabbits of course being a great attractor – but I’ll get to that in a minute) and always in the same position with the same result, save one instance when they were flying westward. On this occasion the day was so terrible that, with a sudden elevation in my blood pressure, I have since been put on medication to counteract the long-term effects of prolonged exposure to adrenaline. (Sometimes I envy those who could go on Viking raids. I can think of a few people on whom I would have no qualms performing the Blood Eagle — ‘but I digress’.)
All in all, though, this has been a good month so far (and I am talking about the real month – not March). Well, not good in the sense of enjoyable, profitable, fun, happy, easy, or any other of those adjectives reserved for our modern understanding or invention of ‘good’. It has, however, been momentous, transformative, clarifying (in some ways) and mystifying. Of greatest import was D.’s coming out and saying that we should begin living according to the old faith. I didn’t really know what she meant and we spent I think about a week where I thought she was just talking about getting back to the land. On what seemed a coincidence at the time I showed her a CR site, and she remarked ‘that’s exactly what I was talking about! People are already doing it!’ It’s hard to put the importance of this event into perspective for anyone not directly involved in our life, and I don’t even think that I will try. There is simply too much to do now.
Now my project of figuring out what I believe rises to a whole new level. Now comes the experience. Now comes an end to glory endlessly delayed. Now comes the swelling, joyous immediate glory of living. Now comes an end to striving as a goal and purpose in and of itself. Now begins joy and sorrow, life and death, in the end of death in life and sorrow in joy. The holy is written in the very fabric of the world around us like text on a page. The divine is no longer a puzzle to be riddled but a dance to be joined.
Of course, there are wholly new difficulties. The riddles now are in the strange events that at one time held meaning but generations of ecclesiastically and then ‘Scientifically’ sanctioned ignorance have rendered meaningless. Now the questions of a single god’s justice and nature transform into what the gods have been doing since we turned away from them, how they have and are acting as we bicker and natter away our lives, and how we are to once again come into a proper relationship with them. There is so much work to be done to reawaken or invite back the lands’ inhabitants long since expelled and ignored, and I now see the entire history of modern pollution as following from a spiritual pollution that began much earlier. This, however, is a topic for another time. My purpose here is to record some examples of what I mean by difficulties.
As soon as we got here almost a year ago I began leaving out food for whatever might be dwelling in the house. Over the last year I have gained an increasing awareness that many of us now labour under the delusion that offerings of this kind, including ‘cookies for Santa’, are not meant to be eaten. We leave them out as a token gesture to the ‘spirits’, but how many of us actually expect to see a bite taken out of the food or the glass empty in the morning? I am not saying that such has been the case with my own small offerings, but other things have begun to happen. I have been making overt offerings to the gods and my ancestors according to my own understanding in earnest now for a few months, hoping to gain some instruction by the responses I get, and this month the responses have been … unexpected.
Things began coming together with the rising of the last new and very horned moon. I had actually lost my temper at work on the same day: something that I never do. I always try to leave work at work, but things have gotten quite rough and intense and finally the dam had burst. I left work early in a fuming rage as a result and, yelling my head off, began tearing out handfuls of dead weeds in the garden. After spending as much of my anger as I could in this way, I went inside. My son pointed out the moon and I noted that this was the first of the actual moon, the sun having just passed under the horizon. It was a new day.
Not two minutes later, our dog rounded the corner of the house with a large, freshly killed rabbit in her jaws. I was ecstatic. I’d been longing for an opportunity to clean a rabbit and this was just the afternoon on which I needed to do it, so out I went, knives in hand, to skin and dress my first rabbit with the dog happily whuffling at my feet for any blood and bits that might fall. In the end there were only three legs salvageable as the knives were dull and the internal organs quite ruptured from her jaws. Had I been more skilful I could have saved more but decided instead that this was an excellent opportunity to make a first sacrifice to the gods — a proper one this time. This was not the last rabbit brought up to our house, but I have not cleaned another since as, for one reason or another, the rabbits were either too long dead or too torn up. There have been five in all which after the fifth I realised I had inadvertently placed in a circle around the house. Had I thought of this before I would have been more deliberate about the placement, and I wonder if some of the consternation that has since been caused is not due to my negligence in this matter. Whatever the case, I certainly feel far more connected to the land and in fact I believe that my hopes of coming back into contact with some form of the land-vættir were subsequently realised.
This last weekend I was in our garage re-potting some pumpkin seedlings that we started a week or so earlier. Now, you mustn’t imagine a North American style garage. This was once a byre of some kind, built in 1850 and still contiguous with the house itself. The walls are bare stone and closer to a black-house in character than what any American or Canadian would call a garage. Nevertheless it holds a small car, long since mothballed, our oil-tank for our heater and all the other accoutrements usual to a garage, so a garage it is. On the new moon of the fifteenth it had snowed again (much to the horror of my strawberries) so the great sliding doors to the garage were caked and shrouded in ice formed from repeated defrosting and refreezing. The whole entrance to the garage was chewed up from continually digging out the car, so anyone or anything approaching the entrance would be heard easily. On the Saturday, I was potting alone when I heard very clearly a great snort from the double doors, as of a large dog or horse. Thinking that the dog had been let out, I called out to her but with no success. I went and looked around, but no animal was in site. The dog was still inside. I did not think much about it until the next day when the dog was actually with me in the garage while I finished the potting before. This time there was a distinctive, clear and heavy crunch as if someone had just stepped up to the doors, but stopped just around the corner. Thinking it was D. I called out and then again went to see. This time it was not just I who reacted. My dog stopped to listen as well and investigated with me.
Clearly something was there with me, so I did what I usually do and began speaking in a familiar, but respectful manner to it. In previous situations with such encounters this tactic has proved very helpful, but I also decided to add an offering as well. I had some ginger wine in the house and some pipe tobacco brought with me from the States, though I ought not to smoke my pipe on the property. I left a glass of the wine beside a small pile of the tobacco where I’d been working and thought little more until the next day when I had to be into work early for a student presentation. I got in the car and backed up to head up our drive when a bizarre series of severely unlikely slides placed the car in the one spot from where I could not get out. A chain of almost ridiculous errors exacerbated by my rising temper forced me to call a taxi and put me more than ten minutes behind my time. Missing the presentation, my whole day was thrown off.
On my walk homeward, a trek usually of some forty minutes but extended that day to more than an hour by inclement weather, I thought over the course of the weekend. I couldn’t understand why I should have had such rotten luck as to put the car through the one course of movements that would stick it so firmly. I thought of Snorri Sturluson’s description of the dísir who determine men’s fortunes: beings who can influence the luck of an individual on such a broad scale as to be reminiscent of the Greek daimones. Then I wondered whether you could change or influence these lesser fates and wondered why my offerings had been rejected. They had certainly been untouched; necessitating my disposal of them in the most respectful manner I could manage before the sun set the following day. Moreover, it had seemed that whatever it was had taken unction at these offerings and actively worked against me. Climbing over the last gate before turning down our road, it suddenly occurred to me that no one had been injured, and in the end there was no real harm and even less work for me. All that had actually happened was that I had fumed and sweated, blustered and raged. Suddenly the whole thing looked like a huge joke and I couldn’t help feeling a bit consternated that whatver this thing was, it seemed to be more interested in pranking than helping. I know there is precedent for both, but the latter would be nice.
Then yesterday, after leaving another (slightly begrudging) offering of more ginger wine the previous night, I got a call from D. the minute I walked through the door at my office. She was audibly shaken and it was a few moments before I got out of her what had happened. I had recently bottled some two and a half gallons of a basic mead and was storing them in our lower cupboard until they were ready to be taken out to the garage. D. was sitting at the kitchen table facing the cupboard which at the time was standing open: all the bottles effectively lined up not four feet before her. Beside her played our two-year old daughter, when two bottles suddenly exploded with the force of a bomb. Glass shards covered the entire kitchen, one shard bouncing off two walls to land behind the cupboard and another coming to rest just barely touching my daughter’s foot. I’ve brewed mead for years without such a violent explosion happening, and my first instinct was that I had really pissed off whatever was there in the garage. Yet not a shard, sliver or chunk had come into contact with either of them. What was more, the mead in the bottles coated the walls, table, chairs, floor, and ceiling – everywhere in fact but for the two of them. D. described it like being in a firing squad where everyone missed.
Now believe me, I know how bad this is. Had something happened to either I would hold myself guilty of criminal neglect, but the fact is that whatever is with us here kept them both from harm and perfectly so. Perhaps the gods have a bitter sense of humour. Perhaps they simply have the benefit of a better perspective. In any case, I decided that day to draft up a list of rules for helping me keep my perspective properly, as my own neglect doubtless stems from the stress I’ve imposed on myself over my job. They are as follows:
1. Peter’s Laws are always in effect (if you are unfamiliar with these, do a google search).
2. There is never any reason to feel guilty unless your actions have led to someone bleeding or openly sobbing.
3. Sources of irritation should be met with either silence or a humorous but completely irrelevant anecdote.
4. Peter’s 8th law does not apply to any task given or assigned by someone else.
5. Except in matters of physical safety, the minimum time for handling any given task or question is one week.
6. If anyone controverts rule 4, the minimum time is increased by five working days.
7. Actions trump words.
8. Face-to-face speech trumps any kind of written text.
9. The hand-written word trumps the printed word.
10. The printed word trumps electronic text.
11. E-text trumps a post-it note.
12. Fuck the bastards, damn the torpedoes, and to Hel with the Bullshit.