Omens: The Otherworldly And Odin

An Opening of Omens

If you’ve ever watched Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, you may remember an episode that begins with a few seemingly inconsequential happenings. These are subtle things that range from the way a loaf of bread splits while being baked in the oven, to a broken mirror in an empty room.

Omens can be tricky things, especially when they’re subtle. How to know whether that flock of birds fighting in the parking lot is an omen or just some avian drama? Or what about the vultures that scream at each other so loudly you can’t help but look outside? (Double points if they fall silent as soon as you “get the message”.) Are those crows really sent by the Morrigan or those ravens of Odin? And what’s with that sudden, unseasonal influx of black insects in the home?

“Speak rede, birb!”

These things tend to be subtle—until they’re not.

“Human Omens”

So far, the omens I’ve described are quite traditional. People have been reading the movements of birds and insects (among other things) for a long time. But one thing we don’t seem to read as much when it comes to omens, is the behavior of other humans.

We humans often make plans and telegraph what we’re about to do next. That’s not the kind of thing I’m talking about here though—as always, we deal with subtleties. The kinds of human behaviors that interest me are those that aren’t quite so consciously realized.

So, what do I mean by that?

Inspiration, Creativity, and Prophecy

When I get the sense that something is stirring on a subtle level, one of the first places I look for omens is our collective “fruits of inspiration.” So, in other words, I look to what our writers and artists are putting out, both in our communities, as well as in larger media productions. I’ve discussed this before on this blog and will talk about it in more depth in my upcoming class, but inspiration is a deeply strange and other thing. In its purest form, it originates from outside the human (as least in the traditions I practice). And out of the three different sources of “human omens” I will detail in this post, this is the one that can also serve as a heads-up that something is brewing long before anything even begins.

Take this passage from the commentary in Jung’s Red Book, for example:

“In the years directly preceding the outbreak of war, apocalyptic imagery was widespread in European arts and literature. For example, in 1912, Wassily Kandinsky wrote of a coming universal catastrophe. From 1912 to 1914, Ludwig Meidner painted a series of works known as the apocalyptic landscapes, with scenes of destroyed cities, corpses, and turmoil.” (Jung Carl and Shamdasani Sonu, Pp 18-19)


World War I, a conflict that would claim around 40 million lives, broke out in July 1914. Yet artists and writers were examining those themes—sometimes with eerie accuracy— years before the first shots were even fired.

Dreams, Intuition, and Divination

The second source of “omens” I look to is my friends. Usually, by the time I get the sense that something is stirring, it’s not long before people start hitting me up if I don’t get in touch with them first. Whenever this happens, I ask about dreams and intuitive hits, as well as any divinatory themes they may be getting. When it comes to prophecy, the image of the seer prophesizing from a high seat is a powerful; it’s what we tend to imagine when we think of prophecy. But if you look back at some of the disasters that have plagued human history, there are often examples where multiple people have begun to dream about the same kind of horrific themes right before something awful happens.

My preference is to view these things in aggregate, with an eye to spotting patterns or themes. And when you get down to it, this is not so different from the process that comparativist scholars engage in when working to trace early Indo-European beliefs and practices through multiple descendant cultures. One a very basic level, you’re looking for frequency as well as cross-cultural examples—especially in cultures that aren’t known to have interacted with each other. Here, I’m looking for frequency as well as cross-tradition examples, and especially in groups of people who don’t know each other. Those are the patterns and themes that interest me the most—even if they run counter to my own experiences and impressions.

Strange Behavior

Finally, the third source I look to, is strange behavior (albeit with some caveats).

In Germania, the Roman writer, Tacitus, wrote about a form of omen-taking from observing the behavior of sacred horses. Unfortunately, I don’t have any horses, sacred or otherwise. But over the years, I have found the observation of my fellow humans to be similarly effective.

Again, we’re talking about subtleties here. But we humans are no less affected by subtle energies and the stirrings of the unseen layers of our world than our fellow inhabitants of Middle Earth. We are no less a part of nature and no less animals for all our plastic and technology. And I’ve found that many of us will subconsciously react to changes in energy as well as whatever-the-hell our gut instincts are telling us at the time. Unsurprisingly, our behavior will often show it too.

I’m reminded here, of my epileptic brother’s behavior in a famously haunted house that stopped as soon as he was removed from the premises. Before my mother wrestled him out the door though, his behavior had become animalistic; he’d taken to the floor on all fours, barking and growling at the tour guide and fellow (ghost) adventurers.

Now, people do strange things all the time. But when you’re finding a lot of unrelated people behaving similarly, it’s time to pay attention, especially if you cannot discern a common cause. And again, in my opinion, this kind of thing is best observed in aggregate and with an eye to spotting patterns. Speaking of patterns: my brother apparently wasn’t the only person to have behaved like that in that space.

In other words, if the tour guide were to be believed, there was a pattern of some people exhibiting animalistic behavior at that site.

That was an extreme example, and I clearly cannot prove that my brother behaved like that due to the unseen of that place. But I do hope you understand what I’m getting at here.

The One-Eyed God on the Road

This all brings me to some of the possible omens I’ve noticed recently. On the one hand, there have been multiple strange conversations with neighbors about an increase in shadow people that “don’t move like shadow people” in the street. (Think less “dart-y” and more “people-y”.) Friends have told me about incidents where they have an experience of “pareidolia” that sounds more like glamour, and that leaves them in doubt of what is actually “real”. Other friends have told me about seeing critters that aren’t there. And a bunch of people are telling me about the disturbing dreams and messages they’ve received of late. Some of these things I’ve also experienced for myself.

These, to me, all have something of an otherworldly feel to them. As does the recent killing of the white stag by armed police in Bootle, UK. (Side note: probably a bad move to kill beings associated with the otherworld when your country is looking at food and fuel shortages.)

But I’ve also noticed that a certain one-eyed god seems to be getting around a lot more nowadays too. More people (some of whom have never interacted with him before) are now telling me about their interactions with him and asking for advice. I’ve felt driven to write about him in great depth. An entire Heathen community performed a days-long ritual in his honor, erecting a 20ft god post. And for two Wednesdays in a row now, there’s been news that’s felt pointed in either its direct association with him (such as the announcement of this hoard of bracteates), or associated symbolism (such as the suspected electrical fire at this “Midgard’s” church on the island of Grímsey). Then today (as of the time of writing), this video of a Spiritualist who allegedly channeled Odin was shared in a group chat I’m on.

 

The bread has split, the ink has spilled, the mirror in the empty room is broken. But what could it mean?

Winter is Coming, Winter is Here, Winter is Coming Back for Another Go

I’ve followed the Old Man for over a decade and a half now. But even though I am very much “Team Odin”, I also know he has a tendency to become more prolific during “interesting” times.

Take the Migration Period, for example.

The Migration Period was not an easy time to live in. Peoples migrated and fought over resources. A volcanic eruption in 535-536 caused a dust veil thick enough to darken the sun enough that crops failed for at least two years in a row. And in those days of death and desperation, the warband religion of a certain one-eyed god of spears seems to have made its way north and into the elite centers of power.

Before that (in another time of death and desperation), his hands were probably guiding the spears of the Germans and Celtiberians led by a couple of one-eyed leaders who fought against Rome (Enright 217-240).

And before that, who knows?

Something tells me though, that it was probably another time of death and desperation. With this in mind, this new rise of the Spear God doesn’t exactly fill me with comfort in our time of plague, climate crisis, and burgeoning far right movements.

Death Will Make a Door

The final point I want to make today, is that times in which there is a lot of death, are times in which the dead and otherworldly tend to draw closer. If you’ve ever read about times of mass death in human history, you may have noticed that there are usually a lot of strange goings on reported during those times, as well as humans getting involved in strange cults and practices. If that kind of thing interests you, here are some folktales from the time of the bubonic plague. Pay attention to the kinds of beings sighted in conjunction with the plague, as well as the plants and days mentioned in the purported cures. Some of them are downright other.

They really shouldn’t have killed that stag.

Until the next time, good humans!

Be well.

Books Cited
Enright, Michael J. Lady with a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy, and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tène to the Viking Age.
Jung, Carl and Shamdasani Sonu, The Red Book/Liber Novus: A Reader’s Edition

Tower Time and Children

.In John Beckett’s blog last week, he tackled the question of how to prepare and explain the concept of Tower Time to Pagan children without giving them nightmares.

John was very upfront about the limitations of his advice as a non-parent, and focused more on practical matters as well as age-appropriate dissemination of knowledge. Because as John wisely said (and it bears repeating here): “Young children shouldn’t be burdened with troublesome projections about the future.”

It was a good answer, and I’m really glad he took the question on. Because if there is a conversation we need to be having in our Heathen, Pagan and Witch communities, it’s how we can support our children during a period of time many are referring to as Tower Time. (If you are new to the concept of ‘Tower Time’, I invite you to read more about it here from the originator of the term. I have also posted some of my musings of Tower Time here.)

The Brave New World of Do All The Things!

As John also wisely observed, Tower Time isn’t some far away apocalypse that we’re supposed to be prepping for – it’s already here. It’s both the background music and protagonist in the drama of our time.

When the pandemic first hit and schools closed, a lot of wonderful community-minded people set up online events for children. Parents in local groups posted overly ambitious Pinterest schedules for their families and children. People made homemade hand sanitizer, grew sourdough starters and worried about where the next rolls of toilet paper would come from.

We sewed masks, traded supplies with our neighbors, and shared any and all tip-offs we got about where to find help and supplies.

But one year in and around a half a million dead later (in the US alone), things look pretty different. People are struggling in every way imaginable, previously papered-over issues have been brought into sharp relief, and we may now actually be hitting the ominously named “third quarter”.

Science is winning though. The battle has been long, and the doctors and lab coat warriors courageous. We can at least see a light at the end of the tunnel now.

It’s just going to take a while to get there and there’ll probably be a few more bumps before we do.

Children in Tower Time

And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it were only the isolation of the pandemic to deal with? But a month and change ago my child got to watch me pack bug out bags for our family. (Because why not also throw an attempted coup in there as well?)

I mean, we clearly didn’t have enough shit to be getting on with before Y’all Q’aeda rolled up at the Capitol Building after weeks of planning their glorious revolution/liberal purge over on Parler.

And then there’s systemic racism, growing economic inequality, and increasing environmental challenges to deal with as well.

The big, crumbling, future-threatening towers are pretty obvious.

But what about our children in all of this?

We can teach skills in preparedness and give the best explanations in the world. Those things are helpful. But our kids are still going to struggle – they are still struggling. And is it any surprise? Hell, we adults have explanations and an entire internet full of preparedness skills to learn and how many of us are struggling?

Children don’t live in boxes – they’re often a lot more perceptive than we give them credit for and sometimes it’s what we don’t say that ends up worrying them the most.

So I guess the question here is how best to support them in this Tower Time?

I’m going to be honest with you right now: I have no answers here. I’m struggling with this too.

(Hopefully) Keeping Our Children Hale and Whole

The question of what we can do for our children in this shitty semi-apocalyptic scenario is one I think a lot of us have struggled with. And depending on where you live and the levels of infection in your community, you may not have a whole lot of choices. (This is me, I live in such a community.)

For the most part adults have gone virtual, and that’s actually turned out to be a pretty great thing for a lot of people. A whole slew of events are suddenly a lot more accessible to more people and I hope that virtual element is something event organizers retain once the world finally reopens.

But as fulfilling as many adults have found the virtual option to be, I imagine it must feel pretty weird for a category of human that ordinarily prefers to play away from the watchful eyes of parents who might tell them off for doing dumb kid stuff.

And sure, we can also focus on teaching them the skills we believe they may need in the years to come (while providing age-appropriate explanations of events). But I think a lot of people are wondering where Pagan or Heathen religious beliefs come into it as well. After all, how many of us turn to our beliefs when times are tough?

As I said before, I really don’t have any solid answers here. I do however, have a few points I’d like to throw out there for consideration should a wider conversation about children happen within our communities.

1. Religion and Resilience

Religion can be a real source of comfort for a lot of people, and has been shown to be a resilience factor in a number of studies now.

According to Dr Michael Ungar who studies resilience, religion can help children to be resilient as well. But as Dr Ungar also points out, it’s more likely the resources that are associated with religion that are the source of that resilience as opposed to the spiritual beliefs themselves. So we can’t exactly be like, “Here’s a deity, pray to them and feel better.”

Membership in a religion can confer a host of benefits for a child. It can bring relationships and community. Religion can give children a sense of identity in which to anchor themselves. Depending on the religion in question, a child may even get to make decisions within ritual and possibly also gain a feeling of control. Participation in religious groups can also give a child the opportunity to engage in acts of generosity which can make them feel good. Religious communities often meet the physical needs of children too through their charitable programs. And finally, participation in rituals and holidays can help give a child a sense of routine and prove grounding.

So with those points in mind, I think the importance of tackling this subject as a community is clear. If we are to be in-community with others then we must consider the needs of all age groups.

2.a. Storytelling and Cooperative Gaming

One of the needs I think is the hardest for us to meet for our children (again, depending on where we live), is socialization and the need for friendship.

My child has historically avoided Zoom-based hangouts with other children outside of school. The prospect has always seemed about as appealing as a fart in a spacesuit to her. But her Friday afternoon My Little Pony Zoom RPG session is becoming a firm favorite.

For those of you who have never played RPGs (Role-Playing Games), they are a form of collective storytelling in which players and the person running the game imaginatively co-create story together.

Humans have told stories since some of our earliest days and stories are probably our biggest consumable. They are the TV shows and movies we watch, the books we read, and games we play. Not all forms of story consumption are equal though, and some confer benefits that others do not. For example, people who read fiction have consistently been shown to have stronger social cognition abilities than those who don’t. When it comes to TV and movies, studies on mirror neurons suggest that the same parts of the brain that are activated when you perform a goal-oriented action are also activated when you view someone else doing it too! And RPGs have been shown to enable people to fulfill a range of social needs (such as friendship maintenance).

In short, story (depending on how you consume it),can be wonderful for everything from social cognition and friendship maintenance, to fulfilling social needs and possibly maintaining or increasing neuroplasticity by activating areas of the brain you may not otherwise ordinarily use.

Story is important, but perhaps it becomes even more so to socially isolated children?

2.b. Story and the Child

Now I’m not saying to give them a free reign over TV and Minecraft. Just that in a world of inorganic Zoom-based interactions, something like gathering to play in a well-loved fictional setting (such as My Little Pony), may be a good option for social interaction with other kids. And the cool thing about fantastical settings, is that even with parental supervision/help, the children can still feel relatively free to explore (which I think probably makes everything so much less awkward for them).

After all, no one is going to get into trouble for “teleporting the bad guy’s head off”.

Moreover, depending on the age of the child, RPGs can and often do include mythological themes (some of them particularly well researched) and can be an avenue for learning Pagan and Heathen mythologies.

Finally, RPGs can also be played within the family and provide a safe outlet for difficult emotions. Which I think we can all agree is something a lot of us struggle with from time to time.

Just a warning though, children’s storytelling can be quite twisted and bizarre (and this is apparently super normal).

3. Tower Time is The Long Game

Finally, I just want to talk about the ‘long game’ here. Because Tower Time is not going away any time soon, and nor will its mark upon us.

Pandemics, societal unrest, attempted coups and environmental disaster are all high stress situations/events. Even if we were to solve all the things in the most perfect way, the effects of this era are going to haunt us all for years to come. And when it comes to the children growing up in this time, I would guess those effects are going to be far more profound.

This is something that will affect this entire generation and I think we need to be prepared for that.

The “Little” Things

Before finishing this insanely long post though, I just want to say something that I hope brings hope to those of you out there who are looking at your kids and feeling kind of powerless and burned out by everything:

Don’t underestimate the little things.

When I look back to my own childhood growing up and the challenges my generation faced there, the things I keep coming back to are the “little” ways in which my parents consistently showed love. We were poor – very poor in fact. We were the kind of poor where we had back-up plans that involved foraging, setting snares on the local moors, and gathering wood (my dad kept the old chimney in place for reasons). I was the kid in homemade clothes with thrift store Christmas gifts bulking up the presents my parents scrimped and saved to get us all year. But although times were clearly not great for us then, my childhood isn’t some blot in my memory.

I remember the love there. The work my mum put into those clothes she knitted and stitched for us. Her hugs. I think about the way her voice still sounds like a hug even 3,500 miles away. And I think of traveling with my dad in his truck during school vacations and talking about all kinds of things. Because that’s when I got to see him the most.

I’m no expert on this. And I think what our kids are going through now is way worse than anything I experienced. But still, I think those so-called “little things” play a big role.

And we shouldn’t underestimate them. They’re not a “fix” by any stretch, but I think knowing you’re loved maybe goes a long way. And I dearly hope the conversation about how we and our communities can support children during these trying times takes root.

Until the next time.

Be well.

The Work of Our Time: COVID-19 Edition

The world (or at least my part of it) has changed since the last time I blogged. We now find ourselves in a global pandemic facing a tsunami of illness and death. We live in a world of ‘shelter-in-place’, ‘social-distancing’, and ‘lockdowns’, and society has been turned on its head with the “essential” 1% being shown to be far less essential than the healthcare workers, trash collectors, department of public works Work - caduceusemployees, and grocery store clerks (among others, please forgive me if I missed you).

This pandemic has been illuminating in other ways too.

Those of us with chronic illness have learned just how many of our friends and loved ones are okay with COVID-19 ‘just’ killing ‘those people’. (Psst, we are ‘those people’, and sorry bud, but it doesn’t ‘just’ kill ‘those people’ anyway.) Healthcare workers are hailed as heroes even as they’re being sent to the frontlines of this fight with insufficient PPE, and a whole host of gig workers and minimum wage staff are forced to risk their health and maybe their lives to hopefully avoid homelessness and starvation with no PPE.

And yet, the entitled Chads and Karens of this world are still bitching about the ‘injustice’ of being unable to go boating on the bay on nice days.

As the meme goes, ‘if COVID is a black lamp, America is a cum-stained hotel room’. This public health crisis has illustrated the weaknesses of the inherent iniquities in our society like nothing else.

The deaths are climbing, but this is still the calm before the storm. This is the boiling sea before the deluge that sweeps away lives and tosses them aside like broken driftwood.

The Storm and Tower Time

When I was younger, I used to wonder if people had sensed the coming of major disasters, or killing times like WWI and WWII in a way that went beyond political analysis. It just didn’t seem possible to me that there hadn’t been dreams, visions, or some kind of extrasensory ‘tip off’ about these things given the level of resulting mass trauma. Unsurprisingly, when you dig into the stories around these events, it’s not uncommon to find premonitions of impending doom.

People have been writing about ‘The Storm’ and  ‘Tower Time’ in the Pagan blogosphere for a while now, and many of us have privately confessed our intuitions to each other that ‘something is coming’, that ‘something’ is ramping up and going to happen.  The thing about prophecy and intuition though, is that timing is often quite hard to parse. How much of what we declared to be ‘Tower Time’ before was preview, and how much of it was us actually existing within that temporal space?

Moreover, where did ‘The Storm’ come into it all? Was ‘The Storm’ the preview to the Tower as we see in the card? After all, it’s a bolt of lightning that brings the top of the tower down.

Tower Time has been on the cards for a while now, but it’s always been a feeling of ‘not yet’ for me. Now though, I’m getting the ‘yes now’ ringing clearly. The die has been cast, and if my cards are to be believed, this is but one thing in a chain of fundamentally changing events.

Doing the Work

Which brings me to the work of this time.

Before now, the exhortation to ‘do the work’ has always been annoyingly vague to me, and the examples cited have often just been the things I do anyway. If anything, it felt like we were weathering the circumstances similarly to how one weathers a storm. But of late, ‘the work’, and what it entails, has come sharply into focus along with The Tower.

These are the activities I consider to be the most important parts of the Work of our time.

Offerings

The biggest work I’m seeing the need for right now is making offerings to the hale and holy powers. This is complete UPG, but there is a sense that the gods are also fighting something in my part of the ThisWorld, and that they need Work - offeringofferings.

If this is a vibe you’re also feeling, then I invite you to join me in making offerings to them on the full moon (4/7). Make them before then too – but make the full moon date special. Tell your friends. Turn it into a thing. Have Zoom rituals if you want. Just show those hale and holy powers in your life some major love, (and especially those with the ability to renew and regenerate).

In addition to this, I am also making offerings to the local spirits. Because if we have pissed them off (and possibly provoked them to inflict a virus on us as some traditional healing modalities suggest), then it’s just common sense to apologize and try to appease them. It can be as simple as a stick of incense in your backyard, or milk poured at the base of any trees or bushes you have. Please do not violate any stay at home or shelter in place orders to do this. The best way we can protect each other is to physically stay away from each other in times like these. So be considerate in how you make your offerings.

Healing Work/Supplication to Healing/Disease Subduing Deities

Work with any healing deities or deities that are known for subduing disease? Great! Make offerings to them! Do healing work in their name. Pray, pray, and pray some more for them to step in and help the folks who are sick and dying, as well as their family members and the frontline medical staff working to save them.

Pray for protection for those healthcare workers too (and harass your congress people about that PPE). If they fall, things will become immeasurably worse for all of us. And shit, but they deserve to come home safe to their families.

Singing the Dead

In my opinion, this is by far one of the most important parts of the work of our time. In a couple of weeks, we’re going to have a lot of dead people. And these are people who are going to have passed in terrifying, lonely circumstances.  I already personally know one person  with the story of only being able to say goodbye to a dying relative over FaceTime because they could not risk allowing family members to be with the dying because of the risk of infection.

That is going to make for a lot of hurt dead who aren’t necessarily going to get to where they need to go. The thought of this is absolutely heartbreaking to me, and so I’ve started praying for and singing the dead every night. At the moment, my songs are improvised. My usual psychopomp song (A Lyke Wake Dirge) seems insufficient for this purpose. But if I come upon something particularly good, I will share here.

Because I cannot go to the places where the dead are, I am relying on songs of enticement to pull the dead in and guide them home, and I advise you to make that your focus too. So please, again, stay home, find ways to work from home in your tradition, and stay the hell away from hospitals.

Loving the Living

As a few bloggers have remarked, the term ‘social distancing’ is something of a misnomer in the age of internet. What we are really talking about when we say ‘social distancing’ is physical distance. We can still support each other even at a distance.

These times are hard, and a lot of people are struggling with the enormity of the challenges we face. Many of us are also experiencing anxiety and going through some form of mourning, and that will only become keener as death closes in on us. So, part of the work needs to be checking in with each other, leading community worship/online events, and creating systems of support. These systems do not have to be solely religious in nature either. Religion should not be the only justification for gathering together (in cyberspace). What about your local community where you are? What about your neighbors? What about the folks you happen to share passions with? The more community networks we have the better.  The way our society previously worked was detrimental to communities and was isolating. There are reasons for this, shitty reasons. We don’t need to fall back into that again. We’re stronger when we’re together.

The Tower Made Stone

Three days ago, on the 28th of March, many of us were confronted with the literal image of The Tower in the city of Baltimore. Lightning struck the steeple of the Urban Bible Fellowship Church causing it to partially collapse and

Work - tower
Credit: Baltimore Sun

damage the adjacent Institute of Notre Dame. (Another year, another Notre Dame?)

As far as omens go, this one is loud.

We weathered the storm, the lightning struck, and Tower time is now. But how much will burn, how far the steeple will fall, what the wreckage will look like, and how we’ll recover is anyone’s guess. So do the work as you see it, choose as wisely as you can, and grow community like kudzu. Our survival in whatever comes next may depend on it.

May as many of us as possible live to see it.

Be well, my friends.