Love for the Lindens

For Valentine’s Day, I climbed a tree.

A friend mentioned that Valentine’s Day, if one wishes to put a strongly Heathen spin on it, makes excellent sense as a feast for Gullveig. While it gets shoved into most Ásatrú-type calendars as Valablót, this comes from a bogus folk etymology and a bad sense of history. And yeah, to be fair, the idea of Valentine’s Day as Gullveigsblót has no historical basis, either. But the secularized cultural traditions certainly have more relevance to her.

We eat an awful lot of heart-shaped things in February.

I’ve also been whittling a lot lately, since the weather is warming up. But since I didn’t know what I was doing when I started, I picked up a lot of juniper twigs to work with. The ideal starter wood for newbie whittlers is actually basswood–a very soft, minimally-grained wood which comes from the linden tree. By contrast, juniper is roughly one and a half times as hard as linden. Harder woods, when they’re being whittled by someone with no clue what they’re doing (e.g. me) tend to crack and tear.

So after making dubious progress on a hair fork and mini-godpole (with a surprise twig dick–Loki, wtf) I decided to go poke around under the linden in my yard for deadfall, because I’d been planning to fashion little wooden hearts to burn as offerings. I try to stick to deadfall because it tends to be pre-dried, and I don’t like to take living or healthy pieces off trees without good reason. I figure it causes distress.

It happens to be doubly important not to break off live, healthy pieces from a linden. These are familial, generational trees with valuable medicinal properties. Þings were hosted underneath them, because lindens were believed to reveal the truth. This association with exposing hidden truths, in combination with the heart-eating passage in the Hyndluljoð (“on a linden-wood fire, he found it half-cooked”) makes me associate linden trees with Gullveig. They command respect.

Also, I’m a bleeding-heart hippie. But, eh, that’s kind of a given.

Poking around at the base of the tree didn’t turn up any sufficiently dry or large branches. I tested a few of the lower branches, but a lot of them were still wick and clearly healthy. Upon looking up, however, I noticed a lot of dead or sickly branches that were tangled up in the live ones.

I hadn’t climbed a tree in about ten years, and I am not particularly strong. But I wanted to help this tree out and see if I could get some spoon-making wood for my trouble.

I have no clue where the strength came from, but I managed to hoist myself up, parallel bars style, to a point where I could get a foothold and clamber up about ten feet to the first dead branch. I felt ancient, in the sense that climbing a tree is an instinctive skill that never seems to go away. I’d say it’s like riding a bike, but I was a much better climber than cyclist as a kid.

After freeing the first dead branch and letting it drop to the ground, I forgot all about whittling and focused on identifying and removing all the dead or sickly branches I could reach. While it probably still annoys a plant to remove dying bits, the plant benefits, because it’s no longer wasting energy and nutrients on a limb that is unproductive and possibly infected. Basically, the same logic as amputating a gangrenous finger.

Which makes you wonder what it would be like if trees had fingers, but that image already made me lose enough sleep, thank you very much.

I got stuck in the tree for a while when freeing the last branch, but eventually made my way down miraculously unscathed and patted the bark gratefully. I had to circle the tree again to make sure all the branches were accounted for, and finish disentangling a particularly large one. One still-attached branch caught my eye, and when I tested it, it peeled off with almost no effort. It felt like a gift, and because it was mostly dry, it’s becoming a little heart-shaped spoon for Gullveig.

I figured the best show of devotion for her, since the spoon would take forever, would be to symbolically rebirth the branches. Rotten wood is a beautiful source of nutrition in the forest environment, and while this linden was in an awkward, otherwise empty spot, it has its own little ecosystem. This is especially true in the spring, when the blooms attract bees. I broke the bigger branches into pieces and left them at the base, to increase surface area for the microbes that would turn them into nutrient-rich dirt. This also invokes the “laving with loam” that the Norns provide to Yggrasil in Voluspa.

Come spring, that compost will nourish the tree and help it grow new branches and release new seeds. Decomposition is a destructive result of the wood dying, but all life on land is dependent on death. So, like Gullveig, who is repeatedly destroyed and revived, these branches get to come back new.

Three times burned, and three times born,
Oft and again, yet ever she lives.

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Counting My Feathers, as the Bells Toll

I hated the people in Austin, but I loved the birds. So with the exception of the loons, the big, shiny grackles and the feral parrots, I was relieved to get out.

I was also delirious from lack of proper sleep, and overwhelmed by the feeling that my heart was going to explode, which had stuck around after angrily pulling at my pashmina tassels for lack of prayer beads. No amount of study, prayer and trying to space out in the overly spacious bathtub at my disposal managed to shut it off. (Instead, this happened.)

It’s not a bad feeling, but it’s exhausting and extremely difficult to pass for a normal person when these feelings flare up. (And I’m already weird. Too weird for Austin, apparently.) I felt like a mistreated show dog any time I had to rein it in to shield my sister’s sensibilities.

But she’s never really grokked to my personality, so whatever…I guess.

After an encounter with a wonderfully helpful stewardess, I was staggering around my designated terminal, desperately trying to find a way to take the edge of the sensation of pulling apart at the seams. I wandered past a gift shop, and realized I hadn’t bought any souvenirs. I had lofty plans about Stetson hats, but I knew damn well I’d never be Dr. Crawford (or Dr. Quinn?) and the price of food in Austin had blown a hole in my budget.

But a collection of copper cuffs caught my eye, marked at around $12. That wasn’t going to kill me, and they looked like they were stereotypically Texan enough at first blush. I rushed in to get a better look, circling the rack for something that was bland enough for me to take home, when one snapped into focus.

Go figure.

I’d been eyeing bracelets like this to swear my oath on, and I no longer have the luxury of coincidence. I dug out my wallet, snatched it off the rack and tried to approach the till casually, even though my seams were ripping and I thought I was going to die.

The cashier did not pick up on this in the slightest.

“Whoah,” he said appreciatively. “This thing is gonna give you, like, plus-one-thousand coolness points.”

Don’t fucking DO THIS to me, I thought. I stopped talking like this in 2011. Was this person younger than me? By how much? What is it like to live as though Diablo Cody writes your lines and Edgar Wright fine-tunes the delivery? I was fascinated, and in my ridiculous state I was so oddly offended.

“Thanks! I think so too,” I said.

I left the newsstand-sized store, shaking off that weird and involuntary throwback to being fresh out of high school. I didn’t have the energy to be confronted with being in my early late twenties. Not right now.

Doing Weird Pagan Shit isn’t like in the movies, especially not ones that feel like Wes Andersen called the shots. The cuff didn’t glow, or vibrate, or tingle. I couldn’t worry about whether something had gone wrong because of my failure to pay attention, though in my floppy and highly suggestible state that was unlikely.

I got my first answer in Houston, when my jacket went missing after changing my shirt and changing my mind about washing the mustard off of my pashmina. It was the first week of January. The entirety of Texas was freezing. Philly is already like the surface of Mars this time of year, especially so when you’re landing there at night. I needed all four layers to survive.

There was no time to eat, drink, or nap, and definitely no time to go searching for the interfaith chapel. (Austin doesn’t have one.) I would have to find that jacket real damn fast.

After wasting valuable time walking around in circles, I eventually ran back to the bathroom to find it still by the sink, untouched. Given my strict time limit, I sprinted back to the gate, nearly bumping into people, to find that my flight had been delayed.

Cue a very loopy Sally Fields moment:

By now I was running on about 3 hours of atrocious sleep, dehydrated, and sweating like a racehorse. There’s a joke in there, somewhere. I stumbled getting onto the plane, and when a flight attendant saw me limply fanning myself, she handed me a cup of water. She even came back to check on me when the drink cart came around to make sure I was feeling better. I’m not sure if having my sleeves rolled up and the air conditioning on full blast was a ringing endorsement of my state, but it made her feel better.

After 5 hours of clutching the little leather pouch that held my pocket altar and new oath ring, I deplaned in Philly and walked right into this:

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Never in my life would I have predicted feeling personally attacked by a Paul Santoleri mural.

The thing about signs is that they are always, at least superficially, mundane. Falcons hang out in trees because they’re birds. Airport stores stock bracelets because they make good gifts–with feather motifs, because it’s the Southwest. Planes get delayed for all kinds of reasons. There are murals in the Philadelphia airport because it’s Philadelphia.

The key component is that you notice them, or that the timing is suspiciously convenient. It’s often not the object of your gaze being manipulated, but your gaze itself. It is far easier to commandeer a vehicle that you already have permission to drive. (And, yes, Baader-Meinhoff phenomena factor in, too.)

Either way, as I was being sent on a detour around a glitchy exit gate, it all seemed like approval to me. When I finally got home, I awkwardly placed the cuff on Loki’s altar, and climbed into bed.

Part of my brain was still revving, thinking “what have I done,” but the rest of me was just relieved to be somewhere familiar, where my gods and I had personal space, and to have this step out of the way because my recon side called for a piece of metal on my arm. I would worry about that once I had some actual sleep.

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The Hoard

Paganism makes you hoard weird things. Heathenry even more so, probably, because we tend to take our cues from Vikings. And Vikings loved shiny things so much, I’m still not entirely sure they’re not just tall, wingless magpies.

Raiding Dublin is for the birds, is what I’m saying.

I think anyone with vaguely woo leanings is going to pick up a crystal at some point, if only because they’re pretty. Add in a witchy bent, and hag stones, jars (ye gods, the jars) and cool sticks are soon to follow.

Also, I have a dog, so sticks are an inevitability.

In the last 5 years since converting, I’ve collected:

  • Acorns
  • Jars
  • Rusty nails
  • Bits of wax
  • More tealight tins than you can shake a stick at
  • Joker cards
  • Maple leaves
  • Juniper branches and berries
  • Juniper twigs (which are now hair sticks)
  • Oak leaves
  • Hag stones
  • Vaguely heart shaped stones
  • A weirdly eroded river stone that looks straight up volcanic
  • Any bright orange stone I find
  • Railroad coke (the fuel, not the drink. Or the powder.)
  • Tangled fishing line
  • Turtle shells
  • Mardi Gras beads (I had a lot of gold ones. Gullveig did not flash me for them.)
  • An owl pellet
  • little bones
  • A buck’s skull, whose antlers were sawed off (my avatar, in fact)
  • Ferns
  • Dandelions galore
  • Little purple flowers of any variety (since Loki had me pick one for Sigyn)
  • A kaun-shaped twig that fell out of my patio Ash tree. Yes, the falcon one. I felt personally attacked.
  • Grape vines
  • Beer cans (for recycling, as a favor to the landvættir)
  • Bus tokens (from the landvættir)
  • Crystals
  • Mint tins
  • scarves
  • Spiralbound notebook wire for bracelets
  • Folded origami boxes
  • A multipurpose chess board
  • A magnetic chess set, missing all the pieces (makes good lighter storage, though)
  • Bowls. So many bowls.
  • FEATHERS.

The feathers. It’s kind of ridiculous. I had a vaguely feathery association for Loki early on ’cause of the weird falcon thing, but when I had a landscaping/dogwalking job the feathers would pop up constantly. Including a peacock feather at the dog park nobody else spotted.

To my knowledge, we don’t have anyone raising peacocks in the immediate area. Most of the homesteaders here prefer chickens and guineafowl. So that’s already weird. Either way, who doesn’t notice a peacock feather? That’s some ridiculousness.