Opening the Sacred Enclosure

Like millions of others, I followed the events in Charlottesville a couple of weeks ago with outrage and horror. Amidst all the images of violence and hate, there was one frequently shown photograph of flags and banners held by the hatemongers which produced in me an extra sense of anger.

It included a banner with the image of a rune: Othala.

As a Heathen who works with runes, it is of course frustrating and infuriating to see a symbol which carries no implicit racist or supremacist meaning adopted by groups promoting such philosophies. Like all the runes of the Elder Futhark, of which it is a part,  Othala is rich with varied meanings and significances. Broadly speaking it encompasses such concepts as homeland, ancestry, tradition — that which grounds you, supports you, strengthens you — your spiritual core. It is a rune of spiritual and emotional strength and resilience, not a rune of fear and bigotry.  The appearance of the rune itself suggests an enclosure, and Diana Paxson develops this idea in her book, Taking Up the Runes:

The symbol of the sacred enclosure, whether spiritual or psychic, can be very useful. Whether or not one owns property, one can claim a sacred space in vision that will be an inalienable refuge. This rune relates to the human need both for personal space and for a community to which to belong.

Whatever its varied meanings, to interpret this rune in a racist, “blood and soil” sense is utterly unjustified. And after high profile events like the ones in Charlottesville the cry goes up in the Heathen community to “Take back our symbols!” — to wrest these symbols away from the racists and supremacists who pervert them so that the symbols can continue to be used in our own spirituality without misunderstanding.

While I agree completely with the desire to reclaim Othala and other symbols from groups that would misuse them in hideous ways, the response can’t end there. Once we reclaim them how do we use them? Do we simply proceed as before, or do we perhaps find in the timeless meanings of these symbols new ways to directly counteract their uses by the forces of hate?

With Othala, maybe we can look again at the “sacred enclosure.” It is not an enclosure for a given race or culture to shut themselves in due to fear and bigotry. Rather it is an enclosure open in hospitality to all who wish to live in harmony, and in particular those who face persecution and oppression. This is the “community to which to belong.” The forces of fear and bigotry aren’t on the inside of the enclosure — they are on the outside. But as the cause of justice is increasingly embraced the enclosure can always be made wider. Thus Othala is changed from a tool for hate to a symbolic weapon against it.

This is the challenge for Heathenry and indeed for all of us — to not just say, “This is who we are not,” but to say as strongly and defiantly as possible, “This is who we are.”



Opening the Sacred Enclosure

Hospitality, Sanctuary, and Decriminalizing Existence

The concept of hospitality is presumably as old as society itself. Whenever strangers entered a community, a decision had to be made. Do we reject them? Do we send them away? Or do we welcome them and share our resources with them? And if they decide they want to stay, do we force them to leave, or do we accept them and integrate them into the community? And how does such integration and inclusion happen?

Recently, a seminar on the topic of immigration was held in downtown Asheville. Sponsored by Indivisible Asheville, it featured speakers from Project South, a leadership development and activist organization based in Atlanta; and the Asheville group Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Accion, or CIMA. As Alan Ramirez of CIMA reported on his group’s work in education and advocacy in the local Latino community he talked about one of CIMA’s aims being “decriminalizing our existence.” He spoke of immigrants as being rendered “invisible” to the larger community, and of not only rules but language being used against them. He outlined the systemic racism involved in being presumed to be a criminal because of the color of your skin, and of constantly being asked for your ID, as if you have to justify your presence in a community where you might have lived for years, if not decades.

In opposition to this, Ramirez offered the concept of “sanctuary.” In contemporary discussions about immigration, this term is generally used in one of two ways: “sanctuary cities,” where elected officials and local law enforcement declare they won’t be coerced into unnecessarily helping federal officials detain and deport local residents; and “sanctuary congregations” — religious groups who offer to take in those threatened with deportation to give them time to make their case as to why they should be allowed to stay. But Ramirez used the term more broadly — an outlook, a mindset of resistance where we look out for our neighbors and friends, and stand with those marginalized in any way against individuals or forces who would harass or persecute them.

In this sense, sanctuary might be seen as the next step after hospitality. It is the journey from acceptance to inclusiveness. It is the difference between, “you are welcome to be here with us” and “you are one of us.” And if you are one of us we cannot see your existence as being criminal (or “illegal”). Yes, differences and conflicts may arise. But we will work through those differences as neighbors in a community, and we will defend your right to be here and your right to equal treatment. Because by doing so, we are protecting those rights for all of us.


Hospitality, Sanctuary, and Decriminalizing Existence

Reaping the Whirlwind

Recently on Twitter, Stuart Stevens posted the following: “From Boy Scouts to law enforcement, POTUS is urging American institutions to embrace anger and & give up on trying to uphold higher standards.”

For the record, Stuart Stevens is a Republican. And not just any Republican: he’s a top strategist who has worked on the presidential campaigns of, among others, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney. He is someone with whom I disagree politically a lot more often than I agree. And yet there are some issues which are larger than partisan politics.

Late July and early August mark the season of Lammastide. It is the time of first harvest, when the wheat is being brought in, and we begin to celebrate the bounty from the seeds that we planted earlier in the year. We rejoice in the generosity of Earth, which keeps us alive. But not all seeds are wholesome. And some harvests can be poisonous.

Over the past six months or so, seeds have been planted in this country which could produce a highly poisonous crop: a society where hospitality is seen as weakness, and fear and bigotry are seen as strengths. An example of these bitter seeds is alluded to by Stevens in his post: the speech that Donald Trump recently gave to a group of law enforcement officials, the transcript of which can be found here.  In this address, Trump went far beyond simply praising law enforcement for their courage, and offering them support. He painted a picture of a society in the grip of chaos and anarchy, threatened on all sides by immigrants, “thugs,” and “radical Islamic terrorism.” He praised his director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for looking “very nasty” and “very mean.” He repeatedly referred to the criminal gang MS-13 as a reason for his crackdown on undocumented immigrants, even though the great majority of such immigrants are leading peaceful and productive lives in our communities. He portrayed the court system as being totally on the side of criminals. He implicitly endorsed police brutality against those arrested for crimes. And throughout the speech he left no doubt as to the general nature of those who in his view pose such dangers: they are the “others” — racial and religious minorities. In the society that Donald Trump portrayed, generosity and tolerance lead only to violence and lawlessness.

At Lammastide we rejoice in bounty and we celebrate generosity — the generosity of the Earth towards us and our generosity towards each other. It is the harvest of  hospitality, compassion. justice, and goodwill. But when seeds of fear, hatred and intolerance are planted,  the crop produced is a thick morass of brutality, resentment, and violence. We should speak out loudly against the planting of such seeds — and utterly avoid the reaping of such crops.

Reaping the Whirlwind

Container for Relationships; Or, How Many Times Can I Ask Uncle Fred for Money?

Last weekend’s first ever Mystic South Conference, held in Atlanta, was an amazing event — three days of workshops, concerts, and general revelry. Conference organizer Star Bustamonte and her merry band of volunteers did a remarkable job of running the show, even through a water/air conditioning outage in the host hotel which lasted for about ten hours on the conference’s second full day.

The many workshops and presentations which took place provided such a feast of ideas, inspirations, and provocations that it would be impossible to recount them all, and I am still mentally processing a lot of them. But two of the workshops in particular, though disparate in their approaches, provided concepts which together raised interesting issues for my own particular practice as a polytheistic Heathen.

On Saturday afternoon, as we persevered through the water crisis, Theanos Thrax — aka Anomalous Thracian — presented a workshop titled, “Heart of Hospitality: Spirits and Place in Religions of Relation.” Although he presented many thought-provoking ideas during his talk one phrase in particular especially caught my attention: he defined religion as “a container for relationships.” That phrase indeed gets to the heart of what Heathenry is for me: relationship with the gods and goddesses whom I honor as well as the land spirits. the ancestors, and all the other beings who presence surrounds me. And the ethical side of Heathenry is about relationship as well: while striving to live a good, honorable life is certainly a worthy goal in and of itself, it is also my gift back to the gods for their gift to me of the essence of life.

Then, on Sunday morning, the inimitable Dorothy Morrison led a rollicking, boisterous, and fascinating exchange on the issue of ethics in magic and spellwork. The discussion was centered around the example of a money spell, and starred a hypothetical Uncle Fred who, as we found out by stages during the course of the discussion, was (a) unimaginably rich (b) the owner-manager of a soup kitchen and (c) quite possibly a serial killer who preyed on homeless people. (Netflix could probably base an entire series around Uncle Fred.) As we found out each new fact about the stubborn; or rather, kind; or rather, sinister Uncle Fred, the ethics of the money spell seemed to change.

So how did my crazy mind (though not as crazy as Uncle Fred’s) make a connection between these two presentations? The spellwork which Dorothy Morrison for the most part referred to was energy manipulation– simply working magically with the forces always around us which have no personality or morals of their own. The forces themselves don’t care how they’re used. But when I as a polytheist ask for something tangible — money, health, parking place, politicians who aren’t complete idiots — I tend to make the request to a certain god or goddess or group of gods/goddesses whom I honor. And that gets back to relationship: every time I make such a request it has an effect, though perhaps infinitesimal, on my relationship with that deity or deities. No, it isn’t about fear, or concern about making the gods angry; that’s not an issue at all. But it is about a relationship of mutual respect where each side doesn’t see the other as being there simply to perform tasks or run errands.

My pondering of this continues, and all of the above may simply be me thinking out loud. But thanks to the Mystic South Conference for, among its many other delights and benefits, giving me issues like this to contemplate, which will undoubtedly lead to the enrichment of my spiritual life.

Container for Relationships; Or, How Many Times Can I Ask Uncle Fred for Money?

Oh, Canada! (And don’t forget the sun lamp)

I got a phone call the other night from my friend, Hedrick. (Yes, a phone call. Hedrick is not an early adopter.)

“That’s it!” said Hedrick, “I’m moving to Canada.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The election! Didn’t you hear about the election?”

“Yes, I do vaguely remember hearing something about it.”

“I am not going to stay here with that man as president.”

“I seem to recall you also saying that in 1980 and 2004.”

“I mean it this time. I’m moving north.”

“Hedrick, you live in Florida. You bundle up in a parka if the temperature dips below 70 degrees. How are you going to survive Canada?”

“I’ve got a sun lamp. Mittens. I’ll build a fire.”

“You don’t know how to build a fire.”

“What do you mean? I was a Boy Scout…um..some time back. I bet I’ve still got my Boy Scout Handbook around here somewhere. ‘A Scout is trustworthy, friendly –‘”

“‘loyal, helpful,’ and so forth. Right. But do you know anything about Canada? Other than the climate, I mean.”

“I know a lot about Canada. I always watch the Winter Olympics. I just hope they don’t make me do that shuffleboard on ice with the brooms thing.”

“You might not be able to avoid it. I think curling is very popular there.”

“And I’ve seen ‘Strange Brew.’ Twice, I think.”

“So your knowledge of Canada is based on the Winter Olympics and the McKenzie Brothers. You’ll be real popular up there.”

“I can learn. I’m smart.”

“Yes, you are smart, Hedrick, and that’s why I hope you don’t move. We need you down here. Think about the people who won’t be able to move to Canada.”

“They don’t have sun lamps?”

“Hedrick, you and I are white. Male. Fairly well off. Donald Trump won’t be targeting us. The people who are most in danger from him are people who don’t have the resources to simply get up and move to Canada, or anywhere else. The poor. Immigrants. In many cases, members of racial and religious minorities. Obviously, women of all economic classes have to be wondering what the future holds for them with a sexual predator in the White House. Yes, some folks in these latter groups can afford to leave, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did, but dammit, this is as much their country as it is Trump’s. They shouldn’t feel forced to abandon it. We need to stand in solidarity with them. We’ll need to organize. And, now that I think of it, I seem to recall that you have great organizational skills.”

“I organized our company picnic last spring. Other than three different people bringing potato salad and two people hitting each other with croquet mallets, it was a big success.”

“There you go. That type of skill will be very important going forward. Though maybe we won’t ask you to organize croquet matches.”

“You might be right. I guess I just got pretty traumatized by the election.”

“I don’t blame you. When I saw on the computer that Trump had won I kinda freaked out, too.”

“See? That’s why I don’t have a computer. Well, I’ll think about what you said. Maybe I won’t move to Canada after all. But if I do still decide to move, may I stop by your house on my way north? Maybe I could practice building fires there.”

“Sorry. Wouldn’t work. I don’t have a fireplace.”



Oh, Canada! (And don’t forget the sun lamp)

Gotta Laugh?

Never forget: Tyrants hate ridicule. As long as we can laugh at them they know they don’t have us completely under their control. It’s hardly a surprise that the President-Elect, after using all of his daylight and evening hours attacking and belittling virtually every disadvantaged group in this country during his campaign, spent the wee hours of the morning hunched over his phone tweeting out insults to anyone who had the temerity to criticize or even laugh at him. They weren’t taking him seriously. They weren’t falling in line. They weren’t yet under his power.

Of course, the words and deeds of tyrants are rarely funny and are often horrific. But it is the nature of the tyrannical character, the ignorance, the insecurity, the paranoia, that is ludicrous and absurd. And tyrants themselves rarely have a sense of humor; or, if they do, it has become curdled and degraded. So humor turned against them is a force beyond their comprehension, and they are mystified in how to respond.

In general, ridicule is something to avoid. In the hands of a bully it can be devastating. But when used against a bully it becomes a method of defiance, a declaration of one’s humanity. As Voltaire said, “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.”

Gotta Laugh?

Roses of Texas

There are three late, great women of Texas who are heroes of mine: Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, and Molly Ivins. As we begin life in these Disunited States of Trumpland, here are Molly’s marching orders:

 “Keep fighting for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.”

Roses of Texas

The weather outside is frightful. We need advice insightful.

We have entered February, the longest short month of the year and, to the delight of the National Bread, Milk & Toilet Paper Association, winter is definitely upon us. Therefore, as a public service, Castle Heathen asked a number of well known and not so well know individuals and groups for their comments and advice concerning winter weather and how to deal with it. And, by golly, some of them actually answered. The replies with the fewest obscenities and misspelled words follow:

Republican National Committee: Ask Obama. It’s all his fault.

Donald Trump: Until we figure out the answer, we need to construct a wall along the US/Canadian border to to keep the cold air out. And we should do it while Ted Cruz is up in Canada. You know Ted Cruz is from Canada, right?

Ted Cruz: I am the best candidate to deal with the cold weather problem because everybody hates me. When I become president, everyone will be jumping up and down and shaking their fists at me, and all that exercise will keep them warm.

Marco Rubio: If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times: Obama did it and he knew exactly what he was doing. Come to think of it, I have said that a thousand times.

John Kasich: Please find all the copies you can of the New York Times, dated January 31, and burn them. That’s the issue in which they endorsed me. If that gets out, I’m doomed.

Democratic National Committee: Great question! Let’s debate it! Or not.

Bernie Sanders: It is inexcusable that we have such temperature inequality in this country. When I become president, I will impose a ten-degree tax on the state of Arizona (which is owned by the Koch brothers) and give those ten degrees to the state of New Hampshire.

Hillary Clinton: Just do what I and all my friends in the Big Humongous Secret Conspiracy Of Billionaires, Zillionaires, Corporate Executives, Telemarketers, Zombies, and Rabid Hamsters do. Burn money! Woo-hoo! Now, when my husband Bill gets cold he — actually, we’d better not go there.

Vladimir Putin: You weak, decadent, degenerate Westerners! I laugh at you derisively as I ride my horse across the frozen steppes!

Your Doctor: Let’s see: the earliest opening I have for an appointment to talk to you about dealing with the cold weather would be May 24.

Your Mom: Oh, so now you’re coming to me asking me for advice ? You could’ve listened to me when you were young and I told you to put on a hat and mittens and snow boots and stay away from that frozen pond, but noooooo, you were smarter than your mother! Well, suck it up, Buster, you’re on your own now!

Your Dog: I don’t mind the cold weather — I’ve got a thick, furry coat! Hey, let’s run across this patch of black ice! Oops — did you slip and fall down? Don’t worry! I love you, and therefore I will drag you full speed through the neighborhood!

Your Cat: Shut up, and clean the litter box.

Satan: It’ll be a cold day in Hell before it’s ever a cold day in Hell.

Barack Obama: Yes, I did it! It’s all my fault! And you know what? If I had it to do over, I’d do it again! And I don’t care what you think about that because in less than a year I’ll be outta here! Farewell, suckers!

The weather outside is frightful. We need advice insightful.


In case you hadn’t heard, the federal government recently issued the “Absolutely Latest And Final True Dietary Guidelines Until We Issue New Ones Next Week.” Some things remain the same. Sugar is still bad, so put that doughnut down! Or, better yet, give it to me, since I’ve eaten enough sugar in my life to develop antibodies to fight the stuff. The government must have gotten a nice Christmas bonus from the National We Love Cholesterol Association because they’ve eased up on their warnings about that particular substance, though bad cholesterol is still naughty and should be sent to its room without its (low-cholesterol) supper.

But the big news is that our national nannies now approve of up to five cups a day of coffee! In my brain I have already translated “up to” to “a minimum of” because, well, “Hi, I’m Patrick, and I admit that I am powerless — not to mention shaky and jittery — when it comes to my coffee addiction.”

Since it’s The American Way to blame all our problems on our parents, I’ll blame this one on my mom. Early one Sunday, when I was home from college on vacation, my older brother, who worked as a radio station announcer, was lightly injured in a minor car accident on his way to work . Mom came into my room and started shaking me awake, saying, “Your brother’s been in an accident and you have to drive me to the hospital!” I responded with something intelligent and sensitive like “glub-glub sleep glub-glub go away,” at which point my mother held a mug of steaming liquid under my nose, and said, “Drink this.” Now, my mother made the kind of coffee that, if you didn’t watch it closely. would jump out of the cup and start running around the room. Needless to say, not only did I drive Mom to the hospital, but I made the half-hour drive in about ten minutes.

And thus began my enslavement to the black liquid. (And yes, I drink it black. If I try drinking it with sugar or cream, it literally makes me sick. Thanks, Mom.) Like the Spartans with their shields heading into battle, I would arrive at work each morning bearing my coffee thermos. When Juan Valdez and his donkey — or mule, or whatever — would appear on television I would stand and bow in homage. Prometheus brought fire to the earth, Odin gained the knowledge of the runes, Juan Valdez brings us coffee. One of my favorite inventors is the unknown (to me, anyway) person who invented the thingy that allows you to pull the carafe out of the electronic coffeemaker and pour yourself a cup while the coffeemaker is still brewing. Yay, I don’t have to wait another thirty seconds for it to finish!

I will admit that in recent years I’ve been occasionally lacing the real stuff with some decaf after grudgingly accepting the fact that caffeine affects me more than it used to. Still it’s nice to see the feds finally acknowledge the value of the Magical Brew. Just the other day I received in the mail an invitation to subscribe to some health newsletter. Included in the envelope was a pamphlet titled “51 Healthy Foods You Can Say ‘Yes’ To.”

I immediately checked to see if the pamphlet mentioned coffee. It didn’t. I threw it away.





As you may have heard, the current Powerball lottery is worth about $800 million. According to killjoy statisticians your odds against winning that money are about 292 million to one. But in actuality your odds are even worse, because I’ve already rigged it so that my number will be drawn. Yay, I win!

So how am I going to spend all that money that I’ve won fair and square, just like a government contractor? Here are some thoughts I’ve had, though I’m open to other suggestions:

$5000 for stale fruitcake, to be dropped by drones on the toy soldiers at the Oregon wildlife refuge. If they manage to dodge them they can use them for snacks.

$100,000 for high-grade weed and Doritos, to be sent to North Korean Fearless Leader Kim Jong-un. Seriously. Dude needs to chill.

$200,000 to build a wall around Donald Trump.

$3,000,000 oh what the hell, let’s build walls around all the other Republican presidential candidates as well.

And, just so Hillary, Bernie, and Martin don’t get too smug, $1,000,000 to be held in reserve for possible future walls.

Of course, some of the money should stay here in the local community. Therefore:

$20,000,000 to buy the New Belgium plant and move it into the basement of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce building.

$1,000,000 to refurbish the current site of the New Belgium plant, and turn it into a playground where local developers can take toy blocks and build hotels and office complexes to their hearts’ content. And as soon as they finish building their structures the rest of us can come by and kick them over.

$10,000,000 for a scientific study to determine how I can temporarily suspend gravity in my house when I need to. I’m having one of those days. I keep knocking things over. I’m tired of it.

And finally:

$764,695,000 to Mark Zuckerberg, so he can give away a bunch of money to every single person who shares this blog post. Really! Absolutely true!! This is not a hoax!!!

You’re welcome.