Ecology is at the core of my Vanatru


Freya’s cats angry, saying “LISTEN TO THE VANIR!”


Put this on a Vanatru board and could hear crickets…. bummed out. I understand WHY, but where’s MY community where I don’t have to worry if people will feel defensive or confused? I get tired of having to make myself smaller and deny my truths to be friends or in groups. If you KNOW this stuff and more importantly are DOING this stuff, CONTACT ME PLEASE. I don’t want teachers or students, I want PEERS. Equals in knowledge and experience for mutual respect. I know you’re probably off the grid without internet (I envy you), but, come on, Freya!  Get your living Vanatru religion people together as a community of appreciative equals excited to share what we do, with the psyche decolonization and collective group skills to make it sustainable so when we change the outet structure, the old mentality doesn’t ruin it, where solidarity about ecology and devotion to your family nourishes us in living your work. Please! I’m tired of being the educated, experienced radical alone comprising my voice to fit in anywhere pagan. This ain’t to dis anyone, but I want MY community. Yours works for you, not me. I’m not better, I’m different. I want peers. If you feel defensive, why? I’m not attacking you. If you feel defensive, work out your perceived threat on your time, not mine. You’re hearing your own criticism of yourself, not mine. I just want people who meet me where I am. Isn’t that what you want? It’s harder for me with total isolation. I want real understanding and mutual support about what matters to me. People living similar values. 

Since religion is what we live , not a hobby on holidays , I’m really interested in how people integrate the main Vanir values of healthy safe food (seeds in Frey’s testicles), oceans and soil which are the main Vanir priorities, into daily life. Being given severe multiple chemical sensitivity was Nerthus way of removing me from everything in this culture that they possibly could for their own reasons which I totally understand – it has nothing to do with how willing I was to do all of the stuff that they wanted at all . I’ve heard someone say that the people who get really sick needed that but those who don’t get sick were more willing consciously – I haven’t experienced that at all in my own life or many others. (Envy of really sick people is weird!)

My liver genetically has problems with detoxification so that means I will get MCS/ was born with it. It is how that was used – considering I was already hard-core ecology , off the grid bioregional animism and also working as a psychic and being really involved with polytheism, pristessing rituals, ministry to prisons, homeless, indigenous rights, Act Up waayyy back – obviously they didn’t have to take me away from anything like that which I embraced . By age 26 i accomplished all of my goals in life but there is no way that I would’ve been able to continue living my values without getting severe MCS and also since I already had mild MCS I was already unable to function well in mainstream society.

The sacrifice function as it was explained to me before it happened was to be able to lead people through all of the stuff I navigated which was a million emotional, legal, physical , mental , spiritual things that if you haven’t experienced it you just cannot be a guide for someone else . With 30% of the “first world” nations populations having MCS but usually not knowing it and for the “majority world” where MCS is rampant , this has always been tied to my spirituality – Lifeway . I built the world’s largest MCS international resource website, and am the Vermont “go to” person for MCS . Which is hard ministry because people are so sick and desperate and having malaria/babesiosis makes me more ill than they are but I have changed laws here and found programs and have with Freya’s help created the ideal MCS home and medical and social services that other people with MCS I know can only dream about having.

I really don’t believe that you can have anything called a nature religion when things at the ceremonies harm nature . Having MCS gives me a much better first-hand pure knowledge of what the assault is on Nerthus and thus makes it easier for me to guide pagans in having ceremonies, ritual supplies, etc. that actually help, don’t hurt the land sea or sky. Working in pagan boutiques and visiting Indio warehouse – it’s all an environmental nightmare and incredibly consumerist and I know a lot of pagans like to collect stuff so my writing about where all of these things come from was popular in the UK where they are much more concerned about ecology due to the British forms of Druidry but not so much in the United States where it is more New Age consumerist for the individual , “I want what I want when I want it .”

That is why I’ve consistently been a voice for the Vanatru values even when Freya was the only one that I personally knew since I was nine, before my dedication. There’s just no way to be devoted to Ingvi and not be working to keep topsoil, stop GMOs, stop pesticides – that’s especially important for Nerthus – protecting bees from colony collapse , the ocean, there so much like making seed balls of native heirloom organic flowers to having a worm composter – that really is for me the focus of the religion.

The spirit work (seidr or spakona) is a nice side line gig, but to me having safe food is above pretty much anything else in life. Vanatru for me is not woo woo; it’s survival.

So serving Vanir, it was very easy because I knew that humans had to make drastic changes in their lifeways to regenerate the land and ocean, and was already involved with Permaculture, bioneers , bioregional living , rewilding – things that really made the land happy . I remember once I was chanting to the land and it said “Would you want to be sick and need some help and just have somebody come and sing at you?” Then I just started picking up trash and planting heirloom seeds.

So how does this ecological focus of the Vanir manifest with others?

The last ceremony that I was well enough to lead in person involved making seed balls which also had magical intentions for peace and health and justice that were scattered all over intercity abandoned lots. Our group focused on traditional skills before electricity. I did not have any diagnosis of MCS or anything at this point – it was just obvious to those of us who were animists that respecting the land and ourselves and the great harmony and healing the giant separation that has created the illusion that humans are not nature and are not “in nature” all of the time , we knew that spiritually this was what the gods or the spirits depending on who people with wanted humans to be doing now.

I received a beautiful made totally from scratch necklace from one member who even handcarved all of the wooden beads . Instead of glue he used pine pitch – I used to be able to do that – but now it’s too much like turpentine.

There was a big focus on studying natural sciences as well as learning traditional skills and doing rewilding and it was for healing ourselves and the earth and removing the false separation that Cartesian thinking created by separating and labeling everything . I was also taking classes in Ecopsychology although I just ended up reading dozens of books on my own , studying Permaculture, indigenous technology, scavenging and upcycling , not buying things – we had conversations about how hard it was because you cannot be pure and so you have to “Bloom where you’re planted” and from there work with the gifts that you have and the challenges which is quite a lot like how I feel about devotional polytheism . How many clients have I told “you don’t need to move to Portland ” to? “You can do it right now right here.”

So we put a lot of effort into cost-benefit analysis . Like today in Vermont where 50% of the ticks carry Lyme disease is it even safe to meet outdoors? Probably only on one of the many many many fresh lakes or river beaches . And it severely limits the amount of foraging – we are lucky because there’s so many abandon apple orchards . I would love to be well enough to prune them so they keep healthy.

And we came to the decision that everything revolves around food and that human beings get that relationship straightened out the majority of other problems will be straightened out as well. So I started getting free organ meat from local organic farmers and also chicken feet and began eating much more like my ancestors . The healthiest part of the animals for free!! Making sure we always have broth and that we were fermenting food. A lot of focus on preserving food without refrigeration if necessary . Plus forging of “weeds” to eat and also drink. Which meant learning a lot of natural science again .

All of this Freya says was to also help me understand how ancient heathens live so the religion would make sense – and the mythology which so many people have turned into new age spiritual – psychotherapy and all metaphysical . When she says “it was about living , not dying.” And of story. And that is what she wants to focus on now. The religion is about living not dying but in a very different world , Eaarth, not Earth. Since there’s no such thing as sustainable electricity at least not 24 seven all of this stuff was really important to her.

So when I when I was diagnosed with severe MCS, there wasn’t much change except that I financially somehow manage to fight enough to get my needs for everything organic , having all of these air purifiers and water purifiers (can’t stand using the electricity for them ) , the purest supplements – almost everything was fair trade or from some Canadian eco-company. So our money went to everything we supported and we went without things like socks or housing.

But there is the cost/benefit analysis – with MCS I definitely needed to have the Internet so I could have some connection to the world of people and also by the one pair of pants that are pure enough for me and in my size – things like that because most of the companies are so tiny and spread out from Maine to Vancouver . However I helped two of my most important businesses with expanding and also marketing for the things that I need to survive and it benefited them and the MCS community. And of course the environment.

Yeah, I don’t blog about it but I work with businesses for free in getting MCS safe items. I change the world. I change laws.

I just wish that the fatigue and pain which are the baseline for Lyme disease and babesiosis/malaria would heal – my specialist now says it will be several years because having MCS makes it so much harder to detoxify as it’s really dangerous because when things go out , I’m as sick as if they were going in . If I had my physical strength back there are so many things I would be building and also sewing and just so many “primitive skills” and “traditional skills” that are part of practicing Vanatru.

When Chas Clifton put out the question ” if somebody just watched how you live without knowing anything about the rituals, just based on how you live your life , would they know that you’re pagan ?” For me and my community before I got so sick that meant ” committed to nature in a real tangible way as well as ending the atrocities of patriarchy including for men and a commitment to social justice and environmental issues where you are willing to invest a lot of time and possibly be in danger” that was just really part of my pagan community in Toronto which came out of Reclaiming and also my bioregional animism community later when I moved .

One thing about mainstream Heathenry now is that animism is much more accepted because it’s in the Lore, it got very popular in the UK with Druidry because of Emma Restall Orr’s book , and the more that I work with the Vanir as they are today and what they want today – that is so key ! What do they want today!? I find that I can return to Wicca or British Druidry which can be very atheist with a focus just on creativity and ecology – there’s something about Vanatru that crosses so many different religions that I understand unlike people who are obsessed with the Lore, as opposed to thinking about the world we live in today and what we really need the help of the gods for and what they need our bodies for doing not understanding Vanatru at all .

Any spirituality that puts ecology at the center qualifies for a Vanatru practice in my eyes. Joanna Macy’s workshops – I put together one of those and it was so good to collectively grieve and release so much and then to be able to move beyond . With MCS there is constant grieving for the world the more that you know about what everyone is doing and sometimes my mother and I feel like where Science Fiction in the future watching when the earth was dying – but that level of planetary grieving which usually paralyzes people when we were forced to live with it and never practice avoidance because we can ever avoid it but there’s a point when we went through and I was able to write ” a myth that will be told about us in the future.” Which is people in the future asking how did we do it ? What went wrong and how did we fix it ? And it was used as a Unitarian Universalist sermon in Idaho of all places.

So one of the main places where I diverge from most pagans is that my focus is on nature worship. I worship what keeps me alive. The Vanir are very close with that and so being guided by them in how to do it now is for me at the center of Vanatru and also devotional polytheism when working with this family.

How do other people live the values and also cope with the “1 foot in one world, 1 foot in the other” that isn’t necessarily about being a shaman , but about usually having to have a job that goes against your values and things like that because we don’t have the freedom of choice. We don’t live in a culture that supports decentralized bioregional communities . Or even going outside.

What are Vanir saying to you today about fertility of the land ocean? What are they asking you to do? How have you incorporated that into ceremonies and lifeways?


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Harvest Home


Outdoor Frey Altar by Raven Kaldera

The Anglo-Saxon name for September translates into “holy month.” With how busy everyone would be during the harvest it is unlikely that they were able to hold any large festivals but obviously this was a very sacred time. The results of all their hard work had manifested and had to be gathered at the correct time to ensure survival through the winter. Different grains ripen at different times, creating different celebrations.

The second harvest holiday that modern Heathens created is often called “Harvest Home.” The altar and the home are decorated with symbols of the harvest: pumpkins, gourds, vegetables and herbs especially if they have been grown by you or people attending. This is the Heathen version of Thanksgiving, and is usually held at the end of September, sometimes on the autumn equinox. Goose or turkey is often served. Songs about John Barleycorn, who is generally accepted to be another name for Ingvi Frey, are sung. The most important part of Harvest Home is the offerings of the best of the harvest to the Deities and the land wights.

Another farming tradition recorded in Christian times in Germany and England is making a “harvest doll” out of the last grains of the harvest. This doll is the spirit of the fields’ fertility and is treated as a holy object containing a living wight. In Germany she is often named after Walpurga. Also known as the “corn Queen,” with corn relating to any grain, she is made out of dried leaves and stalks. Someone who has a strong connection or reliance on an herb they grow might make one from that dried herb.

The harvest doll is usually kept inside on the altar or hung in the kitchen. What we are doing is keeping the fertility of the land wights safe during the winter. In the spring we return the doll to the land from which she came. In this way we are part of the cycle of protecting the fertility of the land. As Freya is fond of daisies, called “day’s eye” by the Anglo-Saxons, I make a doll for the spirit of the daisies out of the stems and return it outside in spring.

Some Heathens, following another bit of recorded folklore, leave the final grains of the harvest outside in the field for Odin’s horse to eat. The Wild Hunt is soon to start. The stormy season which ends at Yule is when Odin rides with his companions gathering up the lost souls before the new year starts.

There is a Roman record of a ritual on September 29 by one Germanic tribe to a goddess named Zisa. Many sacrifices were made to her after the tribe had had a great victory. One popular theory is that she is the wife of Tyr, who at that time was the leader of the Aesir Gods. He was the chief God of battle, a role taken by Odin later. Tyr was originally a typical Indo-European Sky God who watched everything, making sure it was in right order with nature and the law. He is still associated with pure justice, never swayed by emotion.

One way to attune yourself to this season and the Ancient Heathens is to engage with food storage. Making pickles, apple sauce, sauerkraut, cheese, mead, beer, drying fruit and herbs, canning fruit – anything that prepares you for winter will help you understand how important this month is and why it is called “holy month.”

Humans have a sacred covenant with food. The use of pesticides, growth hormones, factory farming, genetically modified organisms, all of these are things that would’ve been considered defiling the sources of life that the Gods have given us. Some Heathens believe that domesticated animals entered into a holy relationship with humans which we have broken. The land wights especially are traumatized and may be quite hostile to humans because of what has been done to their home. With so many recorded rituals about keeping the fertility of the field safe, we can safely assume that the Ancient Heathens would never approve of most of the food at a grocery store. Especially for anyone dedicated to any God or Goddess related to agriculture it is imperative that Heathens today restore right relationships with the land. Buying food from farmers markets, growing your own cooking herbs, having a space at a community garden dedicated to a Deity or several, composting, fishing or hunting as a sacred survival activity, never using pesticides or herbicides on your lawn or flower gardens, these are practical ways that you can show the land wights how important they are to you and acknowledge that your very life depends upon them and the Gods of fertility.

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Psychiatry has no medical science (follow the money)

I have an incredibly low opinion opinion of psychiatry – there is no medical science whatsoever in it. There’s never been one study that can prove that there is a chemical malfunction that causes any problem . Big Pharma has never been able to find a study that shows that the form of psychiatry that they have created is based on anything factual. The national Institute of mental health declared the DMS five to not be relevant because there’s no biochemical proof of anything being connected to “mental illness.”

If you read what happened in the 1980s when psychologists were getting the clients and they thought that psychiatry would be obsolete , psychiatrists – you can read the articles in psychiatry magazines from that time – realized that the only way that they could stay relevant was they can prescribe medication. That was when big Pharma started pushing all of these new drugs . The national alliance of mentally ill NAMI was created by mothers who didn’t like psychology pointing out that parenting has a hell of a lot to do with somebody’s mental health , these mothers wanted it to be something wrong with their children and their children’s brains. Big Pharma finances that organization hard-core ! That’s the big support network – and it continually says “stay on the medication”.

Temporarily for two weeks we know that the medication is helpful – unless the person has a suicide attempt like I did because what the medications do is cause a chemical imbalance. They force your brain to stop naturally doing the chemicals so that just the medication does it , and that is why getting off of them is so hard with relapses because your brain hasn’t had to do what it naturally does the whole time that you took the drugs that suppress your natural brain chemistry.

I was on 10 different bipolar medications – I don’t have bipolar disorder. I did attempt suicide on them. There was a time in the late 80s until the mid 90s when almost everyone was diagnosed bipolar. The reason was all of these new medications for coming out for bipolar. Drs. were just hearing about bipolar all the time – they kept making the criteria broader and broader when it actually should be narrower and narrower. Bipolar is incredibly rare. If you look at psychiatry records – people in asylums or on social services , until they found lithium and then all of the other drugs , bipolar was incredibly rare in the population. Same with schizophrenia. People would have a psychotic break and usually recover and never happen again. In countries where they cannot afford the medication and the people just stay in their communities and are not isolated when they have a psychotic break it usually only happens once. By isolating the person and by giving the drugs we have created a bipolar epidemic. There never was such a thing as a rapid cycle or until antidepressants. Some people if you give them an antidepressant will end up being rapid cycling bipolar because you screwed up their brain chemistry. Whether or not they can recover we don’t know yet. We do know that every teenage boy who has taken a gun to school and killed a bunch of people was recently put on a psychiatric medication , the brain chemistry of teenagers is so erratic , antidepressants because suicide or homicide.

In my case I had incredibly high copper levels – did any doctor ever look for that? Course not. I also had premenstrual dysphoric disorder – did anybody look for that? Of course not. Nobody asked about anything physical. Nobody did any blood tests. Nobody did anything to rule out anything other than these “biochemical ” unproven diagnoses ! They stole 10 of my fucking years of life. I will never forgive psychiatry.

However is my life a lot better with my ADHD medication? Yes. Would I be alive without my antidepressant right now? No way.

It just goes to cost-benefit . Everybody is so unique that this bullshit of using the DSM-V and then some big Pharma brochures – that’s all psychiatry is anymore . A monkey can do it. I’ve had every diagnosis in the world – did anybody do any tests about my liver pathways? No, I have extreme hypoglycemia , those erratic mood swings were blood sugar . The out of the blue suicidal feelings – premenstrual dysphoric disorder. The general moodiness – copper poisoning. The anxiety freak outs? Sensory defensive overstimulation disorder, meaning I take in info all at once and in be in this culture that’s really hard. These are all things that are physiological but medicine didn’t care. It’s too much work because it’s one-size-fits-all , we get 10 minutes where you place your order and drive to the next window to pick up your pills.

If I hadn’t gotten Lyme disease I probably would not have learned all these things because I would not have needed so many different kinds of testing. Just trying to figure out what was wrong. MCS also meant tons of testing especially heavy metals. We know that lead causes people to be incredibly aggressive – do doctors check bloodwork about lead levels when somebody has rage issues? My grandfather had rage issues – he was undiagnosed diabetic. It was physiological. But not brain chemistry.

Also I always had mild MCS that was getting worse when I was married because my ex-husband used fabric softener and stuff like that. Going to school was always really hard – depending on if they had been cleaning or anything lawnmower was going by the windows or just what kid I was sitting next to – I would just start crying and be unable to talk. MCS. But then I get in my parents car and I’m better. Luckily my mother and father knew that there was no way I was faking anything , you could see how sick I was . Some kids houses I couldn’t play at , I would have to have them call my parents because I was so disoriented and scared.

So I am in no way a fan of psychiatry. Also I think that psychology where you just go and talk and talk and talk and talk – it’s fucking useless . The only therapy that I think has any value are the ones that have been proven with evidence – the evidence-based therapies – to actually help people and they do not go into dredging up details of your past or your problems. Instead they give you skills to handle your emotions . To handle how you perceive things and do reality checks. To let you know that you might be depressed your entire life but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a good life. To let you know that you may never get over feeling anxiety all the time but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a satisfying life with meaning that you chose for yourself . We don’t control our feelings . So the only therapy that works and is proven to work are the ones that teach direct skills , ones with actual names that you can learn in one hour each of them, for actually interacting with your emotions and your thoughts including not letting them make your decisions. It works really well with people who have schizophrenia – people who have a lot of hallucinations. They may never stop having hallucinations but that doesn’t mean that they can’t live life according to their own values .

The focus is off of “cure”, you cannot cure someone of being a human being. You can teach skills that help people with being human beings. Those are the only ones I would ever suggest to anyone – and it has to be the right person. They have to understand you.

Out of 20 therapists most have done a lot of harm and only one ever helped me. That one who helped me was my age, had been in the same punk rock scene, knew about all of the weird friends religions, shared a lot of my politics, didn’t try to change me in any way whatsoever, never even ask me any questions because he said the only thing he would ever have to tell someone about working with me is ” don’t give her advice, don’t try to be Socratic, she will figure everything out in 45 minutes if you just shut up .” Give me a safe place where I can process things – everything works out and I go home. But there are very few safe places for me because there are very few people who even comprehend what I am, who I am , we don’t have any culture in common.

I have so little in common with most people that it’s impossible to find a therapist I can work with because we have very different values and I have experienced all of the stuff that they think is problematic but for me wasn’t and what was problematic they don’t understand and so I have to spend all this time explaining everything to them – it’s just a waste and it just makes me keep having to repeat the stories – I want a life that is not defined by events that happened to me , my life is defined by my responses.


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Sif, old school Vanir, & Thor’s Saami identity



I realized Nerthus is this death/earth goddess I keep seeing with Sif back when she was the proud mother (and also I think a solar deity) of the winter hunter UllR and the summer earth Ullin, her twins who are lovers who are obviously Vanir. She was haughty and stately. This was in a remote early Germanic place in Scandinavia. There are heavy Sami influences on Sif.


I asked Njord about her and he said “Not one of us.” However I think he was talking about the Vanir who “sailed” from Britain to Scandinavia. There have been many other tribes of Vanir throughout time. Sif appears to have a connection with the sun in the late Stone Age up to the Copper Age. With her human loving, human adored twins who are the embodiment of fertility and food, she and Nerthus are more remote. It was confusing at first because I knew I was seeing a death Goddess but it was also a mother Earth Goddess. Nerthus!


When the Aesir arrived, Sif marriage Thor. They appear in Sami mythology as Horagalles, southern Sami thunder God with a nail in the head (Thor and the stone piece) holding two hammers on the sacred drums. One hammer makes thunder and lightning, the other stops their damage. The rainbow is his bow and he fights off rock cliff trolls. The name is thought to from the Norse language roughly meaning “Old Man Thor” and some Sami did call him Thor. He’s known more widely as Tiermas with Northern Sami, God of sky, thunder, lightning, ocean, lakes, rainbows and human well being. He fights demons that would hurt humans or livestock. His name is related to the Siberian Torym.


Ravdna is Horagalles’s consort, to whom the rowan berry is sacred. Ravdna is similar to North Germanic names for the rowan tree and in the Prose Edda rowan is called the salvation of Thor because he clung to one for safety. Sif may have been the rowan tree.  (If you any UPG about Sif and rowan -or something else related – please send me a message by spending 5 cents to use PayPal. With PayPal as how I contacted it eliminates haters because it gives me your real name and you already have my real name plus it gives me your email address which lets me know that you actually want to engage in dialogue.) Rowan is known to be sacred to the Celtic Goddess Brighid, used for protection in medieval times. As it saved Thor, perhaps Sif was associated with protection once. The bright orange berries are hard to miss, like shining golden hair. Was she connected with fire, like Brighid? I don’t know.


Sif must have been popular with the first Germanic settlers who lived closely connected with the Sami who arrived first in Scandinavia. Archaeology is only nust starting to show how expansive Sami territories were and how much cultural exchange there was with the first Germanic people, including religion. Those first Germanic people are often assumed to have worshiped the agricultural wagon deities the Vanir.


UllR and Ullin are found in place names in Norway around places where Njord was celebrated and Sweden in the areas where Ingvi Freyr was venerated. Their father is a mystery. UllR’s Temple north of Stockholm has revealed over 60 rings and that role was taken over by his stepfather Thor. When Odin is forced to leave it is UllR who becomes king of the Aesir. Obviously Sif’s son was incredibly popular with the people.


When the Vanir leaving Britain with Njord as their chieftain “met” the Aesir (although they had known each other in different places and times) Sif was already Thor’s wife. Some people who are Vanatru might not feel that Sif is a Van, but it may be because that particular human is very connected to recent Vanir activities that led to Vanaheim appearing on the Norse tree.


She has changed a lot but Freya says she has always been very crafty. Sif actually did arrange with Loki to have him cut off out her hair and because she is Vanir I think that she did have sex with him especially with what Odin and Loki say to Thor. She did it because the fertile Vanir like Freya Gefn “giver” understand that you have to have gifts for uniting relatives – and her name means “relative by marriage.”


So she took the risk and Loki as usual was the fall guy and they got all of these amazing things. The only two stories about her include intimacy with Loki. She does what needs to be done. And with her sexual powers and fertility powers from being Vanir, Thor looks the other way because as a power of nature himself he loves the freedom of running along the fields impregnating her. They have a very sexual relationship.


Thor travels with Loki a lot because Loki is the lightning that often causes fires. We know that lightning brings all of this nitrogen to the land and is also coming from the land up to the sky; it doesn’t come down from a cloud. So Loki is necessary to impregnate Sif sometimes by adding some nitrogen to the soil/her womb for best fertility conditions.


Freya says that we under estimate the knowledge ancient humans had. When you focus on something all the time because it’s how you stay alive you learn all of its secrets or as many as you can.


Ignore WordPress ads. Written July 30 2016.

The Animist’s Craft

Always loved this….

The Animist's Craft

It seems only necessary to begin fairly early on in this collection of thoughts with a post on Animism. After all I have stridently declared it to be my craft. When deciding on a name for my blog I meandered my way through a whole host of inventive nature-based permutations of ‘Druid’,’ Heathen’ and ‘Pagan’, but nothing seemed to reflect my religion and the way I practice it. Whilst I claim elements of each of these as a part of my craft (on different days each can feel totally right), none of them feel like me in their entirety and never have sufficiently, for me to use them with absolute consistency. In this year’s census I entered ‘Pagan-Druid’, as many did, feeling that it was important to enter something that would be meaningful and counted, that might change society’s understanding of the religious landscape of Britain in the 21st century…

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Maroon Camps, High john the Conquer Root & Freedom

Mojo workin’ : the old African American Hoodoo system by Katrina Hazzard-Donald, University of Illinois BUY THIS BOOK! Best book about American history.

Known also as bindweed and as jalap root, its botanical name Ipomea jalapa or Ipomoea purga indicates its kinship with the sweet potato, Ipomoea patata. It is sometimes classed as convulvolacea jalapa. Its most commonly known name, jalap, is derived from the region in Mexico—Xalapa, Veracruz—where this native plant grows in abundance and from where most of the stock used in Hoodoo has been imported. Jalap’s other names include bindweed, jalapa hembra, jalapa de Orizaba, brionia de las Indias, rubarbo de las Indias, and jalapa official;4 but the name Mechoacan de guerrero or Michoacan de guerrero indicates the Hispanicizing of a Nahuatl Indian name indicating a region with an abundance of fish. The Spanish term guerrero means “warrior.” This linguistic combination points to a coastal area where warriors made a reputation, such as the coastal area of Veracruz, Mexico, where Xalapa is the capital city and jalap is said to be native to the area and can grow in abundance there. In fact, this region of Mexico is jalap’s only native habitat.

When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in the fifteenth century, they discovered the plant in its native abundance. The roots exported to Europe by the Spaniards in the middle 1500s were collected from the extensive natural populations then growing in the region of Xalapa-Xico in the state of Veracruz.6 The increased European demand eventually led to commercial cultivation. Between the mid-sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the plant was introduced into various European botanical gardens in France and England to attempt its cultivation. The British eventually introduced the species to Jamaica and India where it was cultivated. Its most frequent use was as a purgative, laxative, and treatment for kidney disorders.

Examples of resistance culture included the use of song to facilitate escape, the use of quilts carrying messages aiding escapees, the use of conjure for protection in violating slaves codes and confounding patrollers, and folktales and myths that specifically nourished the seeds of resistance and hope. The story of High John the Conquer was one such myth.

High John seems to take on the qualities of a savior, a personal protector for the enslaved, informing them that freedom was on its way, so they must persevere. North American bondsmen clung to the belief that High John had preordained, predestined emancipation and freedom. They testified that it was the power of High John and not the American Civil War nor whites who brought them liberation from chattel slavery. The notion of High John as a liberating force as well as a “hope bringer” was intimately intertwined in the black popular imagination.

The notion of High John also conveyed the spirit of kindness, humor, and morality while wrapping the embattled slave psyche in a protective package of functional values. Embedded in the concept of High John were many of the values extolled and esteemed in black popular folk discourse. The compilation of values posited a normative outline by which members of the slave community could sustain their sense of themselves. High John spread and remained viable because of the holistic model it represented.

Once used for only a few and very specific needs, High John eventually would be used as a substitute for increasing numbers of Hoodoo roots and plants. The specificity of High John’s earlier uses was first tailored to the gender of the work to be done. Was the work predominantly male or female? Once determined, the High John root was selected based on its gender. The distinction between male and female High John was lost in the turn-of-the-century spiritual marketplace, as was the distinction between male and female mojoes.

The significance of High John the Conquer root in Hoodoo cannot be overstated. In the old conjure tradition, High John roots were often tied around either the waist or other body parts; it was embedded into walking canes and constructed into necklaces. Capable of being used in nearly every traditional Hoodoo ritual, High John has at least three namesakes, running John, cut from pieces of the High John vine and carried for good luck;19 middle John, whose uses are most obscure of the three; and low John, the galanga root used in courtroom ritual. Galanga root, a relative of the ginger plant, is the famous chewing John.

Slave stewards were responsible for escorting other slaves in the pens; they carried the slaves’ baggage as well as clothing, and they were in and out of the slave pens regularly. They carried messages to and from slaves from different regions belonging to different traders. They performed favors for slaves such as obtaining food or tobacco. Hired-out slaves brought in news from the outside and disseminated it inside the pens and vice versa and so did the errand boys. These slaves who circulated in and out of the slave pens accelerated the movement of all types of information, including folktales of resistance, articles, letters, seeds, messages, conjure bags, medicinal roots, and reminders of a former life in Africa or elsewhere. Because these stewards and errand boys were sometimes owned by the owner of the slave pen, they were traded less frequently and represented a linkage, a site for continuity, limited stability, and consistency across time as well as region. This increased the reliability rate for sociocultural transfers of all types.

Certainly the slave population was, because of its condition of forced servitude, predisposed to embracing a hope bringer. Though the resemblance of Yanga to High John is remarkable, the Afro-Mexican Yanga was not the only famous slave rebel, nor was his the only Maroon community; there were others who could have provided a model of resistance like that found in the tale of High John the Conquer. Throughout the New World, particularly in Latin America, from Mexico to Peru and throughout the Caribbean, over a three century time frame, Maroon communities and encampments, with their rebel leaders, sprang up. They are too numerous to list here.