Category: Essays

Five Ways to Practice Paganism Now

A group of people dance the spiral around a roaring bonfire, their song rising into the night sky. A solitary Wiccan casts a circle in her living room, calling out to the Lord and Lady so that she may work her magic. Several Heathens raise their horns to honor the Norse gods and goddesses.

When I think of Paganism, I think of ritual. Personally, I find the pageantry alluring and, when effective, a wonderfully fulfilling way to honor the spirits who inspire and sustain me. Ritual can be daunting, however, especially to someone new to modern Paganism. Perhaps there are space considerations in the home, or there are certain tools that still need to be created or acquired.

One need not perform elaborate ritual to practice Paganism, though. In fact, there are five things you can do right now to take your first steps on the path.

1. Greet the sun

Sun gods and goddesses are abundant in ancient Pagan religions, and with good reason: the sun is life. Nothing could survive without the sun’s light and warmth. Step outside and give gratitude to the sun, using any words you’d like. Feel its warmth on your skin, its energy, and power.

2. Know a tree

To ancient pagans across Europe, trees were an important part of religious practice. Sometimes worship was held in groves of trees, or sacred spaces were centered on a particular tree. In Scandinavia, the ash tree Yggdrasil was considered the very structure of the cosmos.

Do you have a favorite tree you like to visit, or perhaps have a tree near your home that you don’t know very well? Now is the perfect time to forge a relationship with that tree. If you are able, try to identify the tree. Is its bark different from other trees? How are its leaves shaped? Is the wood of the tree used for any kind of product?

How does the tree feel on a spiritual level? When you meditate at its base, how does the tree make you feel? Does it impart wisdom to you? If so, what is that wisdom? It may take some time to cultivate a relationship with the spirit of a tree. Try to spend some time with the tree to grow that relationship. Give the tree gifts in the form of offerings. Something as simple as a cup of clean water will do.

3. Dispose of litter

Paganism honors the holy within nature. Many of the spirits of the ancient world had a natural component, not to mention the plethora of earth gods and goddesses found in each culture. Modern paganism recognizes these connections, and naturally grew in tandem with the environmental movement of the 60s and 70s.

Any environmentally conscious act can be an act of devotion to the spirits. If you ever find yourself hiking, dispose of the litter you may find on the trails. This can be another way to forge relationships with the spirits, and you may eventually find yourself with powerful allies.

4. Search for inspiration

The Poetic Edda, Mabinogion, the Táin, and the Theogony are examples of sacred texts that are rich in the legends of ancient pagan Europe. They are also teeming with inspiration to guide you on the pagan path. Perhaps you’ll come across a certain deity or spirit with whom you wish to connect with. While some copies of these works can get quite expensive, there are free translations available on-line at the Internet Sacred Text Archive.

In my own personal experience, whenever I am feeling disconnected from the gods and spirits, I reach out to the lore. This often helps me reconnect to the spirits, setting me right on the path once more.

5. Live well

People throughout the ages have always tried to live up to their potential as good human beings, sometimes modeling their actions after those they consider the pinnacle of virtue: the gods. Indeed, the old sagas are full of stories about heroes in pursuit of a virtuous life, with examples of success and the consequences of failure found throughout these tales. Virtuous living did not remain confined to the old stories, however, as people, both ancient and modern, strive to “live well” according to their own personal values and codes.

Some reflection is in order for this kind of question. What does it mean to you to “live well?” Do you follow a set of virtues? If so, what are they? What do you consider your values? Making a list of virtues and values can be helpful. How does it feel to succeed in living your virtues? On the other side of the coin, what do you do when you fail? What things can you do to make sure you remain on the right path in regards to your virtues?

If you’re unsure what virtues are important to you, there are many examples that can be found on-line or in literature. Exploring these concepts can be a highly rewarding endeavor as you seek to guide your own personal development.


While this list is not meant to be comprehensive, it is meant to be accessible to folks who are taking their first steps on the pagan path, without the need to purchase or acquire anything. Feel free to modify or expand these ideas as you see fit. For example, if you are reading this article at night, perhaps you can greet the moon instead. You can start being pagan today, and hopefully some of these ideas will help you with those first steps.

 

The Long Draw: A Method of Omen Analysis

By: Mike Kaan

Omens are meant to remembered and contemplated. They remind us of the dialogue the Kindreds have with us, whether as answers to difficult questions or revealing the blessings received in ritual. Some symbols rise to dominance in our lives, revealing themselves time and again over the course of many draws, while some fade away only to show themselves months later. “The Long Draw” is a way of tracking divination symbols that are drawn over a period of time, to see if patterns and themes emerge which may be useful in personal or group spiritual growth. This method is a way of looking at how certain divination symbols, and their subsequent meanings, influence and reflect our lives. Obviously, divination systems involving a set number of symbols (runes, ogham, tarot, etc.) and revealed by sortilege will work best for analysis.

Omen analysis requires several things to be effective:

1. Journal

This journal should contain the results of the draws you perform. Important additions to the entries would be the date of the draw, and what question was asked. If you feel so inclined, you may also include astronomical information if you think that is important to your draws.

2. Time

I have found that a year’s worth of regular draws can be sufficient in revealing which symbols were most active, although if the celebrant does a daily draw then six months should be sufficient. High Day blessings may require a longer period of time to check emerging patterns, as they are only done 8 times a year. This may require 5 years or more to provide a clearer picture of recurring or non-recurring blessings. Personally, I perform a weekly devotional, with a blessing and advice oracle draw. These two draws would be great candidates for a year-long retrospective.

3. Context

Divination draws are highly contextual, and their interpretation can be based solely on the question asked. As such, it is highly recommended that omen draws are used that apply to a single question. Using an example from the previous paragraph, my advice oracle uses the same question every week, which is: What advice do [the Kindreds] give to me for the coming week? The same could be said for my High Day ritual blessings, where the question is: What blessings do I receive in return for my offerings? This allows for clarity of meaning when looking at the results over a period of time.

4. Consistent symbology

Because different symbol systems have a wide variety of meaning, and are not always consistent with each other, it is also recommended that you use the same set of symbols for every draw during the period you wish to log. This may not be an issue in personal practice, but may be challenging if your grove rotates divination symbols in correlation with cultural focus during seasonal rites. In this case, the symbols can still be logged and compared against symbols of other cultures to see if trends emerge.

5. Patience

A year, even 6 months, can be a long time to wait for results, so a degree of patience is required for this method. That said, the outcome is well worth the wait for the information it can provide.


Once enough time has passed, getting the results is a rather simple affair. On a blank sheet of paper, make a list of all the symbols in the system you are using. Then, starting from the beginning date of your analysis period, place a mark next to each symbol that shows up. It may also be a good idea to make a note of how many times you’ve taken an omen, so that you may derive percentages for each symbol. This is an optional method, but it can be used if you feel that it would be helpful. Alternatively, you could also count your symbols as you go.

After tallying the symbols, you should have a good idea of which ones you have drawn the most. Let’s start with the top 3 symbols. You could read them in a couple of different ways. One possibility would be to look at the meaning of each symbol as it relates to the question asked, and see how it has applied to your life over the period you have chosen. Another way would be to take these top 3 symbols and analyze them just like any other reading, noting their interactions with each other, and the message these symbols relate as a whole.

I’ll use my own rune draws as an example of this system.

Analysis period: 2/24/2014 – 2/24/2015

Question: What advice do [the Kindreds] give to me for the coming week? (Note: The original question requests counsel for a specific time period, but for the purposes of analysis we can apply it to the whole year, since that is what we are seeking.)

Total omen draws for this query during the year: 48

1. Elhaz (pulled 10 times)

2. Gebo (9), Tiwaz (9)

3. Uruz (8), Thurisaz (8), Raido (8)

Interpretation:

The most common rune I pulled all year was Elhaz, which is a rune of protection. To me, Elhaz came across as reassurance from the Kindreds. Last year, I had become a Dedicant Druid and was continuing to build my relationship with the Kindreds. Elhaz was their way of telling me that I am under their care. This leads to the second most common runes, which was Gebo and Tiwaz. Here the Kindreds advise me to continue engaging in *ghos-ti with them and with everyone I have a relationship with (Gebo). This will guide me on my path, leading me on an unerring course to right-action and victory (Tiwaz). Put in another way, right-relationship leads to right-action and vice versa.

The year brought challenges though. Here, Thurisaz is the chaos that was present in my life throughout the year, with strength (Uruz) as the means of overcoming it. Raido is a reminder that this is part of the journey and of life itself, but take care in not running the horse into the ground in my attempt to push through struggle. The horse is often a symbol of those who help us along the way, and good counsel indeed to make sure that I take care of them as well.


In my analysis, I did not have just 3 common runes, but 6. In the case of ties, I would recommend making them a part of the reading. They can only serve to enhance the message. Also, don’t feel limited to analyzing just the top 3 symbols. It can easily be extended to include more, and there is even some value in looking at symbols that were not pulled very often.

It is my hope that this method will help folks look at omens in a different way, one that addresses the long-term to help facilitate spiritual and personal growth.

 

A brief look at the runes of the Elder Futhark

By: Mike Kaan

These are my basic interpretations for each of the runes of the Elder Futhark. While these explanations may reveal the basic meanings of these symbols, at least according to my own research and experience, they only scratch the surface of the layers of wisdom that can be found in the runes. For deeper study, there are many wonderful books out there that expand on them. I would personally recommend Diana Paxson’s Taking Up the Runes as a great starting point.

As a personal aside, I would consider myself a fairly conservative interpreter of the runes. I feel that the best basis for them can be found in reliable sources, such as existing lore and the rune poems. As such, I attempt to adhere closely to these sources when it comes to explaining the meaning of each symbol.

Fehu: Fehu means cattle and signifies wealth, but it is a wealth that is best used when moving through the community generously. The rune cautions against hoarding wealth and cites the discord that can result.

Uruz: Uruz stands for aurochs, which was a species of horned cattle common to the ancient world. As such, it is a rune of primal strength and determination. The rune can also mean rain.

Thurisaz: Thurisaz represents the giants of the Norse tales and is a rune of chaos and unrest. It could also be interpreted as a rune of Thor, which would turn the symbol into one of protection against those same chaotic forces.

Ansuz: Ansuz is the rune of Odin, which makes it a rune of wisdom. In the Anglo-Saxon rune poem the symbol also represents the mouth, lending an additional meaning of wisdom through communication and messages.

Raido: Raido means ride and is a rune of travel. While the journey may be swift and joyful, the rune poem warns of the toll the journey will take on the horse. This suggests that one must take care of those who help us along the way.

Kenaz: Kenaz is the torch that illuminates the way through darkness to a warm hearth and good company. However, as the fire burns for warmth, it can also cause pain and may indicate illness.

Gebo: Gebo signifies the rune of gifts and generosity. The rune also represents the cycle of reciprocity and the right-relationship that results when maintained.

Wunjo: Wunjo denotes the rune of joy. It is a bliss that can spring from prosperity, overcoming anxiety and sadness.

Hagalaz: Hagalaz represents hail, making it a rune of destruction and painful transition. All is not for naught however, for the ice seed will melt, giving water and growth to the hardier crops that survived.

Naudhiz: Naudhiz means need, and is a rune of constraint, oppression, and hard work that goes unrewarded. This is a challenging symbol, but the rune also indicates that lessons could be learned from the experience.

Isa: Isa stands for ice, fair to look upon but dangerous to traverse. This is a rune whose message is one of caution in situations where a particular decision seems desirable, but could be perilous. On the other hand, Isa can suggest stability and calm.

Jera: Jera is the rune for year and the harvest. It is manifestation of the rewards for hard work, with prosperity and abundance that sustains the individual or the community.

Eihwaz: Eihwaz is the symbol for the yew tree and can mean strength that is drawn from the line of ancestors. Eihwaz is also interpreted as the rune of Yggdrasil, which implies connection to the cosmos.

Perthro: Perthro is the dice-cup, the vessel from which the lots are cast, and the rune of chance. Perthro can represent uncertainty in everything from light-hearted gaming to the vagaries of fate.

Elhaz: Elhaz is the rune of the elk and the sedge. The shape of the rune resembles that of the antlers of the elk and the thorn of the sedge, making this a symbol of protection.

Sowilo: Sowilo represents the sun, making it a rune of illumination, victory, and power. The rune can also mean guidance, as one can always depend on the course of the sun to lead them to the end of their journey.

Tiwaz: Tiwaz is Tyr’s rune and is a symbol of justice and truth, potentially at the cost of self-sacrifice. Tiwaz also has an aspect of guidance in that right-action will always set you on the correct path.

Berkano: Berkano is the rune for the birch tree, indicating feminine strength and resourcefulness. From this meaning, it can be a rune for nurturing, healing, and regeneration.

Ehwaz: Ehwaz means horse and expresses the relationship between the horse and the rider. It is a rune of partnership, with attention given to those who help us along our journey. Naturally, the symbol can also represent movement and travel.

Mannaz: Mannaz is the symbol for “man” or “human,” and emphasizes the interconnected nature of human relationships. Mannaz can show the spectrum of these relationships, from comfort in good company to the more negative aspects of the human condition.

Laguz: Laguz is the rune for lake, making this a symbol for water. As such, this is a rune of potential and change, perhaps with the suggestion for flexibility through various situations. It can also mean the unconscious mind and the hidden wealth that lies beneath the surface.

Ingwaz: Ingwaz is Freyr’s rune and takes on the domains of the Vanic god as a symbol of fertility, productivity, and abundance. The rune can also symbolize masculine strength and the transforming cycles of life.

Dagaz: Dagaz means day and is the rune of new beginnings. With the day also brings hope, and is a welcome rune when life has been difficult. Dagaz can also signify the present moment and a call to “seize the day.”

Othala: Othala is the rune of the home and encompasses everything that entails, from the physical homestead to familial relationships of blood and heart. Othala also symbolizes the connection to the ancestors, from genetic inheritance to physical property passed on through the family line.