American

Sacrifice, Food, the Gods and me

Celtic sacrifice by immersion, detail of the Gundestrup Caldron, c. 1st century bc; in the Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen.

This is one of those posts that have been a long time coming. It’s one of those hot button topics in Pagan circles, and please go ahead with the knowledge that as with everything on this blog, this is all my personal spiritual belief system, disagreements, questions, points of contention all welcomed. What sparked this post was a post that came across my dashboard on Tumblr and the discussion that followed (you can read the original post here if you would like). I stand by all that was said there but want to expand further, past a simple conversation between two disagreeing people. To the different notions of sacrifice, to our societies inherent disvalue of food, to how that just does not work for me.

Cursory use of the internet to find the root of the word sacrifice tells us that it wasn’t until recently that it became attributed to “doing without something” or “giving something up” which tends to be its common association today. An association that continues to be retrofitted to ancient peoples and society, and perhaps wrongfully so. With this common societal association comes what appears to be the mainstream point of view of sacrifice and offerings in the modern Pagan community: That is something given of value with intention to the Gods.

No arguments there. But that is a fairly broad and wide plank to stand on and does not hint at the foundation of “Why?” or even what “value” is. Here is where I see the arguments, and not without reasoning, that animal sacrifice is no longer valid. This argument is usually coupled with the idea that sacrifice is to the Gods of things you wish to have more of, and the assigned value that meat and animals no longer have any. It is both of these things that I take a severe left turn from.

For me sacrifice and offerings have long since past the stage of being only about ensuring things that I want. In the beginning I approached sacrifice with the same understanding of it being something that I was giving up for a greater purpose, but after several years of steady offering I’ve come to wonder if that is not just a remnant understanding of the word from a belief system that I do not hold with.   After-all it is Christianity that is choked full of its abstaining for the glory of God, of sacrifice bringing us closer to the Divine (whether this is a flawed understanding of Christianity I cannot say, but it is the prevailing one in my life). But is this a pagan thought process? Is this a Celtic one? Is this something that the ancient people of Ireland would have held with? I have to wonder. Or is this merely the point of view that I was raised with and never realized was coloring my perspective? I am going to make it a point this year to go back and see what I can find of pre-christian thought on sacrifice. But even without that academic knowledge I realize that I no longer view my practice in that light.

Offering to the Gods

Chicken Livers prepared as offering

 Whether it’s before my altar or within the glory and the presence of the Land, Sky and Sea, I do not sit and take pains over my offerings with the idea or feelings of humbling myself before the Gods. It is not an act of subjugation. Even at it’s most difficult and trying, it is something that I do with great pride and devotion. It is akin to the pride and care that I take in giving gifts to my friends and family, in preparing meals for guests, in prepping for a feast. All that times vastness of the stars in the sky. In short my friends, sacrifice and offerings are about hospitality and loyalty for me.  Hospitality and loyalty on the divine scale.

It then goes rather rationally that I never once stopped to question or even ponder over the fact that the majority of my offerings to my Gods were of a consumptive nature. More precisely food. Because what is the cross-cultural symbol of hospitality? The act in which we do for each other to show we care?  Sharing and giving food. We are mortal, without food we would die. This is a fact that is overlooked in American society but is still a fact none-the-less. It is an act of good will to feed the Gods and any spirit we wish to commune with. An act that is unique unto us. Obviously other tokens of offering are equally worthy, but no other offering besides food seems to be brushed aside so much on the internet at least.

I understand where the point of view comes from, but I feel like it is a iffy one. If I were to believe that the Ancient Celts were a bunch of mud-covered barbarians eeking out survival in the hill sides, then I can easily see how the privileged of today could lead you to believe the simple offering of bread and beer paltry in comparison to the days before.  But I don’t believe that, the more I learn about the Ancient world in general the more this view of third-world standard just doesn’t seem to hold. True, life and death were much nearer and dearer then. Yes there were those poor who lived like that. But I wonder more and more if it was in fact the majority. The Celts were people of trade, of commerce, of agriculture, of war. These things do not lend themselves to such a rudimentary thinking. If I were to follow that logic, “because we live in modern times and food doesn’t have the same life or death value, so it won’t have the same meaning”, then sacrificing or making offering of little handmade crafts and goods does not equate the same meaning either. In fact in order to equate the same meaning (the meaning that value is something that is crucial to the livelihood of the person) then the only fit sacrifice would be large sums of ones income or maybe ones vehicle.

Thankfully I do not hold to this notion of sacrifice, or to the lack of value to food. Anyone who knows me, knows that I HIGHLY value food. A value I believe that was shared by the ancient world. Because while there are many wonderful and beautifully made artifacts of monetary value that have been found that were ritually sacrificed, never has that eclipsed the offering of food.  But America is a strange place now, a place that does not value food and yet is obsessed with it. Obsessed with the over eating of it, of the process of making it faster and better, of reclaiming it, of any laundry list of things to do with it and yet…the FDA just announced it’s giving up on regulating antibiotic abuse in the meat industry, we have a meat and dairy industry that is abhorrent,  cities take the notion that home grown veggies are too ugly to look at and should be illegal, the government has allowed companies to gain a monopoly on seeds in the farming industry, process foods reign supreme, the young and grown suffer from horrible eating disorders, bizarre and unhealthy diets continue to make the front page in magazines around the nation. All of this leads to an atmosphere that it is no wonder a majority of people have an unhealthy relationship with food. But does all that mean that food has no spiritual value anymore?

Not to me. To me food will always be one of those basic building blocks of creation, of magic, of alchemy. We put the pieces together, all the ingredients, prepare it, consume it. And in turn it helps us grow, aids us in our self-healing, keeps us alive. On a spiritual level it brings us together, creates bonds, symbolizes and holds up so much of cultural structures. There simply must be power in it. Being the somewhat animist I am it goes to follow that the more hands on, the more connected with it (as with any offering) you can get, the more strength and power it has. It is why all my food offerings are made with as little processed food as possible. It’s why when given the chance to go and make offering to the fruit trees and harvest the fruit myself before making it into bread or otherwise, I JUMP at the chance. It enhances the magic, it enhance the relationship, the connective thread of hospitality. From there it is just a small and tiny jump to wanting to be able to prepare and see through the process of life and death for my meat and for my Gods. There is a mystery, an initiation that comes with seeing the cycle of life and death through. Of taking it into your body, of being the one responsible for insuring its sanctity and humane nature. It is one of my goals in life to live in such a place that is possible. Now I can see how if you did not eat meat, for whatever reason, that then the act of animal sacrifice and offerings of meat would follow to be irrelevant to your practice. But to those who eat meat and still say that animal sacrifice is meaningless and invalid today, to me are also saying that offering and sacrifice of food is meaningless and invalid. I simply cannot agree.

Obviously these principles of offering, of sacrifice, are deeply sacred and personal things.  They should be considered at length and frequently. At the moment I am content and solid in coming to this understanding of sacrifice separate from the one that prevailed before. It brings me great feelings of rightness to know that my sacrifices are not made solely under the pretense of need on my part or my deities part. But out of joyful devotion to them, and reciprocated respect.  That I accept the fact that I eat meat, that my Gods enjoy it as well, and that when the time comes I am willing to see that through to its end. I continue to hope and strive for a world where traditions and faiths that can practice their values (that are within just laws) without recourse. And that in the end we come to an understanding of letting people worship what Gods they will.

The Ancestral Feast Part II

First and foremost, I would like to thank Ms. Dirty for being the inspiration and motivation for Temple Witch and I to get off our duffs and put into motion some of those glorious plans that we frequently yammer on and on about with stars in our eyes. I know that I get so much joy and just momentum seeing the gusto and spirit that you take to all of your workings. Truly I wish you all the blessings that you desire and need.

Now onto the FEAST!

Yesterday I woke up at 7:30 in the A.M. to begin my attack in order to capture that elusive beast called Epic and make him my bitch.  I believe I succeeded. The morning started with more cleaning, the kitchen had to be spotless. I’m not sure who was particular about that in my family was but it was someone lol. I pulled out Grandmama’s fancy white linen table-cloth, the one that last time I used I sadly had no starch (and still don’t), I could feel G-ma’s raised eyebrow at the wrinkles (the woman ironed her sheets). So out came the iron to massacre the dreaded wrinkles. Apparently a host of ants had taken up residence in my iron, so that was an adventure in a half. But soon I had it all straightened out in every sense of the word.

When it became a time were noise was appropriate I began the giant tetris game in my house.  You see our last minute invitation to some of our loved ones, had garnered more enthusiasm than we had dared to hope. So my cozy little apartment, was suddenly going to have to hold a feast for 16! Which makes for a great feast, but means that some maneuvering of furniture had to happen. Luckily I am strong like bull, and made quick work of it. Once the house was in order it was time for the food!

I had to start the Christmas pudding early. Christmas pudding requires a 6 hour water bath, and since the Lumberjack had requested it special I wanted to get it right. The roast only need 4hr, and the Rotkohl about 50 mins. All would be well. Even tho at this point I was oscillating between whether or not there would in fact be enough food for everybody. (It’s one of my greatest fears, not enough food)

I spent some time sprucing up my ancestor altar, saying my prayers to every one of my Beloved Dead and a few to those that I don’t know. Made sure that everyone was feeling comfortable for the night ahead, Grandma requested some Irish Coffee for the evening. Something I would happily oblige. My Grandmother loved Irish Coffee tho it was a treat she reserved for special occasions or when we visited the local Irish cafeteria style restaurant Brennan’s. I’ll never forget the content and happy look that my Grandmother got when she was sipping her Irish Coffee. It’s so easy for me know to see a younger her doing the same. In any event, as a few of her beloved Irish coffee cups have still survived I made a mental note to make sure she got a glass.

After some adventures of her own Temple Witch and the Giant (that’s right I’ve decided your code name shall be the Giant 😉 made their debut. Bringing with them a house full of helpful things to make this feast truly magical. Fancy dishes and platters from the Giants mother’s collection, the Temple Witch’s own punch set, candles to give mood to the occasion. And of course food and booze. Oh what food and booze too!!

Here is just what we started out with! The big ol’ jug was a gift for the Lumberjack, one that he dearly needed after a 13hr day at work and coming home to a raucous feast of 15 people lol. Here is also a shot of some of my Grandmother’s silver that we brought down for the occasion and Temple Witch was kind enough to loving polish up for the night. I personally think it helped add a bit of class to the evening.

Along with the spirits, they also brought a Santa sack full of bread. My Temple Witch is an accomplished baker, and omg does her bread just make the knees go weak. Seriously good stuff, her rolls where the stars of the dinner. The Giant popped out for the special sausage that they had tracked down to please her Portuguese ancestors and brought back 9 lbs of sausage! 9 lbs! My fears of not having enough food where quickly put to rest. It was delicious sausage too.

After some last minute cleaning (vacuuming, toilet scrubbing etc). It was time to decant our Winter’s Brew. Some time ago, hell I don’t remember when. Temple Witch came over with a bottle of brandy and we whipped up another brew (because our Primal Summer turned out sooo good) we laced it with apples, cinnamon, cloves, mugwort, and pomegranate seeds, and had been letting set and get good and ripe.

Here it is first brewed

 

Steeped and Aged

The apples had turned this brackish brown, the pom seeds almost a grey. But the brandy? Oh the brandy was a delightful golden mahogany. Once again we looked at each other conspiring for our next concoction, again concurring that we really should go in halfies on some proper tools (cheese cloth, a larger mouthed jar, strainers). Tho given the day and the honor of the feast using my Grandmother’s handkerchief was completely appropriate.

First glass of course went to the Ancestors. That was the rule of the evening in fact. And once their’s was poured the rest went in my new schnazzy liquor bottle to charge up on the altar and become even more divine.

 

Yes that is the Glorious Scottish Spoon that Ms. Dirty sent me. It spent the evening being the main serving utensil to the Beloved Dead, a task it was more than up for. The rest of the day was spent in excited anticipation for the evening. As the sun set, we turned on the Christmas lights, and lit the candles around the house. Set out our snacks, and generally admired all our hard work. The house was beautiful. My little house may be small, but it has a big heart. It new that some very important and well loved people were coming for dinner and just seemed to expand and make welcome as much it could. The beasties were on their best behavior and were rewarded in kind. And over all I was just so happy to be able to share the kind of home and welcoming and party that my immediate Ancestors never really had.

My father’s parents were unhappy with the social obligations that they were bound to, and as such occasions (especially later in life) just became those awful things. With the awkward silences, the tension, the feeling caged in. And my mother’s mother, life was so filled with obligations of taking care of everyone and her own yearning for grander things that I just don’t think she ever enjoyed herself when the family was around. This was my chance to have the come and relax, to care for them, to just let them and the whole energetic family line on both sides start to move towards a new way. A comfortable way. A way where feast, family, and holidays means food, laughter, joy, and love. A way where everyone looks forward to it, where the work is not a trail or a martyrdom but a quest where in the end all are victorious. Much of the prep and evening, I spent wishing that my blood family where there.  Because as a little nuclear family, they made those virtues and values a reality. One of these days I’ll get to show and share with my mom and dad how much I learned from them. That and well my dad would have LOVED the food lol.

Our guests arrived, with delicious food in tow. We had kielbasi, guacamole, salmon chowder, good ol’ mashed potatoes, Scottish Stovies, a family Brown Bread, and oh so much more.  The mead flowed, the glogg was made, cider’s were spilled, H.P. Lovecraft was discussed in detail, toasts were had, and in general it was just delightful. There is no doubt in my mind that the Winter Feast is a new tradition that I will gladly uphold. I believe Temple Witch is now scheming about Summer Feast plans, and over all I think all out guests living and not, were happy. As I said last night and I’ll say it again “We win.” lol

The night was merry and bright

 

The Candle that burned all thru the Night

 

Last but not least, I want to share the beautiful prayer that Temple Witch wrote up for our Ancestors, and penned in her stunning hand. Which I have plans on making our feasting prayer for ever Winter’s Feast, from here on out. Beautiful words from a beautiful lady.

In honor of our dear beloved dead we feast this night. 
To all of our dear ones we open our doors and our hearts.
To all those of our blood we open our doors and our hearts.
To all those whose spirits sing as our spirits sing we open our doors and our hearts.
Be welcome this night as we gather.
Partake of our feast, make merry by the light of our candles,
Join us in good cheer and celebration.
As our honored guests, we offer of our hospitality.
Be welcome all. 

And now my lovelies. To put it all back together again! lol To wrap presents, and prepare to head up to the Sierra Mountains. There in those wonderous peaks there is another dinner waiting and presents! Wishing you all a happy and blessed holiday season!

Ancestral Feast Part I

As I catch my breath from walking home from work, up a MASSIVE hill, with a backpack full of groceries, I shall take the time to write a blog post. If you hang around the same internet corners that I do (and you should, they are dark and wonderfully robust) you will have heard that Ms. Dirty threw down a Midwinter Challenge:

 I want to read/hear/see unapologetic, balls-fucking-out hedonism filling up the longest night of your year, and I want it to be truly effin’ special. So this year, my impish pampusky, I’m formally extending an invitation out to you to join us in your first loud-mouthed, rockin’-till-dawn dumb supper.

And really how could I say no? Naturally my little crabby friend, Temple Witch over at Smoke from the Temple, gave me those mischievousness jeweled hairy eyeballs from across the way and I knew it was ON!  So for the past…gods I don’t even fucking know how long at this point, I’ve been scrabbling like a madwoman to prepare for a Feast, send presents, hold ritual, prepare for a coven New Years event, and in general you know keep life rolling along. Yesterday I scrubbed my house within an inch of it’s life. Today I went to work, but I have a few things I can do tonight. One of them involves, this right now, lol. You see Ms. Dirty’s challenge was simple.

1. Write down your supper date (deadline: Jan. 19th)
2. Get your research on
3. Circle a few celebratory traditions
4. Make one traditional dish
5. Create an ancestor setting

Well one is taken care of it’s the 22nd, the Winter Solstice itself baby. And for number 2, that’s what this post is about.

My family history…is shady. By shady I mean most of it is unknown to me. You see something happened way back in the day, to the generation of men that fought in WWII. For some reason they decided family heritage was for the birds and better left to rot in a cold dark place. Basically both my grandfathers did not and will not tell bumpkis about their family. But I’ll break down what I know.

My father’s father, grew up somewhere in New England. His mom took his sister and left him with his dad when he was young, and then when he was about 17 his dad gave him $20 and told him never to come back (or so the story goes). He joined the Army and made his way to the West Coast where he met my grandmother. My father to this day does not know what his grandparents names were. And the fact of the matter is my grandfather was a wily fellow. Because not only is there a discrepancy in his middle name but also his birthdate. Was he Wallace Noonen Rogers born May17th or was he Wallace Nowack Rogers born May 18th? Or some combination thereof? My father recalls an incident where he heard the Granda had taken the name Nowack in his writing years (he apparently wrote western and mystery novellas) because someone was already writing under Wallace Noonen. In any event most the family seems to believe that his family was Irish/German. Fine. Not helpful but fine.

So we move on to my father’s mother. First of all she was adopted. Adopted in a time period where there are no birth records from adoption. Frankly that doesn’t bother me. She knew and loved her family very dearly, and my cultural outlook is chockful of the importance of fostering. With that in mind we follow the Wiess family and know they most certainly where German, what part of Germany remains unclear but fine.

On to Mother’s father. Mother’s father is still alive, but is reticence to speak of his family, tho she continues to try. What we do know is the granfather’s father came over to America from Germany. Story says it was during WWII, but I’m skeptical as that would mean my grandfather would have been born in Germany. But I suppose anything is possible. More than that, like names or anything is simply not known. Annoying but ok.

Mom’s mom was a Collins and were predominately of Irish stock. Tho the exact details she’s still trying to get me. I will continue to poke at her.

Out of all of that what we have is a lot of vague German and Irish lol.

For my Irish countryfolk:

  • I have collected some holly, pine and cedar. I haven’t found a good source for ivy as of yet (damn gardeners massacred the poor thing out front). It shall be displayed for them to appreciate. It was tradition in Ireland up until recently that while the men cleaned up the outside of the house, and the women the inside, that the children would go out and collect the decorations predominately Holly and Ivy.
  • I will be making a Christmas Pudding for the occasion, and hopefully will even be able to flambe the thing (YAY! Fire!)
  • After the feast I will have my version of the Laden Table. An Irish Christmas tradition of leaving the door unlocked with a loaf of caraway seed and raisin bread on the table. As well as a pitcher of milk and a lit candle. The idea seems to be leaving it there for Mary or Joseph to come partake or any weary traveller. But to mine Gaelic Pagan eyes I smell the remnants of an older practice. It speaks to the old sense of hospitality, towards mankind as well as Otherkind.

For the German good people

  • I will be making pork roast, Schweinsbraten. No where does it say that this is a traditional Midwinter or Christmas food. BUT Pork is one of the old traditional foods for Yule and winter. Plus it is authentic so I believe it will be well received. Along with our Schweinsbraten, I will be making Rotkohl, which IS traditional for christmas, it’s a red cabbage dish. I may or may not make potato dumplings at this point.
  • I would like to have a version of a yule log, but may not have the time. We do however have a christmas tree, which is a German tradition. Bedecked and bedazzled.
  • We shall have Gluewhein in a plenty!

Tomorrow I will be clearing down my main altar. Moving the Queen and Chieftain for a bit, with their approval, to make room for the ancestor’s place setting. They get the WHOLE big altar. And with the guest list turning all for the positive it shall be needed lol. I’ll finish the cleaning, and make the christmas pudding, and possibly dumplings and anything else I feel called to whip out for the occasion. Expect another post on the morrow, laden with photos of my exploits and mess making 😉

Happy Holidays everyone!!


99%

My country is in the middle of a storm. Situations and bad leadership that has been going on for years is finally cracking. I’m not surprised that I’m currently living in one of the epicenters of this maelstrom. If you haven’t heard, or seen the coverage on the brutal attack of the Occupy Oakland Protesters, then I suggest you get on google and look it up. I had been watching this Occupy movement with interest, passion, pride, and deliberation. It was easy to see that it was a movement born out of the prolonged frustration of the American people at their government for allowing Corporations to put their wants above the people’s needs. Last night I sat at my altar,  deliberated and prayed. I sat there for as long as I needed to, well into the night. Listening, seeing, working. At this point that’s really all I can say on the matter. The future is going to be a struggle. A struggle to reclaim our government for ourselves. May we prove successful and prosper.