In these times of economic woe and political uncertainty, many people have decided there is nothing to believe in. But we know that there is. Faith is its own reward and those who bask in the waters of faith will know its blessings. Yes, friend, I’m talking about the Good News about Thor.
Thor is a loving, accepting God who doesn’t judge Humanity like many false icons. Thor understands the Middle Path of moderation between self-righteous total abstinence and wanton self-indulgence and has tasted the refreshing sweetness of fine ale, the saltiness of a good piece of roast pork and knows the lusty pleasures of the soft and supple arms of Valkyries, mortal women and Goddesses alike. Thor understands and accepts human frailties for what they are, often the source of our greatest strengths and triumphs. He understands and pulls to His hairy bosom all those who try to do what is best in life, not just for themselves but for their friends and loved ones, even strangers; for Thor is ever a friend to Midgard and all those who dwell within.
Render unto Thor your prayers and He will hear and answer them. Thor will not turn a deaf ear to you nor ask you to bear more than your fair share. Thor will ever stand with you in adversity as befitting a true and proper patron God. Thor loves and understands you and even now, is willing to guide you in the kind of moral and proper life you need to live in order to cross the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard.
Thor rewards all who, in this Yuletide season, choose to honor the ancient pagan ways and bring within their households the Yule log and mistletoe as did the ancient druids of Ireland and the pagans of Anglo-Saxon England. Thor looks kindly upon all those who do adorn their homes in this time of year with a shining star, the five-fold pentagram traced across the night sky by the planet Venus, eternal symbol of the Goddess of fertility and sensuality. For in such ways are the ancient Gods celebrated even unto this day.
Send to this every good hearted person you know and care about. Thor is willing to come into their lives today.
New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon has published a short anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fiction short stories entitled Mechanical Tales and is working on completing his first novel. His most recent story “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” has been published in Capes and Clockwork 2.
All text copyright Brandon Black 2016.
Behind the Spider’s Eye is the heading I’m going to use for practical occultism posts and essays — whenever I feel the need to talk about paganism and crafting pagan ritual, that’s the heading I’ll use. Okay? Let’s begin!
Night Magick by Philip D. Williams
This book was an invaluable resource when the time came for me to write my first public ritual. I’ve always hated the Western colour symbolism that says “White = Good; Black = Evil” and have always opposed it. I thought my pastor cowardly and disappointing as a child when I asked him why we as Black people would go along with the whole Black is Evil thing and he refused to discuss the issue. He didn’t even have the sense to feign indignance at the thought of entering into a theological discussion with a child; the man just ran off apologetically as though he were terrified of even talking to me (I did have a bit of a reputation I imagine with the Sunday school teachers).
When I got a chance to perform my first public ritual with the CUUPS group in New Orleans, I wrote a ritual celebrating the wonder and the mystery of the Night. I used the four Persian Watcher stars as my watchtowers and celebrated the Dark Goddess. I “reversed the polarity” of the Four Elements and did meditations that connected us to their dark aspects.
Actually performing the ritual taught me two key things I would have to remember always when dealing with public ritual. One: there are always going to be people present at a public ritual who don’t take the occasion as seriously as you do. Two: there are always going to be hiccups — people not knowing where to stand, people having to hold the script and some other object at the same time, etc. That’s why it’s always nice to practice beforehand but some times you can’t prepare for what happens.
At the height of the ritual, a huge current of wind started blowing in the courtyard of the UU church we were holding ritual at. And a few pages of one of ritual scripts got caught up in the wind. Everything came to a screeching halt as we all watched these pages circle faster and faster around the courtyard and then get sucked higher and higher into the night sky and then straight up out of sight.
I sighed, exasperated, wondering what else could possibly go wrong. And my Wicca 101 instructor looked at me and said, “You wrote a ritual to the Night and it was literally accepted by it; some people go their whole lives waiting for a sign like that.”
I don’t know how to boil down why I became pagan.
I didn’t care for pretty much anything about Christianity. The whole Old Testament needs to go. A god asks you to kill your first born child, you’re supposed to tell him to go fuck himself, not wait around for him to laugh and say, “Just kidding.”
I don’t want to worship a deity who according to his own holy book wanted humanity to be ignorant and punished them when they learned too much. He lies about them dying if they eat of the Tree of Knowledge and the serpent (some how cast as the villain) is the one who’s telling the truth. I don’t want to worship a deity who by his own holy book is a drowner of infants. This guy gives the finger to every man, woman and child on earth except Noah and his family and even kills all the animals except the ones on the Ark. That’s just fucked up.
I don’t like how Christians go on and on and on about the Bible being the One True Word of God — when it suits them — and ignoring it because “well, you just have to follow Jesus’ teaching of compassion” whenever it doesn’t. I mean really. I can’t remember how many arguments started with a quotation of an obscure verse from the Bible that backed somebody’s pet theory. I can’t remember how many times I heard someone want to ignore some tenet of the Old Testament because “Jesus brought a new covenant.” Don’t tell me this is the literal word of God and then treat it like a salad bar.
I don’t like how judgemental Christians are. I had a co-worker who was talking with some nurses. The nurses get into a religious discussion and ask him to participate. He says no thank you, I don’t want to get into trouble. They say, no, no, we’re inviting you to participate. It’s okay. So he says fine. One woman says, “I don’t see how you can resolve a belief in reincarnation with a belief that the Bible is the literal word of God.” And my friend says, “I DON’T BELIEVE THIS (emphasis mine) but it does say that you have to be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The nurse doesn’t like this answer. She complains to her nurse supervisor. The nurse supervisor calls our home office in Mobile. The manager responsible for the site calls my friend’s manager who calls him into his office and says, “Don’t discuss weird things in front of the nurses.” I nearly started a shitstorm over that one until my own manager simply said, “Look — you just shouldn’t talk about religion in front of customers. The other manager just didn’t phrase it right.”
I don’t care for the “unspoken rules” that have cropped up around Christianity. When I was a teenager, I assumed that it was a bad idea, religiously mind you, to date outside my race. Nobody told me in those words not to date white girls but no one in my Baptist church ever did it and since everyone was always proclaiming how moral and better than the “people of the world” they were — it logically followed that actions you didn’t see any of the congregation conducting were immoral actions. Now that might be a race thing. African Americans, as a minority, have always had a “group think” that I’ve found distressing. But that it took one of my fellow high school students asking me: “Let me get this straight: you come home. Your parents are out of the house and won’t be back for hours. There’s this white girl on your bed and she’s naked and beautiful and ready to go. You’re gonna tell her no?” for me to realize “No, I’m not going to tell her no.” and that it was okay to date white women, that’s just fucked up. And it took me until college to be okay with the idea of dating a woman older than me. And I wasn’t the only one. I have a friend — he’s black too — who thought the same way. No one ever told us you couldn’t date a woman older than yourself — it was just assumed — and it was assumed to be because of religious reasons. The Christianity we were taught was the legs holding up the status quo — and without any rhyme or reason given. “Lean not to your own understanding” is the most fucked up concept imaginable — it’s just created for abuse.
I left Christianity because it made no sense. It had no rules, no rhyme, no reason, no structure. Killing was bad — unless the Israelites did it — or God did it to little kids. It’s the worst thing imaginable for you or I to kill children but I had a girl in my Sunday school class actually say to me “You don’t understand — God made us so He can destroy us.” Like your parents can just murder you and it’s okay. That’s fucked up. I was in the car with my Mom once and she’s listening some preacher on the radio and this guy is whipping his congregation into a frenzy. I think he was talking about David. He made some statement about David killing so many enemies of the Israelites that he was unclean and thus unwelcome in the temple. And the crowd is eating this up. And I just start shaking my head. And my Mom looks over at me and asks why I’m shaking my head and I just say, “Uh — thou shalt not kill?”
I came to paganism by chance. I was taking a creative non-fiction writing workshop at LSU and my instructor asked us to interview someone we were afraid to interview. I had heard of a group of witches in New Orleans and decided to interview them. I knew I was on to something when I pitched my project to the class and the table went “oooh!” I interviewed the then male co-coordinator of CUUPS (the Covenant of Unitarian-Universalist Pagans) and after listening to him go on about his politics for four hours, he invited me to attend their Wicca 101 classes as part of my project.
This is where I learned much of the basics of paganism — this and the books of Scott Cunningham, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject. Cunningham had a unique gift for simply, easily and quickly conveying not only the core ideas of the Wiccan religion but its inherent beauty as well.
Nature and ecology as the centre of one’s spirituality — this is a core concept. The Divine has wrought the world — by one means or another, who can say? And by understanding the natural world, we can understand the nature of the Divine Presence. And the first thing we note in Nature is plurality. There is nothing singular in Nature. We do not see ONE of anything. We see unique expressions of plurality — I am not you — you are not me — but we don’t see species of one. Even the Sun is just one star among many. Ecology — diversity — a dependence on interactive systems — these are at the heart of the Wiccan viewpoint.
Equality of the genders: Instead of a God, we have a God and a Goddess and all the myriad deities who comprise them. A Wiccan coven is led by a High Priest and a High Priestess working as a team, expressing the energies and force of their genders in tandem. Traditionally, initiation of a witch requires a member of the opposite sex. The understanding we have of the universe as being comprised of a multiplicity of forces is key here. Yin and Yang working together the way male and female come together to bring about new life. Fertility is key to Wicca. Other branches of paganism, particularly gay themed ones, de-emphasize this but the concept of a joining of diverse forces typically holds true.
Mysticism: We do not have a single holy book. Each of us is free to learn what lessons we will from Nature. I am fond of saying that “What is given for me to understand is not necessarily what is given for you to understand and vice versa.” Recall the story of blind men encountering an elephant. One man touches the trunk and says that an elephant is like a snake. One man touches the elephant’s side and says that an elephant is like a wall. One man touches the elephant’s leg and says no, an elephant is like a tree. The Divine Presence is like that. It is too complex an issue for everyone to have the same view as everyone else. We encounter different aspects of the Divine Presence in different ways. And we must always be true to that experience because I believe the Divine finds the best way to communicate to each and every one of us, if only we are willing to listen. So if you only encounter one God, then for you, there IS only one God. If when you encounter the Divine, you encounter the God and Goddess, then that’s what there is for you. If you encounter the whole Greek pantheon, the whole Greek pantheon is real for you. And you should structure your spiritual practice around these understandings. You should take no notice of anyone who tells you “This has to be done such-and-so a way or it’s wrong.” You should ignore that person entirely. Learn their reasons, give it a try if you care to but ultimately you must find the ways and means of religious practice that suit you and fulfil you and make you happy.
We do not proselytise: For the same reason as the above, we accept that you must find your own path. If you come to me and ask me to show you my path, I will but it’s with the understanding that my way up the mountain will not be your way up the mountain. We may walk similar paths near to one another and be able to talk as we go along the way but my path will always be a little different from yours.
Reincarnation: I like Babylon 5’s idea that “the soul is not a localised phenomenon.” It’s a bit more refined than my own simple idea that the Earth renews and reuses everything in its ecological sphere — so why not reuse consciousness? Living a single life to be tested and then die to go to some eternal reward just seems a primitive idea. That we, like matter or energy, cannot be destroyed but only transformed, just seems more valid, to me. We are renewed and then we go forth again to journey outwards to learn and to be.
Magick: Magick is a tough one but I do believe in it. I believe in the power of prayer — because that’s all magick really is — to change the world, literally. I believe we receive what we need from the universe and that we can take an active role in guiding the universe and it’s part of our tutelage by the gods that we learn how better to do that. But ultimately, magick is asking the universe for something and the universe is wise enough sometimes to tell us “No.”
So — that’s a little about why I’m a pagan.