Category Archives: Uncategorized
I knew that in some areas, St. Michael was syncretized with Apollo but had no idea Michael was also syncretized with Odin. wow. (and it always amuses me that when Odin and Frigga — it’s Frigga here, not Freyja– go up against each other, He loses. ^___^).
On a slightly related note, I was having a conversation with someone about the Hebrew meaning of St. Michael’s name: “Who is like God?” It occurred to me that, in the Archangel responsible for leading the armies of heaven against evil angels, that it’s not a simple question. Rather, it’s a challenge: Who dares to think he is like God? Who dares to raise himself up to that level? It ‘s an exhortation to piety, humility, reverence, and respect.
so here is my final question, partly tongue in cheek, but partly serious. There’s a grotto in a cave in Italy that is sacred to St. Michael. was that originally a shrine to Apollo, to Odin, or licitly to Michael? *G* Inquiring minds and all that shit.
Paulus Diaconus in his Historia Langobardorumdiscusses how in the course of their migration from Scandinavia to Northern Italy a Germanic tribe changed their name from Wandals to Lombards, due to a contest of wits between the Gods Godan and Frea.
8. At this point, the men of old tell a silly story that the Wandals coming to Godan besought him for victory over the Winnili and that he answered that he would give the victory to those whom he saw first at sunrise; that then Gambara went to Frea wife of Godan and asked for victory for the Winnili, and that Frea gave her counsel that the women of the Winnili should take down their hair and arrange it upon the face like a beard, and that in the early morning they should be present with their husbands and in like manner station themselves to be seen by Godan…
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I just ran into a “scholar” on twitter (it was I passing and I don’t recall his handle) who said “well, they” meaning polytheisms “weren’t contemporary for very long. Christianity took care of that. They were very successful.” Um…as I did in response to twitter, let me explain how Christianity took care of it: by first passing religiously restrictive laws, then eventually (usually sooner rather than later) butchering religious practitioners, desecrating sacred spaces, destroying holy objects, spreading like a pollution over the land via intimidation (backed by military force), violence, bloodshed, the martyrdom of devout polytheists, destroying temples, and cultural and religious genocide. They’re still doing it (India, Brasil, Haiti, various countries in Africa, anywhere they think they can get away with it). You know what though? We’re still here. Polytheism is still here. We’re growing. We never disappeared fully so Christianity was not as successful as it thinks it was. It did not win. So, you, dear scholar, can suck it.
Seriously, it’s gross to be gloating about the effects on real bodies, real people, real traditions, real places of colonialism, conquest, and genocide. Toward no other group would this be acceptable.
I grew up amongst my maternal kin. Rather, I should say, I grew up amongst the Shoff and Heffner descendants. There wasn’t much awareness of continuity or genealogy in the immediate family – for instance I was in my forties before I realized my great grandfather and great-great grandmother were buried not 20 minutes from my childhood home—and with one exception, my maternal grandmother’s children seem to want to cut themselves off from their heritage. There’s something emotionally unsettled and rootless in them, a brittleness that I put down to that conscious abrogation of their ancestry. I could speculate on why they feel that way, but that’s not where I want to go in this post. Rather I’d like to focus on connection.
There is a cemetery, St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran in Chanceford Twnship, PA where I am related to 98% of the inhabitants and if I looked closely enough, I could probably find connections to the remaining 2% as well. So many of my direct descendants are there. Visiting was overwhelming. I’ve been to cemeteries before where I had one or two relatives buried but never six+ generations of my maternal line! It was one of the richest and yet most disorienting moments I’ve ever had in my genealogy work! I sank down in the grass in front of my great, great, great grandparents’ (Elizabeth Oberlander and Jesse Runkle) stones and it felt like a homecoming. I wanted to stay there for hours and hours.
My friend MAG was with me (she took the picture of the cemetery shown here) and helped me to stay focused. She’s a good handler lol! It was blistering hot and all I could think of was finding relatives but she made sure I stayed hydrated and kept an eye on me as I staggered from grave to grave. She was a trooper too. When we started out, we knew the cemetery was off route 425 but not the exact address. When we found it after about an hour of driving around, the sense of “this one is mine” was so strong it knocked the breath out of me. (I found this page, by a librarian and genealogist talking about the cemetery for those interested).
My third great grandparents are there, second great grandparents, my second cousin twice removed who died in WWI, his parents, assorted Revolutionary and Civil War dead to whom I’m related. There’s a list of the burials MAG found as I was staggering through the cemetery and when I started reading through it, I think all I could say over and over was ‘Oh my Gods. Oh my Gods. Oh my Gods.” Shoffs, Runkles, Oberlanders, Heffners, Smeltzers oh my. (Even as I typed this up I went off on a genealogical expedition through cemetery records. I had to stop myself lol).
Not belonging to an Abrahamic religion, I often ponder the fact that we have no universal “holy land” comparable to what Jerusalem is for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. One could say that all land is holy to us but that, I think, is a cop out. This cemetery is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a place that felt holy on an inter-generational level, on a deeply sacred level and it was a joy.
For Heathens, this is one of our holy symbols. It may, in fact, be our holiest of symbols and it’s certainly the one that the majority of us wear to indicate that we are Heathen (in much the same way a Christian might wear a cross or a Jewish person a star of David) (1). I’ve been meditating a lot on what the Hammer means, especially since it seems I cannot wear it these days without questions and occasionally direct hostility. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this gift, crafted by the duergar, given by Loki, wielded by Thor for the good of the worlds is the most important symbol we will ever bear.
Thor is a God Who brings holiness. There is nothing foul or polluted, wicked or spiritually wrong that He cannot conquer. He renders His protection without contract or stipulation. For this reason, He is called “Friend of Man.” More than any other God, He watches over Midgard – the human world, our world – ensuring that it maintains its integrity (despite our own depredations of our home). He travels with Loki, the God most gifted at finding loopholes. I think this is particularly important. I think that very special care must be taken when the Gods act directly in our world, that doing so promiscuously threatens to weaken the very scaffolding They seek to maintain, and perhaps Loki is Thor’s favorite traveling companion because between the Two of Them, They can find all those loopholes too, never missing an opportunity to drive back evil and entropy threatening existence (2).
I often think that Thor is one of the Gods most often underestimated. Despite one of His by-names being “Deep-Minded,” despite the fact that He is the Son of Odin, despite the fact that He is the son of the earth (Fjorgyn), the Goddess Who provides all we need to sustain our world, He’s quite often dismissed as … a dumb jock. He’s pigeon-holed in a way that I also see with Goddesses like Freya. We reduce Him in our minds to a one-dimensional character in a book. I don’t think this is purposeful or intentionally disrespectful, I think it’s what we’ve been programmed to do by popular culture, by the way our Gods are treated in academic writing, by the way they’re treated in comparative lit., and by the way They were treated by the working-class founders of American Heathenry. But our Gods are not characters in a set of stories. They are living Holy Powers, Immortal Beings, the Creators of our very existence and the space in which it plays out.
Consider a few of His by-names (heiti ): Atli (The Terrible), Einriði (One Who rules alone – in other words, I interpret this to mean that He is more than capable in and of Himself of purifying and rendering holy, and carries the blessing of the sovereignty of the land through his Mother), Harðhugaðr (strong spirit, fierce soul), Rymr (noise, which makes me think of how sound, like rattles, drums, bells, chanting, etc. is often used to clear spiritual pollution and purify people, places, and things), and last but not least Veurr (Hallower, Guardian of the shrine). Thor hallows. Wherever He is, whatever He touches, wherever He chooses to make Himself manifest, there He hallows and in hallowing creates space where the enemies of the Gods simply cannot exist.
Thor’s hammer, then, is a sign that the Gods are engaged with us in the ongoing process of creation. It is a sign that They guard us, that Thor girds the world against dissolution, against entropy, against all that would threaten the cosmic and divine architecture. Like His mother, Thor provides. He sustains. Like His Father, He battles back the enemies of the Gods. Like He, Himself alone, He renders holy those places He has been, those spaces through which He has passed. When we wear the Thor’s hammer, we are signaling that we too are aligned with divine order. We are signaling that we stand with Him in maintaining, protecting, and most of all nourishing that which the Gods have created.
So, wear the hammer proudly. When people ask you about it, or the ruder ones challenge you for wearing it, explain exactly what it means and hold your ground. We must not give up a single inch of space, not in mind, not in body, and not in soul. That hammer signifies that we are hallowed ground, reclaimed, rededicated, consecrated to our Gods, committed to Thor’s protection. Wear it proudly, wear it mindfully, and every time you touch it, give thanks to this God Who sustains His Father’s creation.
- Some Scandinavians will wear it as a cultural symbol and then of course it’s endlessly misappropriated by individuals who have no faith in the Gods, but you see the same thing with other religions’ symbols too, at least the latter use by the godless.
- I think there are cosmic rules that the Gods adhere to, blocking how directly They may act in our world. This is hinted at most fully in the Homeric corpus but I believe it holds true amongst our Gods as well, that the more they violate those structures They Themselves have put into place, not only the more They weaken the cosmic architecture, but more importantly, They provide openings for the Nameless, that unnamed force – the Kemetics called it Isfet, Native Americans had different names for it – that ever hates and threatens divine creation to also come in. I think there’s a cosmic détente and no God is better at finding ways to act without violating that détente than Loki.
“Monotheism is a disease of the soul, and even the kindest, most open minded Monotheist who finds the idea of forced conversion ghastly is still a carrier for spiritual plague. I have friends and family who are Monotheists who I love dearly, but I never let myself forget that they are infected and see the spread of their infection as both good and necessary. As decent moral people we should respond to kindness with kindness, but we should also never forget that at its core, Monotheism desires death to all other religions.”
This is a very good article on the desecration of Thor’s sacred Tree by Boniface.
This man was a piece of shit. He did his desecration backed by the military forces of Charles Martel (I believe it was Martel.). In case you’ve always wondered why the Heathens didn’t fight him — the asshole had an army present and protecting him. There is a similar story of St. Martin of Tours. Both accounts read as though the “saint” were alone when they destroyed the shrines. No one mentions the armed, Christian military force also present.
Now hagiography is not history but i think sometimes we have to look at these depredations – religious and cultural genocide– as an accurate portrayal of how our polytheistic ancestors were reduced to a subaltern people and then their religious traditions erased: at the end of an ax blade and a bible.
I’d like to see that statue that marks the spot where Boniface acted put to the ax. and in general, it’s about time we polytheists were the ones bearing the axes in defense of our traditions because while there are good Christians who would be horrified by such actions as Boniface represents, there are also those like the evangelicals in Brasil, who are murdering pious priests and practitioners of Candomble when the latter won’t desecrate their shrines. Monotheistic barbarism continues.
And this type of desecration of sacred places, what monotheism did in its spread across europe was religious and cultural genocide. It starts with trees and ends with people as any study of Charlemagne’s war on the Saxons shows.
Don’t think this is one bit different from what the Taliban did to those Buddhist statues. It’s the same psychopathic impulse embedded in monotheism. Monotheism isn’t just the belief in one deity, it’s the eradication of all others.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims should absolutely have clean space to practice their religions to the best of their ability. Everyone should love and honor their Gods as best as they possibly can; however, the moment they start encroaching into polytheistic spaces, we need to rise up in defense of our Gods, traditions, and ancestors with pen, paintbrush, or ax, if the situation requires. Because now, as in the time of Boniface, shrines are being desecrated and polytheists are dying.
A very good post about the relationship of temples to towns, and towns and communities to inter-generational survival of our traditions. Read it here.
One of the prompts for this particular week on the official facebook page for this project asks if there is an occupation that seems to recur in one’s family tree. Ironically, there is and it’s one that I myself am pursuing too: theologian/clergy.
On my maternal line (through her father), my 7thgreat grandfather is Alexander Underwood (1688-1767), a Quaker minister who settled in Pennsylvania. I’ve actually been in the Meeting House that he helped to build in Warrington Township. He was apparently very prominent in his community and travelled frequently to help build up Quaker communities in the colonies. (Warrington Meeting House — my photo).
I’m descended through his daughter Ann Underwood, who married Stephen Ailes. Their son Stephen Ailes (1750-1828) and his wife Elizabeth Swayne (1751-1820) had a son Stephen Ailes (1771-1816) – my family has never been overly creative with naming their children lol. It’s a pain in the ass as a genealogist—who married Sarah Byland (1773-1830) had a daughter Esther Ailes (1798-1887) who married James Andrew Hanna (1800-1874) and their son Stephen John Hanna (1832-1897) was my great great grandfather. I’ve been able to visit his grave and the graves of his wife Elizabeth Johnson, their son Perry Hanna, and his son, my grandfather Roland Hanna within the past couple of years. It looks like Stephen John Hanna was a farmer primarily (quite common on both sides of my family as well).
Also on my maternal line (this time through her mother), theologian and mystic Jakob Boehme (1575-1624) is my 11thgreat grandfather. This was really exciting when I discovered this. He was considered rather controversial in his time but had tremendous influence on German romanticism. He was trained as a shoemaker but read extensively, becoming effectively self-taught. He was a visionary and mystic and wrote extensively on various theological topics like angels, theodicy, and theological anthropology. He wrote several books including “Forty Questions on the soul,” “The Incarnation of Jesus Christ,” “The Six Mystical Points,” “The Signature of All Things,” and “On Election to Grace.” His work is still in print today. He engaged with leading clergy of his day and also leading religious controversies. There are strong Platonic elements in his work. His work also birthed a theosophical religious movement called Behmenism (an English corruption of his name) which influenced Romantic poets and artists including William Blake.
So, I am descended from Jakob Boehme through his son Jakob Boehm (1599-1670) –there was no regulated spelling of names until the early 20thcentury, so I tend to alternate spellings depending on the document with which I’m dealing. He had a son also Jacob Boehme (1643-1734) who married Barbara Karrer (1637-1737) and they had a son also named Jacob (1668-1692) who married Anna Marie Sherer (1671-1750) and they had a son of the same name (1693-1781) who married Barbara Kendig (1695-1780). They were my immigrant ancestors on this particular line, coming to Pennsylvania in the 18thcentury, and they had a daughter Magdalena (1738-1804). She married Frederick Shoff (1732-1800), himself an immigrant from the Palatine and they had a son Jacob Shoff (1765-1838). He married Nancy Hess (1775-1810) and by this time that particularly family line was already well ensconced in Chanceford township in PA (there’s a Lutheran graveyard there where I’m literally related to 98% of the inhabitants and If I looked hard enough, I’m pretty sure I am probably related to the other 2% by marriage!). It looks like by he and his father were too young and too old respectively to have fought in the American Revolution (I have other maternal relatives who did that). Anyway, their son David Shoff (1800-1881) married Barbara Smeltzer (1801-1844). Their son Christian Shoff (1815 – ?) married Catherine Markley (1793-1859). He fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union. His son Rudolph Reuben Shoff (1842-1886) married Mary Jane Adams (1846-1936) and their son Hugh Clay Shoff (1873-1957) married Lucinda Alice Heffner (1875-1952). They are my maternal great grandparents. Their daughter Linnie May Shoff (1909-1987) married Roland Isaac Hanna (1903-1991) though they later divorced. Their daughter Mary Ann (1947-2012) is my biological mother. Whew!(Linnie Hanna as a young woman, c. 16).
Throughout the line, at least through my great-grandparents’ generation, there has always been a strong thread of interest in things spiritual. My great-grandfather’s sister, if my grandmother’s stories are correct (and given some of what I learned from her and later researched and checked, I think they are) was a spiritualist of some note in the family. My great-grandmother was apparently “very, very spiritual” (as far as her grandchildren’s accounts go). My grandmother herself was a mystic and visionary – I know that from my own time with her– and it’s from her that I learned the importance of devotion and prayer. I myself have been a priest within my religious tradition for almost 30 years (a terrifying thought lol) and I’m pursuing a PhD in theology.
Likewise, lest I forget to mention them, also on my maternal line, we’re descended from Huegenots who immigrated rather than betray their religious principles. We also had several Swiss immigrants who were Mennonites. I’ll admit to having little patience with Protestantism (I’d rather deal with converts from Catholicism any day in our tradition, since there are elements of prayer, devotion, and shrine work that seem to come easier to them and the Protestant focus on the written word has had problematic influence in my own polytheistic tradition) but I’m proud that my ancestors would not be swayed from what their conscience at the time dictated.
Basically, I’m descended from a long line of people who had no problem stirring the religious pot and causing trouble and I’m happy to say I uphold that particular family tradition proudly. Lol.
Love this song. It calls the ancestors for me like nothing else, our polytheistic ancestors the ones steeped in their traditions. the rhythms are the ones for calling the dead. five minutes of this and i’m there: ready to pound the earth, pour out offerings, and bring the dead to life again.
I don’t know if this is a favorite photo per se, but it was certainly one that I was overjoyed to acquire.
This is my great grandmother (maternal father’s side) Edna Baldwin (with her then husband and my great grandfather Perry Barnes Hanna). She haunted my family for years (metaphorically speaking lol). There is tragedy and loss and bitterness and so much there in her life on which I wish I had clarity; she was really the lynch pin that set the tone for not just her children but theirs as well and by extension my generation too. Intergenerational pain and trauma but also courage and perseverance and the ability to survive with all the viciousness that sometimes entails. While parts of her story are bleak, I respect her and I honor her as one of my disir (protective female ancestors).
Edna was born c. 1879 in Hardy, WV to Jane Newhouse Baldwin and Isaac Hamilton Baldwin. She was one of at least a dozen children. The 1900 census lists her father as a car repairer. All I know of Edna is that she got the hell out of WV as soon as she could. She married Perry Barnes Hanna, my great grandfather (though I haven’t found their wedding certificate yet), and had three children by him (I have my doubts that the first child was his. The boy looks significantly mixed race (most likely part Native– my husband is half Blackfoot so it jumped out at me immediately) and I really do wonder if that’s why she left Hardy County to begin with, attitudes being what they were then in small, 19th c. towns. I looked at the photo I finally got of the two brothers and immediately blurted out: “No way they have the same father!” In 1900 that would have been an issue, a serious one, but I digress. (I am a genealogist. Mysteries like this drive me absolutely crazy. I want to know. Everything my dead tried to hide, I want to ferret out lol. I’ve had intensive email correspondence with an archivist in Hardy county – amazingly wonderful woman – and we came to the conclusion that Edna lied on her second son’s birth certificate. There, she said she was born in Alabama. Census records place her at less than a year old in Hardy County and I have far more documentation for her parents than I do for her. We thought, all the evidence considered, that she was trying to hide her background and town/county/state of origin. Like me, did she just move as far away as she could at the first opportunity when she was of age or is there more to the story? I will probably never know but I also won’t stop looking).
My grandfather, apparently her second son was born in 1903. Her relationship with Perry was volatile. My aunt told me that her father (my grandfather Roland) told her that once the two of them were fighting and Edna threw a knife at Perry, the latter saved only because he held up a thick newspaper to block it. He himself was, according to his son, an alcoholic (family lore says Perry was a pediatrician but I’ve searched the census records and find zero evidence of that. The only place it’s mentioned is in his mother’s obit. My grandfather told his children that Perry had to give up medicine due to his drinking so maybe that is the case. Certainly Roland believed it was and remained a committed tea-totaler for his entire life). At any rate, their marriage did not last (haven’t found the divorce decree either but I will) and when Roland was six and her older son Van nine, she abandoned them in a local park in Baltimore. She told them to wait there, that she’d be right back but never, ever came back. That’s all I’ll say on that, because I cannot imagine the horror and terror and pain of those two little boys.
They were adopted by different families and Roland’s was less than kind to him, using him more as farm labor than anything else. He was brilliant, however, a polymath who started out as a surveyor and ended up a self-taught civil engineer (still possible in those days). He helped build dams, including the Conowingo dam near where I grew up. He taught himself to play the violin and could play anything he heard by ear. He was a math whiz. While he reconnected somewhat with his mother as an adult, the relationship was never warm and his older brother Van flat out refused to have anything to do with her (this is, at least, what I’ve been able to pry from Roland’s children, my aunts and uncles). Roland himself was physically brutal to his own wife and children. He and my grandmother eventually divorced at a time when that was simply not done. He, by family account, went off to live in the woods. She was scared of him even after he was out of the picture I think. Before he died he did try to make amends to the family, especially to my bio-mom who was, it seems his least favorite child, but I think for her it was a matter of too little too late. He died in 1991. It really shows how one generation can open the door to trauma that just travels down the line. There is no “away” for things like this unless they’re looked at hard in the face and dealt with. On a lighter note, let me just add that I did not get his math gene. LOL. Quite the opposite in fact as I have dyscalculia but he instilled in his oldest daughter a love of learning and she passed that onto me.
Edna was a pianist and opera singer in Baltimore. More than that, I haven’t been able to find out. Family records indicate that she trained a niece to sing but the girl gave it up to get married, pissing Edna off (something with which I quite concur…art is a grace and a blessing. If you have it, use it BUT it highlights the choices women were forced to make at the turn of the century. When I first found out about Edna leaving her children I had to wonder why. Was she turning into someone she felt might hurt them? Was she herself abused in her family? Certainly, it seems like she might have been by her husband even if it also sounds as though she gave as good as she got. Abuse travels down through family lines after all. Maybe she thought it safer for her children to give them up. Was she bitter about being held back in her aspirations as a singer? Was it something else? It hurts me to think of those children and for a long time I had hostility for her because of this but the more I study history the more I realize that in 1909, the year she would have abandoned her children, there were zero resources for a woman fleeing a drunk and probably abusive husband. Maybe it was the best she could do. There’s too much I don’t know and I’m hesitant to judge ancestors who may very well have been doing the absolute very best that they could with a lack of resources we cannot imagine. I do recall standing at my ancestor shrine once a couple of years ago thinking about her and I said out loud, “I don’t understand how you could make that choice” and ringing like a bell, clear and loud in my mind, heart, and soul I heard: “you assume I had one.” It brings home to me my privilege as a woman in 2020 with resources and in a city and country that has far, far more options – not just for women in danger but for a woman who wants to work, to be educated, to do things, to go places, to live, and maybe to not have children (reliable birth control is a wonderful thing). I’m lucky, but I’m lucky in part because of women like Edna and the other Mothers of my ancestral line who suffered and sometimes did brutal things to keep their souls from being broken; and yes, that may have meant breaking someone else, and that had consequences, sometimes painful ones for the next generations but maybe it would have been even worse if those choices hadn’t been made. It’s way too easy for us to judge. I’d rather learn and pray and elevate their wounded spirits because they are my strength and I’m here because of them, and sometimes I see more of myself than I would like in some of the choices Edna made and I wonder if I would have done better or worse in her place. (I was a ballet dancer through my early twenties professionally. I didn’t and don’t have children and never wanted to have children but I wonder what I would have done in 1909 in her place and sometimes I don’t like the answer).
Eventually she married again, Ernest O. Armiger and they had a daughter Dorothy. I have a copy of a letter that Edna wrote in the thirties. She was excited for the New Deal, supporting herself by working as a seamstress through the depression, and deeply invested in workers’ rights. She even wrote at least one article for a magazine, though I’ve not been able to get a copy (yet). She died of heart trouble in Maryland in 1944.
She was never close to my grandfather, for all he always craved her love. One of her letters to her brother Lynn mentions all of her children and updates Lynn on the goings-on…except she doesn’t mention Roland. She did visit him at least once. My oldest aunt was about two at the time. She came, met all the children and then left. My aunt remembers her as an elegant woman, describing exactly the woman in the photograph above. My aunt thought that she herself must have been about five but I don’t think that’s possible with the time line. This would have been when my aunt was between 2-4 though so my thought is that maybe she didn’t remember the visit but was told about it by her mom later, and shown the photo as a child, which imprinted on her memory. She told me that she was held on Edna’s lap and was impressed with how elegant she seemed. I remember things from when I was 2 ½-3 so it’s entirely possible my aunt does recall this. It’s just within the realm of what I would consider possible. For that visit, I don’t think my grandfather was there, but he was sent overseas in WWII so he may still have been on active duty. Edna was only 64 when she died. From her death certificate, she was cremated but I have no idea what happened to her ashes so for me, that is where her story stops.
My youngest aunt sent me photocopies of the photo (and others, including one of Van and Roland as children). The man pictured with her in this photo is my great grandfather Perry Barnes Hanna. So, while it’s not my favorite photograph, I had been searching for an image of her for at least a decade and by happenstance and ancestral blessing, it was there all along, just waiting for me to ask the right person for it to fall into my hands. I am grateful.