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Awareness

February 18, 2016 Leave a comment

A chorus of spirits hum
In the droning of the vents
Another choir tweets outside the windows
A million unseen wriggle and work beneath the floor

Large wheeled spirits pass each other
Some with caution, others with abandon
All laden with spirits, they cross, they move, and you only hear them truly when they’re no longer synchronized

If we were honest, we would acknowledge that our homes are made of the Dead and spirits
Their foundations laying upon layers of the Dead and spirits of the world
The guts, made of fallen timber and mined earth, and the skin of wood, metal, and thin layers of dinosaur and plant stretched across them

All this takes to see is a turn of the head, an opening of the eyes
A spirit for every grain of sand, for every drop of water, for every bite of food
All deserving honor in their turn

Learning the Skills and Getting to Work

January 26, 2016 2 comments

I just got back from a weekend at Strawbale Studio, taking the Rocket Stove and Earth Oven workshop this last week, and the Roundpole Timber Framing workshop with Sylverleaf, gifted to us by her mother.

There are some things where you just need to do them to know you can do them, and this would be one of those.  Like a lot of things we’ve fallen away from doing, building our own structures can garner a quality to it that makes it seem only able to be done within the realm of professionals.  We forget that our Ancestors used to build their own homes from the ground on up.  We disconnect from the understanding of knowing the land, and our place in helping to keep the trees, the forests, all of that healthy, by being collaborators with Them.

This is not to say I’m an overnight expert; hardly.  What it does mean is that with very simple tools and techniques, what I have learned can empower me and mine to build a house.  Given enough people, a community could raise several homes if we put our minds to it.  A small build team supported by a community could do the same if there was need or desire for it.

That is part of the power of places like Strawbale Studio.  You not only can learn the skills and get guidance on where to go from there, you understand in a real, in-person way that you can do these things.  It goes from a conception or an idea of the thing, into hands-on experience with the skills and techniques with the tools and materials.  It goes from feeling so far away, to very here.

I found myself at several times thinking, or saying aloud, “Oh wow.  If we had land/space to build on, this could easily be a reality.”  Every time I went to one of the classes, or watched the Roundwood Timber Framing DVD by Ben Law, I could feel the push that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir were giving us were actually able to be achieved.  That the dream our family and friends have can quite readily become reality.

We were taught what kind of growth we needed to look for in our wood, and when seasoned vs. green wood was useful.  With teams I helped to make roundwood joints that, with a bit of refinement, could hold up a roof or become a support beam.  I learned how to use a sawhorse and draw knife to debark wood, and also to make square pegs into round pegs.  After drilling out a hole and inserting the peg into or behind a joint, then splitting the peg and inserting a small wooden wedge into the peg, it would hold them together tight.  All of these were simple building techniques that utilize the wood harvested around the place we were learning.  I went to the chainsawing demo, because even though I do not currently own one, learning the basics of tree felling is a skill I may need.  Granted, if I need a chainsaw I’ll be taking a safety course on that as Mark Angelini recommended.

There was a deep communication with the wood I was working with, and it’s not dissimilar from working with the body of an animal.  After all, the tree’s bark is the ‘skin’, and the wood is the ‘flesh’ and ‘bones’ of the tree.  It once lived.  Learning to work with a tree by shaping its with a chisel is a very different experience of that tree and working with its body, and its spirit.  It’s similar to when I skinned a mole; it is one thing to work with an object in which leather is part of it, like a book cover or a drum, but a whole other thing entire to work with the skin before it becomes anything.  Same with the wood before it becomes a mallet, a peg, or an a-frame.

I had a similar experience this last week in working with the rocket stoves and forming the earth oven.  As with the previous workshop, I would catch myself thinking and saying “If we had land/space to build on, this could easily be a reality.”  Sylverleaf and I have a few books on our shelves, one of which is the Cob Builder’s Handbook by Becky Bee, and we picked up The Hand Sculpted House by Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, Linday Smiley, and Deanne Bednar. As part of the workshop we received a copy of Rocket Mass Heaters by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson.  It’s one thing to read these books, and a whole other thing to experience their contents.

The books can only describe so well how good cob feels in your hands for making the earth oven, how the slip layer for insulation should feel and look.  While I find it fairly easy to learn by sight, most of these things can only be learned by doing.  For instance, I was having a really hard time visualizing how the dividing bricks between where the feedbox for the firewood is and the chimney were supposed to be put down.  Seeing it done and helping to do it put it together made things click in a way I just couldn’t wrap my head around looking at the diagrams.

During the workshop on the second day I was the only person who took their shoes off to feel what the cob should feel like as you work it through the stages of adding water to the mix, which will be helpful when we do it outside in the spring or summer.  After doing that, I can hardly blame the other folks.  The cob was so cold my feet were aching till I put them near the rocket stove and scraped the mix off of my feet.  It was a lesson in why cob is used for mass thermal storage, though.

I really, really wish we could have finished off the earth oven.  From what I understand the drying process can take most or all of a day, depending on how big it is.  All we would have had to do was apply the insulation and the plaster layer, and we could have started making bread or pizza.  Albeit, since we made the earth oven at half scale, it would probably be more suited to breadsticks.  When we go to make our own we’ll be putting down foundation for the first time, since the model we worked on we really couldn’t put down a foundation as our diagrams depicted and all work on forming it.

One of my big takeaways from the weekend was that we really can put our hands to making a new world with the things around us, and do so in a respectful manner with the Gods, Ancestors, and landvaettir.  As with the coppicing, working with the materials around one’s home or locally sourced materials harvested with care worked very, very well for the work we were doing.  Having actually seen Strawbale Studio’s full-size earth oven work, and what’s more, tasted the amazing pizza that came out of it, I appreciate the art of making it all the more.

As with the roundwood timber framing, what I deeply appreciate and enjoy about natural building materials is that working with them is not some locked-off secret no one can access.  It’s the accessibility of the material and the building process that is really the key to it all.  The natural building techniques and skills I have learned require relatively few tools, almost all of them simple ones.  Most of the tools I was able to pick up for less than $100 all together.  Some day I will commission or make my own.  Especially when I sit and watch an episode of HGTV or DIY with the folks and see how much it takes to even remodel a kitchen using contemporary building measures.  What galls me about watching these shows is how often the turnaround time comes for needing to gut them and remodel them.  There are wattle-and-daub structures that still stand 600 years after their construction with relatively little input.  With cob thatched roof homes, the thatching needs replacing every 20-30 years, but do not required reconstruction of whole sections of the home.  The multigenerational aspect of working with the land, multigenerational homes and home ownership has been lost in going for materials that have built-in breakdown times, planned obsolescence, and we’re worse for it.

OthilaOthila or Othala presents the idea of odal land, ancestral land, and it is this concept that, in part, inspires me to learn and to pull together all these skills and to work with those in my family, clan, tribe, and with those in alliance with us.  It is why I am looking at working with those already in the community and doing these things, and it is why I encourage folks to take the steps for making firm ties now.  Putting our hands to crafting our own homes and things, or supporting those who do, strengthens our ties as community, and our resilience together.  If you get the chance to do something like this, formally or informally, I would take the opportunity with zeal.  If you’re not in the Michigan area, check around!  More and more folks are engaging with natural home building, reskilling, and networking with those willing to learn.

If you are not sure where to start, I am putting together a post which will give a general start for folks to work with, including basic internet resources, books I have read or worked from, and video links to get started.  There is a lot out there, so if you find or have done work from a source, let me know either in the comments section or by email, and I can add your recommendations to the list.

Our Pilgrimage to Lake Superior

July 15, 2015 4 comments

I’ve been offline for a while, until recently.  Some of it had to do with taking the first vacation in about 10 years where I was not also there to do spiritual work for other folks.  Some of it has also had to do with not feeling like I had much to write on, and the inspiration to do religious poetry not being with me lately.

My family and I went to Lake Superior (aka Gichi-gami), visiting the Porcupine Mountains and living in a DNR yurt for a few days.  We had a great time.  We left immediately after we got home from our church’s Midsummer ritual.

On the road up we stopped at Lake Michigan at a rest stop.  It was quiet, just us and the Lake.  We hailed Her, gave prayers to Her.  I gave offerings of tobacco and mugwort, then smoked on the beach to Her.  Both Sylverleaf and Kiba eventually went back to the car, leaving me to smoke with Her a total of three times, thanking Her for blessing us, for allowing us to be with Her.  When She spoke, it was gentle, and with a deep, deep power.  With each rush of the tide bringing a word: lay.  I wish I had thought to change my pants or empty my pockets, since I did as She told in that moment.

I prostrated myself before Her, and a small wave washed over me.  I immediately felt both cleansed and blessed.  I was also immediately soaked and cold!  Thankfully nothing in my pockets was damaged.  I felt clean from my head to my toes, washed clean by the Goddess of Lake Michigan, and blessed by Her waters.  I felt my Soul Matrix cleansed in that moment.  She had me sing to Her, galdring Laguz to Her.  Before I went to leave, She asked me to take some of Her water and soil with me.  The powerful, almost floating feeling did not leave me until I got near the car, and had to change.  That feeling of being blessed and cleansed has stayed with me.

We crossed the Mackinaw Bridge late in the evening, and I found myself holding my breath at times.  I’m not a big fan of heights.  I thanked the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir profusely once we got to the hotel room, and we bedded down.  We woke, and explored St. Ignace for a bit, spending a great deal of time at the St. Ignace Museum of Ojibwe Culture.  We walked the Medicine Wheel, leaving offerings there, and I spent a lot of time speaking with the front desk clerk for about an hour and a half, mostly listening to her expound on history.  I had a great time.

Unfortunately, we spent so much time in St. Ignace that we had no time to do much else, and so, we made a dash for the Porcupine Mountains.  We arrived very late, too late, and after an hour or so of trying to find our yurt, we turned around and made for a local Americinn.  We crashed, hard.

When we got up the next day, we found we had been heading in the wrong direction  So, we asked for clarification on the map.  The map they give you is really tiny, and unless you blow one up on a phone or have a bigger one, some of the little trails, like ours, can get lost.  After we found the right trail and set off, we were set upon by mosquitoes.  Most were about the size of a quarter, and a few were about the size of a half dollar.  It would take us a few days to find a combination of sprays that would repel them.  So we made for the yurt as quick as we could, and got inside.

The yurt itself was pretty, elevated off the ground, and cozy.  It’s nestled in amongst a lot of trees, and it feels incredibly private, and the landvaettir were very inviting.  After taking care of offerings to Them and to the Gods of Fire and the Hearth, I got to work on building a fire in the firebox.  I found very, very quickly that it turned the yurt into a sauna.  I had not realized yet how, or that I could, open the sides of the yurt or the plastic dome.  So my first few hours I was absolutely drenched in sweat…but my wife and son were quite comfortable, thank you!

Because the yurt is a rustic camping site, it has no hookups; no electricity, no water, no sewage.  All the water was brought up from the stream behind and below the yurt, following down a path to a large stream, and hauling the 5 gallon bucket back up.  I felt a great deal of satisfaction in hauling and boiling the water, and cutting firewood.  It is a kind of connection to the land I do not have in my own home.  I already recognize that I am dependent on the land, and acknowledge and pray to the vaettir of the water that are in the well that gifts us with the water for our showers, our drinking water, and the water we use for food preparation and cleaning.  Yet, it lacks that really down-and-dirty tactile quality I experienced when I was physically hauling the water, and going through the process of finding wood for the fire, and cutting up the wood for the fire so that we could heat the yurt and boil the water we were going to drink and cook with.  It made me realize how truncated all of our processes of life, living, and thriving are in our modern way of living from where they have been with our Ancestors.  It made me deeply appreciate just how much work the hot water heater in our home does, how much work my Ancestors would have done just to get water to home.  I appreciated the making of a cup of tea much more when it was done with the wood stove.

We spent the rest of the day and most of the next relaxing in the yurt before braving the mosquitoes to explore the towns nearby.  We grabbed some breakfast at a local cafe, and headed to a gift shop in the town.  It turns out that if we had stayed up another hour or so from when we knocked out, we may have seen the Northern Lights.  I was bummed we missed them, but given where we were in the woods, I am unsure we would have seen them in any case.

After we explored around some more, we made our way to Lake Superior for the first time.  Lake Superior was quiet, and as in the yurt, I felt worlds away from anyone else.  Our first day at Lake Superior we only saw one or two other families.  There was maybe one person or family per stair access, and the driftwood was all about, and far out to tide you could see old, well-polished stones.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  The Lake was all around us, stretching out like an ocean.  The Great Lakes I have seen, offered, and prayed to so far feel something like oceans, Goddesses in Their own rights.  Something smelled familiar about each Lake: similar to the scent of the Undine Goddesses, yet unique to Them.  As with Lake Michigan, Gichi-gami’s power was gentle, inviting to a point, and yet, there was a ferociousness to it.  Not…hostile, per se, but this quiet, waiting ferocity and strength.

As with Lake Michigan, we made offerings, and I smoked with Her.  As with Lake Michigan, I dipped my sacred pipe into Her waters just enough so that She could smoke, without the water consuming the fire inside the pipe.  I smoked with Her three times, and offered Her mugwort and tobacco, and sang Laguz to Her.  Her power rolled in small waves on my feet; She was icy.  There was a power in Her waters, too, something I did not start hearing about with a name until I got back.  As with Lake Michigan, I made offerings not only to Her, but to the vaettir that were within Her, and the vaettir were pleased.  I had nothing in my pockets this time; I left my sacred pipe, the matches, the mugwort, and tobacco on a large driftwood tree when She asked me to prostrate myself before Her.  When Her waters rushed over me, the ice ripped into me; I yelped and cried out.  She hurt.  She burned with the fire of ice, and it took everything I had to stay down and let Her run over me three times in full.  It felt like so much had been taken away, as if a piece of Nifelheim Itself had come and taken my spiritual detritus, pain, and in a kind of quick death, had scrubbed me clean.  It was so cold.  I sweat in freezing temperatures.  I find a lot of winters here tend to be too warm; I sweat a lot.  So when I say “I felt cold down to my bones” I mean it felt like I was bathing in ice.  I shivered as I warmed up under the sun.

When we went back to the yurt and I built up the fire, it made me appreciate it all the more.  Granted, I was back to sweating, but I appreciated the feeling of cleanliness the ice and the fire brought, and given the Norse Creation Story, it made me appreciate it all so much more.  That evening when I was sawing logs I heard wolves howling, and it sent the shivers down my spine that said “Run with them! Go to them!”  I gave a howl of my own, and listened, and they responded a little bit later.  I feel blessed to have had that contact, to hear the kin respond.  I stayed outside for a few moments, relishing the feeling.  When I went in, I spent some time keeping the fire up that evening, and reading some of the entries from past guests, and making my own entries.

The next day we spent most of it traveling around to different towns, then going to Adventure Mine and walking in the old copper mine there with hardhats with LED headlamps on them.  A lot of mines around do little mine car trips; this one we walked.  It was quite the experience, heading in with just the headlamp.  I felt very close to the Dvergar then, and at points the mine felt like there were spots where the two Worlds, ours and Theirs, connected.  As we walked, we could see the old drill sites for testing and connecting tunnels, and the air shafts.  Looking at it, and taking it in,you could feel and almost experience, hear the work that had been done by a couple hundred hands over the course of a few centuries was amazing.  When we kicked off our headlamps and the guide lit a single candle to demonstrate how much visibility the miners had, it really brought home how dangerous the work could be, and how much you were at the mercy of your coworkers, the rock, and the mine as a whole.  It also made a good deal of sense why Tommyknockers were ubiquitous in the gift shops.  We came across native Michigan copper, one of them being a large chunk whose cost bankrupted the company that sought to mine it.

We returned to Lake Superior later in the day, and I smoked with Her after offering Her mugwort and tobacco.  I remembered the public shrine project that Galina had posted about, and set about making one while smoking my personal sacred pipe.  When it was finished I brought Kiba back to take a look at it, and he liked it, but did not add anything to it when I offered him the chance.

When we came back to where Sylverleaf was, I stopped at what I assumed earlier had been someone’s hangout area made with driftwood and local dead trees.  it would have maybe held one person.  When I took a good at it, though, I realized it was more of a shrine.  So I added to it, leaving a Yggdrasil made of stones and twigs.  I left it beside the opening; I did not feel that I should put anything into it.  When this was done, after smoking one last time with Gichi-gami, we headed back to the yurt for the night.  I felt that same ice-cold bone feeling in my feet creep up my spine, and when we finally got in the yurt, I immediately got a fire going.

Our last day in the Porcupine Mountains was going to be fairly brief; we had to be checked out by about 11am.  So, we packed everything the night before that we could and got it back to the car.  While Sylverleaf was taking things back I was sawing wood and keeping the fire going, leaving enough so the next folks should have an easier time of it than we did.  As I had been reading through the yurt’s journal, what came up again and again was that here Gebo was the rule.  You left wood for the next group, and if you could you left items you needed during your stay.  In our case we left wood, bug spray, a pack of toilet paper, and a lot of kindling and tinder.  It was interesting reading that those who had left little or nothing were chastised in the journal against doing that.  Many of these people were staying in the yurt in the winter, and were arriving after a 2 mile hike in snow with no trail, and only a tarp covering any excess winter wood there may have been.  Gebo meant the difference between these folks having to forage for wet wood, or going out 2 miles again, buying wood, and hauling it back.

By the time we were ready to go the ashes were cool enough to put into the bucket, and then into the pile.  We left offerings to the Gods, Ancestors, and the landvaettir for letting us stay, and for being so hospitable.   When we started heading towards the car there was a part of me that wanted to stay like that.  Maybe not necessarily in the Porcupine Mountains (because seriously, fuck the horde of enormous mosquitoes) but in a situation where we were living that close with the land.  We checked out, and feeling called to Her, we visited Lake Superior one last time.  She had me bring some stones home, and was generous enough to let me bring home water and soil from Her beach.  I smoked with Her one final time before we left.  The communion I have felt with the Great Lakes feels at times beyond words.  This sense of connecting with something that reminds of the ocean, yet is not one.  Connecting with this vast Goddess who smells like an Undine Goddess, whose one song I know of is how the Edmund Fitzgerald sank into Her depths, and yet has shown my family and I such gentleness, blessing, and cleansing.  Our Gods are many things; They can be ferocious and kind, brutal and gentle, and so much more.  I know in our short time there I only touched a bit of this Goddess, and hope to again sometime soon.

The ride home was nice.  Even facing the Mackinaw Bridge after the week didn’t leave me white knuckling much.  As soon as we made it home around eleven or midnight, we all crashed.  I had Michigan Paganfest to look forward to, and had to be up for Opening RItual at 10am.

The ongoing pilgrimage plan is to take a similar pilgrimage out to Lake Michigan.  It will be a lot shorter trip, and now that we know what to expect in a yurt we will be a good deal more prepared.

I feel blessed that we were able to take this pilgrimage, that we had such a good time, and learned so much.  It was a powerful time, even the times where I was cutting wood, keeping the fire going, or boiling water.  I’m looking forward to meeting with the other Lakes.

Storytelling

June 17, 2014 Leave a comment

I sat in the dark with my son after night prayers, and a question came to me.

I asked him: “Do you have any questions about the Gods?”

His answer: “Who is Sif?”

It kind of surprised me; his question was not “What are the Gods?” or “Why is such-and-such this way?”.  He wanted to get to know the Gods we prayed to.

It has been awhile since we had read the stories or talked deeply about the Gods.  So, when he asked the question I did something that came naturally: I told a story.  I told him She is a Goddess, the wife of Thor, and we call to Her, thanking Her for Her generosity in the night prayer.  He asked why She was a Goddess of generosity, and I slipped into the story of how She kept Her composure when Loki burst into the hall, and still offered Him mead, as told in the Lokasenna.  He asked me why she would have been angry at Loki.  I told my son of how Loki had slain the doorman and insulted the Gods in Aegir’s hall, something one was not supposed to do.  He then asked why She would be angry with Loki.  So, I told him of how Sif’s hair had been cut by Loki before this, and still, She offered Loki to calm Himself and join the Gods in Aegir’s Hall.  He smiled, and he understood.  We worship Her, as well as Loki because They are our Gods.  They are not perfect; They are powerful, beautiful, mischievous, and so much more.  I saw my son’s face light up and crack into a grin as he asked what happened when Thor found out Loki had cut His wife’s hair.  He asked me smaller questions as the story went on, and it changed how I told the story.

He asked “Did Thor want to hurt Him?  What did Loki do?”  So I told of how Loki went down to the Dvergar and asked them to make Him a head of golden hair for Sif, hair that lived as Her had, and yet was made of gold.  His eyes lit up, still smiling, and he asked if Loki had been punished by the Aesir for what He did to Sif.  No, son, Loki made amends with Sif, giving Her that golden hair.  Thor may have wanted to, but Loki was not hurt; He had done as He promised, and made amends.

He came to know many Gods better tonight, not just Sif.  Did I tell him the whole story, of how Loki also convinced the sons of Ivaldi to make Skiðblaðnir and Gungnir?  No, it was not important at the moment.  He has heard the full story before, we’ve read it together.  I did emphasize how important the gifts Loki won were, how His mouth was sewn shut because Loki had wagered His head and lost.  That is the power of storytelling: we have to decide what to emphasize, what to put aside when we tell it, so it speaks to our listeners.  It does not make these two holy items, or their gifting to the Gods any less important.  It does not make Loki wagering His head less.  The telling of this part of the story would have lessened the impact of the story between Loki and Sif in this moment, and gotten before the point I wanted to make to my son: Loki made amends.  That when one makes amends one should not be punished further.

Our stories have to live from our lips and hearts to the ears and hearts of others.  If our stories do not live in us, what worth is there in telling them?

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