An update as of April 2020.
Wesað gé hál!
Good Health to You!
Well, pestilence is abroad in the land, and here at Æppeldor we have re-instituted an old custom: burning grain for the dead, for the health of the living. If anyone wants the ritual formula, let me know. And may the gods see us all, in this time of strife.
In April of this year, as the nights grew longer, the folk were set to gather. With the coming of winter at Winterfylleð, Ingui-Fréa fares forth from the world of men. Upon his ship he is set and into the mound he is lain. There he is worshipped as lord of the barrow-elves. With him the ancient, once-and-future, holy kings of our fore-elders are remembered. Now the fields are silent and fellowship must wait until spring. But every cloud, as they say, has its silver lining. In times like this it is as well to reflect upon the deepest mysteries of our religion, which are Sacral Kingship and the sacred gift-cycle. Why then, in the end, would the folk raise a kingly mound? For peace and good seasons, of course! In Theodish Belief you’re not truly retroheathen unless you give leave to a sacral king and it is from there that our blessings flow, in a very special gift exchange: From us, to the King, to the gods – From the gods, to the King, to us. A gift looks for a gift. And so the wheel turns. Here is Snorri Sturlusson in the Heimskringla (Ing’s Worship in the Mound):
“Frey took the kingdom. He was, like his father, fortunate in friends and in good seasons. Frey built a great temple at Upsala, made it his chief seat, and gave it all his taxes, his land, and goods. Then began in his days the Frode-peace; and then there were good seasons, in all the land, which the Swedes ascribed to Frey, so that he was more worshipped than the other gods, as the people became much richer in his days by reason of the peace and good seasons.
Frey fell into a sickness. They raised a great mound, in which they placed a door with three holes in it. Now when Frey died they bore him into the mound…..They brought all the taxes into the mound, and through the one hole they put in the gold, through the other the silver, and through the third the copper money that was paid. Peace and good seasons continued.”
But surely Friðoríc, I hear you ask, you’re not taking all this stuff literally, are you? I mean you don’t actually really believe it, do you? Do you?
Well, yes actually. Here’s Garman:
“The earliest religions were surely tribal, and our presumption here has been that the tribal pantheons were discovered, not invented. That the gods, in other words, were real…..Tribes living at a subsistence level in a state of nature could hardly have afforded to keep on making expensive seasonal sacrifices over the generations to deities who weren’t delivering the goods. In short, the basis of tribal belief in the efficacy of their religious practices was in an empirical spirit…In our case here, not being Anthropologists or bound by scientific scruple, we are free to take our ancestors’ beliefs and practices on their own terms. Their terms seem to have been that their gods were real.” (Garman Lord)
And so you see, ours is a deceptively simple faith, for it is a faith for farmers, based on a basic truth: the gift-cycle binds us all, gods and men and earth, the living and the dead, one to another, in the sacred bond of reciprocity. Indeed, our religion is gift giving. After all, one does not simply take without giving something back in return, especially if, like our ancestors, you were a subsistence farmer. Existence has never stopped being precarious, for all that the modern world helped us to forget that reality for just a little while.
It has to do with the ‘function’ of deity, in a sense. A Heathen religion needs Heathen gods. And our gods are weather gods, farming gods. To quote Charles Dudley Warner: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” That’s exactly where Theodsmen are different: because we give leave to a sacral king who maintains folk-custom with discovered – not revealed – tribal gods, we do occasionally get to do something about the weather, and much else besides……
A Walk Beneath the Sycamores
I have been thinking about trees. Trees and hubris. For the Greeks, hubris was a type of overweening human pride, the kind that invites nemesis. The last time I wrote in this space I was full of confidence in my declared mission: to make of my little corner of Tasmania a new England, a land hallowed to the old ways of our folk. I knew even then that weaving the ways of Old England with the Australian landscape might unleash some pretty interesting threads. And so it has proven. The overall weave might not assume a pattern we can understand for a long time yet – perhaps that will take centuries – but for now let us try to untangle at least a few strands.
Let us begin with sycamores. Acer pseudoplatanus, not to be confused with American sycamore, is a vigorous European deciduous tree (re)introduced to the British Isles around 1500. I say re-introduced, because whereas it is commonly thought of as a weed in England, pollen analysis has definitively proven that sycamore was present in the British Isles prior to the last Ice Age.
Since last I wrote, my sycamore trees, sourced at Mount Franklin some years ago on a magical day of snow, have finally outgrown me. (If you’re interested in this very special place, check out https://mountfranklinpagans.wordpress.com/) I am not a very tall man, granted, but I take this to be some kind of milestone. Truly they are a prolific tree and now that they are taller than me at last they will be much harder to kill. The depredations of possum (curse them!), wallaby, drought, even the axe…..none of these really threaten our little Godwood, planted near the proposed site of the burial mound. But Great Burnam Wood may yet come to High Dunsinane, for fire and the eucalypt always dance together and, in the end, can our little patch of deep green stand against that? Without human stewardship, would a little sycamore patch replicate itself and expand down the centuries? This question is endlessly fascinating to me. I suppose it is true that only self-willed woods become ancient.
And so I may come to see our own little piece of Place-Making, a kingly mound in the Anglo-Saxon Heathen tradition, in a different way. Not, as it currently stands in my minds eye, as a deep green mound starred with yellow daisies and sprouting vigorous birch trees, but as overcome by the great lapping ocean of gumtree, silver wattle, bracken and manfern. Charred, blackened stumps and scorched earth too form a necessary, inevitable part of this picture, as do the radiant green native shoots, sprouting against a stark black background: an image so evocative of, and somehow peculiar to, Australia. In my dreaming, this last vision emerges in the not-too-distant future, though in a time after my wife and I have been laid in the earth, in some satellite burial, inconspicuous and low, around the central mound.
Only self-willed woods become ancient. A low hill, wrought by man, anomalous in its landscape. An earth-fast standing stone, dragged from who-knows-where, piercing earth, piercing air. And through it all an eruption of monster-eucalypts, giants thrusting skyward. Taken as a whole, it will cause folk of the far future to ponder, as we who come after now ponder at Avebury or Sutton Hoo. Here then is an answering image to the Godwood, Sherwood-green against the native vegetation, with which we begun.
No use for hubris, then. In the end we will all fall out of time and be swallowed by gums. Wyrd bið ful aræd. Fate is strongest……
Stay well, good people.
Friðoríc, Steward of Æppeldor Friðstów þæt Ealdríces
Werað se Cyning!
Proclaim the Old Right!
Ward the King!