Life is full of little ironies. It isn’t often I get to begin a journal entry with the words “I visited a Unitarian Universalist Church Today…” but that is exactly what I did. I went for the Paganism. And I shall spare you the lecture on why that is so multilaterally ironic. Anyway. I have never attended a Pagan anything before today. For a number of reasons. The first and worst is that I’ve always felt there was a thin line between honest seekers groping for the Light and pure and undiluted quackery. Much of Paganism has been exploited, raped and maligned by an ignorant, redundant and divisive form of unquestioning corporate materialism or cultural cowardice and chicanery. I am glad to report my cynicisms were thwarted and all is well in Pagan Maine, such as it is.
The whole of the event was organised much like a typical Maine indoor/outdoor Flea Market. Only the Pagan Festival came with live entertainment and unwitting victims for me to philosophise ad infinitum. It is precisely this kind of community that the Occident has forgotten since the turn of the last century, in spirit, for those who would mistake the statement for pagan evangelism. Any good Maine Flea Market has an old-world sense of community, too. At some point I will have to do a write-up about a morning at the Flea Market, so my non-New English readers will share in some of my joys in life. I digress.
I arrived on the scene at the dot of the hour when I was told the event would begin. 09:00, that is. The festival was not ready. However there was a woman at the entry tent to give me the lowdown. The lowdown included a mandatory complimentary smiley picture. Had to cut the things out for her with the fish-knife I carry. Got to choose my own colour, red, for the colour of my energy.
It was about five minutes in before a woman approached me. “Heathen?” came the question. It didn’t take her long to self-correct and see the faint stun in my face, for, honestly I have not been called Heathen since I was a practising Catholic being yelled at by Baptist street preachers who could… wait for it… smell the Popery on me. (Funny how they completely ignore me now. Maybe my actually being an apostate is better to them than my prior vocation of venerating Saints?)
Was it my Hammer, my Wolf Cross or Ethel-Rune that gave it away? I don’t know. I didn’t care. Rare is the devotee of the Norse Gods. Rarer still the one that can distinguish between the cultural evolution of these selfsame Gods. Unseen the one who can do this, and identifies as a Folkish Heathen, in a personal sense. I suspected she was before we broached that particular ground. Why? The biker boots, that’s who.
The woman was sturdily built, like a good Viking lass should be. She had a kindly, albeit weathered face. She had dark red hair, that was not died, mind. Her eyes were chocolate brown. She had smooth brows and a prominent, but thin nose. She wore a long black dress with a red smock in the style of a Nordic dress – complete with brooches and a collection of many, many necklaces. Hammers, moons, a Valknut, and other assorted doo-dads and thingamabobs. Turns out my Thor-Hammer is what drew her in. Evidently, she has a similar model.
After I’d finished asking the voices in my head if all my newfound sobriety had made me soft about the noggin, I picked her brains for awhile. Like with most spiritual women, she is more spiritually than intellectually geared. Which is admirable, considering that in the Old Ways, it was the woman who cornered the market on spirituality, hearkening back to the days before Christianity when the Teutonic and Celtic tribes were governed matriarchically. Yes. I went there. Ancient Matriarchy. And as far as spirituality goes, it is my less than humble opinion that we Folkish Heathens, Nationalists, et al. would greatly benefit from the civilising power of a feminine spiritual counterpart to the masculine secular sphere.
We stood and talked for a good ten or fifteen minutes. She told me of her story, how she had become a devotee of Odin. Why. And why, for this is very important to such women, it is not incongruous with her femininity. She was very intent I know she knew how slanted the Pagan community has become, and her belief that the masculine has been downplayed in favour of the feminine. I maintained that while inequal, the sexes balance like the yin and yang. She was happy with that assessment. The topic of Metagenics as posed by Stephen McNallen arose, which was neat. We also discussed the entirely underrated pastime of “Folks Watching.” I like to go Folks Watching, you learn a lot, and it can make you more personally empathetic. On a side note. I may have been recruited by Viking woman to help with the unsurprisingly less than popular ministry of giving intellectual stimulus to disaffected Heathens in prison. Time will tell. She told me she “rolls with” a biker crew, and that bikers are great for establishing a sense of tribalism. I have always suspected as much. Plus, they could teach me how to rock a beard.
I was sad that she was a good twenty years older than me, otherwise I’d’ve tried my luck at being a courtly young gentleman. At any rate. When I’d finished speaking with her I went and picked the brains of various venders. My first victim was a middle-aged man with thinning, gelled hair (spiked, of course) and hipster glasses wearing a pentacle. I asked him his story, and he told me he was well-travelled. I asked him to tell me about what he’d seen, but it was not long before he turned the tables on me and wanted to know about L’Anse Aux Meadow which, in his travels he had never caught wind of. I next visited the Vegan Food Tent, but I didn’t stay because the light filtering through the neon pink canvas hurt my eyes. I did steal a marinated kale-cracker and discuss the finer points of soup with a terribly uninterested teenager.
My first lengthy visit was to the walking stick man: Walt-King Sticks, a pun, given his first name being Walt. Say it fast and you get “walking sticks.” Get it? Right. Walt was a nice, albeit incredibly self-assured man. We discussed the organic evolution of the English language, and its place in the Teutonic tree despite the grafting of Graeco-Latinate loan-words. This was spurred by my use of the term ‘schadenfreud’ in discussion, which he confused for “schlafendeutsch.” A totally different animal.
I next visited a stall manned by a kindly old woman with her slightly younger and incredibly Scottish daughter. They were trafficking in crystals – a different one for whatever ailed you. We talked about rocks, crystals and their properties. And amythest, which has always been my favourite crystal along with quartz. Not for any purported magical properties, but because I used to find them by the train tracks in Old Orchard as a youngling. I bought a pillar of something called Selenite from the daughter when she returned and took the time to learn about rock-tumbling in the process.
The last of the stands outside I visited was a miscellany tent. That’s the best word for it. I didn’t buy anything, at first, but I lost myself in a moment of Merry Meat-headery and the English shortsword they were selling caught my eye. I told the woman I would come back for it later, after she gave me a tutorial on the ritual crescent knife.
After that it was into the church. I took some time to peruse the literature. The Universalists are very cultured, or their bookshelves want me to believe they are, anyway. I suppose they need all the culture they can get in their never-ending quest to hold hands and spoon with the world. I only hope their naivete doesn’t bite them in the ass beyond the prepackaged irony of there being Folk Heathens using their facilities because nobody wants to be a Universalist anymore.
But! All aside the philosophising of a not yet dead White male, my feet carried me straight past the cafeteria window hawking fattening dainties and into the crafters hall. Crafters Hall. Evocative idea, powerful presence. There were five stalls inside, most were geared toward women, in that demographically, there appear (and my facts might be wrong) to be more spiritually inclined and unaffiliated women than men. I stopped first at the incense stall. How could I not, given my undying fetish for all things that smell pretty?
The stall was manned by a darling, impish young woman with short, strawberry blonde hair which curled at the ends. Her flesh was coloured like freshly churned cream and her eyes were a pale blue. She was slight of frame and had a painfully demure persona. I complimented her on her stock of incense. The smell alone was enough to bring me back to my spiritual centre. She explained to me, pending my inquiry, how incense was made and recommended me to one Scott Cunningham. I am now armed with a short-term goal of learning the art of incense making. I bought from her a tiny brass censor which I shall use to burn my ‘special occasions floral incense’ which I keep in my old Holy Water bottle.
In this room, which was (I think) the Universalists’ equivalent to a narthex. It was a tall, empty, turreted room. Circular. Drafty. Tapestries of ravens and other things hung from the walls near a stand hopefully displaying mandalas sold by a woman and her consort, both of whom had the air of two having spent altogether too much time in the Arts District. (My suspicion was correct.) I asked her about “her” beautiful tapestries, with their splendid pagan and animistic themes. She explained to me that they belonged to the church, and I laughed. Ironic, I thought, that for all their boasting of Judaeo-Christian historicism, these Universalists make far better superficial pagans than I.
The last of the interior stalls I visited was one hosted by a particularly entrepreneurial young buck. Small boy, about as tall as my hip-bone, with his mother. She spoke for him as I spoke to her. She explained the boy was home-schooled, and that her summer assignment to him was to start a business. His business was to confect a stand of pagan themed goods and handicrafts. Given his age, he had considerable skill. I told the boy to keep up the good work, and that the world needs more entrepreneurial youngsters. I then shivered at how frigging old I sound and left before the cobwebs from the ceiling transferred to the space between my ears.
When I left again, I went and sat beneath the shade of a fat oak tree. There the Viking woman was, with her consort, the “new man” throwback from the 70s who turned out to be a great guy. I asked her if she was to be the woman heading the seminar of Northern Goddesses advertised for later. She was. She took me up in conversation again. We spoke of the nature and roles of Odin, and his importance as an example for the European man in his quest for wisdom – not to mention his equal/opposite in Frigga, who is the mother of wisdom and love. This gave me the very, very rare opportunity for me to have a meaningful discussion with something other than a backyard hen about the spiritual mores of my ancestry. We talked about the Old English matriarchy, about our lost Goddesses and how modernity has created a revolting and petulant gender gap which has yet to be filled with anything other than media inspired grudge-matches.
As the conversation drew on she introduced me to her druidic friend with the guitar. We talked for awhile. About the need for ritual, a connection to the earth and the general disintegration of the Occident since the failure of religion to thrive. We agreed that a void results from the secularisation of society. He, however, does not believe that any form of tradition is beneficial. Still a very nice man. He reminded me of someone, but I can’t put my finger on who. He had wavy, silver-brown hair combed back. He had a very Celtic face, and I would bet he is of British extraction. He was slender and dressed well. When I asked him, he was kind enough to tell how he learnt to play guitar and speak of his favourite musicians.
When finished with the Celt, I set my mind to buying the English short-sword, which I did. In that same swoop I spoke with the tent ladies about the higher benefits of tea and Coffee. I recommended her to a regional blend of tea, Apple Spice, by Celestial Seasonings. (Ain’t ‘Nothin Finah.) And with sword in hand I went home, with the intent to return again after lunch – then were the festivities slated to begin.
I returned at about 13:15. The sun was high, but noontide clouds were rolling in which made the sun seem tiny and distant. I took the time to engage in some quality folks watching… and to buy my “certifiably beyond superstition” Ma a selenite crystal for her aching everything. It struck me, after awhile, that I seemed abnormally thin when placed with appropriately plump New Englanders. I had the biggest veins of anyone there. And I have a flint-face. Or so I’ve been told.
Before heading over to the church for the Goddess workshop I stopped at the Coffee Wagon which rolled in from my hometown. While buying Coffee I was hit up for small talk by a savagely beautiful redhead who looked like she was ripped straight from the pages of the Kalevala. She looked like a right Finn, the spitting image of a girl I had a crush on in High School. Gave me flash-backs. With my Coffee in hand I returned to the church with the book I promised Viking woman – my spare copy of Kathleen Herbert’s “Looking for the Lost Gods of England.”
The workshop was interesting, but not revolutionary. I was worried at first to see the Galina Krasskova book in her pile, not so much for the book itself but for certain liberties taken by the Krasskovan crowd. Turns out my worries were justified, but kept in check. Viking woman did a good job, but her pronunciation of divinity names and the like left much to be desired. Her spirit, however, did not. She went through a list of the tribes of divinities; (technically races) Jotnar, Vanir and Aesir (Etins, Vans and Eses) and told some of their basic roles, traits and stories. She explained the place of Midgard in Nordic cosmology. She then listed the 13 major Asynjur (female Eses) and their powers, stories and roles. Overall she did a good job, there were three points she made errors on and only one which I had to correct – and that was that she confused the four dwarves with which Freyja consorted to acquire the Brisingamen with the Seven Dwarves of Disney fame. She wanted me to speak, after she had finsihed, but I wimped out. I was, to quote myself, a “passive observer.” At least for now.
When the workshop was through the crowd dispersed – all seven of them. I spoke with Viking woman for awhile. We discussed Edred Thorsson, Stephen Flowers and Odinism as separate from Asatru and why Odinism gets a bad rap.
Outside, the festivities had begun. There was a belly dancer. An exceedingly thickly built woman with an unenviably stern jaw. She had been scowling for so long that it had changed the landscape of her face. Nevertheless, she was good at what she did – albeit rather scantily clad. Not as scantily clad as the pantsless man with the Mohawk and the gauged ears, though.
It was a troupe that performed. One performer after the next. Following the terminally cranky belly dancer there went my reminiscent Finn. She had a strange dance, entrancing, performed with fans that lit at the edges with a purple neon glow. The music that played was very much like what was played at the Greek Heritage Festival in Saco.
After the Finn, the nigh-naked man-child and cranky lady had a duo. But it was the Finn that caught my eye. There was a lily white toddler floating nearby. She was smitten by the Finn’s fans. And I watched as the Finn gave a thorough demo. It was a touching scene that brought a tear to my eye. Things like that can heal the heart, and I do believe we can all use the healing.
The last event of the day occurred after a quick summer shower which deterred me long enough to return to the trinket tent to by an amulet in honour of Epona. The final event, appropriately, was a Harvest Blessing to prepare for the coming Fall.
It began with a circle. A speech was given by the presiding Druid – none other than guitar boy from earlier. It was a decent speech about gratitude to the lands and the spirits for the material and spiritual graces that the great State of Maine gives us. He encouraged us to consider carefully the importance of the next meal we should eat, to remember that there was a time we might not have had it, and that such a time might yet come.
A smudging bowl was lit. The smell of prepared ritual herbs spread rapidly and beautifully as each participant was ‘smudged’ by the smoke by the fanning of a bird’s feather. One by one the bowl went until everyone had been blessed. Then a vessel of water went around. Each participant drank. Then a cup of blueberries went about, and everyone ate. Oblations were given to Mother Earth, and the Druid again spoke of the need for us to return to the spirituality of Nature. That we come from the soil and the base elements, and that despite our delusions of grandeur, we never stray far from the soil and will surely return to it.
Drums accompanied the ritual, and a chant. Prayers were offered to the ancestors. I myself prayed that the souls of my departed Paternal Grandfather and my Maternal Grandmother have found peace in whatever Gods there may or may not be. We were then encouraged to pray to our favourite Gods. I remained silent since it is my belief that the Gods are rooted squarely in our blood, and that prayer is a matter of personal endeavour – between friends in private and not for public. Still, to see the faith of these people was endearing. Celtic man gave his thanks to the Masculine Divine and the Feminine Divine, he added the masculine aspect specifically to humble the exclusively feminist figurehead present. In good humour, of course. Viking woman listed the long treasury of Gods she worshipped, and the kilted man jokingly jabbed that the one Nature Spirit should have been enough. Of course, there was the one token liberal who had to inject that she had one/one zillionth of a fraction of Indian blood from a tribe she couldn’t even be bothered to pronounce correctly and that we should therefore all take the time to venerate a spirit which, again, she couldn’t be bothered to pronounce correctly.
The ritual ended at about the same time the sun re-emerged from the clouds and the ritual circle sang a song about Maine. It was pure kitsch, but it was cute and it was endearing. A round of recognition was given to the organisers of the event, and the crowd was disbanded. With that experience under my belt, I tightened my buckle and stepped back into the wider world from out the sanctuary.