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Tending Frith

One of the many things I appreciate about contemporary “Northern Traditions”, or Heathenry, is the reclamation of lost words. These days, it is the word frith which is catching my attention. Theodish elder Winifred Hodge has this to say about frith:

“ Frith is often translated as “peace”. The full meaning of frith encompasses peace but extends well beyond it, to cover a large portion of the most meaningful and essential foundations of human social life, especially as it is lived in more “traditional” societies. A full understanding of the concept of frith will show that “peace” is not identical to frith; rather, peace as we understand it is generally an outgrowth of frith, resulting from the conditions of frith being met…. The idea of frith is very closely tied to kinship — blood kinship in particular — and then to kinship by marriage, adoption and fostering. The words frith and sib were often used interchangeably to describe the state of being of people involved in a kindred relationship, and we can easily see the connection in the modern use of the term sibling to indicate a brother or sister. The term frith did not merely indicate the material fact of blood relationship. Rather, it described the essence of the relationship itself: the joys, responsibilities, interdependence, burdens, and benefits that characterized it.”

In the Jewish roots of the Christian tradition, there is a similar word: shalom. Or, in Arabic, salaam. Shalom points toward something much deeper than the absence of conflict within a kindred community. Shalom, like frith, conjures a sense of fullness, of rich relationships among humans, the Spirit, and the whole creation. Shalom is a gift from the Mother of All, and yet it is also fragile and dependent upon careful and attentive action on the part of every creature sharing in the Divine Peace.

Frith, shalom, peace … whatever word one uses, it requires a deliberate tending. In complex communities of wights, both human and more-than-human, protocols of mutual respect have evolved over the ages. Customs, manners, ceremonies, cultural habits and practices … these all have a place in the guarding of the frith, the keeping of the peace.

In our own small farm community, it is sometimes a challenge to maintain the bonds of frith among even a relatively small group of human persons, let alone all the rich but complicated relations among the birds, animals, insects, plants, spirits, ancestors, and all the other persons who inhabit the lands and waters with us. Maintaining the harmony of frith can take a lot of emotional effort and sometimes painful conversation and negotiation. Perhaps it is like that in your community as well?

Sometimes a druid feels like just giving up! But don’t throw in the towel. The struggle for peace and harmony, for frith, are worth it. Conflict is a natural part of community, and it calls us to engage each other, and all beings, on a deeper and deeper level. And after all is said and done, don’t despair. Know that all your peace-making efforts are supported by the Divine Shalom, the Spirit of eternal frith. So in the words (loosely modified) of the Apostle: Gyfu to you, and frith, from the One who is Wyrd Incarnate. Blessed be.

The Greening

Every year it surprises me. Saskatchewan winters are long and hard, beginning in November and not really done until well into April. That’s a lot of snow and cold, grey skies and skeletal trees. Toward the end, the snow melts away and the ice releases its grip on the lake, but things still feel dead … muddy and spent.

So it always surprises me when the Greening comes. The grass inches from brown to emerald. The trees and shrubs seem to produce a green haze, then suddenly give birth to a riot of foliage. The geese and pelicans return from the south, and the cattle shake off their winter lethargy. And beneath each of these signs of early summer moves a silent current, and underground stream of Life, flooding its way to the surface through a thousand hidden springs.

At our last full moon ceremony, a week into the holy tide of Beltane, and well into the fifty days of Resurrection, we celebrated the presence of this Life-Force by invoking the teachings of a 12th century abbess. In the Rhineland valleys of medieval Germany, Hildegard von Bingen grew, along with herb gardens and holiness, a brand new theological term. Viriditas she called it: the Greening Power of God. Then, as now, it was a startling and even revolutionary neologism. But for this Sybil of the Rhine, later to be named a Doctor of the Church, viriditas would become a key theological and spiritual vision of the life-giving power of Godde’s Spirit in the Earth. Listen to what Hildegard says:

I, the fiery life of divine wisdom,

I ignite the beauty of the plains,

I sparkle the waters,

I burn in the sun, and the moon, and the stars.

With wisdom I order all rightly, and above all I determine truth.

I am the one whose praise echoes on high.

I adorn all the Earth.

I am the breeze that nurtures all things green.

I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits.

I am led in the Spirit to feed the purest streams.

I am the rain coming from the dew that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life.

I call forth tears, the aroma of holy work.

I am the yearning for good.

For a ChristoPagan like me, viriditas is one of those magical words, a bridge between two theological worlds. It links the enchanted cosmos with the fecund Christ, and hints at the miraculous presence of Sophia, Holy Wisdom, incarnate in the flesh of the Living Earth.

Viriditas … the Greening Power of God. May you know Her fertile healing, this day and forever.

Blessed be.

Season of the Bones

photo (31)

I know, right? I’m in the wrong season. Bones are for Samhain, when the Wheel turns us toward the dark, and we contemplate our mortality, gazing into the shadowed eye-sockets of a bleached skull. Bones are not for spring, not for warm weather and shoots of green and vernal bunnies. Bones are a bit macabre for that, yes? … I thought so too.
But here on the farm we have a black dog named Shadow, who has a love affair with bones. Throughout the late fall and winter, while the butchering season endures, Shadow delights in raiding the slaughter-pen for all types of cast-off body parts: hoofs, pigtails, chicken heads, whatever. And for some strange reason she drags them all into our front yard.  Now, if you know Saskatchewan winter weather, you know that we rarely lack for a blanket of thick white snow. For four and a half months of the year, the garth looks pristine. But come snow-melt, a whole other world is revealed. Rich black earth, tender sprigs of green herb, and yes … bones. A whole winter’s worth of Shadow’s favourite bones.
As a ChristoPagan priest, I don’t find this at all surprising (though the sight of all those bones can be a bit unsettling). As I write, we are in the middle of Holy Week in the Christian year. It is a time to reflect on the precarious paradox of life-in-death and death-in-life. Not long ago, the lenten lectionary provided the oracle of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. The Jewish Passover of this month’s full moon recalls an ancient liberation from a genocidal bone-land of slavery and oppression. And the Christian liturgical trajectory points toward Good Friday’s Golgotha, the place of the skull. Bones, bones everywhere.
But are we really surprised by this? Pagans and Christians and Earthlings of all stripes, we know that death and life are intimately connected. Winter’s bones, subject to the elemental cleansing of the bonfire (bone-fire), become fertilizer for the soil. Fecundity, both spiritual and physical, springs from the dead particles which compose both living soil and soul. Eostre’s resurrection and new life are profoundly dependant on the reality of death and decay. The two exist together, or not at all.
So how about you? Any bones in your yard this spring? Any death or grief or bondage or sorrow that you need to acknowledge in this season of rebirth? Don’t be afraid of those dry bones: take them in your hands, and hold them up to the cleansing power of the Sun. The healing of the humus begins with the season of the bones.

Back online!

Well, I’m not sure why, but this past couple of years have seen my Sophian writings slow down to a trickle.  I think perhaps that getting the Christian Animism book published took more out of me than I thought!  But my spiritual practice has been evolving, and my thoughts have been perculating.  With our family’s commitment to sink roots into the farm has come a deepening of relationship with this particular landscape, this lake, these farm-spirits, these fellow creatures.  It has been a great honour for me to become the chaplain of our farm community, and my hope is that I’ll be able to share a bit more about what that looks like on the ground.

I’m also very happy to announce that I’ve been invited to be a ChristoPagan contributor to “PaganSquare”, the online reflection forum of Witches and Pagans magazine.  Look here next month to find my thoughts.

In the meantime, Godde bless you and your tribe, and enjoy this season of Imbolc as the light continues to grow…

Christian Animism

Hoorah!  It is finally out!  Thank you to all of you who have supported this project through the many years of its writing.  My book on Christian Animism is here.

I’m now in the process of setting up some readings and workshops, so if you know of anyone who might want to work with this material, please let me know!

Christo – what???

As someone who keeps track of evolving trends in religion and spirituality, I’ve noticed that there is a (relatively) new term floating around these days: ChristoPaganism.  Because this is still a very fluid designation, the following reflections are not to be taken as definitive, but rather as my own take on this new phenomenon.  Looking forward to hearing your thoughts as well!

ChristoPaganism is a new religious movement comprised of individuals who self-identify as both Christian and Pagan.  As a hybridized faith, ChristoPaganism is often denied and/or rejected by both Christianity and NeoPaganism, and ChristoPagans tend to be reduced to silence in both “parent” communities.  ChristoPagans can be Christians who adopt, adapt, and practice various facets of NeoPaganism (such as magic, fairie-lore, Goddess thealogy, spiritual ecology, animism, runework, crystals, etc.), or Pagans who feel a strong connection with Jesus, Mary, the saints, and other Christian figures, and include these relationships in their spiritual practice.  While not a well-defined body of belief or practice, ChristoPaganism may be viewed as a sphere of overlap between the two religious traditions, where each respects, understands, and mutually transforms the other in positive ways.

As a zone of peace between two antagonistic traditions, the Ecumenical Companions of Sophia attempts to share the abundant grace of Jesus’ love with NeoPagans, and the magical cosmology of NeoPaganism with Christians.  With respect and mutual understanding, there is transformation, healing, and love.  May it ever be so: Amen.

 

Elvenkind    Another way of understanding ChristoPaganism is to think of it as a form of “Elven” spirituality.  In Tolkien’s legendarium of Middle Earth, the Elves (or Quendi) are the Children of Illuvatar (God) who are the most naturally magical, and in touch with the realm of the angels (the Valar in Valinor).  For a number of different reasons, some people here in the “real world” bear a strong spiritual resemblance to Tolkien’s Elves.  Usually these people are highly sensitive, psychic, intuitive, visionary, “dreamy”, artistic, intellectually precocious, and insatiably curious, especially about things pertaining to the spirit world.  In more modern “Harry Potter” parlance, these are the “magical” rather than the “muggle” folk.

Institutional religion has never been altogether comfortable with Elvenkind.  At worst, those of Elvish temperment have been driven out as heretics or burnt at the stake as witches.  At best, there has been an uneasy tolerance for those with psychic gifts and mystical tendencies.  These days, I’ve seen a tragic exodus of “Elves” from the church, with many finding a more hospitable home in Wiccan, Druid, or other NeoPagan communities.  The wisdom and the welcome they find in these traditions is powerful and real.  But in this migration, the church is losing a precious gift and treasure.  The Elvenkind are people of angelic blessing, uncomfortable as this may be for some.  The church neglects her Elven children to her own peril.

The Ecumenical Companions of Sophia strives to be a safe and welcoming refuge for Elvenkind in the church.  If you suspect that you may have “Elvish blood”, if the Rune of Sophia resonates with your spirit, please be in touch.  You are not alone.

a book, coming soon!

Greetings from the country, and many apologies for such a long gap since the last post … life happens!

So here’s my good news: I now have a contract with Christian Alternative Books (a UK press) to publish my monograph on Christian Animism.  If all goes well, late spring or early summer 2015 will see its release.  It has been a long time in the works!  Many thanks to all those who supported this writing in so many different ways.  Once it is out, I’ll be trying to organize some launches and readings, and then promote the book as a way to introduce the Ecumenical Companions of Sophia (and Sophian Druidry) to the wider public.

Lots of work, but looking forward to it!