Day of Robigus

Drawing by Martin Cilensek.

Troubled by bothersome mold and mildew? There’s a god for that! Robigus is the Roman deity of rust and mildew. His honorary day is April 25. Implicit in the worship of deities who rule over things we find abhorrent is the recognition that these things do have a place — just not in our house, please. Pray to Robigus to keep rust off your ritual tools and mildew from you ritual spaces.

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Retro-Spective

Photo: NASA.

Both Mercury and Venus are retrograde right now, along with Jupiter and Saturn, but don’t freak out just yet.

“Retrograde” simply means that from our Earth perspective the planets are going “backwards” in the sky, although in reality they are tootling along like they always do. The outer planets are retrograde a good part of the time, so Jupiter and Saturn retrograde seems like business as usual, nothing to remark upon. Jupiter, for example, went retrograde in February and will go direct in June before going retrograde again in March of next year. Venus is more significant, as this planet goes retrograde every few years for about six weeks. Venus will go direct in a few days, so that retrograde is about done until June 2020.

So what about Mercury? That’s the retrograde people have learned to fear. I have written before on this blog how retrograde Mercury is a shift in attention, usually toward an area that has not been getting much focus. I recommend taking another look at this post.

My understanding of retrogrades, and particularly Mercury retrograde, is undergoing another transformation. I am especially taking exception to the admonition frequently given that the problems of Mercury retrograde are “your own damn fault. If you’d just been conscientious about your diet/maintenance/bookkeeping you wouldn’t have anything to fear from Mercury retrograde.” I don’t like this perspective because, for one thing, we can’t focus everywhere at once: our lives are too complex. The shift in attention may be needed, if unwelcome, but it’s not necessarily a punishment. You may have to take “lessons” from what happens at this time or you may not, depending on the situation. Whatever happens, you will find yourself preoccupied with things you don’t normally think too much about, though they will (probably) not be bizarre or highly unusual things.

But my thinking has evolved a bit further, to the point where I actually look forward to Mercury retrograde. Yes, it can be a wonderful time! This is when problems are addressed and often resolved, usually problems dealing with health, communication, finance, commerce, construction, or machinery. They can be hidden problems rising to the surface, which is the aspect of Mercury that is frustrating, or they can be longstanding problems. It’s a great time to proofread, revise, revisit, and reflect.

Take advantage of these next few weeks to problem-solve and resolve issues, especially the niggling kind that sap your energy. This may be the time you admit that you’re over your head in certain areas and go the doctor, hire a bookkeeper, or ask a friend to help you organize a project. This is a good time to use your magic for solving personal problems that seem outside your control.

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A Breakfast Poem

Early the other day, while I was reading the nature poet Pattiann Rogers, my pancakes got a bit scorched in the griddle. I probably should not mention my name in the same post as Pattiann Rogers, lest comparisons be made, but the incident reminded me of this poem I wrote at this time last year.

Breakfast at My House

I am eating poems for breakfast.

Giraffes, dragonflies, and polar bears stalk
my kitchen. It is spring, it is winter, it is sunset, it is
too late – another burned pancake
goes in the trash.

I ponder food as a metaphor for wisdom while the cat
chows down on the scrambled tofu. The poignancy of life’s
impermanence hits home as the coffee
grows cold.

You can’t eat poetry, said my mother, but
I know you can, because I know what poetry
tastes like. It is soggy cereal and scorched potatoes.
It is charred polenta. It is over-steeped tea.

Millions of people
are eating poems for breakfast, and it is
the only meal that leaves you
really full.

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Coffee Break

Last weekend I completed the index for my next book. It’s coming along, folks! This week I finished another article for Return to Mago. Look for it in mid-April. Now it’s time for a coffee blog.

The Tractor Breakdown
Jay Ungar and Molly Mason
From Waltzing with You

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Queen of Heaven and Earth

Ishtar with her animals. Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Ishtar amongst the gods, extraordinary is her station.
Respected is her word, it is supreme.
Strong, exalted and splendid are her decrees.
The gods continually cause her commands to be executed:
All of them bow down before her.

March 22nd marks the 27th anniversary of my ordination as priestess of Ishtar.

Hail to the Queen of Women, Mistress of Animals, Embodiment of Righteousness, the Beautiful Light of Heaven.

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Resistance

Thistle Pettersen is a songwriter from Madison, Wisconsin. This is from her collection Animal Dreams.

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Great Gray Owl

My photo of the owl. I was close, but I don’t have a very good camera.

The big excitement this week has been the appearance of a Great Gray Owl, a boreal owl rarely seen in the United States. As the name implies, this is a very large owl, bigger even than the Great Horned. The wingspan is huge, but a blur in my camera even flying slowly.

No one knows if this is a female or male, though one birder thought this owl is female based on the size (female owls tend to be slightly larger, but the difference is not great enough for identification). The owl was unconcerned about the group of people nearby and concentrated on hunting rodents. As word has spread, people have been flocking here from out-of-state.

What does it all mean? On one level, that food for this bird in the far north has been scarce this winter. Possibly we have had a greater mouse or vole irruption, though I haven’t noticed it. Gray Owls have also been spotted in the past few weeks in Maine and New Hampshire.

This relief, often identified as Lillith or Ereshkigal, is probably Ishtar. Photo: BabelStone.

This was not a personal sign since I was told where the bird was feeding in the late afternoon and went looking for it, but it is a sign for the nearby community as whole, which has talked of little else this week. I ordinarily don’t place credence on superstitions about seeing owls in daylight and don’t know anyone who does, partly because we see so many owls during the day around here.

The owl is the sacred bird of Ishtar, probably because the owl protects the grain by hunting rodents. The owl was also a women’s symbol in Mesopotamia. Women wore owl amulets during childbirth and the prostitutes’ union used the owl as their totem. I interpret this owl as an intervention from outside to rid the community of the vermin of noxious ideas.

In the next day or two as weather becomes warmer, the owl is expected to move north.

Great Gray Owl photographed in Ontario by Jok2000. Wikimedia Commons.

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Frigga and Writing

Germane to my post last week on Frigga, here is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Divining with Animal Guides.

The origin of Germanic writing is complex. Late Bronze Age carvings and cave markings from Northern Italy to Sweden show some rune-like symbols, their meaning undeciphered. Readable runic script dates to the second century and was presumably derived from the Etruscan alphabet, with which it shares some symbols. The god Odin is credited with discovering the runes, eighteen of them to start, when he hung upside down from the world tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days and nine nights. It is essential to understand that runes are not and were not simply signs that could be manipulated to form language, although they certainly were used for that purpose. Runes have always been magical powers in and of themselves. They disclose hidden truths, they protect buildings, they form spells. They are the force behind what words they speak.

Since Odin found the runes while tied to the tree but did not invent them, we have to look deeper for their source. The deities who nourish Yggdrasil are the Norns Urd, Verthandi, and Skuld. They are the Norns we are usually talking about when we say “The Norns.” The Norns water Yggdrasil’s roots from a pool of water at the base of the tree. They are responsible for giving each person their destiny and can reveal the past, present, and future. They are usually the powers invoked when using runes for divination and they are the powers petitioned for changing life circumstances. In addition to tending the tree, the Norns tend a pair of swans who are said to be the parents of all swans in the world. The Norns themselves wear cloaks of swan feathers.

Another Germanic divinatory goddess is Frigga, who knows the future but seldom speaks of it. According to some sources it is she who bestows destiny on every child. Frigga’s distaff is in heaven and the stars revolve around it, which means she controls the calendar. Frigga wears a crown of heron feathers. Her sacred tree is the birch, probably the White Birch or Silver Birch. The white, supple bark of the birch has been used throughout northern Europe as a medium for writing and drawing. Natives in North America used the Paper Birch for similar purposes. Since bark is a degradable material it would be impossible to know how far back symbolic drawing on birch goes; extant pieces from Russia date to the twelfth century. Not much was recorded in Christian times about Frigga, despite her status as nominal head of the pantheon along with Odin, because clerics worked especially hard to erase all traces of her. Those who in later centuries recorded the Norse legends were men who would not have been privy to feminine traditions anyway. While Frigga is not explicitly documented as a writing goddess, information about her points in that direction.

Birch bark writing from Russia, 13th century. This is a young boy’s school lesson.

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Frigga: A short sketch

Grey Heron. Photo: Manfred Schulenburg.

Then said Gangleri: “Which are the Asynjur?” Harr said: “Frigg is the foremost: she has that estate which is called Fensalir, and it is most glorious.”
The Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson, translated Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur.

Deities tend to become conflated over time, particularly female deities. When a major goddess enters the historical record in an obscure manner, the situation becomes more pronounced. Such is the case with Frigga, possibly at one time the most widely worshipped of the Germanic gods. Often confused with the beautiful and loving Frejya, Frigga is very much a goddess of her own realm.

The term “Asynjur” mentioned above means “goddess” in this case, though it can refer specifically to the branch of Germanic deities known as the Aesir. Marija Gimbutas classifies the two branches as a conjoining of Old European and invading Indo-European pantheons: “The Vanir represent the indigenous, Old European deities, fertile and life giving. In contrast, the Aesir embody the Indo-European warrior deities of a patriarchal people.”(1) I view this assessment, and Frigga’s place in it, not as false but as overly facile. The Vanir was undoubtedly drawn into the Aesir, with the Aesir All-Father Odin the dominant deity of the new pantheon, but the more populated Aesir had probably absorbed other pantheons at an earlier time. I believe Frigga was a central goddess of a matriarchal culture who was absorbed into Odin’s cult by “marriage,” a time-honored way of combining pantheons. Frigga’s marriage to the head of the patriarchal pantheon signals her importance. Her cult seems never to have been entirely subdued, because she retains her own sphere and is more than a match for Odin. In two stories she outwits the All-Father.

While Germanic deities have their own personalities, their individuation is expressed less with symbols and functions, which often overlap, than with territory. Frigga’s place is the slow-moving, marshy river and her glorious estate of Fensalir is an island within the freshwater marshland. The Grey Heron dominates this type of landscape, and Frigga is said to wear a crown of heron feathers. She has also been mentioned as owning hawks, which might be a conflation with Frejya, but could allude to another bird of this landscape, the osprey. I think of her as the great fish eater. She harvests souls swimming in the water of life and so rules over fate.

Frigga’s tree is the European White Birch, which grows well in wet soil along rivers. No doubt her house — or nest — is birch. (For more on this association see my post Frigga and the Birch.) She is the goddess of spinning, with the stars her distaff, which makes her the goddess of the year. Frigga’s status as sun goddess is revealed by her function as goddess of time and her association with gold. If twelve other goddesses mentioned in the Prose Edda are Frigga’s handmaidens, as Diana Paxson maintains(2), this further support the conjecture that she is a sun goddess.

As mother goddess Frigga rules that other fishy place, a woman’s vulva. The sexual connotations of the word “frigg” are derived from her name. (For those who don’t know what frigging is, I explain it here in this video.) Christianity has successfully divided the mother from the sexual being in our minds, thus encouraging the distinction of Frigga as mother goddess as opposed to Frejya as love goddess, yet earlier Pagans knew no such separation.

Frigga is described in the literature as the goddess who knows the future but seldom speaks of it. Herons also walk silently in the still waters, typically quiet except in the rookery. Frigga gives the child her destiny at birth. Her mastery of divination can be traced to her death-goddess huntress aspect or to her spindle which commands time. Birch bark as writing medium ties Frigga to the runes and their association with divination and spells.

While Frejya and Odin divide the heroic who die in battle between them, those good souls who lead a humbler life go to Fensalir after death. This gentle, loving goddess did not rise to prominence in a warrior culture.

I associate Frigga with the smell of fishy water, which I love, and quiet ponds teeming with dragonflies, frogs, and vegetation. She is the stately heron stalking the water’s edge. She is also the beautiful composed matron, the mistress of a rich but comfortable house. She is wise beyond measure, and though we hang on her words she listens more than she speaks.

The fate of all does Frigg know well,
Though herself she says it not
The Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Addams Bellows

 

Notes

1. Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddesses (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), p. 191.

2. Diana L. Paxson, “Beloved: On Frigg and Her Handmaidens,” at Hrafnar: Twenty Years of Re-Inventing Heathenry

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Contemplating the Framework

 

 

Reconstruction is 85% or more complete on the house I’m living in. It has not been as inconvenient as I feared, although it has undeniably been disruptive — necessitating changes in how I work, tolerance of noise and debris, and acceptance of lower productivity. The workers have been considerate of my space and schedule, but construction is messy and accommodation can only go so far without jeopardizing the time frame of the project.

As the project draws to a close, I am coming to value not just the improvements to the building but the process itself: the collaborative problem solving of minor issues, the slow transformative progress, the expectant activity of each weekday. And I have never valued silence so much as I have on these winter evenings.

Most importantly, I have learned a great deal about how energy in a building works. I have long been acutely aware of how a building’s energy affects the occupants, but I have now become more attuned to how human energy affects a building. The initiation of the changes to this house required a shift in energies of many personalities. This is probably why renovation usually occurs when ownership of a building changes or when the occupants are preparing to move, but sometimes energies are so entrenched that even this does not shake things up enough. The activity of the past seven months on this house is as much a reflection of change as a change itself. Conflict and confusion emanating from place had to be met with clarity and resolution from the human spirit.

 

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