Saturday, September 28, 2013

Feast Day of Zisa

September 28 is the observance of the feast day to the goddess Zisa.

Zisa is seen as the founder and protector of the city of Augsburg in modern Bavaria. Augsburg was known earlier as Zizarim. Fraa Zisa was reported under various names (including Isis due to language confusion, apparently). She was particularly associated with the Suevi, who are the predecessors of the Swabians. The Suevi also mixed with the Alemanni and other tribes. There are quite a few locations in southern Germany and Switzerland named for Her. The tribes who knew Her were large contributors to the Pennsylvania German nation.

In the first century BCE, the Romans under Titus Annius laid siege to Zizarim just before Her feast day. Unfortunately for the Romans, many Swabian warriors were coming to Zizarim for the festival, and on Her day they attacked the Romans and throttled them.

Granted, the Romans years later did take the city, but the battle for Zizarim was a famous loss for Rome.

Zisa in the Christian era was depicted as the Virgin Mary with the extra appellation of "Undoer-of-Knots," which is drawn from the lore of the Heathen past. Images of Her from later centuries indicate that she has the ability to undo Urleeg if one's cause is just. Images of Her in this role have been restored in Augsburg's city hall.

She was so widely revered among the Suevi that their dialects called Tuesday "Zistag" not after Ziu but after Her. The Diocese of Augsburg banned the name Zistag and called it "Aftermontag" (After-Monday).

There are quite a few places that bear Her name as the root of their modern names. The church of St. Peter am Perlach stands on the grounds of Her temple at Zisenberg in Augsburg.

Her symbol is the pine cone and appears in Augsburg even in some churches. As the pine cone protects the seeds, so does she protect Her people. The pine cone symbolizes protection, regeneration, and continuity. Even though Augsburg was eventually conquered by the Romans, the Volk's relationship to Zisa continued, in symbolic form if not conscious form, into the present day.

In Urglaawe, Zisa is the consort to Ziu (Tyr) and is known to remove obstacles and undo knots for just causes. She is honored on Zisadaag (28. Scheiding/September).

Hail Zisa!


Grimm, Jacob, James Stallybrass, Teutonic Mythology, volume I, pp. 291-299. New York: Dover Publications, 1966.

Pennick, Nigel. "The Goddess Zisa." Tyr: Myth - Culture -Tradition, Volume 1, pp. 107-110. Atlanta: Ultra, 2002.

Schreiwer, Robert L. and Ammerili Eckhart. A Dictionary of Urglaawe Terminology, pp. 72-74., 2012. ISBN: 978-1-105-51712-9.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Terrible Truths

2010 Remembrance Day I found myself unable to join my unit, and attended our local Cenotaph in uniform to lay the Freehold Wreath and watch my daughters march in the Parade. As often happens at such functions, the crowd sort of self -filtered until I was surrounded by men whose dress and bearing marked them as all former soldiers, and some of them quite recent.

We chatted and made small talk about where we had done what with whom, found the usual points of commonality that all service men and women seem to share and generally were able to relax as a group in friendly company. During the Padre’s heavy Christian service, I noticed one of our vets beginning to lose it. His hands and teeth were clenched, his eyes teared and he was snarling with poorly suppressed rage at hearing his dead comrades compared to lambs and having their lives and deaths reduced to some knock-off of Christ’s (unwilling) sacrifice.

To defuse what looked to be an impending explosion I began to softly speak of the Old Gods wisdom and the words of the Hamaval. As I spoke, he began to listen, and to relax. To hear the words 

Cattle die, kinsmen die, 
you too will die
One thing alone will not die,
the fame of a good mans deeds

affected not only him, but the other gathered veterans as well. On some level all soldiers know that their immortality, like their honour is born from the men and women around them, on the shared trials, hardships, occasional silliness, and too often horror that mark service to the folk. As in this time and place, the old wounds were open, I took the opportunity to minister to him, and to the other listening veterans as I spoke the terrible truths, the things that our ancestors understood and accepted, but Christianity with its plaster saint model of soldiers have deliberately concealed.

What are the terrible truths?

1). I'm glad it was him, not me.

Yes we all feel lucky when the man beside you dies, and not you, and then we feel deeply ashamed to have felt that way, as if we have betrayed our comrades, or shown cowardice. 

More blest are the living than the lifeless,
'for a dead man gathers no cows;
I saw the hearth-fire burn in the rich man's hall
and himself lying dead at the door.

You are supposed to want to live, your desire to live is part of what keeps you fighting, and that love of life is essential if you are going to be fit to return home again. There is no shame in not wanting to die.

2). I'm angry they deserted me.

How unfair! How human; to rail against the dead for deserting us, for leaving us to face life without them. Funerals have always been for the living, the dead need nothing from us anymore. It is natural for us to look at that hole inside where a loved one, comrade, family, or lover used to be, and curse the one who made that wound; even if it was by dying. We then feel shame for resenting the dead.

3). Real men don't cry, (but sometimes I do).

Pain and tears are an offering to the dead, at the funeral or at the Rememberance, the spirits of the dead gather at the call of the living. In this time, in this place, your tears, your pain, is a sacrifice to honour those that you lost. If they were worthy in life of your love and respect, then your tears should burn proudly on your face, for they are owed the dead, and you will not betray them by pretending you care not.

4). I think they were the lucky ones.

The dead fall in glory, the living have to pay the price of the things we do for the folk. On some level, the image of ascending to Valhalla, Heaven, the Summerlands, in a blaze of glory is so much more seductive than dealing with money problems, anger issues, problems sleeping, getting old/wrinkled/crippled. Of course you gloss over the fact that the dead never tasted another beer, or kiss, never held their children again, never got the ten thousand moments of little pleasure we tend to forget about. We fight to survive, but it is a fight that has no end but the grave. If death is a feather and duty a mountain, it is not insane to sometimes look at the feather and think it the lesser burden. As long as you keep lugging your mountain, thats perfectly OK.

5). I hated it, but I miss it......

Fear sucks, stress gets old, and while you can get used to anything, sometimes getting used to chewing dust in your food, having things living in your clothes, sleeping with your rifle, and being stared at by flat hostile eyes or false smiles gets to you after a while. On the other hand, knowing you are at your very best, knowing the people beside you will literally risk their lives for you, knowing that you are working with people who are every bit as driven, dedicated, and professional as you, knowing that the job will demand everything you have to give; that does get addictive. There is a terrible purity to absolutes. Absolute necessity; I will do whatever it takes to complete this mission. Absolute loyalty; trust without limits or hesitation. These two things once experienced change you, and you do not encounter these in the 'real world', nor is there any reason to. No employer gives such loyalty, nor is deserving of it. No job is worth sacrificing your life, rather you have a responsibility to guarentee your safety, as a breadwinner, for your family.

6). I don't understand people anymore.

Abuse victims, survivors of disasters, soldiers, ER trauma teams, and even police in high crime areas will understand that passage through the fire changes you. Like losing your virginity, there is no going back to innocence. Once you have lived with and through certain things, you can never look at the world the same again. A gap opens up between who you are now, and who you were before. You find that you no longer understand family and friends, but you can talk easily with near strangers who simply share that one, seemingly minor, event from your life.

We all use the same words, but some experiences forever change our dictionaries. In a way even parenthood is one of these changes. There is no point in trying (and failing) to be who you were. We are the sum of our choices and experiences, what we have been through changes and strengthens us. You can learn to relate to people from your old life again, but you will have to reach new understandings; you may find that while you can never have the relationship you remember, what you can have now may well become something stronger and deeper.

PTSD in popular myth springs from those few moments of terror we all return to.  Honestly probably some does, or at least the triggers come from there.  PTSD in practice more commonly comes from long periods of stress and fear.  Under those long periods of inhuman stress, people either break, or twist.  In a way, PTSD is born of the mental coping mechanisms that got you through the day. Those mechanisms begin as safety valves, but when locked away, growing in pressure without relief, become as land mines. We put the land mines in crates, and shipped them home, just so we could keep it together.  Now those mines wait to be either found and disarmed, found, mapped, and carefully avoided, or stumbled across in moments alone and unprepared where the casualty is simply delayed, not avoided.  We are not the people that marched away. We need to find a way to draw strength from what we were then, and strength from what we have become after our return, and through those two strengths learn to make new ways through the mine field so we are able to truly embrace life again, rather than withdrawing, less we stumble across the wrong trigger, and have one more terrible memory to live with.  Our ancestors lived in hard times, and learned these terrible truths.  They left us tools to learn to live with duty done, and hardships survived.  The hardest among them left us ways to love and laugh again.

This is not meant to be a guide to how to minister to everyone, nor even for how you should minister to soldiers. What this is, is one map of how our lore and traditions give us the capacity to deal with those things that our societies hypocrisy has ill prepared people for. Inside you are the tools your faith and your life experience have given you; inside the hurting people are memories of doing what it took to survive, and a lifetime of programming telling them they should hate themselves for doing it. Find within yourself the secret shameful truths they are tormenting themselves with and dare to speak them without shame. The gods do not want us crippled. The gods do not give us tools they do not want us to use, and sometimes there really aren't any good options available. Learn from what you have survived, but never allow yourself to feel ashamed for being alive to apply the lesson afterwards.

John T Mainer
Cpl, Retired.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Troth and In-Reach Upcoming Events

The Troth will have an information and sales table at two events on October 5. The table will serve as an In-Reach book drop at each event.

South Jersey Pagan Pride Day at the Distelfink/Troth table.

Heemet Fescht at Kutztown University at the Distelfink/Troth table.

List of most needed titles for In-Reach donations:

Also, the monthly Hendon Heathens Moot in London, UK, falls on October 5 from 6:00-9:00 PM.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Troth at Greater Pittsburgh Pagan Pride Day

First Philadelphia, then Southern New Hampshire, and now Pittsburgh!

The Troth will have a strong presence at Greater Pittsburgh Pagan Pride Day this Saturday, September 14, 2013.

Renowned Heathen author and Troth Clergy Coordinator Diana Paxson will be the Keynote Presenter at this event.

Along with Diana will be Lorrie Wood, whose contributions to -- and knowledge about -- The Troth are immeasurableAlso present will be the current Vice-Steer of The Troth, Robert L. Schreiwer,who will be providing information on The Troth's efforts in the In-Reach Heathen Prison Services Program.

Troth publications and Troth swag will be available at the event, too!

Come out out to the Irish Centre of Pittsburgh, 6886 Forward Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15217
Time: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Cost of Admission: A canned (not too close to expiry, please) food item.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Heathenry: Where Archetypes Go to Die


Recently I had an experience I heartily recommend everyone avoid.  I had a stroke resulting in left side paralysis.  Wyrd being the way it is, there was no warning, save my little dog decided to brave the rain (which his fuzzy candy-ass does not do) to try to come to work with me (which he never does).  Point to instinct and those who still heed them; no points to training, as I am an Industrial First Aid attendant, martial artist, and practitioner of enough esoteric disciplines that I really do think I should have spotted it before it showed symptoms.  Good to know I can still be blindsided by the big stuff.  Keeps me cautious.

Veteran of spinal cord damage, I was prepared for the fear and rage that helplessness has always spawned in me; and it never happened.  It turns out a whole lot of teachings that I wasn’t really consciously aware of came in to play seamlessly, effortlessly, and really organically.  When you think of healing and heathenry, you think of Eir, even of Frigg, sometimes of Thor.  We are prepared as pagans of any stripe for the gentle goddesses, the protective or nurturing gods to be the source of our healing.  Welcome to Heathenry, check your archetypes at the door.

First coming to me without even reaching was Skadi.  I have long known and sought her in the high wild places, near and above the snow line on the high peaks. I learned to feel her on long patrols with the army in some of the loneliest, harshest, and most beautiful land the gods ever turned sideways for goats and infantry to play in.  I have hunted with her, I have done search and rescue calling to her, ever have I sought her in the high lonely places where killers find a beauty that exists in a place most fear to tread.  When I lost, in the space of an hour, command over half of my body, rather than fear, or panic, rather than the rage of Odin, I found instead Skadi; and the cold patience of the hunter.  I fell, yes.  When I fell, I waited, I listened, I tested, and with the confidence of the hunter grown grey and fat with the skills of the hunt, bided my time for the moment I could strike.  Not the metaphor you would think attends healing, but there was no question in my mind, or my spirit.  Skadi bid me wait, watch, and when the prey gave an opening, to strike.

Next waiting for me was the Tree Hanger.  Given a skald's gifts from him long ago, I tend to see things in symbolic context, for me the runes have never been a tool of divination (sortilege was never done with runes in the classical period, according to any decent academic paper I ever read).  Runes can be used by me to show me the question I should be asking, for when you ask the wrong question, your answers, however clever, will seldom be useful.  I saw my problem: Isa, stasis, the killing ice.  My will was clearly Naudhiz, or need-fire.  Isa and Naudhiz were balanced, but I had already lost, so balance was not enough.

From my wife came Kenaz, the torch.  From her came both love and duty, for as I was fallen so was she rising to meet the commitments I could not. Her blazing brighter as my flame guttered caused my own flame to flare in answer.  Kenaz, from light is light kindled.  From my daughter Sowilo, in her love, in her laughter was the life giving essence of the sun.  I was fallen, but life went on, the sun shone, animals and children played, and through her I saw the window into the life that sprung ever renewed in Sunna’s blessing.

Against Isa was balanced not simply Naudhiz, my need, but Kenaz, and Sowilo.  Ice faced the fire of my need, the bright torch of my wife’s, and the sunshine of my daughter’s love.  There remained the small matter of winning back my body.  However, it really did seem to be a small matter.  Skadi was in me, with a hunter’s patience, I waited only for the time to strike.  As often happens, the best intentions of healers did nothing but rouse the power in me to do what their inducements to helplessness would only make impossible.

I reached out in the night to the wights of the place I lay.  Nothing against the Royal Columbian Hospital, but the wights there, like the nurses, look upon those who lie in their care as half-people, as thralls without ability to do for themselves.  They bind with chains of weakness, they bind with chains of care.  I care not.  First and last with me has always been the One Eye.  The Feeder of Ravens found me in basic training, and for better or worse has been the one I have learned from ever since.  From the pool of peace, and surrender was RCH Emergency, I reached at last for the rage.  Not anger, for now given the focus of the runes I had already found and framed my needs, what I sought was different.  As once when I lay in similar state with spinal injury, I called out to Wode in his oldest, and darkest form.  I called to the wild hunt, to the transforming madness, to the ecstatic and elemental fury of the storm.  It is not anger, it is not hate, it is a rage that is simply unfettered by all constraint of reason, of ethic, of human limitation and weakness. Is anyone surprised that we had a severe thunderstorm that night, to the point that the hospital stairwells were flooded from rain overflow on the roof?  How could I know this trapped from the sound of all outside?  Because with Skadi’s patience and Wode’s rage I took back what was mine.  My first stumbling steps, led to balance drills, led to walking, led to climbing the concrete stairs where the staff complained about the fury of last nights storm, only to wonder why I threw my head back and roared my laughter.

There are gentle gods, and goddesses in Heathenry.  Unlike Wicca, or any of the archetypal derivatives that form the pan-pagan or pantheist spectrum, we do not care for archetypes.  Each of us seeks our gods and goddesses for reasons of our own needs and nature.  Each looks to the teachings of those they know for lessons in their own needs.  Where a Wiccan can say a thing belongs to Frey, a Heathen may seek instead for Tyr or Frigg, whose lessons they feel they understand better, even if the question is not one others would think that god and goddess could address.

A Heathen fell, as Wyrd wove he must.  A Heathen fought, as against everything save the final doom Wyrd weaves for us we may win out.  A Heathen found his healing, from the tools placed at his hand by Skadi, the White Huntress, and Odin, the Victory Father.  Our gods and ancestors are beside us in our challenges, for while the challenge is ours to face, we remain theirs to instruct.  Archetypes cannot contain the truths of Heathenry, for we know our gods to be more than any one thing; their essence is so primal and so deep that its expression cannot be contained in any neat category or pigeon hole.

-- John T Mainer