Wytch Hazel Cottage

Reclaiming Our Ancestral Folkways

Month: July 2019

Stripping Back To The Bare Bones

I was lost and confused as I stood in front of my altar no longer having the desire to pray, meditate or even connect with the guiding forces that had brought me to this very moment. My spiritual path tasted like saw dust on my tongue; tasteless and dry. I didn’t understand why this was happening to me, but gradually I became aware of an overwhelming longing to get rid of all of the physical things that I had been using for my spiritual practice and begin with a clean slate. I had a realisation that I needed to strip away the veneer, strip away the suffocating amount of objects distracting me from having a meaningful and authentic relationship with the land and spirits around me. Layer after layer would have to be stripped away so that eventually I would only be left with the bare bones of a spiritual practice. This happened three years ago during the weeks leading up to the Heathen celebration of Winter Nights. A time I associate with the releasing of all that no longer serves us so that we can walk into the season of hibernation unburdened.

Up until this point everything had been a distraction for me: the tarot decks, the new age books and all of the other paraphernalia that I had accumulated over the years, believing that these were things that I needed to be a pagan of today. Yet without even realising, it was actually leading me further and further away from the place I was aiming for. A place of wisdom and understanding.

The materialistic side of modern paganism is ugly. Thankfully I didn’t fall into the hole as deeply as some do, but when I first encountered pagan spirituality and began seeking like minded souls online, there was no way of avoiding the sparkly crystals, the hipster witchy books, the Heathen tattoos and the must have pentagrams, not forgetting the perfectly curated animal bones on altars.

When some of us begin exploring different spiritual paths, more often than not we have no one in our immediate environment to guide us through the mire of uncertainty, so instead we turn to online communities for guidance. We sit through hours of unboxings and witchy shopping hauls that all wax lyrical about this or that item, ‘the one item’ that will help you heal your shadows or your inner child or even help you reconnect with the divine feminine. Where is the value in this and what meaningful contribution is being made? Apart from encouraging consumerism and distracting people from true spiritual fullfilment, absolutely nothing whatsoever. Is this what we have come to, admiring other people’s possessions?

We don’t need stuff to help us build connections with the land and its inhabitants, but sadly as long as there are spiritual trends and people with credit cards there will always be some merchandise being forced down our throats. At one point for about a year I was deeply drawn to Norse paganism, reading the lore and studying as best as I could, but then it seemed that everyone and their uncle was a Norse Pagan and were more concerned with the cool aesthetics, the tattoos and the tacky mjolnirs from China than working towards anything spiritually meaningful. How quickly a spiritual revival can be turned into a fashion statement. I distanced myself from this trend very quickly because I did not want to be clumped together with these people who were giving sincere and honest heathens a bad name. This shallow trend however has everything to do with likes and followers and absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with a genuine interest in learning about the ways of an ancient European people. 

Deciding to follow my instincts, little by little I began letting go of my card decks, my books and so on; a process that I am still abiding by today. Now that I am older and I hope a little more wise, I have learnt to look towards my ancient ancestors for guidance instead of new age gurus. I turn within and listen to what courses through my veins. With less stuff I am no longer distracted, I am more focused and intentional with my time and continually deepening my relationship with the old ones of my homeland. 

I have donated or sold hundreds of books and from the two dozen decks that I once owned I now have the grand total of three. This allows me to bond with them on a much deeper level because I work solely with them on a daily basis. My altar is presently a lot smaller and is actually a stool on which I have a  handful of intentional items that mean something to me.

The process of letting go has trickled into other areas of my life. Now I only follow a small number of online content creators which frees up so much of my valuable time. I no longer submit myself to three hour long live videos of rambling nothingness repeating the exact same thing week in and week out that brings absolutely no benefit to my life at all. I no longer scroll through meaningless pretty photos with vague captions and now only follow accounts that share genuine and authentic content that brings value to my life. 

If you are where I was a few years ago before my journey of letting go of the unnecessary, then I wholeheartedly suggest that you try and start stripping back your own life to the bare bones and see what happens. Starting anew with both your surroundings and spiritual practice throws wide open the doors to mental clarity and enlightenment which allows room for true joy and contentment.

Our ancient ancestors’ possessions were few, but they were treasured. Handmade and lovingly cared for, every item, even a work tool was more often than not engraved or decorated and was blessed after each use. Their belongings lasted much longer than our throwaway plastic ones and when those objects had seen better days they would either have been repaired or perhaps offered up to a deity in gratitude. Our ancestors never sought to have more than they needed and instead of the fancy spiritual tools that we have today, they looked of course to the gifts of the land they lived on. We could all learn a thing or two from our ancestors. Following a simple, stress free and more intentional way of living is a great thing to aspire to indeed.


Rewriting The Past

Our past is being rewritten. This isn’t a recent phenomenon, but something that has been worming its way into every aspect of our culture for hundreds of years. Whether it is a new age author’s innovative interpretation of a certain spiritual tradition, an age old scholar under the patronage of a king or even a film portrayal of an historical event. Everyone has a bias and sometimes surprisingly an agenda too.

By reinventing our past to suit our needs we are not harmlessly changing a detail here or there for maximum effect in the retelling of an event or story. Whatever is changed, no matter how seemingly insignificant will eventually end up influencing our future. We are not playing an innocent game of Chinese Whispers. If one inaccuracy is placed on top of another inaccuracy then we will arrive at a point where we would have completely reshaped who we are: our traditions, our folklore, our mythology and our history; which in turn means everything that connects us to our ancestors.

Modern literature and films as well as television series that portray ancient history, mythology and spirituality are all gateways of inspiration for those of us who wish to return to a more meaningful life without the trappings of religion and consumerism. However, due to the fact that these gateways are so easily accessible and a huge part of today’s popular culture, many people accept these portrayals as fact, when sometimes this couldn’t be more further from the truth.

I fell into this trap myself in the beginning when I first began reading and researching European pre-Christian faiths and traditions. Thankfully, the phrase ‘Heathenry is the religion with homework’ saved me. By diligently doing my homework I began to realise that the more I was reading the more easily I was able to see discrepancies between different sources (dates, names and places for example) and this taught me very early on how to be more discerning when it came to the books I was choosing.

So how can we be sure that the sources we are using are the real deal? How can we sift through the lies to reach the truth? I am going to share with you some of the things I do to ensure, to the best of my knowledge, that I am reading facts not fiction when it comes to history, religion and mythology.

Firstly, I visit second hand shops and garage sales. These are excellent places to find old books especially published before 1945. After World War II particularly with the arrival of Wicca, it is important to understand that a lot more disingenuous information began being published. Of course I am not saying that everything you read before this date can be trusted either; just look at how Roman and Greek scholars portrayed the Germanic peoples or the Gauls for example. However, many authors before this date were not censored to the extent that we are today and I believe that they had an easier time as well when it came to finding original and authentic sources. So much material has been lost, destroyed or edited.

It is getting harder and harder to find old books, especially ones that are reasonably priced. So for those of us who are frugal I can assure you that you can continue saving your money. I rarely buy a book now unless I am one hundred percent sure of its integrity and instead I either borrow books from the library, many of which are very old or I make the most of public domain books online. These are the sites I use the most and that I recommend: gutenberg.org, sacred-texts.com, forgottenbooks.org and jstor.org. You will need to register for some of these, but it is free to do so. I guarantee that you will have several lifetimes of material to get stuck into with these websites. They are fantastic resources and I have read many great books.

I will add that when it comes to old history books be aware that some of them will have a heavy Christian bias and if you are reading books that have been translated, do your best to read the original translations. It has come to my attention that a certain modern translation of Eyrbyggja Saga has replaced the word ‘Yule’ with ‘Christmas’.

If you are wanting to buy a more recently published book then I would encourage you to lean more towards history rather than spirituality. You can learn so much about the spiritual practices of our ancestors from a history book based on facts with a decently sized bibliography rather than a neo pagan spiritual book which can be heavily biased towards the author’s own views and personal practice. Authors that I have recently read and respect are Kathleen Herbert, Stephen Pollington and Sinead Spearing.

Also, I would just like to add that there is nothing overly wrong with using the internet for information, but only use it as a springboard for getting a broad overview of a topic before diving in deeper with other sources.

Please be wary of new age books that are contributing to the rewriting of our past by completely innovating our ancient traditions. These books are guiding us along a disingenuous spiritual path that has no links to our heritage whatsoever. Be mindful of the bias, prejudice and assumptions that can be made and start making a conscious effort to be discerning with everything that you are reading and watching.

Lastly, when you come across someone on social media who is stating something as fact and you know that this isn’t the case; find the courage to speak up, kindly correct them and point them towards original authentic sources. These untruths worry me deeply and I hope that I have inspired you to think about how you search for and share information. It is our duty, as custodians of our heritage, to defend its integrity.

If you have any tips or tricks on how to be more discerning when it comes to choosing what you read then I would love for you to share them.