Welcome to a more or less Celtic Reconstructionist blog, where love of the Old Gods is still strong

Freitag, 18. Mai 2012

Jewellery - Pros and Cons of Wearing Religious Symbols

Quite a lot of religious people of any denomination choose to wear symbols of your faith, either permanently or for special occasions – e.g. a hammer when you’re a Heathen, a cross when you’re a Christian, etc. 
 For today’s post, I’d like to delve a bit deeper into the reason of why people decide to wear such jewellery. There’s also an interesting aspect of why people choose to have their faith’s symbols tattooed onto their skin, but we’ll get there in my “T” post.

One of the reasons why I think wearing religious jewellery is a nice idea is that it helps others of the same faith to identify each-other – we see somebody also wearing a hammer and we might have been lucky to meet another heathen (however, s/he could just be into metal, but I’ll get there later).

Secondly, and this is quite an ambivalent point, wearing these symbols gives away important information about you. Just like with the way you dress, or you wear your hair, by wearing religious jewellery you inform your surroundings about where you’d like to be placed, i.e. in which box they should put you. Generally, people love categorizing things and people in boxes, since it helps them to make sense of the world around them (Pendry 2007: 114). For example, if you’re starting work in a lawyer’s office today, you might infer that the nice, well-groomed lady in a suit is a potential colleague, and that the lady in a normal dress who’s kneading her tissue in her hand is a potential client. Thus, forming categories of the world helps us to understand it and to react to other people. And if I can influence this process for others to understand me better and to get a more accurate picture of myself, so be it. Hence, I wear a hammer every so often, and I dress mostly in black, jeans, leather and biker boots, cause I’d rather be seen as a Helena Bonham Carter-esque rebel than as somebody who conforms to all of society’s rules.
 Helena Bonham Carter - this is the box I'd happily be put into
However – and I feel this is an issue needing to be stressed – wearing religious symbols can backfire terribly. Coming back to the situation when you meet this nice heathen fellow, you might be disappointed to realize the only thing they know about Odin is what was in that song by Manowar, and that they just donned the necklace because they found it was cool or because it was pictured on an album cover they liked. The same happens – and I believe far more often – with Celtic symbols. But then again, usually you don’t go up to random people in the street and start talking about the Goddess just because they are wearing a Celtic pendant. A more problematic issue is when people see the symbol you’re wearing and automatically class you as “evil,” “bad” or what-have-you and don’t bother to get to know you personally. This is sad, but that wouldn’t stop me from wearing a hammer – people like this would quite as easily find another reason why I don’t confirm to their standards, and I have no intention of changing myself to confirm to somebody else’s ideal of a human being.

On the other hand, wearing religious jewellery can help educate people about our faith. Around the time the first Thor movie was out, I went to a friend’s birthday party. Somebody saw my necklace, inquired about it, and suddenly we had a very nice, very enlightening discussion about paganism and what it means to the individual. I think that explaining to this one man what paganism was doesn’t change the world, but at least there will be one more individual who knows about us and that we don’t eat little children. So if all of this can be achieved simply by wearing a necklace, I’m all for it.
Can wearing a hammer pendant help people understand that Thor isn't like in the movies?

 However, I feel there are places where religion doesn’t really belong. In your free time, you can wear whatever you like, but just as there are dress codes for some jobs (think of them whatever you will; I don’t think most of them are necessary, apart from when the health of patients is concerned) I think there are situations where religion doesn’t have to play a role. In my workplace, for instance, we’re all about football, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to turn up in the morning wearing their team’s jersey, because ultimately, you come to the workplace to work, do your job well, and not to proselytize.
I’m by no means suggesting that religious discussions should be kept from the workplace – it’s only I feel that, especially when you’re new in your position like myself at the moment – non-committal subjects like football are safer and easier to talk about (you may strongly identify with your team, but religion usually goes much deeper than that). Thus, I’d suggest wearing smaller, less obtrusive versions of your chosen symbols. For example, I have this huge bronze hammer pendant, which is really very obviously pagan from a mile away; since I feel this is a bit much for work, I’m looking for a smaller, silver version at the moment.

Another thing that crossed my mind is that sometimes, your symbol of choice can be quite easily mistaken for something else. This happens quite often with pentacles, so be prepared that people might think you’re either Jewish or a Satanist, and be prepared to give a short, easy explanation why you’re neither and what your faith means for you.
 people sometimes do mistake this Star of David for a pentacle, so be prepared to explain what your faith means
Finally, if you’re unsure about whether your friends, relatives or colleagues would approve of you wearing a religious symbol, you might also want to consider wearing jewellery that is meaningful to you and your faith without openly stating it, so to speak (this might especially be important for teens living with a family of another faith). For instance, I’m wearing a braided leather bracelet that connects me to Odin – it doesn’t say “Heathen” straight away, and I can wear it to work without people commenting on my faith when I’m not ready or willing to discuss it (as I said, we’re all about football in the company, so I’d rather spend my break discussing the latest match instead of religion). Others might have a special set of earrings in the colour associated with their deity, or an item they bought while on holiday in their chosen deity’s country. I’ve also heard of objects blessed for specific purposes, let’s say being able to stay calm when dealing with customers, and worn to work. Those don’t have to look magical at all, but knowing they’re there might give you that push to get through the day without shouting at anyone.

So what do you do? Do you wear a symbol of your faith at all? Would others be able to recognize it? I’m assuming that, at least in Germany, if somebody wore a valknut most people would rather think they were supporting the German Football Association than that they are a devotee to Odin.
Or do you think that advertising a minority faith is too risky in your environment? I’m very interested to hear different opinions!
Blessed be,

Pendry, Louise. 2007. „Soziale Kognition.“ In: Stroebe, W., Hewstone, M., Jonas, K. (Hrgs.): Sozialpsychologie. 5. Aufl. Heidelberg: Springer, 111-145. [German edition]
Manowar - Sons of Odin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8XIW_jUa-k

Pentacle: http://www.earthly-gems.co.uk/acatalog/pentacle-pendant-26110-1lge.gif
Thor's Hammer: http://www.jelldragon.com/images/sn_thors_hammer_necklace_1.jpg 
Helena Bonham Carter: http://www.freewebs.com/thedemonbarberoffleetstreet/Helena02.jpg
Thor movie: http://vervemedia.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Manchesters-Finest_thor-movie-440x326.jpg
DFB (German Football Association) logo: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/de/c/c0/DFB-Logo.svg

Sonntag, 6. Mai 2012

Inspiration and Identity

A lot of Pagans I’ve encountered like to give offerings to our Gods – some offer physical objects, like wine and mead, some offer crafts they’ve created, like altar cloths, and some offer their talent, like singers. Being a writer, I do the latter. 

When you’re working in a creative field yourself, maybe you’ve also felt this sudden pull to take that notebook or sketch pad and paint or write down this unexpected new idea. Perhaps you – just like me – have wondered where these ideas, this art of ours comes from. 
Clearly, some of it is inspired by other works of art I encounter. When I was still at school, I read a lot – about one to two novels a week. Today, I don’t have as much free time, but I still try to read as much as I can, at least the new works of my favourite writers. And I attend a Creative Writing course once a week, where I can present my writing, get feedback and also get new ideas. But one question still remains: Where does this divine spark to create something new come from? 

I like to think about this in terms of my muse (cf. King 2000): He lives in an old, run-down changing room in a theatre (don’t ask me why he likes to hang out there; but I’ve never seen him anywhere else). He looks a little like Jim Morrison, with wavy brown curls, and always wears a white v-necked shirt and faded blue jeans. When he helps me out with a story, I pay him in whiskey or similar hard alcohol. But I have to keep up my part of the bargain – when he sends me that inspiration, I have to write it down and acknowledge it, even if it means getting up at 3am and searching for a pen and notebook. 
 You could say that when I’m talking to my muse, what I’m essentially doing is talking to my own subconscious which, for some unfathomable reason, likes to dress up as Jim Morrison’s look-alike. But be that as it may, I wonder how our Gods feature in this process. After all, Odin grants the mead of poetic inspiration; in the Celtic pantheon, Brighid is associated with the “fire in the head” of inspiration (also see my B post on Her). However, when I’m writing I’ve seriously never felt Their presence, even if the work I produce is about Them.
So while I see writing as an integral part of myself (hence the Identity title), I still don’t know what makes me, or rather, what drives me to write. What I know, however,  is how to write and how to be inspired. 

So how can we make inspiration flow (cf. Myers 2008: 477)?
  • First of all, learn as much as you can about your craft – only when you have a good working knowledge of what has been done, of different styles etc. can you combine them in new, interesting ways.
  •  Be risky – sometimes, you have to take a certain risk: you won’t know if combining a horror story and crime elements will work unless you try.
  •  Learn to see things in new, creative ways – e.g. what could you use a brick for? To build houses, sure, but couldn’t you also use it as a paper weight, as a weapon, as a doorstopper, as a device to keep your table from wobbling? It’s these instances that will give you new insights and inspire you to come up with novel stories. 
  •  Look for others who are creative and who will support you – your creativity can thrive best if there are others who are either creative themselves, so you can inspire each other, or when they are accepting of your craft. Imagine writing a story when your SO keeps telling you that it’s a waste of time and/or silly – you’d have to be very dedicated to keep at it! Also, create an “imaginary friend,” your Constant Reader (or Constant Gallery Visitor, or Constant Concertgoer). S/he is your prototypical target audience. So you can ask yourself while working on your creative product: would Constant Reader enjoy this? Does s/he expect something entirely different now and will s/he be disappointed if s/he reads, sees or hears my new take on things? Basically, Constant Reader allows you to keep your intended audience in mind and not to stray too far from your intended path (King 2000).
  • When you’re planning to work creatively, no matter if you’re planning on being a professional artist or if you’re just working for yourself, you have to want to do it, simply because you enjoy the process of doing it. It has been shown that when two groups of people work on a creative project, the ones who are told that their work will be judged are less creative. So just write for the sake of writing, sing because you love it, and you’ll come up with more new, interesting ideas than if you plan to be the new J.K. Rowling, Montserrat Caballé or Dalí.  
  •  And finally, when you do all the things above, you have to practice continuously. Sure, writing only when you feel that divine spark of inspiration will produce some very nice stories or poems. I, for once, see myself as a Romantic poet who can only write when inspired or called to do so. However, you get better with practice, esp. when it comes to writing stories, dialogue that sounds natural, creating suspense and atmosphere – a writer I’ve met suggested to write a few pages each morning and to keep writing even if everything you turn out feels like s**t, cause this will stop your Inner Editor from complaining and making you feel insecure.
To finish off this post, here’s a poem about Odin I wrote recently. It is inspired both by the German Symbolist poet Stefan George (if you can read German, his poem is here) as well as German Expressionist writers, esp. August Stramm


the trees were shedding
            their golden gowns
when I found you
            amid the cool forest

unannounced I came
but receive me,
my king,
in your court
            in the twilight woodland

others handed you roses -
but my flowers are wild
and free, like the sun
            that is dying

this final blossom
take, bind it,
            braid it in my hair -
with your nine sacred herbs
a crown
to make my wedding holy

skies darken, blacken in the wind
autumn air dances
in your war-encrusted curls -
please, leof min,
stay with me
for it is towards evening

beneath the dusk I hear
your laugh,
the night,
the cruel blue winter wind -
and the Wild Hunt
is coming


King, Stephen. 2000. On Writing. A Memoir of the Craft. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Myers, David G. 2008. Psychologie. Heidelberg: Springer [German edition]. 

http://www.alb-neckar-schwarzwald.de/s_george_poems.html (Stefan George’s “komm in den totgesagten park“ in both German and English translation)

http://www.firstworldwar.com/poetsandprose/stramm.htm (English translations of two of August Stramm’s poems)


http://www.paranormal.de/symbole/germanen/Odin/Odin4.jpg (Odin)