Now that things are starting to stabilize in various arenas of my life, I’m able to turn my attention back to learning witchcraft. As a lifelong heathen (give or take a few years as a snotty preteen), I’m no stranger to “woo,” that silly little pseudo-slur against Spiritual and Metaphysical Happenings. I’ve long been aware of different energies and entities and more or less able to recognize if the energy is that of a deity (and who) or a ghost or whatever. Direct communication with various gods and goddesses occurs fairly regularly, and I always feel as though I shuffle along through life with one foot in this world and one foot in the next (or the spirit world, or whatever). I’ve had a vague curiosity about witchcraft proper since college when I used to hang around the little metaphysical shop in town, but I’ve never really done much about that curiosity. In the last decade, I’ve had a growing interest in learning more about seidr, but again, haven’t done much to scratch that subtle itch.
Cue Mortellus. Longtime readers know that name well, because they were instrumental in getting me into the world of publishing (and were rewarded for their efforts by Loki’s outlandish demands about a certain ring). Last year, they asked if I’d like to learn British Traditional Witchcraft. I’ve enjoyed Zoom meetings with their coven (“Do your hair, put on some makeup, and wear a nice top,” my Mom advised before my first meeting. “You want to make a good impression on the witches so they’ll invite you back.” Sorry, Mom, I’m a damn dirty heathen and I’ll log in looking as bedraggled as I please) and love learning about a different perspective and practice, but was hesitant to commit. After all, I’m heathen through and through, and I was concerned that practicing another pathway would infringe on my commitments to my own practices and community.
Gardnerian Wicca isn’t a weekend venture: it’s something requiring quite a lot of dedication to the study and rituals. And since I’m someone who really doesn’t do ritual or holidays, BTW involves a lot more active work than just living it. In my experience so far, it’s a more of a practice than a specific belief system. That’s not to say it’s not a religion, but there’s enough overlap re: polythesim and cosmology that it’s not too different from heathenry as I know it. Yes, I’ve moaned to Mortellus about the absurd number of holidays Wiccans celebrate (“There’s just eight of them,” they say. “Yeah, which is eight more than I observe normally,” I whine). I only really celebrate Yule and Midsummer with my kindred, and that’s just because I like to spend time with them). My heathenry is very much practiced through my mundane life, how I perceive and understand the world(s), gods, and how I interact with everyone and everything around me. It’s a lived religion, inseparable from any other aspect of my existence. My acts of devotion to my God Squad are many and often unnoticeable to others because they’re so ingrained in my actions. My experience with Outer Court rituals so far have been like a trip to Canada: similar enough to what I’m used to, but seeing new sights and details that are different enough from my daily routines to be curiously enriching (for example, as a Habs fan living in Flyers country, there’s a marked difference in wearing a Canadiens jersey here than in Montreal. Thank the gods Habs shirts are red so if I get stabbed by a Philly hockey fan at least my blood won’t ruin the jersey). There’s a lot more conscious thought required for doing Wiccan ritual, and I guess I have to pay attention to, like, equinoxes now.
Besides, my life and everything around me has always been infused with incredibly chaotic energy; it’s one thing to have in interest in learning about witchcraft, it’s another thing entirely to actually do it when you’ve been described as “being perpetually adjacent to catastrophe.”
People who know me: do you really trust me to meddle with (and influence) energy, then send that energy out into the world?
Also, I’ve always been an open book and I know I’m going to hate being oathbound in the Wiccan sense. I’m good at being oathed to Loki, but secrecy? Oy. Especially now that K has moved in with me. Yes, the Lokean irony: I’ve lived alone for over 12 years, and the same month I decide to join an oathbound practice, my partner moves in. Luckily our house is a 3 story rowhome, so there’s plenty of space to ensure rituals and coven chats happen in private, but yeah. “Open communication!” I crowed at the beginning of our relationship. “My house is your house! Make this space your own and get comfortable!” I chirped when he’d come over. Now, it’s “STAY AWAY FROM THE LIBRARY/THE BEDROOM/MISC UNTIL I SAY OTHERWISE! NO EAVESDROPPING! NO TRESSPASSING! I’M DOING SEEEEEEEEEEEECRET WITCH STUFF THAT YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO KNOW ABOUT!” Thankfully, he respects the oathbound aspect and thinks it’s hilarious when we’re talking about heathen stuff or philosophy or history and I obviously want to say something about BTW in relation to the conversation but can’t. I’m gonna come right out and tell you it suuuuuucks when you’re reading something related to deity in Gardnerian Wicca or looking at some fascinating techniques from the coven’s Outer Court Book of Shadows and you can’t discuss it and bounce ideas around with your brilliant best friend/linguist nerd/life partner with whom you share and talk about everything.
After a lot of hemming, hawing, and intense consideration this summer, I finally decided that yes, this is worth it. I formally asked Mortellus if I could be a Dedicant. All in all, it took me over a year to make this jump and commitment. I needed to be sure I was doing this for the right reasons. As a heathen, community is key and looking out for one another is the foundation of my values. Mortellus’s coven is truly inclusive, which ruffles a few feathers in the BTW community. After all, we know that there are distinct roles taken on by High Priestesses and High Priests, a duality of feminine and masculine energy. Mortellus is a High Priestex, the nonbinary leader of their coven. They are a champion of LGBTQ+ rights and reexamining the way divine energy is approached by the masculine, feminine, and everyone in between.
This is an ongoing conversation in heathenry, too. Alas, Norse and Germanic tradition has been a bit perverted by bigots and neo-Nazis, and LGBTQ+ people are as big of a threat to their hyper-masculine Viking fantasies as BIPOC. How better to help the movement towards inclusivity than to work towards it in both the heathen and pagan communities? Mortellus is a loud mouth, I’m a loud mouth, and neither of us (or the other members of my kindred and the coven alike) are afraid of criticism or conflict. You got a problem with the idea of a High Priestex or the themes of genderfluidity and disregarding prescribed gender roles in the Eddas and throughout history? No matter what you say, it’s going to remain *your* problem and the rest of us are going to continue on our merrily queer way building bonds, frith, and community with people because they’re amazing, not because they conform to rigid ideas on gender. But I digress.
The point is that just as my experiment with Catholicism made me a better heathen, I’m hoping my BTW studies and experiences with a Gardnerian coven broaden my perspectives and help me to be a better asset to the heathen community, as well as building some interfaith networking with the pagan community. After all, pagans outnumber heathens, and there are movements and resources that can benefit things heathens are doing. Basically, everything I do ultimately comes down to how I can best serve my gods and my community. Studying witchcraft is just another way for me to challenge myself to grow and consider different ways of doing things as well as bettering relations among various communities (heathens and pagans, LGBTQ+ pagans and Gardnerian Wicca, LGBTQ+ heathens, etc etc etc). If there’s anything Loki loathes, it’s complacency. I wonder sometimes if I’m become stagnant in my heathenry (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!), so I know I need to shake it up and freak my brain out every now and then. Gotta keep growing and learning and exploring.
British Traditional Witchcraft isn’t a religion one needs to convert to. I’m not giving up any part of my heathenry at all. Rather, I’m learning new skills and information that can be used in my practice with the Norse gods and goddesses.
The true irony (and perfect illustration of this concept), of course, is the specialty I chose for my witchcraft. Mortellus thought necromancy was going to be my concentration of study, what with my background as a mortician. But since I’m still not physically well enough to return to my beloved profession, I opted to focus on something that wouldn’t make me miss the embalming room and cemeteries so much: instead of a necromancer, I would like to be a hedgewitch. A lot of people seem to think hedgewitches are more or less the same as kitchen witches or hearth witches, but my interest isn’t herblore and apothecary stuff. It’s the hedge riding. It aligns nicely with my interest in seidr and my natural inclination towards trancework and wanting to better commune with deity and spirits. Why is this ironic?
Well, I’ve been startled by the constant references and citations and comparisons to Norse and Germanic heathenry in hedge riding resources. I thought I’d be challenging myself with learning a new way of looking at cosmology and practice, but the Prose Edda and various sagas are quoted frequently. Hedge riders are, after all, specifically mentioned in the tenth rune charm in the Havamal. The Otherworld is repeatedly compared to Yggdrasil. Other hedgewitches point to descriptions of Völvas and what they carry in different sagas as examples of the types of tools and items they use themselves.
This somehow feels like cheating. Yes, there’s new techniques and terms and tools to learn about. But even when I’m trying to expand beyond heathenry, I’m heathening the fuck out of it. I swear I didn’t know just how closely related hedgewitchcraft and seidr really are. I thought I was going to shift to a broader range of folklore and metaphysics. I was not at all prepared to find myself reading the Havamal (again) in the books and blogs I’ve been reading. Oops.
Long story short, I’m stoked about meeting people in the wider pagan community and learning more about the what and why of what they practice. I’m motivated to finally learn about seidr for real and about the magic of hedge witchcraft. Most of all, I look forward to developing new skills for bettering my own heathenry and for building better relations with the pagan community. A lot of heathens online regard neopaganism with disdain (anyone remember terms like “fluffy” being bandied about in the early days of the internet?). Brosatru and Viking wannabes tend to be offended by the mere mention of “Wicca.” This heathen, who has been living Norse heathenry for more than 35 of my 39 years on Earth (or at least living in a heathen household before I was even old enough to know what gods were), thinks there’s a lot of value in Gardnerian Wicca as a tradition, and I’ve found that I can practice it without compromising my own beliefs. If nothing else, every time I cast a circle and call on the god/dess of Outer Court practice, I feel very much like I’m practicing the old heathen habit of traveling the world and making offerings to local deities along the way. People who scorn pagan (and particularly Wiccan) practice and say we should do things like “arch heathens” tend to forget (or blatantly ignore) that the pre-Christian Scandinavians took interest in gods and practices other than their own.
So I’m now a Dedicant to the Coven of Leaves, led by my mentor and High Priestex Mortellus. In the Lokeanist way possible, too, since I’m a heathen Yankee busting in on their Southern coven. Apparently Coven of Leaves, like my kindred Glitnir, keeps a Ritual Fire Extinguisher on hand during their rituals. They really are my home away from home.