Friday, December 13, 2019

VORYUUL - Night 6

Tonight is the traditional night of the appearance of the Lutzelfraa ("lantern lady"), who appears as a beggar seeking aid in the form of food or clothing. Those who do not have the means to assist Her but engage Her respectfully are rewarded with luck in the New Year. Those who have the means and help Her are equally rewarded. Those who have the means but do not provide aid or show compassion are punished with a slit to the belly (probably a metaphor for illness or bad luck). This action reveals the link between the Lutzelfraa and Berchta, who is indeed roaming Mannheem at this time of year. 

Our Yuletide Sock (and Underwear) Drive continues, with the first direct donations being planned for tonight in Philadelphia after the Parade of Spirits. These donations from the Urglaawe (and others) community reflect that need to be responsible to the welfare of those not in the position to help themselves. This topic led to a good debate among Distelfink about charitable donations (providing needed resources vs. enabling), and the community was in general agreement that we are responsible to do our duty and to allow others to exercise their free will. What someone "might" do with a donation does not absolve us of our requirement to ease the suffering within our own communities.

Again, there is a mirror between the actions of the community and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. During Voryuul, we are observing and pondering the time prior to [re-]birth, after the soul has gone through the Mill and is split apart. The Lutzelfraa's appearance promises new light and integration of the self within a new soul construct. In a sense, that is what the Lutzelfraa demands of Her people: be the bringers of light and aid and help to reintegrate community. 

I have found the first five nights of Voryuul to be tough with the recognition of shadow side motives and actions, and tonight posed its own challenges as well. However, Night 6 bridges that time between the shattering of the old self and the beginnings of integration. 

Hail to the Lutzelfraa!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

VORYUUL - Night 5

Those of you who know me know I am, by far, more of a conflict-avoidant peacemaker than anything, but tonight's shadow side discussion relates to a side of me I really do not like and that I have worked hard over the past two decades to keep in check. However, it does appear from time to time, particularly when I feel unjustly accused of something or when people misread my motives, and it results in conflict. This one is a difficult topic for me, but, since it is Voryuul and I am working to be as honest with myself and with my community as possible, here goes.

Tonight's meditation has actually been in my head all day today. It started with the question, "What do you do when you win the battle but lose the war?" By "battle" here I do not mean literal battle (though that could certainly apply here as well). Instead, I mean the struggles that we encounter with unstable friendships/relationships or the strains of improving one's career or whatever it is that we find ourselves vying to attain.

My mind may tell me to cut my losses and move forward, but my shadow side (redoubted by my thymus gland) tells me that I should not acquiesce that which I have gained in the battle that I won... This is a horrible state of affairs because it leads to inner conflict, ambivalence, and an abject distraction from determining what right action is in the particular circumstance.

From there, my meditation leads me to Pyrrhic victories. Those are the wars you win but at such high cost to yourself that you probably would have been better off losing to begin with.

The two have a lot in common. They are both "in for a penny, in for a pound" situations. Once I've set off on the attempt to protect the figurative battle victory by continuing to fight a war I have already lost, all that remains is collapse and disaster.

The Pyrrhic scenario is no better; it is almost worse, really. Whatever the battle was, it likely caused an upheaval not only within myself but within the others involved. They are harmed, and for what? So I can watch as my victory is not blessed by the gods or by the forebears? Was the conflict even worth the fight? That is where clarity (or lack thereof) of right action plays a critical role. Some wars are worth fighting. Some are not.

But, when the war is over and I have already lost so much (even if victorious), can I just stop? Usually, yes. Actually, I usually avoid conflict to begin with, but, if I experience even the slightest feeling of injustice at the result, then the twin of that absurd hope (Night 3) will appear unless I am able to keep it contained.

The hope I described the other night is problematic, but it really is based in a desire to heal rifts. Its twin, though... not so much. Actually, not at all. This is where that hope begins to take on aspects of desperation. I have to prove that I am right or that I did no wrong. Protecting or recovering that victory takes on an exaggerated importance to the point where it governs my waking thoughts and speaks to me in my dreams. This is one reason I am so careful with my Hexerei because I could, all too easily, inflict harm. 

Frankly, I am suspecting that improper handling of this sort of thing is a major contributor to the recent escalation in the intensity of my migraines. I do not think it is the cause, but it almost certainly contributed to them. Of course, the adverse reaction to the medicine did not help either. 

The migraines are gone at this time, but the shadowy impulses are still lurking in the depths of my psyche. There are conflicts that I need to let go of; in the grand scheme of things, they are senseless and not particularly important. They could become important, though, if I don't turn my mind's eye away from them and focus on the things that are actually worth pursuing. Yet that need to protect the minor victory remains. 

Fortunately, I am not weighed down by this sort of thing often,  but it is important for me to examine the function of this behavior. 

I am a bit shocked at how much clarity has come to me during this particular meditation time. There is no need to worry about me; this post is simply me being honest with myself during the Voryuul period of introspection. 

May Ziu bring wisdom and clarity to all of us as we confront the hard realities of ourselves, and may Berchta ease up on kicking my ass for just a bit. It's a bit sore now. :)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

VORYUUL - Night 4

This evening, I am going a little bit meta and thinking about the past few nights' meditations, particularly the aspects of confronting the shadow side of myself and developing a better understanding of the totality of myself. 

What are my motivators? What are the causes of my actions?

All behavior can be boiled down to four functions: attention, avoidance, sensory stimulation, and access to tangibles. What impels some of the shadowy behaviors? Without going into too much personal detail, I sometimes see attention as a primary motivator, even more so than avoidance, which would have been a major player when I was younger. Of course, all of us shift from function to function throughout our lives, but it is the nagging, troublesome shadowy behaviors that I am looking at within myself. 

Did you ever notice certain patterns in your life, particularly those that result in detriment to yourself? Are there things that you keep noticing are causing problems with relationships, jobs, self-fulfillment? The old saying is, "Do what you always do and get what you always get." Sometimes we need introspection (Selbschtreiguck) to move toward self-improvement (Selbschtverbessering). Tracking those things back to the behavioral function that they serve may help with some enlightenment and some positive change... Or, at the very least, understanding why we do the things we do can lead to more deliberate choices, even on the shadow side.

Voryuul is indeed the time for introspection, and confronting the shadow side is just about as introspective as one can get!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

VORYUUL - Night 3

Tonight I am meditating upon one of the most painful aspects of human existence: acceptance of loss of relationships: friends, lovers, spouses, etc. I am fortunate in many ways when it comes to a strong, stable home life, but the echoes of lost or damaged relationships have a tendency to resound from the past into the present, and the reverberations shake me up periodically.  Trying to find the positive aspects about lost relationships is very difficult, particularly for people like me who always hold a hope somewhere deep in the psyche that everything can be worked out if everyone just were able to speak rationally to each other.

Expecting rationality in all circumstances is, of course, irrational. Some things cannot be repaired, and some things are not even worthy of the attempt. Yet that hope remains, and the dissonance created by utopian aspirations against the hard realities used to plunge me into states of melancholy that the Germans call Weltschmerz. As I have gotten older and somewhat wiser, I do not fall into that trap as frequently. I know I am an odd duck because I still believe in humanity and still aspire to people treating one another kindly.

However, defining “kindly” is difficult. One person’s meat is another’s poison. Not all conflict is bad; it often results in growth and learning. 

This glimmer of hope on the surface would seem like a bright or enlightened feature. The reality is, though, that the continual (or continuous) dashing of that hope activates many shadow side traits that end up holding back the growth that is needed. It was not until I shifted my mindset to Urglaawe that I really began to understand that, yes, sometimes my niceness really IS weakness. 

There are things for which I need to dispel that useless hope so I may more boldly continue onward in my journey with lessons learned and wisdom attained. That does not mean I will not continue to be nice; it just means I need to be more conscious of whether my niceness is coming from rationality and strength or from irrational hopes and weakness.

Dealing with these inner conflicts forces us all to face the shadow sides of ourselves, and this is one of the purposes of the Voryuul period.  Tonight I feel like I struck a nerve within myself, and that pain is part of the process of being figuratively reborn.

Monday, December 9, 2019

VORYUUL - Night 2

The Voryuul time bridges the observances related to death, endings, loss, ultimate transformations, etc., and the observances related to birth, rebirth, and new beginnings. Voryuul is a time of contemplation and acceptance about the hard realities of life as we enter the darkest days of the year. 

Life is precious because it is short. Even when considering non-linear time concepts, the life each of us is living right now as the person we each are at this point of existence is unique. Whether one’s life is comfortable or strained, it provides opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others and to set the Urleeg for future generations. 

What is happening with the soul prior to birth or rebirth? What does the divine portion experience while in Berchta’s care after passing through the Mill? Religions all around the world attempt to understand and to interpret the “afterlife.” While there are some people said to be able to remember parts of their souls’ journeys, the reality is that it is that no one really knows, so we look to the forbears for history and insight. 

Tonight I am contemplating things that changed in my life since last Voryuul. There have been losses, and, as painful the grief has been, it reflects the importance that those people had on me. There have also been many joyous moments as well, and it is worthy to remember and to celebrate them.

Sunday, December 8, 2019


This one is an observance that finally began to find its roots last year, even though some of us have actually been doing elements of it throughout our lives. There are some fading traditions here that are in need of revival, and that revival is what we are aiming to begin this year. There are also some newer practices, so, here we go.

The Geischderschtrutz (Parade of Spirits, Wild Hunt) is well under way, and it is Berchta's and Wudan's time in this realm. The character of Belsnickel may well have some roots in Wudan, though centuries of Christian dominance have resulted in numerous influences on Belsnickel's character. That being said, though, within Belsnickel we can see things that resonate with our understandings of Wudan. As a Seeker, he goes from house to house asking riddles. He rewards correct answers with candy or with nuts (in particular, a horse chestnut that may be left out on a plate as a token for Santa Claus to exchange for gifts). Those who fail to answer correctly may need to vie for a horse chestnut by scrambling to get one as Belsnickel tosses some out of his pocket. As they vie for the horse chestnuts, he taps at their hands (in reality, this is a very gentle matter) with his hickory switch. Typically, every child ends up with what is needed to get their rewards, but, historically, Belsnickel was the one to tend to the naughty children. It is, though, that wisdom-seeking that is part of the process.

Krampus is not unknown in our lore, either, though Belsnickel by far dominates. There is some conflation of Krampus with Ewicher Yeeger in Lebanon County, with the role played being like that of Belsnickel.

Historically, Deitsch tricks-or-treats took place during December. In some areas, it was tied to St. Nicholas Day. In others, it was (and still is, feebly) around the middle of the month, and in others, it was on December 26. This trick-or-treating is called "Belsnickeling," and children dress up like ghoulish figures and go from door to door "begging" for treats. 

Then there is the shadowy Lutezelfraa or Fraa Lutz, who appears during this time (specifically December 13) as a beggar with a lantern or candle asking for food. If She is given food, great luck will ensue in the coming year. If She is denied food or other assistance, She slits the denier's belly open and removes its contents. This obviously is reminiscent of Berchta and is likely a metaphor for illness or ill luck. We see ties to the Christian St. Lucy in the lore, and depictions imply that Lutzelfraa may appear at the home of those who aid Her with candles on Her head, thus bringing light in the darkest times.

Belsnickeling and Lutzelfraa's lore clearly involve hospitality and tending to other's needs in difficult times.

On the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, Voryuul is the time between death and rebirth. It is the time we do not remember, the mystical time when our divinity is awaiting the formation of a new soul construct before being reborn. The light from the last life is fading, and the darkest of times is yet to come.

Voryuul really pretty much starts when Allelieweziel ends, but, as a discrete observance, we begin on the night of December 8 (which is December 9 by Urglaawe lunar reckoning). That night, we light twelve candles, and then snuff out one. Last year, I spent a moment each time I snuffed out a candle meditating on different things. In particularly, I actually began to think about what to remove or change in the coming year. 

On the second night, we light eleven candles, and then blow out one. Each night through the 19th, we light one fewer candle and blow out one more. This brings us up to the night of the 20th, which is the beginning of Yule and the rebirth.

There's a lot going on here, but we are seeing our liminal deities at work in this realm during Voryuul. 

Philadelphia's Parade of Spirits has always had a connection to these traditions, but, as it continues to evolve, it is becoming one of the loudest echoes of the Belsnickeling tradition. It is important that we mirror the hospitality to the host of the Hunt. We will bolster our Yuletide Sock (and Underwear) Drive and we encourage Urglaawer who are close enough to each other to revive Belsnickeling around the night of December 12 (which, again is December 13 on our calendar). 

This observance will definitely evolve, and I will post the program for Voryuul as soon as it is written.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Birch Tea Rite / Baerketeeiwwergangsgebrauch

A very meaningful rite comes into Urglaawe directly from Braucherei. It is widely accepted within most Braucherei communities to be ultimately of heathen-era origin, particularly due to the close association of birch with the goddesses Berchta, Holle, and Freid.

Birch represents renewal. It is easily killed by fire, yet it is also one of the first trees to sprout again after a forest fire, and this fact is what oral tradition relates to the origin of the Birch Tree Rite.

Death leaves a stain of strong reactive energy on those whom it touches. The process of grieving, the energy put into coping with loss, the strain of planning for funerals and tending to the deceased's affairs all place a burden on the survivors. Typically this means the closest friends and relatives of the person who passed.

Additionally, the soul -- or parts of it -- of the deceased can linger around others, particularly those who were closest at the time of death. This is usually of little benefit to either party, and it is usually better to break that link in order to release the spirit to the Hunt and to allow the grieving person to heal from the loss.

This is where the Birch Tea Rite comes in. The tea breaks the unhealthy connections and removes the energies of death from the living. It is actually very simple and elegant. This tea is usually made by a person who is less affected by the passing because those affected may inadvertently imbue the tea with energies based in sorrow. However, in my experience, this spirit of Birch is powerful enough to neutralize those energies. 

Birch bark, twigs, and/or wood are placed into a pot of water and decocted from a cold temperature to a hard boil. The boil is then turned down to a simmer and the tea is to steep on the heat for at least one hour (thicker branches are often decocted for several hours). After that time, the heat is turned up once again to a hard boil, and then the heat is turned off. The birch stays in the water and continues to steep until cool. Some people keep the birch in the water overnight, but it is fine to strain the tea and to place it in glass jars once it is cool.

Although prayers and blessings may be uttered into the tea at any time throughout the process, it is really the straining that lends itself best to the application of intention. I find myself sympathetically mirroring the action of straining out the tea with straining out the thick energy of death from the body. The straining can be done by pouring or by using a ladle or other tool. I typically use a ladle through cheesecloth or fine mesh, and I find that it is very easy to slip into a meditative state during that process.

Part of Urglaawe funerary practices is a time to anoint the foreheads of the living with the tea. Often this uses a birch twig, but it is just as often done with the hand of the ritual leader or with flowers or branches. Some people do drink of the tea ritually in a manner similar to Urglaawe Sammel. Please note, though, that wintergreen  oil can be toxic. Most teas do not contain the oil at a dangerous level, but this is a strong decoction. If anyone chooses to ingest the tea, it should be at minimal levels. Pregnant women should not ingest the tea and may want to avoid pouring over the body.

Those who are hardest hit by the loss are to take an ample amount of the tea, and, during bathing, they are to rinse their bodies with the birch tea. Traditionally, a trusted friend, spouse, or partner is to be present to gently pour the tea over the grieving person. This may sound odd to our modern ear, and not everyone has such a person to take on this role, but it can be a beautiful expression of support and caring during a time of loss.

The birch tea is to stay on the body for a few minutes and then may be washed away, taking with it the unwanted energies of death. It is not intended to end the grieving process, but it can have a palliative effect. In fact, the process of boiling the birch releases volatile oils into the air, and the methyl salicylate smells like wintergreen. The oil and the aroma can actually aid in the coping process.

This is a rite of passage, particularly in the case of those who are most closely affected by the loss. It represents the physical separation from the deceased and the beginning of life without a particularly significant loved one.