Saturday, July 19, 2014

Some Basics of Urglaawe

Recently, we have noticed an increase in the mentioning of Urglaawe in social media groups, and some folks have inquired about aspects of Urglaawe that distinguish it from  other Heathen paths. This will be a longwinded post with the intention of providing some insight into Urglaawe and its origins. 

We are fortunate to have a large and longstanding oral tradition within the magical/healing practice of Braucherei and the magical practice of Hexerei (I may open a can of worms with those descriptions because, depending on where in the Deitscherei one lives and one's variant of the Deitsch language, the two terms can describe the same thing or two distinct and independent sides of the same coin). 

Even with the Christian  overlay and Gnostic influence, the Heathen core of the practices is evident and well-known within the culture. Urglaawe is, therefore, a relatively new term used to describe the organization of ancient (or ever-evolving) beliefs and practices that live on in our folk culture. Thus, our primary task was more deconstructionist than reconstructionist. We initially had at our disposal 88 interviews with elderly Brauchers and Braucherins, and we have since 2012 conducted an additional 17 interviews of Hexerei practitioners and another 10 Brauchers. The wealth of information exceeded my wildest dreams.

Additionally, some descriptions of Colonial-era Deitsch settlers called some of them "Idol worshipers" and scorned the magical practices that were so common in the settlements. Deitsch historians from the Colonial era forward have left us a record of their understanding of the links between pre-Christian German practice and the living modern Deitsch culture outside of the Plain sects. The freedoms of the Pennsylvania colony allowed underground practices to flourish and to spread down the Appalachians, influencing other magical traditions in areas where the Deitsch settlers were in proximity to practitioners of those traditions.

These traditions sheltered a knowledge and even a relationship with certain deities (though they were often referred to as "helpful entities" by Christian Brauchers), most commonly Holle, Wudan (Odin), Dunner (Thor), Frigg, Berchta, Oschdra (Ostara; yes, we have a few variations on a myth that describes the lady of eastern light as the giver of color, though at least one version of the myth refers to the ladies (plural) rather than one goddess). There are references to other deities as well, and we are adding the awareness of deities from other Teutonic sources as well.

We also have tales of other deities who are not widely known outside of our culture. A couple of examples: Ewicher Yeeger, for whom I had come across one reference in Swiss lore long ago but had difficulty finding it again; Weisskeppichi Fraa, who is the embodiment of Megge (megin, life energy, life force). In my personal experience, She is a distinct goddess from Eir.

What became the Deitsch nation originated in the internal upheaval within the Holy Roman Empire before, during, and after the Thirty Years War. Significant movement of people from one principality or duchy to another led to an influx into the Palatinate, which is whence the largest portion of the earlier migrants came. The influx led ultimately to many regions of the Germanic lands and Switzerland having some bearing on the culture of the Deitsch. However, the largest contributing tribes were Franconian, Alemannic, and Swabian. The resettlement to the US led to a leveling off of language differences and interdependency and intermarriage among the people, and the Deitsch tribe and language were born.

Beginning in 1911, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began attempts to suppress the Deitsch culture and language. Considering the deteriorating relationship between the US and Germany, many felt that having such a large and only partially assimilated population in a key state was risky, even though the modern state of Germany did not exist when our ancestors migrated (indeed, there was not even a fully official German language at the time of migration, and the British authorities identified the setters not as "Germans" but as "Palatines." 

This suppression took the form primarily of mockery and ridicule of the Deitsch culture as backward and uneducated. German and Pennsylvania German were banned from use in schools (which continued in practice into my childhood in the 1970s!). Braucherei was targeted by the nascent medical establishment, and the Commonwealth stopped issuing licenses to practice Braucherei; instead, authorities began to harass some practitioners (this still happens on occasion, by the way). Then a murder took place in PA that involved Hexerei, and the sensationalized reporting abetted the government's efforts. The number of practitioners began to decline, and fewer and fewer people were being taught the herbalism and "first aid" Braucherei for the home.

Braucherei is seeing a resurgence of interest, with a decent sized number (that I know of) of practitioners being under age 30. The traditional method of transmission was a master-apprentice relationship (alternating genders: a male Braucher would take a female apprentice and vice versa) in a close relationship that lasted a lifetime, thus forming guilds of masters and former apprentices of succeeding generations). This relationship was typically easily maintained because the parties involved lived close to one another and could spend many days, weeks, months, and years learning the practice. In this era, distance among interested parties and available masters complicates that traditional relationship, and the distribution of printed materials is hindered by Verbots (bans or taboos) on committing many core prayers, chants, and incantations to the written word. The Urglaawe incantations have far fewer Verbots, but we do honor any Verbot that is in place. To do otherwise is to break an oath. I am hoping that we can find reasonable ways to make the practice more accessible.

Because of the central role that Heathen Braucherei plays in Urglaawe, it is a highly spiritual Heathen denomination. As a religion that arises from a primarily agricultural people, the relationship to land, nature, moon cycles, seasons, etc. are central to the daily life and understanding of the world around us. The presentation and perception of some deities is a bit different from those of some other Heathen traditions, though not so drastic as to be unrecognizable. One difference is that Holle is a chief of the pantheon. 

This view may have some of its roots in a myth that ascribes the migration to Holle's work, thus creating an understanding that She is the mother of the Deitsch nation. However, Holle plays a similarly elevated role in old Continental German beliefs, particularly when leading the Wild Hunt. From the Urglaawe perspective, the Wild Hunt is the governance of Holle most of the time because She is hunting for stray souls of the recently departed. She takes them to Her mill to process them and to return the Higher Self to the life cycle - to be reborn as part of a new soul construct. 

The purpose of this cycle is to help humans to evolve in the struggle against chaos. The agents of chaos are most frequently depicted as Giants who share the same characteristics as in Scandinavian lore. However, there are also four "deficiencies" which are tools used by the forces of chaos to undermine the gods' relationship with humans and humanity's progression of consciousness. These tools, which are really weapons, are ignorance, apathy, rootlessness, and unenlightened self-interest. The discussion relating to the threat that these weapons pose exceed the scope of this post, but one will find discussions of how we, as Heathens and Urglaawer, have a responsibility not to play into the hands of the enemies of our deities and of ourselves.

Because we have lived in the same area for over 300 years, sacred sites land wights have a strong presence in myth and worldview. Many different types of wight are known in Deitsch lore, though the nature and condition of some of them are not well described. Regarding the major players, the Giants, Elves, and Dwarves appear in a manner similar to their presentation in Scandinavian lore. The order and manner of creation differs a bit in Braucherei (and is supported by Grimm's reference to the Heldenbuch's description of the creation of the Dwarves in Teutonic Mythology, and there are some theories that humans' balance of physical size and capacity of faculties are a reason that the deities see us as the best candidates for allies in the struggle against chaos.

Braucherei and Hexerei both preset some variation on the Lewebaam (Tree of Life). Most report nine known regions on the tree, though some report twelve. A few also state that, since the Tree is alive, it creates new branches and sometimes loses old ones. There is a fairly common underlying notion that there are many branches on the Tree beyond the nine (or twelve) that we can perceive from our home in the Hatzholz (also called Mannheem or Mannheim) the physical, wooden heart of the Tree). Some Braucherei journeywork incantations refer to a region called Weschtbledder (Western Leaves), wherein spiritual journeys begin and portals to the other regions are easily accessible. Additionally, many sentient beings from other realms frequent the Weschtbledder on missions of their own. 

The end of the multiverse is perceived somewhat differently from Ragnarok in the Urglaawe Gedderdemmerung. The most prevalent belief is that the universe has endured cataclysmic change and started anew as part of a cycle of cosmic expansion and collapse. A common theory is that the force of Wurt (Wyrd) governs this cycle. What is not so clear is whether Wurt is a conscious force or whether it simply "is." In the latter case, the accompanying theory most commonly is that the more advanced forms of life (typically deity but also sometimes Elves, all of whom are subject to Wurt)) view the cycle as something that can be surmounted by increasing consciousness and order among the other inhabitants of the Tree. This is only theory, but it does reveal a question regarding the nature of Wurt. as conscious or unconscious. Regardless of one's individual answer to that particular question, humanity has a role to play in thwarting the doom of the Tree.

These are but a few of the concepts and philosophies within Urglaawe.I hope that folks who are unfamiliar with us find this information to be useful.

More information may be found on the following sites: