The Stang and the Crossroads

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This weekend I looked at my schedule between projects at work and home. The calendar is filled and I realized I was running on empty. There were not enough hours in the day for everything that needed my attention and no matter how many times I re-organized my schedule I just couldn’t fit it all in.

Things around here have been the good sort of busy. The studio has clients lined up through May, seeds and bulbs have been started indoors, side gardens are ready for planting, and minus an intense “wind event” (that’s what the news station called it, it was more like “hey, all of your stuff is now in Oz”) that rendered one of the freestanding greenhouses into a crumpled pile, we have done well. I am grateful!

An acre of Weiß Alb is being utilized by those within the Confederation of Sachsenheim to use as a community garden. Since one of our projects is offering canned and preserved goods at the farmers market, we thought it reasonable to have everything in one place where we can spend time together while doing something we enjoy that also benefits our individual hearths.

Still, even good stress can get overwhelming. Between work, homestead, homeschooling, and life in general I was getting depleted. It’s easy to do. While these are all things that I love they require time and energy, thought and organizing. And what I love deserves my highest and best. I can’t give that if I’m not 100% (or at least a good 80%!) and the caffeine in my coffee just wasn’t cutting it. So, I went to the one place I knew would recharge my batteries: Forks of Buffalo.

Forks of Buffalo is a fitting name for a place filled with crossroads and animals. It is a magical place for many reasons, not least of which is its one of those places where you have to know how to get there. If you blink while driving past it, it’s gone.

It is where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the valley below. Within a small area, at last survey, there are thirty-three cemeteries and scores of crossroads (too many to count). Even the place itself is a crossroads, forking from the main road to the base of the Blue Ridge on one end and the Buffalo River (which also forks) on the other. What is woven in and out of this place is nature in all of its raw form. Hard things live here with ease. Holy things live here in these forests, seen and Unseen. Places of death are often places of life, spirits abound and the wildlife here is vast. Yet, there are people who’ve called this place home as well through a few family lines.

Streams leading from the Tye River to the James River watershed cut a swath through the land, boggy on one side and a deep earthy terrain on the other. Horses wander, cattle graze, and owls perched dutifully in the branches observe what’s happening down below.

Then there is the forest. The boundary lines form clearly and naturally. The trees are taller than tall and they root in straight lines in some places where they touch the valley floor like deliberate fences. Its thick trees give way to hidden clearings, branches reach not just upward but out like old, weathered, arms that arch towards you. The further you go the more you notice that there are no sounds of humans here. No radios, no televisions, no traffic, no cell phones. Enough sunlight is filtered through the dense leafy canopy that you can see clearly until about 7:00pm. It’s best to give yourself a thirty minute leeway though because if it gets dark here, you’re staying the night. There are places to sit on your backpack and listen. I have things to talk about here, I’ve been so busy, but they become less and less important the longer I remain in this spot I’ve chosen.

Maybe what was overwhelming me was my own thoughts. Too much talking, not enough doing. Too much frivolous thinking, not enough listening. So, I stopped talking to the land and instead observed. The trees here weather every storm, gentle breezes and forceful gusts. Spring showers and torrential downpours. Through snow, hail, wind, or drought these standing giants are still here to tell the tale. There is strength and beauty to be found in rising confidentially no matter what pressures are applied.

These trees are strong because their roots run deep. They don’t worry about when the next storm will come, today they reach for the sun growing firmly right where they are. They don’t ask each other to proofread their leaves or validate their root systems. This thought occurs to me and it makes me laugh out loud. Literally.

They are exactly where they’re supposed to be doing what they’re meant to do. It really is that simple, for a tree. To be fair, trees don’t pay bills nor do they have Romanian language lessons with a six year old. The point is, we too have the places we belong, the people we belong to, and if we’re living honestly in our highest and best ways then we’re doing what we’re meant to do.

A tall, thin, pine stands in the middle of the clearing. Its place is positioned in-between so many things. Habitats, paths, natural features, spirits. A wooden witness to the passing of time. A huge stang. Speaking of stangs, there is one at my feet. I’ve been looking for some time for one that comes from such a place like this. Stangs have been everywhere this week. A friend is having a blacksmithing class on forming them from iron. I’ve seen them constantly in artwork this month. I see them now in giant forms, thin forked trees beckoning the sun and waiting for the moon.

Forks of Buffalo is the epitome of what a threshold is and here is the stang I’ve been looking for. It has fallen in the deep forest that is surrounded by both life and death, cemeteries and crossroads. I pick it up and wait for a nod that it’s okay to have this special item. Nothing comes. No thoughts, no feelings, nothing.

Just as I’m about to return it to where I found it (with a sigh) this big thought pushes all else out of my mind: a witch capable of properly wielding that would already know whether or not that is hers. Is it yours?

I look to my hand. I had never put it down. I switched it from my right hand to my left. It’s balanced. The wooden crossroad. Yes. Some would say I should’ve just taken it. Seized it. That’s not how I work. I believe in consent. This object is of places in-between, like me. A balance between light and dark. Whether I feel like it wants to be a part of my hearth and ritual purpose matters to me because I am not always sunshine-and-roses. Sometimes, I am thorn-and-ice. Or earth-and-sea. In this moment there is a choice whether to be an active part of that or remain. It’s still in my hand. I’m not grasping it tightly, it’s with me. Yes.

While walking back I spot a carcass. Death existing alongside life. That notion is especially relevant here. It’s all part of a natural whole. I know this from having worked as a Paramedic but in nature that realization takes on another meaning. Something more primal, less emotional in some ways, more emotional in others. It’s not hard to reason why ecstatic states of consciousness occurred throughout history by those influenced by the ingredients that make up a wild space.

My flesh rises, tiny hairs on end, blood rings in my ears and I stop just for a moment and close my eyes. At the back of my mind, a primal apprehension surges with alertness, a large noise from something unseen moves in the distance and my heart beats faster. The chemistry in my body shifts into flight or fight mode. This is natural. It is what my body is meant to do in this moment. Heat wraps me in something else not entirely of my own being. But I’ve learned only through my own experiences that if I remain still, that my heightened senses in this state will hear more keenly. In this moment, I am fully aware. Sometimes it’s necessary to remain still. And it’s important to do what we are meant to do.

Witches have experienced these sensations, mindfully and deliberately, for centuries with and without aid. The loud call from a bird nearby resets me and I open my eyes to the same world I left my state in just moments before. I no longer hear the big sound of a nearby creature. I am in this place, stang in hand, balanced between this place and the outer. Or the inner. I suppose it depends on perspective. A place of balance perched on the threshold of the In-Between. That’s where I am. And its where I’m most comfortable even when my proverbial feathers are ruffled.

I walk back to my car and drive just a short distance past the cemetery that sits at the crossroads closest to me. The stang is beside me and the notion is not lost on me that I’m traveling with it which seems appropriate. I wonder, being such an isolated place, if anyone has ever left offerings at this particular crossroad. Then I remember the Granny Witches who’ve lived here, around these mountains, and worked this land for generations. It’s possible one or a few have made their way here. I take a photo. The Romans left shrines to Lares at crossroads. People have been coming to them for a long, long, time.

Through rain I drive home. It’s not a long drive, just enough to clear your head and be away for a little while. I come home to a bowl of stew. Whoever invented the crock pot is a genius. Something about stew and warm sourdough bread on a crisp, rainy, night. Am I right?

The stang is safely standing (I was going to continue this sentence but I like it as is). The stang is safely standing.

I spent an entire day recouping my energy. I talked with friends in the morning, spent the afternoon in the forest near animals, cemeteries, and crossroads and then came home to a warm, nourishing meal.

One thing that was of the utmost importance to Sachsenehim when we formed the Confederation was to do things with purpose and to take active responsibilities for achieving the goals we set individually and together. It was of such importance that we have it in writing. It’s part of our foundation.

This means that perhaps more of our thoughts and experiences are shared in a less academic way. We’ve done the studies but life rarely makes the ordered sense that is so commonly found in nicely printed books. Life is messy, dirty, raw. Anyone attempting to sanitize Heathenry, life, witchcraft, or relationships is missing the point. Worldview was and is formed by actuality and experience. The religion and worldviews of ancient people were not separate. Taking ourselves to task and sharing our experiences (initially all passing of knowledge was oral and welcomed) is appropriate to us.

I’ve studied the land and geography here in great detail. Studies have a positive value. It is crucial to gaining a comprehensive understanding to know the “how’s” and “what’s”, but to be able to explain the “why” requires more than just studying. It’s always evident when someone is quoting a line versus speaking from experience isn’t it?

Balance between studying and doing is of paramount importance. Balance in anything is necessary and fosters consistency. A threshold is a balance point between here and there. It is an important feature of life.

From a Heathen perspective its important to me to personally experience something comprehensive in order to understand and fully engage, as much as possible, the views of my ancestors and the ancient Germanic people. I enjoy being able to relate to the beliefs I hold sacred.

And here’s where we take a wide turn down a narrow road because I am also Cultus Sabbati, a practitioner of Traditional Witchcraft. I incorporate a lot of symbolism into my ritual and am informed in large ways by nature and animism. I try to find sound ways to incorporate worldview, ritual, and practices into something cohesive that is respectful to both Heathenry and Cultus Sabbati. If I observe my effectiveness by my results then I’m comfortable that, thus far, it seems to be going well.

This is another area in which I try to be mindful of balance so as to not make one feature into something it isn’t. If a divergence occurs, it’s necessary to be considerate of that because both Heathenry and Cultus Sabbati are informed choices I have deliberately made and each are specific unto themselves. I don’t want to treat either in a frivolous way. It is Cultus Sabbati and amimism that lead me to study the ritual importance of the land and to the depths of the forest. Additionally, these feature into Heathen history as well, so there are points of congruence. It is Heathenry that supports the gifting-cycle, forms my understanding of that social and religious worldview and ritual functions that I take an active role in. All of these inform my hearth practices and I believe that hearth cult is the foundation of all else.

For now, for today, I will chip away at the to-do list but I’ll also remember to stand confidently, listen more than I speak, give what I can freely as I am able, and assess the importance of “doing all the things right now”. I will also make more of a concerted effort to be more mindful of balance. The stang was a wonderful gift and reminder.

*Note* The owl charm, hide, and pelts featured today were gifted to me by my kinswoman Annie. This week has brought some wonderful gifts. The tarot cards featured are from The Tarot of Bones, produced by Lupa Greenwolf. It is my most cerebral deck and I’ve enjoyed using it greatly!