Basic Thornish Teachings

In this post I have decided to present a very basic teaching known among us as The Nine Hard Truths.   What these are, in a nutshell, are realizations shared by all Thornish people since the beginning of the tradition. To some people, these truths might not seem so hard or so groundbreaking, yet to others they have been quite an eye-opener.

In the old days these were taught to people who were very new to the tradition. It was something we kept within the circle, not so much for reasons of security, but because we felt no compunction to share with outsiders.  In the modern day though, we share these with anyone who is interested in them because we see the need for a greater circle-of-awakening.

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The Nine Hard Truths

Basic Thornish understandings of the world

From: conversations with Thornish Elder, Shale Alfsson, autumn 2013

  1. Everything is connected: Thornish people believe that in the multiverse, everything is connected to everything else at one level or another. Thus, what occurs to one creature will, on some plane or another, have an effect on everything else. This is why Thornish folk are so concerned about the sacred balance of nature and that imbalances be corrected as quickly as possible.
  2. Peace is fiction: Peace as it is so often imagined in today’s age is a fiction. Man-made peace is an imaginary state that most humans believe must be enforced in order to be maintained. True peace exists only as small ‘islands’ in the natural flow… and even this is frequently shattered as the balances of life and death are addressed. Thus, it is seen that one must look to nature for instruction in reaching a balanced state. Peace is not so much the goal of the true steward as balance.
  3. The Middle World is at war: Thornish people have no doubt of this. For centuries, there have been ruling cabals of human beings who are engrossed with the ideals of entitlement and who feel that they have the right to rule and to despoil the sacred world we live on. Their mentally imbalanced ideas have corrupted the majority of human societies and have caused untold damage to the planet and all of her life-forms. As the Elder Kin and the planet herself take action against this disease they have assisted a great many humans in the awakening process. The awakened ones grow in number each day and work to restore the balance, to heal the world.
  1. Strength opens doors; weakness closes them. One need only to look at nature and they will see that a being of strength survives and one which cultivates weakness does not. Human beings who believe in nurturing weakness while shunning strength are walking down the path of misdirection and eventual oblivion.
  2. Equality is fantasy: Thornish people believe that all people are unique in special ways and that because of this the idea that everyone is somehow the same is ridiculous. Thornish people celebrate differences and uniqueness and believe that these things are more important than sameness. At the same time Thornish folk see that the idea of reducing all human beings down to a single, monogamous mass is an attempt at dis-empowering the idea of free potential in people. This is not to say that in general people should not be afforded the same basic respects as any other creature in the Middle World, yet to the Thornish person, greater respect is earned and all persons are not simply afforded this greater respect carte blanche, so to speak. Each human being who seeks greatness and to serve the sacred balance will gain the respect of others through deeds.
  3. Freedom is not free: While those of the Thornwood recognize that in nature all are born with the potential to be free, this is no longer a guarantee on a human-dominated world. It is believed that there are many people who live to steal the freedoms of other creatures and that this behavior is against the natural order. Thus, Freedom must be striven for…taken by force if necessary, and those who are awakened must be ever vigilant in protecting the freedoms they have.
  1. Money is a broken tool: Thornish folk see the interesting and utilitarian tool that the use of currency must once have brought to the world. However, over time, as the resources of the world have been manipulated so that the fruits of human labor end up in the hands of a few, money has lost its meaning. Indeed, it has been used as a tool for the enslavement of many living things on this planet. While Thornish people living in the modern times realize that money is at times necessary to live, it is viewed as an (unfortunate) necessary evil. As a part of this understanding it is further seen that the concepts of credit and debt are tools of enslavement. These things are viewed as insidious snares which are specifically designed to steal freedom in the world. Most modern day human beings in the so-called first world, specifically, are mired in the fantasy of debt and credit. In fact, Thornish people view the entire credit/debt system as being a fabrication designed to monopolize and abuse the labors and freedoms of the people. Thornish folk avoid such things as they are able.
  2. Democracy is a failed experiment: Democracy, along with all other modern concepts of governance, are considered to be failures by Thornish people. The very fact that human beings have been brainwashed into believing that they need to be governed in the first place is at the root of this problem. Democracy, according to Thornish people, has long since been co-opted by corporate and other corrupt influences and today only bears the outer trappings of free society. Thornish people believe that the best modalities of governance are found in the Moot, in which members of each Lodge, under the guidance of a tribal Chief, Elders and an elected tribal council (a primal form of democracy, yes, but not a mask for oligarchy) make decisions regarding their own actions and fate. Thornish people believe that human structures of governance begin to fail beyond certain population limits and the ideal is a multitude of smaller, independent yet allied tribal nations.
  3. Human-made laws are not true laws: Thornish people see the First Law, the law of nature, as being the only true law. Everything else that might be known as order stems from this First Law. The law referred to as the Fourth Law, known also as the laws of humankind, is not considered to be overly important in comparison to the First Law, as human law is seen as being made to control the lives of other humans. Fourth Law has also largely proven, over many hundreds of years now, to have had a detrimental effect on the planet.

 

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Sacred Role Models

By Jack Wolf

In the Thornish teachings we do not hold to the belief that there are omniscient, omnipotent or otherwise all-powerful beings in existence.
 
We do not generally believe in things that most human beings might call ‘gods’.
 
Even less do we believe that if there actually were such beings that they would perceive us as being in any way special. However, this does not make us atheists: We are animists who hold that there is life everywhere, and that some beings are superior to others so far as abilities and evolution goes. Some have interacted with human beings over time. Some still do. Some of these we refer to as Elder Kin (very advanced beings who are related to us in various ways), others we refer to as Shaeda, or Spirit-people which is a somewhat general term describing the forces in the land as well as the many other intelligent species (visible to us or not) that we share this existence with.
 
Another category that we use to learn and grow with is that of the Sacred Role-Models. There is a Thornish term for this: Hoj’Qoda, which basically means ‘shadow symbol’ or ‘shadow talisman’. The sacred role model is a form of archetypal teacher, in some ways similar to the classic archetypes envisioned by Carl Jung, yet different in some aspects as well. The Hoj’Qoda is meant as an inspiration and a guide to how a Thornish person might behave in certain circumstances within the parameters offered by each of these sacred avatar figures. Some of them are purely philosophical figures while others are symbols of action, fertility, cunning and much more. More often than not, Thornish people are drawn to those sacred role models with whom they already have a connection via personality or aspiration – or they are drawn to one which may have something to teach them. Some seek alliances and mentorship while others seek challenge and raw knowledge.
 
It is thought that although these role-models were once purely symbolic, over years of interaction and use, some of them have become quite autonomous and sentient in their own rights – and they continue to guide, inform and counsel those who seek them out. The Hoj’Qoda are not gods and they are not viewed as helper spirits either. They are what they are: Mentors and teachers who have evolved within (and without) the Thornish tradition.
In 1960, one of the founders of the Thornish tradition, Ari Torinsson (also known as Raven) went into the mountains to embark on a form of Vision Quest; he wanted to commune with the spirits of the mountain and especially with a particular Hoj’Qoda which we Thornish people know as Qor, son of the Mountain. Qor is a warrior figure who is in many ways similar to the Norse figure of Thorr Odinsson, however most Thornish people agree that Qor and Thorr (despite certain similarities and the fact that their names rhyme) are not the same person.
The following excerpt is an example of a Thornish person’s interaction with an advanced form of the sacred role-model or, Hoj’Qoda.

“When I sat with Qor he offered me drink. It was spiced wine, very powerful stuff indeed! I drank down what he gave me and he offered me more. I accepted but this time he cut his hand with his Frith-knife, Kraa, and let several drops of his dark blood run into the cup. At first I was hesitant but came to the understanding that this was necessary to the completion of the rite. I took the cup again and drank. The wine inside tasted no different than before but I found a feeling of fire flowing through me shortly after I had taken the drink. Then Qor offered me the blade of his gleaming Frith-knife and I knew instinctively what to do: I placed my hand over it and he pulled the blade back quickly, sharply. He did not pull hard enough to destroy my hand, only hard enough to produce a cut. The cut bled profusely but I did not show fear or discomfort. Qor instructed me to observe that an oath of blood had been wordlessly made between us: I agreed to bleed-out of myself as much of the weakness of modern men that I could and he would in turn instruct me in the true ways of the Warrior; in the ways of the Mountain Teachings.

I agreed with what Qor had said and he laughed. It surprised me but his laugh was a good natured one and it appeared he was glad to see that I would take him up on his offer of instruction. I looked at My hand and saw that it had stopped bleeding as well. There was only a very fine scar there in its place that looked as though the wound was years old and not moments old. After this I spent a good amount of time in that high mountain hall with Qor. He taught me many things and even after I departed and returned to the land of men; to the mountain where I had been meditating, I continued to receive teachings in meditations and dreams.”

-Ari Torinsson, Black Mountain journals, Summer 1960

When correctly approached and relationships properly cultivated, the Thornish Hoj’Qoda’a can become powerful allies and tools of instruction.
The late Thornish elder, Tivashandi once said this about the Hoj’Qoda:
“Are the Hoj’Qoda’a real? Do they come from inside our heads or are they generated outside of us in some way? Are they merely symbols, role-models or signposts to power, or do they start out that way and then, like the Tulpas of Tibet, do they evolve and become people in their own right? I would say that the answer to this is that all of those possibilities are in effect. The human mind can be a powerful doorway if used correctly and I think that it is just a matter of finding the right combinations to open the correct doors.”
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Tribal Women

By Jack Wolf

My wife is a tribal woman. She is a person of strength and virtue even though a lot of the time she doesn’t want to take credit for those things. That’s pretty typical of many of the truly tribal women I have come into contact with – a kind of deep humility which is not borne from weakness or a meek demeanor at all – but one of strength and honorable comportment. These ones know their skill and their power but choose not to make a big deal about it.

My wife doesn’t like to make a big deal about her accomplishments or her abilities…even though she is very accomplished both in regular life experiences, her career and academically. Again, in this she is behaving in a very Thornish manner though and doesn’t boast.

Thornish men of course, are exactly the same in this way; we don’t boast. It is one of the things that strongly differentiates us from so many other Pagan people – certain groups of Heathens in particular, where the act of boasting or carrying on about one’s accomplishments appears to have developed into a high art. I’m not saying that there is anything particularly wrong with how that one culture carries out its business. Just saying that it is not the Thornish way.

But I wasn’t really discussing the traits of other cultures here, nor really about Thornish men. I was taking a brief moment to make mention of our wonderful, beautiful and strong Thornish women. In many ways I am so fortunate because indeed, my wife epitomizes what it is to be Thornish though she came to our tribal way somewhat later in life.

Like many of us, she has black chapters in her childhood and her past as an adult, and like so many in our generation (Kids who grew up in the ‘60’s & ‘70’s and who reached adulthood in the ‘80’s), she had to fight a hard and lasting battle to break free of the lies of the world and find her way back – back to the hidden roads of the Old Ways and the wisdom of the Elder Ones.

My wife came out of a place and an age where girls and women were expected to fall into line and apply themselves to certain predetermined roles – roles usually determined by males or by women who had fallen into line before – and she was taught from an early age that girls were only good for certain things – and that they should not try to apply themselves outside of the parameters set for them.

For many years my wife endured these things because – well, she was a kid. What could she do? However, unbeknownst to those who surrounded her in her life back then, she had a huge tactical advantage which they did not – she had two such tactical advantages, actually: She had a greater than normal intelligence…and she had the glowing primal fire-seed awakening within her that we Thornish folk call the Bloodfire.

The Bloodfire cannot really be explained to those who don’t have it. It is one of those…things; those gut instinctive feelings that rises from the base of he spine and infuses the heart and the spirit – and the mind – with notions of something far, far older and unfathomably greater than the dour portions set before the average person on the buffet table of life. Thornish elders have described the Bloodfire as the quickening vein of fire that engulfs the minds of those who are destined to awaken – and once they do life will never be the same.

The fire-seed was born in the depths of my wife long ago and it grew as she did. And like so many women who have made their way back to the ancient green roads of the Old Ways, that fire-seed surged as Bloodfire and drew her far outside of the circle she had been expected to remain in.

For the true woman of tribal heart, as the Bloodfire grows the many lies told by modern society become as mist in the wind: they come to perceive their special female attributes as the most sacred gifts and portals of power that no male could ever really understand let alone wield. They come to comprehend that the Old Ones and the Ancient Grandmothers have placed them in exactly the right place and at precisely the right time – to do whatever it is their particular strand of Destiny requires.

An awakened fire-seed woman is a very dangerous creature as far as our current, modern day society is concerned, for she is a tendril of the root-of-darkness, from which all things were brought into creation. She is a singer at the feet of the Wyrdamör or Destiny Mother as we call her, and a daughter of nature herself.  A woman who has awakened her Bloodfire and listened to the deepening songs of the black dragon of wisdom…well, she is a creature who will never truly be tamed; never be controlled and who will walk her own line of fate.

A man can stand as an equal to such a woman, should he prove worthy along his own lines of Destiny, but no man could ever be superior to such a fire-born creature.

In the over thirty years in which I have been Thornish, I have been privileged to know a good number of fine women who had all awakened and on the surge of their Bloodfire, won their way back. Some of these have been Thornish women too, and by that measure, they are all my sisters through blood, fire and ceremony. These have been strong and honorable women; proud women; dedicated and courageous women and women of great accomplishment and power. These are the kinds of women that a Thornsman is honored to stand beside as we hold the line against the storm.

Though she may never admit it to having these traits – or at least to boast of such, my wife, Cassandra, is such a woman.

Times are changing and day by day, more awakening ones will soon come to seek their way in the world. Among them will be strong and inspired tribal women who will, along with men of equal Bloodfire, find their way back…to the powers that await them.

We wait to welcome them back.

 

 

 

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The Way of the Thornwood: What is it…really?

Jack Wolf

This blog is entitled ‘The Way of the Thornwood.’ I have been asked to elaborate on what that means. I think it’s a fair enough question even though indeed, I have elaborated to various degrees on this in the past. I figure, why not do it again just to fill in any blanks that might be left.

The Way of the Thornwood is a term which I (and others like me) use to describe a unique Pagan pathway through life and beyond. The word Thornwood describes a forest of rugged, black, closely packed together thorn trees. If any of you have ever encountered such a stand of trees you will know that they are both beautiful and pretty difficult to pass through without paying some kind of a price – and by price I mean snags, cuts and generally a seldom easy path through these kinds of woods.

The Way of the Thornwood was originally coined with this in mind because of course, the term Thornish also comes from this inspiration. The Thornish way is an initiatory path; an ordeal path, meaning that it is not an easy one and of course not for everyone. The paths that Thornish people take in order to find themselves and their place in the world are rarely the easy ones and like the forest of Thorn trees I just described, one does not pass through them without a measure of sacrifice. The term Thornish is also inspired by the Norse legends. The Norse (Elder Futhark) rune Thurisaz (thorn) is a rune of directed force. It inspires the pressing through of the self through barriers and overcoming obstacles. As the Thornish way was created in part by people of Norse and Germanic descent it makes perfect sense that this kind of thing would also come into play.

To Thornish people, the things with sharp edges and hidden dangers that entice us to the challenge are worthy teachers. They are not our only teachers of course, but we value them highly.

Thornish people are stewards of the Earth. We are initiated and we face various ordeals in order to prove our worthiness. Worthiness to whom? Well that would include worthiness to our chosen kin, worthiness to our ancestors, worthiness to the various spirit-folk with which we have relationships and indeed worthiness before the Elder Kin. Proving worthiness to oneself is also of great importance. We have a saying which goes: The first circle is the self. What we mean by this is that a person cannot have a strong foundation – in anything they do – without a good relationship with the self. So when one has become worthy (or more worthy) to that person they see in the mirror, then only good things can come of it.

Another aspect of the Thornish mindset and the Thornwood concept lies in the area of spirituality. The Thornish way is not a soft way or an easy way on any level, including that of spirituality. As animists we believe that there is life everywhere and that power surrounds us on multitudinous levels. However, we also know that all of this is regulated by natures laws. Natures laws are not the laws of men. They are harsh and can seem at many times, cruel and unforgiving. Thornish people go with the flow of this because we know that nature’s Law (or the First Law as we call it) is the true regulator of the manifold universe. Thornish people realize that the physical world as well as the spirit world operate on natural law and that everyone and everything out there has its own needs and its own agenda. There are benefactors as well as predators out there. There are also a great number of beings which could care less about the existence or activities of us human beings.

Sound like a tough neighborhood? Well, that’s the way we see it. In many ways the rules of the street can be seen to apply to the Thornish worldview: ‘watch your back’, ‘take care of your own’, ‘everybody has their own motives’, ‘you give-you get’…and so on.

Thornish people have long settled on the idea that its important to work on good relations within one’s own family, tribe and close-circles first and to include one’s ancestors and local helper spirits in that. After that, while it is certainly not a problem for people to seek out interactions with others, including greater spirits and Elder Kin, it is not seen as so important as the matters of the inner circle though. Its pretty amazing, actually, how much power can be generated when people share experiences and hardships together (the ordeal element), and how much that energy can be translated into strength, compassion and let’s not forget about abundant luck, within those tribal circles.

Just a tad more about spirituality:  while I think its perfectly okay for people to want to be spiritual; to want to connect with one’s personal spirits and ancestors – and even with the greater beings out there, its important to Thornish people at least, not to go too far with that. To become overly focused on the world of spirit and not so much on the material realities of one’s life – well that starts to become (in many cases) dogma or even religion and that we want nothing to do with.

So the Way of the Thornwood is about developing a good foundation, physically, mentally and spiritually. Its also about building Pagan relations and tasking the resultant individuals and groups back to actively caring for the Earth. Its about re-establishing the sacred inner circles of family and tribe and filtering out all of the modern day nonsense that has been trying for so long to divest us of our natural heritage and role. Its not about general acceptance or political correctness or in any way, shape or form in tune with so many of the modern day ‘live-and-let-live-love-everyone, ‘feel-good’ Pagan movements. The Thornish way stands pretty much on its own…at least in my not so humble opinion.

Being Thornish is about awakening vibrant, passionate people who aren’t afraid to get dirty or bruised or frightened or otherwise challenged…  and who want to find that family they have always sought but as of yet have not found.

Being Thornish is about rekindling the primal spirit in the hearts of human beings.

Its about coming back home…where we belong.

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Origins

By Jack Wolf

During a conversation last week with a Thornish elder, I was particularly struck by a term he used to describe Thornish people. He referred to us as “Neo-Paleo Tribalists” and of course that really got me thinking: It got me thinking of primitive people living in hide shelters and hunting (or being hunted by) the many megafauna which were present in the Pleistocene age for instance. The picture of hunters, returning victoriously from the hunt to their camps, or aged elderfolk casting oracle bones in caves came also to mind.

I related my thoughts to Master Shale who smiled and commented that this was “not at all” where his line of thinking was coming from.

“Modern history is terribly skewed.” He said simply. “It has been edited and manipulated for generations by various groups of humans who see the obscuration of the truth as being somehow to their profit.”

He went on to tell me how there had been more than a few elders, seers and other wise-folk in his experience who believed that the nature of human development and history was far deeper – and far older than is currently permitted to us by the so-called academic or scientific authorities.

“Human history is not a mere seven or eight thousand years, my brother.” He said. “This is sheer nonsense promoted by a system which is dedicated to propagating selective ignorance in the people. No, the record of what we can call ‘civilized’ humanity is so much longer and deeper than that. It goes back tens of thousands of years…and more… and is so much richer than you might think.”

Shale told me of the many visions he had experienced in his seventy plus years of life in this world, and of the many more experiences he’d had with elders from a great many different tribal cultures. He told me that there was indeed a consensus that people were quite articulate and in many ways quite ‘civilized’ back in the times when the last Glacial Period was ending.

“There were periods of technological development followed by the collapse of civilizations.” He said. “That we in the modern age think that we are the first to invent high tech stuff on this planet is highly arrogant. If you look to the Indian Vedas you will see ample evidence of earlier high technological advancement, as well as at many archaeological sites throughout the world. No, we are just one ‘wave’ of many, and the Old Ones watch to see if we will be the ones who make it to the stars at last.”

Master Shale reminded me that ancient or primal certainly does not necessarily mean ‘savage’ or ‘uncultured.’ He told me that what he meant by ‘neo-paleo’ was that we as Thornish people practice a way of ‘being’ with the world that always seeks the deep roots of spirit and balance and tries not to be colored or otherwise influenced by the permutations… and distractions of the things that are promoted as ‘modern truths’. We try to see the roots-of-the-world and live in a reality which shares many levels of understanding, from the material through to the spiritual and beyond.

“Our way has always been syncretic.” Shale told me. “We have sought the truths of the many worlds through direct contact, through experience and the ritual interactions  which we have. However, over the centuries a lot has been lost due to the depredations of christianity and of course the modern corporate age. We have had to fill in the gaps in our practices and we learn from many sources.”

I thought about the history of our people as I had been taught it and recalled the words of another elder, the late Master Raven, when he said that the Thornish tradition came out of the old Black Talon Society – and that had come from the meeting of Native and Norse/Germanic men on Canadian soil a very long time ago.Culture had been shared then too, but always in a deeply respectful manner.

“But in our ways we always say that we seek the Black Root.” Master Shale said. “And the Black Root, also known as the First Knowledge or the root understandings for humanity, is situated in the ancient times. In order to fully understand the way of these First Teachings we need to reach back in time, in both our practices and our perceptions.”

Master Shale smiled. “And since many primally oriented people see time as ever processing and circular or even spherical, everything that has ever happened and ever will happen is continually in progress – at some point or another in the continuum – the idea of reaching back isn’t as difficult to ponder as most modern people might think.”

Reaching back to the primal is done mostly through meditation and ritual along the Thornish path. We try to keep it simple, so to speak. We talk to the winds and the other elements. We are fast friends with the animals, the insects and many others who share this world with us. We are hard animists in that we see spirit in everything.

We also stay in contact with the ancestors and the many spirits of the land. We honor the Elder Kin who are always connected to the First Knowledge and we wander a kind of wending way as we make our way through life in this world.

As more than a few Thornish people have said, they don’t feel like they belong here, in this time or this place – yet they know that they are here for good reason and its best to make the most of the opportunities we are given.

And so, as Master Shale says, we seek the deep primal truths and we often look for them in the times that modern folk might call the paleo- period, where people were much closer to the land and spirit. So I guess the term Neo-Paleo might fit, yet it is one of many other terms that Thornish people seem to flow into.

We are stewards of the land and the keepers of our own unique ways.

We are here for a reason.

 

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Return of the Old Master

I have been remiss in my blog posts of late. I have had a number of messages from readers asking if everything was okay and indeed, I am thankful for the concern.

However, my absence from the keyboard has not been due to illness or any particular tragedy. Life manifests itself in many ways and of late I have had things going on that have demanded my presence in the natural world. As a result of this, for the past while or so I have been away from the computer and away from my writing… for about a month. This is an interesting experience because although like any artist I feel a constant drive to return to my work, I have also appreciated taking the time away to refocus and work on other things.

I wanted to emphasize that I will be returning to the keyboard in a big way very shortly, not only because I have books to complete, but also because of new developments in the Thornish world that definitely need to be covered.  In this post I will attempt to tell the take of some of these things which have been happening. There is a bit of a Thornish history lesson embedded in this too, so I hope the reader will bear with me.

It would seem that the publication of my book The Way of the Odin Brotherhood by Mandrake of Oxford back in 2013, has had a profound effect on many things in my life. It has opened doorways and initiated connections…and indeed was almost like a signal flare to people who have been very helpful to my work. Since that book hit the shelves I have had numerous people contact me and inquire if I was interested in chronicling their own group or organization as I did the Odin Brotherhood for my book. I have also had a good number of people contacting me to request more information about the Thornish way. In addition to this the ripple that the Way of the Odin Brotherhood has caused, has also brought a number of formerly absent Thornish people back into the light of our tribal fires once again.

One of these is the venerable Master Shale, an Elder in the Thornish tradition, who came south from his travels in the far north and visited Cassandra and I back in late 2013 and early 2014. Shale and I had been out of touch for a number of years as he has always had a strong passion for traveling in the untouched places of the world, yet upon reading my book he was inspired to reconnect once again. The reunion was amazing and as always I was reminded that even though I long ago earned the rank of Shar Master in my tradition, I am still but a young learner when I am in the presence of an Elder like Shale. Compared to him I know pretty much nothing and I believe that in the presence of such people-of-knowledge such humility and self-knowledge is highly appropriate. When we understand that we know very little we open the doors to greater learning.

Shale is a true master of the Old Ways and indeed has gone far beyond the ways of the Warrior in which he started out. He has walked in the Thornish ways now for over forty years and of these years he has spent many in the high solitude of the Canadian north. Master Shale is a special kind of Thornsman, what we call a Vardyr (we pronounce this word as Var-deer).

Vardyr are kind of like wandering mystics who choose to spend much of their time in deep wilderness, perfecting their understanding of spirit and the intricacies of the magical roads. Very few Thornish people have ever walked in the way of the Vardyr so to my mind they are rare and powerful individuals indeed. Master Shale studied the occult arts under a number of wise folk and is an adept of what we in the Thornwood call Naar’da, or the way of magic in English.  As with many things Thornish, we have our own terminology which we often use to describe things when conventional labels don’t quite fit. The words we use to describe various spiritual and magical workings are no exception to this. One of these days I suspect I shall have to write up a blog post explaining more about what we call Tornaas Voxa*, or, the Thornish speech. While it is not a language or even really a dialect, it is a system of terminology that is mostly used for ritual purposes and some forms of communication among us.

When I was a young fellow back in the ‘80’s studying the Thornish way I mainly studied the arts of bushcraft, hunting, trapping and survival under my Thornish teacher whose tribal name was Raven. My teacher was of the Warrior path and it was only fitting that he taught what he knew. As a result, I learned a large amount about the above mentioned wilderness skills not to mention a good deal about fighting and strategy.

Back in those days the Thornish tradition was structured in a way that had the Warriors/Hunters in one area of specialization and those who walked the paths of things like healing, crafting, Faring and oracular work in another. For years it was like this and as a result those who happened to be taught by a teacher who was in either of those Branches (as they were called then) tended to learn mainly the skill-sets represented by that particular branch. Now sometime later our Thornish Elders and others modified this so that there would be a better mix and a more potent sense of balance in what learners were taught. But I am from the ‘old school’ so to speak and as a result back in the day I received teachings of a more martial nature.

Master Shale however, was an unusual case. Though he came from the generation before me he had, for various reasons ended up under the tutelage of a Thornsman who was a healer, an oracle and basically a sorcerer, even though Shale himself was of a more Warrior-like nature. This ultimately resulted in a powerful mixture of skills that served our old friend and hearth-brother well during his many travels and adventures: He is both a Warrior and a Quenda, which is a Thornish word that is roughly equivalent to sorcerer in English.

This brings me back to the events of 2013, which in the course of this post will segue into my more recent adventures.

In the summer of 2013 we were contacted by Master Shale. At first this was in the form of e-mails and later by telephone. Finally, we met up with him in Lillooet, British Columbia, which was once a fairly popular stomping ground for people of the Thornish persuasion. Master Shale had been concerned about the fact that the Thornish people had been spread out and had, in a lot of cases, lost touch with one another over the years. The passing to the spirit world of founder, Master Raven in 1990 had triggered a kind of change in the Thornish world, and with the passing in 1992 of venerated Elder, Master Tiva, who was truly the last of the ‘old fellows’ the era of what is nor referred to as The Scattering had begun.  Without the sagely guidance of our Elders, people did indeed scatter: Some of us had gone on to practice our ways in small clusters or even in solo fashion. Of course this was not originally the Thornish way. The old tradition was quite focused upon the power of tribe and the importance of our people gathering together as often as was practical.

Seeing Master Shale again was a powerful thing for us. I had not personally seen my old friend for years and there was a considerable amount of catching up to do. During this visit, Shale told us that he felt that it was of incredible importance that Thornish people once again come together in these ‘darkening times’ (his words) and that in order for this to happen we must increase our efforts in building Thornish tribes and in educating those who were drawn to our ways. Another area that Master Shale was focused on was that in keeping with the Winter Council, a meeting of Thornish Elders and Masters late in 2014 and 2015, it was more important than ever for those people who had been trained under the old system of Branches be given more balanced, integrated training.

A big part of this was the training in Naar’da; the ways of Thornish magical practice.  All of my adult life (and even when I was a teen) I have sought to learn the ways of the worlds of spirit. As well I have always been fascinated by magic.

When I was a teenager I had the good fortune to make friends with an elderly Chinese man who I knew as Mr. Woo. Overtly he was a traditional healer and somewhat of an apothecary down in Vancouver’s Chinatown district.  Mr. Woo turned out to be a Chinese sorcerer in fact, and it was through him that I had my first real glimpse of the world of magic. In the years that followed, as I grew older, I never lost my fascination with the realm of magic. I read many, many books on the subject and dabbled here and there where my interests took me. However, I always seemed like someone standing outside the circle: I never entered into any direct form of training; I never apprenticed with anyone. As time went by my interests took me into the world of spirituality and again I studied everything I could get my hands on. In addition to this I was brought into the world of Native spirituality by relations of mine and since I am of Native blood from my mother’s side I felt very comfortable going in that direction and learning what I could.

When Master Shale reappeared, many years later and offered me the chance to learn what he called Thornish magic, and be taught the things that he knew, I jumped at the chance. It was kind of like a doorway of opportunity had opened up for me that I had before this time imagined to now be closed. It also gave me a profound chance to complete the circle of balance in the Thornish traditions I had received: Where I knew the Warrior ways; the ways of the hunter and the bushman, I had always admired the workers of the more arcane ways, the Farers as we called them, and had wanted to learn their ways as well. I wanted to have a true grasp of the keys to power and understanding that so many of these mysterious people had held.

Well, now Master Shale was giving us the chance and we embarked upon the lessons with gusto.

2013 was a busy year as far as the Thornish ways were concerned. I had embarked upon the journey of writing several books that were concerned with our traditions and as well found myself in a position, once again (I’d had the privilege of training with him several times before, in the late 80’s and in the 1990’s) to learn from Master Shale directly. Throughout 2013 and into 2014 Master Shale met with us and tutored us on the nature and theory of Thornish magic. Once he was satisfied that we had grasped the basic concepts he moved on to the applications of ritual and day to day practice. I learned that while all tribal systems of magic in the world seem to share similar roots, there are very special aspects to each culture that makes their expression of magical practice unique. The Thornish ways are no different from this.

Late in 2014 Master Shale left us to return to the north. He had business north of 60 in the Canadian Yukon and this business was of a physical and a spiritual nature. We kept in touch of course and through e-mails and phone calls kept each other appraised of what was happening in our respective worlds. Eventually Shale went off to Europe where he had some family business of some kind to attend to.  At this point we lost track of him for awhile.

Spring of this year brought with it a very pleasant surprise; Master Shale would be returning to our neck of the woods for a short time, and would continue giving us those parts of the tradition that we had not had the opportunity to embrace during our earlier meetings.

So these are exciting time for Cassandra and I, not to mention the fact that as with most people during the springtime, life is renewed and the vistas of possibility open up before us. We will most assuredly be sharing those aspects of these new teachings which we are allowed to write about.

As life at home begins to settle down somewhat however, I have made it a point to make sure that I return to my blog postings more often than I have in previous months. Still, as the weather improves there will be a lot of time when I will find myself outdoors as usual, learning and growing from my experiences in the wild. Balance as always, is the key!

 

Regards

 

Jack

 

* One of these days I suspect I shall have to write up a blog post explaining more about what we call Tornaas Voxa, or, the Thornish speech. While it is not a language or even really a dialect, it is a system of terminology that is mostly used for ritual purposes and some forms of communication among us.

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The Path of the Hard Animist

By Jack Wolf

I thought I would share a bit about an exchange I recently had with a Pagan gentleman who seemed to feel that as animists go there is a limit to what one can consider alive in the multiverse. Our conversation, though reasoned and respectful, was initiated by his questioning how Thornish people could possibly be hard animists in a world filled with moderates.

Before I go any further I should do a little explaining here, for the benefit of those good readers who might not be familiar with the concepts I’m covering here. In the Thornish tradition, which of course I am qualified and permitted to talk about here, we consider ourselves to be hard animists. So what is a Hard Animist you might ask?

Let’s start with an even more basic question: What is an animist?

The accepted answer to this is that an animist is a person who subscribes to animism; that worldview which holds that in creation human beings are not the only creatures to possess a spiritual essence. It is generally accepted that animists ascribe many things in the world with having a spirit, including the many other life-forms which share the planet with us.

Many years ago an elder in the Thornish tradition, a teacher and seer named Agnarr-the-Bear or Agnarr Björn, noted that even among animists there appeared to be varying degrees of understanding with regard to what can be considered to possess spirit; what can be considered to be alive on both a spiritual and a physical level. Some people believed that only living creatures (within the accepted biological parameters of what we accept as living) could be said to have spirit. Others held that there were a great many beings which fell outside of the parameters we humans generally accept, and encompassed all things in nature as being alive and imbued with spirit.  Master Agnarr, for the sake of understanding  these modalities (or degrees of belief) called the first category, those which saw only biologically living (material) things as having the potential to hold spirit, Soft Animists. The second category, in which all things in nature were seen as having spirit-potential, he called Moderate Animists, or moderates for short.

A Moderate Animist for instance, sees all things in nature as having the potential to be imbued with spirit and possibly even intelligence. To the Moderate Animist one should take into account things like rocks and rivers and oceans, elemental forms such as wind and fire too, as having these potentials.

In the Thornish way of thinking though, there is yet another level of understanding which lies beyond even that of the Moderate. This is the realm of the Hard Animist.

In the Thornish worldview a hard animist is a person who holds that everything in existence has the possibility of holding not only spirit, but also of life and to varying degrees even intelligence. Thus anything we can possibly interact with (here in the material plane and possibly beyond) is potentially alive and full of spirit. This includes human-made objects, artifacts, tools and especially machines. Why is this? It is because Thornish people at least (and probably many others) believe that in this manifold existence we refer to as the multiverse, quite literally everything, from the rocks beneath your feet to the hat on your head is potentially vibrating with the energy of life and spirit. Sometimes an inanimate object may be infused with spirit at the moment of its creation or perhaps, in the cases of things which have had a lot of contact with other already living things, the essence of the spirit may be shared or passed along. Think of the relationships some people have with their automobiles or their work tools. Think of the relationship of so many soldiers in the field with their rifles or side-arms. How about the many tales from the old world which tell of the spirits imbued into swords or bows? I know people working in various industries who have names for their tools or vehicles or boats, etc, and certainly do consider them to be in some way ‘alive’.

Thornish people are like this. In the realm of possibilities for life and spirit – and even intelligence – we feel it is good to be open to all possibilities. As a result, we are, almost all of us, with few exceptions, Hard Animists.

So, back to the conversation I was talking about at the beginning of this post. The gentleman with whom I was conversing found it very difficult to believe that Hard Animists could actually hold that literally everything around us was in some way alive. He asked me if I thought things like oil were alive, or even that aluminum beer can which had fallen out of the recycling bin on the street and was rolling merrily along.

“Is the oil not quite literally the blood of the Earth?” I asked in response. “Is the can not made out of metal, which is literally the material of the planet? If so how can you be so sure that it doesn’t contain the energies that flow all around us out of the Earth? Why not hold a deeper respect for such things and as a proper steward, make sure they are treated/used accordingly? Perhaps if people were to thing twice about such things rather than cling to the illusions which have come from so-called ‘resource-extraction-economies’ then our planet might not be in the mess it currently finds itself in.”

“What about machines?” The fellow asked. “Surely you don’t believe that a collection of bolts and gears, like a car for instance, can have a spirit?”

I believe that spirit can inhabit pretty much anything. Of course this is in various degrees, depending upon many factors, but indeed why not? The idea is, to Thornish people at least, that the more of the sacred we learn to comprehend in our day-to-day world, the more we realize the powerful need that exists for human beings to return to their role as stewards.

When you respect something or at least acknowledge something you are on the road to proper stewardship.

Recently I was reading about the concept of transanimism, which is a relatively new school of thought, and which supposes that as humans interface more and more with machines, the more of our consciousness and spirit will meld with said devices. Some transanimists believe that machines are quite capable of developing consciousness so why not spirit? In such ways the concept of transanimism follows a very similar path to what Thornish people have dubbed ‘Hard Animism.’

In the end it is about personal choice of course; what to define our lives with and how to execute our beliefs through actions. To a Thornsman such as myself it is also about trying to see the bigger picture, and find where everything fits together.

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