Gateways to the Thornish World

By Jack Wolf

My tradition started out in the form of secret society.

The Thornish tradition, until fairly recently was not very big on the idea of writing things written down on paper and archiving them for later use. There were a number of reasons for this but in those early days the primary reason was secrecy. Things passed along orally have less chance of falling into the wrong hands, or so it was believed in those times. Indeed those original secret circles of warriors that wove the first threads of my tradition played their cards close. They had no desire to have their workings revealed because in those days (some say these were the early decades of the twentieth century, others say older) because to be revealed would have been to invite disaster at the hands of authoritarian colonial powers and zealous religious orders.

Secrecy holds great power. That which is concealed is said to retain its potency. That which is esoteric can at times be seen to grow in power and mystique over time.  Very often secrecy and freedom are linked with one providing cover for the other, and I have little doubt that in those early times there were initiates who embraced this concept.

Secrecy can also become habit forming as one gets used to certain patterns of behavior and these patterns can become locked-in over time. Sometimes this secrecy can restrict growth however and such a thing must be also taken into consideration.

As I say, my tradition started out as a secret society. However as time passed and wisdom grew it was understood that while to give away all of one’s knowledge might be foolish or even disempowering (if not dangerous), it might not be such a bad idea to share a little of one knows. The founders of my tradition knew that in order for an idea or a way to survive it must have three factors working for it; a solid concept, flexibility and the opportunity to grow. From this understanding they began to allow various parts of the Thornish message out into the world. It was not much at first but in those days it was enough so that those people in the outer world whose destiny had marked them to know of our ways, heard tell of us.

In later years the circle was allowed to enlarge somewhat more. Our numbers had never been huge and there was the thought among elders that the darkening skies of the world; the descent of human civilization were warranting the possibility that we offer teachings to a greater number of people. It came to be understood that indeed, in keeping with a number of old prophecies held by many different cultures, a much larger percentage of human beings were beginning to truly awaken to the harsh realities of our world. People were awakening and trying to find ways to be of assistance in the healing our planet so sorely needs.

Great care was always given to protect the inner knowledge however. As in many traditions, there were (and are) layers of knowing and some of these layers remain deep traditional secrets. Others however, have been made more accessible in the spirit of teaching.

And so doorways were opened…

In the 1970s and 1980s some changes were made to the structure of the Thornish tradition, changes which served the needs of the tradition and opened the doors even further. We needed to allow a broader knowledge of our existence to get out into the world and we desired to provide an access point to Thornish knowledge which went beyond the old, traditional way of selected student finding selected teacher.

This has been a slow period of adaptation. Two sayings which Thornish people have adopted are these: “The warrior is patient and takes pleasure in the waiting.”   And  “The hunter who rushes in seldom brings home any game.” And I am sure the reader can then see why some things take time where our traditions are involved.

Not everyone is called to the Thornwood, just like not all are called to become Tibetan monks, ninja warriors or even master chefs or air force test pilots. Very often there are areas of interest which draw the masses – and much smaller areas of interest which draw they very few. The Thornish way is one of those smaller, more obscure ways which may attract a relative few but those who come are persons of rare quality.

Those who are called to our way are persons of deep spirit and primal, animistic orientation. They have never felt overly comfortable in the so-called modern world, often feeling as though they were somehow born out of time. People who are called to our way, while having determined that they were pagan and honored the old ways, still yet had problems with feeling welcome in other pagan traditions – it is as though they could not find a correct ‘fit’ even then. Some of these seeker-folk may find their place in one of the many excellent pagan gatherings that are springing into the world these days. Some will follow their racial/cultural roots and others their hearts. Some may eventually find a home with us, if it is their destiny to do so.

All things eventually have their time. So too it is with the Thornish ways. Now, having said all this I will explain how the twenty-first century gateways to the Thornwood work.

The most basic gateway to the Thornwood these days can be found in those writings which have come into the world in recent years.  The earliest of these that I know of was written by my late Hearth-Brother, Master Björn Hammarson, in 2005.  It was called Song of the Bloodfire: A Thornish Manifesto and back then saw only limited release in printed form and some circulation on selected internet forums.

Following this there have been other works released into the world. I have written and edited a few of these and in relatively recent times, perhaps inspired by what Björn and I wrote, I have heard murmurings that further writings from other Thornish folk may emerge.

So of course there are the written works which are out there. Thus far those that were produced by myself and a few others, are available on the website, which resides at   http://www.thornwoodpress.com

A second gateway to the Thornish way lies in the area of social media. Right now this is quite limited but as some of you may know I do have a Facebook page which provides updates on various projects that I am working on.

The internet has been a great boon to a great many people over the past decade especially and we Thornish folks are not the least of these. As a result of this newfound interconnectivity that is linking the world we are in the process of establishing other ways to get information about the Thornish ways out. I believe there may be a podcast in our future as well as a Youtube channel.

Now, what to do with this information when one is a very interested observer of the Thornish way? How can one take the next step when they have decided that they truly wish to walk on the Thornish path?

Do I have to remind people that taking such a step is a very serious matter and that such a step may involve sacred oaths and the expectation of hale commitment? I certainly hope not, but I feel the need to do so anyway. In these times many people approach the old ways and paganism in general as though one was standing in line at a buffet table – a sample of this and a sample of that…and then moving on.

This is probably not a good idea; treating any hale tradition as a sampler platter or flavor of the month trend – especially once one considers a deeper commitment and oaths are sworn. Of course I could say this of anyone approaching any hale tradition…at any time.

Having said that I will go on to say that the most basic entryway into the Thornish tradition – other than the reading of books and the assimilation of knowledge from other media, is the way of the Fellow.  A Thornish Fellow is a person who wants to walk in the Thornish ways, has sought out knowledge about the Thornish ways and has decided to commit themselves to the Thornish path.  In the old days there was only one way in which an interested person could ‘officially’ become Thornish and that was the classic face-to-face method where a student found a teacher and was taught directly. The introduction of the way of the Fellow changed this approach…or at least offered another option, when it was introduced in the late 20th century.

However as there are relatively few Thornish Masters or Thornish Elders out there at present it may be difficult for a genuinely interested person to acquire firsthand knowledge/training in a more old school fashion.

The way of the Thornish Fellow is a path to the Thornwood that does not require the face-to-face interaction that other Thornish levels-of-learning require, so it is an ideal place for an interested person to start their Thornish journey – and it can be experienced at a distance. The way of the Fellow still requires work and indeed there is a methodology to the way it is to be handled by the person in question. It is serious business and should never be dismissed as somehow being any less valid than any other aspect of the tradition.

The next avenue of access to the Thornish way is via the old tried and true method. This method requires a prospective student to actively seek out a Thornish initiate as their teacher. In the old days this was done through word of mouth and personal recommendations within a relatively small geographical area – so while it served its purpose it still had limitations. This avenue of access does hold an advantage that the way of the Fellow does not have in that direct training with a Master leads to initiation and the deeper mysteries of the Thornwood.  Of course this is not to say that Fellows cannot become initiates. Those who have declared as fellows and later decide to seek out a teacher are of course welcome to do so.

I will follow up on this post soon with additional information on the way of the Fellow – for those who may find it of interest.

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About Jack Wolf

Canadian author Jack Wolf has been a practicing Pagan for over 30 years, walking a path that encompasses both his Northern European and Native American heritage. He counts the late Heathen Goði and writer E. Max Hyatt, Professor Mark Mirabello, Dakota tribal Chief William Hoff and American author Allan Cole among his mentors. An avid outdoorsman, Jack has spent a considerable portion of his life exploring the deep wilds of British Columbia, a vast province on Canada’s west coast. He brings a great deal of his wilderness experience to his spiritual path. Over the past 15 years Jack has studied and written about a number of northern pagan traditions, having published for the most part independently or in small journals, blogs or websites. His recent works for Mandrake of Oxford Have certainly opened up his writing to a larger audience. Jack is also the author of several other books, including Circle of Bones (2012), The Way of the Odin Brotherhood (2013), Blood and Stone (2014) co-author of Tales from the Red Moon Lodge (2014) and co-editor of A Voice from the Thornwood (winter 2014). Forthcoming works include The Thornish Path, Ullr’s Road and The Urban Tribalist, all of which are planned for a mid-2015 and early 2016 release respectively. Spiritually, Jack identifies himself generally as a Deep Tribalist and more specifically as Thornish. He is a member of a primal pagan tradition whose spiritual path involves questing for the First Knowledge – that held by our most ancient ancestors whose hearts and spirits were deeply connected to the land. The Thornish path is the way of the warrior-steward; a Deep Tribal tradition which Jack has practiced since the late 1980’s Jack holds a degree in anthropology from the world renowned University of British Columbia and has long held an avid interest in history, tribal peoples, spirituality and the reawakening of pagan peoples worldwide. He currently resides with his wife and co-author Cassandra Wolf and their daughter, in Squamish, British Columbia.
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