Dollars and Sense

By Jack Wolf

Recently I was asked by a young seeker the following question: “How much does it cost to become Thornish?”

At first I was rather surprised by my own reaction to the question. I was immediately quite uncomfortable and as a matter of fact a little bit angry at the question – which is what surprised me. Surely it was an innocent enough query and indeed I took a breath and re-aligned myself before answering.

Why had I suddenly become upset at this simple question? Frustration was a simple enough answer: Frustration at the idea that in today’s day and age people figure that everything has to have a price – and if the price isn’t high enough whatever the thing is that one is pondering must not be ‘worth’ it. Frustration also comes into play when we think about all of the people who have been guilty of cultural theft from various indigenous cultures; the new age types who often steal cultural ideas and repackage them to try to make a profit.

So yeah, I have certain areas of thought which cause me to get frustrated and the idea that any cultural or spiritual way should be sold for a price is definitely one of these.

So my answer to this young person was “No Thornish person would ask you for a cent in the way you are thinking.”   And I spoke in total honesty.

The Thornish tradition, as I have said many times on many occasions to many people, is not an ancient or overly mysterious thing. It is the result of people from various cultural/tribal roots coming together in pagan kinship around the campfires of mutual ideas and common ground. In its earliest manifestation it was a hidden society designed for the preservation of knowledge and the mutual support and protection of its members. As time passed it became more open and indeed more flexible with regard to changing times in the world.

Also as I have said on many occasions, the Thornish tradition is the result of numbers of people contributing their thoughts and personal customs to a growing, syncretic whole over time. Some of these ideas came from the original cultures of the original members. Some of these ideas came from tried and true practical applications in the temporal world and other were given as gifts, through visitations, messages, dreams, Visions and ceremony – gifts from the world of spirit.

The Thornish tradition was born in North America and as such it carries the power and spirit of this land deep in its roots. It is not specifically a creature of either its European or Native North American founders, but rather a respectful interface of those ways, based on common ground, deep understanding and goodly respect.

Back in the day, the tradition was very fortunate and privileged to have several people of the old Native traditions around as guides, so when the first framework for the society was built great care was taken to see that there were no disrespectful cross-overs of tradition happening. Some of the original members were of mixed heritage and their public and personal lives reflected that. People knew where there was a cultural line and these lines were never crossed.

Among the Thornish folk there is a saying: “Everyone brings their own meat to the table.” This means that while we all might come into the circle of the Thornwood we recognize that we are all individuals from unique origins. We are not expected to divest ourselves of our origins or our identity as pagans in order to become Thornish, but we also know that there are times when mixing is not appropriate.

I myself am of mixed heritage and indeed the Native traditions I walk are something that I keep separate from my Thornish ones – out of respect.

However, despite what has been said about our origins and our dedication to cultural respect we find that still we engage in a delicate dance in the eyes of outsiders. There will always be those who will look upon any tradition like ours through the squinty-eyed glare of criticism and suspicion. They will do this sometimes because they find anything like new tribal cultures suspect, or because there have been so many new age or pagan groups which have through their deeds cast a black stain on the credibility of most others. Well there have been a number of Thornish people who have said: “Who cares what other people think?” or “We aren’t fraudsters or scammers or new age fakes and why should we have to prove anything to critics?”

And to some extent I can understand where they are coming from. However, in my thinking reputation is important and so I often take the time to explain various things to those who may view us somewhat askance. Like others of my kind I will only go so far to explain myself or my tradition, but within reason I am glad enough to do it – in the interest of clarity and of understanding…and indeed out of respect.

So having said all of that I would like to add this little bit – which connects right back in with the question that got me writing this post in the first place:

The Thornish tradition is not (nor was it ever) intended to become a religion or a cult of any kind. It is a kind of deep-green spiritual tradition that seeks knowledge, growth and a return to balance in nature. An aspect of Thornish understanding that should never be overlooked is humility: Knowing one’s place in the great circle of life and doing ones best to serve as an implement of balance in the world.

Thornish people believe strongly (very strongly) in the understanding that the sacred is not for sale. This is not open for debate among us. It will never be possible for anyone to ‘buy’ their way into the Thornish tradition or advance in knowledge of our ways because they ‘paid’ anyone to teach them. That’s not the way it works in this thorny neck –o-the woods, boys and girls.

When I first came into the sphere of the Thornish traditions my offerings-in-trade to those who taught me were usually in the form of gifts. These gifts were usually things like my labor (I chopped a lot of firewood as a young man) or small personal offerings like tobacco, mugwort, coffee or things like that. I gave out a few bottles of whiskey and rum to various teachers as well since these kinds of things were often used in offerings.

Another fellow I gifted with a box of 12 gauge shotgun shells because I knew he was an avid duck hunter and ducks formed a big part of his traditional diet. Naturally this kind of gifting relationship only worked because I had direct, in-person relationships with these people and indeed a number of these people were elderly and it was good for me as a young person to help them out. I should point out that these gifts and offerings were never expected. They were gratefully accepted though and seen as a fair trade.

Those who taught me also saw it as their pleasure to teach me as much as it was my honor to be taught by them. To the elders it was an opportunity to pass along what they learned in a goodly way and to me of course it was an opportunity to learn something very potent and empowering. Thus it was a balanced circle of reciprocity.

As I hope you will see, there is a very big difference between someone offering a gift-of-respect and someone demanding a fee for services rendered.

Individual Thornish people may ask for remuneration in certain areas, since sadly we live in a cash economy and people have to eat. Some of us write books for instance or do craft-work of some kind… and some may be requested to travel distances to speak, etc. Not everyone can drop large sums of cash out-of-pocket to travel. As well there has always been the idea that one day there might be a fund developed towards the purchase of tribal lands.

Beyond this however, you will never see a Thornish person selling ‘courses’ in our traditions. There is no ‘curriculum’ and there are no diplomas or rows of fancy letters that one can put behind their name. To quote my late brother Björn; “Thornish folk don’t roll like that.”

So, in addition to telling my young friend that learning the Thornish traditions was not something that could be purchased I am trying to get across the idea that not all modern day pagan and tribalist organizations/traditions should be painted with the foul brush that certain new age fraudsters have stained it with.  There are a good many groups which are appearing in the world these days, in addition to others who have been around for a long time. People are awakening in larger numbers every day and this I believe is a powerful sign that the tide is turning and that the time of the despoilers of the earth are coming to an end.

We need to walk away from so many bad habits we have developed – particularly in so called ‘western’ society. Money and the worship of money and material goods is an area of human behavior that I believe is at the root of much of the destructive behavior out there in the world.

I know that there are plenty of new age diploma mills, cults and other such organizations out there in the world and because of them a lot of folks have this idea that in order for something to have power it must be purchased.

This is not true. The acquisition of knowledge and power is not something that can be purchased – not on the levels that count and never with money. Effort and dedication is required to gain true insight and growth because the treasure of awakening is not something that can be measured in terms of temporal wealth.

No Thornish person will ever sell you the sacred.

No person of respect and honor would ever offer to sell you the sacred either.


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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