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!






* 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.


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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