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.


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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