I have been avoiding this blog. Of late, I have been wracked by difficulties, namely financial pressures and depression and anger, cycling states, resulting from it. I am a diabetic who, on a pretty small budget to begin with, has had to shuck out $243 per vial of insulin to get the stuff I need to live. This eats about half a paycheck, and this happens at least once a month. I do not like to write in this headspace, not for this blog, at the least. A good chunk of my early poetry as a teenager was written in stages of anger and depression, similar in cycles to what I am going through right now. I do not like to be vulnerable like this. I don’t. This is the stuff I keep pretty tight to the chest. This is the stuff that I tend to keep even from close friends because of some misguided notion that I am keeping my problems off of people.
I will admit, right now my problems seem pretty insurmountable with anything other than the passage of time. I have made my prayers, and I will keep making them. I will smoke my personal sacred pipe, and keep on smoking when I am in the headspace where I can do so in respect and appreciation of the sacred act. I I have made offerings with my family and will continue to make them. Still, I feel gnawing anxiety, sometimes panic when I think about the $20,000 hospital bill waiting to breathe down my neck that my hospital has gracefully kept at bay for the time being. Then there’s the collection letter, the first one I have ever received, that arrived in the mail because the physicians go through someone else other than the main hospital billing department. Turns out the help the hospital offered did not include the physicians and I found myself on the other end of a phone begging to pay half the bill in two months time. Here’s hoping it won’t squelch my credit score.
I write this not as some kind of pity-party, but because when I came back to this blog a few years ago after a hiatus, I wanted to present a more full image of myself, my religious life, and my journey as a shaman, priest, polytheist, father, and lover. My life is rather difficult right now. I want to be pretty damned clear: sometimes the religious aspect of my life is a great balm and comfort for these trying times, and sometimes it is a struggle to even work up the desire to do a meal prayer. Anger and depression coupled with anxieties about finance do that. It eats, gnaws at you. When your doctor tells you everything is going to be okay, and hugs you and you want to cry, this person you see maybe once a month, you know things are rough. Our son and his mother help quite a bit, both with keeping my spirits up, and keeping the prayers and offerings. I cannot do this alone. This is a tribal religion. If this were all on me I am unsure I could do it, even without that aspect of it there, given the challenges before us. The beautiful thing about being in a tribal religion though, is that you don’t need to do it all. You can be weak, and that is okay. In letting yourself be weak you can allow others to be strong. For you, if no one else.
I mentioned sometime back that the shrines/altars I care for alone are the shrine for the Dead, the shrine for the Warrior Dead, and Rùnatýr and the Runevaettir’s altar. All the other ones Sylverleaf and our son take care of together with me. This does not mean I should not or do not take care of the other altars and shrines, but when I am this low sometimes it is all I can do to ask for help with the altars and shrines. Again, taking strength from them and them helping me has kept me pretty motivated and keeping on keeping on with the offerings and prayers. Occasionally I will take some time and talk, especially with the Ancestors, Odin included, and talk about my situation, how I am feeling, and ask for Their help.
It’s funny, in writing a post so in-the-moment how things can move forward. I started writing this 8-27-2014, and then,I got the call the next day: I finally qualified for Medicaid. My financial problems are far from over, but an important step in making sure we aren’t hurting for money all the time has finally, finally, been reached. I have been trying to get this leg of the journey done since January. It took months and months, and my first case manager did not get back with me or the hospital at all. The hospital got so pissed at this person and the lack of communication from DHS that they said ‘fuck it’ to my bills in February. I was denied twice before this ruling, despite being told over and over I qualified. While it is still up in the air whether Medicaid will help me with the April’s $20,000 bill, going forward I won’t have to panic if I need to head into the hospital. I will be able to afford my life-preserving meds now. I will be able to see the doctor, and get the physical I need so that I can qualify for a better job, if not get into a career. I will be making offerings and prayers of thanks to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.
This does not mean that the Gods somehow favor me over other people, even if my prayers have been answered. Piety does not equal prosperity.
I am poor. If it weren’t for my folks there is no way my family or I would be in anything like a stable living situation. I’m saddled with a lot of student loan debt, and were we completely on our own we would be struggling to pay rent, let alone put food on the table. I am the subject of ridicule when people write derisive works of people living with their parents till they’re in their late 20s and 30s. This, despite going to college while working, and taking on an inordinate amount of debt with nothing to show for it. At the moment the only options are to a) scramble around trying to save enough to survive on and hope some breakthrough comes our way, or b) head back to college to be saddled with yet more debt in the hopes of making a career. I am working on the latter, going for my MA in Counseling.
Many of the people that I look to as friends, colleagues, and elders have been or are poor. There should be no shame in being poor, but there is; a deep amount of it. I have no delusions of being a temporarily embarrassed millionaire; my family has been blue collar and/or union jobs for quite a while. Everyone except my generation, and some of the last one, has worked the land since they were young. Both sides of my family raised chickens, ducks, geese, vegetables, and herbs. This is the kind of life I am looking to go back to. I see no viable future in the rat race, no good coming of indulging in the idea that those who have the most toys at death win. I want to leave something lasting; odal land to my people, whether it is Sylverleaf, our son, or our community.
When I think of getting our own home, our own land, I think of the Hávamál, line 36 and 37 in the Olive Bray translation edited by D.L. Ashliman:
One’s own house is best, though small it may be;
each man is master at home;
though he have but two goats and a bark-thatched hut
’tis better than craving a boon.
One’s own house is best, though small it may be,
each man is master at home;
with a bleeding heart will he beg, who must,
his meat at every meal.
Piety does not equal prosperity, yet this also does not mean that the Gods will not bless our lives, or that it is hubris to recognize those blessings. Rather, it is hubris to ignore the blessings They give, leave it unmarked, without thanks. I have held on to some very good mead for awhile now, given as a gift to me, and it may be time to offer and share it.
I’m not shouting from the rooftops going “Woohoo! We’re great!” because we’re not. Getting Medicaid and being able to care for my chronic health conditions are small steps in a series of steps to living on our own, raising our family, and bringing together the life we wish to have. There are still financial challenges ahead, mercifully one of them not being the medication I need to live or doctor visits to help keep me healthy. We are moving forward together and celebrating this victory. We will keep pushing forward to the next one, reaching for our goals. We are getting there.
For anyone who has offered prayers, kind words, an open ear and mind, or wisdom in all of this, thank you. Thank you for helping us get through one more leg of our journey. Hail to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities, and individuals who all have supported us in these hard times. Thank you for continuing to support us, and help us wherever you can. Thank you.
Deeply wishing that more of our farmers would understand this and work with wolves rather than seek their destruction.
I did not go to the Polytheist Leadership Conference because I made a promise to Mani. Between the promise and His gentle presence indicating ‘stay’ when I asked Him if I should ask to reschedule, I followed His lead. It tore at me; I really wanted to go, and meet people who I have talked online and on this blog with face-to-face, to share in workshops and ritual. I was asked by people I consider family to put on a ritual in Mani’s honor. When I accept such a thing, I treat it as a promise to my Gods that They will be hailed, offered to, and whatever the ritual(s) requires. My friends are the priests of a Wiccan church, Crossroads Tabernacle Church, and rather than keep up walls between our religions, they graciously asked me to put on a Northern Tradition ritual for this last Full Moon. I was and am honored by their request. The ritual for Mani went very well, and I am eager to do more Northern Tradition rituals with them.
In doing these rituals together we are drawing the circle bigger, while also drawing it closer to our hearts. There is no need to compromise our religions for one another if there is true respect for them. I have been working with this church for several years. At first I was just attending, and then, for the last four years, I have served as their youth minister. Never have I been asked to compromise my beliefs, nor break taboos. My friends have been greatly accommodating, and quite careful regarding them. They ask what I can or cannot eat, they are mindful of what taboos I am under if I have told them, and their sensitivity to my tradition and to the work I do has been one of many blessings they have given me over the years.
I am a person with his feet in many traditions. I am a Northern Tradition and Heathen polytheist. I am a shaman, priest, and godatheow of Odin. I am a priest of Anpu. I am a member of House Sankofa. I am a member of Urðarbrunnr Kindred. I am a member of the Thunderbird People. I am the facilitator of a Michigan Northern Tradition Study Group. I am a member of Crossroads Tabernacle Church as well as its Youth Minister. None of these groups contradicts or derides my beliefs. None of them provides harm to my hamingja. All of these affiliations, alliances, friendships, and group ties, together, enhance our hamingja and help it to grow.
Rather than building an impenetrable wall, the traditions and ways of the Northern Tradition ground my family, coreligionists, and I in a living religion that gives us a solid foundation to build from. The definitions and ways by which our tradition are defined bring clarity and understanding not only to ourselves in living this religion, but to others in being able to explain and share it. Rather than being terribly excluding, the beliefs and practices we keep are inviting while also keeping to that solid ground in respect and reverence for the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Unless the Gods, Ancestors, or spirits are being disrespected there is no reason to not share in ritual.
How can we be in ritual together and respect one another’s traditions?
Respect and communication. After the priests of CTC asked me to put together a ritual, I asked permission from Mani if I could do a ritual on His behalf with the church. When He let me know His approval, I began writing the ritual. Well before the ritual the priests received a copy of the ritual outline. They, in turn, asked me if there was anything I needed for the ritual and what offerings to bring. They also asked me to help write up the announcement. It turns out this helped some of the youth, because in addition to food and herb offerings, Mani received two math problems as offerings. One was part of a sequence, whose name escapes me, and the other was a math problem the young person made up on the fly. There was also a choice: some of the offerings were going to be buried, and others burned. Both chose to burn their math offerings during the ritual. Knowing we were able to burn these on-site rather than off-site was a big plus.
These things are not different from when I enter into a Wiccan ritual. I did not ask each person “Are you polytheist?” before the Mani ritual any more than the priests ask “Are you Wiccan?” before a Wiccan ritual. I did not say “If you do not understand/know Mani as I do, you are wrong”. We were there to celebrate Mani together. That was made plain from the beginning of the ritual. From the beginning the expectation and the presence of respect for the God is there, and the understanding of what kind of ritual we are engaging in is there. It is understood if we are engaging in Wiccan ritual we use a Wiccan format for it, such as a circle casting, a calling to the Elements, and the Gods. Are there common elements to the rituals we engage in? Yes, although the way of cleansing and setting up of sacred space, and to Whom we call differ.
We came together as we usually did by taking three deep breaths and asking if there was peace in our circle. Instead of cleansing the space with a broom and lighting incense, we burned mugwort, cleansing the altar. I made a point of involving my son in this ritual, because, as I explained to those assembled, ours is a tribal religion in which our children are involved as much as the adults. I knelt to him so he could cleanse me first with Grandmother Una’s smoke, and then I cleansed him in kind. I then each person. Instead of a circle casting and calling in the Elements, we performed the Hammer Rite. I felt it was a good way to invite those who had never been in a Northern Tradition ritual into the rite in a way that felt familiar. So, we hailed the four Directions, Asgard, Helheim, and Midgard.
One major difference in this rite as opposed to many of the ones the church comes together in, is that there was no Drawing Down of Mani. Where the God and Goddess would have been called Down, there were offerings made to Him as we all sang, standing in His presence. There was time while we sang after the offerings were made for anyone who wanted to step forward to speak with Him or ask Him for a blessing. When all were finished we came back together, thanked Mani for His presence, thanked the Directions with the ending Hammer Rite, and ended everything with Sigdrifa’s Prayer.
Mani was received and treated with the respect and reverence as He is due. Some who had come to join in the ritual had never known Mani before, and left wanting to know more. Some had known of Mani but had never been in His Presence. The ritual left its mark on all who attended, including me. He was gentle, and patient, yet playful in His Full Moon face. He was patient as two youths, whom I am very proud of, placed math problems before Him to be burned as offerings. I could feel His brightness as we gathered in honor to Him, and His happiness at its end.
We do not have to leave one another at the crossroads of our communities. Rather, we can gather around them, celebrating with one another. We can sing, dance, offer, and hold rituals for our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir together, drawing the circle bigger, while respecting one another’s traditions.
Thank you again, Freki Ingela, for this question:
What are your thoughts of the feminine divine in Germanic polytheism? I notice that very little is known about the household Gods, the Gods that women in their homesteads would have revered, the deity of the hearth, for example. This is a problem for me (I am a woman) and to be really honest although I am proud of my ancestral Gods I have a feeling that we have lost too much knowledge of the non-warrior Gods, the Gods of the women, the family, the hearth fire – so much so that we must look to kin-religions, such as Roman polytheism, to try to bridge the gap where so much knowledge has been lost. What are your thoughts on this?
That our ancestral lines were sundered is one of many great tragedies. The loss of traditional communities, and much of the lore, rituals, and sacred sites have been a hard blow to recover from. The power of religious movements such as the Northern Tradition is that we are living ties back to these things as much as we are carrying them forward. It is worth remembering that at some point someone had to bring in a new rite, story, or commission a sacred site to be built. Our Ancestors had to do this at one point. One of our greatest challenges is that there have not been a line or tribe of living people, at least until relatively recently, to carry on what will inform our own traditions, rituals, and sacred sites. Despite this heavy loss, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir can, and should be asked to inform this revival.
When it comes to how to worship, wherever possible I try to keep within the tradition in question. I think that looking to other religions for inspiration can be a powerful thing, yet, I also recognize that Roman polytheism is a different way than German polytheism. There are different underlying assumptions in either religion, different cosmologies, and different ways of worshiping the Gods right and well. While I am not strictly opposed to mixing traditions, I advise care and caution in doing so, as one practice or way of doing things may be fine in one culture but not translate well, if at all, to the other. It is also worth mentioning that the Romans recorded aspects of Germanic life prior to conversion, i.e. the writings of Tacitus and Julius Caesar, so it makes sense to go to investigate these Roman sources.
I wish there were more resources available to us. I wish that more had survived, especially from before the period of conversion. There is a great gap of knowledge, even in what little we do have and know, between the Goddesses and the male Gods. I think that, for what we have remaining, there are many Goddesses who Germanic, Scandinavian, etc. polytheists can call upon who may well fill many of the roles you cite here. I feel that Sif is often overlooked, for instance. She is mentioned very little in the sources, namely in Skáldskarpamál where Her hair is cut by Loki, and in the Lokasenna where She serves Him mead in Aegir’s hall. She is a powerful, graceful Lady, one whom my family reveres for Her generosity and patience.
If one is looking for a Goddess of the home, I think of Frigga, Sif, Sigyn, and Frigga’s Handmaiden Syn. I have read Roman polytheists had Gods for parts of the door and threshold. Rather than look to the Romans for such a Goddess, I believe Syn would be one to worship and call upon as a Goddess of doors, their locks, and thresholds. It says in the Gylfaginning (not the most current translation, but it is free) that:
“The eleventh is Syn: she keeps the door in the hall, and locks it before those who should not go in; she is also set at trials as a defence against such suits as she wishes to refute: thence is the expression, that syn is set forward, when a man denies.”
As far as a Goddess of the hearth fire Itself, why not worship and revere Sinmora? While the etymology of Her Name is still debated, as well as Her identity as Surt’s husband, She and Loki’s Daughter Glut, are the only Goddesses of Fire in the Northern Tradition that I know of. Some would balk at this, given The are jotun. I have yet to read where either Goddess means us harm, however, and given I have been praying to Them for some time, I have found both, especially Sinmora, to be a patient guide, and teacher in working with Fire. If you mean a Goddess of the hearth where the fire is contained, the Goddesses I mentioned in terms of the home may be ones to worship and revere. Also, for some reason, Snotra keeps coming to mind. It may have to do with Her Name meaning “wisdom”, as a great deal of wisdom is learned around the home fire. It may also have to do with the wisdom required in keeping the fire well, including the etiquette and understanding required to treat the firevaettir well.
Part of the challenge in living this path is reconstructing and reviving what we can, and being open to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir filling in quite a bit of what is no longer with us. It is worth remembering, however, that reconstruction is a methodology rather than a religion. My path is reconstructionist-derived; I recognize I do not strictly adhere to a reconstructionist model. Sticking to the source material where possible and exploring where our Gods’ stories come from is a good springboard. This does not set aside the importance of knowing the stories, doing research, and the like. When confronted in situations like these, where there is a lack of stories and resources like archaeology, I am going to lean more heavily on my and others’ personal experiences with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.
A great, powerful, and often untapped resource seldom considered are one’s Disir. These are the women who kept things together, who cared for the house, and who kept the traditions alive in Their time. They may well do so again, if you ask Them. The Disir keep the lines well, and many of the older ones might be interested in teaching you what They have to offer if you show interest and are respectful. Whether or not you ask Them to help with connecting to the Gods, or walking the path, I believe it is more than worth it to set some space aside for Them, if you have it to give, and cultivate a good relationship with Them. I would offer similar advice in regards to the Goddesses since They, far more than I, can give you good direction on these things.
Update: I included Glut in the section where I wrote about Goddesses of Fire. I knew I was missing Someone in this section and She just came to me.
Thank you to Freki Ingela for this question:
Do you consider Frigg and Freyja to be one and the same great Earth Goddess (eg, Nerthus), or do you consider they are separate deities.
I consider Them to be separate Goddesses, and I do not consider either one a great Earth Goddess, either. They have particular roles in Their families and tribe. While etymologically we may be able to say They were one and the same at some point in the past, either They became two separate Goddesses or They were separate to begin with.
I really have no dog in this race. While it would be interesting to know how the people that worshiped these Goddesses developed their language and understanding of these Goddesses, I worship Them as separate Goddesses. I also consider Nerthus and Jörð separate Goddesses even though both are identified as Mother Earth Goddesses.
While I do believe syncretism has its place, unless I know for sure that a name is a heiti, or that this God or that Goddess actually is x as well as y God/dess, I tend to treat the God, Goddess, Ancestor, or vaettir in question as a separate entity. This approach is more cautious. I would rather find out later that I have been giving a given God or Goddess more offerings than I thought I had than to find out I have been treating two Goddesses as one.
Thank you to Freki Ingela for this question:
Are the Gods great Gods whom anyone on Earth may appeal to, or are they ancestral tribal spirits who confine themselves to looking over the descendants of northern Europe, or are they both? Or are they neither in your opinion? If so, how do understand their nature.
The Gods of the Northern Tradition are Gods I believe anyone can appeal to. I do not hold folkish views regarding the Gods. The peoples who worshiped these Gods (and how, what particular understanding of these Gods were prevalent and practices were done in this regard differed region to region) ranged all over the world. They brought back people from these expeditions, merchant voyages, conquests, and raids. They sometimes settled in the new lands, usually as colonizers. To my understanding there is no barrier to anyone worshiping the Gods of the Northern Tradition so far as ancestry goes. While I do believe that some of the Gods may have brought Their power into tribes of people, such as recounted in the RÍgsÞula (The Lay of Rig), as well as many of the hero stories, I do not think this is what determines if someone is holier or better than another. I also do not believe that having bloodlines connected to people who may have worshiped the Gods of the Northern Tradition automatically makes you better suited for the Northern Tradition, especially given how many Europeans worshiped Greek and Roman Gods in many of the same places the Northern European Gods were worshiped. Prayers for the Gods made with a good heart in the right place are good regardless of who makes them.
To understand the nature of the Gods, I usually recommend people read up as much as they can on the Gods, and then, while they are doing so, set up a shrine to the Gods and to their Disir (powerful female Dead), Väter* (powerful male Dead), and their Ancestors in general. I’ve lived in a dorm room, so I have had to make do with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir all sharing altar space together. When the shrine is set up, make an offering of water, if nothing else, every day. Take at least five to fifteen minutes a day to do this, not just setting down the water, but praying at that shrine. If you have prayers of your own, say them. If you need inspiration, or want to use prayers from others, feel free to use prayers from my blog using the search bar, from NorthernPaganism.org’s wide variety of online shrines, Michaela’s Odin’s Gift website, Galina Krasskova’s prayers, or any others you find. If you don’t have space or if you are in a hostile place you can leave a digital candle to one of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir at one the NorthernPaganism.org’s shrine pages, like this one to Odin.
This is the recommended reading list I have for the Michigan Northern Tradition Study Group, with explanation of why we use them:
- Neolithic Shamanism by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova
- Neolithic Shamanism is an experience of the Northern Tradition spirits, and only works with a handful of Gods, such as Sunna and Mani. The focus of the book is toward establishing right relationship with the Elemental Powers, the landvaettir, one’s Ancestors, and so one from the ground up.
- The Prose Edda by Carolyne Larrington
- This version of the Prose Eddas is very straightforward. Having read both Bellows and Hollander, I agree with Galina that Hollander cuts things out with poetic license so the ‘flow’ goes according to what he wants.
- Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner by Galina Krasskova and Raven Kaldera
- Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner gives a good overview of the Northern Tradition, and has a good deal of practices such as prayers, how to use prayer beads, and what offerings are good or contraindicated for the Gods of the Northern Tradition. This book helped me deepen my religious practice.
- Spiritual Protection by Sophie Reicher
- Spiritual Protection is one of the best books on psychic/spiritual protection I have seen or read. In a book market where protection is often given short shrift, this book goes to the absolute basics and is great to revisit whether you’ve been doing it for a little while, a long while, or not at all. As a word of caution I advise no one to seek to ground to any world but this one, Midgard, as even I haven’t gone and received permission yet to ground to another.
- Exploring the Northern Tradition by Galina Krasskova
- Exploring the Northern Tradition gives a good overview of the demographics of Heathenry, some ideas of varying practice and culture, and is a good guide to the differences between traditions that you may find in them.
- Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson
- This book gives an overview of the myths, Gods, and Goddesses. I would probably pair it with the Prose Eddas, but I also like people to dive right into the source material and make discoveries on their own, but if that style of study works better for you I don’t see a reason not to do it, particularly if the Eddas are a bit hard to work through.
Another book I would seriously recommend is Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson. It details some typical practices from both groups and personal practice.
*This is not a traditional name for the powerful male Dead. It is German for “Fathers”. I use it in preference of Álfar, since álfar means ‘elves’.