So, I wrote this awhile back and completely blanked on posting it. Part 1 is here.
If there are outward ways of acknowledging the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that are commonly accepted, it then follows that an absence of these can be an indicator of one’s devotion to Them. In the case of a lack of offerings, a lack of hospitality may be seen. If certain prayers, rituals, ritual actions, dietary observances, etc., are expected by one’s culture, Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits, then to go without those would also be lacking in hospitality, possibly breaking ritual taboos, and/or hurting the spiritual power of the person, and/or their group(s). Such an act may (and I imagine probably will) hurt one’s relationship with a God or Goddess, Ancestor(s), and/or spirits.
Even with the less human of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits I work with, starting here with baselines of “I do not know you, but I hope this offering is acceptable” at least showed I was making an effort to come to understand Them, even if They had me offer or do something (or in some cases nothing but open my ears) later on. I do what I can to meet the Beings who interact with me on Their own terms; it is respectful and Gebo in my regard to do so. In my experience, in turn, if They wish to have a relationship with me, They try as best as They can to use words, images, sounds, smells, concepts etc. as I can use and/or understand. It is entirely possible with some Beings that They may have a learning curve in kind to us as much as we to Them. Not all Gods are omniscient. Indeed, most of the Gods I have worshiped or interacted with are not omniscient. Sometimes They may well need you to talk to Them or interact with Them in some fashion for Them to know what is going on.
In the end we are navigating relationships, and to seek perfection here is counterproductive. If apologies or amends need to be made along the way, if these Gods, Ancestors, and spirits mean so much to us, we should be willing to meet Them if They are reasonable, and negotiate if not. We should also be willing to be flexible in our understanding of what is reasonable in kind; what may seem a hardship to us may have been expected on a regular basis by Them. If we can develop good relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, then surely we can develop ways to deepen these relationships while giving Gebo and remembering to allow Gebo to come to us in kind. Screwing up happens. Being a responsible person means owning up to one’s mistakes, and where possible, rectifying them.
I would say that a lot, if not all of these things apply to the Gods as guidelines even when the Gods, some Ancestors, and spirits are less human-focused, human-centric, or just plain not like humans at all. Respect, good offerings, hospitality, all of these are baseline in any relationship even if the attitudes and mores regarding what these things are change. I find this especially true if you are going into a place that is definitely a God, Ancestor, or spirit’s place, such as a sacred grove, a graveyard, a mountain, or the like. Hospitality is even more important when you are in another’s home or place.
The only way that I have found to get better at understanding what one should do in a relationship is to ask questions, and then to do it where one can, and bargain or accept one’s limitations and work at them, where one cannot. Even as a godatheow I generally still have the option of asking my Father for options, of negotiating in respect when I believe I am being asked too much. It is up to me to ask for these options, however, and I certainly don’t expect other people to be offered the same paths, options, or consequences (good or ill) as I am. However, for the work of good relationship building and engagement with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits you do not need to be a spiritual specialist; you merely need to be open and dedicated to doing the work necessary to forge and keep these good relationships.
In the Northern Tradition the communities we are part of, allied to, and so on, share and build hamingja, group luck or power. If everyone is living in good Gebo with the Gods, Ancestor, spirits, and one another, we are doing well. If not, our hamingja suffers, and so will each person in turn for it. This puts taking responsibility to a different level, in that you are not only responsible to yourself, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, but to those around you. Even a solitary practitioner might have hamingja, since all but the most reclusive of hermits belong to a community of some kind.
This does not mean that ethical consideration for fellow humans stops at the question ‘who is in my in-crowd’, but those people do, generally speaking, carry more weight in one’s life. Practically as well as in many other ways, our families carry a great deal of weight even if we physically leave where our families live. The human communities we engage in, whether via friendship, association, fellowship, etc. all leave marks on our lives great and small. When someone in our personal communities asks for help we are more apt to give it, and vice versa. They are given more ethical consideration, in the end, because their impact and presence in our lives is much more immediate.
In much the same way, the Gods I have active engagement with are the Gods Whom I most care for in regards to my ethics. Do I care about treating the Gods I come across in a ritual well? Of course, and this links back to the earlier points about hospitality. That hospitality is informed by the Gods, Ancestors, and spirit I worship and engage with on a daily basis. For daily considerations and many, if not most of my life choices the Gods I am closest to and worship are the Gods Whose relationships matter most to me, my family, and my communities. So, Their impact and Presence in my life has more pull on it. The same with Ancestors and spirits.
I care about the Earth as a whole. The landvaettir of any place I visit or pass through deserve respect, if not veneration and worship. However, relating to the whole world is damned near impossible for me. I have never been to a desert, for instance. I can relate to it in a kind of detached way, see it as valuable, and believe they should be protected, that the deserts have landvaettir as well, but it is quite another thing to know the desert(s) and Their spirits. I can imagine or be shown how beautiful the deserts can be…from a camera, but to go there and experience it is wholly different. My ethical engagement, then, is limited with the desert and associated spirits as compared to my local landvaettir.
Polytheist ethics and ethical consideration extends to the communities we are part of, to the living, to the Dead, the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, communities, and the ecosystems in which one lives, among many other places. These ethics also extend into the larger world, in places I may never visit. I use less oil when and where I can because I acknowledge the Earth as a living Being. As much as I can, I try to make my negative impact upon this world, through teaching, purchasing, and any way I can find, to be reduced. No decision is made in isolation or without impact upon another. Even if one is entirely reclusive, there are still the landvaettir and one’s local ecosystem to consider in one’s choices. The local landvaettir may include the Dead who live in the soil the landvaettir are made of, the natives of the land we live on now. It may be that the two are totally separate Beings and need separate consideration. I can think of no place where we humans are not sitting, standing, and living on the bones of those who came before us. In this recognition respect and actions that back up that respect go hand in hand.
These ethical considerations need not be jarringly huge, either. I pray to the landvaettir and make offerings before I set up my tent at Michigan Paganfest, where I have helped tend the Sacred Fire the last three years. I pay this respect to the landvaettir because it is not my land.
Then again, an ethical consideration may be jarringly huge in its impact, in the mindset that follows from it, and in the way one lives their life. Even though our modern notions of property ownership may say otherwise, if I own land, even so it will not be my land. It cannot be; the land is Its Own. I may be allowed to live on it, my family, and generations after may be allowed to live on it, but the land is Its Own, and we humans may be part of It, or part of the landvaettir some day but we are not It Itself. I may partner with the land, treat it well, till it, harvest from it, raise animals on it, bury my dead in it, and feel close to It, but I am not the land. This does not mean I do not belong to the land, but that the land does not belong to me. It was here before I was, and will be long after I am dead. I can no more outright own It than I can own Jörð.
When we light the Sacred Fire there are prayers and offerings made to Fire Itself, to the Gods of Fire, to the spirits of Fire, to the wood, to the landvaettir, Ancestors, and other spirits. The Gods, Ancestors, and spirits all deserve our respect, especially the Fire Itself since the Sacred Fire is the heart of the festival for three days it is on. We keep it day and night; to do otherwise is to extinguish the heart of the festival, and to insult the Fire, the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits we have asked to be with us in Its heat and light, to sit with us by it and to speak with us when They will. To extinguish It on purpose before it is time is to break our word that we will do all we can to keep It lit throughout the weekend. To throw litter in It is to treat the Sacred Fire as a garbage disposal, which is inhospitable to the communities the Fire represents, and inhospitable to the Fire Itself. To speak disrespectfully of the Fire is an insult to It and the community whose Fire It keeps as we keep It. To treat the heart of the festival, the spirit of Fire Itself, the particular Fire spirit that is the Fire with disrespect, is insulting to the Fire Itself, to each person connected to the Fire, to those who form the community that the Fire is the heart of, and to the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and so on that have been called by and to the Sacred Fire. As with people, Fire too can be worked with when insulted, and amends can be made, but it is far easier and more respectful to not have to rectify insults and problems in the first place.
I will continue these thoughts on Ethics and Animism in Polytheism in Part 3.
I am presenting at the New York Regional Diviner’s Conference.
What: for one day in November, diviners from a plethora of traditions will gather in Fishkill, NY to discuss their art, network, exchange knowledge, and learn new techniques. There will be a day of workshops and round-table discussions on a variety of topics of interest to diviners. At this conference, we will be discussing how to restore the position of divination as a sacred art within our traditions. We will also be looking at the difference between diviners and oracles, how to work cleanly as a diviner, ethics, best practices, trouble shooting, how to ensure accuracy, self care, and more. The conference is open to diviners at all levels, from experienced to raw beginners.
Why: Polytheist religions were religions of diviners, seers, omen takers, and oracles. This family of sacred arts was fundamental toward keeping the community and the individual in right relationship with the ancestors, Gods, and spirits. As we work to restore our respective traditions, likewise we must return divinatory practices to their rightful place as necessary and sacred arts.
When: Saturday, November 29, 2014 from 8:30am – 8pm.
Where: Quality Inn, 849 New York 52, Fishkill, NY 12524.
This is my presentation for the Conference:
Divination: They are Speaking – by Sarenth Odinsson
“Divination, more than any other art, tells us that the Gods are listening.” Paraphrased from Sarah Iles Johnston.
This lecture/discussion will explore divination as a continuation and container for religion and traditions, and how it can powerful tool for change.
We will explore several topics: how contact with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, etc. can be affected by divination, how changes are made under divination individually and collectively, how religions can be changed by revelation and/or communication through divination, and finally, what the implications, challenges, and radical avenues that divination provides should we follow them close.
The Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir have been pretty quite the last few weeks. I make offerings now and again, and things, overall are quiet. I know from experience that some of these long-ish pauses between activity are here for me to get myself together, and/or to let me enjoy myself after a hard time. Sometimes the Holy Powers just don’t have anything for me to do. Sometimes I ask for down-time and They are kind enough to give it to me.
What does this down-time look like for me? I keep up mealtime prayers and evening prayers with my family. Even tonight, with our son dog-tired from his day, we prayed Sigdrifa’s Prayer in bed, whereas we usually go to the altars and shrines for Whom the prayers are being said. We keep the water offerings fresh as we can, and occasionally, if I feel the call and feel I can do it in a sacred manner, I do smoke offerings and prayers with my personal sacred pipe. When I am able to come home from work soon enough, or wake up in time on my days off, I do morning prayers with my family. Otherwise, I generally tend to stay away from divination, magical workings, even making written poems and/or prayers. I don’t tend to find myself in a good headspace to do sacred work of any kind heavier than offerings and prayers.
Getting back on the ‘heavy work’ bike is like coming back to exercise after a hiatus. If it has been a long time, it is easier to get winded if I haven’t done anything like walking or running around. If I’ve kept up at least with the bare minimum it is easier to come back to where I need to be, even if things need a bit of shuffling around. I find that cleaning the upstairs where we live can help put me into that ‘work’ mindset. When I do housework, if I am being mindful about it, it is an offering to Frigga and Frau Holle at the least, and may also be an offering to the Gods, Disir, Väter, Ancestors, housevaettir, and other vaettir who share our home.
Cleaning helps me reset. It puts me in the mind of “okay, we’re starting fresh”, especially because when we do big cleanings we often completely dismantle, was the altar cloths, and then clean all the altars and shrines. Cleaning is spiritual for me in part because it is mostly physical. I have to concentrate on it for a while, put myself into it to do it well, and gain a deep sense of satisfaction when it is done. Grandmother Una, Mugwort, cleanses the insides. The vacuum sucks up the debris, the cloths and water clean the surfaces.
We will usually start off with a cleansing of ourselves so we do the work in a clean head and spiritual space. When we are coming out of a hard period, or I have done a hard working, like the last time we did an Ancestor elevation, we cleanse ourselves and the space with either Thunderwater or Florida Water. The Thunderwater is only brought out for big cleansings, since the Florida Water will usually do the trick. Thunderwater, (which we sometimes call Lightningwater), is rainwater we collect during thunderstorms that we ask Thor to bless. If I/we feel Odin in the storm, we ask Him to bless it as well. We’ve only had to refill it once, given how often we use it. When we do not use it, it sits in the Water section of our Ancestor shrine. Using this or Florida Water, along with fresh, white towels, together with the very act of cleaning brings me into a solid headspace. Not only am I doing something good and holy, but I am doing it from a clean space myself.
The next part of getting used to riding again might be something like making special prayers for our Gods, or it may be doing several days of special offerings. It may be going outside and tending the outdoor shrine, which, during the fallow periods, tends to get neglected. So while I am out there I will clean that up, and the sacred fire pit (thankfully mobile and easy to clean), and make sure the area is relatively clear of debris. Given it is in a little grove in a wood, clean is relative to the season. This first winter with the sacred fire pit should be interesting.
I have found a pretty important part of this ‘getting used to riding’ is learning and/or remembering how to pace myself. I get back on and go too quick without Odin demanding it, or otherwise needing to, and I can burn out quick. I have found long-term devotional relationships have ebbs and flows to them. What is important to remember is that while we can help it be an ebb or a flow, sometimes our Gods or an Ancestor, or vaettir will push us into one of these to slow us down and take our time, or speed us up and get ourselves further along. I don’t think that people have to be ‘on’, godphone or otherwise, ever, to be a good Pagan or polytheist. It is entirely possible to not hear the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir at all and be an incredible, devoted, pious worshiper. Likewise, I don’t think that those of us who do have gifts of any sort should feel like these have to be ‘on’ all the time to be a good servant, friend, child, helpmeet, godatheow, etc., of the Gods. Sometimes our Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir might require a furious pace out of us, which tests our biking ability to its limits, and then at another time, to walk with the bike rather than ride it.
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.