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.
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.