I am trying to have respectful dialogue on something I have intense feelings rooted in my religion, beliefs, and understanding of my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. I understand that for those who engage in Pop Culture Paganism their feelings are probably similar if not the same towards their own Gods. I am trying to open up dialogue about something that I nearly destroyed all bridges with my family over and have dedicated my life to.
Part of my reluctance to engage is recognizing from talking with people near me, as one put it, that “You are too engrossed in your worldview to see another’s”. And you know what? That is a valid point, and one I raise to Christians when they deny the whole existence of my Gods.
I also ask ‘does my engagement actually engender frith?’ I am unsure if my writing did anything beyond preach to a choir and alienate others. I felt a compulsion to write it, out of frustration and anger at what I found to be something that I felt was insulting to my Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and I. I have issues with definitions of Paganism already, and this was one more thing that I feel that takes away from that understanding.
My point in my articles is not that Pop Culture Paganism is evil, but I admit in several places where I have weighed in that I cannot understand it. It does not make sense to me. I don’t mind that people use statuary as stand ins for Loki, or they derive benefit from using iconography and such from another medium. I recognize that my approval probably means nothing to people engaged in religious devotion to Gods I don’t worship. I happen to use Dryad Designs’ depictions of my Gods (Odin and Freya thus far, and I’m on the lookout for Frigga) because they click with me. If Loki-as-Joker works for you, I’m fine with that. What I do not understand is the worship /of/ Joker. Or Batman.
In the article I wrote I expressed that I could not conceive of worshiping Batman or developing a devotional relationship with him, and then go on to compare and contrast it to heiti. I ask the question: “Which Batman?” among others. Which comic do I take as an understanding of Batman? How do I verify this is indeed Batman the spirit, as opposed to a spirit wearing Batman’s face? I assume that similar methods if not the same methods I would use to check if the spirit that answered my call to Odin is Odin Himself or someone wearing His guise. However, I don’t know because it is not something I have done.
I have had revelatory experiences in my car listening to the radio. Does that mean that the artist whose song I have listened to is a prophet of this or that God, Goddess, Ancestor, or spirit? No, my Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits used a medium to communicate with me.
In the post I recently wrote I cited my Great-Grandfather’s journey here from Holland to America at the open of WWI when the fear was that there would be an invasion. He came to a country where he had some relatives, but he could not speak the language well. He made his life here success by success and mistake by mistake. I do not understand the process that puts his life story, one of my heroes, alongside Batman’s. I attended my Great-Grandfather’s funeral and heard his life story several times over the course of my life. I saw his ship records; he has a concrete place in this world, in my Ancestors’ House, and in my life for the little amount of time I knew him in life. He sang to me songs in broken Dutch and English, and gave me a harmonica to remember him by. Batman does not and has not done these things for me. How could he?
I use Batman here because I really like this character, especially from the 90s animated series voiced by Kevin Conroy, the Dark Knight Trilogy, and the Arkham Batman games. Have I been inspired by Batman? Sure. He was a part of my early childhood and helped form it with his stories, just as Spider-Man did. I spent a good deal of time watching both with my Dad and it helped to form dialogue between us on religion, revenge, the use of power, the poor, mental health and mental health care, the difference between reality and fiction, and so many other things. I suppose where I come to the difference, beyond ‘my Great-Grandfather lived’, is that Batman never came to me in a vision, or when I thought “Man, I could really use Batman right now.” The Gods did. When I was a Catholic, Yahweh, Jesus Christ, and the Virgin Mary, as well as St. Francis de Assisi did.
A worthy point Sannion brought up is if indeed these are spirits unto themselves, then what if they would actively deny our worship, or worse, be insulted by it? I.e. Batman, I am fairly sure given my experience of Batman through the comics, movies, games, etc. would balk at being worshiped and would not answer. Perhaps that is me just lore-thumping with a comic book instead of an Edda. How does one enter into such a religious cultus and culture and keep a sense of discernment and sense of sanctity for Gods I consider to be more real than comic book ones that are worshiped?
So the challenge could be one where I would say “Okay, I don’t believe on whit of this, but I’m willing to entertain the notion, so here we go: I’ll buy a Batman action figure or print a picture and put it aside from my Gods and give it worship as I might my Gods. It won’t go on my God altar, but I’m willing to entertain this notion.”
Then I think about it, and what that worship means to me, to my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and I cannot do it. I can’t go that far, and I admit that. At the risk of insulting you, and your own religious path, I don’t look at it as a negative, because I see such a thing as debasing my religion, of saying to my Gods “you are like this fictitious being to me”. It insults me, and from my perspective, and my religious training and beliefs it insults my Gods to do so.
I’m all for people worshiping whatever Gods they want to, and at the end of the day, I recognize that my voice means relatively little in the course of whether or not someone will call me wrong for worshiping Loki the way I do when they take their inspiration of worship from Marvel. They still may feel the need to say it, even if I don’t respond to it, or they may strike a dialogue with me and explain why they find the Marvel Loki more spiritually fulfilling than the Loki I know.
I think that part of the importance of my engaging with Pagans who engage Pop Culture as a source for their Gods, is to say that “I do not believe this, but I am willing at least to hear it. I won’t shout you down, but I will probably not accept it.” People may well come to me tomorrow asking for help, or I may be called upon to engage with them by my Gods, and rather than close myself off wholly to them, I think that the middling ground of “I respect your right to have your religious experiences, but I do not look at them as I will my own. If you can handle that we can continue.” If their response is “If my Gods are not welcome/respected as I respect Them I cannot treat with you” I can respect that in the larger sense; I have the exact same response to places where Loki is forbidden. I cannot go there, and cannot ask you to either.
If your devotion to your religion and/or your Gods is that deep, let me give a heartfelt hurrah for you. I can at least nod and say “I respect your right to worship who and what you wish. I don’t understand it, I may not accept it as valid for my religion, practices, beliefs, etc. but that, ultimately, is between you and the Gods.” Hell, if your religious devotion is deep you’re doing better than a lot of so-called religious people, Pagan and not. Where I would have harsh words is if, as I have seen insisted on Tumblr, that Marvel’s Loki is the real one, and any of us who go “Wait, our understanding of Loki is based in the myths and legends and our experiences of Him through that lens” are told we are wrong. My Gods are not revealed to me in fiction. While my understanding may, in some cases be informed by fiction, i.e. I still ‘see’ Thor with blond hair rather than red as is depicted in the myths, I do not believe They should not be placed in the same category as fiction or fictitious beings. I cannot treat Batman, or any other superhero with the same religious reverence as my Gods, my Ancestors, or the spirits with whom I work.
This post was inspired by this one on Patheos by Sunweaver.
The comic book heroes I read about and watch are not worthy of worship.
If I need help I cannot call on Batman to lend me aid any more than I can call upon Wolverine to lend me strength in battle. Could a spirit become invested with that power? I could see where a spirit would be happy to piggy-back on the following certain characters in fiction get, such as those above. But it would not be Batman or Wolverine in any meaningful sense.
Batman, with all of his iterations, may have a core story, but many are so spaced apart that calling on ‘the spirit of Batman’ is chaotic. Do you get the early 1940s Batman? Adam West’s? Kevin Conroy’s? Or perhaps one of exclusively toy line Batmans that float around after a new movie, with only the costume and some items to go with it?
This is nothing like heiti. In calling upon Odin, or perhaps upon Him via one of His heiti I am calling to a particular part of Him that was known, and that corresponds to Him in some concrete way. As Runatyr I get a very different aspect of Odin, but unlike the Batman example I give above, Runatyr is still Odin, not reimagined, or, as in the case of Batman 52, rebooted, but simply focused upon in a different way. Rather than focusing upon His qualities and Being as a God of inspiration, for instance, in praying to and calling upon Him as Runatyr I am desiring a connection to the Runemeister, to the God of Runes. I cannot confuse this with another spirit; it is utterly Odin’s name, likeness, and Being in conjunction with this heiti. There is no ‘alternate universe’ so to speak, ala Universe 52, where Runatyr is the essence of Odin and not His heiti.
Okay, well, we’re talking about heroes and superheroes. So what about Egil Skallagrimsson or Olvir of Egg or, more close to home, those of our Disir or Väter who we know as our recent Dead? Batman is as worthy of veneration and worship as my Great-Grandfather? Batman, while I find him a really cool comic character and many of his qualities good to emulate, is not and was not a flesh and blood person. The story of the Dark Knight movies, while fun to watch and in many cases a good meditation on justice, desperation and a good deal of other themes, is not the story of how my Great-Grandfather sailed into America with few possessions and laid down new roots here with the few family members already settled here. Batman, while a human-like story, is not a human story. Likewise, my Great-Grandfather’s story is neither allegory nor metaphor, but history and the lore of my family. I can visit his grave; I attended his funeral. I may tell his story as a metaphor or allegory, especially if I find the telling the story may help another, but Great-Grandfather’s story is his life retold, not a reimagined character. He embodies the story, even as I tell it, even if I miss details, or intentionally focus on others. When I tell Great-Grandfather’s story, it is not some New 52 Great-Grandfather, but he as he has come to me in understanding from my family, from my interactions with him, and my understanding of his story, its places in my life and how it can touch others.
Our heroes are real. These people, our Pagan and Heathen heroes and martyrs are real. They lived. Their stories reach out to us, many lives ending in supreme amounts of pain in devotion to their Gods. These, these are people, Holy People worthy of worship and remembrance . I can raise a horn to these People, write a paean to Them, hail them as Ancestors. These are people I can look to for greatness, for devotion, as exemplars.
I have been working with my Ancestors pretty closely going on about four years now. In that time a pair of ancient Ancestors, one a Disir, a powerful female Ancestors, and the other a Vater (German word meaning ‘father’ which I use in place of ‘alfar’ which can also mean ‘elf’) have come forward to guide me in my Work. In the last two years my Catholic Ancestors have raised Their Voices and let Themselves be known much stronger than previous. It seems now, in addition to speaking for my long-Dead Ancestors, that I must speak for and with the Catholic ones as well.
When They first began contacting me, it was a cacophony of voices, questions like “Why did you stop going to church? Do you not like Fr. ___ anymore?” and “You can still pray with us, yes? (or ja?, dependent on the Ancestor)?” and many others. Their Catholic identity was so strong and intrinsic to Their Being that They carried it over with some part of Them into Death. If Their Catholicism is as deep, powerful, and purposeful a presence in Their life as Paganism is in mine, that it lasts well after They have crossed over, who am I to argue with Their spirits?
Part of engaging with the Ancestors is to encounter Them on Their own terms, regardless of how comfortable They make us, but I take that only to a point. That point for me is an abusive Ancestor who has been abusive towards myself and/or others that has refuted any attempts at reconciliation. I do not have Ancestors who abused me while They lived, and for that, I am deeply grateful. The point of working with our Ancestors is not to tear open old wounds unnecessarily, but where we can, to give comfort, healing, and connection to Them and to ourselves, the Worlds we live in, and the places They once lived. In the case of an abusive Ancestor I advise contacting an older and/or closer Ancestor to you than that person.
I was deeply uncomfortable, especially at first, with the offerings my Catholic Ancestors wanted me to make. They wanted me to go to church, to sing Them Catholic songs I had learned as a child, to read to Them from the Bible. As with a lot of my Work I came to understand that really my comfort is secondary to doing what is right for my Ancestors. For my Ancestors who still identify as Catholic, there is a profound peace, purpose, and love They find in the liturgy They have me read, in the songs I sing, in the love I show to Them by doing this.
There are certain things I will not do, such as attend church services where I directly participate in the Mass, i.e. taking Communion. I would be lying to myself, my Ancestors, my Catholic Ancestors especially, and to Their God. I would also be taking into my body the Body and Blood of Christ, and that I cannot do, for many theological reasons, chief among them being that I am Odin’s and so, I cannot proclaim the Catholic Mystery of Faith. While I may go to a Mass for a family member, such as a funeral or a wedding, I cannot be part of it as my Catholic relatives will be.
What I do, instead, is do as my Ancestors have asked in concession. I carry in my pocket a green Gideon New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. I may pray to the Ancestors out of it, sing from it, or, as They have had me do more recently, listen to Them with it. I shut my eyes, letting the pages flow along my fingers until I hit a page and feel or ‘hear’ stop. When this happens I let my fingers flow along the page until I feel or ‘hear’ stop again, and look at what the message from Them is. It is especially helpful because it is a way my Catholic Ancestors feel comfortable with it, and it gives us a common connection. I happen to find great beauty in the Psalms, especially 23.
I have also placed my First Communion rosary on the Ancestor Altar for Them, and a red Gideon New Testament like the one above, and keep it as I would anything else on the Ancestor Altar. While I do not pray the rosary, given the Nicene Creed is part of it, it is there as a reminder, and a way of connection many of my Dead. I need not pray the rosary to feel its influence in my life, particularly my Ancestors’ skull prayer beads, which brings me great comfort and connection.
The Catholic prayers I once prayed and sang, the many days I spent at prayer in church have had good effect on how I pray to my own Gods. The process of learning to sing, clearly and in more-than-ordinary language, lends itself to the altered states of consciousness, the mindfulness I hope to achieve with Them. I learned “Adeste Fideles”, otherwise known as “O Come All Ye Faithful” in first grade, and loved the Latin language. I was required to know what I was singing, and why I was singing it. To know not just the words that the Latin translated into, but what they meant to those I was singing them to, and for me, given I was singing solo. Rote prayer has a power with me because it is what I grew on. Intellectual investigation of the source materials for my religion, and constantly questioning was appreciated by my priests, and it is one of many things I carried with me into my Paganism. An appreciation of spiritual gifts and mystic experiences was given to me at a young age, where I had an experience kneeling before the Tabernacle during one of my Confirmation classes. I prayed for two hours, and experienced Christ in a deeply personal way, His Voice, His touch. It is from these deep wells of learning, from then and more recently, that much of my devotional Work is culled from.
Working with my Catholic Ancestors is rebuilding a bridge between us I had long thought burnt to ash. When I became a Pagan I spoke with Yahweh, explaining that my choice to follow the Goddess, then Brighid, was not to hurt Him or betray Him, but a following of my heart for what called me, and I recognized that the Voice was not His. I thought in this I would have to cut most, if not all ties to my Catholic family, Ancestors included. I am deeply happy to be shown that is not the case.
The impassable wall that I feared I had built between myself and my family seems to be much less a solid wall than one with many gates, some shut to me, and others wide open. Ancestor Work is one of those wide open gates, and there are Ancestors freely coming to many of my rituals, Catholic Ancestors and otherwise. Sometimes we must be the ones to raise that gate and acknowledge our Ancestors. Sometimes They will come to us and invite us to meet between, acknowledging us on our path, still extending love, and connecting with us. It is, as with all things, Gebo.
“Keeping your word is one of the most important things you can do. Once you break your word it is hard to get that trust back. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible.” -My Dad
There should be little more needing to be said for oaths and oathmaking. I make exceedingly few oaths nowadays. This is not because I am untrustworthy or I avoid commitment, but because oaths carry maegen of their own, and along with that binding power, my and the other parties’ maegen. This maegen will affect those communities I and they are attached to through hamingja.
Before we go much further, let us define some terms.
Maegen is analogous to one’s personal luck or power. Where önd is the breath and analogous to chi or one’s personal energies, maegen is the strength by which those energies are felt, how they are wielded, and so on. We all start with önd, and some work with their önd quite well in context of building it, such as by learning breath control, inner control, meditation, and similar arts. Maegen is worked with and built by keeping your word, by exercising your Will in ways that build you up.
Hamingja translates, roughly, to group luck or power. This is built in much the same way as maegen, but it also ties into the group’s recognition of you keeping your oaths, showing up when needed (i.e. if you say you are going to be there you will be there), and being a good member of your communities. Maegen and hamingja are part of the soul, as much as the liche (body), mynd (mind), and vili (Will).
The Weight of an Oath
When you make an oath or a promise you are literally putting a piece of your soul at stake. You are saying to the other party “I trust you so much I am willing to wager a part of my soul for this oath.” When you keep your oath your maegen increases, as may your standing in the community, thus increasing hamingja. The same may be true in reverse: keeping well with your community may help to increase your maegen, i.e. showing up when you say you will, doing right by the community, etc. After all, if you are keeping your oaths you are exercising the muscles of maegen, and potentially hamingja if the oaths and promises made were before or to a group.
This is why in the Northern Tradition oathbreaking is regarded as the lowest thing you can do, right down there with being a traitor. Think of most any mythology where a person breaks their oath to the Gods, or to their kin; there is backlash. Sometimes there is no ‘good’ choice and it is a tossup of breaking of one oath or another, such as the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t story of Cú Cuhulain who was given the unenviable choice of breaking one or the other of his geas. It may be you have to keep to established taboos, such as not eating this animal, wearing that piece of clothing, or not speaking certain words. Keeping to the oaths, the taboos, the expectations is more important than I can say in words. I have lost friends, and hurt those I love both emotionally and spiritually by not doing so. I was removed from a group for this. Take my example as a lesson, and don’t repeat it. The consequences reverberate through your life and Wyrd.
Oaths in America
Modern American culture no longer respects oaths, if indeed, it ever really did. Our elected officials make empty promises to their constituents, and once elected, to the Constitution. Veterans give their lives to a People that sees fit to lead them to lives of plastic bags, cardboard boxes and underpasses when they have given their all. Companies who pledged money to their employees thirty years ago bilk their workers’ retirement accounts in schemes and scams, leaving people to struggle to keep their homes, let alone food on their table, in their old age. Marriage vows are no longer held, with some celebrities not even waiting twenty-four hours before divorce. With oaths and promises, taboos and peoples’ word given such short shrift it is little wonder that we are in the straights we are in.
With as many broken oaths, half-truths and full-on thirty year lies, how much work would the U.S. government have to do to get an inkling of trust back? Look at all the broken Treaties the United States government signed with Native American Nations. No really, look at them. It’s a litter of literally hundreds of broken promises, terrible deals, backstabbing, and genocide. In the Declaration of Independence it was declared “all people were created equal” then, when the Constitution was ratified, it cast blacks a 3/5 of a person, less than human. Our nation was part of the creation and ratification of the Geneva Convention, and now We flaunt it shamelessly. Companies poison our bodies, minds, land, sea, and sky are raking in record profits while bottom-rung workers are forced to take up public assistance. Any thought to the well-being of the People, and associated promises and oaths to take care of the environment, the poor, or anything other than a bottom-line profit motive are met with scorn. America’s maegen wanes as we shore up our falling power with an ailing, ill-served military, and Its hamingja dies in our constant ‘might makes right’ pursuit of our ‘national interests’. Meanwhile we have people all over our country unable to care for themselves, half of our nation exists in or under the poverty level, and the nation’s infrastructure crumbles. Oaths are as important for the soul as they are for the foundation of any society, and when oaths erode, so does the soul. No less the soul of a nation.
The Marriage Oath
Getting down to the more personal level, let us talk about marriage oaths. The most common we are used to hearing is “Til Death do you part”. Think about that. You are investing a part of your soul, and what ought to be a significant part of your life in a relationship until one or the other of you dies. There is no ‘out’ in most of these marriage oaths, no ‘if this person turns out to be a total jackass or doesn’t take care of the kids or is abusive I can leave him’. At least from the Catholic side, you have to get your marriage annulled before you can marry again, but, from the Catholic point of view, this is not breaking an oath. It is saying the marriage oath was never valid to begin with, and so the oath cannot be binding.
The marriage oath is particularly powerful as oaths go. You are combining all your bloodlines into one home, welcoming the Ancestors and their descendants of those bloodlines into your life. You are putting your maegen into your partner(‘s/s’) hands, and through your public oath, whether to a court, a few witnesses, your families and friends, or all and sundry at a Renaissance Fair, you are tying together your hamingja to that person, their family, and to the communities you make the marriage oath before. You are swearing an oath before the Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, and the landvaettir. You’ll be making a home with your partner(s), and you’ll be making it on the landvaettir’s home. Right relationship with all the Beings involved in making your lives, and in helping you live is crucial. Keeping the oaths is just one part of this, but a deeply important one.
There are many parts of the marriage oath you can change; heck, you can write your own. There may be some oaths the Gods, Ancestors and/or spirits want you to change or adapt. We do not, in most cases, have a singular body of liturgy that has passed down generation after generation, and our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, especially landvaettir, may have different expectations when we come together to marry than what we have in mind. So while there is a lack in foundation there, there is also a lack in the ossification of the Holy, of written word and spoken oath.
I do not expect much, if any of my living extended family to show up when I get married, yet my partner(s) and I we will be recognized as married when we visit family. Yet oaths will be made, and the threads of those oaths will tie together our Wyrd to one another, to our communities, and our families. The ties of maegen, hamingja, and the rest of our soul(s) will still be there, recognized before the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and the communities who see fit to be there.
Maegen, Hamingja, and the Pagan Communities
I have spent a good time talking about oaths, so now I am going to switch gears here a bit.
We build maegen and lose it, break it down and send it up, over the course of our lives. We can use it to exert control over ourselves and others, we can let it shine like a beacon or we can hood the lamp and keep it to ourselves. We can work with maegen to make ourselves a better person, or fight its pull and make our lives infinitely harder. Each person’s maegen is different, and is built differently. My workout regimen may not work for you. You might need to build up your arms where I may need to build up my legs. Your Gods may ask you to contribute to your maegen in a thousand ways I will never have to touch, whether it is the oaths you keep, the taboos you are not to break, or the path you are meant to walk. We may even walk side by side, but your maegen is just that: yours.
Hamingja is affected by us, but it is also, in parts, distinctly out of our control. If it belongs to anyone, it belongs with us and those we share our lives with. We help to build it up in building up our maegen, but it may also help to build maegen in its turn. It is, in part, our reputation in the communities we exist in. It is the relationships we have to those communities, and they to us. It is the building of partnerships and the burning of bridges. It is the life you touch for good that encourages a person to excel. It is the person you harmed and helped continue a downward spiral. It is who you are, and how you are known. It is your reputation, your name(s), your good word. It is what you have done for your community and what you have failed to do. It is trusting the community to have your back as much as it is doing for the community. It cannot be made alone, though each person has their own part in building it. Hamingja is like a good barn raising: best made together with those you trust not to drop it as it is raised.
Our maegen and hamingja are the chains we forge with each duty done, each oath kept, each taboo observed, each deed that helps ourselves and others, and it is broken, sometimes link by link and sometimes all at once, when we fail in these. Yet there is hope because it can be reforged. So if you do screw up, and Gods knows I have, it is not the end of the world even if, in the moment, it feels like it. Rebuilding the maegen and/or hamingja from this state is started by making the right choice: to rebuild it. It may be hard and long, and that chain may never be the same, but it is as worthy Work as any we may engage in. Good maegen and good hamingja promote frith, good peace and social order.
The Pagan communities have an opportunity to continue to reforge the broken chains that had lain at the Gods’ feet for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The only way that I know of for these chains to stay forged is for us to remain in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and one another. This is not a one-shot solution. This will take time and effort. It will take patience, starting with ourselves, and branching out from there. There is no end to this work, really, and no silver bullet, no scrap of lore that will unlock the secrets of this Work. It is a link forged with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and communities one person at a time with each and every Being, human and otherwise, that they encounter. The metal of the links are shaped by our word and deeds, by how we treat one another, and the devotion we show to our Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, our communities, and to our own journey with all of Them. So let us all dedicate or rededicate ourselves to making these links, to making them lasting long after we are gone so that when the link is tested it will stand strong as it once did, as it can, and I believe will, again.
From James Two Snakes:
Tell me more about the rituals and prayers you do with your son.
When I first became a Dad I determined one thing I really wanted for my son was the gift my parents gave to me: an active, living religious tradition. A good part of this was prayers for meals, and especially bedtime prayers. Before he could do prayers, before he could speak I would pray with him. In the last three we’ve really come together and now, they’re a daily part of our life.
The first prayer is usually the morning breakfast prayer. Our meal prayers are all the same at this point, and rote, so that he connects on a regular basis with all the Gods, and is mindful of Them, the Ancestors, and the spirits. From what he has told me, he says this prayer at school, and it makes me very proud. All the prayers used to be call and response, but as he has learned them, my son has grown into saying them alongside his Mom and I on occasion. Sometimes, when he is in the mood, he will ask to lead the call and response. This latest development has happened recently, and I find it a good thing to lead as it is not just a prayer, but a time for him to take charge and do without having to follow his Mom or I. He tends to have this huge smile on his face when he does it, and sometimes it is good to hang back and let someone else take the lead. After all, I want him to have a relationship with the Gods, not just to do it because Mom and Dad are.
The Mealtime Prayer
Thank You Odin
Thank You Frigga
Thank You Freya
Thank You Freyr
Thank You Gerda
Thank You Loki
Thank You Angrboda
Thank You Sigyn
Thank You Brighid
Thank You Bres
Thank You Lycrous
Thank You Lupa
Thank You Bast
Thank You Anubis
Thank You Spirits
Thank You Farmer and Field
Thank You Animals and Plants
Thank You Landvaettir
Thank You Ancestors
Blessed Be, and Ves Heil!
At first it was just the Norse and Germanic Gods, but then slowly included all the Gods we worship. Once he started memorizing the Norse and Germanic Gods They slowly had Themselves included. At first he struggled remembering, but now, two years or so from when we started to say prayers together, he likes to lead prayers sometimes.
Before my girlfriend and I came back together, around the same time we started formulating the meal prayer, we made a bedtime prayer. We lived in separate homes then, so around his bedtime they would call or I would call, and we would say the prayer together over the phone. Back then this was call and response because of delays in the phone. It was hard, at first, because sometimes our son did not want to say the prayer either because of shyness with the phone, or he had a rough day. Still, it was good for her and I to pray, and it was a way for us not just to connect, but to share in prayer to the Gods.
Now that we live together the night prayers are huge. Our son loves them, and asks as he is getting ready for bed what kind of prayers we’ll be doing. There are three kinds of prayers we do at night: The longest we call Full Altar Prayers, the next is Sigdrifa’s Prayer, and the last, Night Prayers. Before I go further I need to explain the altar situation in our home.
My son and I live in a room together on the upper floor of my folks’ home, and his Mom lives across from us upstairs. All of the altars are in our room, as, until recently, the cats were not allowed in. We were afraid they would knock the altars about, knock statues down, etc. The one casualty we’ve had so far was an older wolf statue that I had too near an edge that was knocked over when one of the cats went exploring. Aside from that, the altars themselves were undisturbed despite being left completely alone for four to six hours.
Our son helped to set up all the altars except the Earth, House Spirit, and Military Dead altars which are too high for him to reach. That alone is powerful, connective Work, and a good experience for me too. Between learning to just hang back and let the Gods tell him where to place Their representations (and leave Them there!) to gently guiding him on why we put things like the Brighid crosses together, we get to learn and teach hand in hand, at times he guiding us, and vice versa.
The Gods’ Altar: An altar to all of our Gods that sits before a window, behind which are growing two plants from a ritual with the Church we circle with. There are things like a statue for Odin, Anubis and Freya, keys big and small for Frigga, a Sun disk for Sunna and a Moon disk for Mani, two Brighid’s crosses for Brighid and Bres with bottles of healing water blessed by Her behind them, and a Green Man for Freyr. If I have forgotten anyone/anything I’ll update it.
The Ancestor Altar: An altar to all of our Ancestors, including the Elements. There is a bottle of rainwater and Florida Water for Water, a glazed clay bowl of stones and willow leaves for Earth, a harmonic from my Great-Grandpa and an incense holder for Air, a granite square with a pillar candle and a bowl of matches, lighters, and a sparking fire-starter for Fire, and for the Ancestors in the center is a four-person circle crafted out of clay holding one another, with a stone in the center in the offering bowl, and behind it on either side are tree-shaped candle holder for Ask and Embla. When I am not wearing them I place my Ancestor necklaces on either side of the altar for the Disir and Vatter (Alfar), and my Ancestor prayer bead necklace before the four-person Ancestor circle statue.
The Earth Altar: An altar to the spirits of Earth, with three stones representing Gebo, the Earth, and the Landvaettir (with a stone from the property we live on), a representation of the Earth Dragon made out of ceramic, a Gnome similarly made out of ceramic, the moneyvaettir with a plate of money from different places and times and a large jar in the middle of the play containing spare change and change we felt should go in it. On this altar is a tied off bunch of wheat that forms the bed for a representation of Ramses II, who, when I was a bit younger and mainly working with Anubis as His priest, after I saw his place had been desecrated, knowing what it meant that his bones lay out in the open and his rest disturbed, wrapped up a doll into muslin and did rituals, and invoked spells from the Book of the Dead. He now has a place on the Earth altar, and it is my goal to eventually get him a gold-leaved box to put him in.
The House Spirit Altar: A simple altar with what was a wooden birdhouse, and an incense holder on a granite square.
The Military Dead Altar: An altar that sits on a filing cabinet for now, with an incense holder, a large vase-shaped candle holder, an earthenware pot of graveyard dirt, taken with Their permission, from Veterans’ graves.
Full Altar Prayers
Full Altar Prayers are usually done on the weekends, as it takes anywhere from half an hour to forty-five minutes start to finish. We start by kneeling at the Gods’ altar, taking the selenite and cleansing our energy bodies with it, doing the front of our bodies starting with the crown, then handing off the crystal to someone near and allowing them to get the back of our energy body. Then, our son and I cover our heads with bandanas, he with a black one and I a white one. He’s asked to get his own set, so when we get the opportunity next we’ll do some shopping for him so he can have his own white bandana rather than borrowing my black, all-purpose one. The white bandana is specifically saved for night prayers, the red for Ancestor Work, the blue for Landvaettir, and black is, as mentioned, all-purpose.
After we cover we do the Negative Confession. While this is not the version we use, it gets the point across. We read the Confession in the call-and-response style. After this, we perform Sigdrifa’s Prayer. Again, this is not exactly the prayer we use, but these are excellent sources, and for song music and the prayer in both the English and Old Norse available, they are available here.
When we say “Hail Day! Hail Day’s Sons!” we open our hands and upraise our arms to Daeg, God of Day. When we say “Look with love upon us here and bring victory to those sitting here” we bow to the window, to Nott, the Goddess of Night. When we speak “Hail to the Gods!” and “Hail to the Goddesses!” we bow to each of Them in turn. When we stand to hail the Earth, we go to the Earth altar, and say “Hail to the mighty, fecund Earth!” and then, turn to the Ancestor Altar which is next to it, and say “Eloquence and native wit bestow on us”, and return to the Gods’ altar, saying “And healing hands while we last!” We end with “Blessed be, and Ves Heil!” At the end of all this, we go to each of the altars, bowing, and say “Ves Heil!” to each, hailing all of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that work with us.
These are a lot like the Full Altar Prayers in that we do all the ritual actions for Sigdrifa’s Prayer described above, and we may or may not do the selenite cleansing, and we may or may not cover. It’s a hard and fast thing that our son and I cover, though his Mom does not, for Full Altar Prayers. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we do not for Sigdrifa’s Prayer. The biggest change between these is that we do not do the Negative Confession.
This is a prayer his mother and I made together. At first it was a lot like the Mealtime Prayer and it branched out from there. In it, we address each of the Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and spirits we worship, thanking Them for Their blessings on us, and our lives.
The Bedtime Prayer
Thank You Odin and Frigga for the World around us
Thank You Freya for the Love in our lives
Thank You Freyr and Gerda for the wonderful Food
Thank You Loki, Angrboda, and Sigyn for Laughter, Protection, and Perseverance
Thank You Brighid and Bres for Inspiration and Truth
Thank You Lycrous and Lupa for Ferocity and Kindness
Thank You Bast and Anubis for Pleasure and Opening of the Ways
Thank You Spirits for Your Friendship
Thank You Landvaettir for our Home
Thank You Ancestors for our Lives
Be with us when we sleep,
Be with us when we wake
Blessed be, and Ves Heil!
Other Prayers and Rituals
Prayers and rituals otherwise are rather spontaneous, things like taking out offerings to oak tree, and hailing the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits tend to happen about once a week. If it is too cold we pour water offerings down the drain, and if they’ll go in the compost, that is where we put food offerings. If we have nothing else we can afford to get for offerings we at least leave water on the altars and light incense. Little prayers, like “Thank you Odin for wisdom” or “Thank You Freyr for this food” and similar prayers are said when the occasion hits us. When we walk around the local parks, or we go to a new place, we hail the Landvaettir with a small prayer, such as “Hail Landvaettir; thank you for letting us walk on You and with You.” We might walk up to a nearby tree, one that sticks out or is an oak or ash, bow, and give an offering of some kind. Even if we have no offering to give right then, or if we’ve already given one, we’ll pick up trash as an offering to the landvaettir and the local spirits.
When I was first trying to communicate to my son why we hailed the Landvaettir, I had taken him to a park. I did not know at the time that he had come out for our day (well before his Mom and I came back together) after watching My Neighbor Totoro. So when I asked him if he knew why we hailed the Landvaettir, why we bowed, and prayed, he suddenly piped up “Because every tree has a spirit! Just like Totoro!” I damned near cried on him. ”Yes, son, that’s right, every tree, every rock, every thing has a spirit.” He grinned ear to ear, and we bowed low to the large tree in front of us, and he, in his little voice called out and said “Hail Tree SPIRIT!” So if you are having a hard time communicating a concept to your kids or to someone else’s, look at kids’ media. My Neighbor Totoro, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and several amazing movies and shows communicate our concepts in a way that I have struggled at times to teach.
Every small prayer, every ritual, especially those done day after day, night after night, build up the foundation our children have in their religion to carry this special relationship into their lives. Each and every day, each and every moment, I have found, is teachable if you let the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits in. Giving this gift was the best thing my folks did for me, and I pray, fervently, it is the same for my son.
I am a hard polytheist and animist. The Gods are real, individual beings. The world is populated by spirits. My Ancestors are as close as my blood relatives, reaching into the World itself, into Yggdrasil, the Elements and raw power of the Void, into the Gap Itself, if I look back far enough. Many Gods are imminent, and some transcendent. Some are local Gods, some with names and some with names we do not know, and more with names we may never speak. The Gods can be our friends, our family, our lovers, distant acquaintances, terse partners, employers, and/or master/mistress, among roles and ways of being I am sure I have missed. So can a great many spirits. As for the spirits, They are part and parcel of everything around us. We might call some spirits Gods , and some Gods might be called spirits, depending on how we view Them, and Their place in the world, universe, etc. We may not even have terribly solid boundaries where one God ends and another begins, or on the other hand, may have very defined ones between Goddesses.
We all exist within the fabric of Wyrd, within Ma’at from the most infinitesimal piece of sand to the Gods, to the Universe Itself (which, in some religions is a God/dess/Being).
Is this monist?
Perhaps, at its core, I suppose it is. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines Monist as:
1 a : a view that there is only one kind of ultimate substance and b : the view that reality is one unitary organic whole with no independent parts.
I much prefer the b definition. This idea is not that we are somehow one mass, blob, etc., but that we are threads of a great tapestry, and each of us is but a thread. That while being individual, we are not independent. That we are organically whole, together.
Really, though, what am I capturing by saying things this way?
Language is tricky. When it comes to describing the Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, They are much like a fish wriggling in your hands: even as you take out the hook from a well-fought catch, it struggles to go back in the water where you must find it yet again¹. In many ways language is insufficient, even in the hands of a poet, a writer, a lyricist, or a bard, to describe in full or even in part what it is to experience the Gods. Language is the hook that gives us one fish, and it may fill us awhile with good food, but while that hook is bare it is an unused tool, and there are far more times where the fish fights us off or fools us that it has been hooked, when it merely eats the bait and swims off. Language alone, whether written on a page, sung in front of a crowd, or whispered before an altar will not sustain. It is the fish, not the hook, that provides the nourishment. After all, sometimes we lose the hook, and sometimes the whole line, and sometimes the whole damned pole!
I still feel as I did in August with A Useful Teacup. Boundaries are useful and necessary. A hook is not a fish, after all, and no matter how many hooks one eats they will not provide nourishment. Yet I find that monism is not wholly opposed to polytheism, but rather, it is part and parcel of it.
Monism within polytheism is nothing new, nor is animism. Recognizing we are all part of an interdependent whole does not deny our Gods, our spirits, or our Ancestors, but puts us into our proper place within the Worlds. The Worlds hang on Yggdrasil, and Yggdrasil came from the Gap. All at first came from Atum who came from Nun. We all come from a source, and it is often represented by, referred to, and is the Void, Darkness, Nothing, etc. If anything, monism within polytheism is a challenge for us to live more in tune with the Worlds around us. If we are all interdependent, are we doing our part in Wyrd, in Ma’at?
Bringing this idea into the current discussion on Paganism, I do not want to find another boat when so many will do. I may not board the good ship Reconstructionist but I count myself as a hard polytheist and animist, a Northern Tradition Pagan, a Heathen, and a worshiper of many Gods beyond the Norse and German. So, I am also very eclectic. Yet, I look at it this way: salmon has sure been good to me in filling my belly, and so has tilapia and tuna. I fish in many waters, but with the proper pole and bait for each. The fish still come. Sometimes I come back with nothing, and sometimes I come back with a fish story, and an accompanying fish.
Boundaries are still useful and necessary; it is hard going trying to salmon fish with a leaky boat. Likewise, it is impossible to fish without risking getting wet.
¹Small wonder that Loki is associated with a salmon: a hardy fish that is hard to catch and a powerful swimmer who often outsmarts or outright beats the fisherman. As with language, the understanding of Loki is evolving inside and outside of academic circles. He is one God among many who are being discovered, thought about, and reexamined, and yet, consistently escapes consensus.
When I leave this flesh behind
And all memory fades of me
May the world be better for
Whose futures are to be
When I journey forth unto
The Ancestors’ old home
May Midgard hold me to Its heart
Name proudly carved upon a stone
When I leave this world behind
In dust and bone and dirt
May it be said I did my best
When I walked upon the Earth
There are times where I write poetry to grasp the Gods, the spirits, the Ancestors. When I reach for words to grasp at the ineffable, that which is, to quote a favorite song of mine, “Beyond the Invisible“. Sometimes there is a feeling in prayer or meditation where I can feel my Gods in a feeling beyond feeling. Sometimes when I smoke a cigarette to the Ancestors (the only time I smoke), or especially a cigar, I can hear Them, in a way that words do not have words for. It is more than just ‘They are here’; there is communication on some level, more often levels, that occurs when They make Themselves this known to me and I am paying attention.
Feelings can rush up; images, smells, tastes, sounds, snippets of songs, or a phrase, a word, a sensation of being touched or hugged or the feeling of embarrassment or joy that fills me head to toe. Sometimes it is an urge, or a deep-down compulsion to dance. So many words that fail to capture a moment of being in the Presence of a God or Goddess, the Ancestors, the spirits.
Sometimes there is a great emptiness. Sometimes the Gods are not here, and I wish They were, more than anything. Sometimes there is a deep aching for that connection that I am denied. I recognize that this is so, at times, because what I am craving is not so much the connection itself, but that feeling of reassurance or that feeling of alleviation of insecurity. Other times the Gods are doing something; They are Gods, and have Their respective things to do, whether one believes that the Gods control or are related to certain aspects of our lives (i.e. Frigga weaving Wyrd, Freyr helping the wild plants to grow, Gerda helping the plants in gardens to grow, etc.) or do things besides (i.e. Odin wandering the Worlds gaining wisdom).
I find that the Ancestors tend to be with me all the time, in some fashion or another. There’s a lot of Them, after all! Once I began engagement with Them, especially through regular engagement at my Ancestor altar and my necklace, I could feel Their Presence in some fashion or another. A big part of everyday engagement with Them is through a necklace I wear made out of bone fashioned into a human skulls. I use it in prayer, and as a focus throughout the day, a physical reminder. This necklace is also a physical manifestation of my Ancestors. What does Their Presence feel like? Sometimes a warmth that has nothing to do with the environment, others, a feeling of familial love, a touch on the shoulder, a harmonica (particularly if Great-Grandpa is around), and others times just a knowing that They are there. Sometimes They are the statue on my altar, the necklace around my neck, a guiding voice. Sometimes words simply fail to convey.
This is why, at times, when someone asks me “How do I know if a Goddess is near?” or “How will I know if the Ancestors are with me at prayer?” I can only suggest and say so much. Language reaches its limit, as do my experiences. I’m not the do-all, end-all of anything. I am a being, a being with a human’s world, limitations, and experiences, and I am just one person. I am bound by physical laws in this world, same as any other. Sometimes I get things right on the nose, and sometimes I get things horribly wrong. I am beholden to Wyrd; I work, I pay taxes, and one day I will die. My hope is that somehow my words, my actions, my life, helps someone else to be more than they were, to leave this world better than it has been in my time within it.
Despite the limitations of words I still try to capture what I feel, how I envision the Gods, Ancestors, etc. with words. The Ancestor Anthology is coming together, and there are so many words not my own, words that may be someone’s key to unlocking a deeper relationship with the Ancestors. Words that I may never have thought to string together, experiences I have never had, rituals I have never been part of, and so much I have not done. This is the beauty and power of coming together, of crafting books together, of making music and art and ritual. We may never fully capture our Gods, Ancestors, or spirits in songs, paintings, or words in a ritual or text, but we can provide touchstones and open doors with them.
The Halls of Helheim
Few alive have seen
Death’s home and Dead’s abode
Yet here within the splendorous Halls
We all may find a home
Perhaps on plains we take our rest
Upon grain and well-turned earth
Perhaps by river or field or fen
Our rest is finally earned
Perhaps in cave so hollow
Yet sweet-smelling and richly warm
Sweet Hel has a place for us
A place we are reborn
She tends to all the newly Dead
And old who’ve taken rest
All those who have taken leave of Life
Come to Her generous breast
We lay our head upon Her home
Some stay but for a while
When we leave She does not grieve
Her Gate it opens wide
For in Her a part of us remains
Waiting our return in time
So when the Dead leave your home
In gurney, mound or grave
Celebrate Life’s giving way
And new Life that is made
Hail to the Lady Hel
To Mordgud Guardian in black
Hail to the Dead our lives are owed
We all are coming back!
She stands dressed in black, spear in hand and sword on hip
Her armor silent as Her gaze pours from Heilheim’s Gate
Death’s sentinel stands tall
The weary souls, the old, those who died in life’s embrace
The scientist and swordsmith, the veteran, the peaceful and the passionate
All walk the long and winding road to Gjallarbru
The addict and the shiverer, the starved and sold and stricken
Walk together in Death’s invitation
She watches their steps upon the well-trod road
The Dead pass by with Her assent
Welcomed home into the Hall
No fear, but welcome for every single soul
She shuts the Gate behind Them
Her sacred duty never done
For Hel and the Mighty Dead