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Praise for the Gods, Goddesses, and Vaettir of Nifelheim

In the deep cold we feel Your hands

Your icy breath brings the blessed Ice

Though we shiver now we will be thankful

when the orchards are full

when the crops grow

when the lakes rise

The ground crunches with our steps

The roads are pitted with holes

Yet I count us blessed

For You have brought us appreciation

of warmth and family and tribe

of the coming Spring

of generosity and care

Thank you, Frost-thurses

Thank you, Ancestor Ice

Thank you, Gods, Goddesses, and spirits of hoary Nifelheim

May you ever be hailed

May you be offered to well

May we never forget Your blessings

Redefining Words and Claiming Space

January 22, 2014 13 comments

After reading the polytheism section of this post, and more recently here, that John Halstead has written over and over again, I have to throw my hands up. Granted, I disagreed with him vehemently on a great many points before he worked on this post and wrote an addendum to it, but I still deeply disagree with him over what I view as one of the most egregious forms of twisting words.

When someone speaks up and misuses words they need to be checked. It is wrong to take words out of their historic, and current context, and to twist them so that the words mean what you believe. Polytheism does not equate or equal panentheism or pantheism, which is more or less what I see John Halstead trying to say with his supposed paradox that “The Gods are many…but one.”

Nowhere in his first piece does he quote polytheists, now living or dead. He notes in his addendum there are folks in the polytheist, reconstructionist, and other camps that directly disagree with him on this point, communities that use this word, and yet goes ahead and writes what he wishes as polytheism is supposed to relate to his Neo-Paganism. I absolutely do not recognize what he quotes as polytheism as such; I do not ‘use’ my Gods, nor are They psychological constructs.

Mr. Halstead quotes from Waldron in The Sign of the Witch From a neo-Pagan perspective polytheism is not the belief in a world of separate and distinct Gods but is rather an acceptance of the principle that reality and the divine is multiple, fragmented and diverse.” Okay, this may be a neo-Pagan perspective, but I do not find it polytheist at all. So far as I have seen, read, and understood to be true, polytheists treat and believe our Gods as complete in and of Themselves; They are not a fragment of some whole. Nor are They facets of a jewel. To use the metaphor, each God and Goddess is a jewel unto Themselves, and a great many facets or a single facet of Them may be seen, known, and worshiped by a person.

The question of “What the hell is Mr. Halstead getting at? What does John Halstead understand about Neo-Paganism, let alone anything regarding Paganism?” are some questions that have come to mind a few times as I have read his works, but never so much as here. How in the Nine Worlds is his idea of polytheism supposed to actually square with anything resembling polytheism such as it is lived by its adherents? How is it supposed to square with historical polytheism? All I see in his examples are panentheism, and monism. These are not polytheist. The quotes he has given are not polytheist. “The radical plurality of the self”? I have no idea what his point is here. Polytheist religion recognizes a plural Self, i.e. the Soul Matrix of the Northern Tradition. Polytheism has plurality built into it.

If Mr. Halstead’s point is solely psychological, i.e. ‘psychological polytheism’ then I believe has has missed his mark by not being more clear about what he is trying to define, and using improper words to try to define it. Religion helps shape a person and society’s psychology, its understanding of states of good or ill health, in the mental, physical, and spiritual realms. However, religion is not psychology itself. Nor should psychology, in my view, seek or be sought to supplant religion. If I have misunderstood his intent, I apologize. If I have misunderstood or misconstrued his meaning, I hope to have better definitions and descriptions written by him in the future without twisting words which I use as primary personal descriptors, such as polytheism. Were Mr. Halstead writing solely from his own view with at least something recognizable behind the words he wishes to redefine, and not using a word that people already use as a primary identifier, myself included, perhaps I would have less of an issue.

According to the theologian, William Hamilton, the gods of Neo-Pagan polytheism are not to be believed in, but are “to be used to give shape to an increasingly complex and variegated experience of life.” (quoted by Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon).

So his idea of polytheism is that They are to be used, to be a tool to help us shape, and therefore also understand the world around us. Yet we are not to believe in Them, even as They are supposed to be used to shape and understand the experiences of life? When I make a woodcarving I do not stop believing in the tools nor their effect on the wood any more than I stop believing or believe that the wood came to me as-is or was grown in the shape I bought it in. That wood had a life before it was cut and shaped. That wood was part of a tree, and that tree had roots in the ground, and that ground had an existence of its own well before I ever set foot upon the ground or happened upon that cut of wood from that tree. So too the tools and their components, which came from other places, and had to be fashioned into the shape they are now.

The Gods, then, are cast only into the form of the tool, rather than the ground. In the form of the woodcarving rather than the tree from which the wood came. I fully believe the Gods can be the ground, the tree, the tool, the toolmaker, the carver, the carved, and so on. In other words the Gods can be in and/or be each part of the process (the process itself may have God(s) and Goddesses over and/or involved in this, too), to say They are merely to be used as a tool denies Their actual involvement and reduces Them to an object to be manipulated. It takes away what is essential to a polytheist perspective of the Gods: personhood. Not that They are human or human-like, necessarily, but it denies Their Being and Self, as independent of us. It denies one of the basic understandings that polytheism, in any form I have practiced or been exposed to, teaches: the Gods are Beings Unto Themselves.

I do not use my Gods; I use a computer. I may ask a God or Goddess to lend Their power to a spell, or to intercede on my or someone else’s behalf, but intercessory prayer does not equal use. I do not use my Gods in ritual; rather, I pray to Them and ask for Their Presence. This point is perhaps the largest point of contention I have when anyone uses the word ‘use’ in regards to the Gods, or to Ancestors or spirits.

If I say “I use Bob on First Street when I have car trouble”, it does not diminish Bob’s personhood nor does it treat him as an end. I acknowledge his role in my life and that he is a person I trust. Saying “I use Brighid when I need healing” does not acknowledge the personhood of the Gods and instead makes the God’s identity and relationship one has with Them about their use.

It matters little if it is a Wiccan talking about ‘using’ Gods in ritual, or an atheist Pagan about ‘using’ Gods to understand the world, or themselves. If one is using this language, then they are talking about ‘using’ Beings, which I believe have agency, self-awareness, understanding, and sentience. They are talking about Beings I consider to be worthy of worship. They are talking about ‘using’ Beings from traditions which I believe to be holy and good. When the language of ‘use’ (as in using tools like an athame or wand, screwdriver or saw) is used in regards to the Gods it is disrespecting both the Gods and the traditions that hold Them as dear, holy, and worthy of worship.

One cannot utterly separate the Gods from the traditions or cultures which give/gave worship to Them. Understanding and knowledge of the Gods are informed by the traditions, cultures. The Gods inform the religions, cultures, and traditions in turn whether by mystic experience and/or simply by being the basis of the religion. This does not mean that you need to be a member of my particular Northern Tradition religion to worship the Norse/Germanic Gods, or to do it right. What it does mean is that one must acknowledge that to worship the Norse/Germanic Gods one needs to understand the culture and traditions out of which the Gods of this/these traditions come. It means that one must come to the religion with its background culture(s), tradition(s), etc. rather than trying to make it, and an understanding of and relationship with the Gods, come to you.

Taking the Gods out of these contexts renders the understanding of Them incomplete. When Ms. Krasskova or I, or another author say ‘take on an indigenous mindset’ part of this means is that one must meet the Gods on Their own terms rather than our preconceived notions, ideas, and beliefs of how our relationship should be. “Odin is the God of Wisdom” is an easy phrase to make, and while it may be true, is not the whole of all He is, and may or may not reflect my relationship with Him at all. I and other polytheists who worship Odin can come to independent understandings and relationships and so on with Him while believing Him as a God independent of our existence, and agree on basic clear concepts, on to deep details of theology. This does not necessarily make established tradition(s), culture(s), and so on, the do-all end-all of any relationship with a God, Goddess, Ancestor, spirit, etc. (although it may) but it will inform, shape, define, and further develop one’s understanding of these Beings, and the ways in which one relates to, worships, etc. Them. The traditions are the bones on which the meat of the relationship are built.

It is the reality experienced by men and women when Truth with a capital ‘T’ cannot be articulated according to a single grammar, a single logic or a single symbol system.” (David Miller, The New Polytheism).

If you cannot articulate truth, or even try to articulate Truth, then your logic and symbol system have failed. We can debate the nature of reality according to different belief systems, and the extent that different polytheist traditions agree or disagree with one another on these things. Yet, without a single grammar, logic, or symbol system, our understanding of the Gods falls apart. Without coming to understand our Gods on Their terms, as best as we can, we are leaving our understanding of Them woefully inadequate.

Without a single grammar, logic, and symbol system, understanding the Northern Tradition, and most polytheism, falls apart. You cannot understand the Northern Tradition through the Kemetic, nor Roman polytheism. To say otherwise is saying that one can understand and speak German fluently after having done so with Greek. Are there some universal truths? If there are, (and to avoid speaking for all polytheists I will say if), they are broad, such as: the Gods are Beings Unto Themselves; respect is given for the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits; hospitality to people, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits; offerings are given in respect to the wishes, traditions, customs, etc. to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. The appearance of respect, for instance, will differ between traditions, customs of certain groups within a given tradition, the Gods worshiped by a group, the relationship between the people and their Gods, Ancestors and spirits as a whole and individually, and many, many other factors I could not hope to account for. Yet, on a baseline, there are similar beliefs, even if the shape and effects of those beliefs differ tradition to tradition, group to group, and person to person.

Polytheism is not just a term or a description; it is an identifier that an entire religious community uses to understand itself. It is an identifier people use as means to express who and what they are to others. It has an accepted meaning, Trying to dilute the meaning of this word is an attempt to dilute the meaning and understanding with which this word is used as an identifier. To try to redefine polytheism as something it is not is an insult at the least, and if enough people start using it in the way Mr. Halstead would care to, actively will produce problems in communication.

In the second post linked above, Mr. Halstead seeks to “’re-god’ the archetypes”. I take great pains to say that this is not polytheism. It is fine that he seeks to do it, but it is not polytheism. I believe that he, seeking to put the numinous back into archetypes, rather than Gods into archetypes, is a fine goal for him to do. However, it is not polytheism as I understand it, practice it, believe in, or acknowledge. It is perfectly fine that he believes, understands, practices, acknowledges, etc. in a religious context different than I. What is not fine, and what I will not stand for, is his appropriation of the word polytheism, polytheist, etc. to suit his own ends. What he describes and espouses is nothing I recognize as such.

He rightly points out that his beliefs are a choice. So too, is identifying as a polytheist, and embracing the beliefs therein. As he points out in the post, these are his beliefs. I am not attacking his beliefs, or him, please let me make that perfectly clear.

The spectrum of religious belief does exist on a spectrum, but rather than a singular spectrum, I believe it extends from many, of which extreme psychologism to extreme transcendentalism is just one. Religious beliefs are also a series of continuum on which belief and disbelief are polar opposites. These are tools which can help us understand where we lie in relating to the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, ourselves, the world around us, etc. You can be a polytheist that disbelieves their own experiences in the extreme just as you can be a be an atheist Pagan and fully believe that your experiences of the Gods, such as They are, are real. The scale is only as useful as how accurate and accepted it is.

Mr. Halstead writes “The spectrum of belief regarding the nature of divinity ranges from extreme psychologism to extreme transcendentalism. I fall more toward one end of the spectrum. Others fall more toward the other end. But we are on the same spectrum. For example, whatever they believe about the ultimate nature of divinity, I would wager most people can acknowledge that the experience of divinity is to a certain extent paradoxical, in that divinity can at least seem to be both “in” us and “outside” of us, both a part of us and also other than us.

Well, yes, when we are placed on that spectrum of course polytheists are in a very different spectrum from him. In a great many places our various religious positions do not line up. We may be able to agree that ‘the experience of divinity is to a certain extent paradoxical’. In my case, the idea that the Gods can be cosmically as well as personally present is one place where I could say the experience of a God, such as Odin, is powerful and mind-boggling.

Recognizing that I may have attributes within me, or parts of me that resonate with Odin does not mean that Odin is in me. It means that these parts, attributes, etc. resonate with Him. Odin is Odin, Odin is within Himself. When He gave breath to Ask and Embla it was a gift, one which did not cease to be His breath or a gift, but much like my parents’ DNA, that gift of life and existence is part of me. I am, in the end, external to Him. For me, this in particular is not a paradox. It makes sense, since He is not I, and I am not Him. My parents gave me life, and their DNA is bound up in me, but I am not them, nor they I, and while there are parts of me that resonate with them and parts of my persona that match up very well with them, I am not them, and vice versa. Finding the nature of the Gods in ourselves is not a paradox. I can look to a great many things, fictional and non-fictional, in a variety of media, and ‘find myself’ or aspects of myself, things that resonate with me. So too may I see the Gods in the world around me even while recognizing that my personal experience of ‘if I see three pairs of crows it may mean Odin is present’ may either be inaccurate (i.e. it is just 3 pairs of crows, congrats) or simply a personal experience for/with me alone.

Devotional polytheists have contributions to the larger Pagan communities that we may make. Whether we can make these contributions depends largely on whether or not we are given space to speak in it from our own beliefs, experiences, and traditions. Our contributions will depend on whether or not our words and identifiers are respected. I do own the word polytheist the same way that I own the words cis-gender male. The same way that I own the word pansexual. These are identifiers. I do not make these on my own, since meaning is not made in a bubble. These words are accepted by the communities that employ them, and in larger society as meaning certain things. They are, in general, respected for what they are, even if not fully agreed upon. If Neo-Pagans like Mr. Halstead are going to try to include us, respect for us starts with respect for our identifying words, our beliefs, traditions, and experiences. We do not have to agree, that is not at issue here. At issue is basic respect.

Mr. Halstead says that using the words ‘polytheist’ and ‘polytheism’ in psychologized and naturalized senses has precedent. Yet, even he admits there is better precedent for how I use it: “there’s better precedent for using the word to mean a belief in gods as literal, independent, sentient beings”. So while he writes that he sympathizes, he will continue to misuse one of the primary words by which I identify myself. There are two definitions for sympathy, and I am not sure which one rankles me more in this context: “feelings of pity for someone else’s misfortune”, or “understanding between people; common feeling” (OED). What this tells me is that either he is unmotivated by his sympathy to change his behavior, or in the face of it, he is ignoring something that wrongs others so he can use words as he sees fit.

If someone is misusing a label or term, they are misusing a label or term. His belief that “that saying Margot Adler — or Doreen Valiente — is not a polytheist is a little like saying Paul was not a Christian.” No, actually, it is stating a truth. From what writings I have seen, and with my experience of having been on a small panel with Ms. Adler, neither one of these women are polytheists such as I use, understand, or acknowledge the term. The quotes given are monist, panentheistic and/or pantheistic. None of the quotes acknowledge the Gods as Beings Unto Themselves, nor even that They are differentiated from one another. Beliefs like “all the Gods are one God” and the like are not polytheist. There is no belief in many Gods to be had here. It is not polytheist. It does not make any of the contributions these women have made to Paganism and Neo-Paganism less, it simply means they are not polytheist. These women are Pagan (or Neo-Pagan if you will) but they are not polytheist. So no, this is nothing like saying Paul was not a Christian. It is saying Paul was not a Lutheran.

Whether or not trying to erase or silence polytheist voices was Mr. Halstead’s intent, it is no longer an issue for me; it is what he and like-minded people are actively engaged in doing that concerns me. If you wish to identify as a Neo-Pagan and the larger Pagan communities accepts this I will not stand against them; that is their decision. If the larger Pagan and Neo-Pagan communities accept atheist and humanist Pagans as Pagans and/or Neo-Pagans, that is their business and their right.

‘Polytheist’ and ‘polytheism’ are not just ‘something I found’ or just words that ‘capture’ what I believe. ‘Polytheism’ and ‘polytheist’ are words that identify who and what I am. It is an identifier of the communities and people I find common cause with. It is a religious identification. These words should be used with respect to and for the people, communities, and religions they represent.

In sharing his beliefs Mr. Halstead does not silence my beliefs or erase my community. His attempted co-opting of my words, most especially my primary identifiers, does. His insistence in using these identifiers as he has done and continues to, does attempt erasure and silence. Setting up his standards as norms for my community are further attempts at erasure and silence. His use of the words we primarily identify ourselves with in the larger Pagan community on an inter and intrafaith website decreases our ability to effectively define ourselves. Twisting the words ‘polytheism’ and ‘polytheist’ to mean something they do not dilutes their usefulness as words, silences our effective use of those words, and erases our identity along with it.

Update: My thanks to James Stovall for being a sounding board, and for the example with Bob in the middle of this piece.  He helped me think on the term ‘use’, and how it can be used in a sentence without the loss of personhood, and with respect to the person.

The Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits Come First

October 4, 2013 8 comments

Note: This is a piece that has sat in my Draft folder for some time, and I figured that it was time to get it out into the world.  Fly free, belated words!

I am going to be speaking on shamanism come the next week at Michigan Paganfest.  The discussion is “Shamanism-History, Beliefs, Lore and More”, where I and my fellow Sacred Fire tenders will be talking on the forms of shamanism we are engaged in.  While it says “Jim will share his knowledge and experiences in an open discussion about the practice and path of Shamanism. You are encouraged to share your own experiences and knowledge, as well as, ask questions and seek greater understanding and insights to assist you in your own journey” Jim was kind enough to invite myself and Joy Wedmedyk to share in the discussion.

I like these kinds of workshops.  I enjoy genuine back-and-forth dialogue and digging into the meat of a topic, even if for a little while.  In thinking on this discussion, I look to my own traditions.  I won’t go overlong into what I’ll hash out in the coming week, but more into what it is pushing me to think about.  What is shamanism?  What is the history of shamanism within the context of my own path?  What are the beliefs I bring to the table as a shaman, and what are the beliefs of shamans in my path?  What lore is there to support or bring clarity to shamanism?  What is essential to being a shaman?

At the title above says, the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits come first.  They have to.  They gave us life, give us blessings each and every day, and walk alongside us.  There is nothing in this world untouched by Their hands.  It is essential to shamanism that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits come first.  They are our allies, our friends, our loved ones, our Fathers and Mothers, our eldest Ancestors.  They are what makes us a shaman: Their call, the insistent call that cannot be ignored, is what makes a shaman a shaman.  No course, no workshop, nothing we go through or engage in can make us a shaman without that call from our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  Shamanism is an engagement, not a practice.  It is a calling in my tradition to sacrifice all else that I would have done and put the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits first, and to aid the communities I am in with engagement with Them.  It is setting aside personal ambitions to fulfill purpose that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits lay upon me.  It is to give over all that I am to further Their Work.  Even being a father has a place within my path as a shaman, and it is subordinate to that Work.  It serves the Work, as does everything in my life.  Even writing here serves It.

What is essential is that a shaman serves.  A shaman serves the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and in so doing, does serve their community.  They may serve their community in other ways, aside from keeping right relationship in their own lives, by performing required rituals, healings, divination, and so on.  They may do work, such as Sacred Fire tending, or teaching.  They may just sit down and listen to someone’s struggle.  They may do this after they die, which is probably what will happen to me when I pass over.  The point is that a shaman serves and that service extends to every area of existence.

What lore is there to support bring to clarity to shamanism?  Well, as few pieces of lore survive in our tradition there’s not much, as a good chunk of the lore we do have is more concerned with the Gods and Their families and conflicts, or mythological portrayals of kings and conquests.  What does survive suggests that there were spiritual specialists such as spákona and spámadr, female and male prophets, for instance.  However, as the lore that we have is fragmented, written down by Christians and absent of anything older than Iron Age, much of the lore contains terribly little in regards to a shaman’s practice.  Even the words that might frame the way that shaman does is absent of our language, and in any case much of my practice and that of my elders is spirit taught.  Lore is more of a map to cosmology, how the Gods have interacted with us and one another.  It is a springboard into engagement with the Holy Powers, as all of the lore that survives contains little to no religious instruction.  The lore serves, then, a secondary role to direct engagement.

What are the beliefs I bring to the table as a shaman, and what are the beliefs of shamans in my path?  We are hard polytheists.  The beliefs are that of people who engage with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits as beings unto Themselves.  They are Their own Being, Whole in and of Themselves.  They do not require us to worship Them to continue Their existence, nor do They need us to exist.  They are.  The Ancestors are the foundation of us all, from our blood Ancestors stretching back to the Elements Themselves.  The spirits are all around us, within us, even.  We consume spirits to survive; the lich, the physical body, is holy, and part of the soul, and so, when we eat an animal or plant, we are consuming a piece of Their soul.  Eventually when I die, my lich will be burnt or buried and become part of the world in a different way.  The Earth, Midgard, itself, is a Goddess.  There is nothing on, in, or beyond this planet untouched by the Gods.  There is nothing in my body or mind or soul that is not touched by the Gods, Ancestors, or spirits.  So, as it ends so it begins, and the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits come first.

What Constitutes Pagan Fundamentalism?

I have written about the value of words and meaning here and I think that the recent posts by P. Sufenas Lupus and Sannion hit the nail on the head.

Why am I so invested in the pop culture debate currently raging in Paganism?

Well, some of it has to do with the fact that I think conflating worship of fictional characters with my Gods is downright blasphemous.  I’ll admit that straight out.  You don’t have to agree with my position; it is what it is.

Rather than keep the conversation talking past each other, or spinning our wheels, let’s get to the point of this post.  Anomalous Thracian talks here that words are losing their meaning because they’re being stripped of them.  To quote Anomalous Thracian:

I want to address the bigger issue here, which is the overall misuse of words, the lack of “common ground” in conversations, and the entanglement of a thousand different topics as one “meta-topic” which is what fuels 100% of all fights and arguments in Paganism because these practices attack the very core of linguistic communion and expression: MEANING. A fundamental part of all communication must be an attempt to convey, achieve and establish greater collectivemeaning, otherwise it is purely about getting oneself off while looking longingly in the mirror that you’ve turned the internet into, striking all kinds of super-hero poses as you hammer out the dribble you call theology, debate, or “religion”. Religion itself, outside of the discussion of religion – which, by the way, is a real thing: religion outside of talking about religion does exist, if you shut up long enough to practice it! – is a thing that must orbit around the pursuit and exploration of meaning, which is a thing completely undone and undermined by using language and words that actually attack meaning. Directly.

Seriously, people. “I don’t think that word means what you think it means…”

I could not agree more, and it is why I push for concrete definitions and understanding where and when possible.  I am not trying to dilute the numinous experience or cage a wild bird, so much as asking that we delineate the bird we’re watching from the sky it flies in from the tree upon which it lands.  There are relationships, and each thing has an underlying connection to one another, but the bird, the sky, and the tree are definitively separate things.  Words need to mean things or words like ‘God’, ‘Ancestors’, or ‘spirit’ lose all meaning.  To quote V for Vendetta:

Words offer the means to meaning…

The Gods exist without our leave, understanding, worship, or influence.  I do not know a polytheist for whom this is an untrue statement.    It is a concrete article of believing in the Gods, in interacting with Them, and worshiping Them.  This basic understanding is part of the foundation of polytheist understanding.  It places the Gods, Ancestors, the spirits, and us humans in cosmology, in the Web of Life, and gives us meaning for our place in the Worlds and in relationship with all things.  Without this notion of where we sit the cosmology essentially falls apart and all of the understanding of the Gods disappears in confusion.  Think about it.  If I was to claim I am a co-creator with my Gods, i.e. Odin, why would Ask or Embla need His breath to come to life?  Why would my Ancestors matter at all?  The very meaning of the Gods falls apart if for us in denying Their cosmological and mythic place, and Their fundamental relationships to us.  The Gods will keep on being, will keep on doing what They will, even if we deny the meaning of the word ‘God’ or ‘Goddess’ and my Ancestors will still be my Ancestors even if I use another term wholly for Them.

In destroying meaning, in reducing words to whatever we want to be rather than what we are, we dilute the understanding we gain from words, and in so doing, reduce our ability to communicate effectively within our human communities and with our Gods.  How?  Try speaking another language.  In German there are very rigid sentence structures, and some words in German can go on for a damned long time because of the convention of sentence and word formation.  American English has seemingly dispensed with rigidity and in so doing words are harder to pin down, and accordingly, communication is more difficult.  German is, for all its complexities (from my perspective as a non-native German speaker) more accurate in its speech and use of words than our American English.  Factor this in with ‘words mean what I want them to’ kind of attitude, coupled with an open-source use of foreign words, sometimes without proper translation of the culture/subject matter, and you have a hodgepodge language that is hard to parse from the get-go and gets harder with actual use.  Dig into theological concepts with this unwieldy shovel and the hole you dig may well be far wider and deeper (or haphazardly dug) than your original intent.

So when someone uses the word ‘fundamentalist’ to describe Pagans such as myself, polytheists who believe in the literal existence of the Gods, you have pretty visceral reactions from people.  The word fundamentalism has a historical meaning according to Merriam-Webster: ‘a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching’ and a fundamentalist is a follower of these beliefs.  With the plasticity of words the meaning has moved from this to any belief structure that is ‘a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles’ (ibid).  In both cases applying the word to Pagans such as myself this word, fundamentalist, loses meaning.

When someone says “I worship Batman” and the response is “I do not believe that” even in rough terms, or an angry tone (or just outright venomous rage) that does not mean they are fundamentalist.  It means that you do not like their tone or reacting negatively to their anger, both of which are understandable, but taking in the words of another in that direction, even if accurate, is not fundamentalism.  Even when someone says “I worship Batman” and the response is “That is blasphemy in my religion, tradition, etc.” that is still not fundamentalism, but a statement of belief.  Having baseline standards for a religious community is not fundamentalist.  Those standards include standards of belief, praxis, relationship, roles for clergy/specialists, etc.  Those standard differentiate a polytheist Pagan from a monotheist Catholic Christian.  Heck, those baseline standards delineate one polytheist community from another, and Christian denominations from one another.

If I am a Wiccan, I believe v and x.  If I am a Northern Tradition Pagan I believe y and z.  If I am a Catholic Christian I believe j and k.  These baseline beliefs can be added onto with other letters, but take out v and x for a Wiccan and the religion is no longer Wicca.  Can a Wiccan be a polytheist and not a duotheist?  Sure, so long as the religious belief system is accommodating to that with and left intact.  Can a person be an atheist and a follower of the Northern Tradition?  Absolutely not because the y is taken out.  Again, this is not fundamentalist.  Without y, a person cannot be a Northern Tradition.  The may be that you must be a polytheist in order to be a follower of the Northern Tradition.  If you are an atheist you simply do not fit the criteria.

The ongoing debate between Pagan communities are part of figuring out where our boundaries lie.  It is part and parcel of figuring out theology.  It is part and parcel of figuring out who and what we are.  We do not have to agree, and I count that as a blessing.  I’m not interested in converting Wiccans, nor am I interested in converting Pagans who worship Pop Culture icons.  Both are a waste of my time, an insult to them, and a waste of their time as well.  What I am interested in is where my religious boundaries lie, where we are similar in thought, and where we definitely disagree on, and why.  Our answers probably won’t be comfortable with one another; we are talking about our personal relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and the stories that have unfolded in our coming to these Beings and understanding.  In some cases there is no translating between our varying beliefs because we either don’t have the existent structure, it does not translate due to theological differences, or we have not developed enough in one way or another to speak to another’s beliefs and experiences on a given topic.

I do not see this parsing as snobbery, but an unfolding of religious communities.  That unfolding can be a damned raw experience.  I know that some people will balk at my belief that the Gods are literally real, and they hold the idea that the Gods as archetypes makes the most sense.  Yet no one has called a Council of Nicea to figure out just what is acceptable in Paganism as a whole, and that plurality is a good thing.  I do not need to agree that atheists belong in Paganism if someone accepts them freely.  That is your right as a follower, priest, etc. of that religious tradition.  It is my right to say such a thing dilute the meaning of the word Pagan, and you in kind can disagree.

Saying something as a statement of belief does not mean snobbery or fundamentalism, but just that: a statement of belief.  When I say something definitive, but for all the power, or lack there is in my ability to say something I will exercise that right to say it.  You can disagree with me; that is your right.  Just as it is the right of a tradition to determine beliefs, ritual behavior, praxis, and a whole host of other things that their religion considers sacred, impious, acceptable, and unacceptable.  That is far afield from fundamentalism.

Question 10: Shaman vs. Priest

April 18, 2013 7 comments

Another question from Valiel Elantári:

What difference do you make between “shaman” and “priest” ?

I had defined a shaman in Question 9 as ‘an intercessor between humanity and the Worlds of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.’  A priest may be that as well.  Where I see a marked difference is the kind of relationship a priest has vs. what a shaman has in their community.  A priest is a worshiper of a God, Goddess, Ancestors, or spirit, and acts as an intercessor between humanity and the Gods.  When I use the word humanity, this can mean as small-scale as another person or small group or as large-scale as a congregation or worldwide religion.  A priest’s job is, in some way, shape, or form, to bring the message(s) of the Gods, the Gods Themselves, and/or teach and bring right relationship with the Gods to humanity.  A priest’s other jobs may serve the community in a larger fashion, such as performing certain services as intercessory work, like public festivals, public sacrifices, offerings, and the like, or more personal works like blessings at homes, births, funerals, and weddings.

Some of the Work of a priest I do see as dovetailing with the Work of a shaman.  There can be very direct parallels between the two jobs’ requirements.  Both, for instance, need people to be spiritually clean, firm in their religious foundations, knowledgeable in their cosmology and in particular the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits they work with and/or worship.  Depending on the needs of the community, the two jobs may place requirements on the shoulders of a priest and a shaman that are similar, if not the same, such as blessing a newly birthed baby, weddings, fields before or after planting, etc.  The requirements of a priest may be wildly divergent priest to priest, tradition to tradition, the same with shamans, so saying anything across the board means somewhere I am getting something wrong.  The palette has too many colors for me to accurately paint with a select few.

In my own work as a priest and a shaman, my work as Odin’s priest is different from being a shaman in that He may ask me to deliver messages on His behalf as a priest whereas in my role as a shaman I may be asked to do a ritual action instead.  In a way, it seems to me I am engaged more in action serving Him as a shaman than I am as a priest, in which I tend to act more in the role of a passive message-passer.  Then again, as I am both, sometimes the two blend together in terms of my service to Him.  So the only thing I can say for certain here, is that I serve Him as He asks or demands of me.

In my Work as a priest of Anubis this is a bit markedly different from my service as Odin’s priest.  For one, Anubis demands very little of my time nowadays, but I can feel Him starting to really come back to the fore now that I have a new altar to the Dead, rather than, say, just the Military Dead or my Ancestors.  For another, Anubis’ requirement have been to offer Him offerings on occasion, but nothing like the dedication of Ancient Egyptian temple priests.  I have a small statue of Him that I feed offerings to, put water before, and occasionally bathe in similar fashion to how temple priests might have done.  However, that is more or less the extent of my historically-based practice.  Much of my work with Anubis is pure UPG, and when He calls upon me to help a Lost Dead or to deliver a message on a spirit’s behalf on His behalf, I do, and my services are rendered, and I go on my way.  My service to Anubis is more haphazard and as He needs me then I imagine other priests might serve, i.e. those who have permanent temple space.  Some of my Work with Him dovetails well with the Work I do for Odin, for instance, the consistent cleaning, grounding, and centering rituals.  Keeping myself clean, as well as keeping the altars clean, are part and parcel of my Work with Him.  So too, making sure the altar to the Dead is kept well, that offerings are laid out.  I must also be sure that the Dead are not insulted or treated ill in rituals, another place where my Work as a shaman dovetails with my priest Work.

In this way, priests, as with shamans, are intercessors in that those who come to us will learn that there are certain rites to be observed, and taboos to be avoided.  One taboo I have as a shaman is that whenever I do for another I must in some way, shape, or form, have Gebo from the other party.  Another, in my role as Anubis’ priest, is that I must not let the Dead be insulted or poorly treated.  It is on me to establish what requirements and taboos there are to working with these spirits, especially the person in question is coming to me for help or training.  That is part of the Work of any intercessor: you are, in some way, shape, or form, establishing and reestablishing the proper boundaries of and engaging in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  For those who know them, you are reinforcing the boundaries of and encouraging engagement in right relationship.

I think this hits on another aspect of the difference between being a shaman and being a priest.  As a shaman I am often required to traverse boundaries, whether my own personal ones, or in journey work, or in transgressing some unspoken cultural boundary, i.e. Ancestor worship.  A shaman is often a boundary crosser, may be an ambassador of some kind to other communities including other Worlds, and puts hirself at risk so they, their community, and the relationships they hold can flourish.  A priest is often one who reinforces the boundaries, who stays within the boundaries and teaches from that place of power on how to live well, to live in right relationship, and establish communities in the teachings from their God(s) or Goddess(es).

To put it another way: a shaman often must journey to the útgarð for their Work whereas a priest’s main place and Work is done in the innangarð.

 

Praying for One Another

Inspired by a conversation with my teacher, and this post, I want anyone and everyone to know, that if ever you want to help me you can pray for me. Even right now. I don’t have to be in crisis. Heck, I would welcome a prayer to help keep me in right relationship, in Gebo with my Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and communities.

Prayer is not insignificant. Even a simple “Please, [God/dess, Ancestor, spirit(s)] be with hir” is a powerful prayer. Letting me know you are praying, for me, is a powerful way of letting me know you care.

In Gebo, gift for a gift, if you need a prayer let me know. If you are going through a hard time, and you are finding it hard to pray, let me know. I will be happy to pray for you. If you would just like me to pray for you, let me know. Let me know what kind of prayers would be useful to you, your life, your situation, and to Whom I can or should pray on your behalf. Otherwise, I will ask the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and use my best judgment.

Especially: if you cannot pray or connect to your Dead, your Ancestors, let me know.

I would have no issue keeping a list of people to pray for at my altar, for individual names, or even whole groups. I wouldn’t mind praying for others’ Dead, especially if they cannot keep an active shrine.

I cannot do the praying you need to do in Gebo for your Gods, Ancestors, Dead, and/or spirits, as that is your gift to give, and not mine. If you need help getting started I can help with that; if you are in a ‘dark night of the soul’ and need supportive prayer, I can also give that, but I cannot take your Work from you.

I offer this to the communities I serve, and to the Gods I serve as priest, and in my service as a shaman.

We can, and should pray for one another. Enough of us are in rough spots that we all could use the prayers!

To help aid this I am launching a new page here on my blog.  It will be a space, inspired by NorthernPaganism.org and its many awesome shrines.  The new pages will be made to give a digital prayer wall where people can post prayers as well as prayer requests.  Feel free to share your prayer requests, prayers for me, for each other, for yourselves.  There can never be too much prayer.

Question 8: Balancing

This is the last of the Questions I have in my queue; if you or anyone you know has a question just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer it.  Thank you Dreaming in Smoke and Fire, James Two Snakes, and Lokisbruid for contributing questions!

From Dreaming in Smoke and Fire:

How do you balance being priests of Gods of two widely different pantheons?

It is interesting at times how this works out.  While I was Anubis’ priest first, Odin takes precedence.  Anubis led me to Odin when I had my eyes and ears tight shut regarding the Norse/Germanic Gods.  I was very happy being a priest of Anubis, a ceremonial magician, and helper to the Lost Dead.  Worshiping the Norse really hadn’t come into my head until Anubis drug me over to Odin, said “You’re following Him and we will be in touch” and away He went.  That was about four years ago.

This does not mean that Anubis has totally left my life, that His priesthood is unimportant, or that I have stopped worshiping Him.  Quite the contrary.  I do still work with the Dead, but much closer with Them than what I did while working under Anubis.  When I was working with Him I kept the Dead as best I could at arms length.  I cannot do that anymore.  I am very connected to my Ancestors now, much more so than when I was Anubis’ priest full time, and my Work now includes not just the general Dead and the Lost Dead; it also includes the Military Dead.

Most of the way I balance working with these Gods is that I am careful in my ethics.  Given I am Northern Tradition I tend towards those ethics and values, most of which in some way, shape, or form mesh with the Kemetic ones.  I do my best to follow the Negative Confession, reading it every night and reflecting upon it whenever I am able.  It has proven a good guide for me.  An area I struggle with is “cursing another in thought, word, or deed” as I see this to mean magically cursing a person as well as saying things like “I hope that person fucking crashes” when I get cut off in traffic because words take on power.  To speak and write is to engage heka.  So I make effort to avoid speaking ill, literally or figuratively, of people, places, and things.  To speak is to engage my önd.  Much of the ethics I approached Anubis with translated well into my Work with Odin.

Anubis has given me many blessings in the time I have been His priest, going on six years.  I still pray and give offerings to Him, and He has a place of honor among the Gods on my Gods’ altar.  I still carry a brass wand my former teachers helped me put together in service to Him, and it comes with me when I work with the Lost Dead, or to help direct the Dead where they need to go.  Anubis has been the Opener of Ways not just in my Work with the Dead, but in my life in general.  When things were hard He opened doors for me, though sometimes I refused to walk through them.  Four years ago He opened the door to Odin, and in that alone He has given me no small measure of blessing.  He has never left me, despite my intense Work with Odin and He remains a patient, powerful force in my life.

As far as balancing relationships between these two Gods go, as I wrote in my Question 5 post, being owned by Odin as I am, He is first and foremost above all others.  My Work is with Odin, primarily, and as Anubis desires things, whether it is my attention, Work to be done, or certain offerings, He makes it known to me.  He and Odin have an understanding in this regard.  The balance in my life is inherently skewed toward Odin, but much of my Work with the Dead dovetails nicely with where my Work with Anubis has been, and is evolving.  Anubis introduced me to Working with the Dead, setting boundaries, and giving me hard lessons in that sometimes there is nothing I can do for another as a priest, for the Dead or the Living.  Odin took me into working with my Ancestors and the Military Dead.

In Their own ways Anubis and Odin keep me in Their balance.  Being in that balance requires me to listen, above all else, to Them and those They point me to, and where I am called to act or speak, to do so.  The Work I do with the Dead is Their Work.  Sometimes it is to clean graves for the Dead, sometimes it is to speak prayers, and other times it is to sit while a long-Dead spirit talks about hir trouble in moving on.  Other times it may be to speak to someone’s descendant or to deliver a message.  Sometimes it requires I stop everything I am doing to help bury a forgotten pet.  Whatever the Gods need of me, it is my job to be available for that work as a priest.  The balance I find between these Gods is in the service I give to Them.

Hail Odin and Anubis!

Question 4: Loki: Revulsion and Reconciliation

From Dreaming in Smoke and Fire:

How do you feel about / reconcile the acceptance of Odin in most major Heathen / pagan circles alongside the revulsion held for Loki?
- What are your thoughts and have you / how do you help others make the transition into acceptance?

This is probably one of the hardest questions I have had to encounter in the Pagan communities, especially the Heathen ones where He is greeted with deep vitriol.

I am going to be blunt about how I feel.  I think that the revulsion held for Loki is despicable.  It is blasphemous.

Most any thing that has aided the Aesir or Vanir came through Loki’s hands.  The weapon that the Jotun were said to fear, Mjolnir, came from Loki’s work.  If He comes to you at all it is a blessing even if you cannot see it then.

Wiccan Issues With Loki

I used to hear and say “Hail Loki” tongue-in-cheek when I was a Wiccan, frequently, when something in ritual went screwy.  When words garbled or something fell off the altar, a “Hail Loki” often followed.  To a certain extent I look at this humorously now; obviously it was not Loki holding my tongue and saying sing-song “What’s-a-matter? Can’t talk?” as I tried to speak.  However, it was not reverent.  He was spoken of in tones of ‘not welcome’, yet we were calling His Name.  All I knew at the time was that He was  Trickster, a God of Chaos and Fire.  I did not know much back then.

Much of the revulsion, at least from the Wiccan angle, came from a place of wanting everything “NEAT UND TIDY!”  Rituals have a certain flow, a certain way they are supposed to go, and accidents, interruptions, and garbled words screw with that.   So too, our relationships with the Gods.  There is comfort in such rituals, and comfort in The God and The Goddess encountered in Wicca, but Loki is a God Who often pushes past the comfy, the familiar, and the planned.  He can bare you to all your flaws in a moment, or give you that push with a giggle that, as you stumble to get back to your feet, you find yourself exactly where you need to be.

Heathen Issues With Loki

Where some Pagans, especially Heathens are in agreement, is that they would rather not worship a God who heads the Jotun armies at Ragnarok.  Leaving aside that Ragnarok may entirely be Christian invention or revision, it is said that the Dead who live in Helheim rise up to fight.  Which, if you think about, includes a good chunk of our Ancestors, as most died a ‘straw death’, death by disease, old age, etc.  Essentially anything but fighting.  When you think about it that number will probably include most anyone.  I digress.

Many Heathens take issue with the fluidity of Loki.  He changes sexes, shape, specie; He is a Father and a Mother.  He turned into a female horse and brought back Sleipnir, which He gave to Odin for His steed.  He is wed to two Goddesses, and has had children with both.  Fenris, the Wolf Who Devours Odin at Ragnarok, Jormungandr the World Serpent Who keeps Midgard’s borders, and Hel the Goddess of Death are His and Angrboda’s children.  His two sons with Sigyn are Narvi and Vali, both of Whom come to a tragic end at the hands of the Aesir.

Loki is outside and within the binaries of modern life.  He is within and without the innangarð.  He is Jotun and counted among the Aesir, He causes trouble and resolves conflict.  He is a victim of abuse, and a wrathful avenger.

There are those Heathens who simply see all Jotun as enemies.  In this black and white understanding of the Gods, the Aesir and Vanir are the forces of good, and the Jotun the forces of evil.  Or order and chaos.  Or whatever binary is handy at the time.

The reason I list all of this, well known to most of Loki’s worshipers, is for some of these people there is reconciliation with their understanding of Loki.  I used to really not be a fan of Him, until He came into my life through Odin.  Slowly I started to work with Him, and then, worship Him.

For those who say “None of the Jotun are due worship”, how can that be reconciled by me?  All I can do is provide an example of what a life touched by Loki looks like, and if the person wishes to change their mind, they will.  Odin Himself came from Jotun stock, as did Thor, Heimdall…many, if not most of the Aesir are, in some way, shape, or form related to Jotun or are Jotun Themselves, i.e. Loki and Skaði.  The Vanir are actually the odds one out in this.  They are, so far as I can tell from lore and personal experience, unrelated blood-wise to the Aesir and Jotun.  Even so, Freyr, a Vanir hostage to the Aesir, takes Gerda, a Jotnar Goddess (Gýgr, giantess) for His bride.

The Transition to Acceptance

So how do I help others make the transition into acceptance?  I am a responsible worshiper, to start with.  I do not blame my mistakes on Him, and do not allow abuse to be heaped upon Him.  I speak out when I need to, especially when His, or His brethren’s Names are being thrown in the mud.  I show people that a follower of Loki need not be an irresponsible person, or a person who uses the Gods as an excuse to get their kicks.

When people come to me, worried they may be getting the tap on the shoulder by Loki, I give the same advice I do to anyone worried about a God or Goddess coming their way: set up an altar, give Them offerings and time, and see where They lead you.  Ultimately any reconciliation is going to happen between the Gods and them.  I’m just a person who might help them in the journey.  Sometimes it is small words of encouragement, storytelling of my experiences with Him, or exegesis of the lore we have available to us.

The number one thing I have found that has served me best as a Pagan, whether it was as a layperson, a priest or a shaman, is shutting my mouth and listening.  Listening to peoples’ fears, concerns, worries, and listening to them, not just hearing their words.  It is no different here with reconciling worries and conflicts with the Gods.

I have no illusions that those who love Odin but hate Loki or His Kin will somehow ‘come to see the Light’ (or Fire, as the case may be) and give up that hate in a moment no matter how much I listen to them.  If they are to do something as radical as give up hate that has to come after a time of letting go of that.  If I help to be a catalyst for that change, I consider that holy Work.  My focus is more on those who are being bothered by Him or are just scared of Him.  He can evoke fear in people; He certainly did for me, and sometimes still does.

Where to Start

I start by listening, and seeing where the person is at.  If they are open to a deeper understanding of Loki beyond “He’s not just some monster” or “He’s not out to make your life hell” then we can go on.  If not, I do my best to correct misconceptions, and provide my own understanding of Loki.  I usually will talk about the sources of lore for Loki, if we have time/ability to do so.  If not, I recommend the person read the sources of lore for Loki, and keep up dialogue while they are doing so, especially where they find issues or questions popping up.  I’m no loremaster, and I cannot read the old tongues the works are originally recorded in, but I talk to people and can recommend sources I have read or have been recommended to me.  From there, as I mentioned before, I usually will recommend they set up an altar if they do not have one, and if they can, find a symbol of Loki.  From there, I recommend they give offerings, prayers, and time to Loki in whatever ways they feel called to so long as it is reverent.  After that it is really just being there for the person as I can be and as they need.

Almost all of the work is on the person in the end.  At best all I can do is help to facilitate a better relationship between themselves and Loki.  I can bring two or more people together in a space and say “Let’s try to be friends!” and after that point I really have little control over whether or not that ends up being the case.  So, to a good extent, letting go of the situation after I have done my part is one of the best things, aside from keeping my ears open, that I can do.  Their relationship with Loki is, in the end, theirs.  Loki never laid claim to Mjolnir once He gave it to Thor; indeed, He never laid claim to the Hammer in the first place.

How can I lay claim to something so powerful as another’s relationship with a God?

I pray that more people open their minds, hearts, and souls to the beautiful touch of this incredible God, and experience Him for Who and What He is.  May His Name come with the same love so many give to His fellows Gods and Goddesses.  May those who worship Him never take Him for granted.  May He always be hailed.

Hail Loki!

Question 3: Odin and His Heiti

From Loki’s Bruid:

I’d like to hear your perspective on Odin Himself actually, perhaps on some of His lesser known aspects. Lots of people get the Allfather or the Asa King, but what about some of His lesser known or called on heiti?

Truth be told, with anywhere between 188-200 heiti, (and I have seen the number bumped up to 300 in some sources) there’s no way I know Him through any more than a few of His lesser-known heiti.  Keep in mind that as I write this I am just starting to find heiti that might fit or fit best for my experiences of Him.  It may be that heiti are simply a hindrance for one person and a door to deeper understanding for another, and I leave that between the worshiper and Odin.  For me, the heiti are helpful in that they provide a door or window to understanding Him, to at least put a name or title to this part of Him that I have experienced.

In terms of Odin’s heiti I look at it very much as experiencing different aspects of the same God; Yggr (The Terrible) still is Odin, at the end of the experience, but He is a ‘face’ of Odin that I do not, mercifully, experience very often.  I could see Hóvi (The High) may have come to me while I was writing the November posts to Him in the Hávamál style.  When I experience the Alföðr (Allfather) it is, for me, Odin Who is primarily concerned with humanity and getting us where we, perhaps personally but more collectively, where we need to go.  Then there is Odin as my Father and Leash-holder, the heiti which sticks out to me that is most apt for this being Haptaguð (Fetter God).  These latter two are the aspects of Odin I see the most.

Yet, underneath all of these heiti is Odin, and all of these heiti are also not just descriptors, in my understanding.  Much as I am Sarenth Odinsson I am also the name given to me by my birth parents.  I am also ‘love’ and ‘sweetheart’ and ‘Dad’.  I am in a different role when I meet others as Sarenth, generally speaking, just as Odin-as-Yggr came to me when I was hanging on Yggdrasil a few years ago.  That is an aspect in which He has truly earned that heiti.  He is the Hanged God, and there was a sense of terror of Him in me that I can only describe as holy terror.

I will never truly know all of my best friends’ personalities.  I do not know my friends’ as child or mother, for instance, and there are personality dynamics that will never be ours, ways of seeing one another that will not be ours, at the least, in this lifetime.  Even as a friend I will never fully know them.  Our Gods will never fully reveal Themselves to us in Their totality.  I think to the tale of how Zeus revealed Himself to His lover and she burnt to ash at the power of His Presence.  I do not think we can handle the full-tilt power of the Gods revealed, at the least, not Gods like Odin.  Perhaps local Gods, i.e. of rivers or forests may be different, but in this too I have doubt.  Heiti, from my perspective, give us ways of understanding our Gods in different forms, functions, and relationships that They have to share with us, and that They take on.  With all that said, I’ll write about some of Odin’s heiti I have encountered, and my experiences with Odin in context of those heiti.

Karl: The Old Man

There are times where Odin comes to me and He is angry or grumpy with me about a misstep I have taken or a project I am lagging on.  There are times where I call Him, and I say this with all due respect to Him, jokingly, the Old Man.  Sometimes this is said in a more joking tone, others, a more serious, but there underneath it all is reverence.  I figure if I am getting scolded I am getting off easy.  It turns out that one of heiti translated to Old Man is Karl.  This is, for me, one of His less severe forms, and one He frequently shows to myself and others.  It is the Grandfather or Father Who, while annoyed with you and wanting to bat you about the head and legs, takes patience in stride and guides you along the right way.  Sometimes He gets you where you need to go by grabbing your ear and dragging you there  (or tugging my leash in this case), if you make yourself a nuisance.  I find this most often shows up with those who are just coming to know Him or have a familiar relationship with Him.  This is not to say that the Old Man cannot or will not be severe, but it is not the kind of severity and fear I have found with Yggr, for instance.

Yggr: The Terrible

The only time I have really encountered Odin in this form that I can remember is when I was hanging on Yggdrasil to take in the Runes as few years ago.  It was under His guidance that I do this, and that I fast for nine days, drinking only what would keep my body going and alive without sleeping into issues with my diabetes.  When I hung, especially long hours with the rope wrapped around my leg, there He was.  He stank to high hell, He was half-Dead, it seemed to me at the time. His voice was as cold as His body, both as the grave.  To get an idea of the fear I felt I feel I have to resort to poetic or expressive language because there is no real communicating the sheer fear He imbued in me, even as I was facing my own potential physical Death.  He is The Terrible, the Terrible sacrifice that must be made for power, for the Worlds to go on, that sacrifice of Self-to-Himself that is recounted in the Hávamál.  He is Dead and Living, has seen and experienced the Ginnungagap, and come back through, and yet, He is always there, Hanging eternally.  It makes me shiver just remembering.

Hóvi: The High

When I am writing poetry about Him, especially Hávamál-style verse, this is the heiti of Odin I tend to experience.  Sometimes it is the mere brush of His hand or cloak, sometimes it is Him standing over top of me like a master scribe to an apprentice doing dictation.  I do not tend to get as much sensory information, for lack of better terms/more descriptive language, than I have with Yggr or Karl.  It is more a feeling of Him standing behind me, or His hands or breath pouring into the crown of my head as I write, down onto the keyboard or onto the page.

Haptaguð: The Fetter God

This is a part of Odin that will probably never leave me.  Odin holds my leash, as I am His godatheow, and sometimes that hold is slack, and sometimes it is quite tight.  As with Hóvi, I do not experience this heiti of Odin’s so much with all of my senses, but as more of a Presence, and a tugging around my neck, particularly around my apple or at times along my crown.  There are times when I feel the Presence of this heiti stronger than others, such as when I may be wandering into danger and there is a sudden ‘jerk’ along my neck.  There are other times where His Presence in this heiti manifests as a word or a command, sharp and attention grabbing and I find myself following it before I ask “What?” or “Why?”  When this latter experience happens it is unmistakably Him, and I find myself compelled to obey.

Father

This, for me, is probably the hardest to write about because it is the most personal.  This is Odin at His most personable with me.  There are many ways where He shows me affection, some overt and some not.  Words of encouragement have come from Him when I have been at my lowest, from a much-needed “You can do this, son; this would not be in front of you if it were impossible” to just a feeling of His Presence that is nothing short of comforting and loving.  While Odin is, very often, a stern, rough, demanding God, just as Freya has Her aspects of Warrior, there are aspects of Odin that are less commented on or written about.  His sternness does not just ‘go away’ in His Father aspect with me, but it is not as severe as, say Haptaguð tugs my leash.  It is not the kind of holy terror I experience with Him as Yggr, or the master/pupil relationship of Him as Hóvi.  Just as Yggr contains this part of Him, so too does Odin-as-Father contain Yggr, and it is there, if I look hard enough or if He cares to show me it for one reason or another.  Regardless, I feel a love there of father for son.  There are times I wonder if this is even a taste of the depth of His fierce, powerful love for His Godly Children.

I find Him His most patient with me personally in this aspect of our relationship.  That is not to say the leash slackens or the demands do not grow; not at all.  There are times where words fail in the joy that I feel at the knowing I am one of His, not despite the challenges He puts before me, but because He feels I can handle them.  Or that particular lesson needs to knock me on my ass enough times for me to get that it is not for me.  Odin can be, and may well be in our personal relationship calculating, everything being pushed towards one goal or another.

There are times that His Presence as Father is just that: a Presence, one letting me know I am in His thoughts or that He is near.  Sometimes it is a vision of Him, sitting or standing with me, at times with a hat.  At times He wears His long white hair down, and at others it is braided in a tight style.  His mode of dress when He arrives sometimes seems to do with the whole message He is conveying, whether it is excitement, warmth, disappointment, anger.  Others times when He comes to me in one guise or another, it is there as a kind of convenience so I get the message and pay attention to it.

 

These words only touch what I experience.  I can no more give an accurate understanding of Yggr than I can of Hóvi.  The experience is, in the end, that of each and every one of us who experiences Odin, in His many heiti, or simply as He, Odin, presents Himself to us.  What I have written here may serve you, or someone you know no better than a signpost, or worse, a roadblock.  My hope is that the writing I’ve done here will help deepen others’ relationships with Him, provide signposts, show where there may be similarities in experience, or at the least provide comfort in that each and every day, every interaction, I am getting to know my God.

Question 2: Prayers, Rituals and My Son

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

and

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.

The Altars

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.

Night Prayers

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.

Sigdrifa’s Prayer

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.

Bedtime Prayer

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.

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