The wolf tore the tender flesh
Madness gripped unbidden
and Death rode within the Child
Whose Godly life was taken
The madness gripped the Wolf
and He snapped and snarled and howled
By magic Odin fettered Him
Mind and form befouled
He knew not what He did
He only knew that when
He ripped His Brother’s stomach out
His madness would not end
How come we to this pain?
How come we to this wrong?
How come we to the cave?
In which You have served so long?
For pain exacts its own price
in wrath will have revenge
and in a Father’s loving lost
Comes the Worlds’ own End
You stand before the doom
of all that once was full of Life
You stand with bowl upraised
a weeping Witness and a Wife
Succor, I pray to Your pain
and to Your Family too
But not prayer nor power can take away
The wrong done unto You
Oh Gods, hear my prayer!
My little mortal cry
May it pierce the depths of Helheim’s Gates
and pierce great Asgard’s sky!
Peace oh peace! Peace!
I pray, with fervent lips aloft
For I can feel the Battle coming
And it is not far off
Great Jord She shakes in agony
with Loki in Her bones
His thrashing wounds Her heart and soul
Sigyn, She stands alone
indomitable and unbowed
Hail to Your Holy Duty
To the thrashing Serpent-Crowned
Hail to You Holy Mother
May frith be offering,
That no other may know the loss You bear
or know Your suffering
Seek under the Tree | hanging with taut rope
Yggr hangs, bleeding wisdom;
Seek in the Hall | seated in power
Alfaðir waits, far-seeing and grim
Seek on the Road | blue cloak wrapped tight
Gangleri wanders far, welcoming company;
Seek in the Wild | spear keen and gleaming
Wod preparing for battle
Seek on the Mountain | mouth open wide
Galdraföðer sings spell and enchantment;
Seek in the World | form ever-changing
Svipal walks and stalks
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.
You breathed life into me
You taught me to stand strong
You taught me to be patient
You taught me compassion and discernment
You gave me a path to walk
You taught me knowledge through pain
You taught me holiness in silence
You taught me openness to instruction
You taught me to embrace the Runes
You blessed me
You taught me my purpose
You taught me magic
You taught me to claim myself
You taught me to honor my Ancestors
May I never say
“I was never blessed!”
May I never say
“You are not with me!”
May I never say
“I do not know you!”
For all the pain
For all the lessons
For all the failures
For all the successes
You have always been there
Even if I had not the eyes to see You
Or the ears to hear Your Voice
Hail to You, Allfather!
I made this song listening to Skrillex and Innerpartysystem. For some reason Odin’s Hanging on the Tree kept coming to mind, so I wrote this.
I wrote a critique of Harner-style shamanism in response to a blog commenter post on Ms. Krasskova’s Gangleri’s Grove. It eventually grew into a long post that had to be reposted in several places.
I am interested in hearing others’ views on this topic.
Breathe, breathe, breathe
Life flows from lips to bark
Heart beats with reddened sap
Limbs creak and groan
Breathe, breathe, breathe
Brown cambium turns grey
Rings coil and wind
Lightning leaps and plays
Breathe, breathe, breathe
Husks become hofs
Trunks flush with colors
The trees move
Uprooted limbs sway
They breathe, breathe, breathe
Given I am in the B.S. Psychology program and Counseling will become my M.A., science is very relevant to my field. That said, so is spirituality and religion. Science, to me, help provide the framework to understand data, track trends, develop treatment methods, and so many other greatly beneficial things that it would take too long to list here. Spirituality and religion, though, also has a place in understanding clients. It helps frame the references potential clients will come to me with, and it may provide a window through what the client may feel, and what may be, a much more useful, and beneficial approach for them. The current recommendation at my school is that everyone who goes into the Psychology field should minor in Sociology. I feel this is wrong-headed, and belies the usefulness that understanding people from a more personal perspective is not as useful as understanding people from a macro perspective. I have had Psychology majors look at me, confused when I tell them I am in Religious Studies as my minor, to have them tell me that to be more distant in terms of understanding clients, the better off you are. I have even listened to lectures where subjective experiences are entirely discounted, and remarked on as useless or of little value in telling us anything about the state of the client, or of humans themselves.
Certainly, we can’t take a single case study and project it onto the whole human race, or even a population of a region. Certainly, quantitative and qualitative studies and methodology tend to be different, and are definitely looking for different pieces of data. Yet, at least as far of my understanding of modern psychology and especially my neck of the woods is concerned, there is a dehumanizing element that is growing. It discards the subjectivity of many well-done research projects and experiments and merely discards them. Not everything can fit into five easy columns, or even a couple hundred question and answer surveys. The way I see it, the qualitative, and alongside it, the subjective, needs to stand alongside the quantitative and observable.
I understand that there is a place for discernment, and I think it is a good thing to have skeptical, and especially informed, inquiry. I definitely understand why outliers are not counted in quantitative studies, though I feel that some outliers may tell us things that we often overlook, merely by dint of them being outliers. Why are they outliers? Are they useful in exploring some question about the experiment or survey, or whatever it is, at hand? I am finding critical questions such as these simply being discounted, sometimes before even being entertained in classes. I am not saying that qualitative studies are any better than quantitative; they both are looking for very different answers to the questions they pose, even if they pose the same questions. I am also not saying that quantitative studies cannot provide us useful answers that qualitative studies seek to answer.
What I am saying, is that qualitative studies, and by extension, understanding a client from a qualitative standpoint, offers the opportunity to engage the person. This engagement requires we listen to the person in their own words, withhold our judgment as much as possible, and seek to understand them. Quantitative studies do not need to engage with a person to get the data they need. Qualitative studies require you to dig into a person, even if from the outside in a distanced way. It requires you to get to know them so you can distinguish between different features of the study. Keep in mind I’m talking in great generalities; there may be a study I haven’t seen or don’t remember that goes completely against either way that I’ve portrayed these kinds of studies.
In the end, what I hope Psychology eventually gets to, regardless of specialty, is more towards addressing the whole person. From where a person lives, their past, their present, to even what they eat, I hope that all that data is embraced and looked at. It may tell us a lot that looking at things individually does not. It may give us insight not only into how the person relates to themselves, but to the environment around them, and the data there is only really just beginning to be mined.
I enjoy science, and I enjoy my religious path. The two aren’t at loggerheads. My pursuit of a science-based career doesn’t impugn my religion, nor does it need to. Neither does my path as a shaman or priest, impugn my pursuit of science. My practice as a Northern Tradition shaman, in my view, can be enhanced by training in Psychology and Counseling. It does not take away from it. Science can inform my path, give clarity to it. It gives me more tools for my toolbox. I also see my path as a shaman giving my Counseling tools from its own toolbox. More Counselors are recognizing the benefits of alternative states of consciousness, mindfulness exercises, and similar things as positives for their clients. Some Counselors, such as one that I was seeing at one point (though for different reasons), use Tarot cards to help people figure out their gender identity, or guided journeys for actual counseling work.
Keeping faith in both my religious path and the sciences I do pursue does not require some kind of twisting, either of logic or of my faith. It does require me to be open-minded, observant, honest, and willing to reconsider old ideas, reject methods based on poor results, and most of all, learn and apply the new knowledge to what I know. This is far easier for me to do with science than it is with my spirituality. After all, by the time new data gets to me, its often been vetted by the scientific community, and is being contested or accepted, sometimes with new experiments or archival reviews to prove or disprove the conclusions reached in the process. Yet, I find myself still having to have faith in the science: I have to have faith the study was done in good conscience, that the conclusion reached is not only viable but verified by the evidence, that the methods used to gather data were reliable, and so on. With my spiritual paths, I have to receive, then vet the information first, and sometimes I am able to get direction from another person as to its reliability. From there, I have to either choose to follow the advice, pick up the new spiritual tool, etc., and take a lot more on faith than what I do with a scientific study.
In both cases, my faith is really built on results. If I pray, get an answer, follow through on it, and a situation is resolved or an end is reached, I tend to take that as a positive affirmation. It won’t pass scientific muster, but science and religion, as I see them, really operate in largely different areas, especially as far as their basic questions are concerned, and where the roads they lead to go. I approach my psychological studies differently because, given that I am not in my M.A. program yet, I won’t see the result of this or that theory’s impact on counseling a client. However, I will admit I have preferences, and these are based on how I understand the theory, how I have seen it or it is used in practice, and the desired end or implications of the theory. There’s a lot of parsing I do, regardless of which path I’m talking about. It’s necessary; if I accept all religious experiences without critical thinking, I may not be following a God/dess at all, but a spirit who just wants my attention and energy. If I accept all scientific studies without critical thinking, I may not be accepting good, reputable science at all, but a sham conducted by a company to show a desired end. To me, you don’t leave critical thinking at the door with religion or science. Good science, and good religion too, is gained by critical questions being asked, and sometimes, having the answer blow your mind while others, the answer is obvious.
Since the trial for James Arthur Ray has ended in his conviction for negligent homicide, something that has really popped up in my mind a lot is the idea of credentials. They can keep people safe, establish who has proper training in a discipline, art, science, etc., and who does not, and can communicate professionalism in an instant. When I think of credentials I think of licensing, such as what happens with counseling, or with medical disciplines. Having an M.D. or some other recognized credentials communicates a certain trust between the community and you, that you have had the training and experience necessary to qualify in the field you’re practicing. How do we establish such a thing in Paganism or modern shamanism?
Some places, such as Cherry Hill Seminary for Pagan ministry, and the Foundation for Shamanic Studies for neo-shamans, are trying to fill this requirement by giving classes, workshops, and a variety of training in disciplines and techniques for their path. I have many criticisms of core shamanism, as well as misgivings regarding the practice of shamanism without a core cosmogony or cosmology. That said, I find it laudable that someone is helping to set a standard of expectations, that neo-shamans to be answerable to some standard of expertise and training. Still, there is something that bothers me about the setting of standards regarding shamanism. I think it is something I was reminded of in this post by Kenaz Filan, that I worry regarding “the desire to reduce everything to one happy nebulous one-size-fits-all Truth.” I’m not about to say that people should not have standards regarding their spiritual workers; quite the opposite, in fact. The worry I have, is that we reduce the role of a Pagan priest or a modern shaman to a “one-size-fits-all-Truth”. Community standards, and standards of practice are one thing. Expecting the same thing out of every priest or shaman is quite another. That, perhaps, is my main point of contention with core shamanism itself: that it reduces a good deal of practices, techniques, and so on, down into a distilled form of core shamanism that is billed as shamanism without culture, when it merely replaces a mishmash of cultures’ spiritual tools and practices with its own culture.
This is why I worry about, but am not completely opposed, to credentialed spiritual leaders, mentors, and the like. That said, I have none. I am not certified by any body, religious or otherwise, to conduct the rituals I do, or to deliver the services I offer. I have only the blessings of my Gods, spirits, Ancestors, and those who believe in what I do. I have only the experiences I have had as a shaman, and priest of Odin and Anubis as my spiritual background. In a very real sense, it is a leap of faith for people who come to me for spiritual help or advice to trust me. I have no training from an accredited seminary, nor do I have a certificate from the modern neo-shamanic organizations. Am I still a priest and a shaman? I emphatically say “Yes”.
I am of the mind that, while you can go through all the varied and well-made training workshops and classes, the Gods and/or spirits are what designate you as a priest and/or shaman. Without the Gods and/or spirits, while you may have all the earthly credentials in the world, what does that matter if, when the time comes, you are called on to be a Divine mouthpiece and you cannot perform your function? When someone needs to hear the guidance of their God/dess, and you cannot communicate it, what did the seminary lessons matter? When a person is being bothered by spirits or Ancestors, if you cannot intervene and/or guide effectively, what good are all the workshops? Anyone can screw things up as a matter of simply being human, and no spirit-worker, priest, shaman, or oracle I know of does what they do without screwing up. I certainly have not. That, however, is not my point here. What is, is that the Gods and spirits with whom you work, in my view, are the ones that bestow the meaning, the core, of what it is to be a priest or a shaman. If you don’t have Them behind you in your function, while you may be a great facilitator or organizer, you are not a priest or shaman.
There is also, to me, a large difference between being a priest or shaman of a community, and being a priest or shaman of specific Gods or spirits. While the two need not be exclusive, they can be very different in their roles. Having been a priest for a community for a small time, the role required me to fill a lot of shoes, and do a lot of working with others’ Gods, successes, failures, and times of trial, as well as times of joy. There was a lot of work on communication, answering questions, writing lessons, and training that was done as part of that work. A lot of my daily work during this time was community-based, from daily work with people on their relationships with Gods, to working on rituals, classes and presentations. Being a priest of Odin and a shaman apart from a dedicated community, a lot of my work for the larger Pagan community consists of giving messages from Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, intervening when needed in spiritual crises, and being a go-to for people looking to contact Odin and other Northern Tradition Gods, spirits, and Ancestors. A lot of my work is individual-based, and I do a lot of more self-focused work, such as taking more time out for relaxation and meditation, and give more personal attention to the Gods and spirits I work with, whether it is working with my Ancestors, or working on deepening my relationships with my Gods.
Are credentials necessary? In some cases, yes. If you want to legally marry people, for instance, you need to have credentials that back up your ability to sign the marriage license. However, I and a very good friend of mine, performed a wedding for a wonderful couple, and though it is not legally recognized due to the laws in my state, it is a strong marriage blessed by the Gods. Are credentials beyond those for legal reasons a necessity? I’m still out on this. As someone who has dedicated his life to serving my Gods, I would say no. Yet, at the same time, I see how credentials provide comfort, a sense of security, and communicate professionalism. After all, I’m getting my degree in counseling for that reason, and when I’ve finished with that, I will go for licensing so I can practice what I’ve learned.
At this point I’m taking a middle road because Pagan priesthood and modern shamanism do not, by and large, have the background that professional counseling does, and beyond the two resources I’ve mentioned above, anything resembling professional training in either field is scant, or is specific to certain pathways, i.e. the Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s seminary. If we want more professionally-trained priests and shamans, whether for the wider Pagan or shamanic communities, or our own little branches in their trees, we will largely have to either a) support what is already there and increase its ability to be used effectively by its adherents, or b) invent these courses and methods of accreditation ourselves. I find that accreditation can be a powerful, stabilizing force, but it can also be one that can strangle peoples’ ability or willingness to explore, find new ways, be touched by the Gods or spirits, or respond in ways that establishments may find chaotic, destabilizing, or unwelcome. Here is hoping that as we move forward we can develop courses and accreditation that encourage individual and group responsibility, personal and transcendent experiences of our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, while also providing a solid structure to build our faiths, roles, and communities on. Here is hoping that if credentialing gets in the way that we have the bravery and wherewithal to help it evolve with our communities’ growing needs, or if it will not, then to discard it.
Hello everyone. Given the interest and fantastic submissions that have started to come in, I am extending the deadline to October 31st, 11:59pm. I hope that as word spreads there will be even more submissions. Please, if you or anyone else you know does Ancestor devotions and/or work, or even has just started beginning working with their Ancestors, encourage them to submit their writing, or art to this project. The details are listed below. If you have any questions you can post them here or send them to Sarenth@gmail.com.
The Call for Submissions
Working Title: Calls to Our Ancestors
Description: An anthology of prayers, poems, devotional pieces, essays, personal experience, and/or artwork in honor of our Ancestors. This anthology draws from a variety of sources and authors, and may include Ancestors worship in the form of spirits and/or Gods as well, for those whose beliefs encompass this.
What is not desired: fanfic, ego-stroking, self-aggrandizement. It’s one thing if you believe you’re sired by a God/dess, it’s another to treat other humans as lower than yourself.
Word Length: 800-1500 words minimum for essays. No specialized fonts, please. All formats for written pieces should be in a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file format. Any devotional pieces, artwork, etc. in visual format needs to be submitted in no less than 300 dpi format, preferably .tiff or .png for lossless quality.
Contributors will not be paid for this contribution. This is a one-time publishing opportunity, so you retain all rights to your piece and can use it as you wish after publication.
Any contributors need to give their legal names and addresses in the email for a release form for their work. However, we can publish you under a pseudonym or community name if you would like.
The deadline for submissions is October 31st, 2011 at 11:59pm.
Emails for interested parties can be sent to Sarenth@gmail.com.