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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.

The Power of Words

Words of love whispered at dusk

as night come rolling in

A voice in morning stillness sung

Piercing in reddened mist

Runes carved deep in the long tree trunk

Atop a horse head sits

Crossed out foe’s name with ink so fresh

The line is thin and slick

Like knives cutting into flesh

and ropes hung lingering long

The power of words carries on

in story, spell, and song

In words the power is still keenly felt

and fiercely is set free

So beware upon whom you turn your voice

in love or hating, speak

In our words our power holds clear

in friendship, ire, and oath

With it we may weave our Wyrd

and with them fulfill our troth

Yet our words may bring doom

Upon us or enemy

To our wrongs it may bind us fast

or in rightness set us free

So take care when you carve or sing, call or mutter low

Before you proceed all your words and works

And linger long after you go

Sigyn Project: Day 24

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You,

Oh Holy Sigyn

Thank You for Your blessings

For Your Patience

For Your Caring

For Your Will

For Your Love

Hail Sigyn, Lady of the Staying Power!

Hail Sigyn, Tear-Stained and Resolute!

Hail Sigyn, Powerful-Shouldered!

Hail Sigyn, Mother to the Pained

Hail Sigyn, Tear-Catcher!

Hail Sigyn, Patient One!

Hail Sigyn, Indomitable One!

Hail Sigyn, Victory-Bringer!

Hail, Hail, Hail!

Hail Sigyn!

Sigyn Project: Day 21

Lady of the Staying Power

You Who Stays the Incantation

You Who Silences Spoken Curse

You Who Breaks the Incantation-Fetters

You Who Catches the Venom

You Who Stays the Serpent

You Who Stays the Tortured’s Pain

You Who Loves the Mad

You Who Honors the Screaming

You Who Fights for Victory

You Who Hugs the Homeless

You Who Faces Wrath with Open Arms

You Who Stays the Serpent

You Who Soothes the Ravaged

You Who Love’s Eternal

You Who Stands Unbowed

Hail to You!

Hail, Hail, Hail!

Hail Sigyn!

Hail Sigyn!

Hail Sigyn!

Sigyn Project: Day 9

You Who Does Not Forsake

(For who can say You have not tended the Flame?)

Please hear me!

Please, teach me Your Constancy!

 

Whose Spirit is Mountain Insurmountable

(For who can say they have conquered the Summit?)

Please hear me!

Please, teach me Your Resilience!

 

You Who Does Not Deny

(For who can say You have not seen the Horrors?)

Please hear me!

Please, teach me Your Witness!

 

Whose Love is Journey Eternal

(For who can say they have seen the End?)

Please hear me!

Please, teach me Your Faithfulness!

 

You Whose Name is Victory

(For who can say You welcome the Surrender?)

Please hear me!

Please, teach me Your Perseverance!

 

Lady of the Staying Power,

Goddess Great and Gentle,

Hear my prayer and may I be

worthy of Your Blessing!

 

Sigyn Project: Day 7

Hail Sigyn, holy Goddess

Ruler of Herself!

Hail Sigyn, holy Goddess

Comfort to the Pained!

Hail Sigyn, holy Goddess

She Who Cradles the Flame!

Hail Sigyn, holy Goddess

Mistress of Her Home!

Hail Sigyn, holy Goddess

She Who Teaches Boundaries!

Hail Sigyn, holy Goddess

Love’s Endurance!

Hail Sigyn, holy Goddess!

Hail, hail, hail!

Odin Project: Day 21

Ask Rúnatýr’s aid | if Runes are sought,

giving gift in turn for gift;

For great was the price | Yggr had paid

in winning the Runes from the Gap

 

Ask Rúnatýr’s aid | if Runes are sought,

keeping keen in mind and Work,

For great is the price | the Runes will demand

From fools who know Them not

 

Ask Rúnatýr’s aid | if Runes are sought,

knowing each in Their own turn,

Wisdom and power | and rede one can find

If well one knows Their kin

Odin Project: Day 20

Gangleri sought Völvas’ ways | and to Folkvangr came,

seeking the wisdom of Gefn;

She pierced Him through | and taught Him well,

In woman’s dress He learned

 

Well-wrought the lessons | at Skjálf’s feet

By fire and distaff spun,

Prophecy and power | came to Grimnir’s call

Who learned Hörn’s ways

 

Sviðurr He left | Freya’s golden hall,

ranging wide in Ve and stride;

Doors closed were open | ways unseen shown bright,

No thing held from Odin’s path

Stumbling for Words

October 24, 2012 7 comments

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.

Loki Project Day 27

You gave the Spear and Ring to Odin

The Hammer to Thor

The Ship to Freyr

The power of the Gods

Have passed through Your Hands

 

You wandered with Odin

Walked with Thor

Jotunheim has been Your home

Asgard as well

Many have called You welcome

 

You have given many grief

So many more hope

The courage to carry on

The will to face others, themselves

We call You holy

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