“Keeping your word is one of the most important things you can do. Once you break your word it is hard to get that trust back. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible.” -My Dad
There should be little more needing to be said for oaths and oathmaking. I make exceedingly few oaths nowadays. This is not because I am untrustworthy or I avoid commitment, but because oaths carry maegen of their own, and along with that binding power, my and the other parties’ maegen. This maegen will affect those communities I and they are attached to through hamingja.
Before we go much further, let us define some terms.
Maegen is analogous to one’s personal luck or power. Where önd is the breath and analogous to chi or one’s personal energies, maegen is the strength by which those energies are felt, how they are wielded, and so on. We all start with önd, and some work with their önd quite well in context of building it, such as by learning breath control, inner control, meditation, and similar arts. Maegen is worked with and built by keeping your word, by exercising your Will in ways that build you up.
Hamingja translates, roughly, to group luck or power. This is built in much the same way as maegen, but it also ties into the group’s recognition of you keeping your oaths, showing up when needed (i.e. if you say you are going to be there you will be there), and being a good member of your communities. Maegen and hamingja are part of the soul, as much as the liche (body), mynd (mind), and vili (Will).
The Weight of an Oath
When you make an oath or a promise you are literally putting a piece of your soul at stake. You are saying to the other party “I trust you so much I am willing to wager a part of my soul for this oath.” When you keep your oath your maegen increases, as may your standing in the community, thus increasing hamingja. The same may be true in reverse: keeping well with your community may help to increase your maegen, i.e. showing up when you say you will, doing right by the community, etc. After all, if you are keeping your oaths you are exercising the muscles of maegen, and potentially hamingja if the oaths and promises made were before or to a group.
This is why in the Northern Tradition oathbreaking is regarded as the lowest thing you can do, right down there with being a traitor. Think of most any mythology where a person breaks their oath to the Gods, or to their kin; there is backlash. Sometimes there is no ‘good’ choice and it is a tossup of breaking of one oath or another, such as the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t story of Cú Cuhulain who was given the unenviable choice of breaking one or the other of his geas. It may be you have to keep to established taboos, such as not eating this animal, wearing that piece of clothing, or not speaking certain words. Keeping to the oaths, the taboos, the expectations is more important than I can say in words. I have lost friends, and hurt those I love both emotionally and spiritually by not doing so. I was removed from a group for this. Take my example as a lesson, and don’t repeat it. The consequences reverberate through your life and Wyrd.
Oaths in America
Modern American culture no longer respects oaths, if indeed, it ever really did. Our elected officials make empty promises to their constituents, and once elected, to the Constitution. Veterans give their lives to a People that sees fit to lead them to lives of plastic bags, cardboard boxes and underpasses when they have given their all. Companies who pledged money to their employees thirty years ago bilk their workers’ retirement accounts in schemes and scams, leaving people to struggle to keep their homes, let alone food on their table, in their old age. Marriage vows are no longer held, with some celebrities not even waiting twenty-four hours before divorce. With oaths and promises, taboos and peoples’ word given such short shrift it is little wonder that we are in the straights we are in.
With as many broken oaths, half-truths and full-on thirty year lies, how much work would the U.S. government have to do to get an inkling of trust back? Look at all the broken Treaties the United States government signed with Native American Nations. No really, look at them. It’s a litter of literally hundreds of broken promises, terrible deals, backstabbing, and genocide. In the Declaration of Independence it was declared “all people were created equal” then, when the Constitution was ratified, it cast blacks a 3/5 of a person, less than human. Our nation was part of the creation and ratification of the Geneva Convention, and now We flaunt it shamelessly. Companies poison our bodies, minds, land, sea, and sky are raking in record profits while bottom-rung workers are forced to take up public assistance. Any thought to the well-being of the People, and associated promises and oaths to take care of the environment, the poor, or anything other than a bottom-line profit motive are met with scorn. America’s maegen wanes as we shore up our falling power with an ailing, ill-served military, and Its hamingja dies in our constant ‘might makes right’ pursuit of our ‘national interests’. Meanwhile we have people all over our country unable to care for themselves, half of our nation exists in or under the poverty level, and the nation’s infrastructure crumbles. Oaths are as important for the soul as they are for the foundation of any society, and when oaths erode, so does the soul. No less the soul of a nation.
The Marriage Oath
Getting down to the more personal level, let us talk about marriage oaths. The most common we are used to hearing is “Til Death do you part”. Think about that. You are investing a part of your soul, and what ought to be a significant part of your life in a relationship until one or the other of you dies. There is no ‘out’ in most of these marriage oaths, no ‘if this person turns out to be a total jackass or doesn’t take care of the kids or is abusive I can leave him’. At least from the Catholic side, you have to get your marriage annulled before you can marry again, but, from the Catholic point of view, this is not breaking an oath. It is saying the marriage oath was never valid to begin with, and so the oath cannot be binding.
The marriage oath is particularly powerful as oaths go. You are combining all your bloodlines into one home, welcoming the Ancestors and their descendants of those bloodlines into your life. You are putting your maegen into your partner(‘s/s’) hands, and through your public oath, whether to a court, a few witnesses, your families and friends, or all and sundry at a Renaissance Fair, you are tying together your hamingja to that person, their family, and to the communities you make the marriage oath before. You are swearing an oath before the Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, and the landvaettir. You’ll be making a home with your partner(s), and you’ll be making it on the landvaettir’s home. Right relationship with all the Beings involved in making your lives, and in helping you live is crucial. Keeping the oaths is just one part of this, but a deeply important one.
There are many parts of the marriage oath you can change; heck, you can write your own. There may be some oaths the Gods, Ancestors and/or spirits want you to change or adapt. We do not, in most cases, have a singular body of liturgy that has passed down generation after generation, and our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, especially landvaettir, may have different expectations when we come together to marry than what we have in mind. So while there is a lack in foundation there, there is also a lack in the ossification of the Holy, of written word and spoken oath.
I do not expect much, if any of my living extended family to show up when I get married, yet my partner(s) and I we will be recognized as married when we visit family. Yet oaths will be made, and the threads of those oaths will tie together our Wyrd to one another, to our communities, and our families. The ties of maegen, hamingja, and the rest of our soul(s) will still be there, recognized before the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and the communities who see fit to be there.
Maegen, Hamingja, and the Pagan Communities
I have spent a good time talking about oaths, so now I am going to switch gears here a bit.
We build maegen and lose it, break it down and send it up, over the course of our lives. We can use it to exert control over ourselves and others, we can let it shine like a beacon or we can hood the lamp and keep it to ourselves. We can work with maegen to make ourselves a better person, or fight its pull and make our lives infinitely harder. Each person’s maegen is different, and is built differently. My workout regimen may not work for you. You might need to build up your arms where I may need to build up my legs. Your Gods may ask you to contribute to your maegen in a thousand ways I will never have to touch, whether it is the oaths you keep, the taboos you are not to break, or the path you are meant to walk. We may even walk side by side, but your maegen is just that: yours.
Hamingja is affected by us, but it is also, in parts, distinctly out of our control. If it belongs to anyone, it belongs with us and those we share our lives with. We help to build it up in building up our maegen, but it may also help to build maegen in its turn. It is, in part, our reputation in the communities we exist in. It is the relationships we have to those communities, and they to us. It is the building of partnerships and the burning of bridges. It is the life you touch for good that encourages a person to excel. It is the person you harmed and helped continue a downward spiral. It is who you are, and how you are known. It is your reputation, your name(s), your good word. It is what you have done for your community and what you have failed to do. It is trusting the community to have your back as much as it is doing for the community. It cannot be made alone, though each person has their own part in building it. Hamingja is like a good barn raising: best made together with those you trust not to drop it as it is raised.
Our maegen and hamingja are the chains we forge with each duty done, each oath kept, each taboo observed, each deed that helps ourselves and others, and it is broken, sometimes link by link and sometimes all at once, when we fail in these. Yet there is hope because it can be reforged. So if you do screw up, and Gods knows I have, it is not the end of the world even if, in the moment, it feels like it. Rebuilding the maegen and/or hamingja from this state is started by making the right choice: to rebuild it. It may be hard and long, and that chain may never be the same, but it is as worthy Work as any we may engage in. Good maegen and good hamingja promote frith, good peace and social order.
The Pagan communities have an opportunity to continue to reforge the broken chains that had lain at the Gods’ feet for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The only way that I know of for these chains to stay forged is for us to remain in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and one another. This is not a one-shot solution. This will take time and effort. It will take patience, starting with ourselves, and branching out from there. There is no end to this work, really, and no silver bullet, no scrap of lore that will unlock the secrets of this Work. It is a link forged with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and communities one person at a time with each and every Being, human and otherwise, that they encounter. The metal of the links are shaped by our word and deeds, by how we treat one another, and the devotion we show to our Gods, the Ancestors, the spirits, our communities, and to our own journey with all of Them. So let us all dedicate or rededicate ourselves to making these links, to making them lasting long after we are gone so that when the link is tested it will stand strong as it once did, as it can, and I believe will, again.
From James Two Snakes:
Tell me more about the rituals and prayers you do with your son.
When I first became a Dad I determined one thing I really wanted for my son was the gift my parents gave to me: an active, living religious tradition. A good part of this was prayers for meals, and especially bedtime prayers. Before he could do prayers, before he could speak I would pray with him. In the last three we’ve really come together and now, they’re a daily part of our life.
The first prayer is usually the morning breakfast prayer. Our meal prayers are all the same at this point, and rote, so that he connects on a regular basis with all the Gods, and is mindful of Them, the Ancestors, and the spirits. From what he has told me, he says this prayer at school, and it makes me very proud. All the prayers used to be call and response, but as he has learned them, my son has grown into saying them alongside his Mom and I on occasion. Sometimes, when he is in the mood, he will ask to lead the call and response. This latest development has happened recently, and I find it a good thing to lead as it is not just a prayer, but a time for him to take charge and do without having to follow his Mom or I. He tends to have this huge smile on his face when he does it, and sometimes it is good to hang back and let someone else take the lead. After all, I want him to have a relationship with the Gods, not just to do it because Mom and Dad are.
The Mealtime Prayer
Thank You Odin
Thank You Frigga
Thank You Freya
Thank You Freyr
Thank You Gerda
Thank You Loki
Thank You Angrboda
Thank You Sigyn
Thank You Brighid
Thank You Bres
Thank You Lycrous
Thank You Lupa
Thank You Bast
Thank You Anubis
Thank You Spirits
Thank You Farmer and Field
Thank You Animals and Plants
Thank You Landvaettir
Thank You Ancestors
Blessed Be, and Ves Heil!
At first it was just the Norse and Germanic Gods, but then slowly included all the Gods we worship. Once he started memorizing the Norse and Germanic Gods They slowly had Themselves included. At first he struggled remembering, but now, two years or so from when we started to say prayers together, he likes to lead prayers sometimes.
Before my girlfriend and I came back together, around the same time we started formulating the meal prayer, we made a bedtime prayer. We lived in separate homes then, so around his bedtime they would call or I would call, and we would say the prayer together over the phone. Back then this was call and response because of delays in the phone. It was hard, at first, because sometimes our son did not want to say the prayer either because of shyness with the phone, or he had a rough day. Still, it was good for her and I to pray, and it was a way for us not just to connect, but to share in prayer to the Gods.
Now that we live together the night prayers are huge. Our son loves them, and asks as he is getting ready for bed what kind of prayers we’ll be doing. There are three kinds of prayers we do at night: The longest we call Full Altar Prayers, the next is Sigdrifa’s Prayer, and the last, Night Prayers. Before I go further I need to explain the altar situation in our home.
My son and I live in a room together on the upper floor of my folks’ home, and his Mom lives across from us upstairs. All of the altars are in our room, as, until recently, the cats were not allowed in. We were afraid they would knock the altars about, knock statues down, etc. The one casualty we’ve had so far was an older wolf statue that I had too near an edge that was knocked over when one of the cats went exploring. Aside from that, the altars themselves were undisturbed despite being left completely alone for four to six hours.
Our son helped to set up all the altars except the Earth, House Spirit, and Military Dead altars which are too high for him to reach. That alone is powerful, connective Work, and a good experience for me too. Between learning to just hang back and let the Gods tell him where to place Their representations (and leave Them there!) to gently guiding him on why we put things like the Brighid crosses together, we get to learn and teach hand in hand, at times he guiding us, and vice versa.
The Gods’ Altar: An altar to all of our Gods that sits before a window, behind which are growing two plants from a ritual with the Church we circle with. There are things like a statue for Odin, Anubis and Freya, keys big and small for Frigga, a Sun disk for Sunna and a Moon disk for Mani, two Brighid’s crosses for Brighid and Bres with bottles of healing water blessed by Her behind them, and a Green Man for Freyr. If I have forgotten anyone/anything I’ll update it.
The Ancestor Altar: An altar to all of our Ancestors, including the Elements. There is a bottle of rainwater and Florida Water for Water, a glazed clay bowl of stones and willow leaves for Earth, a harmonic from my Great-Grandpa and an incense holder for Air, a granite square with a pillar candle and a bowl of matches, lighters, and a sparking fire-starter for Fire, and for the Ancestors in the center is a four-person circle crafted out of clay holding one another, with a stone in the center in the offering bowl, and behind it on either side are tree-shaped candle holder for Ask and Embla. When I am not wearing them I place my Ancestor necklaces on either side of the altar for the Disir and Vatter (Alfar), and my Ancestor prayer bead necklace before the four-person Ancestor circle statue.
The Earth Altar: An altar to the spirits of Earth, with three stones representing Gebo, the Earth, and the Landvaettir (with a stone from the property we live on), a representation of the Earth Dragon made out of ceramic, a Gnome similarly made out of ceramic, the moneyvaettir with a plate of money from different places and times and a large jar in the middle of the play containing spare change and change we felt should go in it. On this altar is a tied off bunch of wheat that forms the bed for a representation of Ramses II, who, when I was a bit younger and mainly working with Anubis as His priest, after I saw his place had been desecrated, knowing what it meant that his bones lay out in the open and his rest disturbed, wrapped up a doll into muslin and did rituals, and invoked spells from the Book of the Dead. He now has a place on the Earth altar, and it is my goal to eventually get him a gold-leaved box to put him in.
The House Spirit Altar: A simple altar with what was a wooden birdhouse, and an incense holder on a granite square.
The Military Dead Altar: An altar that sits on a filing cabinet for now, with an incense holder, a large vase-shaped candle holder, an earthenware pot of graveyard dirt, taken with Their permission, from Veterans’ graves.
Full Altar Prayers
Full Altar Prayers are usually done on the weekends, as it takes anywhere from half an hour to forty-five minutes start to finish. We start by kneeling at the Gods’ altar, taking the selenite and cleansing our energy bodies with it, doing the front of our bodies starting with the crown, then handing off the crystal to someone near and allowing them to get the back of our energy body. Then, our son and I cover our heads with bandanas, he with a black one and I a white one. He’s asked to get his own set, so when we get the opportunity next we’ll do some shopping for him so he can have his own white bandana rather than borrowing my black, all-purpose one. The white bandana is specifically saved for night prayers, the red for Ancestor Work, the blue for Landvaettir, and black is, as mentioned, all-purpose.
After we cover we do the Negative Confession. While this is not the version we use, it gets the point across. We read the Confession in the call-and-response style. After this, we perform Sigdrifa’s Prayer. Again, this is not exactly the prayer we use, but these are excellent sources, and for song music and the prayer in both the English and Old Norse available, they are available here.
When we say “Hail Day! Hail Day’s Sons!” we open our hands and upraise our arms to Daeg, God of Day. When we say “Look with love upon us here and bring victory to those sitting here” we bow to the window, to Nott, the Goddess of Night. When we speak “Hail to the Gods!” and “Hail to the Goddesses!” we bow to each of Them in turn. When we stand to hail the Earth, we go to the Earth altar, and say “Hail to the mighty, fecund Earth!” and then, turn to the Ancestor Altar which is next to it, and say “Eloquence and native wit bestow on us”, and return to the Gods’ altar, saying “And healing hands while we last!” We end with “Blessed be, and Ves Heil!” At the end of all this, we go to each of the altars, bowing, and say “Ves Heil!” to each, hailing all of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that work with us.
These are a lot like the Full Altar Prayers in that we do all the ritual actions for Sigdrifa’s Prayer described above, and we may or may not do the selenite cleansing, and we may or may not cover. It’s a hard and fast thing that our son and I cover, though his Mom does not, for Full Altar Prayers. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we do not for Sigdrifa’s Prayer. The biggest change between these is that we do not do the Negative Confession.
This is a prayer his mother and I made together. At first it was a lot like the Mealtime Prayer and it branched out from there. In it, we address each of the Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and spirits we worship, thanking Them for Their blessings on us, and our lives.
The Bedtime Prayer
Thank You Odin and Frigga for the World around us
Thank You Freya for the Love in our lives
Thank You Freyr and Gerda for the wonderful Food
Thank You Loki, Angrboda, and Sigyn for Laughter, Protection, and Perseverance
Thank You Brighid and Bres for Inspiration and Truth
Thank You Lycrous and Lupa for Ferocity and Kindness
Thank You Bast and Anubis for Pleasure and Opening of the Ways
Thank You Spirits for Your Friendship
Thank You Landvaettir for our Home
Thank You Ancestors for our Lives
Be with us when we sleep,
Be with us when we wake
Blessed be, and Ves Heil!
Other Prayers and Rituals
Prayers and rituals otherwise are rather spontaneous, things like taking out offerings to oak tree, and hailing the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits tend to happen about once a week. If it is too cold we pour water offerings down the drain, and if they’ll go in the compost, that is where we put food offerings. If we have nothing else we can afford to get for offerings we at least leave water on the altars and light incense. Little prayers, like “Thank you Odin for wisdom” or “Thank You Freyr for this food” and similar prayers are said when the occasion hits us. When we walk around the local parks, or we go to a new place, we hail the Landvaettir with a small prayer, such as “Hail Landvaettir; thank you for letting us walk on You and with You.” We might walk up to a nearby tree, one that sticks out or is an oak or ash, bow, and give an offering of some kind. Even if we have no offering to give right then, or if we’ve already given one, we’ll pick up trash as an offering to the landvaettir and the local spirits.
When I was first trying to communicate to my son why we hailed the Landvaettir, I had taken him to a park. I did not know at the time that he had come out for our day (well before his Mom and I came back together) after watching My Neighbor Totoro. So when I asked him if he knew why we hailed the Landvaettir, why we bowed, and prayed, he suddenly piped up “Because every tree has a spirit! Just like Totoro!” I damned near cried on him. ”Yes, son, that’s right, every tree, every rock, every thing has a spirit.” He grinned ear to ear, and we bowed low to the large tree in front of us, and he, in his little voice called out and said “Hail Tree SPIRIT!” So if you are having a hard time communicating a concept to your kids or to someone else’s, look at kids’ media. My Neighbor Totoro, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and several amazing movies and shows communicate our concepts in a way that I have struggled at times to teach.
Every small prayer, every ritual, especially those done day after day, night after night, build up the foundation our children have in their religion to carry this special relationship into their lives. Each and every day, each and every moment, I have found, is teachable if you let the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits in. Giving this gift was the best thing my folks did for me, and I pray, fervently, it is the same for my son.
I am a hard polytheist and animist. The Gods are real, individual beings. The world is populated by spirits. My Ancestors are as close as my blood relatives, reaching into the World itself, into Yggdrasil, the Elements and raw power of the Void, into the Gap Itself, if I look back far enough. Many Gods are imminent, and some transcendent. Some are local Gods, some with names and some with names we do not know, and more with names we may never speak. The Gods can be our friends, our family, our lovers, distant acquaintances, terse partners, employers, and/or master/mistress, among roles and ways of being I am sure I have missed. So can a great many spirits. As for the spirits, They are part and parcel of everything around us. We might call some spirits Gods , and some Gods might be called spirits, depending on how we view Them, and Their place in the world, universe, etc. We may not even have terribly solid boundaries where one God ends and another begins, or on the other hand, may have very defined ones between Goddesses.
We all exist within the fabric of Wyrd, within Ma’at from the most infinitesimal piece of sand to the Gods, to the Universe Itself (which, in some religions is a God/dess/Being).
Is this monist?
Perhaps, at its core, I suppose it is. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines Monist as:
1 a : a view that there is only one kind of ultimate substance and b : the view that reality is one unitary organic whole with no independent parts.
I much prefer the b definition. This idea is not that we are somehow one mass, blob, etc., but that we are threads of a great tapestry, and each of us is but a thread. That while being individual, we are not independent. That we are organically whole, together.
Really, though, what am I capturing by saying things this way?
Language is tricky. When it comes to describing the Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, They are much like a fish wriggling in your hands: even as you take out the hook from a well-fought catch, it struggles to go back in the water where you must find it yet again¹. In many ways language is insufficient, even in the hands of a poet, a writer, a lyricist, or a bard, to describe in full or even in part what it is to experience the Gods. Language is the hook that gives us one fish, and it may fill us awhile with good food, but while that hook is bare it is an unused tool, and there are far more times where the fish fights us off or fools us that it has been hooked, when it merely eats the bait and swims off. Language alone, whether written on a page, sung in front of a crowd, or whispered before an altar will not sustain. It is the fish, not the hook, that provides the nourishment. After all, sometimes we lose the hook, and sometimes the whole line, and sometimes the whole damned pole!
I still feel as I did in August with A Useful Teacup. Boundaries are useful and necessary. A hook is not a fish, after all, and no matter how many hooks one eats they will not provide nourishment. Yet I find that monism is not wholly opposed to polytheism, but rather, it is part and parcel of it.
Monism within polytheism is nothing new, nor is animism. Recognizing we are all part of an interdependent whole does not deny our Gods, our spirits, or our Ancestors, but puts us into our proper place within the Worlds. The Worlds hang on Yggdrasil, and Yggdrasil came from the Gap. All at first came from Atum who came from Nun. We all come from a source, and it is often represented by, referred to, and is the Void, Darkness, Nothing, etc. If anything, monism within polytheism is a challenge for us to live more in tune with the Worlds around us. If we are all interdependent, are we doing our part in Wyrd, in Ma’at?
Bringing this idea into the current discussion on Paganism, I do not want to find another boat when so many will do. I may not board the good ship Reconstructionist but I count myself as a hard polytheist and animist, a Northern Tradition Pagan, a Heathen, and a worshiper of many Gods beyond the Norse and German. So, I am also very eclectic. Yet, I look at it this way: salmon has sure been good to me in filling my belly, and so has tilapia and tuna. I fish in many waters, but with the proper pole and bait for each. The fish still come. Sometimes I come back with nothing, and sometimes I come back with a fish story, and an accompanying fish.
Boundaries are still useful and necessary; it is hard going trying to salmon fish with a leaky boat. Likewise, it is impossible to fish without risking getting wet.
¹Small wonder that Loki is associated with a salmon: a hardy fish that is hard to catch and a powerful swimmer who often outsmarts or outright beats the fisherman. As with language, the understanding of Loki is evolving inside and outside of academic circles. He is one God among many who are being discovered, thought about, and reexamined, and yet, consistently escapes consensus.
May the Gods of Storm and Sky
Dance lightly in the world
From coast to coast
Continent to continent
May Their steps be light
Sparing life where They may
Bringing life where They step
Lightning, sleet, snow
Rain, hail, and winds
Gales, gusts, and forces
Be gentle to Your people
Be gentle to their homes
Be gentle to their loved ones
Hail, Gods of Storm and Sky
Keep us in Your hearts
As You dance in the Skies and Upon ocean and land
About home and field and city
Hail to You, Blessed Ones
Of Storm and Sky, Weather and Wind
May we remember
That many of us call You Father, Brother, Sister, Mother
Your statues grace our altars
Your Names grace our lips
Your Blood is in our veins
Your Breath is in our lungs
Your Holiness, in Its power and awe, abides in us
Even in fear may we hail You
Even as the rain falls and the snow piles may we hail You
Even as hardships come may we hail You
Knowing that You bring blessing with bane
That You bring comfort with sorrow
That through Death’s door come’s Life’s return
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.
This is the first time I have publicly come out. I am pansexual.
I am a shaman, a priest, a youth minister, a father, a student, and a lover of learning. I am a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen, and I follow and serve Gods from many pantheons who have blessed my life. I love books, things that make me think, talking, drawing, and writing. I hope to live a life in permaculture principles, and leave a better world when I leave it.
As Dan Savage once told me, it is easy for those in what is seen as heteronormative relationships to just ‘pass’. For me, this is as much a stand with my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQI communities as it is a stand for myself.
Gods, Ancestors, and spirits bless you all.
Boundaries are useful. They mark out what is, what is not; what belongs, what does not belong. Boundaries are, by their nature, discriminatory. We do not want to live alongside bugs, animals, and other parts of our natural world, so we make houses. If we lack the means or if we want to, we live in nature.
Utgarð, Innangarð. There can be places between these boundaries, but sometimes there is a simple in/out binary that exists. I would say there are few of these, but they exist.
I wish Pagans were more respectful of boundaries. Take this to mean personal boundaries, such as being able to reject hugs, not get glitter-bombed at a convention, or getting ‘healed’ by a well-meaning but ignorant co-religionist. Take this to mean between our religions; I am not a follower of the Hellenic Gods therefore, I am not part of Hellenismos, as beautiful as this community may be. They, likewise, are not Northern Tradition, Heathen, etc. I respect this boundary by calling myself what I feel I am closest aligned with, and what my actual practice is aligned with. Take this to mean ‘this is what makes a Pagan a Pagan’ and ‘this is what makes a non-Pagan a non-Pagan’.
An anonymous guest on The Wild Hunt asked of a poster there:
Yeah, how is all this labeling/limiting of Paganism (and others, too really) helping to create openness and understanding anyhow rather than just creating prejudices and misconceptions people got to work over?
This unwillingness to set boundaries is an issue in Paganism that needs to be resolved. How useful is a teacup in a million pieces? If the word Pagan, or Paganism has as much utility, how useful is it as a word? Wiccan, or Northern Tradition are far more useful, (though I admit I get where Elizabeth Vongvisith is coming from in her irritation with the latter term) because they are functional. They are words that have operational definitions within the Pagan religions’ umbrella. Paganism, as a word and definition is so nebulous as to be almost completely unwieldy. It is why I say Northern Tradition Pagan, or Heathen rather than just “I am a Pagan” most times. They are intact teacups. They hold the water of thought so that I can offer it to others.
The attitude of the poster assumes that openness is actually desirable, to whit Dver’s response was:
Who said the goal is always to create openness? At the expense of everything else? I’ve seen, for instance, many polytheist groups embrace openness and lose all their focus, intent and usefulness as they quickly filled with people of so many varying approaches that nothing could be agreed upon or accomplished. The “point” of paganism IMO is not to be concerned with making everyone feel welcome and included (which, as always, puts the emphasis on people and their feelings), the point is to worship the gods (emphasis on the divine). If being open doesn’t serve that, then it’s not going to be a primary goal, at least for some. Unsurprisingly, it is often the ones insisting on understanding who least understand this point of view.
Openness has usefulness, but so does limitation. The negativity towards limiting the term Paganism, thus, increasing its actual functionality, is like saying “Well, I like my teacup in a million pieces.” So how do we go about putting this teacup back together?
We start by limiting the definition of Paganism. Perhaps to those who believe in Gods, Goddesses, spirits, etc. Perhaps not. Is Atheistic Paganism, for instance, a useful term? If by Atheistic Paganism we mean ‘non-theistic’, that is, a person who believes in spiritual beings or in a form of deism or pantheism, perhaps that is functionally useful. If we use the modern use of atheism, that is, a person without a belief in God(s) (usually included in this is a disbelief of the spiritual world), then I question how useful the term is. Atheistic Paganism, as a straightforward term, muddies waters already fairly murky. As a collection of religions we cannot agree yet on what the words Pagan and Paganism mean. How much harder will it be to suss out Atheistic Pagans? What of Humanist Pagans?
Brendan Myers, Ph.D., made this statement on Humanist Pagans as part of his guest blog post on The Wild Hunt:
Call it a case of observer bias on my part, but Humanist Paganism seems to be an emerging option for those who want to be part of the Pagan community, but who want to be a little more intellectual about their practices, and they really don’t care about the “woo” anymore. From what I have seen so far, Humanist Pagans tend to be uninterested in ritual, or energy work, or developing psychic powers…
But they love folklore and mythology, they love going to pagan festivals, and they subscribe to pagan moral values like the Wiccan Rede, and the Heroic Virtues. They’re perfectly happy to shout “Hail Thor!” with an upraised drinking horn. They don’t care whether the gods exist or do not exist: for as they see it, the existence of the gods is not what matters. Rather, what matters is the pursuit of a good and worthwhile life, and the flourishing of our social and environmental relations. They are a kind of pagan that perhaps has not been seen since classical Greece and Rome, and their place in the modern pagan movement may still be marginal and unclear, but they are a kind of pagan nonetheless.
My problem to begin with, is that he does not define what Humanistic Paganism even is in this passage. Looking at the links provided at the end of his article, Humanist Paganism is as problematic a term as simply Pagan is. It is nebulous as a term, and there is very little agreement on what it actually means (from what I have read) between various Humanist Pagans. This quote from Humanistic Paganism especially irks me:
Humanism and Paganism are complementary. While Humanism is well-adapted to address the latest intellectual and social issues, it lacks the kind of deep symbolic texture conducive to psychological fulfillment. Paganism is positioned to fill that void, providing a field of symbolic imagery in which the modern individual can feel rooted and nourished. Meanwhile, Paganism by itself is prone to superstition and factiousness. Humanism, which embraces a vision of knowledge rooted in the five senses and verified through the scientific method, offers empirical inquiry as a means to sift the wheat from the chaff, as well as to mediate the varieties of Paganism without eradicating their differences. Together, Humanism and Paganism keep in check and mutually nourish each other. Humanism keeps Paganism true to the empirical world around us, while Paganism enriches Humanism with deep symbolic imagery.
What I read in this, is that Humanist Paganism seeks to appropriate the symbols, Gods, etc. of Paganism while lacking in belief in them, not living in Gebo with those Gods, symbols, power, etc. All humans are susceptible to superstition and factiousness. Humanism brings nothing to Paganism it did not already have. I also do not see how Humanism nourishes Paganism in this relationship, so much as feeds off of it. What wheat does Humanism hope to bring from the chaff of Paganism? How can it keep the differences between traditions? How does Humanism actually keep Paganism true to the empirical world around us, when even scientists, who are supposed to keep true to the empirical method, and follow the scientific method, with peer-reviewed and published papers may lead us astray or be intentionally dishonest?
Myers makes the point in his post that:
For those who struggle with anti-pagan prejudices and stereotypes, Humanist Paganism might be a powerful educational tool. It can show that a pagan can be a sophisticated, cosmopolitain, and enlightened person, and that a pagan culture can be artistically vibrant, environmentally conscious, intellectually stimulating, and socially just.
Actually, rather than using Humanist Paganism as a tool, I would think that Pagans can and should be able to show themselves as sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and enlightened people, should they choose to do so, with or without Humanism or Humanist leanings. The Fourfold Path of Humanist Paganism is already greatly expounded on in Pagan traditions. As with Atheist Paganism, as a term, does Humanist Paganism add anything meaningful to the already admittedly murky definition of Paganism?
This is where boundaries are deeply needed. If the term Pagan is a shattered teacup, then what good does adding more shards to it do? How are we ever to come to an understanding of a term if we are forever breaking the teacup so everyone can have their sliver? What tea does it hold?
Am I saying that Humanist Pagans are not real Pagans? I am not sure that is my call to make. I am one person in the communities that make up this great umbrella. But real in what sense? If we go with the definition ”A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions” then I suppose Humanism works under that definition.
Then, however, there is the definition of humanism: “An outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.”
No. This does not work for me. I do not believe that humans are the do-all, end-all. I do not believe we should or do come before the Gods, spirits, or Ancestors. We are anthropocentric enough in America, and the devastation that has done to our environment alone gives me pause if not active disdain in supporting anything that encourages it.
I would far rather that Pagans come together to decide what Pagan means to them, than to have more users of the word take its meaning completely away from anything to do with our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors. I would even prefer that the term remain nebulous to include polytheists, pantheists, duotheists, and henotheists, than to completely lose any attachment to the Gods at all in the name of inclusion. I would prefer to repair the teacup, or find a new one so that it is useful once more.
I just learned about this today:
I think that reclaiming power over oneself, the devotion expressed to our Gods and spirits, and the personal reasons people cover should not only be protected, but celebrated. Many Pagan women are covering for themselves, reclaiming themselves from a society that, largely, objectifies them, judges them, and abuses them. Many are covering for their Gods, such as a commenter on the main website for the event, who is doing so for Hestia. Yet others are veiling and covering because “veiling helps me focus” and “it aided some of my spiritual practise, particularly shielding.” Esoterikeia’s entire post is a great testament to why Pagan women are coming into veiling, as well as this post by Star Foster on Patheos from awhile back. The Pagan voices are increasing on covering and veiling, for ourselves, and for our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors.
While I do not veil, per se, I do cover during night prayer, during Ancestor work, when the landvaettir ask/demand it, and when I feel I need another layer of protection while out and about. I have bandannas for each occasion.
I wear a white bandanna for night prayers, so that I am mindful and pure before the Gods, Ancestors, Earth spirits, landvaettir, and Ancestors. It is the only bandanna that I wear for these night prayers. This bandanna never sees another use, and when I am not wearing it, remains on my altar.
I wear a red bandanna for Ancestors work because the red makes me mindful of my bloodlines, and of Odin, since He bled for the Runes. When I do work with the Military Dead, or know I am going to an area where I would really like my Ancestors to guard me, especially my crown, I wear this bandanna. It gives me that feeling of skin-closeness and of having Their hands over my head.
I wear a blue bandanna for the landvaettir, primarily because I could not find a green one when I went shopping for the bandannas I now use. It is also helpful to remind me of water, given I live in Michigan. I tend to wear this when I am doing work on my land/with my land, and I wear it when I am working with landvaettir of other areas that I am seeking alliance with or am allied to, such as the campus or local park landvaettir.
The last, the bandanna I wear for general wear, protection, shielding, and the like, is black. I like the absorbing quality of the color, and that it does not show stains as readily as a white one would. It is good as an all-purpose bandanna, and it serves nicely for protection, especially when I don’t want to be bothered, or when I am in an area I don’t know. Otherwise, it is one I can throw on pretty quick, and not worry about my hair, or whatever else I’ll put on my head mussing up.
I am looking into men who veil, and I plan on participating on Covered in Light September 21st. I stand in solidarity with all those who veil, Pagan or otherwise, who do so for their God(s), or for themselves. If you have information on veiling and covering for men, I would be interested to read it.
We are the primal world
The world you shut
Behind closed gates and closed doors
The world of plague and pestilence
Beauty and fierce grace
We are the raging lightning
The blaze, the bonfire
The thrumming haze of dance
The frenzy of a blood-soaked battle
We are all you try to avoid
We are the monsters and maidens
We are the outcast and trusted
We are the progenitors of Gods
We are Gods Ourselves
See us, and see the animal
We are part of you, this world
We are Its untamed spirits and its closest kin
We are Jotun