I just got back from a weekend at Strawbale Studio, taking the Rocket Stove and Earth Oven workshop this last week, and the Roundpole Timber Framing workshop with Sylverleaf, gifted to us by her mother.
There are some things where you just need to do them to know you can do them, and this would be one of those. Like a lot of things we’ve fallen away from doing, building our own structures can garner a quality to it that makes it seem only able to be done within the realm of professionals. We forget that our Ancestors used to build their own homes from the ground on up. We disconnect from the understanding of knowing the land, and our place in helping to keep the trees, the forests, all of that healthy, by being collaborators with Them.
This is not to say I’m an overnight expert; hardly. What it does mean is that with very simple tools and techniques, what I have learned can empower me and mine to build a house. Given enough people, a community could raise several homes if we put our minds to it. A small build team supported by a community could do the same if there was need or desire for it.
That is part of the power of places like Strawbale Studio. You not only can learn the skills and get guidance on where to go from there, you understand in a real, in-person way that you can do these things. It goes from a conception or an idea of the thing, into hands-on experience with the skills and techniques with the tools and materials. It goes from feeling so far away, to very here.
I found myself at several times thinking, or saying aloud, “Oh wow. If we had land/space to build on, this could easily be a reality.” Every time I went to one of the classes, or watched the Roundwood Timber Framing DVD by Ben Law, I could feel the push that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir were giving us were actually able to be achieved. That the dream our family and friends have can quite readily become reality.
We were taught what kind of growth we needed to look for in our wood, and when seasoned vs. green wood was useful. With teams I helped to make roundwood joints that, with a bit of refinement, could hold up a roof or become a support beam. I learned how to use a sawhorse and draw knife to debark wood, and also to make square pegs into round pegs. After drilling out a hole and inserting the peg into or behind a joint, then splitting the peg and inserting a small wooden wedge into the peg, it would hold them together tight. All of these were simple building techniques that utilize the wood harvested around the place we were learning. I went to the chainsawing demo, because even though I do not currently own one, learning the basics of tree felling is a skill I may need. Granted, if I need a chainsaw I’ll be taking a safety course on that as Mark Angelini recommended.
There was a deep communication with the wood I was working with, and it’s not dissimilar from working with the body of an animal. After all, the tree’s bark is the ‘skin’, and the wood is the ‘flesh’ and ‘bones’ of the tree. It once lived. Learning to work with a tree by shaping its with a chisel is a very different experience of that tree and working with its body, and its spirit. It’s similar to when I skinned a mole; it is one thing to work with an object in which leather is part of it, like a book cover or a drum, but a whole other thing entire to work with the skin before it becomes anything. Same with the wood before it becomes a mallet, a peg, or an a-frame.
I had a similar experience this last week in working with the rocket stoves and forming the earth oven. As with the previous workshop, I would catch myself thinking and saying “If we had land/space to build on, this could easily be a reality.” Sylverleaf and I have a few books on our shelves, one of which is the Cob Builder’s Handbook by Becky Bee, and we picked up The Hand Sculpted House by Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, Linday Smiley, and Deanne Bednar. As part of the workshop we received a copy of Rocket Mass Heaters by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson. It’s one thing to read these books, and a whole other thing to experience their contents.
The books can only describe so well how good cob feels in your hands for making the earth oven, how the slip layer for insulation should feel and look. While I find it fairly easy to learn by sight, most of these things can only be learned by doing. For instance, I was having a really hard time visualizing how the dividing bricks between where the feedbox for the firewood is and the chimney were supposed to be put down. Seeing it done and helping to do it put it together made things click in a way I just couldn’t wrap my head around looking at the diagrams.
During the workshop on the second day I was the only person who took their shoes off to feel what the cob should feel like as you work it through the stages of adding water to the mix, which will be helpful when we do it outside in the spring or summer. After doing that, I can hardly blame the other folks. The cob was so cold my feet were aching till I put them near the rocket stove and scraped the mix off of my feet. It was a lesson in why cob is used for mass thermal storage, though.
I really, really wish we could have finished off the earth oven. From what I understand the drying process can take most or all of a day, depending on how big it is. All we would have had to do was apply the insulation and the plaster layer, and we could have started making bread or pizza. Albeit, since we made the earth oven at half scale, it would probably be more suited to breadsticks. When we go to make our own we’ll be putting down foundation for the first time, since the model we worked on we really couldn’t put down a foundation as our diagrams depicted and all work on forming it.
One of my big takeaways from the weekend was that we really can put our hands to making a new world with the things around us, and do so in a respectful manner with the Gods, Ancestors, and landvaettir. As with the coppicing, working with the materials around one’s home or locally sourced materials harvested with care worked very, very well for the work we were doing. Having actually seen Strawbale Studio’s full-size earth oven work, and what’s more, tasted the amazing pizza that came out of it, I appreciate the art of making it all the more.
As with the roundwood timber framing, what I deeply appreciate and enjoy about natural building materials is that working with them is not some locked-off secret no one can access. It’s the accessibility of the material and the building process that is really the key to it all. The natural building techniques and skills I have learned require relatively few tools, almost all of them simple ones. Most of the tools I was able to pick up for less than $100 all together. Some day I will commission or make my own. Especially when I sit and watch an episode of HGTV or DIY with the folks and see how much it takes to even remodel a kitchen using contemporary building measures. What galls me about watching these shows is how often the turnaround time comes for needing to gut them and remodel them. There are wattle-and-daub structures that still stand 600 years after their construction with relatively little input. With cob thatched roof homes, the thatching needs replacing every 20-30 years, but do not required reconstruction of whole sections of the home. The multigenerational aspect of working with the land, multigenerational homes and home ownership has been lost in going for materials that have built-in breakdown times, planned obsolescence, and we’re worse for it.
Othila or Othala presents the idea of odal land, ancestral land, and it is this concept that, in part, inspires me to learn and to pull together all these skills and to work with those in my family, clan, tribe, and with those in alliance with us. It is why I am looking at working with those already in the community and doing these things, and it is why I encourage folks to take the steps for making firm ties now. Putting our hands to crafting our own homes and things, or supporting those who do, strengthens our ties as community, and our resilience together. If you get the chance to do something like this, formally or informally, I would take the opportunity with zeal. If you’re not in the Michigan area, check around! More and more folks are engaging with natural home building, reskilling, and networking with those willing to learn.
If you are not sure where to start, I am putting together a post which will give a general start for folks to work with, including basic internet resources, books I have read or worked from, and video links to get started. There is a lot out there, so if you find or have done work from a source, let me know either in the comments section or by email, and I can add your recommendations to the list.
I owe a special thank you to Sannion for talking with me on these matters, for hosting a discussion on this via the Bacchic Chat, and for providing an excellent sounding board and helping me to dig into different aspects of David Bowie’s music and other personas besides Blackstar that I had not encountered before.
I think it is interesting that I feel more comfortable saying Blackstar than I do David Bowie in regards to my feelings on him and understanding of him. Especially since David Bowie’s recent passing. I am still putting together my thoughts and feelings on all of this, but something I decided right after hearing of his death, is that I will be extending the same courtesy to David Bowie that I would to any of my Ancestors, or Dead I would worship, venerate, or pay homage to:
Wait a full year before putting Them on the Ancestors’ altar. This gives Them time to acclimate, gives Them time to get through the journey They may need to do in the afterlife(ves) that They may be going through. Doing so for him would be respectful and give him time to settle in, get the lay of the land, and so on.
I did not, and will never know David Bowie. Given how private he was, I would be surprised if all but the closest of family members and friends actually knew him.
I had just ran into David Bowie’s music full stop last week. I’d heard him sing in Labyrinth, but nothing from any of his albums. Blackstar and Lazarus hit me over the fucking head, and it was like…echoes from Odin. So I went back and forth on writing something for him. Then, I read Sannion and Galina were going to go to SoHo to lay down offerings for him.
I finally just broke down, sat down and wrote this for Blackstar. I hope he enjoys this and it is a worthy tribute. I have made a recording of it here.
I know not if Runes had touched your tongue;
If you had drunk from Suttung’s well
But I know that I felt sadness
When the elder Blackstar fell
I know not if Bragi blessed you
With a voice of silk or gold
For I saw you in your end
In Olmen burning bold
I know not if Odin blessed you
With wisdom deep and harsh
But I know my soul was touched
By the darkness of Blackstar
I know not if Loki blessed you
With shifting form and face
But I know you touched the generations
With what you shared in grace
I know not what you saw
In your button cloth-bound eyes
But I know Who you recalled to me
The God known as Twice Blind
I know not what you were
Priest, prophet, saint, or star
But I know you shaped whenever you were
By being who you are
I know not what you are
Apotheosis ascended or inspiration in the Earth
But I know your mark was made
Before I knew my breath or birth
I know not what you will be
A God? A Guide? A Guest?
But I know you will be welcome whenever
At altar, stage, and desk
I know not if you would know me
In Helheim walking well
But I thank you for sharing, anyway
With all of us, your spells
Broken lines run through many animist and polytheist religions. In some places, those lines are fairly stark. In others, the division between what was and where we are is sometimes bridged by practices and beliefs based in the old ways. At least for Americans, most of us are completely divorced from even the lived folk ways and folklore that remained with pir Ancestors due to successive generations assimilating, by force or choice, into monotheist and then US culture. We lost connections to where our Ancestors came from, their language, and their ways along with it.
I was never taught any folklore or folkways from Germany, England, Ireland from our family. No songs, no stories, no practices, and only a few recipes collected from family members. I was taught a smattering of German words. There was nothing left by the time I was being raised. I was raised a Catholic, which at least taught me virtues of regular prayer, piety, an appreciation of the Ancestors that came before me, and an appreciation of ritual. Still, by the time I was being raised every vestige of any animist or polytheist inkling had been wiped out of my family.
So, when I felt the call from my Gods, I did what anyone would do in this situation: I read about Them. As I read about Them and learned how to make offerings, and what kind of offerings specific Gods might like, I started to do prayers, to make offerings, and learned how to divine so I could better understand Them. I had to reforge links with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir through trial and error. Only after a few years of being a Northern Tradition and Heathen did I finally have an Elder to look up to, ask questions, and seek guidance from, and it dramatically changed my life. She had done the same in her own turn before me, and I benefited from that. There was so much I was able to grasp and explore because I had help in filtering things through a sift of experience, someone with the ability to separate ice cream from bullshit. It helped me to grow in the religion, and it helped me to better understand myself, the Holy Powers, and my place in things. While we are having to work with a broken lineage to our ancient, polytheist past, having Elders and co-religionists to rely on now helps to ease the burden of the journey.
I do not believe we would struggle as much in terms of basic dialogue, understanding, walking these paths, or learning about and from our Holy Powers if our lineages were still intact. What is facing many animist and polytheist religions now is how to navigate these lines of separation.
I see these as issues that directly relate to most polytheisms having broken lineages, and being actively addressed now:
- A basic lack of familiarity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of a given tradition. Not everyone needs to know every God or Goddess, but there are more than a few Gods who often get short shrift when, because of cosmological function, community function, or relationship with everyday life, They ought to be better known. For instance, Gerda.
- A basic lack of familiarity, understanding of, and engagement with religious protocol. Things like the implications of the guest/host relationship factor really big into polytheist religion, and it ought to have more of an impact on how we frame our relationships given how these ideas influenced and continue to influence, when they are known, the lives of those who engage in reciprocity and guest/host relations in a way that is respectful to both and upholding of reciprocity between them.
- A basic lack of familiarity with ritual purity. These don’t have to be elaborate. These can be simple things, like washing the hands and face before offerings, or taking a shower before holy day celebrations.
- A basic lack of piety. The very bedrock of how we engage with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir need not be all bowed heads and uttering long prayers, though for some that may be the expectation and it is on the worshiper to fulfill it. A basic lack of piety means that even reverence at a shrine is not tended to. Things like the offering cups are cleaned on a regular basis, or you don’t just offer when you want something; you maintain a good relationship with a God, Ancestors, or vaettir. It would be like inviting Grandma over, not having cleaned or even prepared a meal for her after not seeing for a year to hit her up for cash.
- A basic lack of understanding core principles of a polytheist path, such as the aforementioned reciprocity, guest rights/host rights, where one’s place is cosmologically and in relationship with the Holy Powers.
There’s so much more, but on a baseline we would have these things taught to us and modeled for us as a matter of course as part of being in polytheist societies.
Since our Ancestors did not stay the course, whether by sword, torture, starvation, and/or their choice of conversion, we can only speculate so far as to what they would have done.
Reconstructing and reviving the animist/polytheist religions requires us to do what we can as we can to revive, reconstruct, and/or revitalize the religions and cultures we are engaged in with the help and/or direction of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Where there are unbridgeable gaps in knowledge, we ask Them to help us fill in the holes, to create a whole, healthy religion and spiritual understanding in which They are tightly wound. There are several factors worth thinking on in how we reconstruct, revitalize, and/or renew these religions. A good overview of this, written by Caer, and exploring the ideas of antiquity and modernity in the context of these conversations can be found here. One of the major factors being considered by a lot of folks is on modernity, and whether it is a help or hindrance to this. I am firmly of the view that modernity is a deep hindrance to understanding and embracing a polytheist worldview.
Looking at life and the world now, there is little room for my Gods. Where would I look for my Gods in modernity when so much of it is built on the bones of sacred places and their worshipers? Where would I look for my Ancestors ways’ in this world when the holy sites of the old countries these cultures hailed from (now often tourist attractions/traps) have to be fought for just so they aren’t paved over or removed? Where would I look in modernity for the vaettir when companies gleefully bulldoze 10,000 acres of old growth forest just for 100 years of unfettered limestone mining?
Modernity demands my silence in one hand and pretty looking shackles in the other. It promises to spare me from direct shackles that others bear on my behalf so that my computer can be built, the electricity runs, the Internet and all the various apparatus that keeps it afloat keep on running. It’s colonialism by other means, with all the ‘externalities’ bought and paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, misery, and lives of other people. Part of my work in service to the Gods is to sever that cycle when and wherever I can. Modernity is a poor substitute for a religious teacher.
Polytheist religion informed by ancient cultures which were based in Europe is not synonymous with modernity’s Eurocentrism. Rather than encourage such a mindset, if we were to pay close attention to our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and live in better concert with Them, it would be quite a revolutionary act. It would discard the largely Eurocentric-based and upheld myth of evolution which placed Christianity, then later atheism or agnosticism at the top of the proverbial heap. It would discard the notion that animist, polytheist, and similar religions were backward, misguided, or that what was found within these religions was something better relegated to a bygone period.
Animist and polytheist religions generally embrace living with and within a world we inhabit with our Holy Powers, where their considerations are taken into account. To my mind this is part of piety and reciprocity. It is a powerful, subversive, and revolutionary thing to regard a stream, lake, piece of land, one’s home, or wherever one goes to be full of spirits, and potentially a home to the Gods and/or Ancestors in addition to the vaettir who call that place home, or ARE that place. It is no small thing to consider that the rights of such a place to be free from damage is part of the rights of the land itself as the land itself is a vaettr (spirit) and/or collection of vaettir (spirits), or it may Itself be a God or many Gods. It also demands that our religions live in the now, and not be ossified in the past, bound only to what the lore, or what archaeology can tell us. Most reconstructionists will tell you this is generally what happens in reconstruction anyhow. It’s a methodology for how to take in and work with information, rather than a religious model itself.
I had to tackle this head-on when I became a priest of Anubis. There was no temple structure. I was learning from someone outside Kemetic orders, traditions, etc., and all I had to go on was what they taught, and my ongoing spiritual work and communication with Anpu when they left my life. There’s a lot of reinventing the wheel that goes on in modern Pagan, animist and polytheist religions, at least in America, because infrastructure is so lacking, very often all we have are books to look to. If you are lucky enough to have a local community, you may have one or two folks somewhere in your wheelhouse who want to do ritual with you. If not, it’s a loner’s game.
What I do not mean to say is that infrastructure, hierarchy, etc. is the only way for polytheists to do things moving forward. Some folks simply don’t work well within such things, and that is fine. For others, belonging to a hierarchy is actually at odds with their path for religious reasons, such as a taboo, what role(s) they may serve within a community, etc.
For a lot of folks, though, there’s a deep desire to have functioning communities. Some people would like these with temples, structures, community events, festivals and celebrations, and so on. This requires some kind of hierarchy to organize and to keep going. At the very least if one is part of a polytheist religion where the heart of the culture stops and starts in the home, a hearth culture, someone needs to teach the other family members the religion, and/or help keep devotional work, offerings, and so on, on a regular basis. At the other end of the spectrum, a full-on temple could require things like dedicated temple staff who are the only ones to care for the icons of the Gods within an inner sanctum, with some staff dedicated either on a full-time, part time and/or volunteer basis to do maintenance and care for the temple. While more hearth culture forms of animism and polytheism may not require much in the way of financial support, more complex and elaborate forms like the temple complex example above, absolutely do.
Each animist and polytheist in each animist and polytheist religion will be affected by these choices, and it will affect how future generations receive and understand their religion and culture. In repairing our broken lines, we have to ask ourselves which lines we are able to repair now, which ways we accept may not be reparable, and what new lines we will make with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. How these broken lines are worked with, repaired, or made new will determine what religions future generations inherit, contribute to, and pass on, or whether future generations receive a grounding in the religions to begin with.
This is a reflection on a post written by Keen, titled On Pagan Clergy, Layfolk, and the Struggle for Selfhood. Some of what I have written here will be pulled from comments going back and forth with Keen on the article, and some will be from my thoughts since then.
As I was reading this post I found myself struggling a bit. I get why Keen is writing what they are, and agree that clergy need to be part of the solution, especially because in the hierarchy of things, we’re placed higher on the queue than others are for the reasons they mention in the post.
Part of what I do in my own group is consistently remind folks they all have things to contribute, things worthy of hearing, and that the measure of what makes a prayer or offering good is whether the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir like and accept it. I also make a point of emphasizing that I do not and cannot know everything. I actually really like it when I can hand part of a lesson or ritual over to someone else. It takes me out of the facilitation role, even if for a few minutes, and into the experiential one. It doesn’t mean hierarchy disappear, per se, but it does mean that everyone knows they’ve got stake in this group.
The problems seen as within hierarchy stems more from that our society has deeply dysfunctional relationships with hierarchy than that hierarchy itself is a source of problems. Many of the ways that hierarchy functions, such as the reciprocity between folks in a hierarchy, the complimenting of responsibilities that should help build up folks within a hierarchy, etc., are completely out of whack in our country. Would-be Congressional representatives ignore the needs and desires of their constituents to the point where it blase now to say that legalized corruption has a death grip on our political processes. The societal contract between States and workers is so shredded that it is an expectation in some cases that the pensions promised will be ‘negotiated’ or legislated out of existence so the younger folks can have a hope at a job just a bit above what would keep them out of poverty. Bosses of all kinds hold the fact that employees need to make a living (read: provide for basic needs like food and shelter) above their head, exploiting their labor for personal and company gains in some of the worst ways. Officers wield immense power over whether a person lives or dies, and the justice system actively works to shield those who, were they in a different walk of life or profession, from facing responsibility for their abuses of power. These, though, are societal problems and not issues of hierarchy itself. Hierarchy and roles are not abuses of hierarchy and roles.
Roles are important, and I think part of the issue that has emerged quite a bit is that there are a lot of roles lacking in modern polytheist religion. There are folks, like myself, who the Gods snap up and say “come do this thing!” and we go and spend time and a lot of hard knocks learning how to do it, whether it is priest work, spirit work, becoming a priest, becoming a shaman, starting a group, or what-have-you. Then there are folks who don’t get snapped up, and the communities around them have little to nothing for them to do, whether that is the communities around them form before they’ve gotten these lessons, or there are just not enough interested folks in this or that direction to form one, a million reasons.
A given person may have no desire or ability to lead, so while they might have a great knowledge base, they have no personal reason to put their name out there. Another might have been badly burned and is still in recovery from the last time they put themselves out there. Another may simply not know where to start.
In some cases, there is active backlash against establishing or established hierarchy, which can be an impediment to community building. I dig established hierarchies and find it important to know where I am in a pecking order, even if there is no pecking order, so at least I know if I am among a group of peers or there is someone I should be looking up to for cohesion. Part of why I was able to get so much done alongside my fellows when I worked for a nonprofit for 3 years was because each of us knew our role and responsibility and had established protocol for working together. How things were decided on, such as program design and budgeting, was a matter of everyone knowing Robert’s Rules of Order. This allowed us to know how to propose ideas, how to deny them, how to debate the merits of a given proposal, and how to present to one another in a way that communicated clearly and effectively.
“it is no wonder that the layperson’s reaction to this anxiety, this threat against their sense of selfhood and their relationship with the Gods and spirits, is to try to become clergy themselves”
and their last point:
“keep in mind the power that you wield in this economy of social currency. And please, if you have to extol the merits of being god-deaf, head-blind, and otherwise without priestly responsibilities, try to mind how you do it; it’s easy to come across as patronizing in a world where everyone is vying for likes and authority to secure their selfhood.”
are other points where I was finding some struggle.
In the ancient polytheist cultures I have studied, there were roles for folks that made sense according to the religion, culture, and societal mores of the time. Part of the issues I think we are seeing are for the reasons I noted above, and because most modern Pagan religions and polytheist religions do not have them yet, or have actively dispensed with hierarchies. Rather than being a completely useful device for getting people engaged in a religion, I see that this flattens the field so that people feel like they need to be everything at once. However, there was a reason one consulted an oracle and not, say, the local baker. Their skills were not honed in the area of oracular work, divination, etc. even if they may have had the knack for it, especially to the degree of a full-time (or even part-time) diviner. That did not mean the baker was not necessary. Far from it. It meant the skillset of the baker was different from that of the diviner. I’m also not saying the baker could not be the diviner, like somehow laborious jobs might make a person less fit for divination, I’m just using it for example’s sake.
My issue is that it seems there’s quite a lot of pressure put on clergy, spiritual specialists, etc., to take this weight off of other people. As I am someone who doesn’t see hierarchy as an impediment, but a potential boon, part of how I view this is that the religious leaders, specialists, etc., regardless of the size of those they are leading, should be empowering folks to live full, active religious lives, just as they should be living full, active religious lives. The particulars of that life will differ according to responsibilities to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, the same with regard to one’s duties to community, family, other obligations, etc. I think this weight need to be removed both by the leadership and by the laity.
I also recognize that there are certain places in which, as a spiritual specialist with a highly active religious life, I simply will not be able to have folks able to empathize as well with me. My wife, Sylverleaf, is one such person. She is not a spiritual specialist, is not a leader, and is very closed from a spiritual input standpoint. She’s just as polytheist as I am, just as good as I am, and is very comfortable being laity. Sometimes I have to take a good deal more time to explain why I feel I need to do this or that, i.e. I need to do something because I have gotten ‘flash traffic’ from a God or Goddess I serve, or an Ancestor or vaettir wants something, and will help me with this or that in exchange. She may not understand how I am getting the information, but she is supportive both in the sense that she helps me do what needs to get done, and that she also will ask direct questions that may help me reevaluate or think deeper on a given request. On a few occasions, her help has had me go back to the negotiating board.
Likewise, I do not empathize as well with folks who do not have very active religious lives because I have seldom had one. When Sylverleaf gets ‘flash traffic’, though, it’s rather unmistakable, so with her there’s often not a large sussing out period, certainly not as much as with me. Part of what I do for her is help to keep a regular offering schedule and help set aside time for prayers. I grew up Catholic, so regular prayers and ritual times are something I am used to, whereas she grew up in a mostly atheist household, and it is harder for her to remember to do things regularly.
So, I think that laity and spiritual specialists and leaders can be helpmeets for each other, but it takes negotiating these relationships to a better degree than has been done. I certainly don’t hope to have all the answers, but I hope I am adding something useful to the dialogue around these things.
They asked me to elaborate on these points:
“I know that there is always talk of what kinds of relationship “styles” are possible to have with a Power, but rarely does that translate into a wider discussion of community relationships, with the Gods and spirits being considered part of the community ecosystem, you might say.
Might you have thoughts about that?”
Roles, in my experience, are trickier in online space. I mean, the thing with physical groups in proximity is that yeah, you can walk a way, but there is more on the line. These are people you share physical space with, folks you might have eaten with, and you might have had guest rights with them in their home. It’s more vulnerable, or a ‘closer’ kind of vulnerable in my view, and so, it is also has the possibility of being more intimate.
Relationship styles with the Holy Powers can have community-wide impact, but then again, we’re back to what constitutes a community. My relationship with Odin is easy to ignore online, relatively speaking, since all it takes is clicking that little ‘x’ in the top right of the screen if someone doesn’t like what I have to say, thinks it is loony, etc. and doesn’t want to bother writing a rebuttal to what I have said. Beliefs, information, all of it is easier to ignore or amplify online because of the way a lot of social media works, and increasingly (especially automatic or database-created) Search Engine Optimization that can allow for more of an echo chamber. Whether your community is mostly/entirely online, or mostly/entirely based in a physical community changes the dynamics of how the relationships can unfold, where one may hold the primacy of one’s own experience, how validation can help shape one’s religious experiences and understanding, and a number of other factors I could spend several posts going into.
Religious communities help to establish boundaries around our understanding of, and relationships with the Holy Powers. The looser these ties are the easier it can be to dispense with ill advice, but the same is true with good advice that may be uncomfortable or hard to take. The ties we retain online are different than those we hold in physical spaces, and I am not one to say online relationships are wrong or fake.
I maintain a good number of my relationships, including with a good number of my fellow polytheists, online. Talking with one of these friends on Facebook is all well and good, but meeting them at Many Gods West, sitting down to dinner with them, and enjoying their physical company, and dialogue, is quite a different thing. Even meeting with some of these folks on Skype is still not the same as meeting in physical space. Having done ritual online in different programs such as Second Life, and through the medium of Skype, there are different dynamics going on, and there is a sense of ‘being there’ but also not ‘being there’ that is utterly different from worshiping with folks in physical space.
Community relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir can be greatly affected if someone is in a powerful personal relationship with a/the Holy Powers. Close, powerful community relationships can also greatly affect our relationships with the Holy Powers as well. My entire life is engaged in the worldview of a polytheist, and my powerful personal relationship with Odin, the taboos He and various Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir have put on me, echo in ways big and small throughout my relationships. Folks who are close to me know about my food taboos, for instance, and so meals may be in part shaped by (or my bringing food) my taboos. In this regard it is not very different in terms of impact from my diabetes: folks who know I have it will try to have food I can eat even if the main course is carb intensive. They’ll let me know what’s on the menu ahead of time so I know to adjust my diet or if I need to get something else, I can.
What I just described is guest/host Gebo relations, reciprocity, gift-for-a-gift between guest and host. These factor pretty heavily into the various animist and polytheist religions and traditions, so while it may seem simple on the outside, these considerations get heavier in terms of spiritual weight and moral impact when one is an animist/polytheist than such things would be for someone who does not have such spiritual conditions around guest rights, host rights, and reciprocity between guest and host.
This has deeper impacts in terms of who I will and will not interact with. For instance, if I know that a group will be present that is actively hostile towards Loki, unless I am directly ordered to by Odin, I will not attend.
When it is brought up for serious discussion, as opposed to just being berated or sneered at, the subject of what function a godspouse would serve comes up. I would say that godspouses can, and actually do serve community functions, but how that comes about is entirely a result of how they and the Holy Power(s) negotiate the relationship, what form(s) it takes, if it has any impact on their community/communities, and so on. Basically, I am trying really hard not to gainsay the Gods here. Because I could say something general like “Godspouses are here to connect in a powerful, vulnerable, intimate way, and through this, bring to light different aspects of their God/dess and offer an understanding of their God/dess to others through that connection.”
I could also say that godspouses are a manifestation of a relationship with someone we humans can relate to here in Midgard, and through the godspouse we could come to a deeper rapport with a given Holy Power. I think that each godspouse may or may not have a mission or purpose of this kind to fulfill. It needn’t even be that kind of mission or purpose. A given Holy Power may simply desire companionship from a human for the duration of their life. It may be that a Holy Power wishes to manifest its Presence through this companionship and make Themselves known through this relationship. This person may simply be special to Them and has assented to a lifelong relationship. It may be an expectation a culture places on certain cultus-holders or it may be a way of beginning a new cultus entirely.
In my view, though, very few powerful spiritual relationships are only about a simple connection, though I do not deny they could be. After all, I’m not a godspouse, and I wouldn’t speak on behalf of them when I’ve neither the experience nor the calling to be one. I can only speculate from the outside.
When it comes to folks like myself, called to spiritual specialist positions, leadership, and the like, the religious stances I take and the spiritual relationships I have, the alliances I forge, all of them interplay with one another. Hamingja, the interconnected luck of a community, means that I not only need to be very careful in fulfilling my obligations, but also to be mindful that any alliances, relationships, and so on that I start can affect the luck of those within my innangard (those within my gard, or inner circle), for good or ill. The relationship dynamics of those who are in one’s innangard, then, take on powerful new meanings. So if I screw up on a taboo, like the guest/host dynamic above, for instance, that can have repercussions for others in my innangard, and even those not as close, like some of my blood family who don’t share space with me and I haven’t seen in a long, long time.
When folks really tease out the implications of the world being full of Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, how we treat the Holy Powers and where we are in the hierarchy in relationship with and to Them become very important pretty quick. If I am living next to a stream that feeds my crops it is in my best interests to have a good relationship with the God/vaettr (depending on how It identifies and your relationship with/to It) of that stream. In my view, I am a guest on the land I live on. Many of the landvaettir and the Gods of this land were here long before I was, and will be long after I am dead. Certainly the old landvaettir can hold more sway than the younger by dint of experience, power, spheres of influence, etc. The oak growing on our property has a permanence here should it live well that I will not, and even when it dies, it is not ‘separate’ from the land, so much as the individual tree has died and its individuality may remain or fade, much like myself in relationship to the communities around me, when I die. Perhaps, like the tree, my persona will live on, be communicable in some fashion. Maybe certain soul parts like the liche will stick around with some or all of my persona intact to receive offerings, dispense advice, or chit-chat. Maybe I will become part of the landvaettir after awhile where I am buried, or immediately on being placed in a mound. Same with a blade of grass. I think this is not something I can fully answer, because each life and death is its own unfolding in wyrd, and how those strands interweave is part of the pattern, and I can only see so much. Also, I’m not Hela, Odin, or any other God or Goddess who holds/hosts an afterlife.
It is a humbling feeling to understand the grass, the dirt, all the crawling things beneath your feet has as much if not more right to be there than you. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re automatically subservient to Them any more than They to us, but it is a recognition of where we are in the web of things, and where we stand in terms of our circles of influence, and power to affect change and wyrd. So, to me, hierarchy takes on a kind of immediacy in understanding where we are in the scheme of things, who holds what power over/to do/to act when and where, and what spheres of influence we carry or are affected by. In some ways I am quite powerful in comparison to the stream; I can divert its flow, utterly destroy it with a machine, or mold its banks so they irrigate the way I see fit. If I angered the stream God/vaettr/vaettir by changing it in a way it did not want, it could respond by not giving up the water I need to water my crops, flood my crops, or drown me if I went to swim in it. Questions of consent and partnership are part of the equation here if the world around us has moral and spiritual weight not just for them, but for us as well. Making sure we get our due is also important, but I tend to emphasize the Holy Powers getting Theirs since our society does a hell of a lot of taking without much, if any, giving back.
This worldview and the resulting understanding, idea, morals, and so on trickle out, from the concept of Gebo, hamginja, innangard, utgard (those outside one’s personal circle; outside the gard or wall), one’s place in the hierarchies of Beings and where one is in relationship to the Holy Powers.
Being an animist and/or polytheist comes with taking on a powerful worldview, or set of worldviews, and all that results from it. This worldview shapes and affects ones’ relationships with the land one lives on, the company one keeps, and the way one conducts their life. It can affect what one eats, one’s calling in life, and what paths can open up in a given person’s lifetime. Equally so, it can determine what paths close, what ways are best to avoid, and provide direction when one is confused on where to go. The worldview of animist or polytheist religion(s) hold within it an understanding of hierarchy, where one is in relationship to all Beings. An animist/polytheist worldview affects how one understand the Holy Powers, how one forms relationships with Them and maintains them, and where they may find expression in one’s life. These things unfold, helping us to weave our wyrd with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and is woven throughout our lives, relationships, and communities when they are not only thought on and considered, but actively lived.
May the Gods, Disir, Väter, Ancestors, and vaettir bless you in the New Year. May good Gebo be kept with Them and between one another.
May the hamingja of all our ties be strong.
May the maegen within us, and between us, grow.
May the New Year bring restoration to the ways we need to take up.
May the New Year bring new resolve for the things we must do.
May the New Year bring success for the work we put our hands to.
Hail to the Gods, Disir, Väter, Ancestors, and vaettir.
Ves ðu heil!