Patreon Topic 34: On Rune Signs and Confirmations

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From Leslie comes this topic:”Do runes or runvaettir ever appear as signs or confirmations of a Working, well, working? Outside of divination, if they do, how might they do so?”

Oh yes, They can. I have had branches fall down in front of me, unmistakably forming a Rune after asking for a sign. Unless it is something that blatant I will ask that a Rune show up as an answer three times before I will accept it. Sometimes the way the Runes have made Themselves known to me is a little subtle, such as graffiti on a wall or municipal signs.

Sometimes I only see such things after the fact, eg the graffiti really sticks with me and I can’t figure out why until I sit with it. I had this once where Gebo showed up on a wall three times, and I just took it to mean Xs instead, maybe a tag or something. It hit me a little while later that the meaning of Gebo three times was a sign and fit with the question on my mind at the time. Sometimes you recognize it in the moment as something seemingly mundane that just…leaps out at you.

Can They make Themselves known in other ways? Sure. Understanding that Runes are vaettir, spirits, They can communicate with us other than through visual mediums, such as by touch. If you know the literal feeling of how a Rune feels when it has been cut into an object, then that can be a way They use to communicate, such as by running a hand or finger gently along a concrete wall or a wooden table. Since They are vaettir and can work with any of our spiritual senses that happen to be ‘on’ at a given moment, They can work through sound, even smell and/or taste if you have experienced Them in this way. There was a couple of books I encountered a while back where you would literally bake cookies and take the magic of the Runes into you through them, so if you did something like this with a recipe specific to each Rune even the taste of a cookie could kick-start a conversation.

Depending on the Rune(s) at hand, how They come to you, and whether or not you asked a question beforehand can have an impact on your answer. For instance, if I ask for a sign and get it by sight, smell, and feel I might consider that a confirmed sign, and then need to interpet what the medium of communication is saying to me, and what the Rune Itself means. For instance, if I see Hagalaz, smell a smell that I interpret as corresponding to Hagalz, and feel the etching of Hagalaz in a stone I felt called to pick up, then I need to interpret the meaning of Hagalaz from there. This is where having a cache of understanding for the Runes is really helpful. That cache ideally includes knowing the Rune poems well enough to where you can reference them for guidance, your experiences working with the Runes, and correspondences you have built up otherwise with the Runevaettir.

Let’s apply this to my example of Hagalaz showing up in sight, smell, and feel. When Hagalaz shows up in a reading I tend to interpret that much in the same way as a Tower card: things are going to go to shit. Unlike the Tower card where folks reading them might see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, with Hagalaz that light may well be a damned train. It is one of the roughest Runes to get in a reading, and only occasionally do I get the understanding from the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem of it being the ice that melts rather than the Icelandic Rune Poem where it is ‘cold grain, sleet, and sickness of serpents’. This translation here by Bruce Dickens on Wikipedia is a good, accessible one. Both Hægl and Hagall are hail, and hail can be incredibly destructive to crops and people. So, when this pops up in a reading whoever gets this Rune is generally not going to get away unscathed.

So how do I interpret this in context of “is a Working, well, working?” If Hagalaz shows up it is a hard “hell no, and this might turn quite ugly”. At the very least if I am asking an Up/Down or Yes/No binary answer it is in the hard “Down” and/or “No” category. Context is key, though. If the working was, say, to cut someone out of my life or to bring something to an end, then it may be effective, if painful.

The context I receive Hagalaz be sight, smell, and feel matters as well. If I receive Hagalaz by sight, say, on a building, then it may be a commentary on how the working was built up, especially if it is at the foundation or ground level. If I receive Hagalaz by smell, say a sharp, clean, and/or piercing smell like cleaner, new-fallen snow, or the like, it may be a comment on something I missed during the working or something that needs to be done so the working can be completed. If I receive the feel of Hagalaz on a stone I have picked up and it is jagged then it may be the working will be ragged, uneven, or is being disrupted by the process itself having been so. This is highly subjective, personal, and completely dependent on your relationship with the Runevaettir, your correspondences, your experiences, and your understanding of Them and yourself at minimum.

While the Rune poems and various books can point you in the right direction to interpret signs and omens from Them, in the end you are doing the interpreting. If I am not getting a clear enough signal I will usually take things to divination. There is nothing wrong with being sure you are understanding the message clearly. There are times you may not need that, and you will understand the meaning of the message crystal clear the first time you get it. In the end, it is up to your relationship with the Runevaettir, and your intuition and understanding.

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 34 -For the Local Birds and Birdvaettir

If you want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested by Leslie for the fuglar (birds) and fuglarvaettir (birdvaettir).

The cold has come

So have I

With kernels and seeds

To ease your cry

Eat well, eat well

Now crack the shell

Eat well, eat well

Let your bellies swell

Eat well, eat well

The frost is here, the cold has come!

So eat well, eat well, eat well!

Patreon Topic 33: On Laypeople vs Spiritual Specialists

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic: “Laypersons vs spiritual specialists and the levels between. What do they look like in Heathenry? Where do the lines fall?”

Spiritual specialists are folks who have been trained to fulfill needs within a given community. These can be clergy, practitioners of magic, healers, diviners, and so much more. They come from all kinds of backgrounds and interests. It is probably more useful to say what each kind of person does and then talk about what they look like in Heathenry, and where the lines fall between a layperson with an interest in a given spiritual specialty vs a spiritual specialist.

The biggest line between a layperson and a spiritual specialist is that the former can have an interest, say, in seiðr without responsibility to or developing skill and competence for other people in that interest. While a layperson may have training in seiðr, they are not offering services professionally and/or for/on behalf of a community. A spiritual specialist in seiðr will have trained in the work of doing seiðr, possess skill in it, have competency and expertise in its use, and may offer seiðr services. It is not a title alone that makes the difference here. There are community expectations of a spiritual specialist that do not generally exist for a layperson. The spiritual specialist bears a responsibility with and to the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, and likewise a responsibility with and to the community/communities that they serve.

This is not to say that a layperson lacks skill or competence in the subject. A layperson may have skill and competence surpassing that of a spiritual specialist, but they bear no responsibility to or with the communities they are part of in the capacity of that spiritual specialist.

Another comparison might be that of a ritual leader vs that of a goði/gyðja for a Kindred or other group. Any Heathen can be a ritual leader whether you are solitary in your hearth cultus, or do regular cultus with your family or group. A goði/gyðja has formal responsibilities for and to the community they serve. They are responsible in their conduct to their community, for the particular ritual responsibilities they have within their role (these can vary by group so I’m being intentionally general here), and they are responsible to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir they conduct ritual with. Some goði/gyðja act as representatives to the Ginnreginn on behalf of their community in group cultus, and so, their skill and competency in the way they do ritual, including the making of prayers and offerings, as well as their general conduct, can have a significant impact on the rest of the group in the way that a layperson will not have.

Saying anything too general in regards to what laypeople vs spiritual specialists look like would be trying to speak for far too many communities at once. To be blunt, I do not know what an Anglo-Saxon Heathen spiritual specialist would look like vs that of a layperson because that is not my community. I know what I generally look for in spiritual specialsits, though: competence and expertise in the field at hand, an admission of what they do/do not know, training and experiences that are useful in the field at hand, and a community or series of communities that they serve in that capacity, even if that community is that of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. I also will look for folks who will vouch for the spiritual specialist, especially if I am looking for a spiritual service such as magical work or divination.

In terms of ‘levels’ between laypeople and spiritual specialists this gets down to who I trust, what kind of work they do, who vouches for them, my experience with them, the experiences they have, and other qualitative evaluations. I might trust a layperson I know well with my life to do divination over a spiritual specialist next door that I do not know. I might only ever do my own magical working and never trust another person to do it for me, regardless of how well I know a seið worker.

I would imagine a lot of folks operate on this level. After all, in my case I am the goði for Mímisbrunnr Kindred. I am not everyone’s goði. I am a rýnstr (someone skilled in the Runes) or a rýni-maðr (Rune-man). While my services may not be for everyone, I offer my Rune services to the general public. I am responsible to those who hire me, eg for divination, to do my job well and to not bullshit them. This is the same responsibility I hold as a vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker), whether that is to my Kindred or to those who come to me for this service, though how that responsibility shakes out may differ because of the relationships I hold.

Since every Heathen holds responsibility to hold cultus with their Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, and likely does so in their own way, spiritual specialists probably do not look all that different from laypeople. Since anyone can approach with and work with various forms of spirit work, magic, and the like, whether that is seiðr, spá, galdr, Runework, etc., differentiating laypeople from spiritworkers from the outside looking in can be a challenge. Looking at the relationships folks hold within a community, to W/whom they hold obligations and duty, what work they do and for W/whom they do things are probably the biggest divides between a layperson and a spiritual specialist in Heathenry.

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 33 -For Lupa

If you want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested by Maleck Odinsson for Lupa.

O Great Wolf

Whose generosity is without bounds

Whose instruction is firm

Whose bearing is mighty

Teach me Your Ways, O Lupa!

O Great Wolf

Whose nose discerns and directs

Whose ears hear prayers and pack

Whose teeth bring down the prey

Teach me Your Ways, O Lupa!

O Great Wolf

Whose pack ranges wide

Whose people are without count

Whose ways are wise

Teach me Your Ways, O Lupa!

Patreon Topic 32: On Skaði

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon. From Elfwort comes this topic:”Can you discuss Skaði?”

Sure. A look around my blog yields a lot of older posts where I talk about Skaði, mostly in the role of assigning me work to do. She is a powerful Goddess, one I have worshipped throughout a lot of my time as a Heathen. I started writing that I was not very close to Her, but then, I don’t think closeness is necessarily a goal to have with all of our Gods. She has treated me well, and the relationship we have is friendly. She is among the Gods we honor every day during our family prayers and make offerings to at our Gods’ vé.

She is a Goddess associated with hunting, skis, survival, the cold, and implacability. She brooks no bullshit, and when She showed up in Her war gear demanding weregild for the death of Her Father Þjazi, She got it. She is fierce, powerful, and yet there is a coolness, both of personality and of purpose, that I feel with Her.

I took some time getting to writing this because I wanted to sit down with the sources and reread things, but to be honest, like a lot of jötnar and Asynjur, there is not much on Skaði. If you want to learn about Her from the literary sources She is found in the Gríminsmál when Óðinn is talking with Agnarr, and especially in the Lokasenna when She and Loki have words. Perhaps the most we know about Her are from this section of the Poetic Edda and that of the Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmál in the Prose Edda. She is noted in the Ynglinga saga as having married Óðinn and having children with Him. I could not find much at all that was conclusive with regards to Her and archaeology.

My dear friend Nick has many blog posts on Her, all of which can be found here, including passages I mentioned above, and his experiences with Her. In it, he notes that there are rock carvings of skiers found in Bola at Nord-Tondelag, but again nothing conclusive or anything regarding Her or Her cult. Could it, and other rock carvings and finds he notes relate to Her? Sure, but again, nothing to where we can say “absolutely!'”

Something Nick notes and that I will pick up on is that Skaði starts off utgard, a word meaning ‘outside the walls/enclosure’. She starts off as an outsider and is brought into Asgarðr. However, as Nick has pointed out, She never loses this wildness.

My first experience with Her came when I was handed over to Her by Óðinn during a nine day ordeal. She taught me quite a bit, meeting me in Niflheimr, and afterward gave me work to do. Among these was learning survival techniques such as making fire, learning how to hunt, and first aid/first response. She also had me take up learning how to shoot a bow and a gun. Of these I have learned how to make fire with flint and steel, and hope to do more with firebow or friction firemaking, have yet to have a succesful hunt, have learned how to shoot a bow and a gun, and have first aid/first response training. So, I still have work to do.

When I go to shoot my bow or my gun I make prayers to Her. When I shoot I offer each shot to Skaði and to Óðinn. I find both of Them have a kind of calm or cold to Them when in this zone.When we were in the Porcupine Mountains in Northern Michigan a couple summers ago, I felt Her presence quite a bit. When I have wandered in the forest behind where our home will be built, I feel Her. Especially as we have come into Vetr, I have felt this connection get ‘louder’. As to where it will go, who knows?

Hail Skaði! May She ever be hailed!

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 32 -For the Vetrvaettir

If you want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested by Elfwort for the Vetrvaettir.

Hail Vetrvaettir

Hail Íss and Snær

Hail Frost and Kaldr

Hail Kala and Hagall

Hail to the frost jötnar

Hail to Kari’s kin

Be gentle with us

May we be safe in the home, the forest, the vé

May we be safe on the roads, the fields, the waters

Spare our kith and kin your harshness

Help us to appreciate the quiet, the dark, the silence

Help us to appreciate this time of rest

Help us to live with vigor this Vetr

Hail Vetravettir!

Authenticity in Heathen Religions

When we ask the question “Is this authentic?” of a view, practice, idea, or experience when it comes to Heathenry that question is fairly loaded. “Authentic to who?” is a useful retort to move this into a more useful direction. After all, Anglo-Saxons have a different worldview, or are at least pulling their worldview from different historical sources than Norse Heathens. Authentic has a few working definitions which are worth digging into before we can even make a useful statement on whether or not something is ‘authentic’.

From Lexico.com: “Of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.”, “Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.”, “(in existentialist philosophy) relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life.” Of these I think the first and second definition are most useful to our interests. If something is authentic in Heathenry it is “of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine” and/or “made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original”. 

There is a trap in accepting these definitions at face value that many Heathens and polytheists in general fall into: that of our sources of lore dictating our religious paths to us without serious consideration from where those sources originate. If we look to most of the surviving written material it comes to us at least through one if not many Christian or Christian-influenced sources. Our sources of lore were never meant as religious instructions manuals, were never intended to make sure that the Heathen Gods’ names let alone worship survived, and are often quite spotty in terms of what information it does tell us reliably. We know very little for certain. So, with the maps so many use to reconstruct and revive Heathenry already admitted as being quite tattered and weather-beaten, how can we be sure our practice are “of undisputed origin and not a copy”?  Well, we know they are not a copy because we exist so far out of time and, at least where American Heathens are concerned, away from the home countries these cultures were rooted that we can be sure that modern Heathenry is a product of its Gods, Ancestors, vaettir (spirits), its time, and its people. In this, modern Heathenry is a genuine group of religious traditions.

Heathenry can also take the desire for things to be “Made or done in the traditional or original way” to an extreme. There is a lot wheel-spinning going around in a lot of circles as to whether a given practice is genuine to ancient Scandinavian Heathenry. Look folks, unless we are fluently speaking the ancient language and engaging in a culture exactly as they did, the likelihood we are going to be doing anything deeply close to what the Ancestors did is pretty slim. This is not to say that we cannot learn and experience a lot from living as close to the way the Ancestors did, nor is this to say folks who skew closer to historical reenactment and clothing, for example, are wrong. I happen to find older clothing like a traditional tunic and linen pants with wraps a great deal more comfortable, breathable, and gentle than modern clothing like jeans. I am a Universalist Tribalist Heathen, meaning that I believe anyone regardless of background can become a Heathen, but that most of my concerns are with those in my own circles of relationships. 

Many traditional offerings, such as offering the first fruits of a harvest or the sacrifice of an animal, in the way they were made by the Heathen ways we are reviving, are inaccessible to the average Heathen. Even for whom a traditional offering is available, the cost to make the offering may be prohibitively expensive or hard enough to find time in between all the life we’re supposed to lead during our waking ours that a different offering needs to be made. This is not an excuse for those who have the means and ability to make such offerings not to make them, but an acknowledgment that most of the population in the US lives in cities on very little money in very little land, and in very cramped conditions that leave us with very little time available to us to live our lives, let alone give the cultus to our Holy Powers that we may want to.  

What I think is most important in modern American Heathenry lies in the full second definition of ‘authentic’: “Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.” There are some things we can be relatively certain that we can reconstruct faithfully, and much of this has to do with material culture. From there we may infer or gain insight to how things may have worked in this practice or cultus, and then apply them to our own. 

We know that flint and steel, and before them various kinds of friction fires, were the primary tools used for making fire for a good chunk of human history. What does our knowledge of fire tell us of the centrality of fire, firemaking, and the cultus that could have existed around hearth cultus? Is fire made from flint and steel better inherently? I would argue, inherently, no. There is a difference of relationship. Convenience often breeds alienation from relationship with the Beings involved. Easy access to fire has made fire so easy to access that it takes real work to feel that one is in living relationship with Fire. Engaging with Fire through flint and steel one opens up to the Ancestors’ ways in a way our ancient Ancestors would readily recognize. This can also take place with what I sometimes dryly refer to as a Sacred Bic, and in no small part because a Bic lighter is flint and steel made small and convenient with the added benefit of accelerant. Most of our Ancestors would have likely deeply appreciated something we take for granted in the form of a lighter. Taking on the Ancestor’s mindset and truly appreciating the seemingly mundane and yet, revolutionary forms we have worked with the Elements themselves breeds an appreciation for Them and the wonders we have. From this baseline of respect for how the Elements manifest in our lives today we can take this understanding, gained from the Ancestors and our own sense of wonder, and carry it into other relationships no matter how seemingly small.

We can see where this has also completely disrupted what has been the physical arrangement of space for time out of mind. Rather than a central hearthfire which would have heated a room or whole lodgings, we now have ductwork that carries heat. The hearth has been replaced by two separate rooms: the kitchen and the living room. The place that would have been the space for meals, prayers, offerings, and so much living has now been split stripped of much of its sacred significance in the modern American home. Two major factors that need to be confronted in Heathenry exist for most Americans in general: the distance of ourselves from the everyday sacred, and how institutional and cultural forces reinforce the rift we are seeking to heal.

Whether something like a Bic existed in ancient Germanic cultures is rather besides the point. I am not living there. I am living here. The map of history is not the territory I walk with my Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. However, that is not to discard the map. Authenticity in Heathenry comes from the tension of taking understanding and inspiration from the past and then applying these things in a sensible way to our lived experiences and the requirements of where we are and how we are to live in modern society. Sometimes the tension here is too great, and we must make choices on what we will do when we our worldview would have us sacrifice a modern convenience or address an imbalance with the overculture. 

Many Heathens, inspired by their devotion to Gods such as Jörð, Freyr, Gerða, Freyja, and so on, make choices in how they conduct themselves and what they purchase to live in an Earth-honoring way. A given Heathen might take the more expensive option of purchasing groceries and support a CSA, or they may plant a garden, help out on a local farm, etc. A Heathen with less time or money may only be able to grow a single plant in their apartment. Each person is a Heathen seeking to live their worldview authentically. Authenticity is not found in making the most expensive offering or living exactly like an ancient Scandinavian. What is authentic is each Heathen is living their worldview and in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and those in their human communities.

These are relatively small and easily navigated issues at this level. Authenticity reaches a new complexity when it comes to spiritual specialists. In part, because American is predominantly WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) there is an entire background of expectations a lot of folks are inculcated with in regard to spiritual specialists. Protestants in this country generally do not have priests, per se. They tend to be incredibly independent, and while most if not all engage in formal hierarchies of pastor and flock for the purposes of organization, each person is expected to engage in ongoing exegesis to some degree alongside devotional work like prayer and observation of holidays. There is not, generally speaking, a relationship between a pastor and their church like there is between a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox priest. These latter spiritual specialists meet the requirement of their Order and go through initiation to engage in their Office. Sometimes Protestant pastors go through some kind of initiatory process, eg the laying on of hands to confer the blessing of the Holy Spirit, but it seems some do not even go through this. What is expected of all of these Christian spiritual specialists is for them to engage with the public, provide spiritual counseling, and be available for religious community events.

Spiritual specialists in Heathenry find themselves in an awkward position. Given so many people coming into Heathenry are converts, many still carry the expectation that the priest will fulfill similar roles in their new religion. The map provided by lore and archaeology is that, unlike pastors, RCC and EO priests, Heathen priests generally served a God, Goddess, group of Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir first. A priest served in a community role primarily through making prayers, offerings, and/or tending a sacred place or animal(s). Among other services they may have made on behalf of the community was to make sacrifices, and/or divine. 

It is incredibly hard to break modern Heathenry of the biases of the overculture when it comes to priests. The societal expectation is one facet, but the other is that our government and institutions that interact with spiritual specialists treat them all as same. This flattening of roles erases specialized initiations and training that exists for our spiritual specialists. It removes expectations of specialties or individual aptitude towards one kind or group of spiritual specialties by reinforcing the dominant paradigm of “all spiritual specialists must act as clergy” as normal. This is contrary to a healthy understanding, appreciation, and furthering of Heathen spiritual specialties. A seiðkona is not a spákona though a Völva may engage in both seiðr and spá. Likewise, a seiðkona is not necessarily a Völva. A Völva may or may not be a gyðja. A given person may engage in seiðr and spá but may not themselves be a seið worker because they do not have the initiation(s), training, or the community role of a seiðkona, spákona, or Völva. If we are to have authenticity in our Heathen practices, and if they are to be carried forward with both meaning and use, we need to have standards under which that authenticity operates.

Where a lot of Heathen religions find struggle with spiritual specialists is that we no longer have long lines of spiritual specialists to carry on the work, though there are new lines developing now. A lot of spiritual specialists, myself included, wear a number of hats in order to fulfill the requests of our Ginnreginn (Mighty/Holy Powers) and needs of our communities.  Authenticity is something we ourselves can struggle with because of the demands of our work alongside all the other issues that the Heathen communities have. Something simple, with deep implications for how we conduct ourselves, is “How do we engage in authentic spiritual work when the sources are sparse and hostile to the practice?” We ask the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for help, and reach out to those of other spiritual paths. 

My own Ancestor practice has been impacted by African Traditional Religions in how I laid out my first Ancestor altar: a white cloth with a white candle and a glass of water that was changed out every day. My Ancestor altar has changed significantly since then, but the core of it is founded on the idea of simplicity, of starting small and if the Ancestors want, the vé will grow. I took inspiration from how to start the practice but the way I address the Ancestors, the prayers, and the offerings are particular to Heathenry.  Note: I took inspiration from ATRs’ Ancestor altars. I am not practicing an ATR, and I am not claiming to be nor am I taking anything from within those religions. However, I would be remiss not to recognize where that inspiration came from or why I advise others to start like I did. 

In asking our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for guidance on how They want us to define and carry out our roles as spiritual specialists, we place our authenticity in the relationships we engage in with Them. Here we fulfill both definitions of authentic in that our interactions are “Of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.”, and that they are “Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.” We have to accept and embrace that modern seiðr and spá may not be historically accurate, but they are authentic because the aims and the ways we revive them are as authentic to history as we can make them.

We cannot say for certain whether the ancient Germanic peoples read the Runes or read Them as we do now. Acknowledging this and embracing that Rune reading as we do them may be modern means that we are not misrepresenting ourselves and are centered in relationship with our Holy Powers and with our communities in honesty and respect. As with modern seiðr and spá, we are reviving divination within a Heathen context that is true to our understanding, and especially with respect to our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and then the needs of our communities. These are Heathen spiritual practices being revived within a Heathen spiritual framework with the best information that we have to hand. The experiences of what Elders we have, what spiritual specialists we have, and the guidance of our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are the foremost guides we have from here.

Taking things out of the realm of spiritual specialists and back into general Heathenry, aesthetic is part of authenticity as well. Aesthetic is, per Lexico.com, “Concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty” and “A set of principles underlying the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.”. How do we determine what is a Heathen aesthetic? 

It may be easier to decide on what a Heathen aesthetic is not and then explore what it is. This can be something fairly straightforward in that Nike shoes are not Heathen. A Heathen may wear them, but that does not make them Heathen. What then, of the aesthetic put forward in the TV series Vikings, or through neo-folk Heathen or Heathen-adjacent bands such as Wardruna, Gealdyr, and Heilung? What of the metal scene, such as Tyr or Amon Amarth? What of historically reenacted clothing, style, speech, and so on? I would say that a Heathen aesthetic is one that is couched in connecting a given community or person with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, or is engaged with in service to Them. Without digging into a particular Heathen aesthetic as being the Heathen aesthetic, I would rather see that, whatever our standards of what is beautiful, it serves to connect us and deepen our relationships with the Holy Powers.

I can tell you what my aesthetic is: It skews to the historical reenactment, and that of Wardruna, Heilung, and similar styles of historically-inspired Scandinavian and German neofolk. I find a powerful connection stepping into linen and wool clothing as much as into hide and leather. All of these serve to bring forward connection with animals, plants, and our ancient Heathen Ancestors. There is power and beauty in wearing what our Ancestors wore, or wearing something as close as we can get, to appreciate what Their skin may have felt like walking around each day. Having watched more than a few YouTube and documentary videos on how much work it takes to make flax into linen to begin with, to take up a beautifully crafted tunic and put it on, helped me to physically realize why most homes only had a one or two pieces of linen clothes or bedsheets, and any more meant you were quite wealthy. It embodied for me, quite literally, why inheriting linen was so powerful and important. My wife works with wool in spinning, is beginning loom work, and has crocheted longer than I have known her. She has shown me how much work goes into making a crocheted blanket or hat. I know from experience how much work it takes to skin and butcher an animal. Tanning is next on my list of crafts to pursue. Having done my research and looked at how much effort some of these hides are going to be to tan, it is little wonder why wearing animal skins and their trade was so important to the ancient Ancestors.

An appreciation and furthering of beauty can bring us closer to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. In developing Heathen aesthetics we develop new bridges that can reach out between us and Them, and through this, we can develop distinct identity as we develop aesthetics for our own communities. It may be that modern common dress is simply easier for us to blend in, but let us not forget that modern sensibilities around fashion, beauty, and the body itself are by and large designed for and by a modern WASP or WASP-oriented sensibility. It is also not anti-Heathen to like modern Western dress, but I think that A Handmade Life makes an excellent point on this:

“We are constantly manipulated by design. Industrial production has been a boon in providing many needed things at a lower cost, but unless we are alert we’ll let the machine start teaching us design. For instance, machines can be used to create any form of chair we like, but commercial interests can make more chairs (and more money) if the simplest design for the machines is chosen for production. So we end up surrounded by furniture designed to fit the needs of machines.” (Coperthwaite, 11).

Today, our articles of clothes are distinct not in terms of the overarching design, but in the particular logos or art that graces whatever the t-shirt form is. It is hard to have a cultural identity put forward in terms of clothing when all the basic forms your clothes take is whatever is most convenient for an industrial clothing manufacturer. We live in a time of great abundance, and rather than simply say we should give up our t-shirts and shorts, perhaps another look is due to what we wear, and how it may reinforce our Heathen identity. If we expand Heathen aesthetics from the worn or decorative to the entirety of how our lives are lived in beauty, then we may develop truly rich cultural roots that future generations will benefit from. 

In expanding this idea of Heathen aesthetic, the Heathen appreciation of beauty, into how we form and maintain relationships, this understanding has ripple effects anywhere we may care to inquire. If one of the central pillars of Heathen identity is reciprocity, or as I put it, gipt fá gipt (gift for a gift), or Gebo with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and each other, then the aesthetics that develop from this understanding ripple out into every facet of our life. If the central ideals of Heathen religion are Gebo with the Ginnreginn and one another, then the entire notion of how we make things changes. If our standard of beauty shifts from ‘this is useful’ to ‘this is useful and was made in accordance with Gebo’ it shifts our entire mindset and understanding. 

A t-shirt may still be artistically beautiful in what it conveys, but a t-shirt made sustainably with homemade materials takes on a unique and powerful beauty that, to my mind, overshadows that of the factory produced designs made without regard to the environment or sustainability. It becomes more beautiful and more in line with Heathen standards of beauty the more it comports with reciprocity with the Holy Powers. It can be a simple solid-colored shirt spun from linen, or a shirt that was left undyed, made from cloth that was spun in the home. A Heathen aesthetic of belts can be a simple leather belt made from hide tanned at home and riveted using one’s own tools. It could equally be a well-tooled and dyed piece, both becoming deeper should the leather be ethically source from well-cared for animals.

Rather than the looks and feel of the material itself being the primary standard, though important, I would put forward that the primary standard of Heathen aesthetic is the relationships it encourages and develops in the creation and use of the thing. The use of Runes and the naming of things is another aspect of this aesthetic. In naming our weapons, our cars, our computers, really any thing we can think of, they transfer out of the realm of mere mundane thing into the realm of Being. They had Their Being from well before we were given Their name or named Them, each thing potentially being/housing a vaettr, a spirit. Here, in acknowledging it and having a name we can relate to it with, we have an added dimension in our relationship with it. We have been given an avenue we can relate to each other with. The car becomes more than just another car, it becomes a car I relate to and I am in relationship with. I am not merely maintaining a thing by putting fuel into its tank, taking it for repairs, I am caring for a car-spirit, engaging in reciprocity with it by honoring and caring for its lyke, its body. 

In developing an authentic Heathen aesthetic based on reciprocity being the primary trait, we will likely find American Heathen communities digging into very different ways of doing things to meet that than those of, say, Norway or Iceland. This is where local cultus will intersect even greater than it does now. I would not be surprised if State or within-State aesthetics developed as well, given enough time. Michigan’s climate, weather patterns, and needs are not like Georgia’s, and Georgia’s is not Alaska’s. I would be surprised if we found a single Heathen aesthetic in the future just as I would if our local cultus would be the same. We might still be offering sweet fruits to Freya, reflecting current share gnosis that she likes strawberries, but what kinds of deeply sweet fruits we can regionally grow to honor Her may change depending on where we live and the growing seasons. If I honor local vaettir by eating what is only grown in season then my entire world of food changes, and so too do the offerings I make.

An authentic Heathen life is lived within a Heathen worldview and culture that contains our orthodoxies, orthopraxies, religious ideas, values, aesthetics, and experiences. These are all lived and expressed. Rather than an authentic Heathen worldview being a static thing, it, as with all of our relationships with the Holy Powers and one another, they must be lived. Heathen worldviews and cultures are themselves living things. They remain solid and unchanging in many areas, such as the polytheist and animist foundation on which the worldviews rise from. They change first and primarily with our interactions with the Holy Powers through gnosis and divination. Then, they may change with one another, with the crossroads of the sciences and our communities, and between generations of our communities as specific needs and relationships unfold.

Patreon Topic 31: On Burnout

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Kate comes this topic:

“I’m very new to following my current path, and was interested on ways to prevent burnout and becoming overwhelmed while opening up to what the Gods are teaching me.”

The first thing to keep is boundaries. Remember, the Gods do not necessarily have our perspective/experience in mind when They give us things to do. Because our relationships are a two-way street we need to be clear about what our boundaries are. Some Gods, such as Óðinn, might push you hard on moving your boundaries back. My advice, earned through no small amount of doing this, is to not do that. You still need to be able to live well in this world. In my case Óðinn pushed me to the breaking point before I finally exercised my right to enforce my boundaries. He did not do this out of callousness, but to teach me, especially because a vaettr with an agenda might take advantage of that zeal.

Boundaries, such as right relationship with a God, Goddess, Ancestors, and/or vaettir may be personally as well as communally negotiated. Our various sources of information, such as myths and archaeology, can help us to see where the boundaries used to lie between the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and Their worshipers at one time. Having this as an idea of where to start can help. Again, “the past gets a vote, not a veto.” In the end, we are the living carriers of these religions and it is our relationships that we are engaging in with the Ginnreginn. Right relationship with our communities is something we each need to decide on what that looks like.

The second thing to keep are the things that bring us contentment, joy, and relaxation. Rituals to and with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir should be things we enjoy. They do not need to be overly complex or too simplistic unless such is a requirement from Them. Likewise, how we live our lives needs to involve periods where we can take care of our obligations, ourselves, and those we love. Schedule them if you need to.

The third thing to keep is mindfulness. Since we are largely reviving our religions, I will share a quote I love from Ocean Keltoi: “The past gets a vote not a veto.” We can take inspiration, quite a bit from our religions’ forebears, but this path now is ours to live. Mindfulness keeps us connected with our worldview, and from there how we relate to everything in the Worlds. Mindfulness may involve meditation, simply observing our thoughts on a thing we are going to do and correcting or affirming it, or just taking a step back from a situation. Mindfulness helps to prevent burnout because it helps us to recognize when we are becoming overwhelmed or burnt out. It helps us to keep our boundaries, or to let us know when they’re being too rigidly enforced. Sometimes the boundaries we make can turn into prisons with enough worry or strictures around how we think. Without boundaries we have no structure into which our relationships and spiritual experiences go, and so they can lose meaning or any anchoring in our lives. So, questioning boundaries or being willing to let them move or tighten up can be helpful.

The fourth thing to keep is community. Whether online or off, a good community can help to keep us grounded, evaluate information, and develop discernment. In the case of this topic suggestion, just asking the question and the responses I give here has the potential to help someone, and so not only are you potentially helping yourself, you may also be helping other folks you will never personally meet. The boundaries advice was first, though, because sometimes communities can be unhelpful, whether they are misled, toxic, or just not communicating well. So, keeping your boundaries, your contentment, joy, and relaxation, and your mindfulness helps when interfacing with communities so you have the grounds on which to judge whether a given community can or will be helpful to you. A community that asks too much or gives too little back will definitely contribute to stress, burnout, and overwhelm. Likewise, a community that has a good balance with you and one another can contribute to each member facing these things.

It is totally acceptable and good to just have a simple devotional relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. There is no race, no competition, no need to go any faster or slower than what your needs require. You are just beginning your journey, and it may take a short while or as long as  years to find if you have a niche, and if you do have one, what that niche is. So, how to apply all of this?

Developing a daily practice is an excellent boundary to keep, both because it allows for a period of our lives to be given over to our religious obligations and because it gives us space to be able to enjoy contact with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Daily practice can start quite small, say five minutes a day. The kicker here is to do it regularly. This discipline can help quite a bit in giving us a place to have contact with our Ginnreginn (Mighty/Holy Powers) in an ordered space that allows us to shed every other thing except the time we give over to be with Them. Keeping this boundary, both with myself and others, has allowed me no small amount of peace, contentment, and joy. It has allowed me to bring mindfulness into my everyday life in a lot of profound ways, and it has deepened my involvement with community, both through platforms like these and through the work I am ble to do because my bases are covered, and my baseline obligations are taken care of.

Intentionally setting aside time to engage in things that make you happy, that bring on contenment, joy, and relaxation, helps us not only handle our everyday stress, it also helps us in our spiritual pursuits too. By providing that down-time we won’t be as tempted to eat into the time we give to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. It also allows us to unwind and if we are in a places where we can, to reflect on our experiences and find ways to integrate them into our lives. Whether it is reading, listening to music, playing video games, socializing, whatever gets you there, we make the choice to not divorce our spirituality from the rest of our lives. We are able to bring our religions right into what we enjoy there too. Folks, myself included, have made playlists to Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir that include songs we deeply enjoy that tie those bond with Them tighter through sharing more of our lives with Them. By going beyond some boundaries, eg a strict separation of religion from the rest of one’s life, we can encourage a more integrated and deeper bond with our Ginnreginn that spans our lives. Sometimes, though, we do need to have clear boundaries on our time and to just do things for ourselves.

There are a lot of resources on how to develop mindfulness. One of the best tools for me is a series of questions I still use: “What does it do? How well does it do it?” This can be applied to tools as to devotional work, eg making offerings. It can also be applied to whether some activity is me keeping myself busy vs something that actually allows me to relax. Being mindful takes practice, and as your skill in it grows it can be applied to more things in your life. How you shop and what you shop for can be informed by mindful consideration, eg “Does this thing comport with the values of my worldview? If yes, how well? If no, do I still need this or want this bad enough that I can justify it to my worldview? Is there another way to get this thing/result?” How you enjoy certain things for relaxation may change over time as well, eg “This music used to be soothing but since using it in ritual I have this association now and need to find new music.” Your boundaries and tastes and so much more can change over time, so adaptability paired with mindfulness can help things to flow to some useful, powerful places.

Recognize that there are going to be times in your life where you need to drop back in some of your practices, take stock of where you are, and do the minimum so you can keep on keeping on. This does not make you a failure or a bad Pagan. Everyone has times in their life that will make them take a huge step back from whatever they are used to or think that they have to do, and parse your priorities, needs, obligations, and what you can do right now.

It is my hope that this helps you and that I have given you some good starting points.

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 31 -For the Dökkálfar

If you want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested by Elfwort for the Dökkálfar.

In shadows and the dark places

Beneath the ground

Beneath the counter of years

Wrapped in Nött’s embrace

Hrimfaxi’s hoofbeats overhead

Walls of earth and stone

The hearth warms

The hearth invites

Deep in the Worlds

Jörð’s bountiful body bears

Hidden pools and wells

The waters quench

The waters enliven

Niflheim’s melt flows

Flame and frost bring blessings below

Journey, sit out, and be prepared

Seek with care

Seek with respect

Good guests are treasured

At the hörgr, hóf, and heim

Patreon Topic 30: Álfablót

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Elfwort comes this topic:

“For the topic can you talk about the Alfablot?”

I do not generally celebrate Alfablot myself, so the beginning of this is mostly going to be from the perspective of other folks and my reflections on it.

From TheLongship.net, a source I highly recommend, comes this:

Winter Nights (Vetrnætr), celebrated in modern times in mid-October. It is a three-day celebration of the harvest and includes both Dísablót, a sacrifice to honor the female ancestors, and Álfablót, a sacrifice to the god Freyr and the elves (male ancestors). Though Dísablót was a public celebration, according to Austrfararvísur, Álfablót was not celebrated communally but by families in the privacy of their homes. The Swedish holiday Disting, which is a modern incarnation of Dísablót, is celebrated in February instead of October.

Huginn’s Heathen Hof had this to say:

There’s not that much known about the pre-Christian Álfablót. It’s mentioned by the Norwegian skald Sigvatr Þórðarson in his Austrfararvísur – when he was travelling through the western part of what is now Sweden (close to where I live, actually) during autumn, he came upon several farms that would not let him in, which was a grave breach of protocol. They told him they were Heathen, celebrating Álfablót, and that they couldn’t let him in for fear of the wrath of Odin, but nothing else about the blót itself is revealed.

…Sometimes connections are drawn to the blót in Vǫlsa þáttr, since it’s described as occurring during autumn. The elves, disir, Odin and Frey are all mentioned in connection with the autumn blót, and there are arguments for this being a festival of the dead. Not the least because of a perceived association between elves and ancestors – elves live in mounds, such as people would be buried in, and how Olaf Gudrødsson upon his death came to be revered as a local deity called Olaf Geirstad-elf. British historian Ronald Hutton, however, has argued that festivals of the dead were celebrated between March and May in european pre-Christian religions and that neither the celtic Samhain nor the norse festivals celebrated at this time of the year would be that.

What to make of all this? As I do not see the Álfar as human or our male Dead, it does not make much sense to me to celebrate it as a festival to that end. We celebrate Vetrnætr, or Winternights, around this time of year. For those that do see the Álfar this way it makes sense to celebrate in this way around this time of year.

I am going to pivot from talking about Álfablót to holidays in general, since there is not much more I can add about it. It may not make sense for folks without a connection to the Álfar to celebrate this blót. This is equally true for any of the holidays one could celebrate as a Heathen. Why?

We exist in relationship with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. With the interaction between these groups of spiritual Beings it may not make sense with regards to our local environment to celebrate Vetrnætr around the last week of October into November, or to celebrate it at all if it starts getting colder/snowy at a different time. This is where the metal of reconstruction as a method meets us in the work of revival. We can and should work with the Ginnreginn to develop our holy cycles. Does it make sense for your local ecosystem to incorporate winter rituals when it is still summer or fall weather?

We need to deeply think about what we are doing, and especially why we are doing it. That is not to say we need to ignore practical questions of ‘can I get this time off?’ and ‘can I do this ritual in a meangful way now?’ We need to get to questions like ‘What function would this ritual have served then, and what function does it serve now?’ We also need to be open to the idea that when we discard a holiday that it may be that another one is waiting for us that better fits the season, the timing, and/or our relationships with the Ginnreginn. We also need to be open to the idea that certrain holidays will not work for us.

Starting now and opening ourselves to living in sync with our local environment together with our Ginnreginn, we can develop our own meaningful holidays and calendars that fit into our right relationships as we live them now. So, if a given holiday or a whole calendar does not work for you, explore that a bit. Maybe another region’s sacred days are better suited to your environment. The landvaettir may have ideas on how to live well with Them in celebrating Their cycles. The Gods may have new celebration cycles They want to start where you are. The Ancestors may want a different cycle of holidays for Them based in the land where you are rather than where They were. Explore, research, ask, divine, and make choices on how you will celebrate throughout the year. When changes need to be made, whether for reasons of environment, schedule, or the input of the Ginnreginn, then make them. Our practices do not need to look the same for all of us to be authentically Heathen.