Home > Spiritual Experience, Spirituality > The Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits Come First

The Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits Come First

Note: This is a piece that has sat in my Draft folder for some time, and I figured that it was time to get it out into the world.  Fly free, belated words!

I am going to be speaking on shamanism come the next week at Michigan Paganfest.  The discussion is “Shamanism-History, Beliefs, Lore and More”, where I and my fellow Sacred Fire tenders will be talking on the forms of shamanism we are engaged in.  While it says “Jim will share his knowledge and experiences in an open discussion about the practice and path of Shamanism. You are encouraged to share your own experiences and knowledge, as well as, ask questions and seek greater understanding and insights to assist you in your own journey” Jim was kind enough to invite myself and Joy Wedmedyk to share in the discussion.

I like these kinds of workshops.  I enjoy genuine back-and-forth dialogue and digging into the meat of a topic, even if for a little while.  In thinking on this discussion, I look to my own traditions.  I won’t go overlong into what I’ll hash out in the coming week, but more into what it is pushing me to think about.  What is shamanism?  What is the history of shamanism within the context of my own path?  What are the beliefs I bring to the table as a shaman, and what are the beliefs of shamans in my path?  What lore is there to support or bring clarity to shamanism?  What is essential to being a shaman?

At the title above says, the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits come first.  They have to.  They gave us life, give us blessings each and every day, and walk alongside us.  There is nothing in this world untouched by Their hands.  It is essential to shamanism that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits come first.  They are our allies, our friends, our loved ones, our Fathers and Mothers, our eldest Ancestors.  They are what makes us a shaman: Their call, the insistent call that cannot be ignored, is what makes a shaman a shaman.  No course, no workshop, nothing we go through or engage in can make us a shaman without that call from our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  Shamanism is an engagement, not a practice.  It is a calling in my tradition to sacrifice all else that I would have done and put the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits first, and to aid the communities I am in with engagement with Them.  It is setting aside personal ambitions to fulfill purpose that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits lay upon me.  It is to give over all that I am to further Their Work.  Even being a father has a place within my path as a shaman, and it is subordinate to that Work.  It serves the Work, as does everything in my life.  Even writing here serves It.

What is essential is that a shaman serves.  A shaman serves the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and in so doing, does serve their community.  They may serve their community in other ways, aside from keeping right relationship in their own lives, by performing required rituals, healings, divination, and so on.  They may do work, such as Sacred Fire tending, or teaching.  They may just sit down and listen to someone’s struggle.  They may do this after they die, which is probably what will happen to me when I pass over.  The point is that a shaman serves and that service extends to every area of existence.

What lore is there to support bring to clarity to shamanism?  Well, as few pieces of lore survive in our tradition there’s not much, as a good chunk of the lore we do have is more concerned with the Gods and Their families and conflicts, or mythological portrayals of kings and conquests.  What does survive suggests that there were spiritual specialists such as spákona and spámadr, female and male prophets, for instance.  However, as the lore that we have is fragmented, written down by Christians and absent of anything older than Iron Age, much of the lore contains terribly little in regards to a shaman’s practice.  Even the words that might frame the way that shaman does is absent of our language, and in any case much of my practice and that of my elders is spirit taught.  Lore is more of a map to cosmology, how the Gods have interacted with us and one another.  It is a springboard into engagement with the Holy Powers, as all of the lore that survives contains little to no religious instruction.  The lore serves, then, a secondary role to direct engagement.

What are the beliefs I bring to the table as a shaman, and what are the beliefs of shamans in my path?  We are hard polytheists.  The beliefs are that of people who engage with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits as beings unto Themselves.  They are Their own Being, Whole in and of Themselves.  They do not require us to worship Them to continue Their existence, nor do They need us to exist.  They are.  The Ancestors are the foundation of us all, from our blood Ancestors stretching back to the Elements Themselves.  The spirits are all around us, within us, even.  We consume spirits to survive; the lich, the physical body, is holy, and part of the soul, and so, when we eat an animal or plant, we are consuming a piece of Their soul.  Eventually when I die, my lich will be burnt or buried and become part of the world in a different way.  The Earth, Midgard, itself, is a Goddess.  There is nothing on, in, or beyond this planet untouched by the Gods.  There is nothing in my body or mind or soul that is not touched by the Gods, Ancestors, or spirits.  So, as it ends so it begins, and the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits come first.

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  1. October 4, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Reblogged this on Nicholas Haney's Thought Forge and commented:
    An excellent post by Sarenth Odinsson.

  2. October 4, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    You raise some very interesting questions…

    One of my favorite points you raise is; ” However, as the lore that we have is fragmented, written down by Christians and absent of anything older than Iron Age..” I think this is one of the things that is it important to remember as modern pagans and heathens. Especially those of us in the northern tradition, that what amounts to our lore and mythology is very much a product of the Iron/Viking Age and interpreted through a Christian lens. There is so much we don’t know, and perhaps we may never know.

    Thank you,

    • October 5, 2013 at 2:51 am

      This is why I favor the direct experiences I have with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. The lore provides some semblance of ground to check things against and maybe see what may have been prevalent at this or that time. Folklore may too. However, they’re incomplete and jumbled, and some contradict one another, while others make little sense in accord with other, reliable and/or older sources. The classic thing I like to point out is that Snorri makes the case that Odin came from Troy. Going purely based on direct experience with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits can be problematic too, and perhaps I should write on the pitfalls of that.

      • October 5, 2013 at 9:40 am

        I think there is a certain balance to be maintained between lore and UPG. In a way, lore creates the framework, the skeleton, where as our personal relationships really fill in the details and make the lore and the tradition meaningful.

        Going too far in either direction can be detrimental, and moderation applies here. Being too literal and too rigid with the lore can be as limiting as putting all your stock in UPG. There is a happy middle in my opinion.

        It has been something I have been thinking about for a while too. Would you be interested in maybe doing a collaborative piece? Maybe a Q & A or something?

      • October 5, 2013 at 10:19 am

        I definitely agree. As I mentioned, I look at the lore as the jumping off point. It is a point of reference, whether that reference is ‘hey, what does this God do? What is Their ancestry, etc.?’ as well as ‘hey, how did the people who worshiped these Gods do it? What does the evidence say?’

        I actually am starting to not like the notion of UPG as a term. It’s useful, insofar as it says, ‘this is my experience and is not supported in the lore’, but really,, all gnosis is personal. Gnosis can be verified or we wouldn’t use the lore and archaeology as ways of accounting for what we experience. Sure, I can find something in the lore, but I think that spiritual accounting (thanks Jim!) by oneself and with one’s community is as important, if not more so than comparing it to the lore and archaeology. I might just be nitpicking, but UPG is starting to get used in a way that either means ‘you’re making this shit up’ or ‘this means whatever I want it to and I don’t have to have to hold to standards’. Frustrating to say the least.

        I would love to be part of a collaborative piece. Let’s talk off-site!

  3. James "TwoSnakes" Stovall
    October 5, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    I have not read the entire post yet, but I must say right off…I should have made sure you and Joy were included in the PaganFest program for that event. I honor and respect each word you both say immensely.

    • October 5, 2013 at 7:45 pm

      I’m not worried about it; I was glad to be able to take part! Thank you for allowing me to be there.

  4. James "TwoSnakes" Stovall
    October 5, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    Reblogged this on James "TwoSnakes" Stovall.

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