I’ve been offline for a while, until recently. Some of it had to do with taking the first vacation in about 10 years where I was not also there to do spiritual work for other folks. Some of it has also had to do with not feeling like I had much to write on, and the inspiration to do religious poetry not being with me lately.
My family and I went to Lake Superior (aka Gichi-gami), visiting the Porcupine Mountains and living in a DNR yurt for a few days. We had a great time. We left immediately after we got home from our church’s Midsummer ritual.
On the road up we stopped at Lake Michigan at a rest stop. It was quiet, just us and the Lake. We hailed Her, gave prayers to Her. I gave offerings of tobacco and mugwort, then smoked on the beach to Her. Both Sylverleaf and Kiba eventually went back to the car, leaving me to smoke with Her a total of three times, thanking Her for blessing us, for allowing us to be with Her. When She spoke, it was gentle, and with a deep, deep power. With each rush of the tide bringing a word: lay. I wish I had thought to change my pants or empty my pockets, since I did as She told in that moment.
I prostrated myself before Her, and a small wave washed over me. I immediately felt both cleansed and blessed. I was also immediately soaked and cold! Thankfully nothing in my pockets was damaged. I felt clean from my head to my toes, washed clean by the Goddess of Lake Michigan, and blessed by Her waters. I felt my Soul Matrix cleansed in that moment. She had me sing to Her, galdring Laguz to Her. Before I went to leave, She asked me to take some of Her water and soil with me. The powerful, almost floating feeling did not leave me until I got near the car, and had to change. That feeling of being blessed and cleansed has stayed with me.
We crossed the Mackinaw Bridge late in the evening, and I found myself holding my breath at times. I’m not a big fan of heights. I thanked the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir profusely once we got to the hotel room, and we bedded down. We woke, and explored St. Ignace for a bit, spending a great deal of time at the St. Ignace Museum of Ojibwe Culture. We walked the Medicine Wheel, leaving offerings there, and I spent a lot of time speaking with the front desk clerk for about an hour and a half, mostly listening to her expound on history. I had a great time.
Unfortunately, we spent so much time in St. Ignace that we had no time to do much else, and so, we made a dash for the Porcupine Mountains. We arrived very late, too late, and after an hour or so of trying to find our yurt, we turned around and made for a local Americinn. We crashed, hard.
When we got up the next day, we found we had been heading in the wrong direction So, we asked for clarification on the map. The map they give you is really tiny, and unless you blow one up on a phone or have a bigger one, some of the little trails, like ours, can get lost. After we found the right trail and set off, we were set upon by mosquitoes. Most were about the size of a quarter, and a few were about the size of a half dollar. It would take us a few days to find a combination of sprays that would repel them. So we made for the yurt as quick as we could, and got inside.
The yurt itself was pretty, elevated off the ground, and cozy. It’s nestled in amongst a lot of trees, and it feels incredibly private, and the landvaettir were very inviting. After taking care of offerings to Them and to the Gods of Fire and the Hearth, I got to work on building a fire in the firebox. I found very, very quickly that it turned the yurt into a sauna. I had not realized yet how, or that I could, open the sides of the yurt or the plastic dome. So my first few hours I was absolutely drenched in sweat…but my wife and son were quite comfortable, thank you!
Because the yurt is a rustic camping site, it has no hookups; no electricity, no water, no sewage. All the water was brought up from the stream behind and below the yurt, following down a path to a large stream, and hauling the 5 gallon bucket back up. I felt a great deal of satisfaction in hauling and boiling the water, and cutting firewood. It is a kind of connection to the land I do not have in my own home. I already recognize that I am dependent on the land, and acknowledge and pray to the vaettir of the water that are in the well that gifts us with the water for our showers, our drinking water, and the water we use for food preparation and cleaning. Yet, it lacks that really down-and-dirty tactile quality I experienced when I was physically hauling the water, and going through the process of finding wood for the fire, and cutting up the wood for the fire so that we could heat the yurt and boil the water we were going to drink and cook with. It made me realize how truncated all of our processes of life, living, and thriving are in our modern way of living from where they have been with our Ancestors. It made me deeply appreciate just how much work the hot water heater in our home does, how much work my Ancestors would have done just to get water to home. I appreciated the making of a cup of tea much more when it was done with the wood stove.
We spent the rest of the day and most of the next relaxing in the yurt before braving the mosquitoes to explore the towns nearby. We grabbed some breakfast at a local cafe, and headed to a gift shop in the town. It turns out that if we had stayed up another hour or so from when we knocked out, we may have seen the Northern Lights. I was bummed we missed them, but given where we were in the woods, I am unsure we would have seen them in any case.
After we explored around some more, we made our way to Lake Superior for the first time. Lake Superior was quiet, and as in the yurt, I felt worlds away from anyone else. Our first day at Lake Superior we only saw one or two other families. There was maybe one person or family per stair access, and the driftwood was all about, and far out to tide you could see old, well-polished stones. It was absolutely gorgeous. The Lake was all around us, stretching out like an ocean. The Great Lakes I have seen, offered, and prayed to so far feel something like oceans, Goddesses in Their own rights. Something smelled familiar about each Lake: similar to the scent of the Undine Goddesses, yet unique to Them. As with Lake Michigan, Gichi-gami’s power was gentle, inviting to a point, and yet, there was a ferociousness to it. Not…hostile, per se, but this quiet, waiting ferocity and strength.
As with Lake Michigan, we made offerings, and I smoked with Her. As with Lake Michigan, I dipped my sacred pipe into Her waters just enough so that She could smoke, without the water consuming the fire inside the pipe. I smoked with Her three times, and offered Her mugwort and tobacco, and sang Laguz to Her. Her power rolled in small waves on my feet; She was icy. There was a power in Her waters, too, something I did not start hearing about with a name until I got back. As with Lake Michigan, I made offerings not only to Her, but to the vaettir that were within Her, and the vaettir were pleased. I had nothing in my pockets this time; I left my sacred pipe, the matches, the mugwort, and tobacco on a large driftwood tree when She asked me to prostrate myself before Her. When Her waters rushed over me, the ice ripped into me; I yelped and cried out. She hurt. She burned with the fire of ice, and it took everything I had to stay down and let Her run over me three times in full. It felt like so much had been taken away, as if a piece of Nifelheim Itself had come and taken my spiritual detritus, pain, and in a kind of quick death, had scrubbed me clean. It was so cold. I sweat in freezing temperatures. I find a lot of winters here tend to be too warm; I sweat a lot. So when I say “I felt cold down to my bones” I mean it felt like I was bathing in ice. I shivered as I warmed up under the sun.
When we went back to the yurt and I built up the fire, it made me appreciate it all the more. Granted, I was back to sweating, but I appreciated the feeling of cleanliness the ice and the fire brought, and given the Norse Creation Story, it made me appreciate it all so much more. That evening when I was sawing logs I heard wolves howling, and it sent the shivers down my spine that said “Run with them! Go to them!” I gave a howl of my own, and listened, and they responded a little bit later. I feel blessed to have had that contact, to hear the kin respond. I stayed outside for a few moments, relishing the feeling. When I went in, I spent some time keeping the fire up that evening, and reading some of the entries from past guests, and making my own entries.
The next day we spent most of it traveling around to different towns, then going to Adventure Mine and walking in the old copper mine there with hardhats with LED headlamps on them. A lot of mines around do little mine car trips; this one we walked. It was quite the experience, heading in with just the headlamp. I felt very close to the Dvergar then, and at points the mine felt like there were spots where the two Worlds, ours and Theirs, connected. As we walked, we could see the old drill sites for testing and connecting tunnels, and the air shafts. Looking at it, and taking it in,you could feel and almost experience, hear the work that had been done by a couple hundred hands over the course of a few centuries was amazing. When we kicked off our headlamps and the guide lit a single candle to demonstrate how much visibility the miners had, it really brought home how dangerous the work could be, and how much you were at the mercy of your coworkers, the rock, and the mine as a whole. It also made a good deal of sense why Tommyknockers were ubiquitous in the gift shops. We came across native Michigan copper, one of them being a large chunk whose cost bankrupted the company that sought to mine it.
We returned to Lake Superior later in the day, and I smoked with Her after offering Her mugwort and tobacco. I remembered the public shrine project that Galina had posted about, and set about making one while smoking my personal sacred pipe. When it was finished I brought Kiba back to take a look at it, and he liked it, but did not add anything to it when I offered him the chance.
When we came back to where Sylverleaf was, I stopped at what I assumed earlier had been someone’s hangout area made with driftwood and local dead trees. it would have maybe held one person. When I took a good at it, though, I realized it was more of a shrine. So I added to it, leaving a Yggdrasil made of stones and twigs. I left it beside the opening; I did not feel that I should put anything into it. When this was done, after smoking one last time with Gichi-gami, we headed back to the yurt for the night. I felt that same ice-cold bone feeling in my feet creep up my spine, and when we finally got in the yurt, I immediately got a fire going.
Our last day in the Porcupine Mountains was going to be fairly brief; we had to be checked out by about 11am. So, we packed everything the night before that we could and got it back to the car. While Sylverleaf was taking things back I was sawing wood and keeping the fire going, leaving enough so the next folks should have an easier time of it than we did. As I had been reading through the yurt’s journal, what came up again and again was that here Gebo was the rule. You left wood for the next group, and if you could you left items you needed during your stay. In our case we left wood, bug spray, a pack of toilet paper, and a lot of kindling and tinder. It was interesting reading that those who had left little or nothing were chastised in the journal against doing that. Many of these people were staying in the yurt in the winter, and were arriving after a 2 mile hike in snow with no trail, and only a tarp covering any excess winter wood there may have been. Gebo meant the difference between these folks having to forage for wet wood, or going out 2 miles again, buying wood, and hauling it back.
By the time we were ready to go the ashes were cool enough to put into the bucket, and then into the pile. We left offerings to the Gods, Ancestors, and the landvaettir for letting us stay, and for being so hospitable. When we started heading towards the car there was a part of me that wanted to stay like that. Maybe not necessarily in the Porcupine Mountains (because seriously, fuck the horde of enormous mosquitoes) but in a situation where we were living that close with the land. We checked out, and feeling called to Her, we visited Lake Superior one last time. She had me bring some stones home, and was generous enough to let me bring home water and soil from Her beach. I smoked with Her one final time before we left. The communion I have felt with the Great Lakes feels at times beyond words. This sense of connecting with something that reminds of the ocean, yet is not one. Connecting with this vast Goddess who smells like an Undine Goddess, whose one song I know of is how the Edmund Fitzgerald sank into Her depths, and yet has shown my family and I such gentleness, blessing, and cleansing. Our Gods are many things; They can be ferocious and kind, brutal and gentle, and so much more. I know in our short time there I only touched a bit of this Goddess, and hope to again sometime soon.
The ride home was nice. Even facing the Mackinaw Bridge after the week didn’t leave me white knuckling much. As soon as we made it home around eleven or midnight, we all crashed. I had Michigan Paganfest to look forward to, and had to be up for Opening RItual at 10am.
The ongoing pilgrimage plan is to take a similar pilgrimage out to Lake Michigan. It will be a lot shorter trip, and now that we know what to expect in a yurt we will be a good deal more prepared.
I feel blessed that we were able to take this pilgrimage, that we had such a good time, and learned so much. It was a powerful time, even the times where I was cutting wood, keeping the fire going, or boiling water. I’m looking forward to meeting with the other Lakes.
Growing food and connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir related to it is an area of life that, as a shaman, I have only recently had the time off to devote to it. In previous years my schedule was so up-and-down or constantly changing that getting out and helping with the garden consistently was damned near impossible. Last year we could not even maintain a garden outside of the yearly asparagus harvest due to our home’s varying schedules. This year I have a far more stable schedule, so now I can give the time to get in the garden and learn from the Holy Powers and my living family. I did not realize it till sitting down and writing it, but that is one hell of a burden lifting off of me. I have enough hours to keep up with bills and enough time off consecutively so I can get things done.
We actually have a good deal of plants in the ground this year. Lots of tomatoes, green beans, and beets. We also planted squash, zucchini, and a few herbs. Provided the birds lay off of them for a bit, we should have a good harvest. In past time where we have planted equivalent amounts of tomatoes, green beans, and similar plants, we’ve had a good-sized stockpile even after giving away some of the harvest to family and friends. It’s one of the reasons I am looking forward to the fall harvest.
There’s more to connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir outside than just my garden or the local parks, though. As I mentioned in the previous post, Skaði has charged me to learn how to hunt, to skin and dress a kill. I have a wonderful Aunt with a standing offer to teach me to bow hunt after I take a safety course. I am also blessed with a good friend who has offered to teach me the same. With the amounts of time I have off every week I am actually far closer to making this a reality and fulfilling the rest of the obligations I have with Skaði.
The fertility of the landvaettir is a blessing, one that I believe we carry as an obligation to keep in partnership with Them. It feeds us, nourishes us body, mind, and soul as surely as we help nourish the landvaettir by living well with Them. The soil, the plants, and the animals all deserve their due, their respect. Whether we are hunting, fishing, gardening, farming, ranching, or foraging, without the Gebo of honoring the cycles around us and taking care in our work, we do deep harm. We can see the effects of this breakdown in how neonicotinoids are harming honey bees, how fracking is poisoning the water we drink, and how the elimination of predators has deeply upset the balance in regards to deer and similar animal populations.
Paying attention and honoring the cycles of life and seasons brings us into closer alignment with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Given a good number of the surviving holidays we have are directly tied to seasonal and harvest cycles, it also helps to place them into a context that makes a good deal more sense than celebrating because a date rolls around. I think as polytheists, Heathens and otherwise, carry traditions forward even more variations will emerge based on the climates where we live. Truly partnering with the Holy Powers in our lives is working with the cycles we have rather than the cycles we are told by a book we ought to be imitating. Many of us live in places where the seasonal cycles are different from, or simply do not match those that have survived in lore and archaeology. If we are to live in good Gebo with the Holy Powers we will need to adapt to the way things are.
Part of living in better Gebo with the Holy Powers also requires us to look at how we live outdoors. What do our practices like gardening, farming, ranching, and the like have on the soil, the plants, the animals, and the water? How does water flow? Are the lands our homes rest on full of one-species non-native grass? Why? How can we better encourage native species to flourish? How can we encourage the fertility in land, plant, and animals that makes life possible? How do we live in good Gebo with the world around us?
I found myself seeing a lot of these answers in person at the Amma Center Amrita Farms in Ann Arbor and from the MI Folk School. More importantly, Sylverleaf and I were able to get hands-on experience with these answers. We spent a day at the Amma Center with the people working on the farm area, permaculturists who have worked a great deal to help the land distribute water more effectively, and to utilize the space to greater effect for food production without using pesticides or insecticides. We explored the creation of berms and swales, hugelkultures, crater gardening, the use of a keyline plow to make small keyline swales, the creation of compost tea, and small-scale orchard creation.
For those unfamiliar, here are some links for what berms and swales are, and how they are made. This PDF explains berms and swales in pretty simple terms with explanations of when they are and are not good design ideas. This link has a good overview and video on swales. This link shows berms and swales in action on a project for a front yard rain garden. The work Sylverleaf and I did at Amrita Farms’ main area for berms and swales was to help transplant some apple trees out to areas better suited to them. The staff led us on a survey of the berm and swale systems, and how it solved the Farms’ water flow problems.
What I want to stress here is that this is not fighting the landscape or imposing a system the land rejects. Rather, it is helping the land to better work with water runoff to help solve water allocation issues one might have. In many cases the berms serve not only as physical landscapes for the water to run over, but also a gathering point for plants to help combat soil erosion, helping to increase the ability of the land to keep its shape and provide fertility to the soil. The swales give the water places to go without disrupting the landscape, and it helps catch water in the soil in a way that is efficient and works with the land rather than dumping all the water into a low point where it can attract mosquitoes and other insects.
In another section of the Farms, keyline plowing was used. This link has a good overview on the technqiue. It was done in an area where full-blown berms and swales would not have been desirable, and allowed for water to flow into the cut channels in directions that helped maximize water retention, and guided excess water to a pond. Again, what was emphasized was this worked with the flow of the earth, with the keylines acting as guides for the water to flow. While the Farms used laser-guided equipment and had a tractor come out to do the keyline work, we were shown that land surveying can still effectively be done by hand using simple survey techniques, and that (depending on the soil and one’s resources) having animals do the keyline plowing would not be out of the question.
The last, and for me the most fun I had at Amrita Farms, was when we made a hugel. Hugelkultur is a beautiful way to compost wood, and a description of it is here. Since we have a decent amount of deadfall at our home I am looking at making a hugel, though far smaller than the one we made at the Farm. That’s the beauty of methods like these: most can be made to suit far smaller pieces of property than farms, and the projects that required mechanized equipment like the berms and swales, can be done by hand with a shovel or pick.
What I bring home from these workshops, again and again, is that there are far more healthy and wise ways to live in Gebo with Jörð than what capitalism and agribusiness continues to push at and on us. These ways are far more accessible than one might think at first; permaculture can scale with one’s home and land (even if that land is, say, a community garden space), and hugelkulture can use great dead trees, or twigs as needed. These ways, found in permaculture, gardening, various types of natural home-building, and so on, are ways we can live upon Her that helps us as people live more whole lives, and in doing so, bring us closer to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. If we take in these ways and help to foster them in others, we can help our future generations survive and thrive. Taking these steps to restore our connection and relationships with Jörð and the landvaettir takes the vital connections that were sundered in and between our communities, and seeks to tie them together even stronger, I can think of precious few gifts we could give the next generation than a lived, healthy, powerful relationship with the Holy Powers, and lived, healthy, powerful, relationships with our communities, both grounded in trust, respect, and honor.
As I mentioned in Part 1, as I become inspired (or pushed, as the case may be) to write, I will add to this series of posts.
Originally posted on Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous:
Several months back, I submitted three proposals to the World Parliament of Religions. I seriously hoped they would take two of them: a devotional ritual for Antinous and other members of the Antinoan pantheon; and a session which will be a presentation and discussion (on which more in a moment). They originally extended their deadline for proposals, but then they received so many that their May 1st date of contacting everyone with their decisions was extended…and extended…and extended again.
I was beginning to give up when I heard that a few other people and groups I know will be attending…and then I was contacted today with the news that they accepted one of my proposals! Unfortunately, it wasn’t the ritual, but I suspect what I will be doing there will be much more effective and impactful, no matter how few people decide to attend it. (And, likely as not, I…
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I’m not going to be going deep into the details of the posts, because I agree with both of them that the women that Galina writes about in her post were out of line.
I want to explore the ideas of flaws and perfection in our Gods.
The idea of perfection is one I have not found in any of my research of, or journeys with the Gods I worship as a polytheist. The very assumption of perfection is that there are flaws or defects that can be gotten rid of, and accordingly, that the ridding oneself, or a being rid of these flaws or defects, is perfection. The Gods I worship cannot possess perfection or be perfect because They do not have flaws, per se.
Does that mean that Odin is not an opportunistic power-hungry God? Of course not, but then, that is not an imperfection. That is part of Who He is. The Gods are Beings whole in and of Themselves. Thor being disposed to anger is not a flaw, but it is something to be aware of. The same with Odin’s ruthlessness. It’s not a flaw, it’s a part of Him, and something a worshiper should know about. Our Gods aren’t perfect, and flaw is too judgmental. I am still trying to find a different word or set of words that gets the notion across.
The idea of perfection does not sit with the my understanding of Gods because the idea of perfection is that there is that next step ‘beyond’, where supposed flaws and blemishes disappear. Often that idea of perfection leads right into reductionist, monotheist, and/or monist ideas. Perfection, especially in American society, is often seen as an indivisible One. This reductionist model of one-as-perfect introduces problems, i.e. The Problem of Evil, which must be grappled with. If a thing or Being is perfect, then is it good? If it is not by goodness that we may know perfection, by what measure may we call a thing or Being perfect? If a thing or Being is perfect, is it not evil? Why?
Polytheism and animism have no need for such a concept as perfection. This idea of perfection separates the Gods from us. It kills our ability to relate to Them. How can I relate to something perfect? How can I possibly contribute to a relationship with a Being that is perfect? With a perfect Being, not only would the idea of a relationship make no sense, it would also be meaningless. I have to be able to relate to a Being to have a relationship with It.
The idea of perfection also separates our sense of Self from us-as-we-are. The notion that there is some ‘perfect self’ out there potentially divorces us from having to own our shit or do the hard work. It makes our Selves caricatures, unchanging, remote, and allows cliches to set in, rather than lived experience informing who and what we are.
With the notion of perfection, especially because, as mentioned earlier, the dominant theme of perfection is the indivisible One, the need for a differentiated cosmology would disappear as well. That is, if a Being is perfect in and of Themselves, there is no need for a description of how They came to be. They are. I originally wrote ‘if a God/dess is perfect in and of Themselves’, but as I stated above, I do not believe this is the case, and so, the Being in question would have to be other than a God or Goddess. There can be no origin, nor can there be an end with a perfect Being, because if such a Being is indeed perfect, They are perfect within and without Themselves. In such an ontology it is questionable if there is anything ‘outside’ of Them, or within Them in the bargain. If we are within such a Being’s body then the questions surrounding the nature of suffering takes a cruel twist: the assumption of perfection on the part of the Being means, then, that suffering is an indication of being out of step with this perfection, this Being, or worse, that such suffering is in step with such a Being.
We could take such ‘large’, that is, cosmically large Gods, such as Ptah and They would not fall within this purview of Being as described above. Ptah exists within a cosmology and so far as I have understood, nowhere is He claimed to be perfect. A creator need not be perfect. Ptah is looked upon as an architect and a sculptor, and while His work is powerful, beautiful, and impressive, perfection is nothing I have seen evidenced in His creation myths.
If we reject the idea of perfection and the ideas that flow from the concept, then, we must come to our Gods with the understanding that They are not perfect. If we reject this, then the ideas of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence also fall away as things that can be assumed. If the Gods are indeed Gods and we are going to develop relationships with Them, it is on us to accept Them as They are. If we cannot bring ourselves to worship a God in the manner They require it is not the God’s fault.
Am I blaming or faulting the polytheist, then? No, actually. Polytheism is the worship of many Gods, not all of Them. Some people simply should not worship certain Gods. For instance, I enjoy meat far too much to dedicate myself to Gods for whom such a thing is taboo. That taboo is not a flaw on the Gods’ part. Indeed, the flaw would be mine were I to attempt to worship Them and not honor that taboo.
In rejecting perfection I do not wish to assume that we then can judge the Gods. That seems to me to an open invitation to hubris. Rather, In rejecting perfection I believe it is an open invitation to come to understand our Gods more fully. It is an invitation to interact with Them, to learn from Them, and to understand Them in the capacities that we can. It is also accepting the imperfections, that there are places where the Gods may be utterly incongruous with our lives. Loki is often looked at as one of the exemplars of this, a bringer of chaos into one’s life. I think that asking “Why?” and exploring why a given God, Goddess, Ancestor, or vaettir may be so is a worthwhile endeavor, one that can bring deeper meaning to our lives, and depth of understanding and relations with these Gods. Rather than avoiding these areas, it may be fruitful to seek Them out, and why aspects of the Gods, Their stories, Their interactions with us rub us so wrong, or are so incongruous, and how we may grow to accept these parts of Them. If we cannot, it would be equally important to explore why this is.
A God or Goddess asking or demanding for something we are unable to deliver is not a flaw. That is part and parcel of negotiating with our Gods, if indeed such things can be negotiated. In my own case, the Gods have asked and demanded things of me I was unable to deliver to impart a lesson, for instance, that I needed to learn to negotiate, or that I needed to learn to ask for help. In other cases there are taboos that are part and parcel of worshiping a God that one sticks to if the worship is to be undertaken. Far better to not worship than to do so in violation of taboos. Far better to not offer at all than to offer a sacrifice that would be offensive to the Gods.
When we dispense with notions of perfection we can come to see our Gods far better for what They are, and Who They are. Discarding perfection also frees us of the burden of being ‘perfect worshipers’, and frames things as relational rather than static requirements. It also allows for the Gods to change; if They cannot be frozen in some ‘ideal’ state, neither can Their relationships with us.
Boosting the signal. Raven Kaldera has directly impacted my path with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for the better.
Originally posted on Gangleri's Grove:
My friend Raven Kaldera has created a patreon account for those who might like to help contribute to and support his work. I think this is an awesome idea — I didn’t know about patreon. Check out his account here.
Raven works his butt off for the Gods and for several communities. If his work has helped you, consider a bit of support.
People can sign up to donate a buck a month to support his work. He’s a damned good investment. ^_^ and this is a way to be part of the Work.
My indoor and outdoor vés and worship spaces get more time from me depending on the time of year, and where I am feeling drawn. Given that now is the planting season, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time outdoors. My family maintains a main vé outdoors in a small grove of trees where I have placed Odin’s godpole and where our family makes our Sacred Fires. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Hela and Niðogg’s vé is the compost heap. When we finally spread the soil after a year of adding to it, it was dark black, and had a rich sweet smell to it. Where animals have been buried, all in the main vé, I also feel Hela’s presence.
This entire last week or two I’ve been outside quite a bit with the family in the large garden we’ve been prepping, tilling, then planting. Every time we go out there is a time to pray, every action out there an opportunity to come closer to the Gods, Ancestors, landvaettir, and other vaettir. It doesn’t replace the offerings I make. I make those too. It might be a glass of water on a vé, it might be smoke offered from tobacoo or mugwort in a sacred pipe, those same herbs placed in/upon the Earth, or an offering from me as I do the work such as a song or praise.
Today, as I dug each small hole for the green beans, I prayed to Jörð, Freyr, Gerda, Freya, the landvaettir, the Disir, the Väter, and the Ancestors. I sang songs I was taught in Ojibwe, and I sang songs for my Catholic Ancestors, who were coming on strong today, with my Dad as we planted. The days when I dug the Earth I sang songs for Jörð and the landvaettir. Increasingly, making songs for the Holy Powers is becoming a part of my offerings alongside the others. I like it. It’s an offering of breath and creativity, since a lot of the songs I’m making up the verses as I go along.
The Ancestors have been there every time, and fairly thick. I’m not surprised; up until my generation, most of my family on both my parents’ sides have come from farmers. It makes sense that I would feel a lot more of Them during similar activities, and that They are pushing for me to get land, animals, and the like. I felt some different Ancestors around me, though, when my Dad hit a mole with the rototiller Friday. Rather than simply bury it, my Mom actually suggested I skin it.
I asked the mole if it would give me permission to skin it. When she agreed, I set up a space for it in the main vé. I asked Ansuz to help me cleanse, Gebo to help me ground, and did my usual grounding, centering, cleansing, and shielding work. This would be my first time skinning an animal; I wanted to do it right. Given Dad’s done it before, he showed me how to sharpen the knives I might use, and briefly explained the cuts I would need to make. I returned to the vé, and made prayers to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and landvaettir, asking for Their help. At first I was surprised by Skaði’s Presence. Then, I remembered: A long time back when I was first introduced to Skaði by Odin during my ordeal on the Tree and work in the Nine Worlds, She had tasked me with, among other things, learning how to make a kill, skin, and dress it. While I do still need to do this in full, She let me know this was a good first step.
It turns out skin is damned tough. I knew the knives were sharp, but this being my first time out, I wasn’t expecting how tough, especially on a little thing like a mole. I was frustrated. So, I returned and asked Dad if there was something I was doing wrong. He came out, looked at it, and then mentioned to me that he usually started from a cut along the throat in bigger animals. In this case, he felt I should behead the animal. I asked the mole for permission to do so, and when the mole gave it, I did. I took a breath, made some prayers, and focused. I looked at the knives in front of me, and finally went with the smallest: a slim, curved steel knife with a deer antler hilt, a wolf burned into the pommel. Again, I took a breath, made prayers, and focused. I felt an Ancestor help guide me. “This way,” Their hand on mine, showing me. I cut, felt the blade slide through skin, flesh, flesh the crunch of bone, cartilege as I severed the mole’s head. I thanked it for allowing me to do this, to take its body and make something from it. To learn from it. I set the head gently aside, bowed my head to it, and proceed to skin the rest of it. An occasional ‘Good’ or ‘Careful’ from one of the Ancestors. It went a good deal faster than I thought it would, and in about half an hour or so, I had it skinned and fleshed without damage to the fur or the skin. I heard a ‘Good’ from Skaði and heard no more from Her, though Her Presence lingered until the mole was buried. I pinned the skin to a good-sized chunk of wood, stretched it, and placed pickling salt on it. I will be getting some alum as well, and following instructions to make this a pliable, tanned skin.
When its skin was safe in a dark corner of the garage, I returned to the sacred grove with a shovel, and offerings. I asked the landvaettir for permission to dig, and once They gave it, and I ‘felt’I had found the spot, I dug a small hole. I prayed to Hela and Niðogg, asking Them to accept the mole. I placed the body inside, put down some tobacco and mugwort in offering to the mole and covered the hole. I then gave some in offering to the Gods, Ancestors, and landvaettir. I washed the ceramic tile I had used, and went inside. I made prayers as I physically cleaned the knives and my hands, thanking the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for Their patience, willingness to teach, and the sacrifice of the mole.
It’s interesting in reflecting on it. The life-generating cycle of prepping, tilling, and planting was started just a few days after this animal was killed and skinned. I approach both in a sacred way because both are sacred. I was not inspired to give songs for the mole; I was inspired to give reverent silence and my full care to the process of skinning, of not damaging the gift that she had given me. I was inspired to sing loudly during the prepping, the tilling, and the planting. Different sacred encounters with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir ask us to take different attitudes, actions, and offerings. Perhaps the next time I skin an animal it will ask for a song, or for many songs. Perhaps it will ask that I dance. Perhaps Skaði or Freyr will ask that I dance, or sing, or to be silent. Perhaps the next time I prepare a field, or till a field, or plant, the landvaettir, or the Gods will ask for my silence, a Sacred Fire, a ritual from my family, or perhaps They will ask for the same offerings year after year.
In connecting with my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir outside, it has made me realize just how much I rely on Them. It made me realize in very grounded terms that I am vitally connected with the Holy Powers in very down-to-Earth ways: that Freyr is in the asparagus as well as His statue, that He helps to give life to the land, and that Gerda is both present on the Gods’ altar and in the garden giving life to the land and growth to the plants. I understand the landvaettir are the asparagus, tomatoes, beans and squash as much as They are the trees of the sacred grove, the grass of the lawn, the animals that dart about them, and the rich earth of the garden itself. In understanding this, I understand the landvaettir are part of the house and the land, and that this land (and a good deal more I may never see, i.e. farms, mines, production areas, etc.) will help to sustain my family and I. In understanding this connection I know that the Ancestors are right here with me, supporting me in the work at hand, and that if I listen They will help guide me in what to do. All of these things reinforce the understanding that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are as vital a part of our communities as its living human members are.
Connecting and understanding my relationship with the Holy Powers is knowing, and especially acknowledging, that I need these connections spiritually as well as physically. In putting my hands in the Earth and asking the Holy Powers to help me grow the food, I asking Them to help me be a shaman that, paraphrasing the words of my dear friend Two Snakes, “can make the beans grow”. I am asking Them not only to help me feed my family and I physically, but feed us spiritually as well, living in good Gebo with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and furthering my path as a shaman.
This post is getting a little lengthy and starting to flow away from the topic at the start, so I think I’ll split this up into two posts. If I get the inspiration maybe this will become a series of posts.